Friday, June 29, 2012

Random 1

Mister Orphan is out this week and the next due to a condition known as "on vacation." I'd like to say I'll be filling in for him, but as his own posting regularity is somewhat erratic and mine is even more so, our five or so readers are more or less boned.

This week you get random musings, which may subsequently turn into larger posts.

On group identity, then. Orphan has written extensively about this before, here and elsewhere, so you get a second (or third) dosage here. "Group identification" refers to the tendency, inadvertently or otherwise, of people to label themselves or place themselves directly into groups. That's hardly a complicated or insightful comment, of course, since we're all pretty damn familiar with this tribalism thing, anyway. Labels are useful things, allowing people to convey concepts and amalgamations of ideas under a single or a few headings. So, of course, we have "liberal," "conservative," "libertarian," and so forth in the political / economy arena, and as pretty much every living, sentient being trying to engage in debate has discovered, labels also have the curious property of extending all attributes of themselves, perceived or otherwise, onto the labeled entity.

Self-identifying with a group is an extremely stupid thing to do. That's not just generalization; I'd argue it as fact. I would be more than a little surprised if there is a single person identifying with a group who accepts all characteristics associated with that group as befitting himself. When someone describes himself as a "liberal," I don't dismiss his viewpoint because of what that perspective entails (though it surely does not help his case), but because of what a horrific simplification that is. I probably cannot find two self-described "liberals" holding the exact same views as one another. Someone providing a single word to sum up the entirety of his principles, opinions, beliefs, and whatever other fucking synonyms you want to tack onto that list is evincing either a disinterest in disclosing his views to you or a staggering level of ignorance.

But, of course, this is all well-known. Every member of any group is aware of this on at least some level or another. Yet people still seem more than happy to describe themselves this way. I haven't quite figured out the appeal of that.

So, it goes without saying that quite a few people then refuse to identify with a group, which is fine. The fun part is trying to have a discussion with someone who cannot grasp this.

I run into this most frequently with "conservatives" (self-described, of course), and it usually starts with a phrase like, "You libertarians..." I dismiss these people out of hand now; I've found it isn't worth my time or the effort of typing to try and disengage them of these ideas. I really have no interest in arguing with someone's characterization of me which happens to be based on a few labels pulled from his ass.

This rambling, incoherent mess doesn't have any direction, of course - I did state that these were random musings. I'm giving you quantity, not quality, and I think you'll find that the quantity is pretty spare, too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

To Socialists...

...who keep talking about the "Scandinavian" economies:

Sweden has no minimum wage, no inheritance tax, low corporate taxes, and a less progressive income tax system. It also boasts a much smaller regulatory state than the US.

Sweden isn't a socialist utopia. It's significantly closer to a capitalist utopia. Even with a public healthcare system.

I bring this up because people always point to the Scandinavian economies as proof that socialism works - but are they just picking and choosing what they're calling capitalism and what they're calling socialism based on what is doing well and what policy they're discussing right this moment?

Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Chile, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Australia are all in the top twenty five most capitalist countries in the world, as ranked by Heritage, a libertarian thinktank.

Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Australia are ranked -higher- than the US.

So, for those of you who see these countries as role models - are you willing to copy all their programs? Would you copy Sweden and eliminate minimum wage and the inheritance tax, and reduce corporate taxes and flatten the progressive tax rate to tax the rich less and the poor more, in exchange for a healthcare program and free education? What about their immigration policies?

Are you sure they prove that socialist programs work and won't bankrupt a country? Or are you ignoring the programs they haven't implemented, ignoring that they've opted for fewer regulations in order to offset the costs of their social programs?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

More on the Anthropic Principle

From a comment I made at Overcoming Bias, elaborated a bit:
Assume you have a display that reads "9", and a button that can be pushed to display a number; the only information you have is that the button was pushed at least once, pushing the button is the only way to change the display, and that the current display is "9".  What is the likelihood that, if pressed, it will display "9"?
You can assume 9 is possible.  That's it.  The problem you are solving asserts that 9 is currently the case; you don't know if it was pressed once or a billion times or a billion to the power of a billion times.  Because 9 is a given, it provides absolutely -no- information about the probability of 9 actually displaying, -except- that 9 is currently the case; for all you know, somebody who lived forever and really liked the number 9 pressed that button until it came up.  Every time you press the button yourself provides meaningful information about the display; the value it displayed when you came upon the display is meaningless.
The Anthropic Principle isn't a meaningless tautology, nor is it a fallacy.  It's recognizing that our existence is the equivalent of a display with the number 9, and a button.  The number 9 - our existence - is a given.  We cannot assign any probability to anything to do with our existence on the basis of our existence; it is part of the problem definition, NOT part of the information set pertaining to the problem.
It is a prior with a value of 1.0 - a prior which is guaranteed.  What are the odds of an individual in our problem scenario coming upon the display with the value "9"?  100%.  We've defined the problem so that this is the case within our scenario.
Similarly, the Anthropic Principle states that, for any condition necessary to our existence, the probability of that condition being the case in the universe we are examining the problem of the likelihood of our own existence in is 100% - we exist to examine the problem, therefore the condition must be true.  We're part of the problem definition; we add no information in terms of solving the problem, except to rule out 0% as part of the distribution.
The important thing in the relationship between these two is that the null hypothesis for the original display has a likelihood of 0%.  The null hypothesis of the Anthropic Principle contradicts itself; what would I assign to be the likelihood of my own existence, if I didn't exist?  This means it -is- a tautology - but a meaningful one.  A tautology is a statement which is implicitly true - either because it defines itself to be true "This statement is true", or because the null hypothesis is impossible "This statement is false".  It is important to remember that not all tautologies are fallacies.

The Anthropic Principle and You

The anthropic principle is the idea that any condition in the universe which must be true in order for us to exist is unremarkable; the fact that we're observing the universe means that any observations which are necessary for our existence can't be used to make definitive claims about existence.

So, if it were true that life on this planet would be impossible if the earth were thirty meters farther from the sun (it's not), the position of the earth in relation to the sun is completely unremarkable, and cannot be used to extrapolate on the positions of other planets in relation to the stars they orbit.

