Friday, November 8, 2013

Human Rights

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
Free Stuff, via Other People's Money

  Should medical care be free?  The most direct way to achieve that is to nationalize medical professionals.  Once they are indentured to We The People, we can dictate what (if anything) we are willing to pay them and they will accept it - or else.
  An immediate question becomes, what if they don't like it and decide to go into other lines of work? Currently there is a system that screens applicants to med school so that only the brightest, best, and most committed get in and those who can't carry the load don't finish.  Why in the name of all that's holy would we want to take people who have crossed that threshold and put them into competition with ordinary mortals like you and me for the jobs that we think we need to feed our families?
  The assumption of altruism in the medical profession is one of the underpinnings of the rationale that its practitioners can be stripped of all other incentives and will continue to serve us.  What if this were not true? What recourse would be open to those who opt out?  My best guess is that they would become legal professionals and politicians.  Any pretense of altruism among the legal profession became laughable several generations ago, Perry Mason notwithstanding.  The past couple of presidencies have put a fork into the notion of politicians as public servants, which has been moribund for a much longer time.  Consider the response from lawyers and politicians every time tort reform comes up: "These are not the droids you are looking for."
  Heinlein codified the notion that TANSTASFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) based on the notion that somebody pays.  I cynically submit that those who don't have to pay have no remorse or sense of obligation to those who do.
  Who is more of a parasite - the recipient of public aid, or the enforcers who live high on the hog off their fee for taxing the producers of goods and services?  Is it not likely that at some point the ROI for the producers who pay these fees to keep the parasites from impeding progress will fall to a level where they are no longer willing to pay?  What then?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Get Off My Lawn

"Get off my lawn" is a cliché that exposes me as a fossil. I'm ashamed to say it pisses me off when I see tire tracks where they aren't supposed to be - especially on the lawns in city parks. I have no great desire to martyr myself like Walt Kowalski did in "Gran Torino," so what are my options?
Somebody's old pappy used to say that you should never criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins. To hell with that! But because they insist, I will attempt to channel my inner voices representing the cretins who pull this crap:

  • It's a free country.
  • There's no sign saying not to do it.
  • It's a public park. I'm the public. I can do whatever I want, because it's mine too.
  • This is the most convenient place for me to do donuts in my car or  drive my ATV or dirt bike.
  • Screw you bourgeois elitists and your exclusive notions of civilization.  Defy authority!
  • They'll never catch me, and even if they do nothing will happen.

Hold on!  There are other voices clamoring for attention in here.  These are the apologists and enablers, a whole other stratum of cretin:

  • The City can't afford to enforce all the laws on the books. The Police can't be everywhere.
  • These things go in cycles.
  • Every kid worth a hoot goes through a wild phase.  We don't want to mess up their lives by putting them in the justice system.
  • Even if we put up a gate at the entry to the park and close it at 10:00 pm when the park closes, people bent on destruction just drive around it. So why bother?
  • We don't want to make the park environment hostile to citizens.
  • If the powers that be don't care enough to do something about it, why should I?

Two's company, three's a crowd.  One of the delights of modern times is the "Men Are from Mars" business which proposes the bizarre notion that women don't want their problems solved, they just want sympathy.  According to a good friend of mine, you'll find "sympathy" in the dictionary between "shit" and "syphillis."  Do you call the help desk for sympathy?  Here's what my inner handyman/ tech desk agent has to say:

  • Post the rules at all paved park entrances, including sidewalks.  Put online video cameras there too, positioned and automated so that it can be shown in court that anyone violating the rules was exposed to them.  Other signage and cameras may be indicated at locations that have seen persistent violations and vandalism, such as bathrooms, shelters, and recreational facilities.
  • Install gates and/or place barricades at all paved entrances, including sidewalks.  Physically secure the park at closing time and open it accordingly.
  • Place curbs or mount obstacles to prevent vehicular traffic from driving off the pavement.  Design or enhance existing facilities to discourage vandalism and unauthorized activities such as skateboarding, bicycling, and hunting.
  • Establish a schedule of appropriate fines and penalties for infractions, said penalties to be composed entirely of community service in the parks.  Any fines shall be sufficient to pay existing city employee scale to complete the maximum community service associated with the infraction, and to repair any damage done and install appropriate deterrents to similar damages.
  • Screen and deputize volunteers to patrol the park.  Provide them with credentials authorizing them to be in the park even during the hours it is closed to the public, and also with a secure and reliable means of summoning the proper authorities as needed.  Alternatively, this could be a function of "Citizens on Patrol," including commensurate training and coordination with the local Police District, Park District, the Recreation Commission, Fire Department, and others as needed.
  • Go "full metal jacket."  Utilize military technology to enforce the rules, up to and including Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles.

