Category Archives: Policy

Our Stupid Crocodilian Leaders

Reflect a moment on the Olympics, the US and many Western leaders have decided “not to attend”, Google followed suit with a rainbow Olympic rings display, and publicly gay (privately … who knows) stuffed shirts were sent as part of the US delegation and many others. This was supposedly in response to how Russia is perceived to deal with public homosexuality.

Consider the following. Make an honest list of the top 10 economic, liberty, social, legal, and cultural issues facing the Russian people and the Russian Federation today. Order these by which have the highest priority and will do the greatest good. If you are honest (and I will charitably assume that is the case), gay rights did not appear on the list. Extend it to 20. Gosh. Still not there. In fact, I’d be willing to bet, if you put the time and effort it that gay rights might not even (if you are honest) make the top 100.

So …. why is that a putative issue for our leaders? Could it be because all politics is local and this is a safe way of pretending to do something about gay issues in their country without having to actually, you know, do anything about those issues? Crocodile tears all around.

In Which I Am Confused

Obamacare, much in the news lately, has noted that it depends on millions of young healthy individuals who are not currently insured to sign up for insurance, in a large part to pay for the coverage that they will extend other uninsured people who are not-so-healthy. This strikes me as an actuarial accounting error.  Or a dishonest tax using crooked actuary tables.

Actuarial methods assign costs and risk based on statistical advantage of your place in a pool of subscribers. An honest actuary prices your insurance premium at the same level as your cost. Given a large enough subscriber pool, your premium averaged over the large number of people is exactly matched by the insurance payouts for your pool.

Thus adding a new group, young uninsured healthy 20 y/olds should have zero impact on the larger picture. Their premiums should be the same as the payouts for those in the same pool. But .. this is apparently not the case.

Why? Because the designers of Obamacare are crooks. Is there another explanation? ’cause it seems the only explanation I can see from here.

Probably Not What He Meant, But Alas True

Mr Taranto highlighted a Yglesias post in which Mr Yglesias opines against educational meritocracy. Mr Yglesias is wrong in assuming that “white people” would have problems with Asians getting more places in higher education based on their higher grades and test scores. I offer myself as one white person who sees nothing at all wrong and a lot right with more people with better grades and test scores regardless of the color of their skin getting into the better schools. Furthermore he concludes:

 But rather than dedicating the most resources to the “best” students and then fighting over who’s the best, we should be allocating resources to the people who are mostly likely to benefit from additional instructional resources.

I wholeheartedly agree. We should allocate more of our educational resources to those who are most likely to benefit from additional instructional resources. Who are those people most likely to benefit? We call them the gifted students (at least those gifted students who are also willing to work hard).

Continuing Musings on Government and Spirit

Much if not most of the hard divisions between right and left these days goes back to the often mentioned (by me) Habermas/Ratzinger debate. Mr Lieter has tossed a book into the fray, which was discussed in First Things. Mr Lieter questions the practice of government protection/privilege of religion, alas apparently without establishing a clear victory for the Habermas side of the debate previously noted. This continues the prior essay in which I started out in the essay with the idea that thinking personal moral beliefs (which we will abbreviate in the following as EMS for ethical/moral/spiritual which in turn follows Dimitru Staniloae’s book which notes that spiritual = moral/ethical far more closely than in Eastern than Western thought patterns). One of the discoveries, for me, was that my assumption on the start of penning that former essay was that the American assumption with which I was raised, namely that personal EMS notions do not mix with legal/state ones is likely flawed. However, I did not address or question (yet) the fitness of that the separation question (or for a future essay perhaps whether the suspicion that I have that the correctness of this separation is a key aspect of the left/right divide).

So, let’s follow a bit with the idea that the core notion in many if not most of the societal debates we are having right now hinge on the place in public square for personal or communal EMS thought. The two extreme positions in this debate are those which maintain that EMS is required or that it should be completely divorced from the public square, law, and government. There are arguments for both, but what is missed is by the extremists is that alternatives exist. But first, let’s examine the actual not pretended extremes. Far too often both sides are guilty of painting a straw man extreme as the nominal “other” side. But alas, for both sides, more moderate positions exist on both sides at which points the debate should be centering but isn’t. Perhaps because demonizing the opposition is far easier than confronting more reasonable ideas.

So we are going to identify six “positions” in the Habermas/Ratzinger political spectrum. There are two extreme straw man positions, there are two extreme positions which are held by many (not straw men) and there are two moderate positions on each side. Habermas and Ratzinger in their debate argued around the two moderate positions, btw.

The extreme H (Habermas) position is to insist on complete divorce/separation from the ethical/spiritual and government. Those things which are moral or ethical should not be used as reasons in government or law. Examples of this are rampant. Just witness the allergic reaction by some to incidental expressions of religion by government (10 commandment or Christmas displays for example which might occur on state properties). This side would hold that your particular ethical/spiritual/moral beliefs are personal. They shouldn’t be used as arguments or even mentioned in the halls of state (in Babylon after all where particular notions must always give way to abstract or consequential ones, which are all that are left after the ethical/spiritual ones are removed from play). What then is the extreme straw-man H stance, that would be the one where expressions of public EMS beliefs are illegal, where priests get sent to mine minerals in Kolyma in the archipelago. It is a real historical non-fictional existence, just one that nobody reasonable on the H side of the debate is actually advocating, hence it’s a straw man.

That same (dominant) voice would hold that the other extreme is some sort of theocratic backwoods unenlightened, inwards looking space. But this isn’t so. That too is a straw man. Yes in fact there have been mono-religious oppressive states.  So what?  This is the bogey man raised by many arguing against the R case, but again it’s a straw man. What then is the extreme R position that isn’t a straw man? I don’t know. Nobody debating against the R position argues against it, they move directly to the “theocracy” bugbear. Few, if any, in the US argue for anything I’d identify as a extreme R position? Comments or assistance in this regard might help some, I have a weak suggestion below … is that right?

So then, what in fact is the opposite number. Well, read the debate. What is the normal moderate Ratzinger state? It is one where the government realizes that the spiritual/moral/ethical life is *required* for a Democratic state to continue. What then is concluded? Just that therefore the members of that same state should find it natural to foster an environment where that life is encouraged and nurtured so that their society might prosper.

In some countries (very few in number) the religious beliefs of its constituents are predominantly of the same faith. This isn’t the case in Babylon, a community in which people from many nations, many people come together in one society. So the question at hand for those honestly participating in the H/R debate is to consider what these two states look like, for in fact they aren’t as different as one might pretend, the only difference is quite minor.

Both states (the moderate H and R) are by the thesis the argument are democratic. They have similar institutions, the only difference is that the H position holds that independent ethical/moral/spiritual (EMS) institutions are not required to keep the democratic regime functioning and the R position is that they are required. The extreme H position is that the EMS institutions, should be held at arms length, the moderate one that they should be given no advantage and not protected (the extreme straw man H position is that EMS institutions should be held as harmful and perhaps made illegal). The R extreme is that EMS institutions have legal standing and powers, the moderate R position is that that members of the society should realize that these institutions are essential, need to be protected, fostered, and nurtured and as noted, the extreme straw man R side is an actual not pretended theocracy.

So now that we have set the stage, …. the next essay might consider how this might affect our actual debates if cast from a moderate on moderate stances instead of straw man on moderate in either direction.

Category Errors Considered

Note: I started writing this with the notion that the category error alluded to below was a mistake and a sidelight hiding behind the issues being argued. As I continued in writing I have come to believe that the category error is both the primary reason for the arguments and further is a fundamental problem which is well known.

Much wroth, fury, words, and accusations of ignorance, bigotry, and perversion have crossed from both sides in the recent decades long struggle by various factions in the debates about marriage and who might be married rightly. A few observations

  1. Defenders of SSM remark that this sort of marriage is private and affects none outside of the marriage. Yet, if this were so, then why would not civil unions suffice? The logical answers is because this reply is a lie. It does in fact affect others and in this lies a category error to which I alluded in this essay’s title.
  2. To read the papers and hear the debates this is an important issue. Yet, why is that? Why is that more important than other issues. As that famous statistician Bjorn Lomberg  pointed out that getting vitamin supplements to the third world would saves tens if not hundreds of millions of lives (and would be cheaper and more effective than most of the aid we send to the third world), world-wide millions are affected by human trafficking indeed the numbers trafficked within the states is comparable to those affected by SSM … and those affected are mostly well educated affluent couples. Yet what debates are heard? 

How are these issues a sidelight issue and the other a hot button issue? I suspect my  I offer it is because those entrenched against SSM are also committing that same category error. What is the error of category to which I allude? Simply the following, laws and lawmakers are not our spiritual guides. Note, the use of the term “spiritual” is not the normal one, but one which I will continue in this essay and perhaps in further essays. 

So let me digress for a moment. Spiritual? What is that? In the introduction to Dimitru Staniloae’s book (Orthodox Spirituality), it is pointed out that in the EasternChristian doctrine, your spiritual life and its tending is perhaps better translated as your ethical life and its care. Spiritual health and ethical well being are synonyms. 