(If these factors weren't in place, we wouldn't be here observing them; we are observing them, therefore these factors aren't predictive in describing the universe.)

This is a very subtle argument, and has a lot of implications.

If an asteroid hitting the planet were necessary to wipe out the dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs must have been wiped out in order for us to exist, an asteroid hitting the planet is entirely unremarkable, and cannot be used to predict the likelihood of asteroids hitting the planet in the future.  Likewise, if a particular -infrequency- of asteroids hitting our planet is necessary for life, we cannot predict with any likelihood that this infrequency will continue to be the case.

It has weirder implications.  If climate changes in the past were necessary for our existence, we cannot say with any certainty climate changes will ever happen again.  If evolution were necessary for our existence, we cannot say evolution happens anywhere else, including if life occurs on other planets.  If a stable climate were necessary for our existence, we cannot say the climate will remain stable in the future.

The anthropic principle means that anything that must be true for our existence -may not continue to be true- in the future, -no matter how reliable- they've been until now.

The universe isn't nearly as friendly as it looks.  Considering how inhospitable it looks, that's saying something.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On Shooting...

...I recommend -two- targets when training.

First, a very small target.  This is the target you're actually aiming at.

And second, a paper target behind that one.

In truth, the second isn't a target at all, it's a training tool.  You aim at the small target because smaller targets instill better training ("Aim small, miss small"), and because it's much more satisfying when you do hit it.

You put the paper target up so you can identify what is being done wrong when the primary target isn't hit.

That's all.

I'm Eight Sigma

For those who aren't familiar with that lingo, it means that my measured IQ is high enough that statistically I shouldn't exist.

Strictly speaking there are a lot more of us than should be the case.  The IQ curve is pretty lumpy.

I'm really smart, for a given value of smart.  I was also sporadically homeschooled, which I think figured pretty significantly into my measured IQ score.  I wasn't -supposed- to have been tested for IQ, by the way; I was -supposed- to take a test to skip a grade.  When my score came back at an estimated 220 (results are extremely unreliable over 180) they didn't even bother giving me the test to skip the grade.  I was offered the opportunity to take college classes - tuition free, on a state program for extremely gifted children.  I turned them down.  This was possibly the best decision I ever made.

My next year of school was the only year I ever finished prior to high school.  It was also the only teacher who didn't belittle me (in fairness, I belittled my teachers, who had a very bad habit of pretending to know more than they did - when you lie to a kid who looks up what you said if it doesn't sound right, expect to get pwned in class the next day), or fill my days with makework crossword puzzles and other nonsense that just bored me to tears.  (Literally.  I cried when I was little in school because I was so bored.  I was reading Carl Sagan in my free time, and these teachers were forcing me to correct punctuation errors and do crosswords for hours on end.)  She let me go to the library when I was done, and I read whatever I wanted.

That was the only teacher I have ever had who didn't stand in the way of my education.

I usually started each year going to school.  This lasted, on average, about three months, before the boredom became too much to bear, and my parents would yank me out again.

So I homeschooled.  My parents had a few tasks they assigned me, but for the most part I tended to my own devices and desires.  Curiousity is the best teacher there is.

And you know what?  I may be a genius, but I don't think I'm all that special.  A lot of kids had curiousity starting out.  By fifth grade curiousity was gone.  Public education isn't merely nonproductive, it is counterproductive.  There's only so many addition worksheets you can fill out before you hate arithmetic.  You can only go through US history so many times before you think history is completely worthless.  (Especially when every year you find out that some of what they told you the year before was so simplified it was a lie.)  You can only memorize facts so long in "science" class before you lose any curiousity, lose any desire to learn.

Homeschooling is better than pubic education even when your parents don't teach you much.  Perhaps even especially when they don't teach you much, when they just let you learn what you want to learn.

A lifelong desire to learn isn't taught.  It's natural.  And what we call education isn't instilling that desire, it's killing it.

What makes me different from most other people isn't latent genius.  It's that my natural drive to learn wasn't systematically killed by the very people who claimed to be instilling it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Freedom is a Frame of Mind

I can't flap my wings and fly.

My freedom has been infringed!

This is, oddly enough, the way a lot of people think.  And these people will never be free.  They cannot be free, because their idea of freedom is not having choice, but being without limitation.  The freedom to eat, to them, requires food.  The freedom to run requires legs.  The freedom to breath requires air.

That's not freedom.

Freedom is not the ability to do things.  If that is all freedom is, we can never have it.

My freedom to eat apples does not depend on my having an apple.  My freedom to purchase apples does not require that somebody sell one to me.  My freedom to possess apples does not require apples exist for me to possess.

In the end, it doesn't even require that government permit any of these things.

Freedom, you see, is a frame of mind.  Government is powerless to destroy freedom except by convincing you that you have no freedom.

The drug war is proof of this.

So stretch your legs and relax.  Government isn't going to stop you.  The only freedoms it has the power to limit are the freedoms you accept that it can.  Break the rules.  It cannot hope to enforce them.  The rules in the end are just an IQ test.

Can government be capricious and cruel?  Hell yes.  Fight against that, because it is wrong.

But don't let yourself fall into the trap of thinking you aren't free.  As soon as you think that, you aren't.

Monday, June 18, 2012


...welcome to the blog author list, Mordecai.

Maybe I should change the blog name.  But that would be too much work.

Every Government Program is Necessary

One of the intriguing things in arguing with both the left and the right is the insistence that, if government is trying to solve a problem, the problem exists.

If we don't make laws against rodent poop in food, taco stores will clearly start making rat poop tacos.

It doesn't even matter if government ever solved the problem - eliminating the attempt will clearly make the problem worse.

Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias described this problem in part as the Status Quo Institution Bias.  What exists is good - otherwise it wouldn't exist.

But the problem comes in with this because the problem that exists isn't necessarily the obvious one.  Your apple butter (if you don't know what this is, try it, it's FANTASTIC) is permitted to be moldy by the FDA.  No, seriously.  Up to 12% of the contents of a container of apple butter may be moldy.  Link.  I can't really taste mold in food, but half my immediate family is hypersensitive to the taste, and can tell immediately if something is even slightly moldy - 12% would be disgusting to them.  Why is 12% the limit?