There's plenty of room for company.  So - got anything to add?  Get inside my head and post a comment.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Everyone agrees that we need to get more people back to work.  And everyone agrees that some regulation of business is a necessity.  There is a very simple way that these two needs can work in synergy to make this a better world and the US a better country.

One idea that has great merit is President Obama's idea to form a Department of Business - like the Department of Homeland Security, only to make sure that everyone has a good-paying middle-class job.  One thing that stands in the way of this solution is the proliferation of businesses that actively compete with each other.  This is very inefficient and makes regulation much more difficult than it needs to be.  Say there is a business, let's call it American Motors, that employs a large number of good Democratic union voters.  Suppose some upstart "entrepreneur" finds a new manufacturing process that enables him to provide a better product at less cost.  If the upstart company, let's call it U.S. Auto, sells its superior product at less cost, un-American customers who care more about their personal finances than they do about the livelihood of their fellow citizens may well decide to buy them instead.  We can't have this, now can we?

We already have the government establishing CAFE and safety standards for automobiles, and every right-thinking person knows what a public good this is.  So why stop there?  If some regulation is good, wouldn't more be even better?  Why not have the Department of Business establish manufacturing standards by which every product must be built to be sold legally.  Included in these standards could be a requirement that a certain number of employees (union, of course) be employed to perform each step in the manufacturing process according to government-enforced shop rules.

There should also be a nice middle-class wage scale set and enforced by the government for all employees, both management and hourly workers.  The elimination of contentious contract negotiations would go far to eliminate the "us vs. them" mentality that causes so much unpleasantness in the workplace.

With the government establishing how many jobs are required for every industry and service, 100% employment becomes an attainable goal.  As a matter of fact, it should be a requirement.  If everyone were required to get up and go to work every day, and stay there for at least eight or nine hours, imagine how crime would be reduced.  And then everyone would get a nice middle-class paycheck that they would use to buy those same wonderful government-standard goods and services.

This is just an off-the-cuff outline of a thought.  Please send your suggestions and improvements to the forthcoming Secretary of Business - a position that should obviously be filled from the ranks of union officialdom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Opportunities in Adult Education

These are exciting times for people who love to learn, and frightening times for the educators who have been their traditional service providers.  Truth be told, the relationship between formal education and learning has become increasingly tenuous.  Gutenberg started its decline, and the acceleration of the process via modern media has accelerated it in ways that amaze.
Educators (not all of them, but many) have found comfort in the belief that they were essential to learning.  Those whom they could not reach were deemed incorrigible.  How convenient that there was no such thing as a failure to teach - just a failure to learn.  The problem with that perception is that many "poor" students have done better on their own that they have done under the stifling, pedantic tutelage of professional teachers.  I would not venture to guess the number of bright students who do not match up well with the format of the formal education imposed upon them.
Learning is not an act of submission; it is an act of will.  That is not to say, however, that it has to be the equivalent of taking castor oil.  The number of people seeking out edX, Coursera and Kahn Academy courses confirms my long-standing belief that for many education is a form of entertainment, one of the myriad ways in which we seek happiness in education beyond the utility of vocation.

If you accept my premise that education can be entertainment, it's not that broad a leap to seeing educators as entertainers.  I therefore predict that educational videos and literature will become increasingly ubiquitous and lucrative, with stars and studios and agents and many of the other trappings of Hollywood and traditional fiction publishers and especially their usurpers like Amazon and Netflix.  Check out the TED talks.
If you are a recent (or not-so-recent) Ph.D. lamenting the paucity of opportunity, look at what's successful in the Arts and popular culture, polish your writing chops, go get some training in theater, or resign yourself to anonymity.  Consider the advantages of the philosopher or historian who has the talent and resources to bring his vision directly to eager learners, without the compromises required of those whose messages must reach the public through interpreters and popularizers.  If you are a scientist who can make your passion pop and sizzle, you may enjoy immortality in show business as well.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I'm Sorry, Wilson!

This scene from the 2000 film Cast Away put me in mind of the dilemma facing people who invested hope in the Obama phenomenon in 2008.  Now it's time to decide whether all the time you have invested in the relationship is worth more to you than the country's survival.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The HEMP problem

No, not that hemp problem, silly!

A standard feature of our national political conversation is that Democrats are the rational, scientific members of the debate.  This article in the New York Times should put that notion to rest.  In a nutshell, it mocks Newt Gingrich for suggesting that our electric infrastructure and hardware should be hardened to resist an electromagnetic pulse.

The gist of their argument is that the likelihood of such an event is miniscule compared to the cost of implementation.  As with all arguments against disaster preparedness, there is some very short-sighted merit to the economic case against safety precautions vs. return-on-investment.  This illustrates the philosophical reality much more effectively than I can.

