Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A refreshing bit of honesty

Just saw Senator Kay Hutchinson on the Kudlow Report. She was talking about Senator Reid's budget plan, and complained that it claimed $50B of cuts from reducing waste, fraud, and abuse. Her complaint was that this was not a real cut.

Now just think about that for a minute. What she is saying is that reducing spending is not the goal; saving $50B from eliminating waste is insufficient. She wants actual cuts to services, regardless of what the final cost is. If you could figure out how to deliver twice as much Welfare for the cost of a shiny nickelr, she would not accept that. Because her goal is not deficit reduction; it is government reduction.

Later in the broadcast she switched her complaint to be about the uncertain nature of such savings, so the honesty didn't last long. But it was nice of her to let the mask slip for a moment.

My response to Boehner's speech

I sold all the stocks out of my 401K.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

An empirical view of human nature

One of the enduring problems of our era is the conflict between two views of human nature: the Left asserts there is no such thing (man is purely a product of society), and the Right asserts it is supernatural and therefore transcendent (an immortal soul is not materially affected by social pressures). Both views are, of course, wrong.

Human beings are social animals. Much of our behavior is unconsciously controlled by social expectations. We do not have free will, in the sense that most people understand that term: our choices are completely determined by our circumstances.

However, we are not purely expressions of social policy, and the illusion of free will is necessary to functioning of both individuals and society. My standard example is temperature: there is no such thing as temperature at the atomic level. Temperature is not a fundamental constituent of the universe; rather, it is a description of the behavior of an aggregate. But this does not make it any less useful of a truth; trying to live without the concept of temperature will get you burned.

Free will is the same. Although we don't actually have it, we have to act as if we do. In practice this isn't so difficult, just as in practice atomic physicists have no trouble making a pot of tea without setting themselves on fire. Our brains are primed to use the concept of free will as an explanatory and predictive heuristic.

However, as usual, our common sense notions can be improved by scientific understanding. Here's a great article that explains how recognizing the limits of free will can make our criminal justice system more humane and effective: The Brain on Trial.

The important point of this article is that it emphasizes that prisons will still exist:

Biological explanation will not exculpate criminals; we will still remove from the streets lawbreakers who prove overaggresssive, underempathetic, and poor at controlling their impulses.

Just because we understand that people's actions are controlled by their circumstances doesn't mean we can't prevent them from doing bad actions. And by the way, a society in which criminals are locked up provides a set of circumstances which result in less people committing crime.

P.S. This post was composed on Safari, a piece of software so unremittingly bad that it has single-handedly convinced me to never buy a Macintosh.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Doubling down on crazy

Apparently the heart of the Democratic party wasn't enough. So Obama just gave up and completely caved in, offering a plan to the right of the Gang of Six which threatened to spark a rebellion from Congressional Democrats. He shoved the Democratic soul into a Chinese take-out box and sent it to Boehner's house.

And Boehner walked away empty-handed. Again.

You're welcome, Bruce Phillipes

Our trip started with my trademark difficulty: when I powered down the transformers for the PCs, the lights went out.

No problem; this happens a lot (oddly it's when I power them down, not up). All I have to do is flip the circuit breaker. But it's dark outside, so first I need the flashlight.

It doesn't work, despite the fact that I used it two days ago. Fine, so I get the backup flashlight. Nope. Change the batteries. Nope. Finally Sara had the bright idea to use the car headlights. So it only took us 10 minutes to turn off a computer.

Our flight was actually great. The plane had a lot of empty seats (at least in our section in the back) so we had a whole row to ourselves. The baby only slept for an hour, but she didn't cry very much. One young woman actually stopped us in the hallway in LA to tell us how good the baby was, and how she'd turned off her movie to listen every time Sophie laughed.

Once we got out of the International terminal in LA, I began to feel the psychic distress that is America settling down around me. Our flight on US Airways was a bit annoying. When printing out our boarding passes Sara had noticed that both tickets were booked under her name. Several phone calls later I was forced to buy a new ticket, because the airline simply refused to change the name on the existing one (they did offer me a refund, but the fee for using the refund was $150 and the ticket was only $70). Why in the world do the airlines even have a "non-transferable" policy? They sold a seat, and somebody was going to be in it. How does it affect the profitability of their operations if it's a different person? Of course, I imagine they make a fair amount of money off of their customer's mistakes.

Anyway, we checked in for the flight, and I explained the situation to the clerk. I offered to sell them the ticket back if they needed it, but she said they didn't have anyone on standby. So just before the plane lifts off, guess who sits in my paid-for but unoccupied seat? A US Airways employee.

