Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Population Vacuum

The Population Vacuum is a method by which major metro areas maintain affordability, efficiency at high population, and high living standards to “vacuum” up surrounding population growth. This limits urban sprawl and confines greater and greater numbers into as small an area as is feasible.


• Living must be affordable. A frequent reason for urban sprawl is the availability of large housing at prices that are in line with the average person OUTSIDE of already developed areas. Thus, people either in search of starter mansions or those merely in need of expanded housing for a new family have great incentives to look into virgin land. By ensuring large amounts of affordable, large housing in cities, and then making those cities eminently attractive, a metro area can act as a vacuum and attract those people and even cause a reduction in extant areas of sprawl.

• A city must be eminently attractive. It must match non-urban areas in as many aspects of attractiveness as it can. This will result in fewer people being driven to small towns. A drop in overall property taxes would result, but that should be offset with room to spare by taxes from the increased economic activity resulting from such population density. Areas to match as follows.

o Crime: A city must work hard to keep crime rates low. This does not mean more cops, it means better efficiency overall and finely targeted laws to reduce inefficiencies.

o Availability of nature: A city must not just have parks, it must be tightly integrated with parks. Gardens must be built into the overall design of buildings, blocks, and sections of the city. A 5/1 ratio of urban area to garden area is a target.

o Lack of pollution: Pollution must be a primary concern for city leaders. It must be kept under control at almost any cost.

o Elbow room: The design of the city must allow for “movement space,” or space in which an individual can move about without bumping into other people. This obviously applies to house size, but it must also be integrated into the side of streets, sidewalks, and general city layout. Sidewalks need not be actual sidewalks, but merely walkways that traverse the city. In a city of 10 million, walkways of 100 feet wide or more would be ideal.

o Noise: Perhaps the hardest area to match, noise must be kept under control without squelching the vibrancy of the city throughout the day and night. This could be achieved through heavy construction of underground roadways, walkways, and buildings. Separate the living areas from the noise-generating aspects of the city, the major perpetrator being traffic.

o Ease of automotive movement: Complex integration of major roadways and smaller transit lines to reduce the stop & go of city driving. Eliminate stop lights and intersections in favor of ramps and rotaries.
The city must also highlight, expand, and nurture the many aspects of a city that rural areas cannot match. These are as follows.

o 24/7: A city of sufficient population can remain active 24 hours per day. This allows for restaurants, entertainment, and destinations at any time. A city must foment this sort of behavior and stimulate activity at all times.

o Variety: A city is a complex mess of things. A city must encourage this variety and diversity through aggressive immigration campaigns from other cultures, encouragement of small business, and facilitation of mixing between areas of the city and different groups.

o Support: A strong system of governmental support is possible within a condensed population. Transportation, medicine, education, and economic support are all superior to rural areas.

Ideal Sufficiency: A city must strive to be self sufficient in as many ways as possible. This increases efficiency by streamlining supply routes and reducing travel times. Prime candidates for self-sufficient industry are agriculture through gardens and hydroponics, and power through solar, wind, and if coastal, tidal power generation. Nuclear power is also a viable option but less ideal than the totally non-polluting forms.

Over-stimulation: A city must have areas of quiet rest. Less-populated areas of the city without major structures with a substantially smaller degree of stimulation.

Under-capacity: A city must always keep its population under the capacity of the city’s infrastructure. If it doesn’t the vacuum will suck up surrounding populations, pressurize them, and then eject them back into rural areas and actually encourage urban sprawl. If the population exceeds capacity *cough*LONDON*cough*, all of the previously listed things that make rural areas attractive will deteriorate within the city and efficiency will dive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Question Begged

I've just discovered the modal ontological argument. I'd been aware of the ontological argument for some time and actually consider it a rather strong argument, although not for what its proponents had thought.

The ontological argument is an argument for the existence of God. It goes something like this.

  • God is that which no greater can be conceived

  • It is greater to exist in reality than in idea alone

  • Therefore, God cannot simply exist in our heads, because a God that actually exists is greater than a God that doesn't actually exist

I've always felt that this is a completely sound argument for the existence of an ultimate entity. Entities seem to exist on a spectrum, and there must be something at the ends of either spectrum. Be it free-floating amino acids on one end, and some sort of galactic intelligence on the other. But the argument says nothing about the ultimate intelligence, only that it must be there.

That's my take on it, but regardless of any novel interpretation, the argument is not widely supported. Alvin Plantinga is perhaps the most notable proponent of the argument, and being a logician, he's applied what he knows to the argument and created a modal ontological argument.

Modal logic deals with possibility. E.g. it is possible that "A". But the corollary to possibility is necessity. It is necessary that "A". Modal logic also uses as the core of its thought a concept that's getting a lot of play recently, what with string theory and all that: possible worlds. Anything that is possible is actually happening in different realms of existence. There is a world where I am the king of England and another in which I died at birth. If it's logically possible, it exists.

Thus, something is possible if it exists in at least one possible world. It is necessary if it exists in all possible worlds. And it is contingent if it exists in some possible worlds.

Using these concepts called modal operators, Plantinga sets out to argue for the existence of God. I find the entire argument to be, like everything else in the philosophy of religion, to be circular; a giant, begged question.

I stole this specifically from here.

(1) If God exists then he has necessary existence.
(2) Either God has necessary existence, or he doesn’t.
(3) If God doesn’t have necessary existence, then he necessarily doesn’t.
(4) Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t.
(5) If God necessarily doesn’t have necessary existence, then God necessarily doesn’t exist.
(6) Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t exist.
(7) It is not the case that God necessarily doesn’t exist.
(8) God has necessary existence.
(9) If God has necessary existence, then God exists.
(10) God exists.

Premise 2 is a restatement of premise one. And premise 3 adds nothing. It's a rejiggering of "either God as we conceive of him exists or he doesn't."

1. If god exists, then he has necessary existence.
  • Basically Iff (if and only if) G (God exists), then N (he is necessary)

  • Which is G = N

  • If God exists, then God exists.

  • Oh yeah. There's a masterpiece of logic.

2. Either God has necessary existence or he doesn’t.
  • Basically, either God exists or he doesn’t exist, because if he exists, he has necessary existence.

  • This is the first part where the usage of existence jumps around. He both exists and has existence as though it's a property.

3. If God doesn’t have necessary existence, then he necessarily doesn’t.
  • Once again, semantic dodge. If God doesn’t exist, then he doesn’t.

4. Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t.
  • Either God exists or he doesn’t exist.

5. If God necessarily doesn’t have necessary existence, then God necessarily doesn’t exist.
  • If God necessarily doesn’t exist, then he doesn’t exist.

6. Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t exist.
  • Either he necessarily exists or necessarily doesn’t exist.

7. It is not the case that God necessarily doesn’t exist.
  • It was dealing with possibility earlier on to reach this point. IF God doesn’t exist, then he necessarily doesn’t exist. The first “if” is not answered. Only IF God exists, does he exist. Only IF God exists, does he not necessarily not exist. And ONLY IF God doesn't exist, does he necessarily not exist.

8. God has necessary existence.
  • He only has necessary existence if he exists, which has not been determined

9. If God has necessary existence, then God exists.
10. Therefore, God exists.

My slight re-wording of the argument might seem like I'm playing with words to achieve my goal, and I am. But that's because the argument is playing the same damned game. The argument jumps back and forth between existence as a property or a state and conveniently forgets that the actual question is never answered.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Socialized Loss for the Masses.

I've been getting all self-righteous over the bank bailouts, recently. I started off not caring too much, but have since managed to work myself up into such a froth that I could be used as shampoo.

I recently saw an interview with some guy on Frontline about the economy and how strongly people's perceptions fluctuate (more on this later). I'm always one to point out the stupidity of most people. Or, perhaps stupidity is too strong. Maybe contempocentric is better. Some study who's author is lost to bad memory found that a majority of people perceive time strangely. Namely, for the average person, events that are five years away are perceived identically as those six months away. Meaning that people only start thinking about events in a "is imminent" sort of way is after they start being less than six months off.

