Monday, December 6, 2010

My Bug-Out Bag

I've started putting together a "bug-out bag". I am an Eagle Scout... and you know what they say: "Be Prepared.". A bug-out bag is something you pack for an emergency, when the shit really hits the fan. Whether it's an earthquake, flood, tsunami, mega-volcano, zombie outbreak, alien attack, electromagnetic pulse, meteor, nuclear or civil war - you don't want to be waiting in line at REI when it happens. You want to have the basics ready to take with you, then get you and your family 'out of Dodge!'. Before having wife+kids, I'd figure if Armageddon came I would find the nearest weapon and fend for myself. Perhaps I've started this project now that there are little ones, but it's probably also due to watching The Road with Viggo Mortensen. (a well-done, yet disturbing film)

This is actually quite an intriguing project. It will force oneself to confront the humbling realization that we human animals are so domesticated, most of us wouldn't survive in the wild. One may develop a new sense of respect for Davy Crockett and, if you're like me, explore a whole new world of YouTube survivalist videos such as "How to set a snare trap". I have begun collecting the items for my Bug-Out Bag after reading up on survivalist articles and blogs. I will be hitting up Army Surplus stores, Wal-Mart, REI, and internet purchases... in that order. The key is having things on-hand, and not having to hit the store when it's too late.

Here is my list:

Food/Water
Shelter/Safety
Tools
To top it all off, I will make sure to bring my hardback rubber-bound copy of "How to Stay Alive in the Woods", which I picked up at a bookstore a few years ago. I hope I never have to use my Bug-Out Bag, but I'll sleep a wink better knowing I have it...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ready... Set.... Beard!

I put the shaving cream away this morning. The plan is to go full beard, and then trim back to "friendly mutton chops". My father had facial hair all my life until a few years ago, alternating between phases of a Sonny Bono moustache and Chuck Norris beard. Maybe I will carry on the legacy, or just put on a winter coat... I'm not sure yet.

I expect it should fill in nicely. In my high school yearbook, they asked "How have you changed since freshman year?" I was quoted as answering "Facial hair." I grew a respectable beard over a few weeks on my high school graduation trip. I dabbled with goatees in college.  I can get a 5 o' clock shadow. I am armed with manly facial follicles. It's about damn time I harness these powers.

I remember reading recently that beards are indicators of trustworthiness (Journal of Marketing Communications). That is interesting... what is it about beards? Could it be that people with beards are perceived as more "granola", and not caring about superficiality? Are they deemed wiser? I mean Santa Claus, God and Jesus all have beards. That's pretty good company. However, the Uni-bomber, Karl Marx, and Fidel Castro had to go ruin it for bearded people. Goatees are the opposite. You've got goatee Satan and Lenin. Plus, everyone knows that your evil parallel universe self has a goatee, like evil Spock. That's why I like Friendly Mutton Chops. It's got that friendly bearded fullness, but then throws a you with the shaved chin. Did he shave the chin to keep food out of his beard? Or does he ride with biker gangs on the weekend? Why didn't he shave the whole thing? It's so mysterious! So many choices. Who knows where this follicular adventure will take me...

(Whoa, random aside... I just image-googled 'Friendly Mutton Chops' and saw a photo of my friend Jim down the page. Small world!)

Laws vs Regulations

What is the difference? Well, I'm not going by a dictionary... but there is a clear difference between:

A) "You must not commit violence."
vs
B) "You must apply for a license, so an official can evaluate whether violence may be committed by your desired action."

I'd categorize laws as part of a justice system, where someone reacts after the fact when the law has been violated. I categorize regulations as the hoops you're forced to jump through... all the paperwork, the licenses, The bureaucrats that review your case for approval.

Which is better? If justice is upheld by law, can a regulatory approach ever add value? Regulations make it harder to engage in illegal activities, but also harder to engage in legal activities. Certain types of people absolutely worship regulation. They fail to see the forest for the trees. In the equation, costs of "red tape" and loss of productivity are large. The bureau-philes would say "The cost of letting crime run uncontrolled are larger", assuming that regulation can actually stop a criminal in the first place. Regulations assume the people are essentially bad, and should be controlled by benevolent bureaucrats. Who's to make sure the bureaucrats aren't bad? Laws must, by nature, be written clearly so they can be fairly interpreted in a court of one's peers... and justice appropriately served.

The error of the regulation advocate is not giving enough credit to the deterrence of a strong justice system. Let's face it, human behavior is not easily controllable. The alcohol prohibition of the 1920's corresponded with increased alcohol use. People will do what they want. To say that most people don't use heroin because it's illegal is simply not true. Like regulations and bureaus, you can build an intricate barbed wire fence around your garden, but then a rabbit will still find a way to dig under it to eat your vegetables. Waskally wabbit!