What is legal or not and what is righteous (in good spirit or a good moral/ethical decision) are independent. This is a founding principle of American jurisprudence. (Or is it?) It certainly is the assumption now. Mr Daschle defended a Senatorial philandering colleague by pointing while he while he was dishonest he didn’t break any laws. The correct reaction to this is that the colleague got his priorities exactly backwards, i.e., it is more important to be ethical than stay on the right side of the law.

Laws are not ethics. Laws and what lawmakers conspire to create has very little to do with ethics and instead its primary purpose is to provide a framework. This framework provides so that peoples may live harmoniously alongside each other in an ordered way.  So that, when conflicts between people arise, there is an orderly way of handling those same conflicts. Personal ethics overrides and sits over the law. For the most part, there is no conflict, most of our choices, our ethical decisions do not lead us toward choices which are illegal. Where they do, it is right, it is correct to choose the ethical over the legal. On the other hand, there are things you may do legally which however are not ethical. Even where there is no conflict, normally ethics binds our actions tighter than the law.

Solzhenitsyn warns that this separation that is part of modern Western democracies (and was part of the former Soviet state) is an error. That itself is an interesting counter point. So it seems likely that this why this debate is important is not what it is about, but sort of the issue is the ground on which it is being made. What is at stake is perhaps not about the particulars of whether certain young dinks (dual income no kids) can have their relationship legalized or not but really what is being debated here and in other forums is whether law should be neutral or be admitted to have spiritual (ethical) content or should it not. Kant (and our founders) explored law devoid of ethics, can a safe lawful republic of demons (not angels) be constructed or not. Perhaps it can. Perhaps it can’t. The question at hand is should it? Recall the Ratzinger/Habermas debate, debating whether a democratic society can be constructed and sustain itself independent of religion, i.e., “does it need things outside itself to sustain itself.” Ratzinger and Solzhenitsyn think not. Bertrand de Jouvenal pointed out in his meta-political science musings about what he termed Babylon (the large multicultural state) envies the unity of the small state. My reading of Solzhenitsyn (and Jouvenal) is that a solution exists. If the larger federal state limit itself to promoting commerce and unity between smaller entities within itself, while foster their ability to form strong local identity, laws and praxis then you could have the best of both worlds. You can find local loyalties and ties and bonds within the framework a larger multicultural state.

Both sides of the cultural debate miss this point. Both sides wish to apply the same laws and sensibilities in artists boroughs of San Francisco, in Amish villages in Ohio, in rural Lutheran Wisconsin, and so on. Why? Why try? It seems wrong to insist that behavioral norms universal.

Locally laws can be tied to spirit. Federally, the are not, but there they run to the Habermas separation of Spirit and law. It seems to me laws about birth, death, marriage are those which the federal level should keep its hands away, to set aside for local regions to coin their own practices, to tie their own view of ethics and spirit what is allowed, to what is righteous in their region.

Instead of insisting that laws be spiritual or devoid of spiritual considerations is wrong. Federal laws laws which bind us all, might be best be light and aim only to promote commerce, unity, and ease frictions. Local laws … let them tangle and wind the ways the local choose. That is, after all, nothing more than freedom.

Cars, Guns, and Civil Society

Lots of silliness has ensued in the weeks following the shooting in Newton, CT. Gun advocates suggest putting TSA-like agents in every school (as if schools aren’t expensive enough), gun control advocates suggest restricting “assault weapons” (a fictional category for semi-automatic rifles) and “high capacity magazines” (as if the 1-2 seconds to swap magazines would really make a difference) and basically making it far harder to obtain guns (against for example, peer reviewed academic studies showing that the elasticity to gun availability is .1 to .3 out of the 50-60 gun related deaths per 10k people per year.  As much posturing as we have on this matter, if the time the President and his Renfieldian co-conspirator Biden have wasted giving speeches on gun control more children have died in auto accidents than did in the incident they pretend is motivating their interest in gun control. But do they go after drivers and car safety? Nope.

Frequent commenter Boonton has suggested stopping gun violence by tying the liability (financial) for any gun violence to the gun owner …. the economic study above suggests the actuarial costs of such a tie would be about $10/year if you own a gun for his suggested $100k payout. The higher cost to that suggestion is figuring out how to actually reliably track the ownership trail for the millions of guns out there not to speak of those purchased in the future. That will change … what? Offer a public notion that were-guild is legal notion whose time has come?

There are those who would suggest that gun ownership is part of a former age and that modern man doesn’t have any call for guns. There are two problems with that suggestion. It suggests that the person who says that has never ever ever lived in rural America. Get out out of your current aviary and take notice that the majority males and many females living outside of cities are avid hunters. The second problem is akin to the Sudan vs Congo problem alluded to above. In the Sudan 10′s to a few hundreds of thousands of people were killed in a genocidal spasm of violence. In the Congo over the last decades millions  have died. Which got the angst and notice in the press … the Sudan not the Congo. What kills Americans (besides lack of exercise)? Cars. Automobile deaths dwarf those by gun violence by orders of magnitude. But do we have hue and cry for limiting automobile speeds to under 30 mph? Do they cry for immediately restricting cars to be only driven by state licensed professional drivers in state owned and operated vehicles? Nope. So those who decry “more gun control” need to explain why “more car control” is not a higher priority, many orders of magnitude more die that way …. so you’d think that would be were the legal and social action would be driven. But no, this is just like you’d think that the violence in the Congo would get more notice than the Sudan and Darfur was noticed. So … if you think you don’t have any call for guns in the modern age, well some people disagree and exactly the same argument you’d pretend to use to explain why you can buy a car that you prefer and drive it at more than 25-30 mph the argument exactly paralleled that you have to turn around and (hypocritically) argue applies to your desire for driving fast but not to someone else who wants to do something that you do not.

But … that begs the question. Lots of people (if not most of the people) suggest stupid things on both sides of the argument (although to be truthful, post Newton, more of the errant stupidity comes from the control/restrict side of the aisle …. however suggesting putting TSA-like guards in cash strapped schools is pretty dumb in itself). Can some intelligent suggestions be made?

Where do we see gun violence of the unwanted kind? We find gun violence in sporadic random mass shootings (like Colorado, Ms Giffords, and the recent Newtown shooting), armed robberies and muggings, some assaults and rapes, in home invasions, gang violence, suicides, and in some crimes of passion.  If there were no legal access to guns, it is likely that gun usage in the suicides and crimes of passions would fall slowly over the years as gun ownership slowly dropped. Gangs and drug traffickers aren’t obtaining their guns legally and for that matter lots of them aren’t using guns (such as fully automatic guns) which are available anywhere legally now.regions in which gun ownership is close to 100% of the population don’t have much higher gun violence (and in many places it is lower). Clearly possession isn’t the problem. Like cars (and say impaired by drugs or inattention) …. the bigger problem is intentional misuse by a very very small minority. As an aside the liberal (urban) plea for gun control and less guns in general sounds a lot like the liberal insistence that government tax us to provide charitable services (which only makes more sense if you are a standard liberal who does not (willingly) give to charity in any real measure) … that is the urban liberal is against guns because he isn’t safe with them … and figures everyone else is just like him.

So we have a variety of issues to solve. How are might these individually be addressed? Let’s quickly run this list of problems and suggest ways to ameliorate them:

  • Random mass shootings and many assaults, muggings and rapes might be solved (as suggested elsewhere) by more, not less people who carry and are trained in the use of firearms. Specifically, if the President and his cadre of liberal intelligentsia instead of moving against the presence of guns in our society tried to push that more and more of our women carried and had training … it would be a lot harder for mass shooters to get much traction. Much like the Darwin award contestant who tried to use a pistol to hold up a gun store (and got shot by a number of customers) if those schoolteachers were armed, it is quite likely that either the shooter wouldn’t have even tried or that he wouldn’t have been able to continue his rampage for so long. One of the TPM anti-gun crusaders pointed out that if you pull a gun in the presence of an active shooter that you become a target. Yes. But if 10% of the movie theater audience does so … there is no longer one target … and the odds of the shooter surviving long become themselves long. Arming our girls is the solution to both the danger of unstable mentally ill white boys and to the alleged rape epidemic and violence against women in general. 
  • Legal-to-purchase (non-automatic) Guns and fully automatic weapons in the presence of gangs are, in my view, a lot like trying to solve the “problem” of corporate money in politics. Those with the money want to spend it. It is impossible (as we see) to stop them with regulations. Just so with guns and gangs. How then to proceed? You have two choices … to fight it with greater force (police) or to move to take the profits out of the activities they perform to make their money.
  • It might also be useful to note that magazine limits and caliber limits are not good federal laws. You may want to pretend that no person in Chicago has any need for a .50 caliber Desert Eagle pistol. But … against grizzly bears in the Montana and Alaskan backwoods may still be that same pistol. And “need” is a fuzzy word. Remember, you don’t actually ever “need” to drive more than 25 mph. You just want to. And so too does the Chicago shooter. He might want to fire that .50 cal. So … remember that as you whiz along on the freeway at 70 mph.