What this means is that people are fabulously good at not thinking about the past after events have passed and finished and events that are going to happen in the future. We're a fundamentally reactive species that exists in the "now."

This is obviously not an inherently bad thing. If we spent all of our time worrying about the past and future we'd go nuts. Being contempocentric to a degree is actually important. The problem is that humans take it to its limit and behave in a contempocentric way, while living in a world that allows consequences to carry on for decades. Behold climate change, credit cards, and over-eating.

But that also means that political winds will blow based on events that are only a year in either direction. Now back to that Frontline documentary. Some talking head pointed out how people get very conservative during good times and very liberal during bad times. Noam Chomsky talks about privatized gain and socialized loss, but he specifically attacks big business. And while that's true, the average person is the same way. They just have less clout than a big company.

When times are good, the conservative ideal of "succeed for yourself" feels great. "Keep your hands off of my money!" people will yell. But when the world turns, and they lose their job, they start crying for help. And sure enough, the people who have to help bail that previously-conservative person out will likely yell to stay away... that is until they lose their job.

This type of systemic hypocrisy is most rampant in those so ignorant that they have NO idea about how the system around them functions. They live in their little world, controlling their little things, thinking about stuff that's six months off and six months past. This type of person is no better illustrated than the man who yelled to "keep your government hands off [his] Medicare!" at a South Carolina (natch) town hall meeting.

I've uploaded that talk Chomsky gave on socialized loss. It's worth a listen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Caution. Time-Traveling Children

Seriously, who the hell drew this sign? And who approved it?! Was the artist 120? The last time children dressed like this was 1905.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


It's unfortunate that our culture is so obsessed with the magical afflatus that crashes into some haggard inventor, and after facing the standard array of road-blocks and obstacles, succeeds as justice dictates he should. This idea that the inventor is what is important, and that he/she deserves success is just plain stupid. Unfortunately, our patent system is built around that idea.

What should be exalted is the discovery of how to use the invention. This aspect of the scenario is never discussed in the fables of invention. In those stories, the application is already widely known and the haggard inventor's creation is somehow an immediately accepted Godsend to all it touches. See Flash of Genius.

Reality is much more complex, and in most cases, the most difficult aspect is taking whatever was created and figuring out what the fuck to do with it. The computer had been around for years before Apple, but it was the innovation of the package and software that created the digital age.

Techdirt is an utterly fantastic blog discussing the nature of innovation, invention, and technology. It's also a great blog to read if you'd like a crash-course in applied economics and patent/copyright law. UPS has sponsored a series of short videos discussing technology and innovation, they'll take up less than ten minutes of your life and will hopefully inform and entertain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hacked E-Mails.

So some e-mails between scientists have been hacked that has added fuel to the climate change-skeptic fire.

Obviously, if you view the things quoted in the e-mails from a, um, pro(?) climate change perspective, it just sounds like a bunch of scientists discussing the best, delicate path to walk in a public debate defined by idiots. But if you are one of those idiots, your paranoid belief that scientists are perpetuating a massive, global conspiracy to trick the world into believing that climate change is real. This is apparently because Al Gore hates Africans.

My vote, we just keep going. I'd much rather see all of the idiots just burn. Granted, lots of fun animals will die, but I'll survive. I'm at the point of not caring. You want to drive the bus into a wall? Fine. I'll put my helmet on and do my thing while you do that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Purpose of Movies.

Movies are meant to entertain. That is it. They are not paintings. They are not meant to challenge or be though-provoking. They are meant to entertain. The best movies do that and challenge you, but things that are so avant garde and artsy fartsy that they become moving paintings stop even being movies. They do not entertain.

Juxtapose the experimentation of the French New Wave with Italian Neorealism. The French understood that a movie should entertain. It should be about being a movie. Italian neorealists were depressed because the war had just ended, so they started making films that were depressing and pointless.

Go watch The Bicycle Thief. It's boring as fucking hell. Yes, yes, it was groundbreaking and has had a generations-long effect on cinema all around the world. That doesn't change that it is tearfully boring. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to sound intelligent. I respect it. I comprehend it. I appreciate it. I still say it's barely a movie.

I mean for Christ's sake, the films were so pointless and depressing (and that was the point) the government told them to stop making them. Compare this to Schindler's List. It's depressing, moving, heart-wrenching, but also entertaining. It fills us with emotion and tells us a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

Socialized Loss.

I'm not one to side with Noam Chomsky on too many things. While I generally agree with many of his points, it's his paranoia where I diverge. Where he sees grand schemes and conspiracy, I see happenstance and even stupidity. He sees cabals, I see groups of greedy people rambling about in what appears to be a group.

But one of his biggest points year after year is the idea of privatized gain and socialized loss. Namely, capitalism is good for you, but for me, I need the protection of the government.

The last year or so has really driven home how true that is. Obviously, this was an extreme example, but worldwide, every year, events similar to these transpire. To argue that we have a free market is silly. We don't have anything close to a free market. The banks reaped massive profits and then socialized the massive losses.

It's kind of depressing. I guess I'd feel better about all this if the Republicans had been voting against the bailouts for some reason other than just being contrarian buttheads.

I don't usually get up in arms about things for any sense of self-righteousness, but this got my goat.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Two Types of Country

Well, we're finally bringing some of the guys from Gitmo into the country for trials. As expected, those from the "right" have started lampooning the decision, basically saying we can't apply the same rules to them as we do to ourselves.

I find this perspective interesting. The problem with our country is that we have a nationwide case of severe cognitive dissonance. We want to think that we are a country predicated on ideals and not simply a group of people, but when the realities of being a group of people pop up, we act in accordance with those.

I always said that I had no problem with invading Iraq, if we said that we were going in there for oil and control. Think about that, we need oil, is it not our mandate to acquire what we need? Let's kill everyone in Iraq and take their oil. There's nothing morally wrong with it.

The problem is that under that interpretation, we're just a group of people. The American flag is nothing more than a logo. The American Dream is an advertising campaign. The Statue of Liberty is our mascot. And the national anthem is just our theme song. Most people have a problem with that idea.

The real argument is whether we're just a group of people or an set of ideals. We might give the ideals a high-falutin' status, but there's nothing about them that is fundamentally superior to seeing us as just a group of people trying to get what's best for us. If we're correct in our self-service, then we are a group of people and not ideals. If we are a set of ideals that "transcend" the people, then our actions are pretty easy to determine.

Too bad that latter interpretation has never been true. We've never been the good guys. Remember Nuremberg: many Nazi's got off for some action because they showed how Allied forces did the same thing. Well, if we did it, it can't be wrong. Case dismissed!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A View Askew

I just found out about the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl in San Francisco, early last week.

I feel pretty safe in assuming that this will go down in psychological and sociological history in the same way as the Kitty Genovese murder in New York. Professors for decades to come will discuss what this says about the human animal and the society we've built for ourselves.

I feel for the girl in a way I usually reserve for fat women watching The View. I can't even begin to imagine what the experience was like. I mean that phrase truthfully and without cliche. I can't even imagine. I think I would rather be attacked by a lion and killed, at least the goal of the lion is to end it. Here, the torment was the goal. I feel like crying.

My partner and I have had arguments about the nature of life vis a vis sex. I have argued that things like "Gift of Fear" and the argument that women lead a different life from men to be foolish and fear-mongering. She has said otherwise, and says that I may have a hard time understanding this since I was always not only a male, but a large, loud male. I've never felt fear of my fellow humans.

Still, I argued that the fear she and other women feel is primarily the result of fear programming in our brain going haywire since there is very little to be afraid of, anymore. We no longer have to worry about sabertooth tigers and whatnot, so our brain finds things of which to be afraid.