Well... I don't know.  I've encountered moldy-tasting apple butter (well, my family members noticed) - the store, that evil capitalist Wal-Mart was happy to exchange it for a new one.

What problem does this regulation solve?  It still permits nasty-tasting apple butter.  The store solved the actual problem for us.  The non-obvious problem being solved isn't moldy apple butter, it's people -complaining- about moldy apple butter, and demanding that the government do something about it.

This regulation solves that problem beautifully.  "Look, we've handled it."

So perhaps I'm too harsh on problem solving.  I am forgetting that the problem being solved isn't the problem, it's people complaining about the problem.  Financial regulations weren't enforced against companies?  Issue new financial regulations!  Nevermind that the original ones were already being ignored, just like the new ones - Democrats are happy that Something Is Being Done.  Drug users wandering the streets in a daze?  Issue new laws!  Nevermind that existing drug laws have done nothing to stop drug use.  Republicans are happy that Something Is Being Done.

As for deregulating?  Well, Something Would Be Undone.  The Status Quo would be challenged, and the Status Quo is Always Good.

The Alpha/Beta Dichotomy

One of the more amusing aspects of reading through the self-described "manosphere" (read: "masculinist") blogs is the emergence of the alpha / beta dichotomy perspective. Fundamentally, this is the idea that men can be classified in much the same manner as dogs and wolves - into "alphas" and "betas" (it's well-worth mentioning that anyone who deigns to use the same nomenclature as canine social hierarchy probably hasn't strayed too far from that level of sophistication).

The idea is basically that "alpha" characteristics are those that women find generally desirable or attractive (along with other ideas, such as alphas being more aggressive, confident, etc), while "beta" characteristics are those that women find less so. This has all sorts of different points of focus for a writer obsessed with the classification, usually trying vehemently to demonstrate that *he*, in particular, is an alpha.

My favorite component of this is "game theory," or "playing," or any one of a number of names you want to give it. This is the concept of applying a methodology for meeting women and gaining some measure of "success" in the interaction, politely defined as "getting a date," though you'll find varying degrees of honesty, up to and including "getting pussy."

Self-described blogger alphas (which is quite a contradiction in terms, if not an outright oxymoron, I assure you) are quite obsessed with these methods. They recommend books, give tips, and spend quite a bit of time - almost enough to qualify as flat out projection in even the most conservative of basic psychology courses - trying to convince the reader that they (the writers) embody alpha attributes. This isn't hard to notice, and I don't much see the point in showing off particular examples of this estranged form of idiocy.

The point that I want to make, and the part that I find fucking hilarious... that these methodologies work by emulating or accentuating alpha behavior.

When you're pretending and playing at being an alpha, you're not one. It's as simple as that.

I don't care how much you've read, or practiced, or how good or effective your "game" is; you are simply emulating and copying interactive methods of dealing with people gleamed from observing what you would deem a genuine "alpha."

You might object to this. You might assert that you aren't just some beta trying to play at alpha - you're the genuine article. You just read and practice to get better.

You're wrong. That is all.

Ataraxi is Back!

So go send him some love.  He has some interesting comments on his visit to France and Sweden which don't contradict my uninformed opinions on the countries.

It's always nice to be vindicated.  Or at least not contradicted.


Rehabilitating Fascism

[Repost from forum]

Because the ignorant unwashed masses seem to think fascism=Hitler.

It doesn't.

Fascism is, loosely speaking, a socially and economically authoritarian hierarchical government. In modern terms it is a blend of Democratic and Republican policies - the drug war is an instance of a traditionally Republican facet of fascism (the hippies are right in that regard) and indeed is a facet of fascist thought from the early twentieth century, when Roosevelt, the primary driver of fascism in the United States, began it. Most modern governments are functionally fascist in nature. The Progressive Movement in the United States was the US fascist movement.

Fascism is NOT a desire to gas, burn, or otherwise kill Jewish people. Hitler's crimes do not reflect on fascism as a policy, nor does Mussolini's drive towards censorship. The most that can be said about the relationship is that the centralization of power that fascism requires lends itself to abuses, and abuses have occurred - but abuses of power exist in every form of government and it is the prevalence of these that should be examined, not the mere existence. Both Fransisco Franco and Juan Peron, contemporaries of Hitler and Mussolini, instituted fascism in a purer form without massacring millions of people or engaging in massive abuses of power; they had their controversies, but so does every political figure.

Fascism has had a long and very successful political history. It is now generally referred to in its less extreme form as socialism.

In modern terms it is neither left nor right - it agrees with the left on economic regulation and control, and the right on societal regulation and control. The position in strongest opposition to fascism is that of the libertarian; the positions in the weakest opposition are the statist of any flavor. Critical elements of fascism are centralization and federalization (hierarchy), universal health care, gun control, highly developed economic regulation, a progressive tax system, a welfare system, prohibition (alcohol, tobacco, and drugs generally, save where approved by the state), and state regulation or ownership of media channels (which the US has only in a very limited state in the form of campaign laws).

Obama -is- a fascist, in the original sense of the word, or at least shares most of their policies. So was Bush, so was Clinton, so was Bush before him, shit, so was Reagan. Barry Goldwater was probably the closest we've come to having a non-fascist president in the past fifty years.

Every first-world nation in the world institutes a form of fascism - indeed, it could be considered a characteristic of a developed nation. The United Kingdom in its current state is probably the closest to a purely fascist state, satisfying every element I'm aware of.

I find it very amusing when people diss a political system which they are operating in and even supporting because some asshat used the movement that brought that political system into existence nearly a hundred years ago to do some horrible shit. But really, ignorance is only entertaining for so long - we should take some time to understand what it is we are insulting, and understand that the Republicans are no more fascist than the Democrats - or rather, just as fascist, and no more.