As for the physical reality of the problem and its solution, the solar flare of August 28 - September 2, 1859 known as the Carrington event shows that such a problem exists.  The fact that there are military standards for protecting electronic hardware from this phenomenon argues that prevention of its effects is feasible.

Perhaps I'm missing something.  Is there some feature of the mutually-assured-destruction logic at play here - that if we take steps to survive predictable natural disasters, our enemies will see our caution as preparation for war and attack us preemptively?  Or does the Times actually believe that in this best of all possible worlds we can prevent catastrophe by holding an occasional auto-da-fe?  (cf. Candide)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

President Ludd

We are in the midst of catastrophic cultural change the likes of which has never been seen before.  As the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, the ability to manage a business cycle that renders new technologies obsolete at shorter and shorter intervals requires an adaptability outside the comfort zone of almost all producers and consumers.  Kurt Vonnegut saw it coming in his first novel, the dystopian "Player Piano," and Ray Kurzweil wrote about it in his utopian "The Singularity Is Coming."

President Obama talks nostalgically about the loss of traditional manufacturing and service jobs as if their loss is a bad thing, and raises the hope of bringing them back.  A very short time ago these were jobs that people hated.  Is it so horrible that more efficient manufacturing processes require fewer employees, and that most modern manufacturing work consists of maintaining the automation that replaces the repetitive and dangerous drudgery which used to be performed by unskilled "middle class" workers?

The looming question is, what useful jobs are there to engage the population and provide for gainful employment in something besides busy-work? As technology hurtles toward a time when a life of leisure is not only within our grasp but may be our only alternative, how will we occupy ourselves? Is our President a Luddite in the true meaning of the word, and is that what we want?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Green Medicine

Soylent Green, that is.
Life expectancy in the USA is now 78.1 years.   At the time monthly Social Security benefits were implemented in 1940, life expectancy was 61.7 years and full social security benefits were not available until age 65.   By the time Medicare was implemented in 1965 life expectancy had risen to 70.2 years.   Rising life expectancy today challenges the viability of lifetime benefits, increasing the population of retirees even as a declining birth rate reduces contributions.   Progress in medical science is the obvious cause.  Here is a modest proposal to solve those pesky Medicare and Social Security funding problems:
1. Impose price controls on medical providers.
2. Increase the cost and difficulty of obtaining a medical degree and maintaining certification.
3. Increase medical malpractice insurance liability.
By significantly lowering the number of medical health care providers, life expectancy can also be reduced to the level that existed when the social safety net programs were implemented, and for which they were designed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Economics of Automation

This NY Times article addresses a topic that has been on my mind since I read Vonnegut's first novel, Player Piano, many years ago. Upon reading the Times article the thought occurred to me that there should be some way to build a model with variables that address the following verities:

1. Technology, ostensibly in the service of human beings, is supplanting human labor, both mental and physical.
2. Many human beings have grumbled about the necessity for labor and considered it a curse since time immemorial.
3. Human beings identify themselves largely by the nature of their labor and the status it provides.
4. 1 through 3 together identify a dilemma that is manifested and made poignant by the structural unemployment many politicians are attempting to transmute into political hay.
5. If the trend is toward a singularity where personal human energy (labor) is no longer a factor in human survival, and social status becomes moot, what will replace the structures that currently portray us - economics, politics, academics, art, physical prowess, etc.?

Today I read this
. I recommend it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Socialism and Capitalism

It seems to me that capitalism and socialism both have legitimate places in the scheme of human society. The problems that people have with the realities of each system rise from the misconception that they must be mutually exclusive. The arguments follow the same reasoning as the false choice pressed on children regarding cooperation and competition. They both have their places. Those places are not well defined. They probably can't be. People make choices that seem inappropriate to others and suddenly an argument escalates to absolutes.

Within the framework of a system in which all individuals know each other fairly well, sharing resources is generally a healthier paradigm than laissez-fair competition. In a family or a band or a monastery or a work crew norms of cooperation are established that promote the success of the group. But that group is in competition with similar groups existing in a larger matrix. That larger group benefits more if the similar groups it contains compete with each other in a laissez-fair fashion.

Isn't that one of the lessons we are supposed to learn by participating in team sports?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Atheist Tax

It is amazing how much Orwell's "Animal Farm" applies to today's American political scene. Obama is Napoleon. Bush is Snowball. Read it and weep.

I remember newspaper photographs in the 1950s of Amish children being chased through the fields by federal agents to force them into the mainstream, and the backlash that resulted. Today the Amish and other Anababtist sects are exempt from Social Security, Medicare, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There is a possibility that Islam may merit the same immunity.