This wasn't rooted in sexism. This was rooted in the deep-seated belief that men and women are not from Mars and Venus. That our lives are fundamentally the same. The world is identical to us both. Because, if that's not the case, we are not equal. We are different. The world, for men and women, is fundamentally and essentially a different experience.

This case has basically changed that perspective. While I still think that most of the fear that women, and truly people in general, feel about the world is the result of a scare-obsessed media and evolutionary mechanisms meant to keep us safe in the wild, this does not happen to men.

There has never been a case of women gang-raping a drunk man and then beating him nearly to death. It just doesn't happen. Say what you will about the baseness of the men involved. Argue that they are an extreme minority. Argue that women are just as likely to get killed by a coconut as be gang-raped. I'll agree with pretty much all of it. With just a modicum of caution, women will likely never be raped or even assaulted.

But that's the thing. That modicum of caution. That one, little inch. That seemingly insignificant thing permanently and inexorably separates men from women. Men need not exercise that caution. They have no need or worry. But women do. Women and men are fundamentally different. Their world, my partner's world, is fundamentally different from my own.

And that makes me want to cry.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Government With Purpose

It's difficult to decide what should and shouldn't be taxed. There are tons of arguments out there saying that taxing inheritances is fine, taxing alcohol is not, estate taxes are death taxes, etc.

I propose a purpose-oriented perspective on taxes. Basically, a tax must be predicated on the relationship that whatever is being taxed has with the point of the tax. For example, people argue that cigarettes should be taxed since smokers cost more medically to society. This argument would be fine if 100% of the taxes went towards medical ends. That's not the case at all. Truly, 100% of the revenue goes to general funds and is spent on things ranging from roadways to generous severance packages for government employees.

For example, 100% of the costs associated with roadwork should be shouldered by tolls and automobile taxes. This has the added benefit of letting people know, on a personal level, how much of their tax money is going to what areas of the government. It forces absolute clarity onto the clusterfuck that is taxation.

But what about things for which there is no taxable representation in society? What about schools, or firefighters? Frankly, I think income and property taxes cover this just fine. Income means money, and money requires a stable governmental system in which to spend it. Income taxes are literally paying for the system that allow the money to exist in the first place. I consider that a fair trade. This same argument applies to sales taxes.

Property taxes pay for police and firefighters. For example, what good are fire fighters if there is nothing to put out? Firefighters need houses, as such, owning a house pays for the work. I've got some problems with property taxes based on how nice your house is, but the size of your house could matter. Regardless, I consider property taxes based on value to be a progressive tax that amounts to robbery. Theoretically, if you mow your lawn regularly, you will end up with higher taxes.

If no good reason can be found for taxing something, the tax must be eliminated. If the money is truly needed for the government to function, the tax must be moved elsewhere so people know what money is being spent where.

Schools are difficult. We cannot put the burden on only the parents, or school becomes unaffordable. An uneducated society is unbearable harmful to everyone alive now and to be alive later. There are many ways I could rationalize education to fit with my general logic, but I think it's sufficed to say that education is undeniably a public good. An educated populace is what has allowed us to reach the heights we have reached and it must be furthered.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The End of an Era

Well, in a few short days, the Rhode Island state assembly will vote to criminalize prostitution. They will vote to make it wrong to do something people have been doing for all of human history. They will vote to eliminate a fundamental freedom: the freedom to do as you wish with your own body. They will vote to eliminate one of the few things that made Rhode Island at all special or progressive, and replace it with the same moralistic claptrap that dominates the rest of the country. Such garbage. All I can say is that I am disgusted with my state.

Prostitutes should be very happy, though. When prostitution is criminalized, its value goes up.

R.I. prostitutes speak out against bill to close loophole (

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Like Economics

I love economics. It's the best way to win arguments that really shouldn't be winnable.

I guess I should say I like econometrics, as opposed to economics. Economics includes groups like the Austrian and Chicago schools, which rely very heavily on intuition, which is no way to win an argument. Your intuition is just as good as mine, and it's very easy to point that out. But for example, the argument of prostitution. Is it right or wrong?

Correct answer: it doesn't matter. We cannot stop it. It has existed since the beginning of time, and exists even in countries where prostitution is punishable by death. So, if it cannot be stopped, why have laws against it? People still kill, regardless of laws. So why bother outlawing that? But, then, we're comparing prostitution to murder, which is pretty stupid.

Moreover, countries without laws against murder are usually on the edge of coherency, and as such, the lack of the law isn't really what is causing murder; it's the lack of social order. Laws against murder and stealing sprout spontaneously from a social order because they're fundamentally necessary for that order to exist. Laws against prostitution hold no such honor.

Truly, prostitution frequently held the opposite stature in past civilizations. Frequently, prostitution was seen as a necessity for grown men, and that prostitutes did a public good. Even in modern times, during periods of war, the military tolerated and understood the job that nearby brothels performed.

Economics gives us the ability to develop a scenario and then seek out data. Just find the data and make your argument with that. Freakonomics had it right. Trying to argue right and wrong, or develop models to determine things gets you nowhere. Just find the data.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Design Today Sucks

Apple is frequently hailed as some of the best design on the planet.


That's not to say that Apple design isn't great, because it is. What blows my mind is the idea that what Apple is doing is somehow genius and difficult. Think about the concepts behind their work: Simplicity; ease of use; subtle beauty. These are very simply concepts that so many other companies seem damn-near incapable of getting.

You want to know why? Because every other company is trying to emulate Apple's real genius: a closed product system that fully integrates and consumes a user. If you use an iPod, that means you're tied to iTune. And that means you're tied to the App Store. And all of this is made easier if you own a Mac, which ties you to MacOS. It's a massive, vertically integrated product line with which Apple exerts an enormous amount of control over its users.

This is great for many consumers, because it makes things very easy for them. You buy all Apple, plug it all in, and it all works. The same can't be said for other companies. And for most other companies with a bit less than the genius at Apple, the desperate attempts to create a vertically integrated techno-world for their user results in disaster.

Sony has been trying it for years. EVERYTHING they make is proprietary. Their memory cards, their video and audio formats, their cables. And since Sony is actively trying to take over the world, that goes into every part of their design, which is a huge handicap.

Apple set out to make a good product, and every step they take is intended to do just that, make the best product. Steve Jobs has mentioned many times how more openness is better, and I don't think that's just lip-service to the geeks.

He's actually dedicated to the idea of openness and product freedom, but way back in the day, when the first iPod was created, a closed system worked best. The technology was haphazard and scattered amongst a variety of companies and standards. At the time, the best product was a closed product, and that just so happened to lead to a controllable system that Apple lords over.

Now all of the other companies are drooling over such power and actively limiting the products they make to try and achieve what Apple has achieved, and they end up with shit. If only they'd ask the question "what does the customer want?" as opposed to "how can we make more money off of the customer?", because contrary to popular economic retail theory, the two pursuits are not always in alignment.

What Apple does is not brilliant, it's just that all of the other companies suck.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Freedom and Economics.

I generally avoid thinking about politics too much. I find it to be entertainment more than anything else for people who need to feel important. Reading things like old issues of Time magazine cements this perspective.

I do talk about economics a lot, though, because it ties in directly to the only thing I think is of any importance in politics: freedom. That's all politics should be generally concerned with, and economic policy is where that most frequently comes to a head.

Understandably so, since economics is all about trying to balance my ability to fuck other people while not letting me fuck them too much. It's a recognition that the entire system is driven by some very nasty human emotions, and that it's likely best to keep those emotions at least somewhat in check.

I also know that raving conservatives are out and about talking about Herr Obama, and how we're charging wildly towards the next Soviet Union, which is obviously not true, but under Clinton, Bush, and now Obama, we have been moving away from economic freedom. And it's interesting how some of those moves away have proven, beyond contention, to be really bad ideas.

I think expressly of Sarbanes-Oxley, which is proving to be a nightmare. Supporters say the law reinforced people's confidence in the markets, which is silly. Most people don't even know it exists, and the people that do know, banks and whatnot, hate it. People have also proven in the past to regain confidence simply because bad shit doesn't happen for a period of time. Government actions do nothing more than convince angry people that the government is doing something to stop the bad guys, which is all Sarbox did.

