February 14, 2009

Random thought from the “remorse is 20/2” department

Posted in Politics tagged , , at 10:19 pm by mj

Seven years ago, we wagged our fingers at the crazy internet boom, and said “never again.”

Today, we’re giving the finger to the crazy real estate/finance boom, and saying “never again.”

In ten years, will we do the same for the coming government extravaganza?

(N.B.: 20/2 is the visual acuity often ascribed to Hawks.)

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January 10, 2009

Porn Industry Asking for TART Money

Posted in Politics tagged , , at 9:59 pm by mj

And why not?:

Joe Francis, creator of the “Girl’s Gone Wild” video series, and Larry Flynt, founder of Hustler, will ask Congress for a $5 billion bailout, according to TMZ.

Why does the porn industry need a bailout? Because apparently even porn is getting smacked by the recession.

XXX DVD sales have taken a hit – about a 22% hit, according to TMZ.

I’m sure Larry Flynt is making a political statement, and his cohort, Joe Francis (Girls Gone Wild, etc.) is just the sort of self-aggrandizing, profiteering nitwit to play the part and guarantee success.

I don’t know which would be sadder. If they’re actually granted the money, or if they’re not. Either way, the political statement will fly over everybody’s head.

July 19, 2008

OMFG! Can’t a guy even have a decent protest vote?

Posted in Politics tagged , , , , at 6:46 pm by mj

Bob fuckin’ Barr?!?

Thus concludes any feelings of affection I’ve retained for the Libertarian Party.

(Yes, I’ve been under a rock, and this is news to me.)

If Barr is really serious about reversing his position on…well, everything he ever advocated…he should do it within the Republican Party framework. Because it’s no good to spend decades doing damage with the weight of the federal government, then “repent” when a third party offers you an ego boost late in life. You have to reverse the policies you’ve helped implement, not just speak a few words that the mainstream won’t even take seriously.

And how the hell does a guy like that get accepted into the Libertarian Party, of all things? The party of “principle”? The party that would rather come in fourth in an election than give up an ounce of liberty?

I mean…are they all smoking dope?

Oh, wait.

February 17, 2008

Experience

Posted in Politics tagged , , at 6:38 pm by mj

Julia was in a bit of a pickle. She’d gotten herself and her children in far over their heads. Her job was paying just above minimum wage, her savings was nearly depleted, she was $100,000 in credit card debt, and what’s worse, her interest-only ARM payments had just ballooned the previous month and she would certainly lose her home soon.

Julia needed a roommate to help her with her payments.

She screened at least thirty people over the next few weeks. Some responded to her Craiglist ad, others were referrals from her co-workers.

Most of the applicants were too inexperienced. There was the handsome guy who knew a lot about money and was on his way to be an investor on Wall Street…but he was just out of college, and had never actually lived with anybody before. Julia needed somebody with more experience.

Finally, she narrowed the field down to three candidates.

First was Matt, the wealthy old guy who always dressed right and said old-fashioned things like “yes, ma’am” and “have a pleasant evening.” He admitted to a peculiar fetish for spying on young women when they slept, but he’d never actually harm anybody.

Second was Robert, the middle-aged divorcee who was also determined to turn his life around. And what’s more, he promised to pay her twice what she’d advertised, and all he asked in return was for exclusive use of the kitchen every evening between 4-10PM.

Third was Herbet. He’d been living with people for twenty years. He started off in petty theft, stealing pens and clothes hangers from his roommates. Later, he moved on to stealing underwear and taking hidden photos and posting them online. More recently, he’d been convicted four times of kidnapping each of his past four roommates. Julia couldn’t argue with his experience, and he promised that, within a year’s time, he’d be paying all of Julia’s bills for her–her mortgage payments, credit card payments, car payments, health insurance, everything. You see, he was good at playing the state lottery, and knew just when, statistically, he could expect a big payout.

Of course Julia chose the one with the most experience, Herbert.

She and her five children haven’t been heard from since. Likely, they’re out partying hard in the Bahamas thanks to her fine choice in roommates.

