Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rick Perry's Anti-Federalism

Governor Rick Perry of Texas is too stupid to be a good President. But even the stupidest person can sometimes get something right - if only by accident.

One of the issues brought up in connection with Perry’s campaign is the idea of allowing each state to determine its own rules regarding education, health care, and other forms of regulation.

This issue also relates to what is said to be the relevant difference between Romney’s health care law in Massachusetts compared to Obama’s federal health care law. The two plans are fundamentally the same, except Romney’s law is at the state level (and is consistent with allowing each state to determine its own rules), while Obama’s is federal and imposed on all states.

The main argument in favor of federalization is efficiency.

It costs companies a fair amount of money to deal with different state regulations. It takes effort just to know what those regulations are, let alone design and build corporate products (insurance, automobiles, breakfast cereals, text books) to meet those standards. With one standardized set of federal regulations, these costs are reduced. Companies become more competitive, and savings can be passed on to the consumers.

I will not dispute any of this.

However, I will give two reasons to oppose federalization, and briefly mention a couple more.

Reason 1: Social experimentation.

How do we know what set of rules to adopt at the federal level?

I am a scientifically minded person. I like to base conclusions on data. One possible way to get data is to allow different states to adopt those rules that make sense to them and to observe the results. We can come up with theories to explain those results, and then use those theories to improve the regulations in each state.

In most policy debate, we are bombarded with propaganda telling us the catastrophic costs of adopting this change and the utopian benefits of that change - political propaganda tends to be somewhat exaggerated. Special interest groups love to scare us with stories of jobs that would be lost, threats to our health and safety, and other dire consequences that would follow upon failure to give them what they want. Or they paint a utopian picture of life after adopting a policy that favors their group, here want and suffering has been eliminated.

It would be handy, to say the least, to look at a state that has adopted that change and see if it has suffered catastrophic ruin or obtained a utopian ideal.

There is nothing in this that prohibits the possibility of certain standards being adopted on a national level. However, with state regulations, there is at least a chance that the reason a standard is universally adopted is because, with all of the comparing and contrasting of different state systems, a particular regulation actually has and was able to demonstrate its merit in those states that first adopted it.

Furthermore, the very costs mentioned in the pro-federalization argument will be drivers for states to adopt the standards of their neighbors - unless they think they have good reason not to. Regardless of whether they do or do not decide to go the same route as their neighbors, at least they will have more data on which to base that decision.

Reason 2: Harder to abuse.

In my last post, I argued that bureaucracies easily become agencies for transferring wealth in small amounts from a large number of households and concentrating it in large amounts in the hands of those who have the resources to game the system.

I used an illustrative example of a regulation that adds $1.00 per year to the cost of some product for 100 million households, but generates $50 million in profit for the company that makes that product. The company has a huge financial incentive to make sure that this interpretation gets adopted. The average person has almost no incentive to oppose it or even know of its existence.

Yet, thousands of these types of changes in a large bureaucratic system means that the average household loses a considerable amount of money, all of which gets concentrated and put in the hands of those with the resources to harvest it - to harvest us.

These types of manipulations are significantly more profitable on the federal level than the state level. If I wanted to exploit this type of manipulation, I would much rather manipulate a federal regulation that will take $1.00 from 100 million households and put it in my pocket, then a state regulation that affects only 2 million people.

While the efficiency argument for federalization is valid, in some cases - such as regulatory manipulations that divert wealth from many and concentrates it in the hands of a few - we do not want the system to be more efficient. Sometimes, efficiency is not a good thing.


I have a couple more reasons I could throw out there. One looks to evolution and argues for the benefits of having a diverse population. Another respects individual differences in likes and dislikes and questions the idea of a one-size-fits-all government.

And there are obvious exceptions. National defense and international treaties are obviously powers that need to be federalized, and state regulations should not be the type that puts them in a state of war with other states.

However, it is not the case that just because an idiot such as Rick Perry says something that the idea itself is one that should be dismissed on those grounds alone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Problem with Government Regulations

In recent posts, I have probably establish the impression that I am an economic liberal.

I favor taxing the wealthy in part to provide aid to the poor. There is no natural right to property, but instead a set if institutions that a person with good desires (desires that tend to fulfill other desires - desires that people generally have the most and strongest reason to support through the moral praise and condemnation) and true beliefs would act so as to realize.

However, there is a significant problem with government solutions such that, whenever governments get involved, they will be strongly disposed to use this power to take from regular people for the benefit of the rich. Anything that has the appearance of helping the poor are a few bones tossed over the shoulder to appease the masses.

Perhaps the best way to protect the poor from this type of exploitation is to place limits on government - to identify a group of things that governments may not do.

Raise your hand if you can tell me the names of the Secretary of Transportation? Energy? interior?

Well, you can bet that every oil company (for example) has a team of people who know their names, the names of their suppose and children, their birthdays and anniversaries, their school transcripts, their entire work history, and has copies of every paper those people have written and transcripts of every speech they have given. They have people on their staff who were hired precisely because they know the people in power, or they know the people on the staff of those who are in power.

Now, imagine that an opportunity comes along to interpret some piece of regulation - the effect if which will take $1.00 per year out of the pocket of every household in America - over $100 million total. However, the company will obtain $50 million in benefits per year.

For the sake of protecting that dollar, it isn't worth it to you to even go to the effort of learning the names of these agency heads, let alone keep track of every regulation and interpretation the agency might come up with. And it certainly isn't worthwhile to maintain the types of intimate contact that can be used to guide the agency's actions even if you did know about these specific concerns.

For the sake of getting that $50 million, it is more than worthwhile for that company to create a department and hire a staff that does nothing but study the people in each department and the ways they do business - and to establish intimate contacts with those people. One way to do this, of course, is to find people in the department and offer them more pay than the government can provide to come and work for the company. Meanwhile, that person's replacement in the agency knows, "I had better play ball with these people or I can kiss that six-figure income goodbye."

They are not corrupt. You have seen how easy it is for people to believe what they want to believe. It is extremely common for people to use their emotions - their comfort level - as evidence for what is true. They like the ideas that the industry they are supposed to be regulating tell them to like. They embrace flawed reasoning and biased evidence as sound precisely because the conclusions are comfortable - and a comfortable conclusion must be true.

So each of us lives a life of a hundred thousand nibbles - $1.00 here, 25 cents there, 10 cents someplace else - all of which adds up to a considerable amount of money directed out of our pockets and into the pockets of the very rich. And it is not just time - it is labor. We spend our days producing the goods and services that the very rich consume. People who have the most money to spend, also have the most money to buy things. Thus, they have the power to direct the largest portion of economic activity towards the fulfillment of their interests and desires.