But by the same token, I don't think Sarbox has had the enormously negative effects that its opponents think. Government action has proven throughout history to have very little effect on what the people are doing. We have countries with high taxes that do well, countries with low taxes that do well. Countries with lots of cops, and countries with next to no cops. Only movements in the extreme have a serious effect on people's lives.

But what worries me is that countries are clubs. We, like any club, want members. As so many countries are starting to adopt similar governmental policies, and as more people move up the socioeconomic ranks, the differences between the clubs get smaller, and those small effects that government action can have become, comparatively, very large. The government has to look at this as a contest. We are a club competing for the best members from other clubs.

We want low taxes, high services, high freedom, and systems in place to help all of this happen. Government can have an effect on that, and it should work towards it.

You'd Think "Republican" and "Retard" Were the Same Thing

A recent Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll found that 58 percent of Republicans, mostly concentrated in the South, either don’t believe or aren’t sure Obama is a citizen.

It gets better. If you ever wanted more reason to let them secede, this is it. They have literally left reality behind.

Birth of a Notion: Implicit Social Cognition and the "Birther" Movement (

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Problem With Austria.

Well not Austria the country, but Austria the school. The Austrian School is a school of economic thought that advocates completely free economic markets. The are against copyright and patents, government intervention in any way, and the belief that economic modeling is impossible. Remember, Austrian Scholar's are entirely against any government regulation, and that includes all forms of antitrust. Austrians aren't the only extremists, though. Many mainstream economists accept some arguments against much government intervention. I'm just using Austrians as a broad term to describe all those strongly against government regulation.

There are many criticisms of the school, namely a distinctly post-hoc aspect to their analyses and a lack of econometric support to their theories, but I'm interested in a big one that rarely gets mentioned.

The goal of any economic system is to increase competition. Monopoly is bad, competition is good. But economics work in many ways like thermodynamics. So much so that one tenet of psychological research is a reference to thermodynamics: a system left to itself will fall to its lowest possible energy state. Humans act if motivated to act. If there is no motivation, we will conserve energy. An economic system being made of humans is very similar.

An economic system's energy can be equated to competition. The more competition, the more energy, the more development, and history bears this out. An economic system left to itself will fall to the lowest energy state: monopoly. Unless there is a powerful agent with no interest in specific parts of the economic system, and only interested in the system as a whole, monopoly is inevitable in an economy.

I actually think that having super-large corporations, much less monopolies, can be problematic. Look at today. While I think that letting many of the big banks fail would have been the best course of action, just think of the chaos that would have been caused by the collapse of Citi or Bank of America. When too much of a market is dominated by a single company that becomes unstable, we have today.

Again, I'm a full-on free market advocate, but history shows that they can't be too free. Yes, they're essentially still stable. Ups and downs in the markets will kill the monopolies, but those cycles can take generations and during the reign of the monopoly progress is all but dead. Government regulation is a necessity in a modern economy if we want what we have grown accustomed to.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Population Bomb.

Scientists love talking about metaphorical bombs. They use the term to describe any state of affairs that may not seem too bad now, but will become noticeably bad in the future. Environmentalism is one of those bombs, but another, less frequently discussed bomb is the population bomb. I can only imagine that it doesn't get as much play as the climate because massive population problems aren't going to have a direct effect on the Western world. We are not overpopulated. Well, Los Angeles is, but the rest of us are fine.

I also take a slightly less humanist perspective on this whole thing. While the interconnectedness of the world vis-à-vis climate makes ignoring some aspects of human damage a world away hard to ignore, such as the rain forest, it's still their country. They can do whatever the hell they want to fuck up their area of the planet. I'm worried about my area of the planet.

Further from a humanist perspective is that I don't care how many poor farmers die in Brazil or Ethiopia. It's their problem. Not only should they just take care of it themselves, trying to force our help on them doesn't do anyone any good. They need to solve their own problems.

And we live in America! Most of our problems are comparatively so easy to solve it's a wonder we haven't done so already. Want to increase population density and stop urban sprawl? Subsidize large, urban, multi-unit complexes. Give tax breaks to eletrical firms willing to install solar and wind in urban areas. Give tax breaks to building owners who install solar, wind, or farms on roofs of buildings. Start growing locally in large, multi-story farm buildings.

For the next calculations, I'm going to rely on The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy by Masanobu Fukuoka.

That's actually one of my favorite ideas. Large farm buildings, with a foot print of just half an acre, and 30 floors, that's 15 acres, or enough to feed between 100-500 people on vegetables alone. With the efficiencies allowed by constant illumination, robotic harvest, and nutrients flowing from floor to floor, that number could reasonably be doubled or tripled.

Now think even further. One floor is nothing but fish, and the water from the giant tanks is filtered up through the plants to feed them, back down into the fish tanks. These are not new ideas, but the wherewithal to get it done has not yet been found.

Many areas of the world are fucked. Let's face it, they are. There's nothing we can do unless we want to kill everyone there and just start over. They're fucked, their land is fucked, their cities are fucked. The best course of action for us is to pull inward as much as we can. I'm not talking isolationist nonsense, but a focus on our own abilities. We want to produce as much as we can, be as self-sufficient as possible.

They're going to fuck themselves, so we must actively try to to fuck ourselves as little as possible. Our only problem with our population is that it continues to grow outward in urban sprawl. If we can reduce that, and mate it with large scale development in renewable resources, be it food, energy, and materials, we can only better our position.

Norman Borlaug, who recently died, was famous for discussing population problems. His solution back in the 60's was to increase food production.

That's what Norman Borlaug and his colleagues achieved in the 1960s and 1970s with the Green Revolution that staved off famine for millions. Yet, "there can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort," Borlaug said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. "[Man] is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas.

Again, this is only a problem if we feel the need to force our help on other countries. The fact that India is choking under the weight of one billion people wallowing in ghettos is not our problem. It cannot be. There is no solution. I'm not heartless, I'm a realist. Trying to solve the massive problem is Sisyphean, and the endless aid to Africa all but proves that. Let them die. Our only concern is the possibility of a super-germ incubating in the population and making the trek over here. Other than that, we should not only not worry, but actively ignore. If they ask for help, do not give it to them. Their sinking boat has the potential to bring us down, too.

Another Inconvenient Truth: The World's Growing Population Poses a Malthusian Dilemma (

Friday, October 02, 2009

It's For The Best.

Chicago recently lost out in early contention for the 2016 Summer Olympics. I don't understand why the hell cities even compete for the damned games. The games cost a fuh-reekin' fortune to woo and then provide for. The taxpayers foot an enormous bill. The load on city services stretches it to the brink. And the final result is lots of big buildings no one will ever use again and usually get demolished, and a population pissed off because they're disappointed that their time in the sun wasn't all they hoped it would be.

"This was Chicago's shot at coming out as a world-class city so it's deflating," said Kevin O'Hara, 48, who runs a financial trading firm in Chicago.

"I wanted to be part of what I thought would be history. It just goes to show that Chicago is still the Second City, or perhaps the fourth city after today," said Kevin Gross, 37, an attorney who had joined a crowd packed into a downtown plaza, making reference to the city's nickname "The Second City." (Ben Klayman, Reuters)

Chicago IS a world-class city. It's famous, clean, with low crime, high education and services, and really big buildings. Whether you host the Olympics or not is not an entrance into some private club. Most cities that have hosted the Olympics are forgotten almost immediately after hosting the damned games. Just look back a few years.

Albertville? Where the fuck is Albertville? Who the hell has ever heard or cared about Albertville. Or what about Montreal, Canada. They hosted the 1976 Olympics, and the city is still in debt, to this day, over the games. They never earned the money back, and today, most people have forgotten the games were ever there. Most Montreal residents would certainly like to forget. And Lake Placid? Why the hell has Lake Placid hosted the games twice?