Are there any good examples for necessary regulation? Let's see... where do we have the most regulation today? Health - see how FDA rules deny drugs to the sick who would willingly try experimental treatments. Terrorism - look how the TSA rules lead to pat down 3-year olds and crowds out airline's ability to protect their own $200 million aircraft. Pollution - one I've dscussed before.  I've talked about local Sacramento regulations as well. The examples go on, but in each case... minus regulation, there would be an opportunity for courts to serve justice in a case of actual fraud or violence. Bureaus crowd out private responsibility.

The fact is, most regulations are excuses for government to reap new revenue and for public unions to expand their payroll. They are means of rent-seeking by special interests. They are beasts conjured loose by politicians upon manufactured crises. De-regulate and privatize, but do not neglect a strong principled, expedient, and accessible justice system in it's place.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Steampunk

So, we are at Fanny Ann's Saloon for divebar last night and there is a group of folks dressed up in 19th century garb. I say "Hey, did you just get off work from the Railroad Museum?". A guy says "No, we are the Steampunk Society." Steampunk? When I told Brandie, she asked "Stinkpump?".. haha. So, he explained that it's like Sci-Fi for the 19th Century. Think... H.G Wells, or Wild Wild West (with Will Smith). or Steamboy (Japanese anime). These guys sported real mutton chops and homemade ray guns, with top hats, leather straps, and biplane goggles. Crazy stuff... but at least it looked more fun than some dorky Renaissance Faire.

So, the first cool possibility I thought of with this genre is Steampunk Batman. I think putting the dark knight in leather on victorian cobblestone streets with some goggles and gunpowder powered gadgets with lots of gears, and maybe steam-powered bat-train would be sweet. Then, after some googling, turns out this has sort of been done (with villian Jack the Ripper, no less). Furthermore, fan-art has conjured up an entire steampunk Justice League.


Low, and behold... there is even Steampunk Star Wars


So, the next thing that should definitely be done steampunk is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. You have these genius inventors, and it's all centered around railroads. Unfortunately, it looks like the better-late-than-never making of the movie will be done in an alternate modern day where trains are somehow still relevant. Oh well, I hope it turns out to be a decent film for what it's budget allows. Heck, the video game BioShock (inspired by Atlas Shrugged) is quintessential steampunk. Perhaps one day, we'll see a reboot Atlas Steampunked... with Galt's Gulch filled with marvelous contraptions, and Dagnar could be sporting some goggles and mutton chops. It could be a tale of celebration of innovation and technology, dispelling the myths of the evil greed of the "gilded age".

Saturday, July 24, 2010

We Don't Need No Education



I've always liked fields of study that lead to bigger questions. I got my B.S. in Psychology (cognitive/biology emphasis). and I almost chose Anthropology (evolutionary emphasis). The 'human condition' was a big question for me when younger (but that's another blog post). I've also liked Physics and Economics which seek answers to big questions on rules defining our surroundings. I've never had interest in studies testing rote memorization of formulas, names, numbers, and dates. Those can be looked up; concepts and heuristics can't. Take History... what I learned in school was generic and cherry-picked. I studied History best later on my own, seeking answers with past analogies to present day. I minored in Computer Science and work in that field, however the technical skills on my resume were self-taught. Not everyone is like me though. The other kids  can have their chemistry, biology, and quadratic equations.  I was never one of those kids who decided to be a lawyer or doctor, and studied accordingly. I worked at what interested me, and somewhat slacked on the rest... and I turned out fine.  General schooling was perhaps a decent framework, but 75% of it has not been useful in my life. I would have rather studied the things I was curious about earlier on.

It's interesting that many entrepreneurs don't have advanced degrees, most rocks stars have never taking guitar class, and many geniuses underperformed in school. Richard Feynman did terrible in history and language, but surpassed his own mathematics teachers from early on. So, what is the right balance of "well roundedness" and forcing kids to do things they don't like? What is the most efficient and valuable form of education system? Why should we trust bureaucrats to tell us what education our children need, when they do a terrible job deciding what our economy needs? What is the minimal education a parent owes their child, beneath which we consider it "neglect"?