Take the food and drug administration, for example. Consider how much drug testing is done because it provides assistance to the public, and how much is required because it creates a huge barrier to new companies entering the field.

From the company's perspective, "Yes, I have to spend $100 million to get this drug tested, but I have $100 million to spend. These high costs lock out anybody who only has $50 million. Meanwhile, when my drug hits the market, I will have a monopoly. When people complain about the high prices, I can shout right back at them, 'But look at how much money I have to spend on testing!'"

For you and me, useful medicines are delayed and, when they finally get here, we pay more for them. However, if any noise should be made about lowering these barriers to entry, the drug companies themselves will fire up their propaganda machines to flood us with warnings about the dangers of these unsafe drugs entering the marketplace.

And they will believe what they say. They actually do convince themselves that they are angels serving the public good. It is a very comfortable belief to have. Though this belief is not driven so much by an objective evaluation of the evidence, but a dislike of the idea that they will lose money and a want to believe that what is good for them also benefits others.

While I was getting my hair cut recently, the staff was discussing the horrors that would result if hair stylists were not licensed by the State to cut hair. They truly believed that this would be a disaster for the public. Not a word was given to the absurd possibility that they simply did not want to have to deal with competitors who would charge a lower price.

And they contacted their lobbying group to make sure this measure was defeated.

For the sake of protecting a $50 million benefit, a company can spend $10 million in public relations (including some well-placed phone calls to friendly members of the press - with whom their public relations branches have also bought and paid for intimate knowledge relationships). For the sake of protecting that dollar you would lose, it is not even worth the time to write an email.

And yet this is for a hypothetical program that ultimately funnels $100 million from regular people to give $50 million to the super rich.

These are not problems that can be fixed by getting "the right people" in government. These are problems that suggest that we simply cannot get the right people into government. Human nature is such that this is an unreasonable expectation - meaning, an expectation that no reasonable person would have.

Some people may be comforted by the belief that these institutions will work in our favor. But, then, people do tend to believe that which is comfortable. Besides, the company that can get the $50 million benefit has both the means and the motive to make sure that we stay comfortable with that belief, don't they?

Friday, August 26, 2011

A "Bright" Leap of Faith on Climate Change

Just because somebody claims to be a member of the "brights", have a naturalistic view of the universe, and a respect for reason and science, this does not mean that he qualifies under any of these headings.

In this case, I am referring to Allen Small, whose blog Truth About AGW Is Becoming Cloudy

Small wants to argue that CERN has produced evidence that something other than anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for global warming - namely, cosmic rays.

Cosmic rays cause clouds.

This has been known since the early 20th century and goes along with the invention of the "cloud chamber".

Well, in common English, this is hugely misleading. Cosmic rays cause condensation that creates wispy cloud-like phenomena in cloud chambers. It is a huge stretch to say that cosmic rays cause clouds of the type you see up in the sky.

Maybe they do. Maybe they don't.

One suggestion is that changes in solar activity can bring about changes in the number of cosmic rays striking the earth, resulting in a change in cloud formation, resulting in a change in the global climate.

There is absolutely no evidence that this is happening. However, it might happen, and the idea is worth investigating.

So, some scientists at CERN have been investigating it.

At the start, we can see that none of this has anything to do with the science of climate change caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Arguing that it does is like arguing that, since arsenic is a poison that can kill people, this calls into question the claim that gunshot wounds can be fatal. They are two distinct ways of killing people (or affecting the climate). Neither calls the science of the other into question.

However, like I said, simply because somebody claims to love reason and adopt a naturalistic view of the universe, this does not imply that the individual is immune to wild leaps of logic that support a favored politically motivated conclusion. Small does not have sufficient respect for logic and reason that would allow him to see this leap as invalid.

The article in Nature that Small cites says specifically:

Early results seem to indicate that cosmic rays do cause a change. The high-energy protons seemed to enhance the production of nanometre-sized particles from the gaseous atmosphere by more than a factor of ten. But, Kirkby adds, those particles are far too small to serve as seeds for clouds. "At the moment, it actually says nothing about a possible cosmic-ray effect on clouds and climate, but it's a very important first step," he says.

(See Cloud formation may be linked to cosmic rays)

In other words, there is no evidence of an effect.

But even if there was an effect, this would still be the case that we have an influence on the climate in addition to the effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The claim that it calls the claims of climate change into question requires abandoning reason and using the type of thinking we see in religion and other anti-science circles.

It is important to note that these conclusions do not depend at all on one’s views on climate change. Somebody who rejects climate change but still has the capacity to recognize and respect the difference between good reasons and bad reasons would still see these as bad reasons. Such a person, if such a person actually existed, would argue that, whereas there are sound reasons for rejecting the claim of human-induced global warming, Small's reasons are not among them. Small's reasons are, in fact, the claims of somebody who has abandoned the quest for good reasons and has decided to grasp onto any apparent reason that floats his way, with absolutely no capacity to measure its quality.

In fact, the "arguments" we see against anthropogenic climate change are pretty much in the same class as the arguments we see against evolution. You know how we are constantly hearing that evolution has gaps and that contemporary research (misinterpreted and misapplied in ways that comfort the interpreter and applier) is creating a whole new of problems that evolutionists can't answer, and that evolutionists are hiding any evidence that does not correspond to their politically correct conclusion? Well, Small is applying the same way of thinking to human-caused climate change. In both cases, none of it qualifies as real science.

Small has adopted a favorite conclusion that he refuses to see questioned. He now filters and misinterprets all evidence in any way imaginable so that it appears to give support to this conclusion. If logic does not yield the conclusions he likes, he is more than happy to abandon logic and to make huge leaps that only faith could cross (even though he claims to abandon faith). But its just the same type of thinking.

It is a mistake to think that we are just going to find this type of behavior among the religious.

Respecting Reality

There was another opinion post in the Washington Post yesterday that touched on the idea that we should not elect an idiot - or anybody with a tenuous grasp of reality - as President.

Paula Kirby wrote:

In the real world, facts are stubborn beasts. They are supremely unmoved by whether we like them or not. We may sternly disapprove of the idea that stepping off the window ledge of an apartment on the 14th floor will result in our death; we may go further, and resolutely contradict all claims to that effect, clinging religiously to our belief that such activity is nothing more than an enjoyable and exhilarating way to spend an afternoon; but neither our disapproval nor our disbelief will make the slightest difference to the real-world splat.