Chicago is lucky to have not gotten the blasted games. Instead, spend the money on city renovations, beautification, and innovative projects that draw visitors over long periods of time. Projects like The Bean add character and stature to the city. In a world overrun with massive cities, it's difficult for a city to achieve uniqueness. The bean succeeds. The Olympics fails. Fuck the Olympics.

True Conservativism.

I generally consider myself a conservative. I am conservative insofar as I want small government, on both a state and federal level. Still, anyone who actually thinks about the world could never possibly pigeonhole themselves into an insultingly simplistic category as liberal or conservative.

In a perfect world, everyone would be liberal. In a world with no scarcity, the government could and should provide everything. For example, if a massive increase in food production capability happened tomorrow, rendering food cheaper than water, why shouldn't the government provide everyone with three square meals per day?

Only in a world with a limited supply is conservativism possible or coherent. Too bad we live in a world with very limited resources. Still, the ideal world, the one we should be striving for, is one where liberalism is perfectly sensible. And since American definitions of these terms are bizarre, I'd have to say that progressivism is the right term.

But conservatives seem to get blinded by moral ideas, instead of raw sociomechanics, which is on what they should be predicating their ideals. It is wrong for someone to expect something from other people or the government. Well, why? Isn't the point of a government to serve the citizenry? If a government is capable, I think that it should provide what it can. It's absurd to think that an ideal world would be a government that is nothing more than a court system and money issuer. In that formulation, no matter how advanced we get, we will always have poor, starving people. A competitive landscape requires losers. No world worth striving for has losers to the magnitude that capitalism requires.

Don't think I hate capitalism. I don't. I love it. I'm a HARD CORE free market advocate, but that's because in a world of very scare resources, that is the best path towards an overall better world, not because it's morally best to allow some to succeed over others. My moral drivers exist in the pushing forward of the human race, and capitalism currently does that. To me, it's the only system currently possible that does so.

Communism doesn't work. And if the experiments in the 1960's, and up to this very day, prove anything, it's that even in small groups it doesn't go too well. In that political system, I guess you could call it the extreme formulation of "it takes a village," the reason why small communes sort of work, and the Soviet Union was a disaster, is that there is a threshold passed from "I know everyone in the group" to "I don't know everyone in the group." Once that threshold is passed, instability is inherent. It cannot work.

Capitalism allows for a natural system of success with reward. Socialism sort of allows this, but in a world of limited resources, the government is forced to lean on the successful so strongly, that the reward is reduced past a point of diminishing return. Eventually, greater success does not bring a noticeable increase in profit, and the performance ceiling that exists in communism again happens, just at a higher point of productivity.

Still, it's been said that the measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members. I think that this is true not because weak members should be protected for some nebulous idea of morality, but because a wise society recognizes that the greatest achievements can come from the weakest members. Change and advancement comes from pain. If we were fat and happy, we'd have no reason to change anything. No reason to move forward. Pain delivers drive in greater amounts than any other state.

So, I like to think that utopia will arrive someday soon. No hunger, no disease. Only a wide open world of possibility where hippy ideals of peace, love, and poetry actually make some sense.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that true conservativism prevents the creation of great things. For example, in a purely conservative, free-market environment, projects must have a ROI, or return on investment. Massive public works cannot achieve such an ROI. If not for government spending, we would not have space travel, the highway system, pretty much every bridge in the country, etc. Massive works could not happen in a perfectly conservative world.

Sometimes, the tribe gets together to do big things that no one member could do. In a sense, that's socialism. I would also like to point out that most conservatives love spending buckets of money on military stuff, because they're paranoid weirdos. Or maybe it's because they realize that in a perfectly free market, things are pretty dangerous.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Man, Obama just keeps going after all the wrong things.

Everything is wrong with this article. 6,000 killed by driver distraction? So, yes, let's target cell phones. That's obviously the problem. You know what else is distracting? Kids. We should outlaw kids in the car. And reading books. I'm sure some people do that. Ooh ooh! We should also make sure to outlaw putting on makeup and changing clothing while driving. Some people do that.

Now, to pick apart specific aspects.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Distracted driving is an epidemic and it seems to be getting worse every year."

Seems? SEEMS? You fucker. Show me the money! And by money, I mean evidence. If you don't have evidence, DON'T SAY ANYTHING. Stop acting like you know what you're talking about. Stop acting like you're correct because you can use words like seems.

"The meeting gathered experts to examine the potentially deadly mix of driving with cell phones, mobile devices, and other distractions."

And other distractions? Wow. That's a huge "and." Might as well talk about attacking the causes of cancer by listing bad diet, power lines, and other things.

None of this is right. Two anecdotal stories discussing people who lost loved ones does not negate that the stories are anecdotal at best.

All of the data show that driving deaths are decreasing. Driving deaths peaked in 2005, but the crashes-per-capita and crashes per-miles-driven is the lowest it's been since 1994. Oh yeah, this is one hell of an epidemic. The roads are safer than ever before. Something must be done. Maybe more red light cameras!

The only area that is showing a marked increase is motorcycle deaths, and that heavily involves more people driving motorcycles. Since 2003, the number of registered motorcycles has increased by 19%, 58% since 1998. Moreover, motorcycle deaths have increased as laws about wearing helmets have ebbed. This is fine, since I see it as an issue of personal freedom. Someone who doesn't wear a helmet is an idiot, but that's their right. Moreover, the lack of helmets can't explain a significant increase in just the past ten years.

Perhaps it's just the Fast & Furious culture combined with bad driving? It seems that way (see, I can pretend like I have facts, too). The fact is that people are going to drive poorly. No matter what you do, people are going to try and eat, read, sleep, have sex (more common than you think), talk, and otherwise do things besides driving while driving. It cannot be legislated away, and all more laws do is give cops excuses to hand out more tickets that do nothing more than pack more money into the general fund. Just what we need. An even more parasitic government. Good job, Obama.

By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas, Associated Press Writer – Wed Sep 30, 6:42 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Driving while distracted is a growing peril in a nation reluctant to put down its cell phones and handheld devices even behind the wheel, the Obama administration declared on Wednesday. Officials said Congress and the public must team up to reduce the danger.

Opening a two-day meeting to find ways to reduce drivers' use of mobile devices, the Transportation Department reported that nearly 6,000 people were killed and a half-million were injured last year in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction. That includes drivers talking on cell phones and texting.

"To put it plainly, distracted driving is a menace to society," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Distracted driving is an epidemic and it seems to be getting worse every year."

The meeting gathered experts to examine the potentially deadly mix of driving with cell phones, mobile devices, and other distractions that divert attention from the road. LaHood said he would offer recommendations on Thursday that could lead to new restrictions on the use of the devices behind the wheel.

While the meeting focused on drivers using cell phones and mobile devices, participants noted that distractions could include reaching into the back seat, applying makeup or eating.

"I have nightmares about the last moments of my mother's life," said Greg Zaffke of Chicago, whose mother, Anita, was killed in May when a vehicle rear-ended her motorcycle at 50 mph. The driver had been painting her finger nails at the time of the crash.

Congress is watching the issue closely. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and other Democrats are pushing legislation that would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.

"We need every state to put safety first," Schumer told participants.

LaHood said the government would draw lessons from past efforts to reduce drunken driving and encourage motorists to wear seat belts, urging a "combination of strong laws, tough enforcement and ongoing public education."

The government reported that 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured last year in crashes where at least one form of driver distraction was reported. Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 and prevalent among many young drivers.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal and seven states and the District have banned driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Many safety groups have urged a nationwide ban on texting and on using hand-held mobile devices while behind the wheel.

Researchers grappled with the question of whether using a hands-free device was safer than using a hand-held phone behind the wheel. One researcher cautioned that hands-free devices could still cause distractions if the driver needed to dial the phone or handle the device.