To answer these questions, one has to weigh whether education serves: 1) the individual, or 2) "society"(whatever that means), or 3) some combination thereof. I've heard people argue that even childless taxpayers benefit from public education, because 'it prevents civilization collapsing into unskilled chaos and helps prevent people from resorting to life of crime'. This is completely bogus. The hooligans in street gangs are surely not there because their algebra teacher isn't good enough, and history class isn't going to help them straighten out. Those problems mostly result from the home, and perhaps from being bored by algebra. In fact, these kids would do better if they could focus on something that kept their interest and productivity. However, let's face it, there are some kids who aren't that bright. What serves them best? To try and struggle through school OR taking a job early on they can grow into? Since every child is different, we do a disservice to children, parents, and taxpayers by "standardizing" K-12 and pushing everyone to go to college. Nearly half of college students drop out. What does that tell you? Too many kids are going to college. Government subsidies have driven up costs for everyone, including smart kids who could benefit most from college. Even with K-12, parents should make the choices... not administrators or bureaucrats. The three R's, Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmatic has in the past been considered a basic education standard, and should be the minimum we expect parents to provide to avoid "neglect". Let' face it though, most parents want what's best for their kids and will go far beyond that 3 R's literacy minimum. As for the neglectful bad parents... well, sadly you're not going to regulate them into being good parents, ever.

What can fix education? I'd refer to Milton Friedman's ideas here. He advocated requirements for minimum general education, but desired that parents own the choices and costs. Charter schools are a step in the right direction, by introducing variety and competition into education. Vouchers are even better, allowing parents to "upgrade" their child's education and add variety by ending the neighborhood-school pairing. Perhaps if those ever happen, we could migrate towards complete private choice in education and phase out the socialist tax burden of public schools. Around the globe, the next generation will have the Internet and Wikipedia. Knowledge and education worldwide will equalize as bright self-taught kids everywhere will have access to information. Either the US becomes competitive, or it will continue it's present decline via a bureaucratic centrally planned public school system. We've seen that private control and competition always breeds quality, and that is no different with education.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Libertarians are smarter


(Note: by "libertarian" I refer to the princples and ideals of free-market and limited government, not the political party. As Duverger's Law describes, political third-parties are neither practical nor sustainable.)

As one of my favorite thinkers, Ayn Rand, so often repeated: There is one objective reality. That means we human beings interpret and perceive reality, and when two people disagree... one person is right, the other is wrong. Morality is a not objective, since it deals with personal values. For example, people disagree whether it's "wrong" to eat an animal or abort a fetus. However, economics is objective. When the price of wheat doubles, it has very concrete and measurable effects on goods and people. When there are economic disagreements, one person is right and the other is wrong.

When I get into a political discussion with someone, if they say "I value helping the poor." Then I would say "Me too. Great, but are you okay with erasing personal property rights to do that? Are you okay with trusting state bureaucrats to administer such basic human traits as empathy and charity? Are you okay with diminishing labor incentives by rewarding the unemployed for doing nothing? " If they said "Yes.", I would walk away disgusted at the looter. If they said "No, but-"... it'd be an example of the ignorance and contradiction that is socialism. Based on many debates and discussions with people, I've come to one simple conclusion: capitalists, fiscal conservatives and "libertarians" are smarter.

Socialists are often called "bleeding-heart liberals", which suits them because they jump to emotional reactions without critically and rationally reasoning the effects of their policies. "Leftists" are often found in fields like humanities and literature. I've found that many verbose intellectual types lean left. Word-smithing journalists and sociology professors lean left. Both types love to hear themselves talk. They thrive on demagoguery posing as moral crusaders to the masses.. Their egos tell them they aren't rewarded enough, feeding their bitterness towards the rich. (Sociology and English professor careers depend heavily on government education/tuition subsidies as well.)

I've noticed some general habits of "leftists" from debating them. They argue with emotion, guilt, and scapegoating. They are quick to call free-market purists "racists" or "wacko". When confronted with concrete examples, they seem to retreat into red herrings and complexity (e.g. Keynes). This stereotype was captured by the Atlas Shrugged character Dr Simon Pritchett, who proclaimed in Kant style "the duty of thinkers is not to explain, but to demonstrate that nothing can be explained.". Another amusing stereotype is the sloppy leftist vs. the orderly conservative. I imagine frizzy haired socialists tossing junk in the back seat of their bumper sticker plastered car. Stereotypes aside, those who deal with emotion instead of rationality will be uncomfortable with hard rules and principles. Libertarians (and true conservatives) respect principles and strict property rights, because they understand the danger of leaving policy and law to the whim of those in power.

So, whether one calls it "smarter"... or simply more disciplined in critical thinking on economic issues, the free-market supporters are superior. If the grand economic experiment of USSR vs. USA didn't convince socialists, nothing will. I'm not the first to discuss this subject. John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) also discussed how egoism of academic-types makes them lean left He also points out: "Libertarianism is far and away the most common political orientation among Mensans." (the group with IQ in top 2%). Another blogger and Half Sigma discussed how those who oppose government intervention score better on Wordsum. A recent New York Times op-ed  discussed findings that “those taking more economics classes favored less regulation or government intervention affecting prices for specific goods and services, including wages and salaries.”. Another recent WSJ op-ed discussed a test of economic propositions, where: "Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect".