I explained the situation to him, and he offered to vacate the seat and spend the flight on the jump seat up in the cockpit. But it turns out I'm not a complete jerk. Given that he already had a legitimate seat on the plane, I wasn't going to make him suffer in an uncomfortable seat for no reason. When push came to shove, I was unable to view him as a policy object instead of a person.

But only because he was a working stiff. If he'd been an executive, I would have laughed in his face. Of course, executives don't fly jump seats; they fly in First Class.

I will say this about America, though: we bought some bananas for $2 a pound - about 25% of what they cost in Oz at the moment.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Off to America

We're off to America for a while - just in time for when the money runs out. It will be interesting to see what differences I feel, although mostly I'm expecting only to notice driving habits.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Supply side sense

Even the Wall Street Journal can find a nut once in a while:

"Dearth of Demand Seen Behind Weak Hiring."

Like I said in my earlier post, you don't hire unless you have someone to sell to. Henry Ford figured this out, when he paid his workers the scandalous wage of $5 a day (twice what everyone else was paying)> Not only did turnover in his factory drop to levels so low they weren't worth measuring (compared to the average of 60%!), his workers could afford to buy his cars, thus creating demand.

Apparently, those lessons were forgotten by the so-called fiscal conservatives.

Evidence for conspiracy

In case you thought my previous post was a bit too conspiratorial (corporations are hoarding cash to buy up the country), look at this:

29 companies have more cash on hand than the US Treasury

These "job creators" are sitting on huge bank accounts. Why would anyone think that giving them tax breaks and more cash would result in them creating jobs?

They'll hire people when they need more workers to meet demand. In the meantime they'll wait for deflation, and then buy assets at bargain rates. Sadly, it appears the one commodity they are spending on right now are Congressmen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Complete insanity

The Republicans have gone insane. Polls show 40% of them do not think going into default would be catastrophic.

Remember, these are the same people who keep comparing the US government to an ordinary household. "We have to live within our means, tighten our belts, yadda yadda yadda." Well, what happens to an ordinary household that stops paying its bills?

They lose their house. The bank takes it away. And that's what's going to happen here. The economy will crash, the dollar will collapse, deflation will explode, houses will be repossessed and sold at auction, and people with huge reserves of cash will buy everything. The bankers will use the money we gave them in the bailout to buy our public assets. Then they will lend us that money back again, at higher interest rates.

Well, I say us, but really I mean you. I live in a sane country, where 40% of the electorate does not believe that sabotaging the country for the benefit of bankers is a good idea.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Proof of strategy

First, see my previous post.

Second, read this: Boehner rejects debt limit deal

Third, send me kudos and flowers.

Obama cut out the heart of the Democratic party (you can still hear the Lefties squealing in outrage), laid it on a silver platter in front of Boehner, and the Speaker... walked away empty-handed.

Man, I love being right. Maybe I should get me one of those big-shot political pundit gigs. Oh wait, I already have a job writing fantasy. :D

Friday, July 8, 2011

Evidence of strategy

Over at DKOS there is a diary about Obama's response to a fairly typical Progressive whine-fest. The diarist had written a litany of complaints via email (to be fair, all of his complaints are valid), and Obama sent back this hand-written response:

I read your letter, and regret your disappointment. Perhaps from your vantage point it looks like I’ve betrayed working people. From my vantage point, we’ve rescued the country from a Great Depression, saved the auto industry, passed health care reform, strengthened financial oversight, ended the war in Iraq, ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, reversed eight years of anti-labor and anti-environmental regulation, expanded student aid to millions of young people, made the largest investment in clean energy in our history, and started enforcing our civil rights laws again. And this all in the face of an intransigent opposition.

Have we gotten everything we want? No. But that’s not how a democracy works. So rather than give up hope, I’d suggest you stay involved and keep working with like minded folks to bring about a fairer, more prosperous America.
The POTUS replies

Now consider that final paragraph in light of my previous comment about tactics. Doesn't that sound exactly like a leader saying, "Stand your ground! We've won plenty of battles, we'll win this one, even though we had to give a little ground first."

It also sounds like a man really, really tired of having to remind people that he's actually accomplished things. Seriously, this whole Progressive meme of writing him off as a failure feels like a Republican talking point. Why are Progressives voluntarily repeating Republican talking points? Well, because many Progressives are indistinguishable from Tea Partiers, aside from the trivial difference of a few policy details.

Anybody who expects the President to drag the country to where they want it to be is an Authortarian; whether they are Left or Right hardly matters.