"I think it's important that we recognize that hands free is not risk free," said Dr. John Lee, a University of Wisconsin researcher.

Others said laws banning hand-held cell phone use by drivers would be easier to enforce and warned that total bans could preclude technologies such as General Motors' OnStar, an in-vehicle system that alerts emergency rescue officials to a crash.

"You have to be really careful about unintended consequences of just saying we need a complete, total cell phone ban," said Dr. Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Family members of victims called for a complete ban by drivers and suggested technologies that prevent the mobile device from receiving e-mails or phone calls while the vehicle is in motion could address the problem.

"This isn't just a small problem. This is an epidemic," said Jennifer Smith of Grapevine, Texas. Her 61-year-old mother was killed last year in Oklahoma City by a young driver talking on a cell phone.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Green light... RED LIGHT!

Red light cameras cause more accidents. Speed cameras do the same. They are not about helping you. They are about revenue generation. The police and government are NOT your friends. They might not necessarily be your enemies, but they are certainly not your friends.

Despite All Sorts Of Laws And Automated Ticketing Cameras... Car Injuries Increased In The UK

Give's New Meaning to Sugardaddy.

Apparently, Mackenzie Phillips had a sexual relationship with her father, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.

There's been a lot of debate on whether it's possible for a relationship like that to be consensual, as stated by Ms. Phillips. While the details of Ms. Phillips relationship are weird and drug-addled, I think it could be entirely possible that the that type of relationship could be consensual.

First off, to properly address the situation, we have to set aside our initial disgust at the idea. Basically, as men, we have to set aside the unsettling idea of sex with our daughter, and as women, our father. In the paradigm of social interaction, models of parent and child are very strongly defined. This paradigm is inculcated at a young age. But why is the concept of father/daughter sex essentially disgusting?

Obviously, we understand that this is genetically wrong, because any children born would be highly likely to have developmental issues. This need to avoid malformed children seems to be genetically programmed into us and many advanced species, so that may be why it's seemingly "wrong" to us. Still, many types of social monkey groups seem to have only one sexual taboo: mother and son.

Is the reason it's disgusting because of our socially programmed idea of what defines a father and daughter? Would it be any less disgusting if a man who raised a girl from babyhood began a sexual relationship later, while was not genetically her father? Or what about a man and woman who fall in love, only to discover later that they are father and daughter? Why should the genetics make one scenario disgusting while not the other? Genetics are something we can't see, touch, taste. If the pair never have children, why is the situation at all wrong?

I admit, that I have a hard time separating the roles of father and daughter in the scenarios. Perhaps it's impossible for me to do so. But we cannot pass judgment so quickly. We should question what it is about our formulation of the concepts "father" and "daughter" that negates the possibility of sexual relations between the two. Is it evolutionary programming we cannot avoid? Is it social? I may find it disturbing, but must I?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Home School Yo' Ass.

Jezebel has a commentary about an article in Salon. Basically, it's someone with a minor pulpit from which to speak to defend an action of theirs that obviously gets a lot of flack. So, they have a chip on their shoulder and a computer. Stand back.

"The real purpose of all this formal schooling is to get the kids out of the house and train them to stand in line and follow instructions while mommy and daddy get back to their ultra-important lives as economic production units."

Oh great. Paranoia and anti-establishment all in one.

"Ordinary schools tend to socialize children by way of enclosed, age-homogeneous pods, while home schooling tends to socialize children through a wide range of interactions with older kids, younger kids and adults, as well as peers."

That would be great if at all true. If all the other kids are in school learning how to be good little robots, how the hell are your kids interacting with anyone? Show me the scientific paper supporting your view. Oh right. It doesn't exist.

I'm all for some of the happier, shinier aspects of home-schooling. Schools pretty much teach nothing. Worksheets are useless, most teachers up to high-school border on vegetative, and the efficacy of the whole damned thing is pretty debateable.

But that's not what school does. School lets us learn to socialize in an environment with very few real-world consequences. That's all that's important. In first and second grade, I went to a hyper-exclusive local school that gave me hours of free time to write books, paint, hang out, and do puzzles. My parents couldn't afford to send me after second (the price went up with year), and I went to a local public school for third. I am incredibly happy that I did.

I'm glad because the world is not full of rich white kids. It's full of blacks, and poor people, and assholes, and everything else you can imagine. Home schooling can not prepare you for these things, no matter how much the parents would like to think.

I have forgotten nearly everything I learned in elementary school, middle school, and only vaguely remember high school, but I'm glad I went.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More School Will Not Help

Obama continues to parrot the inane idea that our kids are falling behind the rest of the planet because we're simply not wedging enough info in their heads.

First off, this is beyond wrong. Everything with it is wrong. Nothing about this idea is right. Do you know what research shows about information taught during middle and high school years? That we hold on to almost none of it. We hold on to basic chunks of info, the grosser aspects, and the details are gone within a year. That means to me that school from an information stand-point is useless. Socially, school is critical, but for the actual education part? Damn near pointless.

Second, by what metric do our kids fall behind? Math tests? Well there's a huge surprise. They have fucking abacus competitions in Japan. But look at what Japan has been having to do over the past two decades. They've had to actively try and abandon their old ways because America showed them that simply knowing everything ever doesn't equal innovation, invention, and success.

Oh, and about Japan and its success with drilling students. Short quiz: What western country has the highest suicide rate by a country mile? That's right! Japan! And Korea isn't far behind.

Now, I'm not against school. School does teach us the basic skills that will allow us to succeed in whatever we decide to invest our time, otherwise known as a career, but that takes up a small amount of the time. The rest of the time is taken up with useless memorization.

I'm all for a redesign of our school system. Especially by high school, we need an entirely new paradigm. Unfortunately, I doubt it will ever happen. It would require lots of time, a dissolution of the teachers' union, and buckets of money. And even though politicians like to say children are our greatest resource, you didn't see Bush spending over $700 Billion on education.

Please, redesign the schools. I love the idea of school as a haven for children, where it's open for long hours. But please, for the love of God, don't make kids stay in longer learning shit THAT DOESN'T MATTER.

By LIBBY QUAID, AP Education Writer Libby Quaid, Ap Education Writer – 1 hr 16 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Barack Obama gets his way.

Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe.

"Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

"Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Fifth-grader Nakany Camara is of two minds. She likes the four-week summer program at her school, Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville, Md. Nakany enjoys seeing her friends there and thinks summer school helped boost her grades from two Cs to the honor roll.

But she doesn't want a longer school day. "I would walk straight out the door," she said.

Domonique Toombs felt the same way when she learned she would stay for an extra three hours each day in sixth grade at Boston's Clarence R. Edwards Middle School.

"I was like, `Wow, are you serious?'" she said. "That's three more hours I won't be able to chill with my friends after school."

Her school is part of a 3-year-old state initiative to add 300 hours of school time in nearly two dozen schools. Early results are positive. Even reluctant Domonique, who just started ninth grade, feels differently now. "I've learned a lot," she said.

Does Obama want every kid to do these things? School until dinnertime? Summer school? And what about the idea that kids today are overscheduled and need more time to play?


Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.

"Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here," Duncan told the AP. "I want to just level the playing field."

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it's not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).


Regardless, there is a strong case for adding time to the school day.

Researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution looked at math scores in countries that added math instruction time. Scores rose significantly, especially in countries that added minutes to the day, rather than days to the year.

"Ten minutes sounds trivial to a school day, but don't forget, these math periods in the U.S. average 45 minutes," Loveless said. "Percentage-wise, that's a pretty healthy increase."

In the U.S., there are many examples of gains when time is added to the school day.

Charter schools are known for having longer school days or weeks or years. For example, kids in the KIPP network of 82 charter schools across the country go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than three hours longer than the typical day. They go to school every other Saturday and for three weeks in the summer. KIPP eighth-grade classes exceed their school district averages on state tests.