Perhaps my favorite relevant link is an old 1992 libernet post by Stuart Reges, entitled "Libertarian IQ". I agree with his sentiments that libertarian-type thinking is frequently found among engineers and computer scientists. Having studied and worked in this field, I often just assume that my colleagues share my political inclinations. Like Stuart suggested, one cannot succeed in this field unless they are capable of challenging mental and cognitive tasks... visualizing how a system will work at both a high-level and a low-level, how the parts interact, perform, and affect one another from their inputs and outputs. I would predict that those who cannot design a good system, would also be likely to believe something like ObamaCare will fix our health care system.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Obama's financial reform speech - translated

Google Translate added this new language, "Bullshit", as a beta feature. Cool!
I pasted Obama's April 21st 2010 speech on financial reform in... translating from bullshit to english. This is what came out:
--------------------
"Since I last spoke here two years ago, our country has been through a terrible trial. More than 8 million people have lost their jobs. Countless small businesses have had to shut their doors. Trillions of dollars in savings has been lost, forcing seniors to put off retirement, young people to postpone college, and entrepreneurs to give up on the dream of starting a company. And as a nation we were forced chose to take unprecedented steps to rescue bailout the financial system and the broader economy.

"As a result In spite of the decisions we made -- some most which were unpopular -- we are seeing fabricating hopeful signs. Little more than one year ago, we were losing an average of 750,000 jobs each month.

"Today, America is adding jobs waste again. One year ago, the economy was shrinking rapidly. Today, the economy debt is growing. In fact, we've seen the fastest turnaround in government spending growth in nearly three decades.

"But we have more work meddling to do. Until this progress takeover is felt not just on Wall Street but Main Street we cannot be satisfied. Until the millions of our neighbors who are looking for work can find jobs, and wages are inflation is growing at a meaningful pace, we may be able to claim a recovery blame a new scapegoat -- but we will not have recovered. And even as we seek to revive this economy, it is incumbent on us to rebuild it stronger more socialist than before.

"That means addressing expanding some of the underlying problems that led to this turmoil and devastation in the first place. One of the most significant contributors to this recession was a financial crisis monetary inflation as dire as any we've known in generations. And that crisis was born of a failure of responsibility government intervention -- from Wall Street to Washington -- that brought down many of the world's largest financial firms and nearly dragged our economy into a second Great Depression.

"It was that failure of responsibility government intervention that I spoke about promoted when I came to New York more than two years ago -- before the worst of the crisis had unfolded. I take no satisfaction in noting that my comments have largely been borne out by the events that followed. But I repeat what I said then because it is essential that we unlearn the lessons of this crisis, so we don't doom ourselves to repeat it leverage panic to grow socialism. And make no mistake, that natural market adjustment is exactly what will happen if we allow this moment to pass -- an outcome that is unacceptable to me and to the American people socialists.

"As I said two years ago on this stage, I like saying that I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings even though I just contradicted myself because you can't borrow and save. But a my socialism that I like calling a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it let people make profit. That is what happened too often in the years leading up to the crisis. Some on Wall Street at the Federal Reserve forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged printed or borrowed, there is a family looking to buy a house, pay for an education, open a business, or save for retirement. What happens here has real consequences across our country.

"I have also spoken before about the need to build a new foundation for economic socialist growth in the 21st century. And, given the importance of the financial sector, Wall Street reform is an absolutely essential part of that foundation way to fund that transition. Without it regulation, our house will continue to sit on shifting sands, leaving our families, businesses and the global economy vulnerable to future crises efficiency and innovation. That is why I feel so strongly that we need to enact a set of updated, common-sense statist rules to ensure accountability control on Wall Street and to protect consumers in takeover our financial system.

"A comprehensive plan to achieve these reforms has passed the House of Representatives. A Senate version is currently being debated, drawing on the ideas of Democrats and Republicans-In-Name-Only. Both bills represent significant improvement expansion on the flawed rules we have in place today, despite the furious efforts of industry lobbyists to shape them to their special interests save their livelihoods. I am sure that many of those lobbyists work for some of you. But I am here today because I want to urge you to join us, instead of fighting us in this effort. I am here because I believe that these reforms are, in the end, not only in the best interest of our country funding government, but in the best interest of our financial sector socialism. And I am here to explain what reform will look like, and why it matters.