Creative Destruction

[Repost from forum]

"Creative Destruction" is the fundamental divergence from what capitalism was expected - by some - to become, back in the 1800's, and what it became - and was the defining feature of the 80's. In order to explain this divergence, first you have to understand the position of Marx - his belief was that, as capitalism went on, more and more factories would be built, until their output exceeded consumption, at which point the profit motive, and the capitalist system by extension, would fail and socialism, and then communism, would rise to replace it.  (Later revisions by Marx recognized this failing.  I believe he failed to address a new mechanism for the rise of socialism.)

There are three philosophic responses while still maintaining some semblance of capitalism - the first is outlined clearly in Brave New World, in which this situation is maintained, but rather than cut back production, factories respond by increasing demand artificially, by making products shorter and shorter lived, forcing people to repurchase them. I do not know who originated this idea - many people blame Ford, because of his famous reducing-the-quality-of-parts-that-outlast-his-cars approach, but they miss that this was not to reduce the lifespan of cars, but to reduce the expense of producing parts whose final years are going to be spent in a scrapyard anyways. It'd be similar to somebody who sells a two foot pipe whose only application always results in three inches being cut off cutting those inches off in advance, or just making it a one-foot-nine-inch pipe - it saves money without reducing the value to the customer.

The Brave New World is a private-industry driven artificial rise in demand. (Although in the book it was affected by government, rather than industry.) It fails because it ignores the effects of competition - I won't buy a shittier product that lasts half as long for the same price. Which is why I don't buy Stanley screwdrivers (although they always come with things like car emergency kits) - I've had three of the damn things break on me. They're gift tools - something you buy if you, personally, aren't going to use it, and hence are a niche market, and cannot replace the mainstream market (short of government intervention).  (They are actually somewhat cheaper, actually, and have useful applications in situations in which tools are lost or destroyed for reasons outside the tool's durability, such as in boating)

The second response is Keynesian economics - raising demand artificially to offset the difference until consumption grows into the demand. The fundamental principle here is that no factory should ever be shut down, ever - it's the idea that we should only grow, and never shrink, that an economic decline is always a failure, and always a problem to be corrected. (In action it doesn't stop the economic decline, or even slow it, and may even prolong it by increasing the expense of resources to the few growth industries remaining.)

The Keynesian economic model fails for the reasons mentioned above - it doesn't accomplish what it sets out to do, and may even be counterproductive.

The third response is that of Creative Destruction - which is the model which the economy actually follows. Creative Destruction is at the heart of a functional capitalism - in short, it means that the weakest companies die. The least efficient, the oldest, the least profitable.

Contrary to Marx's model, wherein hundred year old factories run forever, Creative Destruction means they are dismantled for scrap metal. There is a limited demand - and thus the goal is to maximize one's market share, -not- to maximize one's production. Which is why I can't buy Mountain Dew Pitch Black on Halloween anymore - while delicious, I was approximately the only person in the country purchasing it. (And purchasing it quite cheaply, as a result.) The point isn't to make as many products as possible, even if those products are profitable. Yes, it could make money making Pitch Black II. But it could make -more- money using those assembly lines and marketing money to alternative uses, like making Voltage, an altogether more popular flavour.

Other People's Money is a brilliant movie - one of the very few with DeVito which I am genuinely fond of - which does an absolutely excellent job of demonstrating the principle of Creative Destruction, and which also illustrates our resistance to a highly productive practice.

And Creative Destruction is -precisely- the principle which any populist theory of economics - like socialism or communism - is going to lack. Because we -are- resistant to it - and for good reason, it's highly inconvenient, and personally problematic. Creative Destruction is why there are very few travel agents anymore, having been eliminated in favour of websites which do their jobs faster, for less money, and often better - and if you were living in a communist country, would you let the world destroy your profession, make you redundant, unnecessary, and force you into a trade which you are unfamiliar with and less skilled at than everybody else? It is necessary, absolutely necessary, for any real long-term gain - but people hate it with a passion, because its fundamental principle is dependent on destruction and change.

Which is the reason communisms - and populist theories of economics generally - fail. Because people are fundamentally good, as long as things are going well - and will protect the unnecessary, outdated, and the weak. Nobody wants to say, "Okay, we don't need you anymore, the whole investment of the whole of your life is now for naught, start over from scratch." It HAS to be said, at some point - but nobody will say it. It's cruel.

It's cruel. And ultimately it is necessary.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Weird Thought...

...does anybody else see a weird symmetry between general relativity and the polar coordinate system... between that and the propensity for pi to show up in weird places... the universe seems to run on polar.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Public and Private Unions

HT: Link

I Want a New Left has a point, once you get past the bad math.  (Hint: What's 50% of the public plus 25% of the public?  The answer is not 75%.)

If Big Government is the solution to Big Industry, why exactly do we need government unions to begin with?  If government is just another Big Thug, what does it bring to the table?  Beyond this argument, however...

Government unions and private unions aren't identical.  They aren't even similar.

An agency agreement in a private company is a guarantee that all employees of a company belong to the union, generally justified by supporters under the claim that all employees benefit from the union's activities.

An agency agreement in a government is a different matter altogether.  It's a guarantee that every low-level person you interact with, in an official capacity, is supporting their union.  Every police officer, every firefighter, every court clerk you pay your property taxes to.

Agency agreements in private companies are sort of like requiring everybody who works for the Catholic Church is a Catholic - it makes some kind of sense, even if I disagree with it.

Imagine if every entry-level job in the government requires you to pay dues to the Catholic Church.

Unions aren't churches, yes, I agree.  But religion is after all a form of philosophy.  Unions are -also- based on a philosophy.  Such arrangements implicitly require every single member of government to contribute to that philosophy.  Non-Catholics aren't going to want to pay dues to the Catholic Church, aren't going to want to support something they disagree with - such arrangements stacking the deck against non-Catholics by requiring them to pay dues to the Catholic Church.

Is a police force dominated by Catholics is going to be fair and balanced when it comes to religious activities?

Is a political system dominated by union members is going to be fair and balanced when it comes to union activities?

Another Current Issue Comment


Y'know what?  Reading Bolger's comments, the problem wasn't that she dared to use the word "vagina."