February 3, 2008

Why I Am Voting for Barack Obama

Posted in Me, Politics tagged , , , , , at 8:38 pm by mj

This Tuesday, I will do two things I’ve never done before.

First, I will vote in a primary. (I’ve showed up at the poll during primaries, just never voted in a primary race.)

Second, I will vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate.

I am registered as unaffiliated and, in California, that means I can vote in the Democratic primary if I choose. This year, I will choose to do so in the hopes of doing my part to see to it that Obama, and not Clinton, gets the Democratic nomination.

And if he does, he will get my vote in November, too.

My Political Philosophy in Six Paragraphs
Not to digress too much, but, briefly, here’s where I’m coming from.

What defines a government is its political processes. Do the processes that exist provide some degree of epistemological certainty that its powers are being used legitimately? Are violations of the processes few, brought to light, and corrected for?

That’s not to say that any of its policies are right, necessarily, just that the decisions on how to use that power are sound.

More practically, there are three real problems with the concentration of power. These effect private organizations too, but governments almost always have more power concentrated in them than any private organization.

The first is corruption. Power attracts corruption, and can then be used to increase corruption. People who want power will do anything to get it. So you need a government that exposes corruption and corrects for it. You’re never going to eliminate it, and that’s OK–as long as sound processes are usually followed in using power, some amount of corruption can be tolerated and worked around.

The second is consequence. Any action that a powerful government takes has far-reaching consequences. So you need a deliberation process that takes this into account, and you need to implement your policies in a way that makes all consequences–intended and unintended–as transparent as possible. Then you need to alleviate the negative consequences.

The third is momentum. Once you’ve taken an action, it’s mighty difficult to stop reinforcing that action, and near impossible to take a completely different course even if the consequences are disastrous. And while the market can react quickly to changing circumstances, strong, powerful organizations almost never can.

What I Like About Obama
Barack Obama strikes me as a reasonable person, who will make reasonable decisions given his biases.

He’s engaged with scientific and technical communities early in the formation of his policies.

He advocates for more transparency in government.

He seems to recognize the problem of momentum.

He focuses on ideas and policies.

He seems to grasp that what was so despicable about the Iraq War was that it was executed without following sound political processes.

Contrast this with Clinton. She totally misses (or maybe she really doesn’t) that the stupid policies she’s advocated for–from authorizing force in Iraq because, apparently, she thought she was playing a game of chicken, to her original bologna national health care plan, all the way back to her support of the Clipper Chip–would have any negative consequences at all.

And, let’s face it, she and her hubby campaign like people who want power and will do anything to get it.

Another thing in Obama’s favor is his very real dealings with multicultural, multitheological environments. His religious Faith was really a journey and, seems to be, a good parallel to how he makes political decisions. To quote Wikipedia:

Obama writes that he “was not raised in a religious household.” He describes his mother, raised by non-religious parents, as detached from religion, yet “in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known.” He describes his Kenyan father as “raised a Muslim,” but a “confirmed atheist” by the time his parents met, and his Indonesian stepfather as “a man who saw religion as not particularly useful.” […] Obama writes: “It was because of these newfound understandings—that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved—that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized.”

Caveats
I am not voting for Obama because I particularly agree with all of his policies.

For example, I do truly believe that nationalized health care will fail, fail utterly, and fail spectacularly. But I also do truly believe that it’s inevitable because we’re tired of mere philosophizing and need first-hand experience. And the alternatives offered by the Republicans aren’t exactly sound.

What Obama seems to offer for this inevitable expansion of government is that he will, again, follow sound political processes and be transparent about its implementation. Which, by the way, gives it a higher chance of succeeding.

And I think, if any politician today could stop the wave, or keep it from knocking over houses when it crashes, or maybe even keep it working well long enough to find a better alternative, it’s Obama.

Of course, it could all be for show. Given that Obama (a) is a politician, (b) is a Democrat, (c) is a candidate for President, and (d) has raised $130M in the last year … well, the chances are good that it’s all an elaborate con. That’s the trouble with power.