See: Evolution Threatens Christianity

This is a very apt description of the dangers of electing somebody who cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction to the office of President.

It is one thing for a person, either disapproving of gravity or disbelieving in its power, to step off of a ledge. The only people he harms are himself and the potential person he might land on below.

But it is simple insanity to put the fate of the United States - and, indeed, the fate of the world - into the hands of such a person. When the splat occurs, do we want the person to take the whole nation - and the whole world - with him.

So, it is of utmost importance that the office of President be given to somebody who knows that there is a real world out there that does not yield to a person's blind faith. We survive by knowing about and understanding the world around us, and we depend on beliefs that we adopt independent of that reality.

Sorry, I do not want to see the U.S. or the world go 'splat' against the pavement.

This means that I do not want to see anybody in the office of President who does not fully respect the fact that "neither our disapproval nor our disbelief will make the slightest difference to the real-world splat." He or she has to respect the fact that reality is something out there to be studied, learned, and understood - and cannot be whatever that person wants it to be or decided it to be on the basis of faith or wishful thinking.

Oh, and the instrument by which we observe, measure, explain, and - most importantly, particularly for those who do not want to experience a splat against the pavement - predict real world events is that instrument known as 'science'.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Free Markets as Regulations

In comments on my post Penn Jillette's libertarianism, Rob wrote:

Exactly! The second someone decides some bit of matter is "property," unless we want to ascribe mysterious new properties to this matter, we pretty much need a referee to decide which bits of matter are whose. Well, sometimes we won't like the ref's decisions.

Dbonfitto wrote:

Regarding the use of force to redistribute food to the poor as bullying: Isn't it also bullying to use government force to protect private property?

This brings up an important point about private property.

There is a tradition of speaking as if free market principles represent an "unregulated" economy and that a "regulation" is something that goes against the free market.

This is a myth - a fiction - as much as any claim about gods or angels.

The fact of the matter is that what is called the "free market" is a set of regulations.

It is a set of rules that governs issues such as who owns what, how ownership gets transferred from one person to another, and what one may do with the things that they own. It comes with a set of requirements and prohibitions. It distinguishes legitimate ways in which one might reduce the value of another person's property (e.g., by opening up a competing business nearby) from illegitimate ways (e.g., starting a fire on one's own property that spreads onto one's neighbor's property).

And how are we going to decide issues that are in the gray area in between? What if I open up a factory that rusts your equipment? Or one that produces obnoxious smells or sounds that drives away your customers or prevents your enjoyment of your property? What if I build a building on mine that blocks your view?

And who gets to decide what counts as an obnoxious sound or smell anyway? Or whether a person has a right to a view if the view is the reason they bought the property to start with?

All of these decisions about what these rules and regulations are need to be decided in a set of government institutions and adjudicated in a court system. In short, it requires a huge regulatory bureaucracy. That bureaucracy gets to decide issues such as: What counts as a valid contract? What procedures should parties go to when they have a dispute over what a contract actually says, or whether its terms have been met? What should be done to somebody who fails to live up to their terms of the contract? How types of evidence should judges look for in answering these questions?

And, ultimately, the regulating bureaucracy is going to back up its decisions on what counts as the legitimate versus the illegitimate use and transfer of property from one person to another by force. In our contract dispute, you will take the contract to a judge that will make a decision - and will back up his decision with the power to direct violence against those who do not accept that decision. Either that or we end up with private wars - the soldiers of one company versus the soldiers of another, as each tries to force their interpretation of the contract on the other.

So the question, even when we are talking about the "free market" is not a question of whether we should adopt a regulated economy or an unregulated economy. The question is: Which set of regulations should we adopt?

Which invites the further question: What criteria are we to use in evaluating these different regulatory systems?

The position that all regulation is inherently bad and we should have a free market economy is simply incoherent. Regardless of whether or not a free market economy represents the best set of regulations, it is still a set of regulations - and a free market economy is a regulated economy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stupid for President

Most people who come to this blog will probably already know that Richard Dawkins has an opinion piece in the Washington Post today.

Attention Governor Perry: Evolution is a Fact.

The point of the article is that intelligence should be considered a qualification for being President, and knowledge of evolution is a good litmus test for intelligence.

On that test, certain candidates for office clearly come out as unqualified. They are the types of candidates for a position as important as President that should not even be on the list - let alone the short list - of possibilities.

The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.

I consider this to be an important point.

We need to make intelligence a qualification for President - or at least make stupidity a disqualifier. And it is true that a basic knowledge of reality is how you test for basic intelligence. People who do not know simple scientific facts - the earth is round, it orbits the sun, it is made up of atoms, it is 4.5 billion years old, life emerged through a gradual process of evolution - are just too stupid to be President.

Other tests of stupidity: Prayer in school is not a defense against terrorist attacks, gay marriage does not cause earthquakes or effect the course of hurricanes, and it is not the case that we need not fear the long-term consequences of our action because Jesus will be here any day now.

If we are not going to be concerned with the intellectual qualifications for president, why put an age limit on who can run for office? There are fifth graders that score higher on these qualifications than many of the people who have made it to the top of the Republican short list.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Regarding Penn Jillette's Libertarianism

I am taking a look at three claims that Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) made in a recent opinion piece on CNN.

"I don't know" - Penn Jillette

The first, which I covered in The Egotistically Arrogant Unwarranted Claim to Knowledge concerns the virtue of admitting that one does not know. The second, which I covered in Regarding Penn Jillette's Atheism concerned the claim that atheism can be founded on not knowing how the universe came into existence.

In this posting, I will discuss the that not knowing how to help the poor and sick justifies libertarianism.

Penn writes:

And I don't think anyone really knows how to help everyone. I don't even know what's best for me. Take my uncertainty about what's best for me and multiply that by every combination of the over 300 million people in the United States and I have no idea what the government should do.

JS Mill used an argument much like this in his defense of freedom in the book "On Liberty". Mill argued that each of us is the best informed and least corruptible agent regarding the fulfillment of our own desires.

If I were to be given control over your life, the first problem you would encounter is that I will continue to act so as to fulfill the most and strongest of my desires, given my beliefs. This means that when I make choices regarding what to do with your life, I will be directing your actions towards the fulfillment of my own desires.

You might be lucky in that my desires may included a strong desire that you be healthy and happy, or a strong desire to fulfill my duty with a belief they my duty is to serve your interests. The fact that I will act in such a way so as to fulfill my desires given my beliefs does not necessarily imply that will enslave and abuse you. Though nothing necessarily rules out the possibility either.