The problem was that what that in the context she said it in, her statement was tantamount to accusing the Republicans of rape.

If I were a person who favored snark, I might have made the title of this post "Republican Trivializes Date Rape, Censured by Feminists."  I might have played up the fact that intellectually honest feminists should be objecting to her statements as trivializing rape.

I prefer the blunt approach: This is fundamentally dishonest.  To shamelessly steal borrow a phrase from Borepatch, I demand a higher quality drivel.

Why Obama Will Lose

Breaking my rule on talking about current events on the blog for a moment...

Obama looks doomed from my perspective.  Which, I have to admit, was entirely unexpected, at least for me.

It's not just that he's losing ground.

It's that he's trying to keep from losing that ground.

He's trying to -maintain- a lead.  That's not good strategy.  It doesn't matter who is leading today.  What matters is who is leading on election day.

It looks to me like his camp is throwing their best punches against Romney right now.  What are they going to have left five months from now, after Romney has recovered and regrouped and Bain Capital's activities are old news?

Obama is trying to win every battle.  The battles aren't important, the war is important.  And Romney's camp looks determined to win the war, not the battles; from all appearances to me, they're waging a defensive war right now, and holding back for a more strategic series of strikes when they'll matter most.

The Left's Definition of a Loophole... "a law I don't like."

That's all.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Libertarian Isn't

[Copied from a forum I argue in, because I liked it]

It is not a solution. It doesn't seek to solve any problems.

It is not a utopia. Society will still be messed up under a libertarian government. People will still be dicks to one another.

It is not magical. It doesn't skip any phase in logic, because it doesn't have any.

It is not ideal. If there is a perfect solution out there for a problem, it doesn't use it, or force people to use it in its stead.

There's not a goddamn problem in the world that libertarian will solve.

That's exactly the point.

Libertarianism is, at its root, humility. It's the idea that other ideas should be tried out.

Under libertarianism, you can form a commune, and try out socialism to your heart's content - you're not allowed to force other people into your commune, but if your commune works, other people will want in on it.

And that, right there, is the fundamental idea of libertarianism, and the free market more generally: It's the idea that we don't know the right solution, and that people should be free to try things out until they find something that works. And when somebody finds something that works, others should be free to find something that works better. Libertarianism is the free market - and very specifically, the free market of -ideas-.

The sole thing it does, is to protect ideas from one another. You can't force people to join your commune, because otherwise they -aren't- free to try out their own ideas. It limits ideas to solely those which do not prevent the free exercise of other ideas.

You want welfare? You're free to set up a welfare system. You just can't take resources from other competing ideas to try it out.

All other systems derive from a single precept, a single underlying idea - that the person instituting it -knows- the best solution to a problem, and that permitting other people from trying different solutions, or even focusing on different problems, is merely permitting the perpetuation of problems. All other systems derive from the idea that one idea is the best, and should be instituted at the expense of all other ideas.

Libertarianism denies each idea one thing, and one thing only - the "right" to force other people to support that idea.

"But inequality/rich people/oppression/classism" is fundamentally dishonest. It is framing the debate by making the implicit claim that one's philosophic and political enemies are evil. If the sole argument you can make for your idea is that the other guy is evil, your idea is not worth pursuing. You've forfeit any value your idea has, because if evil is truly in charge of society, your idea would be forfeit to their designs and their power. Even if instituted, your idea would be subverted to their ends, for they have the will and the power to do so.

"But poverty/starving people/medical care" is fundamentally dishonest. It is framing the debate by making the implicit claim that a problem is too important to be subject to the marketplace of ideas - it is making the claim, in effect, that a problem is too important to be solved by the best possible ideas.

So here's my challenge to this board: Why is your problem, and your solution, different? What problem is better solved by the solution you think is best, instead of solutions tried and failed and tried and failed until something -works-? What solution is so good that it can solve the problem, but so poor that it would not stand up to competing ideas?

What value does -any- other system have?

Poor People are Dumb!

Y'know, one of the ideas in the left I see over and over and over again, is that poor people vote for Republicans or favor capitalism or oppose welfare because they're dumb.

Those words aren't usually used.  Usually the person making this statement couches the idea in more palatable terms, like "They're being misled," "They're being brainwashed," "They think they'll win the millionaire lottery and become one of those rich people overnight."

But all of those are just euphemisms for the idea that the person buying into this idea is stupid, because the necessary implication is that the speaker, and the people who agree with the speaker, are smart enough to see through this subterfuge, and the poor people aren't.

An honest person reflecting on the issue wouldn't take very long to come to the conclusion that poor people just plain disagree with them on what is best for them.

Most of the poor people I've known - and coming from a rural part of Texas, has been most of the people I've known, dubiously including myself at a couple of points in my life (I wouldn't have described myself as poor, but I know many people would describe me in those terms) - just plain disagree with the welfare system.  This has included a lot of people who were on it, which gives me some insight I think many people lack.

They recognize the help welfare provides, the value it provides to them.  They also recognize exactly how easy it is to get on it, how easy it is to take advantage of it, and have known -way- too many friends and relatives who have abused the system.  They've also seen what they regard as serious damage it has done to those friends and relatives, turning them away from productive labor and self-improvement, where it doesn't outright forbid it.

My parents are among them; they collected, for a time, after they both lost their jobs in the same brief timespan.  And were permanently turned off to welfare as a result, because they were literally collecting more money from the state than they had been making when they had both been working, prior to being laid off.  It was a very corrupting temptation to continue to use the system, a temptation which they turned down, working harder than ever, and they refused to file for social security aid on one of my siblings, in spite of that the law allowed it.

I've grown up among hard workers.  I've also grown up among people who lost all ambition when they discovered that life was easier on welfare.  Those who haven't lived in poor communities have no idea why the welfare system is regarded the way that it is by many people in this country.  It doesn't take idiocy to be horrified by a system which systematically turned some of my brightest cousins and peers into welfare junkies, horrified by a system which turned lifetime disabilities into a lottery jackpot.  There are places in the country where welfare won't cover the bills - but there are a whole lot more places where welfare provides an adequate, if meager, wage, and a whole lot of free time for under-the-counter and unreported income.