Media Bias: A Litmus Test

The almost-here “fiscal cliff” (where the heck did that uniformly used label originate I wonder) provides a wonderful litmus test for your perusal the press and other commentary sources.

The expiration that looms involves the addition of a set of tax increases and spending cuts. Both occur. If the source talks about the “cliff” as about tax increases and not about looming cuts in spending, that’s a Democrat biased source. If the source talks not about taxes but about spending cuts which will occur that’s a GOP biased one.

The only possibly non-biased sources are the ones that talk about both. That they talk about both doesn’t mean they are unbiased.

So … You Believe Man Causes Global Warming and …

Your neighbor across the aisle does not. Here is some unsolicited advice for the left wing on this topic. If you really think this is a problem, and you want everyone, not just your side of the aisle to push for it futilely … Here’s a newsflash for y’all. You’re selling it wrong.

Look at us over here on the right. We think the space program was cool. We love going to flight museums and wistfully wishing we (as a nation) were still flying SR-71s (RS-71 dammit, stupid Presidents). We gawk at daisy cutters and talk about yields and payloads. While we might take up on those government goodies that are “free” it sticks in our craw and we wish that ‘ol time Yankee rugged individualism wasn’t dying out, killed by bureaucratic mind-numbing cookie cutter schools among other things. Read these two books, here and here. That’s good reading. So, do you like Bob? We do.

In a past era, a Democratic President challenged his nation to go to the moon, not because it was easy but because it was hard. You want a nation to get behind you with a climate crises. Challenge them that way. Tell ‘em to go out and fix it, not by sucking back our economy and going all green-ified on us, scrimping out toilet paper, curbing consumption of interesting toys, and things to do.

No. Fix it the old fashioned way, with a hammer, tongs, and big bad-ass technology. Challenge us that way, and you might get a rise out of us.

Of course it might alienate you’re side of the aisle, but you can’t break an omelette without making eggs, or something like that.

Hope you enjoyed that little rant.

He Bought 6000 Rounds

OK. Seriously. So have I and I’m not a serious gun guy. 6000 rounds isn’t that exceptional a quantity. I did buy .22 LR which isn’t going to be the first choice of for your garden variety killing spree. When I go to the range, I typically shoot 200-300 rounds. If you go shooting once or twice a week, buying in quantity is what you do. If you fire larger calibers than .22 LR … you collect brass and do you own reloads (9mm for example costs about 40 cents a round if you don’t do reloads). It takes repetition to teach your spine to shoot.

Question for the gun controls must be higher and higher? If 50 of the people in the theater were armed via concealed carry … Might the outcome have been different?

The quoted link above clearly thinks that tighter gun laws are necessary, yet the recent shooter had a large cache of illegal explosives. Clearly gun laws weren’t what stopped him. The shooter had no history of mental illness, crime records, or anything to prevent him from buying guns and moderate stores of ammo in any state. His emphatic “make it tougher for criminals and nuts to buy guns” would have done nothing. So, then why bring it up now?

Recently, “America is no longer ‘top nation’” inspired by insipid political advertisements in the guise of Allen Sorkin TV-News drama arose in conversation. This was a big lie cementing a reasonable argument (that we have problems that need addressing). Basing an argument on a lie, however good the argument is, weakens your rhetoric and destroys your credibility.

Look people, both right and left, but it seems lately the left of the aisle turns to this more and more (see the above and AGW) … stop it!! Stop using clearly stupid/false things to persuade. If you think tighter gun laws will help bring down gun crime. Prove it with actual data. If you think on the other side, that armed homeowners and women with concealed carry are safer on the streets at night against predators) use actual data not specious easily disprovable remarks. Against both sides of the gun control argument, data I’ve seen has shown that looser gun laws and concealed carry is uncorrelated with increased gun violence. One study demonstrated that legalized “open carry in bars” had no impact on gun violence in a city (or was it cities). Seems to me if restricting or not restricting personal liberties has no impact either way on our society … then “more personal freedom” should be the default choice.

Why Inequality Is Necessary

Over at the League of (not very) Ordinary Gentlemen there is a blog symposium going on. The “(not very)” was appended by myself, for those fellows by and large are, alas countering their “Ordinary” claim, seem ordinarily to be quite exceptional, at least at the task of writing blog posts. What follows are somewhat scattered thoughts in a defense economic inequality. Continue reading

Howzzat Work Anyhow?

Protest movements as evidenced most recently by the Occupy movement basically amount to soft terrorism. That is to say soft in the sense that it is terrorism with muted, understated violence. Instead of blowing up bus stops, eateries, and commuter throughways, they clog them up, pollute them, and fill them with the smell of human effluence unwashed bodies and worse. An even milder yet more understated violence is approaching inexorably toward us in the US … that being the soft nuisance that pretends to be an election season, in which our information channels instead of our commuter ways and shops will be filled with the annoyance of politicians grabbing for our attention.

What puzzles me in this matter is the mystery of why anybody thinks this works. It beggars my imagination how somebody thinks that annoying people will generate sympathy for their cause. This goes for all three of these types of terrorism, from the hard terror of bombs and the homicidal mania that constitutes the al-Qaeda and Palestinian flavors of terror to push polling, TV ads, and blind phone calls.

Is it all just a gamble? Is the gamble that their actions have two parts … that they will innervate and garner support amongst those that are sympathetic more than they will annoy and turn away those that are either uncommitted or against their cause. Because, from where I sit all these movements certainly do the latter. For myself, I’ll admit I have no dog in the Middle East Israel/Palestine disagreements but the Palestinian violence certainly is a convincing argument against the justice and rationality of the Palestinian cause. Likewise, I’m would be sympathetic to the notion that jobs and employment and getting ahead is going to be harder for my children than it was for me. But the OWS movement has certainly soured any sympathy for supporting any of those knuckleheads in any material fashion. Is there any evidence that these methods work? That they don’t do the obvious, that is turn more people against you than not?

There are a species of novels celebrating the anti-hero. Are people so used to this sort of thing that they figure we’ll root for, support, vote for, and otherwise follow you if you anti-advertise?

Theories of Government and a Plug for Academic Prostitution

Blog neighbor Mr Schraub tosses up on the wall two notions, that there are basically few, if any, useless “medical” studies that one might sponsor and that mocking the historical speciality near and dear to him, notably “Black Studies”, is unwarranted. For the both in part, that opinion depends on your what you think the role of government might be. If you think government is basically limited (see 10th Amendment) to the role of keeping my fist from your nose and vice versa, settling disputes, guarding our borders, and then getting out of the way so we can be about our business pursuing life , liberty and all. Then these measures as instituted by the state makes little sense. If on the other hand, the role of government is to supply happiness, life and liberty to everyone … then government has a tall order to fulfill and has to employ  plethora (see Das Scholss -> The Keep/Castle) of fellows xyz-ocrats making sure everyone is maximally happy-in-ated, all in a very Kafkaseque fashion.

So, you go to school and major in this Black Studies thing, and as Mr Schraub suggests, do some useful writing in the field. What the heck do you do with that? I guess you write papers in academia read by other academics. Or you become a Castle senschal? Is Exxon going to hire you? To do what? Do you become a better barista in Starbucks competing with out-of-work actors? What?

But what in general are we to make of Academic pursuits? For this has begged a serious question, what role do history, literature, and other “soft” studies have in our academic and general pursuits? What is the point of this Academic research. Academics themselves have noted (and I’m not finding the link where this was posted, it was months and months ago) that lots of their papers are read by a select few. We are in an age of hyper-specialization in parts of academia and as this is the result. For academic teaching of those “hard” topics, maths, engineering, medicine, and for that matter, carpentry the pay off is obvious. Kids trained in those subjects have careers outside of academia awaiting them. So here’s some unsolicited advice to “fix” the problem of hyper-specialization in increasing irrelevance of so much of the academic world. Here’s one solution, less considered. Prostitution.

Academics are used to publish or perish driving their existence in their department and as a measure of their worth. It is their carrot and their stick. How about If  instead of having specialized journals be the norm, that those were the exception, That schools began to demand “publish” mean “publish” in a general market and make money at it? That in turn to the general audience and more importantly make a profit selling those works … then they’d be forced to confront and to embrace some level of relevance. In the historical field, a David Hackett Fisher can make a good buck selling good history … well, get the rest of the historians to do the same thing. If you can’t make a return selling your speciality (hence the second part of the title) then … perish.