"First, the bill being considered in the Senate would create what we did not have before: a way to protect control the financial system, the broader economy, and American taxpayers in the event that a large financial firm begins to fail. If an ordinary local bank approaches insolvency, we have a process through the FDIC that insures depositors and maintains confidence carelessness in the banking system. And it works. Customers and taxpayers are protected bailed out and the owners and management lose their equity. But we don't have any kind of process designed to contain the failure of take over a Lehman Brothers or any of the largest and most interconnected financial firms in our country.

"That's why, when this crisis began, crucial decisions about what would happen to some of the world's biggest companies -- companies employing tens of thousands of people and holding hundreds of billions of dollars in assets -- had to take place in hurried discussions in the middle of the night. That's why, to save the entire economy campaign funding pals from an even worse catastrophe, we had to deploy taxpayer dollars. And although much of that money has now been paid back shuffled in the books - and my administration has proposed a fee tax to be paid by large financial firms to recover the rest fund more spending -- the American people should never have been put in that position in the first place.

"It is for this reason that we need a system to shut takeover these firms down with the least amount of collateral damage to innocent people and businesses. And from the start, I've insisted that the financial industry -- and not therefore taxpayers -- shoulder the costs in the event that a large financial company should falter. The goal is to make certain that taxpayers are never again on the hook responsible for their own financial decisions because a firm is deemed "too big to fail.

"Now, there is a legitimate debate taking place I won't have about how best to ensure taxpayers are held harmless in this process. But what is not legitimate is to suggest that we're enabling or encouraging future taxpayer bailouts, as some have claimed. That may make for a good sound bite, but it's not factually accurate. In fact, the Federal Reserve system as it stands is what led to a series of massive, costly taxpayer bailouts. Only with reform can we avoid ensure a similar outcome in the future. A vote for reform is a vote to put a stop to continue taxpayer-funded bailouts. That's the truth.

"And these changes have the added benefit of creating incentives within the industry to ensure that no one company can ever threaten to bring down the whole economy make much profit. To that end, the bill would also enact what's known as the Volcker Rule: which places some limits on the size of banks and the kinds of risks choices that banking institutions can take offer consumers. This will not only safeguard our system against crises innovation; this will also make our system stronger and more weaker and less competitive by instilling confidence limiting choices here at home and across the globe.

"Markets depend on that confidence innovation. Part of what led to the turmoil of the past two years was that, in the absence of clear rules and sound practices presence of monetary and fiscal stimulus, people did not trust took for granted that our system was one in which it was safe to invest or lend. As we've seen, that harms all of us. By enacting these reforms, we'll help ensure that our financial system -- and our economy -- continues ceases to be the envy of the world.

"Second, reform would bring new transparency bureaucracy to many financial markets. As you know, part of what led to this crisis was firms like AIG and others making huge and risky bets -- using derivatives and other complicated financial instruments chasing cheap government credit-- in ways that defied accountability, or even common sense. In fact, many practices were so opaque and complex that few within these companies -- let alone those charged with oversight -- were fully aware of the massive wagers being made so we bailed them out instead of prosecuting fraud or letting careless people fail. That's what led Warren Buffett Michael Moore to describe derivatives that were bought and sold with little oversight as "financial weapons of mass destruction." And that's why reform will rein in excess free markets and help ensure that these kinds of transactions take place in the light of day under government control.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pollution

Today was Earth Day. I guess its all about saving the environment. To most people, pollution means contamination of air, land, or water… anything that “hurts” the Earth. Of course, with Climate-Gate... "An Inconvenient Truth" is looking more like "An Inconvenient Maybe". The debate on climate change apparently isn't over, and the entire discussion on pollution needs a reboot. There is better way to talk about "pollution", and it involves property rights.

Set aside the simplistic notion that pollution is about saving the animals and the planet. Consider “noise pollution” where motorcycles or parties disturb neighbors with loud decibels. Consider "electromagnetic pollution", for example if power lines installed on your street interfered with cordless phone and wifi reception. You see, pollution is simply contamination of "public property" (for lack of a better term)... meaning anything of shared, common, or collective use. This includes: the air and water around us, the paths we share, the sun shining on us.

While private property is produced, traded or earned... public property is just there. Public property can be owned by people in varying degrees based on variables such as proximity, frequency of use, and right of way. If someone dumps toxic waste on your lawn it’s not considered “pollution”. It’s damage to your individual private property, and tort law lets you sue them for damages. However, if someone dumps waste into a river it is considered pollution. It affects anyone downstream, or potentially even those who fish upstream. In both cases, the individuals holding rights to property deserve compensation for damages. It doesn't matter whether property is owned by an individual or shared by many.