In Massachusetts' expanded learning time initiative, early results indicate that kids in some schools do better on state tests than do kids at regular public schools. The extra time, which schools can add as hours or days, is for three things: core academics — kids struggling in English, for example, get an extra English class; more time for teachers; and enrichment time for kids.

Regular public schools are adding time, too, though it is optional and not usually part of the regular school day. Their calendar is pretty much set in stone. Most states set the minimum number of school days at 180 days, though a few require 175 to 179 days.

Several schools are going year-round by shortening summer vacation and lengthening other breaks.

Many schools are going beyond the traditional summer school model, in which schools give remedial help to kids who flunked or fell behind.

Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents.

That makes poor children almost totally dependent on their learning experience at school, said Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, home of the National Center for Summer Learning.

Disadvantaged kids, on the whole, make no progress in the summer, Alexander said. Some studies suggest they actually fall back. Wealthier kids have parents who read to them, have strong language skills and go to great lengths to give them learning opportunities such as computers, summer camp, vacations, music lessons, or playing on sports teams.

"If your parents are high school dropouts with low literacy levels and reading for pleasure is not hard-wired, it's hard to be a good role model for your children, even if you really want to be," Alexander said.

Extra time is not cheap. The Massachusetts program costs an extra $1,300 per student, or 12 percent to 15 percent more than regular per-student spending, said Jennifer Davis, a founder of the program. It received more than $17.5 million from the state Legislature last year.

The Montgomery County, Md., summer program, which includes Brookhaven, received $1.6 million in federal stimulus dollars to operate this year and next, but it runs for only 20 days.

Aside from improving academic performance, Education Secretary Duncan has a vision of schools as the heart of the community. Duncan, who was Chicago's schools chief, grew up studying alongside poor kids on the city's South Side as part of the tutoring program his mother still runs.

"Those hours from 3 o'clock to 7 o'clock are times of high anxiety for parents," Duncan said. "They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table."


Associated Press writer Russell Contreras in Boston contributed to this report.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jackson Christ

This is absurd.

People claim that Jackson Pollock hid his name in a painting. I can't even begin to explain how silly this is. For one thing, after learning what I was supposed to be looking for "Jackson Pollock," I went through the image and found the name. I then clicked on the full-size image of the painting to see where it was and, lo and behold, none of the letters I had found corresponded to the letters that supposedly exist. More interesting, many of the letters I found are more distinct than the ones listed. That means that if I found the name in the chaos, and someone else found the name in entirely different lines in the chaos, it either means that Pollock hid his name many times, or there's nothing there.

An experiment: I will try and find my name "Aaron Martin-Colby," in the chaos. It took me less than two minutes to do it.

There was a window near my local Stop & Shop that had an image of Bozo the Clown in it at certain times to day.

People see Jesus in almost anything.

After the DaVinci Code, people see secrets and codes in almost anything. If you're simply looking for patterns, post hoc analysis of anything is going to yield lots of crap that seems to make sense and be significant, but in all likelihood isn't. It's called pareidolia, and it's illustrated perfectly in this episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No morals.

Morals do not exist.

First, let's discuss what morals are. "It is wrong to kill" sounds like a good starting point. If we dissect that statement, we have basically two parts and an implied third. Something is right or wrong, and that something is an action. The implied third part is a rule that the action that is wrong should not be performed. "It is wrong to kill" implies "do not kill."

That's fine, but are morals really as simple as a rule? A dictate on action? Considering how highly we regard moral concepts, and how frequently they are spoken of in reverent tongues, the idea that they are nothing more than a rule seems antithetical to common thought. I am saying exactly that, though. Morals are nothing more that rules.

Depending on the semantics of the situation, I something classify morals as a very special kind of rule. Namely, a rule without which the system in which the rule applies would cease to function.

I must differentiate morals from ethics at this point. Many people regard the two words as effectively interchangeable. Morals can be part of an ehtical system, and I can be guided by my ethics as a human. Still, I think that the nebulous nature of the two words renders them useless in many terms, and I think that my distinction is one that is commonly held, even if it's rarely stated expressly. Morals are rules are behavior that apply to all humans simply because they are human, and ethics are rules of behavior accepted by an otherwise free person after accepting a certain post without society.

I am morally bound not to steal from anyone, but a doctor is ethically bound to not have sex with his patients. Since I am not a doctor, I am not ethically bound to do anything regarding patients. Truly, I have no patients. So, it seems that ethics could be considered a special class of morals, whereby they are in fact universal (all doctors cannot have sex with patients), but apply only if you become a doctor.

That brings up another aspect of morals: they are universal. They apply to everyone. Ethics possibly apply to everyone, because everyone could possibly become something to which ethics apply, so ethics are morals, just a specific type. Morals are one step up, they are universal if you are human.

My definition of morals are universal rules that are required. A rule against killing is required for society to function. It doesn't necessarily need a law or a large governing body, only a tacit agreement that those within a group won't off one another. I think that this may actually be part of evolutionary programming. Wolves in packs almost never kill one another, but they don't have advanced moral systems. The rule is required because without that recognized rule, society could not function. I'd always be worried about, and defending myself from, my neighbors.

Let's try stealing? There must be some recognition of stealing being bad since without it, the economy wouldn't function. Or lying? Communication would break down if lying wasn't wrong. Many things fall under my definition of morals, but many things that are frequently called moral wrongs do not. Rape is not a moral wrong in my book. A society can in fact function with lots of rape. It might not function terribly well, but it can. And since my morals and ethics are based on groups (humans, doctors, etc.) I could argue that it is not morally wrong to go outside of your group, kill everyone in an opposing group and take their stuff.

I think that for a moral to be a moral though, as opposed to tribal ethics I suppose, it must apply to all humans. I think that history supports this view over the view of tribal ethics allowing my group to kill a neighboring group for their stuff. History has been an irrevocably drive towards a larger, more global community, where my "neighbor" in Africa can be just as close as my neighbor across the street. I can talk with them and see them every day. I can mail things to them overnight. The world is so small, now. The world has also gotten progressively less violent when it comes to hot nation-on-nation action. Not only are morals actions to rules to live by, but the human animal seems to naturally move towards an acceptance of these values. Perhaps it's those mysterious mirror neurons and the empathy machine in action.

Whatever it is, people don't seem to naturally want to kill one another. Or rob from one another. And I think it's obvious why. A world that is low on violence, crime, and hot nation-on-nation action is a world with ever wider boundaries. The limits of what I can achieve and how easy and fun life is expand with increasing numbers of people accepting these rules.

Unfrotunately for my formulation of morals, it doesn't really make it sound like morals. Morals are right and wrong. As such, many people have many different kinds of morals. My formulation has removed the concept of right and wrong and replaced it with a somewhat self-serving economic perspective. That's not what people generally think of when they say the word "morals."

It is because of that, the morals in this popular sense are so fluid and flexible. That what is right for one person is wrong for another, that leads me to only one conclusion, morals do not exist. They exist in my sense of the word, but not in the sense of right and wrong. For example, my arguments work very well against Islamic extremists, but many Americans seem dead-set on saying that the Muslims are amoral monsters, when it's the Muslims saying the same thing about us. There is no firm ground onto which one can build arguments for either case.

Or take this article on Wired. Here, Hummer owners are actually embracing what they see as moral attacks on their viewpoint. So what do they do? Fully convinced of the righteousness of their own morals, they wrap themselves up in the very attacks directed at them, put a patriotic spin on them, and call themselves red-blooded Americans fighting the anti-American bias of the rest of the world. There is no way to win a moral argument, which means you're arguing about nothing, because if you were, someone could win. It would mean there was some substance underlying the conversation.

For example, I could argue that raising prices will increase sales (ignore the fact that newspapers are actually arguing this). But there is substance under this in the form of economics and econometrics. We can turn to measurements and history to show, unequivocally, that raising prices decreases sales. But that doesn't work in morals. I could argue that it's morally wrong to cheat on your wife. But you could argue that it's fine. Both stances are valid. Perhaps your wife doesn't mind that you sleep with other women. Perhaps you'll point out successful polygamous cultures while I'll point out statistics of marriage failure because of cheating.