Welfare is best described as a narcotic.  For some people, it's much-needed relief.  But for many other people, it's a drug, a way of removing yourself from the unpleasant nature of reality.  The problem is, government isn't great at distinguishing between one sort of person and the other.

You want to know why the regions which most oppose welfare are generally also the regions where its use is most common?  It's because they are populated by people who see firsthand the damage it does.  It's not religion.  It's not trickery or fraud.  It's not brainwashing.

It's people, people who have to live with the ramifications of federal welfare policies which don't respect the fact that welfare which might be insufficient in Massachussets could be the jackpot of a lifetime somewhere else.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I have a Thought...

I don't want Romney, I don't want Obama.

And I want to make this crystal clear to the patients in charge of the hospital.

How do my readers feel about organizing a campaign for a specific and imaginary write-in candidate?  An imaginary candidate who can reach across party lines and ideological boundaries?  Somebody who those of us who are inclined to stay at home can do write-in votes for instead, so we can express our outrage instead of our apathy?

Edit: My personal inclination is to vote for Havelock Vetinari.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Random recommendations on cleaning:

Clean one area at a time, and don't use clean areas as workspaces when cleaning not-clean areas.  It's a lot easier to keep an area clean than to clean it up after the fact.  Disney did a lot of work studying this, and discovered that people make unconscious efforts to keep clean areas clean.  Which is why there are way more trash cans at Disney parks than there "should" be - because one wrapper discarded on the ground invites more wrappers.  This applies in the home, as well.  It's harder to put a banana peel on a spotless kitchen counter than one that already has an empty pizza box and three dirty dishes sitting on it.

Also, from my files as a janitor at Disney: People are very weirdly predictable.  There's no trash can that doesn't have three in sight, and yet it's very common to find one trash can overflowing with trash, while the other three have single gum wrappers in them.  This applies in your personal life, as well.  If a particular area tends to get messy, don't just resolve not to make that area messy, you won't succeed.  Put a trash can in a room you don't think really "needs" one, if it tends to accumulate trash.  Upgrade trash cans to larger sizes if they develop a tendency to overflow.  Keep your craft storage near where you do your crafting.  Keep a few spare plastic bins empty, or leave shelf space empty, to stow unfinished projects and their supplies.  Making it easier to be clean is much more effective than trying to be clean.

Atlas Shrugged Reading Tips...

... which shouldn't be necessary, but unfortunately most of the primers to the book people read are telling them exactly the opposite, and telling them what to read in it.  So.

As heavy-handed as Rand can be laying out the philosophy, she has an -extremely- light touch laying down how you're supposed to -feel- about everything.  Literature which tells you how to feel is, put bluntly, trash.  There are some events in the book which you'll recognize as tragedies.  She doesn't tell you how you should feel sad about them.  Indeed, it might seem like she's telling you that it's not a tragedy.

First, if find that you feel that way, it's clear you've never read any of the great tragedies, and think "tragedy" means "senseless tragedy" - they're distinct concepts.  The great literary tragedies are defined by the flaws of the characters who encounter them.  "Hubris" is a big word in literary circles for a reason.  Second, if you feel that way, maybe you should do some serious soul-searching about how -you- feel about -your- political enemies, because you're almost certainly projecting.

Next up, as mentioned in the prior Atlas Shrugged post, her villains are based on real people.  If you find the philosophical divide laughably one-sided, and you feel like she's setting up strawmen to knock down - well, the philosophical divide WAS laughably one-sided, and the strawmen only seem that way because of Atlas Shrugged.  The impact it has had on the political scene over the last fifty years is difficult to overestimate.  It was staggeringly popular when it was released in part due to the sharp way it decimated some of the political culture in its era.

Her characters are flawed.  Forget what you've read about "Randian heroes," her "heroes" have very real personal problems, and a large part of the book is them working through those issues.  If her characters seem like emotionless machines, it's because, to start with, they are.  Probably the most important evolution in the book is not the political evolution happening in the background, but the personal evolution permitting her characters to find happiness, to find their emotions, as the book proceeds.  If you have difficulty empathizing with them, it's entirely possible the book isn't for you.  It wasn't written for everybody.  I'll come out and say it: Eddy Willers is the everyman in the book; that's his purpose.  If he seems the only person "like" you, the only character that you can relate to, there's a reason for that.

Finally, in addition to having faults, her characters also make faulty decisions.  As they work through their personal flaws, they also come to recognize their own complicity in creating the self-destructive society they rail against.  It's not a book of the Upper Classes against the Lower Classes; the only people who see this in the book are those who think the politically empowered represent and in fact -are- the Lower Classes.  The villains in the book are -not- the laborers, the heroes -aren't- the rich capitalists.  The heroes are those who produce, regardless of class - the villains aren't simply those who "live off the government dole," the villains are those who create a society in which such a parasitic existence becomes not merely possible but -necessary-, and impossible to escape from.  I'll say it in advance: every villain in the book, every single one, is politically empowered.  That is the defining characteristics of the villains.  There's a union boss; he's among the villains, but if you miss the point that he, by all rights, should be among the heroes, you've failed.

It's not a book about the wealthy opposing those who would restrain their power.  It's a book about the politically disempowered opposing the control the politically empowered are exercising over their lives.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Intelligence is...


No, I'm not joking.

I've made the claim - no, I don't know if I was the first, I don't care - that superstition is the first sign of an advanced intelligence.  In the end, all knowledge is a form of superstition - if X happens, Y will happen.  Empirical evidence is itself superstition - it's the bias for the idea, which I think I first encountered on Hansen's blog Overcoming Bias, and no, I don't know which post - that what has happened before is more likely to happen again.

There's no physical link between mere repetition to suggest that repetition is likely to continue.  Empirical evidence is a superstition, and a very specific kind of intellectual bias.

Thus, I'm disinclined to take anything from link.  By definition, the more intelligent are more biased.  The trick is to separate useful from nonuseful bias.  Empiricism is a useful bias.  Or at least it hasn't failed us yet.  Well, it's self-consistent, anyways.