On this Earth Day, I hope our culture will learn how pollution and property rights go hand-in-hand. This would do much to improve our laws and freedoms. Today, we have government created "freeways", which are polluted and congested messes because they are provided for free. Every car on the freeway near my home spews fumes into my neighborhood without compensating me. If highways were privately run toll roads, at least communities could seek compensation from the business for polluting the air in the same way they would sue a factory with a smoke stack. However, such pollution lawsuits are not even permitted. Instead, we have bureaucracies which attempt to regulate and fine pollution away. Government takes the money instead of the polluted individuals who deserve compensation. Everybody loses.

Happy Earth Day.
Now I will shed a tear with my native american friend, for pollution caused by failed enforcement of property rights.




Monday, April 19, 2010

God in Government

Examining history, one sees that mixing religion with government has often led to nasty outcomes. You've had pharaohs declaring themselves descendant of Ra and demanding worship. You've had the Spanish Inquisition. You've had human sacrifices to the Sun God. You've had the Crusades. You've had persecution of (fill-in-blank). You've had the Dark Ages. Even recently in the U.S., Sarah Palin divines that Iraq is a holy war and G.W. Bush's "war on terror" resembles an anti-islam zionist crusade. I assume this is why founders like Jefferson argued for 'separation of church and state' and wrote the First Amendment, which clearly states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Yet, every time I pull a dollar out of my wallet... there it is: "In God We Trust". Meanwhile, public school students are led reciting "...one nation, under God..." in the Pledge of Allegiance every day. Regardless of the Supreme Court's mixed bag of rulings on this, it is completely hypocritical to say one supports individual rights while at the same time advocating institutionalized monotheism on the dollar and pledge. To put this in perspective, you have to remember that there are people who believe in no god (atheists, buddhists, agnostics) and even multiple gods (shinto, pagans, etc). Why should government use the word "God" at all? Why should it institutionalize a monotheistic spirituality? I've discussed this with "christian conservatives" enough to summarize their arguments. I will do so below, and explain why they are wrong:
  • Most Americans believe in God.
    So, there should be tyranny of the majority? The founders thought democracy is mob rule, which is why we have a Constitution to protect individuals. This is the lamest argument that could be made by a so-called 'conservative'.

  • "Under God" and "In God We Trust" are time-honored traditions of our nation.
    Check your facts. So-called "conservatives" who praise the founders conveniently ignore that "God" was not once mentioned in the Constitution. It was not institutionalized onto the dollar and pledge until 1950's McCarthy anti-communist paranoia.

  • Rights derive from God. The Declaration of Independence says "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights".
    This was a eloquent letter of grievances written by Thomas Jefferson to King George. It was historical document, not a legally binding one. If you want to quote Jefferson, he also said: "Question with boldness even the existence of a god" and "it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God". Jefferson admired John Locke and "natural law". He coined the term 'separation of church and state'. The founders view on rights derived from the reason and logic of enlightenment philosophy, not spirituality. It was based on equality, individualism, and anti-statism. If individual rights require God, then how did atheist Ayn Rand become one of the greatest advocates of individualism?

  • The founders were christian.
    Even if this were so, what does it matter? They were also white. They wore powdered wigs. Should we institutionalize these characteristics as well? The truth is, many of the founders were simply "deists" (i.e. God of Nature), which would today be closer to agnostic than it would christian church-goer. Jefferson even went so far as to write his own bible, leaving out the hocus-pocus. They were thinkers who valued reason, not writing the Constitution under trance of prayer or by divine prophecy.

  • So what, "God" is just a word. It doesn't hurt anybody.
    If you make this argument, you should be okay with having "There is no god" on the dollar, or "...one nation, under the Flying Spaghetti Monster..." in the Pledge of Allegiance. It doesn't hurt you. However, many christians would scoff at this suggestion. Hypocrites.

  • Our laws and morality come from judeo-christian values, like the Ten Commandments.
    Sorry, but it's the other way around. Those values happen to overlap nicely with "natural law" in the areas of justice - like protecting property rights ('Thou shalt not steal') or preventing aggressive threats ('Thous shalt not kill'). The other rules like "no god before me", "no eating pork", etc. have no place in a courthouse... even for display purposes. As for taking oath on bibles? No thanks, I'll swear on a plate of spaghetti & meatballs.

Religious folks get riled up when anyone argues to take "God" from their dollar or pledge. They shouldn't... it's simply a stance for freedom and proper limits on government, not an anti-religious or atheist one. The religious right does more damage to the conservative base with their fear-based "Gasp, what if society loses God!" mentality. There are plenty of free-thinking independents and libertarians like myself who value rationality, agnosticism, and empiricism over spirituality and mysticism (especially in civics and politics). We are those voters who cringe at the thought of a politician using a Bible to legislate. You can pretty much find a quote from the Bible to justify anything. Keep government neutral and out of it. Let a christmas tree be put up in a public square, just not on taxpayer dime or time. While you're at it... let the Kwanzaa/Festivus/FSM display go up alongside if someone desires. Let parents make the choices for their children's education, instead of school boards. Let spirituality be a personal, private, and family matter. Let the word "marriage" be used by religious ceremonies, instead of being a word licensed by government. Keep government and God separate... period.