Still, I’m voting Tuesday without hesitation. If the hard-core Democrats are smart enough to nominate him, I will, of course, look for more evidence of his reasonableness before November. I think I’ll find plenty.

January 8, 2008

Politicians as Homeopaths

Posted in Politics tagged , , at 9:38 pm by mj

A quote I stumbled upon from Quackometer about homeopaths, which applies equally well to most politicians today (emphasis is mine):

I doubt we will ever see an X-Factor moment where a homeopath is forced to brutally confront the totality of their own delusions as they are exposed to a direct and uncompromising truth assault by a quackbusting Simon Cowell. Their emotional commitment to their healing fantasies is far stronger than their intellectual commitment to reason, truth and evidence. But I would have hoped that a homeopath’s disregard for truth was limited to the truths of science, however, events in the last week or two have made me wonder.

Apply that quote to politicians, particularly those who are “on a crusade,” or who find no personal meaning to existence beyond their political endeavors. Then run with the analogy in your own mind.

April 5, 2007

North Korean Train Tour

Posted in Politics at 12:58 pm by mj

I’m home sick today, and found this interesting. It’s a clip from Japanese TV of a train tour of North Korea. Apparently they start out boarding in China and take a train to Pyongyang, then head out on a local train line to see a less idealized version of the country.

japanprobe.com has a good summary of the video for those, like me, who don’t understand Japanese. But really, everything you need to know is in the editing.

June 13, 2006

The Economics of (Oil) Prices, and Long-term Oil Strategy

Posted in Business, Politics at 7:56 pm by mj

There’s a short entry on the economics of prices by Walter E Williams. Williams responds to the argument that charging today’s prices for oil that was bought cheaper a week ago is “price gouging,” and offers up the following scenario:

If you were really enthusiastic about not being a “price-gouger,” I’d have another proposition. You might own a house that you purchased for $55,000 in 1960 that you put on the market for a half-million dollars. I’d simply accuse you of price-gouging and demand that you sell me the house for what you paid for it, maybe adding on a bit for inflation since 1960. I’m betting you’d say, “Williams, if I sold you my house for what I paid for it in 1960, how will I be able to pay today’s prices for a house to live in?”

Williams is correct on that point. Such accusations are usually made by people who don’t understand basic economics.

But Williams continues and asserts, like so many do, that the real problem with high gas prices is the U.S. Congress:

Opening a tiny portion of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas production, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s mean estimate, would increase our proven domestic oil reserves by approximately 50 percent. The Pacific, Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico offshore areas have enormous reserves of oil and natural gas, but like the Alaska reserves, they have been put off limits by Congress. Plus, the U.S. Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves estimates the world supply of oil shale at 1.6 trillion barrels, of which 1.2 trillion barrels are in the United States.

If I may put on my astute politician hat for a bit, I think arguments like that miss the bigger point.

The untapped oil under U.S. jurisdiction can be seen as a bargaining tool against Opec. Knowing that the U.S. could commit itself to using its own domestic oil supplies–and, if that were to happen, we’d really commit to it–means the U.S. can bargain for cheaper prices (if not exactly cheap prices) now. It’s a bit of a threat: if we extract more oil, we can ruin the economies of several nations and make life miserable for some of the shiek-kings in Opec.

But what would happen if the U.S. committed itself to this route tomorrow? Well, after a ramp-up period which would probably involve higher taxes to subsidize the endeavour, we’d have cheaper oil prices. Much cheaper. But for how long? 90 years? (ANWR is 15 years, and the others?) And then? Then the U.S. would be backed against a wall.

In the long term battle for freedom, we’d better have some tricks up our sleeves to maintain our independence when the going gets really tough. Using up our oil at the first sign of a little trouble means those opposed to liberty–which most of the Opec nations represent–have a leg up in the long-term game.

My prediction is as soon as we establish a viable, scalable, long-term unmonopolized alternative to oil, we will tap our domestic reserves to get us through the turmoil that would undoubtedly follow, knowing that even if we tap it all, there’s an out (i.e., the proven alternative that is being rolled out). I don’t expect that to happen in my lifetime.