Even if I am a particularly kind person with a strong interest in your welfare, we have a second problem. I don't know what your welfare is. You have had a lifetime of data to use in figuring this out. Every conscious moment of every day you are conducting research as to what fulfills your desires. On the other hand, I can only acquire this information through observation, and only when I am not distracted by other concerns.

Think about the simple act of deciding what you would want for supper. I could guess at what you like, but the best way for me to know what you wanted for supper would be to ask you.

It would be foolish for you to trust me to run your life.

In fact, if I were truly a kind person interested in your welfare, I would want to turn the job of running your life over to the best informed, least corruptible agent available, and that would be you. If I have little or no interest in doing that, then I probably have little or no interest in your welfare.

However, this argument has limits.

First, it only applies where it is the case that the agent is, in fact, the most informed and least corruptible agent. It doesn't apply to small children, for example. They are not granted liberty precisely because they lack the information and experience necessary to determine their interests - particularly long-term interests.

Second, there are conflicts of interests. There are cases where one person, acting so as to fulfill his own desires, would act so as to thwart the desires of others.

Consider the following situation:

An airplane crashes in the desert. The pilots, seeing that the plane was going down, land it near a lush oasis in the desert.

As it turns out, the oasis is owned. The owner uses the water that the oasis provides to run a huge network of fountains, fill a half-dozen swimming pools, water a massive tropical garden, fill several aquariums, and water acres of green lawn. In other words, he has a lot of water.

The owner, like all agents, will act to fulfill the most and strongest of his desires, given his beliefs. However, he has no desire to help the survivors. When he is told that the people from the crash will die without water, he shrugs his shoulders with indifference.

Or, perhaps, he sees this as an opportunity to sell water to the passengers. The price that would bring the best profit, he thinks, would be $10,000,000 per cup. There are a few people on the plane who could actually afford this. Everybody else has to do without. If he provides any charity to those who cannot pay $10 million per cup, then those who can pay would refuse to do so.

Now, let us assume that you also live near the crash site. You would like to help the survivors, but you lack the resources to help much. However, you have the capacity to get water from the estate to the survivors of the crash. Perhaps you work at the estate. Perhaps you are its sole security guard.

Penn seems to be arguing that there is some rule written into the very fabric of the universe that demands that the airplane survivors stay on their sand dune than die, rather than redistribute the water-wealth from the oasis owner to the crash survivors.

It's amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

If the debate over whether or not your action of getting water to the survivors would count as "compassion", then all we are doing is arguing about the definition of words. That is a conversation we can put off until after we make sure that the survivors get some water.

If, instead, the question is one of whether some mystical rule is written into the very fabric of the universe that condemns the act of getting water to the survivors as "immoral self-righteous bullying laziness," no such mystical rule exists. The people who need the water may have the water.

This does not contradict any of my earlier points that we are each the most informed and least corruptible agents in running our own lives. It simply adds the fact that what potentially fills the desires of one agent may thwart the desires if others.

In this example, I have also negated Penn's claim that we do not know how to help others. In this case, we clearly do know how to help the crash victims.

I would also argue that on a planet that has one billionaire, and a million people who need a $4.00 shot to avoid serious health problems, we also know how to help. We take $8 million from the billionaire (leaving him $992 million), and give the people their $4 shot, spending (in this example) another $4 million on administrative overhead and logistics.

Let us not pretend that we have to fold our arms and let a million people die because we "do not know" how to help them. We may not know beyond all possible doubt, but we know beyond all reasonable doubt.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Climate Change - The Tub Analogy - Causes We Can Control

A member of the studio audience made a comment regarding the tub analogy on climate change that deserves some consideration.

The tub analogy is a response to the claim that human CO2 emissions do not matter because human-caused CO2 emissions are only 3% of total emissions.

I responded by suggesting a tub that where the volume of water in the tub has stayed constant at around 270 gallons for 10,000 years. 210 gallons flow into the tub each year, and 210 gallons flow out. Now, you open a faucet that adds another 7 gallons per year to the tub, and now you see the volume of water increasing by 3.5 gallons per year. Of course anybody with any sense would say that turning on the faucet is responsible for the increased volume of water in the tub.

However, dbonfitto made the comment:

It doesn't matter if CO2 levels are rising because of emissions, cosmic rays, solar flares, or fairy dust. They're rising. The fact of the matter is that the only input we can stop right now is the faucet. We only control the man-made input. The longer we wait to close it, the more water damage we have to clean up later.

This is true.

I had written this into the previous post - but deleted it. It introduces an assumption that demagogues can use to drag red herrings across the trail and divert the discussion while burying the main and relevant point. So, to avoid a school of red herrings, I removed that part of the previous post.

However, the point is still valid.

It doesn't matter what the cause of the increase is - natural or manmade. What matters is that the faucet is the only source of input under our control, so it is the only one we can use to influence the rate at which the tub is filling up, to the point that we may need to do so.

Let us assume that we have an engineers' report that says if the volume of water in the tub reaches around 550 gallons it will crack the foundation. Since we turned on the faucet, the volume of water has started to increase. It has reached 390 gallons, and it continues to increase at 3.5 gallons per year.

This means we have about 46 years until the foundation cracks.

By turning the faucet down, we can buy ourselves some time. The more we turn it down, the more time we buy.

Even if the reason for the increase was some natural source we could not control, we can still control the rate at which the tub is filling by turning the faucet that is within our control.

Critics may then want to claim that the engineers' report is wrong and we have no reason to be concerned with the rate at which the tub is filling up. This is a legitimate concern. More importantly, it puts the discussion exactly where it needs to be - on the question of whether we have reason to be concerned with the rate at which the tub is filling. It takes the focus away from the nonsense question of whether the faucet within our control is "the cause" of the increase.

If somebody actually cares about what the right answer is, they would completely avoid this 3% argument. It is not at all difficult to see that it is not relevant. So, whenever somebody actually uses this argument, I think it is likely that he is either ideologically blind, or he can see that it is not relevant but does not care to avoid using it to deceive others.

A person doesn't need to know a thing about the science of climate change to know that this is a garbage argument. It is a garbage argument no matter what the facts are. It completely defies logic.

If we need to control the rate at which the tub is filling to avoid some harmful effects, we reach for the faucet we can turn. Is that REALLY such a hard concept to grasp - except by those who do not want to grasp it?