P.S. God is a libertarian.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Inventor's Kit

Well, it is kind of awesome that they sell "inventors kits". I laughed so hard when I saw that ad...like all you need is a kit to bust out your inner inventor. Ha!


I had some ideas recently of things I wish someone would invent.
Here they are... with extremely terrible visuals. (Yeah, it ain't easy to draw on a computer. I put Pictionary effort into these.)
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Last-Bites
Don't you hate when you are eating a tasty snack and that last bite comes?? Why do last bites taste so good & why does it have to end. Now it doesn't have to!
With Last-Bites Spoons... you always have another bite waiting for you.
With Last-Bites cups... there is a secret compartment holding a last tasty bite!

Baby Carry Tray
When you have a new baby... you realize that things like dinner can be difficult, when baby sometimes wakes up & needs to be held. Now you can hold baby and don't have to worry about eating with one hand, or spilling on the baby! It's a tray & baby carrier, all-in-one!

Radio Helper / TV Helper
These are both based on the concept that DJs and ads are really noisy and annoying. Software is easily capable of analyzing sound. For radio, software would track low frequency bass for repeating patterns (like drums in a song). When a rhythm is interrupted for long enough (such as someone talking)... the finger-like attachment will push the button to change the radio station.
Same concept for TV Helper, but the software will listen for rapid rise or drop in volume... which will trigger the volume button to be pushed.

Daddy Nursing
It seems babies love mama since they get to nurse, which builds quite an attachment. This can make it challenging if papa has to take over for a while. This will make baby feel right at home, and help bonding with daddy! Just insert the bottle to the gelatin filled latex pseudo-breasts, and baby won't know the difference!



Monday, April 5, 2010

drugs, whores, slaves, organs, and suicide

It's my body, not yours.

While the GOP may be an ally fighting ObamaCare for fiscal and economic reasons, they include the religious-right. So they have a poor record defending freedom with one's body. The 'social conservatives' tell you "No drugs", "No abortion", "No prostitution". The pièce de résistance was in Footloose, where they told Kevin Bacon "No dancing". This is one concept that classical liberals could relate better with the left on: telling government to butt-out of our life choices, whether it be doctor-patient relationships or bong rips. Of course, the dilemma arises when one supports socialist health care... because then our poor health choices become a burden on the state, justifying state control of our bodies (yet another reason to oppose communist health care). This leads to recent legislation like banning trans-fats, tanning beds, fish pedicures, and salt. Every activity that is made illegal presents greater tax burden for enforcement. Many of the social-conservative topics are controversial, because they touch some very grey moral topics. Let's examine:

Drugs - "Drugs lead to crime." "It's 'bad for society'."
Any 'black market' activity brings crime with it, since all participants avoid the justice system. If all drugs were legalized, would drug use increase? Experience elsewhere says no. Even if usage increased, crime associated with it would decrease since users could rely on police protection. Criminalizing things that correlate with violence is a concept contradictory with free choice and personal responsibility for one's actions. Time to outlaw rap music! Barry Manilow, here we come.
Even legal drugs are stymied by regulation. The FDA is completely unnecessary, considering that people are fully capable to weigh the risks-benefits of putting substances into their own body. Without the FDA, pharmaceutical costs would drop tremendously and there would be far more treatments available on the market. Those who were dying and desperate would have more options and be willing to take more risks. Pharma companies that lie about their products or testing would be sued out of existence.

Prostitution - "It's an abuse of women" "It spreads disease."
The abuse of women comes from the inability of prostitutes to seek police protection. Those who don't wear rubbers are dumb, whether they sleep with a hooker or a slut at a bar... and those who sleep with people who sleep with people without rubbers are just as dumb. For married folk, that's a different story. If a husband/wife cheats and gives their spouse an STD, they are more strictly accountable for violating their contract. However, the prudish laws against "the world's oldest profession" pose the greatest danger to women who participate.

Slavery - "Gasp! Racist!" "How could you support freedom and advocate slavery?"
Before you gasp, understand that I'm not talking ethnic-based slavery, or kidnapping and slave trading. Those are acts of force, violating individual rights. However, if a person is over their head in debt or has no means to provide for their family they should be able to enter a contract of indentured servitude of their own free will. They could include clauses in such a contract to prohibit abuse, set terms of expiration, or conditions for release. Such transactions were known of in the Roman Republic, a civilization of greater longevity than our short-lived USA.

