Tuesday, March 29, 2005

New cat. I'm stopping by the vet's office to pick her up on my way home from work. Brenda took this pic with her phone to let me know she was there. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 25, 2005

Stop Killing

This is just creepy:

This is a Fox News Channel picture of protestors outside Terri Schiavo's hospital. If I didn't know that, I could easily mistake them for any generic anti-war protestors, right down to the slogans on their signs. I can no longer tell any difference between left-wing protestors, and right-wing protestors, they've all just blurred into one undifferentiated mass. Look, they're even dragging their kids into it, like the anti-war folks do:

The world has gone completely mad. Somebody hold me.


Clocky is an alarm clock for people who have trouble getting out of bed, designed at MIT. When you hit the snooze bar, Clocky jumps off the bedside table and goes someplace to hide. And it finds a different hiding place every day.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


The memo I referred to the other day appears to have been a fraud.

That's fine, though. Is there really anybody left with so little cynicism that they don't believe the primary motivation behind passing that law was political, rather than moral? Everyone in Washington knows the political value of everything they do; writing it down in a memo would have been redundant anyway.

So, it has merely metamorphosed from proof that the Republicans are using Schiavo for their own political purposes, to proof that the Democrats are using Schiavo for their own political purposes. After all, it was presumably a Democrat who forged the memo and gave it to the press (and, of course, a basically liberal press who didn't look too closely at it. Now where have I heard that before?). That doesn't shake my world view a bit - I think Democrats and Republicans alike are all scum-sucking weasels.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Comedy Don't Get No Respect

Woody Allen, on why he wishes he "had been a tragic poet instead of a minter of one-liners":
"Emotionally, comedy will never have the same impact," former stand-up comic Allen told Reuters.

"You can take the greatest comedies, and it's never the same as the impact when a curtain comes down on 'A Streetcar Named Desire' or 'Death of a Salesman.' You're pulverized by what you've seen. Comedy is just fun and entertaining."

I see his point, but I disagree. There are great comedies that are just as emotionally pulverizing, it's just that comedy generally involves different emotions.

For example, something like "Death of a Salesman", or Kurosawa's Ran, is so "pulverizing" because it hits you with deep sadness, even existential despair. Fair enough. Sometimes you're in the mood for some existential despair.

But personally, I was just as pulverized when the curtain came down on South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. As we exited the theater, one of the other patrons in the audience said to us, "I had no idea a movie could be so funny." That is just as valid an emotional response as existential despair.

Furthermore, comedy is just as capable of inducing deep sadness and existential despair as tragedy, it just does it in different ways. Examples off the top of my head would be Dr. Strangelove and Brazil, two more comedies that left me at least equally pulverized as "Death of a Salesman".

I could probably sit here all day and list off comedies that have just as much emotional impact as any tragedy: Happiness, City Lights, The Graduate, The Hudsucker Proxy, or, to use an example closer to Woody's heart, Crimes and Misdemeanors. Outside of films, my own favorite Shakespeare play, "The Tempest", is a comedy. Terry Pratchett's books, once he evolved from purely parodying fantasy literature to more social satire, are full of poignant, emotional moments, such as Gaspode confronting Death in Moving Pictures, or the last eight words written by Dorfl in Feet of Clay. Ain't nothin' wrong with comedy.

For the Love of Cats

I had to have my cat put to sleep last night. It had been coming for a couple of weeks - she was 14-15 years old, and had cancer, and she started having trouble walking. When she stopped eating two days ago, it seemed like it was time.

But this isn't a sad-pet-mourning blog, I have a point: We live in a world where virtually no one would dispute that it is an act of kindness to end my cat's life quickly and painlessly with an anesthetic injection, but the only thing we can do for a human being, who would not have wanted to be prolonged (according to the 20 or so judges who've ruled on it) in the condition she's in, is stop feeding her until she dehydrates/starves. And people with no connection to her whatsoever do everything in their power (and, occasionally, beyond their power, IMO) to prevent even that.

If only there were some way to convict Terri Schiavo of murder...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Where Do I Pick Up My Death-Soldier Uniform?