At least, if I were an astute politician–or, for that matter, even particularly politically astute at all–that would be my strategy.

(Link via Catallarchy.)

April 19, 2006

The Value of U.S. Currency Over Time

Posted in Money, Politics at 7:58 pm by mj

Somebody by the name of Finster has produced a plot of the value of currency from 1665 – present:

This chart purports, in context, to show that the value of currency in the U.S. was relatively flat until the Federal Reserve Bank was created in 1913. I’m not sure if it does so accurately, and it seems there is controversy surrounding the use of FDI as a measure of currency valuation.

Apart from any controversy, though, I wonder if there is a less sinister explanation.

For example, the cliff does not appear until 1918, corresponding to the U.S.’s entry into WWI. Post-war, it recovers and again stays relatively flat, until 1940 or so, corresponding to WWII. (This is more apparent if you look at the Excel data series he provides.) Then it’s all down-hill.

But the latter half ot the 20th century is marked not only by wars and cold wars, but also by the industrialization of most of the world–even the backwards communist countries. Since the FDI (if my understanding is correct) measures the relative importance of the U.S. versus the rest of the world, that would also account for some of the erosion.

My curiosity has been piqued, however.

(Link via Catallarchy.)

March 4, 2006

Harry Browne Dies; Marital Arrangements and Freedom

Posted in Death, Life, Love, Politics at 12:04 pm by mj

Reason has Former Libertarian Party Presidental Candidate Harry Browne’s obituary. (Also see the Wikipedia entry.)

Three days after his death is not really the time to go into my own opinions (I’ll say I voted for him twice, but the second time I was cynical about it), but I found this comment on Miss Passey’s blog quite interesting:

As I recall, he was against marriage; not only that, but he believed that if two people lived together, only one person should own the home and the furnishings. This, he felt, would cut down on quarrells about what kind of furniture to buy, etc. Having little to no experience with real-life romantic relationships, I mentioned this to my inamorata as a good idea. She was shocked and outraged. “If you owned the home and all the furniture belonged to you, how would I ever feel it was my home, too? I would feel like someone just staying over all the time. I would feel like your serf.” I thought she was being irrational. (Of course I envisioned me being the one who owned the house and everything in it.) Years later I would wind up in a situation where one person–and it wasn’t me–owned the home and all the furnishings . . . and I realized my (by then) ex-girlfriend had been right! I felt exactly the way she said she would feel! I was a serf living in the master’s manor without any real rights in the situation–and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

This reveals so much about how those who have no power formulate opinions on how to use the power they don’t have. Many of the LP’s proposals fall into exactly this camp. It’s very much like how humans develop from adolescence into adulthood. It’s as if the universe made us to develop wild-eyed opinions on how we should behave early in life when we are powerless, specifically so that it could find new and entertaining (not to mention humiliating) ways of proving us wrong as we acquire autonomy. Sorta like how some television writers develop their characters.

Of course, American culture is steeped in serfdom–the idea that one spouse owns everything, and the other is utterly dependent. It’s still that way in Chinese culture (even in the states). Even the INS (er, DHSCIS) pretty much assumes this kind of arrangement.

It makes me happy I’m not a woman, since it’s usually the case of a 20-something woman marrying a well-established 30-or-40-something guy, moving into his house with his furniture and doing his laundry, and calling that a marriage. How could anybody be free and happy in such a relationship? (I guess many women are, it’s just an alien concept to me.)

Given our long history with these arrangements, it’s beyond me how this could have seemed like a good idea to an adult writing a book on freedom. Even if I know well the attraction it holds to the just-past-adoloscent mind.

Still, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World did turn me toward contemplation at the time (and helped spark a deep epistemological crisis within me a couple of years later), and mayhap is a large unacknowledged factor in why I’ve become increasingly apolitical.

(Not that I, uh, recall very much of the specifics these days except for the part about contracting instead of entering into an employee-employer relationship…)

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