Monday, March 28, 2011

On Self Defense...

...there's a video circulating throughout the gun blogs in which a guy gives what is, 99% of the time for 99% of gun owners, hilariously bad advice.  Trollishly bad advice, even.

There are some situations in which the advice is merely -bad- advice, however, rather than being hilariously so; at the root, even if the specifics (dumping a body next to a highway?) are suspiciously bad advice, the general case can be justifiable in a limited set of scenarios.  For example, there are places which do not respect the right to self defense, and leaving yourself dependent on the common sense of government authorities is more legal suicide than doing something illegal; if I lived in Britain and was forced into a self-defense scenario, the authorities would never know anything had happened if I had any means to that end.

Similarly if I was forced to defend myself against a police officer.  Let's not pretend police officers are dispassionate about this sort of thing, or above forging evidence to put away somebody they think deserves it if they feel strongly enough about it, which they're going to, and who can blame them.  (Not to mention that the law frequently doesn't even recognize self defense against the police.)

It is foolish to assume the law to be either dispassionate or rational; I believe every situation should be fully evaluated, and I cannot agree with my fellow gun bloggers that a blind adherence to the law is in your best interests.  Most of the time, yes, and if you cannot tell the difference, you should certainly follow the law - but it bears saying that there is occasion to reject it.

Moral Luck

I am out of town at the moment and posts may be even more sporadic than usual.

Listed as a bias by Wikipedia, and criticized widely by philosophers, conceptualizes the idea that human beings have a tendency, given two actors who behaved in similar ways but had different outcomes, of blaming disproportionately the person with the negative outcome.

The problem with this criticism of moral luck is simple - it starts with a presumption that has no relation to the real world.  In no case in the real world can we find two actors who behaved in precisely similar ways.

The Wikipedia example is of two motorists - both run red lights.  They both behave in precisely the same way, except that in one case, a person was crossing the road, and got hit.

A fine example.  But completely worthless.  Ask yourself, after reading the example, if -you- feel inclined to blame one person rather than the other.

The difference is not the juxtaposition, nor the explication of the bias around the example - the difference is that we are given privy to information which doesn't exist in the real world, namely, that the two individuals behaved in precisely similar ways.  It's stated as part of the formation of the example that if the old woman had walked in front of the other car she also would have been hit.

What is missing is the simple element of uncertainty which exists in the real world.  -Would- she have been hit had she walked in front of the other car?  Did the other driver glance up and check the environment before reading a text message, or whatever example we use as the distraction?

I never get speeding tickets; I've known people who get more than one a month.  We both speed; is this luck?  Or does the fact that I pay such close attention to the road while I'm driving that I notice cops long before they'd notice me figure into it?

Superficially similar behaviors can have wildly different outcomes based on variables which may not be stated as part of the problem set.

Which is to say, the variables are not constrained, and irresponsible behavior tends to have negative outcomes; comparatively responsible behavior does not and cannot eliminate negative outcomes, but there is still significance in the event, we are not remiss in attaching some significance to the outcome in terms of the moral agent.

Now, before I finish, it is appropriate to state that, in spite of everything I have written, this is still a bias.  Which brings up an important concept:  A bias is not necessarily wrong.  Most bias can be characterized as being generally right, but (for a given value of wrong) for the wrong reasons.  It might be better defined as heuristic than bias; both terms are correct, but the word "bias" carries baggage which it does not fully deserve, which is in large part why we have the word "heuristic" to begin with.  (Heuristics are fundamentally a form of bias.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Here's an idea...

...a bit late, a bit topical, a lot not (entirely) serious:

The nuclear reactor in Japan was hit with a worse-than-the-worst-case-scenario tsunami, which was about three times taller than the reactor had been designed to withstand.

Looking at the early climate scenarios of what the earth should look like today, why don't we use climate scientists to invent future case scenarios, and use their middle scenarios as the worst case we design for?

Password Security

I'm not one of those paranoid people who gives each website its own unique password, memorizes it, and then changes it weekly.

I have two basic schemes I think work well:

The first is the one I use, a security gradient; you maintain a fixed number of passwords, changed occasionally, to which you attach different security levels.

So my personal e-mail uses my medium-security password; all my online game accounts use my low-security password (oh noes smbdy stoled all my roonz/gold in diablo/lotro however will I live).  My bank account uses my highest security, and the e-mail I have my bank notices sent to uses my second-to-highest security.