All heuristics can be wrong.  Useful heuristics are simply those heuristics which usually aren't.

And when you design a game AI that is terrified of some arbitrary act like opening doors while carrying a shotgun in 30% lighting with a 15% blue tinge because they got shot by the player in those circumstances more than once, you'll know your AI is on the path to being a good AI.  Which isn't the same as a useful AI, for the purposes of a first person shooter.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Structural Advantage of Libertarianism... that it can afford fools in its ranks.

A fool who doesn't believe in using power, in power, isn't far removed from a genius who doesn't believe in using power, in power.

Libertarianism doesn't need brilliant orators or ingenious authors.  It doesn't hurt that it seems to attract both in number, but it doesn't -need- them.

Libertarianism requires nothing to succeed except its enemies.  They make our case for us, for they -cannot- afford the fools in their ranks, and they have them in legion.

Atlas Shrugged as Required Reading..., uh, not a good idea.

I'm an Objectivist.  It almost goes without saying that I love this book, which I picked up on John Stossel's recommendation a couple of years into libertarianism.  I promptly devoured several other books by Ayn Rand, and a couple unrelated books.

But god fucking damn, it's not a good book to force somebody to read.  I'd argue -no- book is good to force somebody to read, but this one particularly so.

See, I recall being forced to read somebody else's philosophy encapsulated in book form.  The Awakening was a dreary trudge through an intellectual wasteland that took me many many hours because I'd have to keep starting chapters over because I would literally zone out while reading, and lose any comprehension of it.

And The Awakening was a relatively short book.  Seriously, had it been anything else, I could have chewed it up in a couple of hours.

If you don't already agree with the premises in Atlas Shrugged, it comes across as trash filled with strawmen political.  This isn't because it's trash filled with strawmen political, but because the villains in it, based on real-world people and real-world philosophies that are hard to believe today ever existed and were taken seriously, have aged -very- badly.

Well, up until the last couple of administrations, which have started to make it seem prophetic, rather than a period piece commenting on current events.  As Ayn Rand would comment about later, when she had the book reviewed by a railroad expert to ensure she got the details right, he told her most of the regulations she introduced in the book already existed in some form.

Without the context in which the book was written, she seems pointlessly harsh on her villains - kick the dog harsh, even.

And then there's the first hundred pages.  Y'know, the book gets -fantastic- after the first hundred pages.  I read what was at the time the whole of the Wheel of Time series about a dozen times.  A hundred pages is chump change for me.

But it's not chump change for most readers.  A hundred pages is where most forced reading ends.  And I'm willing to bet only a tiny minority of readers assigned the book ever finish that first hundred pages, and resort instead to Cliff's Notes and the internet, and come away from the book with the impression that Ayn Rand can't write to save her life.

And the problem there is that she can.  She wasn't setting up a Goosebumps story.  She was setting her book up for an epic.  Those accustomed to epics get accustomed to large set-ups; it's necessary, or you end up with garbage.

Robert Jordan spent about five hundred pages of his first thousand page book setting up the rest of the story (according to my brother, spending most of this time in the first book practicing simile; his description of Jordan's writing style is that 50% of anything he writes amounts to "He stood there, like a man who would stand there").  And then continues to dedicate a couple hundred pages of each book setting future books up.

This is a level of investment in a book most readers are completely unwilling to make.

And no amount of forced reading is ever going to convince them to make it.

So, to anyone reading this in a position to do so -

Don't make your students read Atlas Shrugged.  Unless your goal is to make them hate you and hate Ayn Rand, you won't achieve it.

Encourage them, if you want.  But mandatory reading turns even good books into garbage.  Stick to garbage books, like anything written by James Joyce, for that purpose.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


...already means something, unfortunately.  Something to do with being an atheist asshole who distributes literature on streetcorners, if my first and final attendance at a humanist meeting was any indication.

Which is a pity, because it's exactly the word to describe the ideal which feminists and masculinists should be aspiring to.

The ideal of a human being as a human being - rational, competent, capable, and responsible for his or her own destiny - responsible not only in the sense of being in control, but in the sense by which one's own actions can have results outside of one's control, such as driving too fast on an oil-slicked road in the rain.

I didn't spend much time in my post rejecting feminism describing the things that do need to change, because I was focusing on the philosophical underpinnings - philosophical underpinnings largely absent the chaotic masculinist movement, whose focus was my focus.  I realize rereading these two posts they come off as slightly unbalanced - this is a product of the fact that the two movements are unbalanced, however, and I was addressing what I could in both.

Masculinism is a relatively new movement, and doesn't have a concrete philosophy yet.  Like early feminism, it's largely a list of complaints, and little else.

I reject masculinism.  I listed some of its complaints in order to demonstrate that I don't reject its complaints.

I don't reject the complaints of feminism, either, it just has a central philosophy which can be addressed, rather than rejecting the basis of the complaints themselves.  The philosophy is bogus.  The complaints are valid.

I reject both movements, and both philosophies, as morally corrupt.  I've spent a little bit of time on this blog explicating on why, for feminism.  Masculinism isn't generally taken seriously enough for me to bother doing the same with it.

Here is the ideal:

We're all people.  Full stop.  And we should stick up against injustice without demanding our own injustices be solved first.  Nobody's injustices get priority; we simply deal with the injustices we can deal with right now.

There's not so much opportunity to fight injustice in a meaningful way in the world that we sacrifice one cause for another - it would be enough for people to stop inserting a "But" into every single goddamned discussion of these matters.

The same goes for race, come to think of it, to those of my readers inclined to bring up the white people killed by black people every time some race-baiter starts in on a black  person killed by a white.  Don't feed the trolls.  Let them fade into irrelevant obscurity.

Rejecting Masculinism

And then there's the problem with the theoretical opposition to feminism, the masculinist movement -

You have people like Captain Capitalism, who commodify sex.  He's an economist, so I can sort of overlook this.

But he's an economist who treats sex as a commodity, and behaves as if the ideal is a cartel of women - that women daring to break the cartel are breaking a functioning system.  In economic terms, a cartel is the -opposite- of a functioning system.