Regarding Penn Jillette's Atheism

I am taking a look at three claims that Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) made in a recent opinion piece on CNN.

"I don't know" - Penn Jillette

The first, which I covered in my last post, is the virtue of "I don't know." Or, what I called, The Egotistically Arrogant Unwarranted Claim to Knowledge

The second, which I will cover today, is the claim that not knowing the origin of the universe justifies atheism.

Here is what Penn says on the subject:

What makes me libertarian is what makes me an atheist -- I don't know. If I don't know, I don't believe. I don't know exactly how we got here, and I don't think anyone else does, either. We have some of the pieces of the puzzle and we'll get more, but I'm not going to use faith to fill in the gaps. I'm not going to believe things that TV hosts state without proof. I'll wait for real evidence and then I'll believe.

In my own case, I take it further than this.

First, I reject the claim that "atheism" is a lack of belief. This may be its definition among of small club of self-important atheists who have adopted a particular (and peculiar) private language, but it is not the American English definition of the word.

In American English, an atheist is a person who believes that the proposition, "at least one God exists" is almost certainly or certainly false.

Atheists like to distinguish among strong atheists, weak atheists, and the like. This is fine for private discussions among themselves. But these are not a part of the public language.

I am an atheist in the American English sense of the word. I hold that the proposition that at least one God exists is almost certainly false.

I also hold the much of religion, as it is practiced, is immoral. However, that is not a part of atheism. It is a subsidiary belief.

So, how do I justify my belief that there almost certainly is no God?

I start where Penn starts. I do not know how the universe came into existence.

Then how can I say that it us almost certainly the case that no God is responsible? Isn't that a contradiction?

No. Not at all.

Let's assume I had a deck of cards. It is a special deck of cards with 1 billion different suits, and 1 billion and three cards of each suit (Ace through 1,000,000,000, J, Q, K).

You draw a card. Don't tell me what it is.

Somebody asks me to name what card you drew.

I answer, "I do not know".

They ask, "What do you think of the proposition that he drew the king of hearts?"

My answer, "I think that the proposition that he drew the king of hearts is almost certainly false."

There is no contradiction here. Both claims are be true. I do not know what card he drew, and the proposition that he drew the king of hearts is almost certainly false.

On the question of how the universe came into existence, I do not know how it came into existence, and the proposition that some "God" is responsible is almost certainly false.

And even if he did draw the king of hearts, and I said he drew the king of hearts, it would be utter absurdity for me to claim that I knew he drew the king of hearts. This is not knowledge. This is merely a lucky guess - no matter how "certain" I might be that my totally unfounded random belief is true.

On the issue of religion, here is something else that I know:

It is possible for a society to adopt what is substantially a fairy tale such that the whole population - or a substantial part of the population believes it is true.

This, I know.

The proof is really quite simple. Look at human history. Look at all the cultures in which whole masses of people have adopted a fairy tale story as true. If you are a Christian, look at Islam. If you are Muslim, look at Christianity. If you are neither, look at both. And everybody can look at all of the non-Christian and non-Islam fairy tales that have been widely adopted throughout history.

Now, if somebody wants to pretend to know that the card drawer drew a particular card - be it the king of hearts or ace of spades or any other card - then that is fine. If they use this pretend knowledge to determine what they wear, what they eat, when they eat, when not to eat, when to have sex, who to have sex with, what to wear while having sex, what to read, or what to not watch on television (or whether or not to have a television), there is no cause for complaint. They can be called foolish, but not immoral.

However, if somebody uses their pretend knowledge to defend conclusions on who to imprison, who to kill, who shall be permitted to kill with impunity, who shall be required to marry and who they shall marry, who shall be prohibited from marrying, who is fit for public office and who is unfit to adopt children, who shall be fed and who shall starve, who shall be permitted to drive a car, who shall get medical help and the types of medical help they shall be permitted, there is a lot of room for complaint. These people are immoral and unjust.

This is what I mean when I say that much of religion, as it is practiced, is immoral. Any religious practice that fits the description of the previous paragraph, is immoral. And there is a lot of that going on in the world. There should not be any.

Religion does not have to be practiced in ways that are immoral. And many people do not practice their religion in ways that are immoral. However, religious practice can be immoral. And much of it is immoral.

These are things that I can know - and that I claim that I do know - in addition to the claim that I do not know how the universe came into existence.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Climate Change - The Tub Analogy

A reader has posted a claim about climate change that I have responded to in the past, but would like to respond to again.

It is a type of argument that, I hold, no rational person truly concerned with reaching a reasonable conclusion about climate change would offer.

The irrationality of the argument takes a little bit of demonstration, but the demonstration is solid.

The position under discussion is:

There is scientific models that show 2 ppm of CO2 is increasing in the environment each year. Are you aware that only 3% of this 2 ppm can be attributed to man?

I need to correct this a bit. It is actually 3.5 ppmv (parts per million by volume) per year. But this will not affect the logic of the objection.

Imagine that you own a tank partially filled with water. Each year, 210 gallons of water flow into the tank, and 210 gallons of water flow out of the tank. For 10,000 years, the level of water in the tank has stayed quite close to 270 gallons.

Note: For 10,000 years, atmospheric CO2 concentration has been hovering around 270 ppmv. Deviations from this have been small.

Now, somebody opens up a faucet that starts adding 7 gallons to the tub every year. After he turns on the faucet, you notice that the volume of water in the tub increases by 3.5 gallons per year.

Note: This corresponds to the 7 ppmv that humans are adding to the atmosphere each year, and the measured increase in atmospheric concentrations of 3.5 ppmv per year.

This happened quite a few years ago, and the volume of water in the tank is now 380 gallons rather than the traditional 270 gallons.

Corresponding to the current 380 ppmv concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

In this case, the 7 gallons of water entering the tub from the faucet represents only 3.3% of the total volume of water entering the tub.

Yet, given the following facts: (1) That the volume of water in the tub has been in equilibrium for 10000 years, (2) none of the other sources of water have changed their flow (the only source of increased volume of water entering the tub is what is coming out of the faucet), and (3) the increase in the volume of water (3.5 gallons per year) is half the volume that is coming out of the faucet (7 gallons per year) . . .

The only reasonable conclusion to draw is, of the 7 gallons going into the tub, half of it is flowing out again, and half of it is remining in the tub causing the volume of water in the tub to increase by 3.5 gallons per year.

Now, this is intuitive. In normal circumstances, people wouldn't even think twice about this. They open the faucet. They see a water volume that had been previously unchanged start to increase. They say that opening the faucet is causing the water volume to increase. It's a simple inference that nobody would find tricky.