Public/Private/Home … School, Healthcare, and Beyond

Recently the Paul interview sparked a conversation about the limits of government to take our choices putatively for the public weal. This is, for the nonce, the status quo regarding education. How that impacts us in society is of some relevance as the progressive/liberals in our midst have the notion that this would be a good thing if moved to other spheres, like healthcare. What they fail to do is point out the downside for the ordinary person. Continue reading

Regulation and Growth

For a government setting the level of how much to regulate is seen, on the right as something of a tighrope, and on the left, mostly as something which is required but which has little if any downside … the only question for them is how much and will it be enough to do what they hope (if not of course, more will be needed). This is unfortunate because, there is a very significant downside to setting to high of a regulatory burden, namely it can slow or in some cases completly stifle growth. First off, a little clarfication is needed. The term regulation can be widely interpreted as any government law or prescription. Some regulations then, might be conducive to growth like the regulations establishing tech corridors, which can by local proximity allow synergies to develop between neighboring firms. The common meaning of regulations when discussed in the context of business and growth are restrictions and rules of conduct and practice and licensing requirements. This latter meaning is the one I will adhere to in the following. I should also make clear that there are other private and government protocols which are similar to regulations, but not the sort of thing I mean to discuss here. Those protocols (sometimes government enforced, but more often (?) just agreed upon by industry groups) also are called standards. Standard voltages, connectors, or other specifications (consider the plethora of Internet RFCs for examples). These are protocols which when enforced by law and the government are (again) by definition regulations but serve a different purpose. They are different in kind from emmision limits, testing requirements, minimum price/wage laws, and so on. Continue reading

The Tenth C and a Possible Left/Right Separation

One of the ongoing themes that I endeavor, with little success, is to identify critical ideas on which the progressive/left and conservatives (and for that matter libertarians) differ in their views of political and social matters. If have the good fortune to have two liberal/progressive dialog partners here. In recent conversations over the last few months this difference has arisen and I wonder if this point of difference is applicable to a wider groups, i.e., right/left, and significant.

The key point in to consider is that the progressive/left in question has abandoned  the 10th Commandment while the right has not. The 10th commandment speaks against coveting one’s neighbors possessions. A simple ethical generalization of this is that this is an injunction against considering one’s economic condition by comparison with ones neighbor. Continue reading

America’s “Original Sin”

Mr Schraub talks race. Before I get to the claim that slavery is America’s “Original Sin” I’d note that Mr Schraub says that the toxicity of being labeled racist makes “true dialog” about what constitutes racism impossible. ‘Cept that’s not really true. Racism is pretty a pretty simple thing to define. Racism is when one makes decisions or assessments based on race, e.g., voting for Mr Obama on account of his racial makeup. And yes, that makes most “race” activists racist themselves, which on reflection is quite obvious. Those who are conscious and likely to notice race are those more likely to make decisions based purely on that. Racism is felt quite universally to be a bad thing, yet given its prevalence, especially amongst those most vocal about the evils of racism and the neutrality of the definition given, perhaps what Mr Schraub is hinting at is that we need a better discussion of why racism is wrong. If one were to assume that the progressive/left is more racially conscious than the right … and therefore more racist is born up by the data linked last week that highlighted the finding that Black elected officials when elected from a mixed race district were more likely to be Republican than Democrat and those who were Democrat were more often from majority Black districts. In past conversations, Mr Schraub noted that race theorists indeed are aware that their work might serve to heighten and strengthen malign race consciousness that they hope to combat. Yes, but the personal imperatives of personal employment in their chosen field seems to defeat that idea quite handily. 

However, the primary point of this essay is to examine original sin in the context of American history.

St. Augustine of Hippo is perhaps the primary theologian influencing thought regarding Original Sin in the Western strand of Christian theological thought. There are a lot of parallels between that theology and strands of thought about slavery and race in America. Both notions suffer however, from the same sort of mistake. St. Augustine, in summary, taught that Adam’s primordial sin in the garden passes on to all of us. Adam as proto-human committed the sin of disobedience. All men, from birth, share in that guilt. From this viewpoint then, the importance of Penal Substitution and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross becomes a linchpin of Western soteriology. 

This is however, a quite unnatural way to view justice. If my father steals, I and my children do not share in his guilt. The weight and import (the guilt if you will) of his crime, legal or moral, do not pass to his children. We don’t even consider that in sexual crimes, if a child results, that the child of that act is legally or morally impugned or tainted by that act (well, we don’t justifiably view the child in that way). This is the crux of Augustine’s error.

A better way of viewing Original Sin, which is the prevailing view in the Eastern/non-Augustinian strands of Christian theology, was that we do not inherit guilt or sin from Adam. What we inherit is his exile. Adam, by not being repentant, was cast from the Garden and God’s presence. The consequences of that are estrangement from God and death entering the world. He was exiled. We, as his descendants, share his exile (and to the point, not his guilt). To look at the example from a criminal point of view as was done above, if my parents were exiled as a result of my father’s crime, then I grow up in that place of exile. I inherit the consequence, that is my residence, not the guilt or blame. I and my children are not accountable for this act. From a theological perspective this means in the East, it is the Resurrection which is the dominant soteriological event, not the crucifixion. 

Take this back to the notions about American, race, and slavery. Guilt is, contra-Augustine, not heritable. The social conditions and ethnic consequences do exist. However, nobody living today is accountable for the actions begun in the 16th century by Bartolomé de las Casas and the social mechanisms that unfolded from those social/economic innovations. Perhaps it is the prevalence of St. Augustine’s error found so prevalently that allows those who consider slavery America’s “Original Sin” implies that guilt and things like reparations logically follow. They, alas, don’t. 

 

Taxes and Wealth Inequalities

I ran across an interesting observation in Fault Lines by Raghuram Rajan (a U of Chicago economist who has the distinction of being on of the economists who clearly and unequivocally warned of and predicted the recession well in advance of its occurance). Anyhow, I thought this quote fragment was insightful when viewing the distinct difference between left and right regarding income inequality, from the beginning of Chapter Nine:

Not all forms of income inequality are economically harmful. Higher wages serve to reward the very talented and the hardworking, identify the jobs in the economy that need the most skills, and signal to the young the benefits of investing in their own human capital. A forced equalization of wages that disregards the marginal contributions of different workers will deaden incentives and lead to a misallocation of resources and effort. 

However, when the only pathways to high wages are seen to be birth, influence, luck, or cheating, wage differentials may not act as a spur to effort. Why bother when effort is not the route to rewards? Ineed, as the political economists Alberto Alesina and George-Marios Angeletos argue, perception in a democracy as to how high wages or wealth are obtained can create self-reinforcing patterns. If society believes people earn high wages as a result of their training and hard work, it is less willing to tax high earners, thereby ensuring they have strong incentives to acquire skills and exert effort. If society believes people earn high wages because of connectedness, chance, or crookedness, then it will tax incomes more heavily, and since few of the honest will then bother to work hard, only those with influence, the lucky, or the cheats will flourish. 

The left and right in the US are distinguished in part by their willingness (or lack thereof) to tax high earners. The left like to pretend that the middle class right is “duped” into wanting to lower taxes on the wealthy because they are just stupid when in reality what is going on is that the middle class believes that the wealthy got that way in the main part due to their training and hard work. One might also observe that the left’s willingness to punish the wealthy will have its own negative social repercussions as noted above as well. 

Mr Rajan also points out that the willingness to tax high earners is higher than it was in the past and the above observation might be a clue to why that might be, that is our perception of who the wealthy consist as well as how they got that way is moving. This is unfortunate. 

 

Words and Mind: Tax Cuts as Costs for Government

Tax cuts are often discussed in terms of budget impact with phrases like “paying for a tax cut” or as “costing money.” 

In a book I read years ago by a Microsoft engineer about projects development the phrase “idiot bit” was used. The context for that is that when a persons “flips your idiot bit” and you realize they’ve done or said something idiotic the conclusion that that person is not too sharp is a “sticky” conclusion. They may do half-a-dozen things that are insightful and highly innovative … but once you’ve internally labeled that person as “stupid” it takes a lot to reverse that conclusion. Now, anthropologically speaking, this might be in part due to the peculiarities of how perceptions of intelligence is socially valued within the Microsoft (and software) sub-culture … and perhaps as well that this sort of “sticky conclusion” might be generalizable to other sub-cultures and “sticky” conclusions centering around the things they value. 

Usage of the terminology like “paying for tax cuts” and “tax cuts costing money” is a red-flag which, for myself at least, flips a similar “sticky bit.” From a somewhat abstract accounting point of view there is a sort of peculiar logic to that sort of terminology. But usage of that term betrays a level of abstraction and a point of view about taxation and government spending which forgets that taxation is inherently a violence against person or family. Taxation is a necessary evil of government. But to think of less taxes as a “cost” on government is a reversal of what should be the normative point of view, that government and its spending itself is a cost which is paid for by taxes. 

For small government proponents, statements about tax cut as cost “flips” a sticky bit. This means that it is hard to escape categorizing the speaker as a person willfully riding down the road to serfdom and at best a socialist or fascist. 