He has some valid points about the commodification of children and child-rearing, and the government cartelization of these, but then gets it into his head that the sex cartel is a good model for gender relations.

Then you have people like Roissy.  I've never read Roissy, except secondhand, but I've read enough secondhand to sum up his view of the sexual marketplace - that its modern form fucks over long-term relationships, and specifically the "beta" males inclined to them.

Maybe Aretae is right.  Maybe open relationships are the future.  But I do know that long-term relationships are just as viable as they always were, even if the government has eroded their practical necessity.  Because a long term relationship based on necessity isn't exactly a great social good.

There's a schizophrenic attitude towards children, among such alpha/beta dichotomists, that simultaneously our society coddles them too much and makes things too safe and and and (an attitude I agree with - children should be treated like adults, or they never get the opportunity to grow into them) - and then this deranged position in complete contradiction to this that relationships exist solely to provide stability for children, and fuck the parents.

As much as Roissy and his ilk riff on older women dating, guess what?  Older people are the most successful at forming long-term relationships.  Marrying young isn't an ideal we should be returning to - it was a necessity brought on by brutish conditions and short lifespans.

And more, there is neither an alpha nor a beta male.  This is clear from the fact that every person asserting their existence has a different definition for what alpha and beta males are.  Does John Wayne play alpha characters in his movies?  Have you ever noticed that John Wayne was always the seduced, not the seducer, and showed little to no interest in the opposite sex?  How does that square with the "alpha" males as described by the likes of Roissy?  (Actually, it almost squares well, except he claims that it's just an act to appear more sexually desirable.  Apparently alpha males engage in doubleplusgood doublethink.)

Then, on the far side of sex, you have the reactionary masculinists - people pissed off about certain aspects of government or culture.  Rape in prisons is a big one.

Now don't get me wrong.  Government fucks men over.  Rape in prisons, of course.  Rape laws which define rape such that women can't rape men, rape laws which deny defendants constitutional rights, the definition of military casualties who happen to be men of military age as enemy combatants regardless of anything else, alimony laws, child support laws which deny the right to challenge paternity, child support laws which deny the right to dissolve paternity status (consider that a major argument for abortion rights is the economic - that women who can't afford children would be forced into poverty, etc), chapter eight laws dissolving successful athletic departments in favor of athletic departments which aren't even desired by the women in the colleges, de facto stricter penalties for men, men being the preferred targets for traffic penalties, on and on and on.

Government fucks women over too, though.  Not generally as explicitly, because feminists put up a cry whenever it happens - and I'd add more often when it doesn't, eroding what good the former could have done - but as many grandmothers as grandfathers have been killed in no-knock raids.  And as mentioned in the Rejecting Feminism post, everybody has an equal number of male and female ancestors.  In the long term, nobody wins, no matter who is oppressed.

Masculinism has at its heart the same fault, the same egalitarian principle which, from its very formulation, is wrong.

Injustice is injustice.  The just fight it regardless of label or target - or worst of all, perception of egalitarianism, one injustice to balance out another.  Justice is.

The fastest way to identify an Unjust person is by the flag they carry, and the manner they carry it.  I've yet to see Justice at work under the flags of either feminism or masculinism.

Rejecting Feminism

First, a simple thing:

Gender discrimination is not like racial discrimination.  They're not even comparable.

Racial discrimination creates social islands - black people, held separate from white people, are at a disadvantage - this can have long-term implications for everybody involved, because it shapes the social structure of black people.

Gender discrimination does not.  Yesterday's gender discrimination affects everybody today equally; there are no social islands, social islands -go extinct-.

I can -almost- buy the idea that black people being discriminated against for two hundred years requires continuing corrections today.  I still reject it, for the reasons I've described in my affirmative action posts - any description of the problem I've yet encountered is just as resolvable by lowering the living standards of white people as by raising those of black people.  But there's a truth to the idea that the ramifications of such behavior continue long after the behavior itself has ceased.

But using those arguments in terms of gender-based corrections is fundamentally wrongheaded.  The closest you can come to a meaningful argument is that there aren't enough role models for women in history - but even this ignores the very idea of egalitarianism, because it presumes that women can't use men as their role models. An ideal that requires it be ignored for the purposes of achieving it isn't an ideal which can be pursued.

-Every person-, male or female, is equally affected by the boons and penalties of their parents.  What happened to women two hundred years ago is -irrelevant- to the living conditions of women, as distinct from those of men, today.  The ancestors of men and women underwent -precisely the same- journeys, because they're precisely the same ancestors.

I thus reject the idea that there is, or can be, any kind of justice after the fact for the genders.  All that you can create is injustice - and two injustices do not balance out into a semblance of justice.

I reject the "Patriarchy."  I'm not in charge.  Never was, never will be.  First, I don't want to be - and when somebody with an eight-sigma intelligence says that, maybe the intellectual snobs will listen to the possibility that being in charge is not the advantage it is made out to be.  It's a lot of responsibility for not a whole lot of extra reward.  More specifically, however, I reject the idea which a culture which explicitly held and holds the lives of men to be cheaper than the lives of women can in any meaningful sense be said to hold men in general in higher social standing.  What kind of two-tiered social system requires the sacrifice of the lives of the "higher" tier in order to save the "lower" tier?

I reject feminism especially when it purports to defend men, because it does so on the basis of defending them from -what-, exactly?

It isn't defending them from a culture that holds their lives, emotions, and experiences to be cheaper than those of women - nay, it "defends" them from a culture that demands they be the best men they can be.  It "defends" them by teaching them that they can stop rape - just don't rape anybody, and rape will be ended!  It "defends" them by encouraging them to join the very professions it worked for fifty years to "defend" women from being "forced" to occupy.

The defenses feminism offers for men, when proffered to women by anyone, it treats rightfully as an insult.

I reject egalitarianism.  A principle which sums up the protest I put to affirmative action - for the idea of equality is only achievable by stamping on those who rise too high.  It is impossible to bring everyone up - and therefore egalitarianism demands everyone be brought down.

I believe men and women are people, and people foremost.  And for this, most of all, I reject feminism, which holds them to be first and foremost their gender.