However, when it serves a political or ideological purpose, we see that it is easy for a person to blind themselves (or intentionally attempt to blind others) to what would be a simple causal inference by making the totally irrelevant claim, "It is 3% of the volume of water flowing into the tub." It doesn't matter. The volume of water in the tub wasn't changing until the faucet was turned on and, if you turn off the faucet, the volume would return to normal. The faucet is 100% responsible for the change in volume in the tub.

The Egotistically Arrogant Unwarranted Claim to Knowledge

Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, has written an opinion piece for CNN explaining why he is an atheist and a libertarian. It rests on the fact that there are a lot of things he does not know – and he does not (will not) pretend to know. Apparently, theists and “statist” (the libertarian word for people who advocate government or “state” solutions) pretend to know things they do not.

"I don't know" - Penn Jillette

Penn actually presented three major themes, all of which are worthy of discussion.

(1) He argued in favor of the virtue of saying, “I do not know”

(2) He says that his lack of knowledge (lack of belief) about how we got here justifies his atheism.

(3) He says that his lack of knowledge about how to help the poor and sick justifies his libertarianism.

I am going to split this into three separate posts, each taking on one of these topics.

I will start with the virtue of “I do not know”.

On this, Penn is entirely accurate.

If I were asked to present a plan that would best deal with the government debt and high unemployment at the same time, I would answer, "I don’t know".

I do a lot of reading on economics. Actually, I spend about 5 hours each week listening to serious economics podcasts and lectures, which doesn’t count the time spent on keeping up with current events. I know the theories. I haven't seen any knock-down proof of any of them. I do not know which is best.

Yet, I am surrounded by people who have done a lot less studying than I have done (none, in fact) who assert that they, unlike me, know exactly what is to be done. They are so certain that they are right that they condemn any and all attempts to compromise with anybody who dares to question their keen intellect and shining wisdom.

In spite of my professed ignorance, there are still some things I can know. I can know that the argument that Jeffrey Miron gave us that I commented on in a previous post is garbage. Whatever the truth if the matter is, Miron is too ideologically blind to help us find it. He is too arrogant and intellectually reckless to care about the potential for ideological blindness. Ultimately, his muddying the waters will do far more harm than good.

Miron would do better to say, "I don't know. I am willing to work with you to try to find out. Because these garbage arguments don't help, I won't use them. Here's some arguments that seem to make sense. Let's look at those."

"I don't know (and you don't either)" is the foundation for my argument for political compromise. When Democrats and Republicans meet to determine the best course of action to take regarding the debt, the truly vicious (in the classical definition - which means exhibiting a trait that is the opposite of a moral virtue) ones are those who arrogantly pretend to a certainty they have no justification for. A tad bit of humility should drive them to the conclusion, “We will try some of this, and some of that. We will compromise.”

Opinion polls are filled mostly by ignorant people claiming to know things that they cannot possibly know. On the vast majority of questions that show up in opinion polls – e.g., a poll on legalizing drugs – the responsible person must answer, “I do not know" or not answer the poll at all. The people who give an answer, for the most part, are people claiming to know things they do not, and are too arrogant to admit this fact.

Ironically, I would wager that if a test were given on the facts relevant to answering the question, those who answer, "I don't know" will score significantly higher on average than those who pretend to know. This is because they have learned enough to realize, "This is a really complex issue, and there us a huge amount written on this subject I haven't had the time to look at yet."

The more you know, the more you realize how much stuff there is out there you do not know.

Besides, the first step to looking for answers is admitting that one does not know. The egotistically arrogant don’t need to waste time studying a question they already know an answer to. It's the intellectually responsible person worried about the possibility of being wrong who goes out and does the research.

So, I hold that the unwarranted claim to knowledge – egotistical arrogance - is one of the most significant vices that we find in America today.

It’s said that widespread moral vice is bad for a community. Moral deficiencies lead to suffering, social decay, and, ultimately, the downfall of those societies. This is why we must be diligent in defense of virtue and in opposition to vice.

Unfortunately, way too many people apply this principle to traits that are not virtues (blind faith) or are not vices (homosexuality). However, when it is applied to true virtues and true vices, the conclusion does follow. The egotistically arrogant unwarranted claim to knowledge is extremely harmful and can - depending on the knowledge people are pretending to have - destroy a nation. This is a true vice.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick Perry on Climate Change

Texas governor Rick Perry is an irrational idiot of the "massive global conspiracy" type.

Here is his recent comment on climate change:

"I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number or scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we're seeing, almost weekly or daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climate has changed. They've been changing ever since the earth was formed. But I do not buy into a group of scientists who have in some cases [been] found to be manipulating this information. ..."

GOP Stands on Science .

Go to this link and watch the video in which Perry is asked the question to which he provides this answer. It is far more illuminating than even this quote can provide.

This is nuttiness of the tinfoil hat variety.

The scientists coming forward almost daily questioning the idea of manmade global warming do not exist. Perry might find comfort in believing that they exist, but that does not make them real. Neither are the cases of scientists manipulating data. Where are they? There may be unsubstantiated news reports of such things, but, like UFO abductions, no evidence that withstands scrutiny.

One of the conclusions that we can draw from this is that absolutely no amount of evidence can ever convince Perry that he is mistaken. What would that evidence look like? If the weight of evidence collected by the world's scientists is not enough, then he is going to hold his views regardless of the evidence.

This is one thing about science. You can believe what you want about the scientists, but they are required to put their evidence on the table and you can look at it separately.

Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot. The whole scientific community is involved in this massive conspiracy to extort money from governments with false emergencies. Except, of course, for a few scientists who are willing to report what Perry already knows to be true, who are then mercilessly and unjustly abused by the vast body of evil co-conspirators.

I can hardly wait for Perry to become President so he can hire people to rewrite scientific reports to reflect his truth - and the truths of his largest campaign contributors, of course.

This is the same thing we had with President Bush. President Bush applied it not only to global warming and evolution, but to questions like, "Does Iraq have weapons of mass destruction?" Bush used it, in other words, to start a war.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Fool's Argument for the Debt Issue

Here is an argument you are going to hear a lot as the government works on a plan to try to bring our federal budget under control. Somebody will bring up an option (call it "Option A") that will help close the deficit. This will have to be either a plan to cut spending, or to increase revenue. Either way, there are people currently benefitting from the spending that is cut, or who will have to pay the revenue that will be collected. Advocates for those people will then tell us:

"Option A will do too little good. You should focus on Options B, C, D, E, F, G, and H, among others, instead."