GOP memo says issue offers political rewards
The one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators by party leaders, called the debate over Schiavo legislation "a great political issue" that would appeal to the party's base, or core, supporters. The memo singled out Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is up for re-election next year.

"This is an important moral issue, and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," said the memo, reported by ABC News and later given to The Washington Post. "This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a co-sponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats."

What, you mean that emergency Federal "law" to take over jurisdiction over Terri Schiavo may have been motivated by politics more than concern for her life? Boy, I never would have guessed...

David Limbaugh really ought to be more careful before saying things like "Could it be that something besides Terri's wishes motivates many of the death-soldiers, such as an allegiance to the culture of death, or some abject, inhumane resentment that we spend so much money keeping severely disabled people alive?" Especially when it makes it so easy for people to point out that in (among other places) Texas, hospitals can unilaterally refuse to continue futile treatment even against the family's wishes, under a law "partially written by pro-life organizations and signed into law by Governor George W. Bush."

Actually, that whole David Limbaugh piece is pretty sleazy, if you ask me. He keeps talking about "If, in fact, Terri Schiavo wants to live", and "If Terri truly wants to live", and "consider that this woman truly wants to live", and "may truly want to live", and "won't even momentarily consider that Terri wants to live".

Momentarily consider? As noted at this legal info page, "Terri's situation has arguably received more judicial attention, more medical attention, more executive attention, and more "due process," than any other guardianship case in history." What's going on is the result of decisions by a trial court, the 2nd District Court of Appeals, the Florida Supreme Court, another different trial court, the 2nd District again, the Florida Supreme Court again, and on, and on, and on: On that info page's timeline, I count 34 published court decisions, legislative actions, and orders pertaining to the case. Every single time a court has been asked to make the decision, they have decided that Terri doesn't want to live. So all that "if Terri truly wants to live" rhetoric is just so much irrelevant crap. She doesn't, and no amount of repeating it will make it so.

Monday, March 21, 2005


Rude Pundit on Terry Schiavo

One of the more publicly-repeatable sentences:
The distorted face of Terry Schiavo is now merely a canvas upon which ideology has been writ large, where the notion of "life" has been perverted to mean "a heartbeat," and where the cruel vicissitudes of politics now rear their ugly, hydra-heads.

Pretty good overall, though the author does allow his obvious leftism to blind him to what the rightists in Congress are actually up to. For example, he thinks that Republicans want to use this case as a defense against Democrats accusing them of "eliminating Social Security". I'll believe that when I see it, partly because an awful lot of the Republicans seem altogether unenthusiastic about doing anything with Social Security.

No, this latest move feels more like a Federal legislature trying to establish a precedent that they can pass a law to override a state court ruling they don’t like, which would be a massive and scary expansion of Federal legislative power. If they can do this, why not another law to overrule last Monday's California court ruling that prohibiting gay marriage violates the state constitution? Discussed at Majikthise.

Congress can't really lose, here. Either they get to be the saviors of Terry Schiavo's life, and weaken state courts in the process, or they get to complain about how those "activist Federal judges" let Terry die, either by declaring their law unconstitutional, or by just ruling on the merits the same way the state court did, that she would have wanted the feeding tube removed.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Fun with Microwave Ovens

I'm sure everyone knows what happens when you put a CD or a marshmallow in a microwave, but what about grapes, various types of light bulbs, toothpicks, some other grapes, or Ivory soap?

And yes, all of these ideas are potentially dangerous.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

More on Social Security Reform

Galveston County, Texas provides a working example of a privatized Socal Security system, which they enacted just before a "reform" passed, preventing localities from opting out of the federal system. In the quoted examples of workers whose incomes ranged from $17,000/year to $75,000/year, their benefits were anywhere from 1.5x to 3x the equivalent federal Social Security check.

Gosh, it can't be taken away by government fiat, it won't result in higher taxes or inflation, and you get a bigger check. How dare anyone propose such a thing?

Another thought just occurred to me: Since, if nothing is done, the problem gets worse and worse over time, and future generations will face anything from hardship to complete disaster, why aren't any of the supporters of privatization using the obvious line, the basic, Politics 101 manipulative ploy, here in the one instance that it might actually be a legitimate argument:

We have to do this for the children!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Oh, Fisk, Fisk, were you brought by a disk?