On Park51 or the Cordoba House

I have not offered any opinion of mine own on the proposed Mosque site. I think a lot of odd things have been said about it, not the least of which was the GOP reaction to his expressing the mainstream conservative opinion on the matter, that they do in fact posses a Constitutional right to build but that it is a very bad idea. One has to remember an idea you support, when spoken by one on the other side of the aisle, remains a good idea (and recall that even a broken clock is right twice a day). Another silly thing touted is that this building is “two whole blocks away” and nowhere near the ‘Ground Zero’ location. The reason that notion is silly is that the Park51/Cordoba people have chosen this location is its proximity to the former World Trade site. It seems to me that the those who protest that this is too far away miss a crucial point. Neither the sponsors nor the objectors see that is correct. Doubtless one can point at countless other ideas fronted on this topic which are incoherent or silly. Continue reading

Repost: King for a Day — Education K-12

In 2005 I had a short series, “King for a Day”, in which I pompously pronounced what the Imperial Highness (which would be me (us?)) would do if I (we) had complete dictatorial powers and could set and establish law and policy in given venues. I invite  (and had invited) commenters to either comment on my policy (or give me trackbacks or comments relating to what they would do in the same place. In the following with slight editing changes, I re-post that now.

The “public” educational system in this country is in disarray. Waste of resources combined with poor results demands some action. Acountability as proposed by Mr Bush & Mr Obama  is/are a first step, but does not go far enough. Some of these ideas I’ve proposed before, but I’ll re-iterate here, now that We’ve been proclaimed King.
Continue reading

Safety, Growth, and Virtue.

Regarding my “brief points” post the other night, I had this comment from Boonton to which I promised a response, 

Not quite following your safety net thoughts. Are you saying that Europe innovations more than the US and that’s because the US has a bigger safety net? I’m not really seeing how that is. Or are you saying that the US has a smaller safety net and innovates more than Europe? I think we should differentiate between types of safety nets. Compare unemployment in the US with labor’s relative dominance in Europe. In the US you get fired you get to collect unemployment (usually). In Europe its very hard to get fired. I would argue that the latter type of safety net probably squashes more innovation since once you get a job you’re quite comfortable and businesses don’t want to risk giving someone a job unless they are 100% sure about him. Likewise businesses seek to secure their markets in order to provide for secure employment. Market upstarts and disrupters are hardly welcome in this type of social arrangement.

There are indeed (at least) two types ‘types’ of safety nets at work. One involves companies and employment and the other involves personal safety nets. The EU allows more of both, that is it is harder for companies to fail and for individuals to lose their jobs and at the same time social personal safety nets are much more prevalent, e.g., unemployment, social security, and health care.  There are two points to be made here. One is that in the US as compared to the EU social and cultural differences that encourage the lessening of corporate safety nets are the same impulses that minimize the personal nets as well. The second point to be mad is that the greater levels of productivity and innovation in the US as compared to the EU is supported by the shallower safety nets. The underlying lesson for those (primarily on the left) who keep pushing to increase our personal and corporate safety nets are trying to sail the strait between Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla being the risk (or inevitability) of lower productivity and Charybdis would be the gamble that promises made cannot be sustained by future productivity and growth. The EU has alas it seems run into both. In the following we will concentrate on the arguments and logic over the second, the personal safety net.

The argument of why the two nets are connected is implicitly contained in the argument for why a lack of safety net leads to higher productivity.  In graduate school the advisor of a friend of mine once remarked when asked what makes a good experimentalist, “The trick is not avoiding mistakes, but making your mistakes quickly.” The point being is that innovation in the US is less due to some amazing ability of Americans to innovate but instead that banks don’t keep failing businesses afloat and that companies are don’t keep making the mistake of continuing employment of poor employees as willingly. Yet that doesn’t explain another datum. In Fault Lines, Mr Rajan points out that while the EU and the US publish roughly the same number of academic papers, those published in the US are cited far much more. The academic environments are quite similar, but the individuals in those academic environments are by and large products of their respective cultures. 

Consider two very different indigenous cultures from different environments and the individuals which are products of the same as an illustrative example. Consider those people who are products of a tropical Tahitian paradise and those who are dwell above the arctic circle. Those individuals from an arctic environment must spend a good deal of effort at sustaining subsistence. Diligence, care, and attention to small environmental details are required to acquire food and avoid inclement weather. Conversely little effort is required in a tropical paradise to obtain the minimum required for sustenance. If one were to suggest some metric for measuring diligence, industry, and the ability to endure hardships. Let’s call this measure, as a leading phrase, “virtue”. Then plot our measure of (this) virtue the two societies there might be no (or at best very minimal) overlap. That is to say, the most industrious paradise dweller likely has less virtue than the least virtuous arctic representative. Personal virtue is in a large part a product of environment. 

If this argument doesn’t convince, consider the English succession (and I’d be willing to bet that this is mirrored in the history of ruling families in nations and regions that I don’t know as intimately). Time after time, a king (a “good king”) would rise to power, such as a Henry II. Raised in a school of hard knocks he was a tough and effective ruler. His children had “all the advantages”, which as it turned out ended up to be not quite so advantageous. The point is hardships teach us. Failure is instructive and a motivator. Comfort and the absence of tests leaves one less likely to push. 

The point is that the difference in industry and productivity of the respective academic environments might perhaps be linked to a cultural requirement of a higher level of the same virtue noted above in the US because of its smaller personal safety net. 

Us And Credit: A Little History

From Rajan’s book Fault Lines, I summarize the latter part of the first chapter (sub-titled “A Short History of Housing Credit”). From Rajan, before we embark on this little history:

Easy credit has large, positive, immediate, and widely distributed benefits, whereas the costs all lie in the future. It has a payoff structure that is precisely the one desired by politicians, which is why so many countries have succumbed to its lure. Rich countries have, over time, built institutions such as financial sector regulators and supervisors, which can stand up to politicians and deflect such short term myopia. The problem in the United States this time was that the politicians found a way around these regulatory structures, and eventually public support for housing credit was so widespread that few regulators, if any, dared oppose it.

Prior to the Great Depression (also a time of great credit expansion and by golly also a period of great income inequality) mortgages were different. At that time mortgages where offered only by banks and credit unions and were short term, 5 years with a single capital repayment when the loan came due. These loans were variable rate, so the borrower bore the credit risk. In the 30s at the height of the Depression, loans were drying up and foreclosures a looming threat (10% of loans were threatened by foreclosure). So the government stepped in, creating HOLC and the FHA. HOLC was to buy defaulting loans and restructure them to 20 year amortizing mortgages with a fixed rate. The government held these loans for a short time but moved these into the private sector when it could … but the private sector at the time did not trust long term loans. So … the FHA guaranteed them, financing this by requiring insurance. HOLC disbanded in 1936 and was restructured as FNMA (Fannie Mae). FNMA bought FHA insured mortgages and financed them by issuing long term bonds sold to insurance and pension funds. 
In the 1960s short term interest rates went up and the system broke. To fix it, FNMA was split in two, FNMA and GNMA (Ginnie Mae). GNMA continued as FNMA had before, but now FNMA sold its repackaged loans directly to the public. When Lyndon Johnson had budget fights at hand, FNMA balance sheets were removed as a government liability. FHLM (Freddie Mae) was also created at this time to repackage loans made by the thrifts (credit unions) … and for the same reason it too was privatized. In the 1970s and early 80s. Fed chairman Paul Volcker increased short term interest rates to “hitherto unimagined levels” to tame inflation. This was lethal for the savings and loan industry and it would have gone bankrupt. But … housing was too important politically and the industry too well connected. So it was deregulated. The sizeable loss for the thrifts was converted neatly into an enormous loss for the taxpayers. This meant that Fannie and Freddie came to play in increasingly important role in mortgage financing. 
Fan and Fred are curious beasts, known to the industry (apparently) as GSEs or government sponsered enterprises. They have private shareholders to whom their profits are due. They are however not public. They have political perks and duties. They are exempt from federal and state taxes, government appointees on their boards, and a line of credit from the US Treasury. The “full faith and credit” of the US backs these organizations. These perks come with a mandate to — support housing finance. To do this they do two things, they buy mortgages which conform to certain size limits and credit standards. They also package these loans together and issue mortgage backed securties after insuring them against default. They also started borrowing directly from the market and investing mortgages backed securities. 

But much of the profit stemmed from their low cost of financing, deriving from the implicit government guarantee, and this was a critical political vulnerability.

Here is where the politicians stepped in. In 1992 Congress passed the “Federal Housing Enterprise, Safety, and Soundness Act.” The act instructed HUD to develop affordable housing goals for the agencies and monitor progress towards these goals. Rajan notes that when Congress writes an act with “Safety and Soundness” in the title, you must realize that Congress means that ironically. Even though Fan/Fred couldn’t head off this bill, they did manage to restructure it to their advantage. They insured that the legislation required that they hold less capital than other regulated financial institutions and that this new regulator (within HUD) was subject to Congressional appropriations. This meant that if it really started, you know, regulating Fan/Fred the friends of Fan/Fred in Congress could cut their purse strings. 
The combination of an activist Congress, government supported private firms hungry for profit, and a weak and pliant regulator proved disastrous.