This, from the point of view of somebody who benefits or who has an ideological attachment to taking Option A off the list.

Somebody with an ideological or financial commitment that is threatened by Option B will tell us something slightly different.

"Option B will do too little good. You should focus on Options A, C, D, E, F, G, and H, among others, instead."

And, of course, from the special interest or advocates of the dogma threatened by Option C, we can expect to hear:

"Option C will do too little good. You should focus on Options A, B, D, E, F, G, and H, among others, instead."

The end result will be the rejection of Options A through H among others. When, in fact, the problem requires the acceptance of Options A through H among others. The acceptance of these options is the very essence of “shared sacrifice” and “fair play”.

Here’s an example:

Warren Buffett, one of the mega-rich, wrote an article about taxing the mega-rich to help balance the government's budget.

Jeffrey Miron wrote the following response:

Why Warren Buffett is Wrong

Miron tells us that Buffett is wrong because Buffett's "Option A" will do too little (raising only $73 billion per year), and that we should focus on Options B (regulatory barriers to entry in starting a business), C (eliminating government favors to particular industry such as the oil and automobile industries), and D (eliminating the expense and excessive risk taking that are the moral hazard created by government bail-outs) instead.


Of course, talk to the people whose business is being protected from competition by these "barriers to entry" regulations, and they will tell you, "This option will do too little. You should focus on taxing the rich, eliminating corporate welfare, and not bailing out Wall Street instead."

And the recipients of corporate welfare will tell us, "You should focus on taxing the rich, eliminating regulatory barriers to starting a new business, and not bailing out Wall Street instead."

To be fair, Miron offers a few other points that this objection does not apply to. This is not all that Miron says on the matter. But he does say this, and it is to this that my comments apply.

My point here is that - this is a foolish argument.

But, we can expect to be surrounded by this stupid argument everywhere we turn during the next three months.

Well, we actually see it all the time, but it is going to be particularly common in the next three months as the legislature tries to find either $1.5 trillion it can cut (harming those who will not get the money they would otherwise get), or in additional revenue it can acquire (harming those who will then pay this revenue).

My complaint is both with the people who make this argument, and the people who promote this type of demagoguery by giving it a prominent place in the public debate.

Anybody who makes this argument is either exceptionally selfish or ideologically blind. This is not somebody who cares about the country or the welfare of its people. This is somebody who cares about their own welfare regardless of what its cost is to others, or arrogantly insists on his own infallibility in adopting a particular dogma.

A person who actually cared about making a meaningful contribution to the debate would take a different path. That person would say, "I am not going to use stupid arguments like this to defend my position. If my position actually makes sense, then there should be reasonable and logical arguments I can make to defend it. If I cannot find a decent argument to defend my position, I am going to substitute foolish arguments such as this. I will, instead, use it as reason to believe my position is not as defensible as I thought it was.

The same is true of those who give space, respect, and support to those who make this kind of argument. They would say, "I want to give my space, respect, and support to those who are eager to make substantive contributions to the debate, not those who clutter the debate with foolish nonsense such as this."

With a few more people like that in the world, maybe we can clear away some of this muck and get down to having some intelligent discussions.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dogmatic Arrogance: The Picture of the 2012 Presidential Elections

This is the picture that defines - or should define - the 2012 Presidential Election.

The question that these Republican candidates raised their hands to is this one:

Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10 to one...spending cuts to tax increases…. [W]ho on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you'd walk away on the 10 to one deal?

Every Republican candidate is refusing to go even 10% of the distance towards a budget deal.

President Obama has already said that he will go 75% of the distance towards such a deal - accepting an option consisting of three parts spending cuts and one part revenue increases that would have closed the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years.

The Republicans refused this – because 75% isn’t far enough. Apparently, according to this picture, 90% isn’t far enough – because the Republicans are not willing to cover the other 10%.

In fact, the Republican position has been to refuse to cover even 1% of the distance towards a compromise. They are ruling out any form of revenue increase as any part of final budget package. There will be no deal unless things are done 100% the Republican way.

And, of course, we are supposed to believe that this is all Obama’s fault.

This is why America lost its AAA credit rating with Standard and Poor’s.

Because in a country where one side us willing to go 75% of the way towards compromise, and the other refuses to go even 10% (refuses, as a matter of fact, to go even 1%) there is no compromise. There is no governance. There is no possibility of America getting its political house in order.

Honestly, I cannot look at this picture without a movie quote popping into my head.

There is only one Lord of the Ring, and he does not share power.

Because this is what these Republicans are telling us. "Do you want to end political gridlock in this country? Then give us absolute power. Because anywhere in which a Democrat has any voice, there we will put stop government dead in its tracks until that voice is silenced. A Democrat can hold office, sure - as long as he is an impotent figurehead. But do not even consider doing anything.

Whereas President Obama seems to be saying, "If you put Republicans in power anywhere, that is your choice. I will respect your decision and try to work with them, meeting them more than half way to make a deal.", the Republican answer is to scoff. "More than half way? Screw that. You are going all the way, brother, or you are not going anywhere at all."

As I have written recently, the vice of refusing to compromise is the vice of arrogance. Nobody is so smart that they can guarantee that they have all the right answers. Nobody is so gifted that they can afford to close their mind and say, "Your ideas are 100% irrelevant. We are going to do thus 100% my way or not at all."

When we figure out what we are going to do in the next election, let us make sure that we reward and punish the right people. There is a true villain in this story - at least this part of it. It is this people unwilling to go 25% of the distance towards a deal, willing to leave the county in political chaos unless things go 100% their way. Like a bunch of spoiled kids.

Coddling the Super Rich - by Warren Buffett

Today, I am going to send you off to another site. An opinion article written by Warren Buffett - giving some facts relevant to taxing the rich as a way of getting our government's finances in order.

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Debt Committee: A Conflict of Interests

Looking at the people being appointed to the debt committee in Washington DC, we can get a good idea of how little those who are responsible for running this country care about running this country.

Take a look at one of the people our so-called "leaders" are putting on the panel:

Patricia Lynn Murray (D-Washington).

She will serve as the Democratic co-chair of the debt supercommittee.

She is currently chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Her job is to try to figure out a strategy for the 2012 elections that will see to the largest number of elected Democrats after the next election.

In doing this, her committee is studying every Senate election in 2012. They are marking some as safe Republican or safe Democrat. They are marking others as vulnerable.