Selling Organs - "It's exploitation."
It works for sperm. If markets were allowed to work for things like bone marrow, and rare blood-types... there would never be a shortage. Just imagine what it would do for kidneys. Or eyeballs. Or anything. If a man would be willing to give an arm and a leg (literally) to ensure his child is provided for, why should he be denied that choice? So long as it is voluntary, there would not be a flood of harvesting poor people's organs. Most people like their bodies intact.

Suicide or assisted-suicide - "Suicide is wrong." "Ending life is murder."
Dr. Kervorkian. I think a lot of us supported him, because we understand not wanting to be a burden on family. We understand not wanting to live a slow painful death. This is one area where religious magical, mystical mythology of purgatory causes unnecessary suffering for sick dying people, and it's a shame. If someone is depressed, hopefully they will find help... but ultimately, no one should be locked up for attempted suicide so long as they don't try to destroy other life or property while doing the deed.

It's my body, not yours... so butt the hell out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Justice

They say "Justice is blind". She's blind-folded carrying a scale and sword, because she enforces the rule of law consistently to all. Justice, equality, and liberty are the three pinnacles of a moral society. None of these can exist without the others. Without justice, there cannot be liberty since one's rights and property can be violated. Without equality, there cannot be justice since there is no consistent rule of law. Without liberty, there cannot be equality since some have the right to use force upon others.

The problem is, these concepts are loosely understood and weakly appreciated in our culture today. People will quickly redefine "equality" to mean "the poor can steal from the rich, because they don't deserve so much money". They'll redefine "justice" to mean "a careless lady spills hot coffee on herself, and gets millions because it's McDonald's coffee". They'll redefine "liberty" to mean "I want to be free from drug users, so we need to lock them up". I have no respect for the bastardization of these principles. Inventing such exceptions and wavering definitions is as good as having no principles or integrity at all. This is the thinking of "moderates" and "centrists". In the words of Ayn Rand, "There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil." We need to do better.

So, to properly know what justice should look like in a society... one must first properly define the concept of justice. The everyday simpleton associates justice with cops, courts, and jail...lazily concluding that justice is about punishment, rehabilitation, revenge, protection, or deterrence. It is none of these. Justice fits into the framework of "natural rights" described by enlightenment philosophers. This framework influenced our founders to design the first moral government in history... to ensure and protect individual liberty, equality, and justice. This framework is logical, simple, and balanced with reason. We are all born with rights, which can only be taken away and not granted to us. If I steal from someone or force them to do something, I am violating someone else's natural rights. Justice is the act of restitution to correct the balance when rights are violated. This is reminiscent of the"Golden Rule", which has been around for ages in every culture, stating "do to others as you'd have done to you". If I decide to steal $100 from you, then I have intentionally violated your right to keep your $100. Therefore, by reciprocity and equality, I have sacrificed my right to not have $100 stolen from me. What does justice then prescribe? I should not only pay you back your $100, but I should give up an additional $100 of my own. In this way, justice approximates the concept of "punishment"... but for a logical, rational, and moral reason - not an emotional and subjective one.

What would the implications be if we more perfectly applied justice? Firstly, there would be tort reform. Today's lawsuit landscape is kept imbalanced by lobbying lawyer landsharks looting for liabilities. There should be 'double damage' limits set (as described above) and 'loser pays' rules, so plaintiffs bear a cost for frivolous claims. The courts should also be accessible and justice not hindered by legalese and limits of licensed attorneys. What about the prison system? I recently read that it costs an average of $47,000/year to incarcerate a prisoner in California. Something is really wasteful there needing a free-market solution to reduce costs. Still, prisoners should not only work off their own room/board but work off their debt to see that restitution for double-damage justice is paid. Yes, that means self-funded labor camps. Sentencing is simple: forced labor until restitution is paid or you die. If you did little damage or are rich, you may not have to serve labor/prison time. Sure, murderers can never repay the price of a life... so perhaps families of victims should get to choose between death penalty versus forced labor for life (paid to them). What if you have been drunk driving? There should be a rough formula for the threat to life based on B.A.C, and restitution should be directed to local residents. The point is, our prisons today are focused on incarceration, punishment, and rehabilitation (all at taxpayer expense)... which is not morally aligned with the concept of justice.

When justice is viewed this way, it is a beautifully simple and straightforward concept. TV court-dramas may have less fodder if American culture digested this. If there is any area of government that deserves more funding, justice (courts and police) would probably be the only one. A fair and accessible justice system is at the heart of any free and prosperous society.