Under the Clinton admin, HUD steadily increased the amount of funding it required the agencies to allocate to low income housing. The administration set ever higher mandates for the percentage of these loans, from 42% in 1995 to 50% in 2000. In 1977 the CRA (community reinvestment act) had required banks to lend in their local markets, but set no explicit goals, which was left to the regulators. The Clinton admin put pressure on the regulators to apply threats and fines on banks to increase loans … and so they did. In 2000, the Clinton admin ramatically cut the minimum down payment required to qualify for an FHA (federally insured loan) to 3%,  increased the maximum size of the mortgage, and halved the premiums it charged for the insurance. Mr Bush’s administration doubled down on these practices. The pushed the mandate to 56%. 
How much lending went this way? Well, in Rajan’s words

On average, these entities accounted for 54% of the market across the years, with a high of 70% in 2007. He (Pinto) estimates that in June 2008 the mortgage giants, the FHA, and various other government programs were exposed to about $2.7 trillion in sub-prime and Alt-A loans, approximately 59% of the total loans in those categories. It is very difficult to reach any other conclusion than that this was a market driven largely by government, or government influence money.

A Naive Question Regarding Stimulus

We are being fed the line from the Administration and Keynesian/neo-Keynesian economists that what we don’t need now government spending sanity, but more stimulus. So here’s the background and then the question …

A leading if not the primary cause of the current recession is the result of 20 years of government stimulus in the form of the government push for low/middle income housing. Now the difference there is during the last 20 years the government stimulus has been in the form or high risk loans which were then repackaged and sold to large banking establishments and foreign investors. This is to be distinguished from the current stimulus which comes in the form of government giveaways which are underwritten by large banking establishments and foreign.

So … if Keynesian stimulus is a primary cause of this recession, why then do Keynesian think that is the fix?

Wrestling With the NSS

Well, I read the NSS this weekend … and I haven’t yet written that thorny post that I promised to write as yet. This post will not reach that lofty goal I held for myself but it may do as a weak substitute. As mentioned on Friday what I was going to try to do is take this middling sized document (about 60 pages) produced by Mr Obama which comprised the new National Security Strategy which his administration is allegedly following and this document comprises a submittal to the Senate explaining the overall features of that strategy.

What I discovered in my attempt to bypass the Satan hermeneutic and to attempt to read it sympathetically is that this exercise is really really difficult. When you read a document such as this and stumble at every paragraph or even every few sentences with objections to fact, to interpretation of events or situations, and to the efficacy of particular strategic offerings it is difficult to catch yourself every time and to remember that the author does not see these objections. He sees either obvious solutions to those problems or doesn’t see the objection as valid. It is the exercise then for the reader at each of these catchpoints to pause and to reflect and try to imagine either the solution or why the objection is invisible.

In the near future I hope to do that exercise for a fragment of this document and demonstrate how it works out. But for now, there are some broad brush impressions I’ve garnered in the attempt to use this method. A third post I hope to write is one reflecting finally on the actual overall NSS as a strategic plan.

What I’ve learned is that Mr Obama is a statist, he has Marxist leanings and has either not read the Petraeus COIN manual or Paul Collier’s books on the third world (or if he has read those latter two works he’s rejected their conclusions and their suggestions). Let me explain.

  • As Statist — All his solutions to various problems whether it be engaging foreign states both friend and foe or strengthening the economy and the internal status of our county the solution is the same … the federal government.
  • As Marxist — He finds one of the essential source of conflict in the world are class struggle identified by inequalities of opportunity and wealth between different tribal, national or ethnic groups. Mr Collier points out in his book the Bottom Billion that there is no statistical basis for that premise. It seems to me this is going to be a strategic problem if you misidentify the source of conflicts.
  • COIN —  One of the theme’s hammered home time after time in the COIN manual is that there are a host of tasks that need to be done in the context of an counter-insurgency operation. These tasks we are informed (repeatedly) are not best done by the military but by other government and NGO organs. The development and extension of these capabilities have consequences beyond the specific task of COIN operations but if developed could be an effective tool for aiding nations in that “bottom billion” on the road to recovery.
  • Collier — Like Mr Bush before him, Mr Obama thinks democracy is the answer and would encourage its development. Mr Collier points out some of the pitfalls of democracy for the bottom billion which is unacknowledged and ignored. As Mr Collier points out the pet solutions for the third world held by left and right are only accidentally and occasionally useful. Each of these countries is unique and the solution for one country may be harmful for another.

Let me point to one of my objections listed above in more detail. In engaging our enemies Mr Obama thinks that diplomatic and government interactions are key to breaking the history of distrust. He talks about engagement. Now it seems to me there is an obvious “better” way to go about skinning that cat and that while the federal government might have a role they, that role is not primary but an enabling one. Economic entanglement by getting opening and bringing small to medium sized businesses in these countries to interact and establish relationships would be a better one. For example, if you want to “reset” relations with Russia, drop visa requirements and try to get Russian companies, e.g., Teremok and the like, to open branches here. Try to get them to reciprocate and start bringing the grassroots of our economies more interdependent.

Logical Inconsistancy and the NSS

A question regarding promotion of Democracy. During the Iraq reconstruction, the Iraqi people came together and wrote their own Constitution. Critics in this country soundly criticised that document because it didn’t establish freedom of religion, that is Islamic religious principles and separation of Church and State was not firmly established. In the recent National Security Strategy document released by the Administration the same curious thing occurred. In adjacent sections Mr Obama states that two primary objectives with regard to promoting human rights abroad include supporting democracy and women’s rights. These two ideas are in conflict.

The document states the importance of:

Recognizing the Legitimacy of All Peaceful Democratic Movements: America respects the right of all peaceful, law-abiding, and nonviolent voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.

and

Supporting the Rights of Women and Girls: Women should have access to the same opportunities and be able to make the same choices as men.

It seems to me quite clear that one of the notions held throughout much of the world is that women should not have the same access to the same opportunities as men. And this is an idea expressed by peaceful, law-abiding, and non-violent voices in places around the world, one with which however we disagree. This is just the same as the criticisms rendered after a democratic government forms a Constitution which does not separate Church and State.

Here’s the thing, you can support the idea that people should be free and able to set up their communities and the laws and customs by which they are run. You can want people to have certain ways of governing themselves and modes of setting up those communities. You can’t have both.

Our Security Strategy ?!

My weekend homework for blogging. This post has piqued my interest and I think it will focus in on a number of points which are crucial. Of particular interest there is a 50+ page paper by the White House highlighting and stating to Congress our current National Security Strategy. The first link in the linked piece is to a downloadable document which of primary interest. In reading a statement like that one has to read it twice to avoid falling into the Satan’s Hermeneutic trap. One should read this first adopting and trying to fit in and understand within the context of the writer what points he is trying to make and his argument. In that reading when one encounters points which are troubling or incomplete … it an exercise for the reader to supply possible and likely solutions which perhaps were either overlooked or assumed. This is the part of reading which is only typically done by and between sympathetic parties. The second reading is adversarial and is aimed at finding and highlighting the essential flaws in the understanding or thesis of the writer. Many of these points are made already in the piece linked and are a key point in why this document might be interesting. Why?

  • One fundamental flaw pointed out is Mr Obama’s tendency to academic modes of practice. That is talking the correct talk, but lacking follow through and any serious commitment to the same.
  • Another flaw is Mr Obama’s (and his administration’s) lack of general expertise in executive positions. For example, in the linked piece note Mr Levy has noted an implicit (or even explicit) assumption of mercantilism as a working and useful economic model for today’s economy. Now it is highly likely that his economic team advising him on matters of national and international economic affairs wouldn’t make that sort of mistake. Apparently however, there is nobody who might easily catching those sorts of mistakes in the room when overall security strategies are being crafted. 
  • In Mr Obama’s numerous foreign addresses there seemed to be a number of flaws and defenders pointed out that an over-arching strategy was in play but never offered any suggestions what that strategy might be. Well, this document should give us that. Why for example, does is he so short with our allies. Why the verbal appeasement and praise for our putative enemies? This document should clear that up.

Anyhow, I’m not diving into flaws or other points yet. I haven’t read the paper … even once and I’m going to read it twice … and take notes. My discussion will follow at the tail end of the weekend.

On Healthcare and Honesty

There is currently, as is well known, a debate on health policy. Within this debate it seems to me there is a fundamental misunderstanding between right and left on this matter. I’d like to make as pointed a expression of this misunderstanding in the hopes that those on the left might clarify for my their views on this matter.

The left makes the following claims:

  1. Restructuring healthcare is required because of the millions without any health insurance coverage.
  2. Controlling the rising costs of healthcare is a major concern as well. Therefore the healthcare bill contains measures to contain and regulate pharmaceutical and insurance firm profits as well as doctors compensations. 

These items are problematic especially in the light of the three proposals on the table from the left.

Regarding item 1, a plan which would provide a minimal adequate universal catastrophic health care coverage is neither complicated nor cost prohibitive. It does not require a 2.5k page plan, one more of the nature of 40 pages would suffice, i.e., not much larger than the heath care coverage legal statement/booklets which most of of have for our own plans. This is not by any stretch of imagination the healthcare plan on the table. Therefore it cannot be construed that this issue is in fact a real feature/concern of the plan(s) in question.