If the state has a vulnerable Republican, they are looking for a competitive Democrat, and working out a strategy to get that candidate liked by a majority of the voters. If the state has a vulnerable Democrat, they may discourage the Democrat from running for re-election to make room for a more viable candidate, or look at how to make the candidate look better to the potential voters in that state.

Most importantly, her committee is responsible for raising money - and spending money - to implement this strategy.

Now, the debt supercommittee has been made a part if that strategy. I can think of nothing that screams, "Let the bidding begin," than to put this person on the debt supercommittee - let alone appoint her as a co-chair.

Perhaps she is a qualified legislator well suited to co-chair this committee. If that's true, then have her resign her position as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Give that job to somebody else, so that Murray can give her whole and unconflicted attention to the debt issue, which is what we deserve.

It would be a demonstration of good intentions. This committee has control of trillions of dollars in spending. By law, their proposal - the whole package, assuming it comes up with one - will get a straight up-and-down vote without amendment. Never before in American politics has so few been given so much power over so many dollars.

And they give this power to somebody whose job is to solicit huge quantities of money and other forms of support from special interest groups for the benefit of vulnerable Democratic senatorial candidates.

Like I said. Let the bidding begin.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Debt Committee

Over the next three months, a committee if twelve people are supposed to come up with a budget package that reduces the anticipated deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years - otherwise $1.2 trillion in cuts will automatically go into effect.

A mature, responsible, adult member of such a committee will walk in the door thinking that the government needs to demonstrate its seriousness about getting its finances in order. It can do so by exceeding the requirements of its charter - by reducing deficits perhaps by $3 trillion, for example.

He would also walk in with the attitude that what the country needs is an agreement that doesn't just have the endorsement of the majority of the committee members. It has to be an American solution. It really should have unanimous aporoval.

When the Founding Fathers met in Philidelphia in 1776, one of the first decisions they made was that this declaration of independence they were to consider would have to have unanimous approval (among the states). This required those founding fathers to work hard on getting everybody - or at least every state - on board (or, at least, not in opposition) to the declaration. It forced people to actually talk to and negotiate with parties with which they would have otherwise walked away from. And there would have been no United States.

Responsible members of this committee would seek to produce a unanimous agreement that reduces the deficit by twice that which is expected. Then they would prove that they actually do have the maturity and responsibility that is required to govern.

They would have the attitude that nothing is off limits - that proposals are to be evaluated on their merits rather than blind application of irreconcilable ideologies. They will demonstrate some measure if respect for ideas they do not share by approving a final project that reflects those differing opinions.

They would not only tolerate such an outcome, they would require it, because anything less could never be understood to be the project of mature adults reaching a mutual compromise.

I would suggest that the committee start with a little of everything, simply to demonstrate that nothing is off the table. Nothing is going to be ruled out by fiat.

Something will be cut from defense. Do not even try to tell me that not a single dollar of the defense budget can be removed without damaging national security. In fact, I will guarantee you that dollars are being spent on defense that actually reduce our national security - some project that is doing harm or a system that is more dangerous to those who use than to any potential enemy. So, let's start by identifying one such project that can be cut.

Some revenue loophole can be closed. Find one. The negotiator who says that there us not one absurd loophole that can be eliminated - that a taxpayer gets only by performing some activity that we have practically no good reason to encourage and many good reasons to discourage - should be tossed out as incompetent. Maybe this us a good time to get rid of the tobacco subsidy.

Social Security and Medicare can be adjusted. Here again, I am almost certain that there is something in each if these programs that costs money that is doing more harm than good. Find it. Kill it. And, thus, put the lie to the claim that these programs cannot be touched.

Then, with all options on the table, get to work.

Another thing that no mature, adult, responsible negotiator would consider doing is braging that he "won" the negotiations by forcing more concessions on the enemy than he made himself. This attitude poisons the negotiations at the start, and it cannot exist at all except on a foundation of childish egotistic arrogance. This is not some game of dodgeball on the elementary school playground being played for bragging rights. This is the governing of a country. You are there to work with other human beings to do a serious and important job, not show one-upsmanship on a child's playground.

But, well, that is a dream. Reality returns. We're not going to get rational and mature leadership from these people. We are going to get schoolyard games, and we will be all the worse because of it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


As I get older, I find myself thinking more about time - or the lack of it.

I look at the list of things that I have wanted - and expected - to fit into my life. I still spend time on many of them, but the realization comes that some of them will not fit - even under the best of circumstances.

So, it is time to look at the list with an eye to saying, "That will never happen. I should rid myself of everything doing with that project, and free up resources it consumes for other things that might still fit."

I am not writing about putting aside something "for now." I am writing about putting it away things I have long wanted with the recognition that they will never be brought out again.

There isn't enough time.

I have not been working on this blog because I have been spending time on one of those other projects - a project that had best be shelved and forgotten. The fact is, there us no way I can fit both into my allotted days. It is time to say that one of them goes away - and will never return.

Having made that decision, I will be returning my efforts to this blog.

The blog itself has not produced the results I would have liked. There are two reasons for that. One has to do with not really wanting it to succeed - I hate attention.

Another comes from the fact that boastful certainty seems to draw crowds, and I am too aware (and too appreciative of the fact) that boastful certainty is a vice - the vice of arrogance (if one believes the boast), or manipulative deception (if one boasts anyway while aware that the boasts are unfounded).

It seems to me that there is a strong correlation between stupidity and zealous certainty. Today, we see in the Tea Party faction absolute conviction in the rightness of their cause. We also see in the Tea Party faction the very model of mind-boggling ignorance of science and history. These people not only fail to get the facts right. They do not care to get the facts right - because they do not want to shake the fantasy they have invented with the possibility of unpleasant truths. They utter the most absurd fictions, and they cheer each other for it, because a fiction uttered with absolute conviction outweighs a dozen hesitant facts.

So the larger, smarter, and wiser portion of the population ends up getting stampeded by a herd of intellectually blind and self-confident cattle.

Cattle who would never permit themselves and ounce of hesitation or a second thought.

Cattle who would never think to themselves, "Perhaps I am not the perfect master of all knowledge and wisdom and that somebody who disagrees with me might - just might - have the right answer."

It is one of those unfortunate and unpleasant facts about the world - that people are disposed to treat the ignorant and arrogant as if they have the perfect knowledge and wisdom they claim to have. And that, at the same time, people are disposed to ignore those who are both aware of their fallibility and unwilling to see their mistakes bring harm to others.

Allowing, as we have recently seen, the ignorant and the arrogant rule the discussion.