In practice these each have a couple of variants; I attach a number to the end of my low-security password for websites which insist I use a higher security level.  (Really, people, my password choice is deliberate, I don't -care- if somebody steals the account information to a blogging site I only joined to write a comment on somebody's shit with.)  I have two high security passwords after freaking out that a site just stole it.  (My bank account site redirects you to a different domain if you get logged out due to inactivity, and I only noticed the domain after I typed in my username and password.  I late figured out the domain was legit, and accessed by redirect every time I log in for some retarded reason, but I was freaking out for a little while there.)

The other scheme I think could work, which I've seen referenced, is to have -one- password, and to encrypt domain names using that password as a key, to constitute the passwords for those individual domains.  I'm slightly reluctant to move to this because string-based encryption isn't terribly secure, and a clever site could potentially reverse-engineer what I'm doing.  (Using a proper encryption key would be better, but would fuck you over if you ever lost said key.)  So mixing this scheme with the first scheme would probably be ideal.

Except for sites with retarded limits on passwords.  Seriously, people, can we standardize password lengths?  My low security password, the shortest of my passwords, has exceeded the maximum length before.  In regards to said site, wtf good is a 6 character password, and why in the fuck do you also require this absurdly short password to have punctuation, numbers, lower case letters, AND upper case letters?

Could a single unethical site - say, my bank - fuck me over?


But as a rule, any company I use my high-security password with could fuck me over even without the password.  That's why I used my best password to begin with.


...somebody has been going through my whole blog.  (Internet Explorer, dude/dudette?  Really?  Okay, it's not as bad as it once was, and is now a respectable browser, but Chrome is -fast-.)

Which prompted me to see what the fuss was about.

Where I happened upon one of my old posts:

"Preparation is the vaccination for violence.  If everyone operated like this, nobody would need to."

This is a case where my own statement has startled me.  I made this incredibly good point with this incredible implication and didn't even notice at the time, blithely going on to talk about other shit.

If it is moral to force somebody to get vaccinations, it is moral to force them to take self-defense classes, to learn to shoot, to be ready to kill in defense of themselves.  If we have a moral obligation to get vaccinations, we have a similar moral obligation to be prepared to defend ourselves and our property.

There is a critical threshold, with vaccinations or with self-defense, at which prevalence of the practice completely prevents disease, or violent crime/robbery, from being sustainable within a society.

I don't believe in obligations, legal or moral, to get vaccinated; I similarly don't believe in obligations to practice self defense.

But there are people who do, for one, but almost universally not the other.  (Sadly there are people on both sides of the fence on this issue.  I've met people who oppose vaccinations but believe self defense training should be mandatory.)

So, readers: Use this.  Point out the hypocrisy in the positions.  If somebody insists this treats fellow human beings as forces of nature, like a disease, well, they're entirely right.  Anybody utilizing force - and thus negating the means of reason - is treating themselves like a force of nature, however, so feel free to point out that their statement has no relevancy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Starving the Beast

(I may owe a hat tip to somebody, as I cannot recall where the idea for this subject came from)

Financial conservatives have been more than happy to blame the situation on the people spending the money.  And they're right; if we didn't spend the money, we wouldn't be in this situation.

But let's not forget the shadow of history.  Ronald Reagan started a policy loosely referred to as "Starving the Beast," a policy of deliberately targeting taxation rather than spending.  CATO research into the era of "Starving the Beast" fiscal conservatism strongly suggests that not only has it been unproductive, but counterproductive:
Michael J. New-“Starve the Beast: A Further Examination,” Cato Journal, 29(3): 487-495, Fall 2009. <- Comments by an advisor to both Reagan and Bush Sr, both strong proponents of the "Starve the Beast" strategy.

The references courtesy of Wikipedia, incidentally, because I'm lazy.

The evidence doesn't support any cutting of government spending; if anything, the public has called for ever-more, and who wouldn't?  They're getting discounted public services that future generations will be paying for.

So for those financial conservatives believing that we're facing a state of emergency which will lead to a gross expansion of federal powers - well, your political predecessors helped dig the hole.

Starve the Beast didn't and hasn't worked; as far as I can tell, it was in fact merely an excuse for so-called fiscal conservatives to spend as much as they wanted.

Rape Discussions...

Which I'm sure my readers are getting bored of me talking about, but it's a subject of interest to me.

As per a QP comment on one of her posts: (NSFW site)

"That being said, your question [of what behavior is appropriate in rape discussions] might not be well received on feminist sites generally because it could possibly be interpreted as 'it’s your job to teach me'"

The very fact that this works as a derailment tactic suggests there are serious problems there.  Other communities talk about things like The September That Never Ended, taking for granted there are regular infusions of people who don't understand the mores of the community, that teaching them those mores is part of how the community prospers and grows.