As to item number 2, the first and more natural explanation for rising costs is due to a relationship between supply and demand. That is rising costs are symptomatic of rising demand in comparison with a supply. The bill(s) in question instead of consisting of a mechanism for increasing supply and/or attempting to ameliorate expectations or demand is instead more of the nature of a price control and regulatory scheme. In the real world, price controls of commodity items lead to lowered supply and scarcity … not increased production. That is price controls are in reality very good ways to choke off and decrease the supply of a thing. Furthermore the profit margins of insurance companies and “big pharma” are not out of line when compared to comparable industries. Expectations of large cost savings by regulation are not warranted, and this is in addition to the above noted deleterious effects of cost controls.

Putting these two remarks and their objections together alongside the much touted (by the left) reminder that those on the left are so very much smarter than we knuckle-dragging dim-witted conservatives that the left is aware of this disconnect between their policy proposals and the expected effects of their proposal. Thus those clever fellows on the left realising that a universal reasonable catastrophic insurance coverage plan is 40 pages and that cost controls do lead to shortages. 

Now one might propose that the Democratic politicians and pundits are aware that their proposals and justifications for the same have little if anything to do with each other and that instead that they prefer these proposals for very different reasons than those stated. For example, these proposals may ease the passing of any number of other social measures which the increase in social control and power these bills might afford. That, while dishonest at best, is at least understandable after all they see this measure to be one which is to their personal advantage. The problem is the rank and file member of the left. Why do they support a bill which so badly fits the stated aims? This, for me, a mystery.

Same Sex Marriage: A Question

I’d like to pose a question to any out there who might support SSM. Allow me a moment to set the question up with some numbers.

The percentage of the population, based on a John Fund essay some years ago which I’m not going to dig up for y’all, offered that if finds that upwards 6% of the population are gay then in Canada, where SSM was legalized, then it was observed that about 6% of that gay population was availing itself of the opportunity to get married. This means that the SSM question affects just under .4% of the population. Conversely 94% of the population is not gay, and a considerably higher proportion of that population does get married. Within that larger set, a certain number of the marriages are “weak”, that is have significant difficulties in staying hitched. Today’s high divorce rate is a symptom of that fact.

Marriage itself is a institution and a practice which involves many things, including the relational aspect between the two individuals, the community, and immediate and extended family (that is kids). The arguments for SSM stress the first as being the primary aspect, i.e., that marriage is primarily a bond between two people in a loving and nurturing relationship. This argument consequentially reduces the emphasis on the other aspects of marriage. For the “weak” marriages above that in turn improves the chance of those marriages breaking up, because if marriage is “about” relationship and the relationship is sour or lost, then there is no point in continuing.

So here’s my question: If SSM were enacted, say federally, it seems quite plausible that the number of SSM marriage partners is roughly commensurate with increase in the number of children from broken families due to a new emphasis on the partner aspect of marriage. So, for argument, grant that these numbers are about the same, that is the number of people in new gay marriages is equal to the number of children abandoned to state care. If that were the case, would legalizing SSM still be the right thing to do?

Military and Budget

Recently, in the number of comment trails for which I am not quite managing to keep up, a point of disagreement arose between commenter JA and myself regarding the size of the military budget. For the purposes of the discussion below, I will concede right off that the assumptions I’m making about the opposite point of view is one which is understood by me as a stock (or not uncommon) liberal/progressive position on this matter and it may or may not coincide with JA’s particular views.

One of the current dogmas on the progressive/liberal left is that military spending is far too great. They will enjoin and welcome in today’s depressed economy any sort of broken window ala Bastiat, transposing ditches, repairing roads which don’t urgently or presently need repair, beautifying rarely used parks, or spending great sums on underused airports but if that money is spent on military resources, well now, that’s going far beyond the pale.

The current budget has four large parts which make up about 75% of the budget. These parts four parts are to a first order roughly equal. The other three parts along side the military expenditures are social security, payroll security, and healthcare. The opinions expressed here by myself regarding government/state involvement in actuarial activities and the need to be careful about keeping incentives in order are likely well known. Thus the salient objection that the military budget is too large in comparison to the other three large expenditures would normally be contested here with an eye to the point of view that the other three are not part of what a government should be engaged and therefore eliminated entirely. However, let’s set that aside and inspect for a moment the question of the size of the military budget and whether it is too large or too small. Continue reading

So, I had this Idea

I’m going to form a union (if the “union exemption” for taxes on healthcare gets passed). Some features of my new union:

  1. The dues will amount to the price of your employer’s healthcare, which we will pay for on their behalf … but get that nice loophole thing.
  2. Management is welcome to join.
  3. We will not take up any wage/workplace or other similar issues.
  4. We will not collectively bargain with management, our truck is not with them, but with regulatory burdens.
  5. Will will take full advantage of government tax shelters and perks for unions. 
  6. We will dissolve immediately when it is no longer advantageous to exist.

Seems like these simple steps will set the course in motion. Whaddya think? We have Blue Dog dems, RINOs (DINOs?) why not tea party unions.

Are there other perks and benefits to unionising that I don’t know about? I’ve spent so many years despising unions that I hadn’t realized all those reprehensible government perks to buy votes can and should be subverted and used by the rest of us.

Ideology and the Constitution: Take 2

Commenter Boonton kindly and helpfully remarked that yesterday’s post was clear as mud. What follows is an attempt to clarify and expand on what I was trying to say.

In the book (Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More) that I was reading on the recent travels over break, I came across this passage (the first link is an Amazon book link, the second to a chapter provided on-line by the publisher … which you can likely also buy it from, but they won’t put any change in my tip-jar). :D 

One of the central contradictions of socialism is a version of what Claude Lefort called a general paradox within the ideology of modernity: the split between ideological enunciation (which reflects the theoretical ideals of the Enlightenment) and ideological rule (manifest in the practical concerns of the modern state’s political authority). The paradox, that we will call “Lefort’s paradox,” lies in the fact that ideological rule must be “abstracted from any question concerning its origins,” thus remaining outside of ideological enunciation and, as a result, rendering that enunciation deficient. In other words, to fulfill its political function of reproducing power, the ideological discourse must claim to represent an “objective truth” that exists outside of it; however, the external nature of this “objective truth” renders the ideological discourse inherently lacking in the means to describe it in total, which can ultimately undermine this discourse’s legitimacy and the power that it supports.

First, order of business then is to unpack this a little. The Lefort paradox is sort of a political analogue to Gödel’s incompleteness. It is (the author and presumably Mr Lefort) an observed quality common to ideological regimes. What it claims is that there is a operational split between “enunciation” and “rule”. The enunciation comprises the principles and philosophical grounding that forms the basis of the regime. For example, the Soviet regime was based on Marxist principles and dogmas. The rule then is then the implementation. The point is once a regime is established those involved in the regime can no longer actively question and modify the enunciation.  The ancillary point is that as a result of this paradox ideological regimes are fundamentally unstable. They are rigid because of this separation and unable to adapt in a changing world and circumstance. The book noted above makes a direct connection with the instability of the Soviet state with this paradox. It is a feature of ideologically based regimes.

Continue reading

Ideology, a Paradox, and the US Constitution

In the book (Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More)I was reading on the recent travels over break, I came across this passage (the first link is an amazon book link, the second to a chapter provided on-line by the publisher … which you can likely also buy it from, but they won’t put any change in my tip-jar). :D

One of the central contradictions of socialism is a version of what Claude Lefort called a general paradox within the ideology of modernity: the split between ideological enunciation (which reflects the theoretical ideals of the Enlightenment) and ideological rule (manifest in the practical concerns of the modern state’s political authority). The paradox, that we will call “Lefort’s paradox,” lies in the fact that ideological rule must be “abstracted from any question concerning its origins,” thus remaining outside of ideological enunciation and, as a result, rendering that enunciation deficient. In other words, to fulfill its political function of reproducing power, the ideological discourse must claim to represent an “objective truth” that exists outside of it; however, the external nature of this “objective truth” renders the ideological discourse inherently lacking in the means to describe it in total, which can ultimately undermine this discourse’s legitimacy and the power that it supports.

Now, there are intellectual currents that would claim the governing ideology of the Western democracies and specifically the US is market capitalism, which some shoehorn to fit the definition of a ideology. Yet, I think that the state set up by the founders is non-ideological … or at least it should be but very often isn’t.

The government as Constitutionally set up (and as well by the Declaration that preceded it) is, as I see it, non-ideological. It provides a framework within which ideologies can co-exist. The Constitution sets up regulations and restrictions on the federal government which are routinely ignored by Congress, the SCOTUS, and the President. But, the point is if they chose not to ignore the Constitution (for example all rights not enumerated in the Constitution are not available to the Federal government) then some states (or small municipalities if given that freedom) could in fact become socialist, technocratic, theocratic or whatever they chose.

Universal healthcare is an ideological construct. It makes ideological assumptions about choice and freedom and government responsibility which fit within a “ideological enunciation”. It’s implementation will be direct violence to the intent and content of the Constitution. The right for me to choose to have health insurance (or more specifically to not have the same) is not enumerated in the Constitution, therefore by the 10th amendment this is a right not permitted for Congress to abridge.