No, the title of this post doesn't make any sense.

Robert Locke, in "The American Conservative", calls libertarianism "the Marxism of the Right."

Much of his argument, naturally, stems from assuming to be true things which libertarians would dispute. Such as, that a life spent playing tiddlywinks is less "worthy" than the life of Churchill. I think libertarians would be generally uncomfortable rating the relative "worth" of human lives.

And I can't help but laugh at statements like this:
Consider pornography: libertarians say it should be permitted because if someone doesn’t like it, he can choose not to view it. But what he can’t do is choose not to live in a culture that has been vulgarized by it.

Wow, what a convoluted attempt to characterize tolerating porn as anti-choice. It's also not true: Those who wish to live in a "culture that has not been vulgarized" are free to band together into their own community, and refuse to associate with "vulgar" people (i.e., those who consume pornography). They're just not free to impose their will on others.

one can be rich but as unfree as a Victorian tycoon’s wife.

But what is it that makes a Victorian tycoon's wife "unfree"? Well, she either can't or doesn't own any of her own property (if she did, she would always have the freedom to leave). But in what sense is she "rich", then? This argument fails to recognize that the very things which make a Victorian tycoon's wife "unfree" also make her "unrich".

Nourishing foods are good for us by nature, not because we choose to eat them.

Wow, so you mean that if I choose not to eat nourishing foods, I still derive benefit from them anyway? Awesome, nothing but Twinkies for me from now on!

Furthermore, the reduction of all goods to individual choices presupposes that all goods are individual. But some, like national security, clean air, or a healthy culture, are inherently collective.

National security is a legitimate function of government, even to libertarians. A "healthy culture" is an absurd abstraction that deserves no protection whatsoever. The argument regarding clean air presumes that it is difficult to track down polluters, which is not necessarily true (it may be true, but it is not necessarily true, and hence cannot be used as the basis of a theoretical argument such as this author is attempting, only a utilitarian one).

Libertarians in real life rarely live up to their own theory but tend to indulge in the pleasant parts while declining to live up to the difficult portions. They flout the drug laws but continue to collect government benefits they consider illegitimate.

First of all, I'd like to see some evidence that this is actually true, not just something this author asserts. Second, even if it is actually true, such libertarians my feel they are entitled to collect government benefits they consider illegitimate, since they pay taxes which they also consider illegitimate. Third, how can you fault someone for opposing what they believe to be an illegitimate system even when they, personally, benefit from it?

Are such people (assuming they exist) hypocrites? Perhaps. Does that invalidate what they say? No, that's textbook ad hominem.

Libertarians need to be asked some hard questions. What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free?

If the only way to remain free was by drafting its citizens, then it would need to draft its citizens. However, that's a rather extreme case being proposed (i.e., imminent and likely successful invasion by foreign powers, combined with an unlikely lack of volunteers to repel such an invasion).

What if it needed to limit oil imports to protect the economic freedom of its citizens from unfriendly foreigners?

There is nothing that "unfriendly foreigners" can do that would endanger the economic freedom of our citizens (short of invasion - certainly nothing that could be remedied by limiting oil imports). This question is meaningless.

What if it needed to force its citizens to become sufficiently educated to sustain a free society?

I can see no way in which a lack of education would endanger anyone's freedom, or in which a lack of a general level of education would render a free society unsustainable. Unable to answer without more specific information.

What if it needed to deprive landowners of the freedom to refuse to sell their property as a precondition for giving everyone freedom of movement on highways?

People do not have a right to "freedom of movement on highways" that trumps landowners' rights to use their property. Especially not a right to freedom of movement on highways that haven't yet been built.

What if it needed to deprive citizens of the freedom to import cheap foreign labor in order to keep out poor foreigners who would vote for socialistic wealth redistribution?

Socialistic wealth redistribution would be unconstitutional, so they wouldn't be able to vote for it.

Like slavery, libertarianism would have to allow one to sell oneself into it.

No, it wouldn't. Not actual slavery, since that treats people as commodities. At worst, you could say libertarianism would have to allow one to sell oneself into indentured servitude. Among the differences: The children of indentured servants are not automatically indentured themselves, indentured servants can own their own stuff, and they always have the option of buying out the contract. Plus, the holders of the indenture contracts have contractual obligations to the servant in return, which is not true of slaveowners.