This is a part of every community.  A community which cannot or will not do this is crippled and doomed, which is to say, it -is- their jobs to do this.  This is part of humanity; we keep dying and getting replaced, and training our replacements is a constant job.  We cannot expect that people should "Just know" the right way to behave, we have to teach them that, whether they're twelve, twenty two, or eighty two; openly discussing rape is relatively new, and it isn't even reasonable to expect that everybody automatically know how to appropriately behave, particularly when there are holy wars going on about what exactly the mores should be ("Sometimes what’s acceptable to one survivor isn't to another", although I'd suggest from personal experience that it's rare that what is acceptable to one is acceptable in its entirety to another).

If it's too traumatic to make these explanations, maybe the old timers are right in that rape -shouldn't- be discussed openly.  Which ties to some extent into my previous post (in response to the same OP of QP's) suggesting rape cases be entirely closed-document, closed-court.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Collective Bargaining... a human right.  I've seen a lot of this lately, from multiple corners of the web.

What an interesting concept.

Y'know, when business owners engage in collective bargaining, it's collusion, and it's illegal.

But if it's a human right, I guess gas stations have a -right- to get together and set gas prices for an entire city.  Which y'know, I find hard to disagree with, but I suspect my friends from the left currently yelling about attacks on collective bargaining might.

As usual, none of this is really about human rights, but rather propping up a favored political class which forms a cornerstone of (financial) support for one of the two political parties in power.

Monday, March 14, 2011

In response to: (NSFW site)

The article she links to:

First, this author's writing is shit - his disjointed description of the scene of the attack comes out of nowhere, the article has no clear direction or narrative, and the writing style isn't even consistent; it reads like every single paragraph was plagiarized out of other articles.  He uses the same source twice and changes the way he refers to her; Ms. Harrison is in fact Sheila Harrison, but is presented as a new commenter.

Judging by the quality of his journalism, I'm guessing this is his idea of a "balanced" article.  He's not alone.

"Balanced journalism" at some point came to mean "If the facts unilaterally support one side, add something wishy-washy supporting the other side so both sides are represented."  (Although, thinking about it, the facts don't actually -have- to support one side for articles to use this mechanism.  I've seen one too many an article about climate skeptics or tea partiers which ignored all the facts which didn't support the author's opinions, and then gave the opposition a wishy-washy response.  But I diverge from my point.)

I don't see rape blaming, I see behavior characteristic of EVERYTHING the media covers.  The victim is always "blamed" in some sense, whoever the victim is or what they were a victim of.  "Rape blaming" in the media is only a small subset of a broader issue: The media does not substantively address objective truth.  Every side is to be treated as having an equally valid position.  (Even when it misrepresents said position, but I diverge once again.)  This is obviously shit.

That being said.

Some of what is being complained about is valid reporting; when the defense attorney claims that the victim was a willing participant, that -is- newsworthy.  I'm willing to warrant the attorney's client is full of shit, but the attorney is doing his job, and the news agencies are doing theirs.  This -is- victim blaming, in a very real sense, but it has a definite place in the whole system, and insofar as the media should report on rape at all, it shouldn't simply ignore what the defense has to say because the defense says unsavory things; the prosecution is also saying unsavory things, and the point in a trial after all is not to protect people's feelings, it is to determine guilt.

Trials can get nasty, and things can and will be said which will harm the parties involved regardless of outcome, especially in rape trials.  Which leads to the question of whether the media should be reporting on pending rape trials at all, whether all rape trials should be unpublicized, closed-court, and closed-document.

This would, notably, resolve two sets of problems; first, the one discussed here, that rape victims are subject to a massive invasion of privacy and attacks of every measure on their character, and a permanent loss of reputation regardless of the outcome of the trial.

And second, in a parallel I find vaguely amusing (if it is in poor taste to point out), that those accused of rape are subject to a massive invasion of privacy and attacks of every measure on their character, and a permanent loss of reputation regardless of the outcome of the trial.

The media is no place to hold a trial.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We're Winning...

...and I'm not sure I'm really very happy about it.

Oh, I'm ecstatic that statism is getting thrashed, dying a thousand deaths to a thousand barbs from a thousand commentators on the internet, even - perhaps especially - those who aren't libertarian at all.  Their petty bickering and arguments and mudslinging would seem to prove government cannot ever achieve anything of value, for these are the people who would run it; evil, small-minded fools.

But libertarianism is more than a belief that government is incompetent, or evil, or any of those things.

Government is necessary.  It's not a necessary evil, it has no moral value, any more than any other tool.