Justice will best be served when the only people involved in the State's entitlement system, either as contributors or as recipients, are those who reject belief in any power greater than themselves. Bring on the Atheist Tax!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Robin Hood

It is spectacularly ironic to see leftist progressive liberal Democrats strive to present themselves as Robin Hood when their actual political status makes them Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Why is it that the party in power can't save us from themselves?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Admiration & Envy

Envy is how we feel about our betters.
Admiration is how our inferiors should feel about us.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Burial at sea

We respect the customs of others not because of their civilization, but because of ours. An honest effort to satisfy the forms is not a submission to others’ beliefs, it is a consequence of ours. And no serious person is motivated to do right for the approval of others, especially when they are mortal enemies. The Romans called it “gravitas cum dignitate.” Usama bin Laden deserved to be fed to wild pigs but we are better than that.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Peace and War in a nutshell.

Many wise and/or famous people have provided quotable epigrams on the topic of war and peace. I am concerned about two, which I think are mutually exclusive.

The first, from Albert Einstein:
You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.

If Einstien's quote is taken to apply to war in general as opposed to, say, massing your troops on an enemy's border, then it sounds like he means that being prepared to defend yourself or anyone else militarily implies that war is your intention. In this particular case I think Einstein's reasoning is flawed.

The second, from John Stuart Mill:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

I think it is an inescapable conclusion of Mill's quote that only the morally depraved and intellectually dishonest will not be prepared to go to war over matters of principle.

Einstein's quote makes a better bumper sticker, but Mill's has more of the ring of truth to it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


When I was a young man, say forty-fifty years ago, the people who argued for one world government in this country were the leftists - sympathizers with the communists and Bolsheviks and socialists. Things did not transpire exactly according to their plans, but with globalization the effects are much the same. And the people who were all for it then are not at all happy about the fact that their results have been achieved by their free-enterprise enemies in concert with the US and UN establishments. So to those of you who are stuck in the 1960s politically, here's more bad news.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Middle Eastern Democracy

This is written in response to the argument that the U.S. is better off with compliant dictators than with rambunctious new democracies.  Oh ye of little faith.  In your opinion, does the short-term comfort of maintaining the status quo make more sense than dealing with the growing pains that come with freedom and autonomy?  Do you honestly believe that it is desirable for the United States to encourage tyranny worse than that against which we declared our independence? What do you think the long-term consequences will be? Can’t you see past the end of your nose? Dealing with the devil you know is still dealing with the devil.
I cannot imagine that any democratic government that arises in a state where Islam is the predominant faith will share all of our values.  (Do all of us share all of our values?) Such states will be something new under the sun. They will have their own interests that do not necessarily bow to ours. We won’t be able to control them. But if we are true to our ideals, we stand a better than even chance of being their friends. And they stand a much better chance of being worth our friendship.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ten Million Lawyers

The two examples that come to mind when the word “professional” is employed are doctors and lawyers. That’s because they actually profess an oath to be accepted as members of their respective guilds.

It only seems equitable to me that quality universal legal care receive the same attention from the Congress that medical care is now receiving. Fee schedules should be set by statute. It should be universally available. In order for that to happen, everyone should be compelled to purchase legal insurance and the insurance companies should not be allowed to pick and choose their customers. Lawyers should be required to accept this federally-mandated insurance under each and every circumstance.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2010 - Battle of the Lame Duck Budget

If the Republicans are evil for threatening to hold the "middle class" hostage to the tax break for "the rich," how can you avoid saying the same thing about Democrats who make the same threat with the shoe on the other foot?

The easy, glib answer is to say that there is one side that wants there to be class warfare because "divide and conquer" is the doomsday weapon in their political arsenal. Pitting one side against the other will give them the power they need in order to do what's best for the little people. Freedom is the enemy of equality.

There is another side that wants there to be a meritocracy where effort and talent are rewarded, and thinks that this provides an essential incentive for progress. Progress will be good for everyone; "A rising tide lifts all boats." People who restrict their freedom to improve the world are fools. Equality of outcome is the enemy of freedom to create.

Methinks that this is a war that does not end well. Can you name an honest broker for a truce between freedom and equality?

On a personal level I don't think that most Democrats want to remove economic incentives for achievement. Nor do I think that many Republicans want to visit social Darwinism on the poor. I think that these are base motives that each ascribes to the other because it's easier than making the effort to understand the other's point of view.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Voodoo Economics vs. Stoner Economics

If Reagan's plan to increase federal revenue by empowering entrepreneurs to generate more of it up front and collecting on the back end was voodoo, what do you call Obama's plan to increase federal revenue by intercepting it before it hits entrepreneurs and diverting it directly to bureaucrats for redistribution to those with a history of consumption without production? May I suggest - "stoner economics?"