And libertarianism degenerates into outright idiocy when confronted with the problem of children, whom it treats like adults, supporting the abolition of compulsory education and all child-specific laws, like those against child labor and child sex. It likewise cannot handle the insane and the senile.

Well, now this is just libelously stupid. The only reason to do away with "child-specific" laws would be that you could accomplish the same thing more efficiently with laws that dealt more generally with the class of "people presumed incapable of exercising rational choice", which would include children, the insane, and the senile. But kudos for managing to imply that libertarians believe raping children is OK. Nice job.

But this refutes libertarianism by its own premise, as libertarianism defines the good as the freely chosen, yet people do not choose it. Paradoxically, people exercise their freedom not to be libertarians.

It's simply wrong to say that "libertarianism defines the good as the freely chosen", so it is not self-refuting in this way. And I can think of a list as long as my arm of reasons people "exercise their freedom not to be libertarians" that have nothing to do with the validity or invalidity of libertarian political-economic philosophy.

since no electorate will support libertarianism

It's a big leap from "no electorate has ever supported libertarianism" to "no electorate will (ever) support libertarianism."

But without a sufficiently strong state, individual freedom falls prey to other more powerful individuals.

Well, of course. That's a major tenet of libertarianism. Though, of course, the more extreme anarcho-capitalist types might prefer it be worded as "without a sufficiently strong protector", since they would dispute that the protector of rights must necessarily be the state.

Libertarians are also naïve about the range and perversity of human desires they propose to unleash.

This whole paragraph is bizarre. The author starts by invoking the specter of unspeakable sexual perversion, then promptly drops it and assumes that parents would no longer be able to raise responsible children, because children would be "free to refuse". Then there's this weird bit: "They forget that for much of the population, preaching maximum freedom merely results in drunkenness, drugs, failure to hold a job, and pregnancy out of wedlock." Sorry, but paternalism does not an argument make. Show me evidence that any of these things are the result of "preaching maximum freedom." All these things occur now, in the absence of "maximum freedom", so why should I believe they are related to freedom in any way? If they're not, then increasing freedom wouldn't increase the incidence of any of these things - the people who would do these things when free, also do them now when they're not free.

Society is dependent upon inculcated self-restraint if it is not to slide into barbarism, and libertarians attack this self-restraint.

Wrong, libertarians attack external restraint, not self-restraint. If you are incapable of seeing the difference, then you are not qualified to discuss libertarianism intelligently.

But then, what do we libertarians know, since we're apparently "Free spirits, the ambitious, ex-socialists, drug users, and sexual eccentrics"?

Actually, I can think of worse company to be in...

Monday, March 07, 2005

Not iMpressed

Andrew Sullivan expresses the concern that iPods are making people iSolated.
Yes, we have always had homes, retreats or places where we went to relax, unwind or shut out the world. But we didn’t walk around the world like hermit crabs with our isolation surgically attached.

You know, I seem to remember an ancient Dave Berg "Lighter Side of..." strip in Mad Magazine making fun of the way people were isolated by their brand-new Sony Walkmans... twenty-five years ago.

That was (maybe) revolutionary. It introduced an entirely new experience to life: Listening to your own personal music collection outside your home. The iPod merely makes that existing experience somewhat more convenient. It's a quantitative, not a qualitative, improvement. No need to act as though there has been a fundamental shift in anyone's social interaction (or lack thereof).

Friday, March 04, 2005

Others on Social Security

More choice quotes regarding Social Security, from a post on the Mises Economics Blog.
The surplus collected into social security, which was supposed to be set aside and invested for the time when there'd be greater demands on it, was instead spent, replaced with an empty IOU.
Another point that's worth bearing is that these IOUs aren't just empty: they're meaningless. To understand this, we have to understand that people are not entitled to social security payments; it is not like a contract where you pay into the system, and then have a legal right to get something back out later on.
Nor is social security some form of insurance.
If we were to talk of real privatization, it would mean eliminating the program entirely, and allowing a combination of voluntary savings, voluntary insurance, and voluntary charity to work in the free market. However, what is actually being talked about is nothing other than the creation of a forced-savings program.

