Thursday, May 30, 2013

Goodbye Jack, you will be missed

Jack Vance has died. One of the most under-rated, under-appreciated authors of our age, his influence in SF&F is deep and wide. He was one of those authors whom you can recognize from a single paragraph (it didn't hurt that said paragraph often contained a word you didn't know). My own book, The Kassa Gambit, was my tribute to the space-faring world-spanning political adventure he invented and perfected.

We all knew some time ago that Lurulu was his last book, but the thought of all those wonderful words now gone forever still makes me sad.

Jack Vance dies at 96

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Political Profiling

You know how certain people object to the objections to racial profiling? They point out that it only makes sense to look harder at certain groups, since terrorists and drug dealers are so often found in those certain groups.

Now those people have had a taste of their own medicine: the IRS, it seems, decided to focus its investigations in precisely those groups that displayed a certain profile heavily associated with tax-dodging.
But what about the specific targeting of Tea Party groups? Doesn't that show that this was all just a witch hunt against groups with right wing ideologies? Uh, no. It came up at exactly the time the office was getting flooded with a bunch of hastily prepared applications spewing from the Tea Party's messy birth. The edict went out expressly because the office was being flooded with a bunch of hastily prepared, clearly political, applications all using very similar terms.

The IRS scandal - all smoke, no fire

Apparently, fairness and civil liberties take a back seat to efficiency only when profiling minorities. When you're dealing with old white men, you have to be... color-blind.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What a libertarian is worth


Viking farmers were about the most self-sufficient imaginable. They tilled their own lands (ignoring the system of thralls and slavery), defended their own homes, and even made their own iron. A Viking farm could exist all by itself indefinitely. The ultimate libertarian dream.

Using Viking technology, a farmer can harvest about 3 tons of wheat. Which at the current spot price is less than a thousand dollars a year.

You can live off of three tons of wheat. You can even support a family. Vikings had decent lives, for medieval peasants, but the point is they were medieval peasants You can't support iPhones or heart-transplant surgery or jet airliners on three tons of wheat per farmer. If you want those things, you need to specialize. And specialization means each of us depends on the other, for everything from luxuries to basic necessities like food and janitorial service.

And if you're going to depend on other people for things, then you're going to have to give them an incentive to be dependable. You can't just go off and make your millions on hedge-fund strategies and then tell the janitors to suck it up. After all, the janitors can go back to three tons of wheat; heck, for a lot of people in the world that might be an improvement.

Civilization is a group enterprise. It depends on everyone from the top to the bottom. It doesn't even make sense to say that some people are more important than others: which brick in your house is "more important?" Removing any of them threatens the structural integrity of the entire edifice.

Libertarians are addicted to this ideal of self-reliance. But we know what self-reliance looks like; it looks like three tons of wheat a year. Agreeing to a collective strategy, accepting that people will contribute different things and possibly even amounts and yet everyone will benefit, is not a radical socialist idea: it's simply civilization. Obviously there are right ways and wrong ways to go about wealth redistribution, ways that are fairer and more effective versus ways that are less fair and horrifically inept, but the essence of wealth redistribution itself is far too necessary to even question its fundamental fairness.

At least, if you're willing to trade hysterical notions of moral hazard for iPhones, heart surgery, and jet airliners. I am sure there are a few idealists who would rather live in moral purity however penurious than sybaritic luxury at the cost of vague notions of property rights: but those societies always lose to the army that has jet fighters.

If this sounds like I'm defending Communism, in a sense I am: the Communist empire, as horrific as it was, was still a marked improvement over the Tsarist empire. Communism, as dreadful as it is, is still better than medieval peasantry.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Australian TV is a libertarian's dream

Channel Nine pulls next episode of The Voice

Nine would not confirm it but, Media understands the network did not have an episode to air tonight after the "Battle" rounds concluded last night but kept the program in TV guides to fool its competitors.

Changes to programming, "foxing" with schedules, and running episodes beyond natural half-hour breaks have become more frequent as the TV ratings battle heightens between the in-form Seven and Nine networks in an effort to keep audiences from changing channels.

What's the point of a DVR and a digital guide that lets you preset recordings of your favorite shows... if the broadcasters are going to lie to the guide?

We don't watch The Voice, but we have had this problem with Big Bang Theory. You can't actually tell when the new episode will be on, and you can't just record all of them because they show four episodes a day.

Friday, May 3, 2013

If we don't educate our culture, we are in for cultural re-education

Here is  case of a teenager being charged with felonies as an adult for mixing draino and tinfoil. These felony charges will stick with her for the rest of her life, barring her from careers as varied as law enforcement and nursing and programming computers for Raytheon. Her entire future is now compromised because she did something that literally one million other kids have done this year alone.

Teenager charged for learning while black

I seriously hope that this just simple racism, because simple racism would be better than admitting that in America, scientific curiosity is a crime.

Now, combine it with this fact:
44% of Republicans say "an armed revolution might be necessary to protect our liberties"

And just to show that the insanity is not limited to the hoi polli:

Congressmen says Obama is buying up all the ammunition

That's congressmen, as in plural. As in Federal elected officials.

Those cultural re-education camps aren't looking so impossible now, are they?

These people have drunk so deeply of the absinthe of fear that they are ill. Mentally ill. They spread these rumors so thick and fast that they can no longer remember which rumors they started and their maelstrom of terrors now overwhelms them, leaving them trembling, huddled, and unmoored.

People need to start standing up. People need to start shouting down the clowns of hate, laughing and hooting at Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck,. People need to be making fun of the people who listen to them to their face.

Because if you are listening to these people, you are surrounding yourself in cloud of madness. And you are spreading that madness. You are part of the problem.

And the only possible solution is mockery.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Education in America

Pol Pot infamously kick-started his cultural revolution by shooting everyone who could read. This is the ultimate reactionary fantasy, the desire to cut society back to the root and start over. It also represents the distrust and hatred the reactionary has for education (as opposed to indoctrination). The reactionary has always hated education, the midwife of reason; the reactionary has always understood that informed discourse is the surest guarantee of liberty.

To wit, I bring you this, extracted from a comment board:

My wife has certainly had enough. She's far more extroverted and conscious of social status than I, and though she's also the product of a Ph.D. program, she long ago stopped admitting it and by all measures is generally embarrassed to admit that she ever had anything to do with teaching, because she feels that it lowers others' opinions of her.

This is just one data point, of course; but it is raw data, straight from the street. And if you want more like it, I'm sure they're not hard to find.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cutting off your nose to spite the planet you live on

In a real-choice context, more conservative individuals were less likely to purchase a more expensive energy-efficient light bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message than when it was unlabeled.

Political ideology affects energy-efficiency attitudes and choice

This is not a rational reaction; it is an emotional one, and it really has no relation to climate science. It is the conservative mind rebelling against change, not mere technological change but social change, the upending of institutions and traditions that kept certain groups in power. You would think Republicans would be more sympathetic with the Imams; both groups, after all, are watching the political ground erode under their feet with astonishing rapidity.