There is no way to win a moral argument, which means there's no such thing as morals. They are only things that we like and dislike. Are comfortable with or uncomfortable with. I think that moral pursuits should be about finding that elusive solid ground from which unavoidable conclusions can be reached. An economic perspective seems to work well, where we do what's best for us, but that seems dangerously Randian. I think that a good moral argument is against a behavior that, if allowed, either increases danger or decreases freedom of other people. Strangely, many people's arguments against gay marriage is similar to this formulation, whereby they argue that letting gay marriage through would endanger traditional marriage.

Regardless, I think an immoral action is something that increases danger (as in the possibility of physical harm) or decreases freedom for others. I do not believe it is possible to be immoral against yourself. The finer aspects os ethics are complicated, e.g. doctors cannot have sex with patients for fear of psychological harm. Psychological harm can frequently lead to physical harm, but it's a pretty foggy boundary as to where that happens. A doctor cannot have sex with a patient, but I doubt that psychological harm could come from someone seeing pornography on a billboard.

Now that I think of it, perhaps the differentiation comes in the form of emotional harm and psychological harm. Yes, this must be the case or breaking up with a boyfriend would be morally wrong. Yes, you will hurt his feelings, but you will not damage him psychologically. A doctor, with a position of authority over a patient, could cause long-lasting legitimate psychological harm to a patient. Even though that is possible in the breaking up scenario, it is of low likelihood, and trying to avoid all instances of that possible outcome would have a serious impediment on our daily lives. We would be unable to say anything, do anything, or act in almost any way around anyone for the moral fear of hurting them psychologically.

I would argue that morals exist on a spectrum, where breaking up with a boyfriend is indeed morally wrong, but the degree of immorality is low. The immorality of killing your boyfriend is high, so that's where we have a rule. This is somewhat appealing to me, but it does damage to the idea that morals are easily stated rules of behavior that can be universally applied. But really, can anything be universally applied? It's wrong to kill. Unless you are defending yourself. Or a loved one. Or your friend. Or your pet? Or someones property? Or someone's good name? Where is the moral line drawn?

Ah well. My original formulation stands. A moral is a rule without which society could not function. We can break up with our boyfriends and society continues to function. We can kill in self defense and society continues to function. Our doctors can even sleep with their patients, and society continues to function... doctoring might not do too well, but the rest of us will be fine. As that, morals are absolute and easy to determine. Beyond that, morals are nebulous at best, don't exist at all at worst, and barely seem worth discussing either way. So why bother?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Atheism

I love this HuffPost piece on neo-atheists and how many of them are right-wing when it comes to international affairs. It's all terribly Randian to me, insofar as the outside world are a bunch of savages and we should just exercise our strength over them and do whatevs because they're a bunch of fuckers.

It was precisely that about Christopher Hitchens that turned me off to him: his support of the Iraq war. In my mind, basically, anyone who supported the Iraq war is an idiot. The fact that those who were against the war have pretty much been proven right (or left, I suppose) confirms that my position (no reason to invade) may have not been perfectly correct, but it was leagues more correct than the opposing viewpoint (good reason to invade).

I like Dawkins and Hitchens well enough, but their hyper-militant viewpoint about not just God, but a wider system of beliefs that are connected with religion, does damage to their position. The more points you try and open, the easier it is for your opponents to dig in at inconsistencies in your arguments. Stay focused and avoid ideology on your own part. Fighting ideology with ideology doesn't work.

Why the "New Atheists" are Right-Wing on Foreign Policy(

Community Service.

I have briefly mentioned my love of community service, but never in detail. Basically, I think that integrating the concept and practice of community service within a society is one of the great goals for any culture. I'm completely against conscription, such as found in Germany, since I view it as a total violation of a person's freedom. That's not to say that government shouldn't encourage community service through tax credits, organizations, and publicly recognized awards for the dedicated.

Just imagine, a department of community service where organizations, be they clean-up crews, churches, or Habitat for Humanity, sign up at the department and people who want to volunteer can either be sent where they're needed or pick what they want. The department than makes sure to advertise the benefits of volunteering and hosts parties, picnics, and other events to draw people in. It could be a place to meet friends, find dates, earn tax credits, hang out, get free food, and otherwise have a social and productive life when you're feeling bored.

I also see community service as the primary form of punishment for criminals. Incarceration doesn't work; two-thirds of criminals end up back in jail. Simply locking them up achieves no social good. If prison achieves no social good and the majority of criminals are not rehabilitated, what can be done?

I argue CS. It forces criminals into the world, where they learn social skills with otherwise upstanding people. They're out building and doing instead of hiding in bars or alleys with criminal friends. I don't want to sound too much like Big Brother, but it indoctrinates the criminal into the concept of an upstanding life. It draws a social good from their punishment, gives the criminal freedom and a life, and reduces the currently crippling prison load.

Let's use a drunk driver as an example. In Rhode Island, a drunk driver loses their license. Not a very good option since, unlike a city or a state with a better public transit system, a person in RI needs a car to survive. Imagine, instead, that the person gets 2,000 hours of CS. That's a full time job for a year. Combined with a real job, that person would have no time to drink and drive. They'd be too busy working. Yes, it would be difficult, but I imagine anyone with a brain would choose that over losing their license or going to jail. And frankly, they don't have the choice. They drank and drove. It's now the society's prerogative to punish and derive something good from something bad. That good can be CS.

Only the very worst criminals are incarcerated, which is as it should be. Prison does not rehabilitate and it serves no good, so it must be seen only as storage for those too dangerous to be roaming freely.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Minimum Wage.

I must admit having never given much thought to the minimum wage. It's such a massive element of modern economic practice, and was a part of my life for the period of time that I worked at a grocery store.

Still, I just read up on the issue and I'm torn. First, there has been a consensus among economists of any politcal ilk that the minimum wage raises unemployment: bad. But later studies are questioning this conclusion as biased: bad in a different way. Many studies show no connection at all between employment and minimum wage, indicating that the minimum wage is already near the equilibrium point for low-pay labor: good(?).

But then I have to question if the minimum wage is already set at the equilibrium point, why bother with the law at all? If all it does is make us feel good, like we're sticking up for the common man, we need to ditch that delusion and act based on reality. It doesn't matter if the law has no effect in either direction, merely having a pointless law is inefficiency we cannot afford. Get rid of the minimum wage.

Alternatives to a minimum wage likewise seem irrelevant to me. If the MW does nothing, and the world is adequate now, why bother with "alternatives." Any alternative to something that does nothing would also do nothing because there's nothing to replace. If we replaced the government-set minimum with something like collective bargaining, we end up with the same problem, namely wages are set in stone for minimum workers, restricting flexibility.

Logically, this could hurt workers who would, in a perfectly free market, be able to sell their labor for more than the set minimum, but with so much activity set on and around that minimum, all they can hope for is to at least start with everyone else. And if the worker disagreed, the totality of the labor market would be against him since it was he and his fellow workers who negotiated for the wage. I don't really know if that lost flexibility would be offset by higher pay for those who would have otherwise been paid less. And since this discussion should be about the health of the system and not the individual, lamenting one valuable worker's inability to get paid more cannot be lamented as an unacceptable injustice. If ten workers get paid more than they would in a perfectly free market, and only one worker gets paid less than he would, the system is likely better off.

I have to admit, I find little to disagree with in the concept of a refundable tax credit, aside from the fact that Britain's implementation of it is apparently a circus. But what I like most about the credit system is that we can apply credits to anything we want.

I am a huge advocate of community service. Encourage people to do it. Use it as the primary form of punishment for criminals. Hold state run service "parties" that act like giant socials where people clean up garbage or fix playgrounds. Implement a department of community service where people can sign up and be sent to wherever needs help. Attach tax credits to it. It's great. For every hour of community service a person can get a dollar in tax credit.