If we didn't believe in its necessity, we would be anarchists, not libertarians.  To believe government is evil then is to believe -humanity- is evil; that which is good or even morally neutral does not -need- an evil thing.

Government is the potential for, the use of, the threat of, overwhelming force; in short, it's a gun.  Never let your muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy, and government is all muzzles and triggers.

Any liberals reading this may be horrified by this statement, but understand: I own guns.  (Actually, just one.  A 357 six-shot revolver, kept loaded by my bed or computer at all times.)  I don't want to get rid of guns, even if I could get rid of all guns in the world.

And I wouldn't get rid of government, either, even if it -is- one hell of a motherfucking big and dangerous gun.  It should simply be treated cautiously, with grave respect.  And it should never be held too close to, or directed at those things we treasure most.

The way we're winning, we may just be building a new breed of gun control advocate; one who thinks humanity too incompetent to run things.  This might seem to achieve our ends; they will call for government to be dismantled with the rest of us, people taken from positions of power.

But they aren't libertarians; they resent all positions of power, they resent the very structures.  Business will be as much their target as government.  Far from building an edifice of freedom, their goal will be the destruction of it, for freedom is power.

And they will soon enough be looking for a new master, for they resent not the chains but those who hold them, and technology may well provide them one.

We are winning.  We pick up a few more disillusioned libertarians-in-name with every swing.  But I don't know that our victory will be the one we are hoping for.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Card Theft...

I fairly recently had a spat of fraudulent charges applied against my bank card.  (Heh.)

No big deal for me.  No big deal for my bank.

Pretty big fuckin' deal for the companies involved.

Now, I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for these particular companies, because a small amount of research indicates that an employee was breaking the rules, and was probably in on it - they didn't have my card, and input the numbers manually.

(Judging by how some of the charges played out, I suspect they ran random card numbers using stolen point of sale info from a third party until they found some that worked.  Interesting approach, and hard to catch.)

But in general, I do.  The banks/credit card companies basically file the charges as fraudulent and deny the seller the money.  End of story.  It's up to the seller to recoup the costs lost in merchandise.  The banks don't research or pursue it; they have no reason to.  Police forces basically ignore it; a family member had their card info stolen, pursued it vigorously by going to the stores things were purchased at, GOT VIDEO FOOTAGE WITH THE THIEF PURCHASING GOODS WITH THE STOLEN CARD, and the police STILL refused to pursue the case.

And that's not that uncommon.

Vendors are footing the primary bill for credit card fraud.  Consumers foot a secondary bill in the form of shitty credit for years thereafter.

I'm not really sure of a solution.  The situation just irritates me.

(The stolen card info irritated me too, incidentally, and is causing no end of trouble as I get all my billing sorted back out, but the stolen money is taken care of on my end, I didn't lose anything beyond the time necessary to change my billing info for everything over.)


I watch a lot of DIY shows.  They, from a certain perspective, appeal to me.

Unfortunately, DIY shows are -never- DIY.  They're an endless parade of poor planning, bad design, and experts explaining why X project should only be undertaken by an expert.  DIY shows are DIY-Gone-Wrong shows.

And this is necessary, really.  Carpenters, plumbers, and electricians are not that interesting to watch work.

But it's not... to say it's not educational doesn't go far enough; it sends precisely the wrong message people should be getting.  DIY shows teach people that they're helpless, that they should just let the experts do it right.

And I say this having done just about everything thus far.  Next on my list of things-I've-never-done-before is adding a new breaker to a breaker board [I did this since I started writing this post.  It was absurdly easy.].  Or possibly framing out some ductwork in the basement with furring strips and gypsumboard.  I haven't decided which of these projects should take priority yet.

Where does the learned helplessness end, exactly?  It fills entertainment, it defines politics, shit, as far as I can tell it's gotten to the point where it's the norm in human relationships.  We seem dead-set on teaching ourselves that we cannot do anything, to give up, to let the experts handle it, whether it's our retirement, or our carpentry, or our health-care, or our plumbing, or our diets, or even our dates.

Thinking of Orwell...

Something occurs to me...

It was meant to be an indictment of the civil rights issues which an oppressive government engenders, but the government has contempt for the everyday man; they are unimportant, their activities largely unmonitored.  The protagonist of the tale is only of importance because he is a party member.

I'm thinking of the fact that in China, things keep happening relating to Tienanmen Square, such as a sympathy ad (illegal) getting into the paper because a clerk was unaware of the significance of the date.

I think this makes clear you cannot suppress information; in order to successfully suppress it, those in control have to know what it is it's supposed to be suppressing.

Democracy isn't a guard against oppression because the majority will never experience it.