So, if you’re for universal healthcare and specfically the bill being pushed in Congress now … you should be ashamed of yourself, it’s an un-Constitutional travesty.

Considering the TSA and the Anti-Martyr Problem

Well, the TSA objective of making transportation safe is back on the front-burner. Now the TSA screening is a poor seive. It is a largely static target and is very costly, the largest cost of course is in the lost time that travellers endure in negotiating long security lines. Furthermore, it is likely that much of their efforts are counter-productive. For example, making box-cutters freely available and common on flights would make it harder, not easier, for a terrorist or terrorists to hijack a flight. The “rules” of engagement with those who would interfere with the operation and direction of airplane do not get time to negotiate or to “make demands” known like they might do in the 20th century. Once a person is identified as hostile (a prospective anti-martyr) that person is quickly neutralized by his fellow passengers. The age of passive passengers has past once the 9/11 event occurred.

However TSA has a purpose. It is visible and reactive. It can take the appearance of being the primary and front line defence in a strategy to identify and interdict prospective anti-martyrs. War and espionage (to which this anti-martyr interdiction campaign is related) is in part one of misdirection. To that end, the TSA screeners take a very public and obvious role. They (might) be the public and obvious strategy which is a counterfeit. If indeed the TSA plays such a role, we as the voting public will not know that for as soon as it is common and public knowledge that the TSA is a large noisy feint … then their will be an outcry to remove it and an alternate deception will be harder to enact. Continue reading

Considering AGW … Scattered Showers Thoughts

A few thoughts, in the form of the dread bullet list, on AGW and climate in general.

  • If one uses a variable τ to represent the time-scale in which one is considering making predictions (about the weather), then we can identify a number of regimes forτ. If τ is in minutes or even seconds, often we have difficulty predicting weather as gusts of wind move from our local point of view very unpredictably. If τ is in the day/week regime again weather forecasters have difficulty predicting more than 24 hours out in great accuracy temperature, wind, and precipitation. Apparently, as the recent almost decades long downturn which was … unpredicted is anyindication as well, if τ is in the time-scale of a year or a dozen years again climate scientists fail to predict accurately into the future. Yet, they would have it that ifτ is in the quarter century to century regime … there, and apparently only there the science is easy and they have that figured out. And they’ve both made their prediction and want us to stake the farm on their result. Now in the above conversation if one moved from weather to the market and discussed the various regimes of market, which is similarly unpredictable at any number of time scales, and suggested that based on my computer model of past events I’ve got it nailed down. I have a good model for quarter century market movement. Furthermore I am now trying to convince you to bet your entire life savings on your model. You’d rightfully point out that only several million other yokels have used past markets to predict future market behaviour and have all failed … and that such models are worth not a whole lot more than a bucket of spit. So the question is, is why you think one chaotic dynamical system is so far different from another. If you’re going to really make the claim that when τ is a half-century then that needs to be tested. And that claim that your methods and models work well for that time period will be proven … in about 200-300 years … if you can correctly predict trends now and watch the climate track your predictions. 30 years ago climate science was warning of impending ice ages. Today, it’s warming. Tomorrow?
  • One of the claims of those who would call those sceptical of AGW, “climate deniers” are quick to attempt to label the objectors as anti-science Luddites. Yet that claim doesn’t really fly. There are indeed some anti-science people on the right, and others can argue about the numbers or percentages and compare cricket race results. But there is a problem, which is people like myself. There is another problem. There are strong social idealogical reasons why those on the left are receptive to AGW where they should be perhaps (see the prior remarks) more sceptical.The left is conditioned to find fault with America and the corporate culture and behold, AGW fits right into that idea. Given then that there are secondary (and perhaps in many cases dominant) non-scientific reasons why many would be receptive to AGW … that strikes me as problematic.
  • Computer modeling has also been described as computer aided story telling. Computer modelling has been used as a shortcut in design and engineering successfully these days in automotive and aerospace design. Yet, consider for a few moments that these applications are backed up by many decades engineering, wind tunnel testing, materials/structural testing and so on. That level of testing and detail, frankly, has no way of having been matched by climate scientists. Furthermore AGW proponents desire the results of their work to have a large and costly public impact. So, are their data sets, algorithms and methods clearly and publicly accessible? Consider the deletion of files and emails in an illegal response to an FOI request? See this post for remarks on how open the AGW people have been.
  • Finally, I’m embarrassed to admit another reason that I’m sceptical about AGW … is that I was trained as a Physicist. In Physics the best and brightest move, especially in theory, to the “hot” topics. In programming, (see Mythical Man Month) there exist orders of magnitude in productivity between the very best programmers and the average (and the poor). Likewise this is true in Physics as well … at least in theoretical Physics. And here’s were the bias (or perhaps bigotry) of which I will admit to holding. I don’t think climate or meteorology is a hot topic and as a result I’m of the mindset that climate scientists are, well, second rate.This perhaps not a good reason, but for me I suspect it remains a factor.

On the New York Show Trial

Apparently we are heading to a New York show trial of a infamous Guantanamo Bay resident. Some years earlier, a famous essay by Hannah Arendt to whit, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, which highlighted another show trial. In that former trial, to the discerning observer if not to the general audience, political ethics and the public/personal normative framing were highlighted. The prospects seem low, especially given the pre-trial protestations of an assurance of a guilty verdict by Mr Holder, of any such public debate and discussions about political ethics on the public stage. Earlier I queried an interlocutor in conversation over up-coming civil show trial what was his evaluation of the considerations involved in the detainment, processing, and treatment of illegal combatants.

Who are we talking about here. The subjects we are discussing are illegal combatants according to Geneva definition. They use both methods of combat proscribed by the convention and they do not wear uniforms. Furthermore many if not most of those detained are either foreign nationals, al Qaeda or Iranian commandos, fighting not in their own country or in their countries defence.

  1. One of the considerations is that these prisoners do not have a right of a writ of habeas corpus. This, and myself not being a lawyer had to look this up, is the right of a person to request (or demand) a hearing in a court. This of course, begs the question … what court? Putting a person before a court assumes you know what law will apply to them, for law and legal proceedings define the court to which one will be judged. The US high courts do not judge Catholic ecclesiastical law. What jurisdiction and what laws have these men broken, for it seems logical that it is the courts that set up those particular laws under which they should be tried.
  2. Will these men have a defence council? There seems to be at least one consideration on that matter, which is not being widely discussed, especially by the left … I challenge you to find a left/leaning progressive blog discussing this contents of this post (HT: Doug at Stones Cry Out).

    For instance, in the trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, prosecutors were required to turn over to defense lawyers a large amount of intelligence information. Documents from that discovery production, which were never supposed to be provided to anyone outside the defense team, were later found in an al-Qaeda hideout. Let me say that again, confidential documents from a trial in New York were later found in the hands of al-Qaeda

    Does this matter? If not, why not? If it does, what procedures are now in place to prevent a repeat of this?

  3. These men captured, at the very least, are combatants out of uniform. The importance of this cannot be overstressed. Uniforms are there for a purpose. And that primary purpose is to make soldiers identifiable targets in wartime so in order to protect civilian life. It is far harder to accidentally target civilians when the enemy is identifiable. For all the thousands of remarks made, especially by left leaning commentators, on civilian casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel … I’ve very rarely once seen blame squarely where it belongs, on those who are not wearing uniforms and are staging military operations in civilian locations, like communities, hospitals, schools and places of worship. How those who are captured who engage in these activities has some influence on how easy it is for others to follow suit.
  4. It has been said that the rule of law, not arbitrary behind the scenes adjudications should apply to these individuals. To that, we all might agree. However, there is no body of law presently in place to do so. Yet, we are rushing to trial in the absence of the same … with an “assurance” of a guilty verdict. Exactly how does that work?
  5. Police enforcement could indeed “catch” more criminals if it didn’t have to rigorously follow laws requiring and directing the treatment and standards of evidence. Soldiers on the battlefield have a different set of priorities and directives. In part this is because of the criminals being sought by the police are not as dangerous or as organized. Many if not most, do not ultimately resist arrest and few criminals are suicidal individuals with access to HE munitions. This is related to the prior point. The body of law and courts which judge these individuals must take into account different standards of evidence than is required in civil courts.
  6. Stepping back for a moment. Take for example, a hypothetical individual under trial. Imagine him to be a Saudi national, captured by US commandos in Pakistan who was a commander that has has fought and directed operations in Afghanistan and in other countries. What court should judge this man? Under what statues? Abstract this for a moment. You have a John Doe, caught by operatives of Nation A in the territory of Nation B. He has directed illegal terrorist and non-Geneva compliant operations in Nations C, D and E. Compare to Eichmann in Jerusalem. Jurisdiction is anything but clear.

OK. Here is an additional exercise for the reader. The above points were numbered for ease of reference … not by priority. There are two questions. What points did I miss. Are there considerations not mentioned here? What about the order of importance of the above points. What considerations take priority? What considerations are not so relevant?