Also worth a look is the No More Euphemisms article mentioned in that post.
Social Security as it is currently structured has nothing to do with legally enforceable promises or guarantees. There is no "trust fund" as that term is commonly understood, no funded segregated accounts, no IOUs or bonds stored in some lockbox, or anywhere else for that matter. Social Security is neither solvent nor bankrupt.
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Things May Get Really Interesting Around Here

Professor Bainbridge discusses the recent C-Net interview with FEC Chairman Brad Smith, in which he reveals that some in the FEC want to extend the McCain-Feingold restrictions on political contributions to also prohibit some unpaid, but "coordinated", political writing on the internet. In other words, blogs.

Bainbridge observes:
Yet, the oddity of campaign finance regulation is that we have ended up in a place in which pornographers apparently have greater constitutional protection than political bloggers. It's like we live in the First Amendment's Bizzaro World.
Fortunately, I see an obvious loophole. If the FEC starts restricting political speech in blogs, I'll simply start writing my political rants in the form of pornography.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Many Smart People Don't Get This, Part Deux

As a companion piece to the one that appeared on 2-Minute Sidebar today, here is something I wrote about Social Security to a friend of mine who asked about it the other day:

Socal Security is in trouble. In my opinion, there is no way to fix it, and it should be done away with entirely. And the longer we wait, the more painful it will be.

The basic problem is that there is no "return" on "investment" with SS, because it isn't an investment. It's a tax. Everyone talks about it as if it were a "trust fund" that your money goes into, and then your money comes back out of it when you retire. This is a lie. SS is just another tax and just another expenditure. Your money flows into the government, then immediately flows out to the people currently receiving SS benefits.

Currently, there is a net surplus here: The government receives more from SS taxes than it pays out in benefits. This surplus is simply spent on other things. It seems more complicated than this, because the way the government spends it is by "investing" SS funds in government bonds, then takes the income from those bonds and spends it. But this is just an accounting fiction, because those bonds are nothing more than a promise by the government to pay money back from future revenues. If they took the accounting ledger entry labeled "Social Security Trust Fund" and folded it into the general budget, the books would balance by simply canceling out all those bonds currently held by the "Trust Fund" - it's just a way of moving money from one column in the ledger to a different column in the ledger.

But starting in about 2018 or so, there won't be a net surplus anymore. The government will begin to pay out more in benefits than it collects in SS taxes. At that point, the supporters of SS say, they'll begin making up the shortfall from the "trust fund" that has built up. Except, remember, that the "trust fund" is an accounting fiction consisting entirely of government bonds, and in order to pay off those bonds, the money has to come out of the overall budget. In other words, from general tax revenues. So, as the shortfall increases, the government will be forced to either cut spending (possibly including SS benefits), increase tax revenue (i.e., raise taxes, unless by sheer good luck there's a sudden massive increase in productivity and wealth), borrow more money (i.e., increase the deficit, which just delays the issue), or inflate the money supply (which amounts to the same thing as raising taxes).

This is unavoidable: One of these things will happen, sooner or later, whether anyone wants it or not. All we can do is choose which one, and to some extent when. The best we can hope for is that we can find a way to eliminate SS without too badly screwing over those who are too old to begin building up their own retirement savings, and who have not done so (or have not saved as much as they otherwise would have) because they were relying on expected SS benefits (and/or couldn't afford to do so in addition to paying SS taxes).

The plan Bush proposes has some issues. There's a good discussion of it at mises.org. I think the main effect of it will be to move the crisis point earlier. However, since I also think the longer we wait, the more it will hurt, and since there are currently people denying that there is a crisis at all because "it'll be 50 years before the trust fund is empty", in my opinion, moving the crisis point earlier is a Good Thing. So Bush's semi-privatization scheme is probably better than doing nothing.

I'll also add one more point. Since Noam Scheiber doesn't understand why, if you don't believe in the "trust fund", it makes any difference when you start dealing with the problem, here's one reason: The earlier you deal with it, the more time those who expect to eventually reach retirement age will have to make their own private investments, to cover the expected benefit cuts (or setting up investments before the expected tax increases) in their future.