Whither common sense?

The article I cite here is from the 19th. I wrote this entry last week, but left it to marinate in my brain because I wasn’t sure I said anything worth publishing. This needs to be fleshed out more, and I’m not sure I’ve convinced even myself. I’m posting it raw for future possibilities to build on the idea.

Megan McArdle asks a question:

Assume, for the nonce, that come January 2009, there will be a Democrat taking the oath of office. What will the blogosphere look like?

Compared to the netroots, right now, the rest of the political blogosphere is a demoralized and listless place. Libertarians are abandoning their mild preference in favor of Republicans, not for the Democrats, but for despair. On the conservative side, even ardent supporters of the president have tired of him. Everyone is out of plausible policy proposals. What is there to be in favor of? More tax cuts? An even more aggressive foreign policy?

Her answer is good and worth reading. Blogging is mostly a response, so it’ll morph into something new and interesting as the world changes. I think mostly is the key, though. What will blogging do to politics.

If nothing else, blogging has better shown how ridiculous political debates are, how unprincipled the arguments and, particularly, how despicable the players are as leaders. There is no audience that won’t be sold to a higher bidder. Only the most rabidly blind partisan doesn’t know that. (Admittedly, that’s a large-ish group, but the point is basic.)

What is there to be in favor of? This concerns me. I think we’re already seeing the future of this problem, represented by Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, and Barack Obama. Not all of this is bad, probably, but the potential is dangerous.

Candidate Huckabee is a creation of the blogosphere. Without a swell from whatever corner his support crawled¹ out of, his candidacy wouldn’t be news. He’d still be a no-name governor from a bottom-ranked state who pedals too much Jesus and too much nanny-state socialism. In the end this will probably be his undoing, as the blogoshpere invokes some of the corrective potential inherent in the American readiness to knock down those it builds up. A little extra light shows him to be the calculating politician he clearly is. And there’s a large segment of the population that hasn’t seen his shtick up close yet. (The blogosphere giveth, the nation taketh away?)

Ron Paul is a more compelling example. He is selling a set of solutions, which too much of the blogosphere is buying without sufficient skepticism and investigation. Too many of his ideas are simply wrong (gold standard) or worse, morally indefensible (immigration). The blogosphere is not as good at delayed, thought-out responses as it is at offering immediate, emotional defensiveness. The latter builds short-term momentum.

Carried on for too long, this becomes a phenomenon. I don’t think we’re there yet in the blogosphere’s influence, but it could happen. Support for the candidate centers on what his supporters claim he represents, not what he offers. With Ron Paul, he is the libertarian candidate while holding very few libertarian positions. His appeal rests on a dream of what might result that is neither claimed nor implied by what he’s saying. Unintended consequences fall on non-sober, well-intentioned dreams as easily as they fall on sober pandering.

Barack Obama is the most compelling example of what might happen, although compelling does not necessarily mean good. He’s changing the rhetoric of our current political climate by focusing more on optimism and change. That’s a winning formula, as the blogosphere’s reaction seems to embrace his effectiveness at speech-making with little-to-no concern for the sense of what he’s actually saying. His policies are little different from any of the other Democratic candidates, yet he gets a free pass on dumb. The search for the appearance of leadership explains this, I fear.

What is there to be in favor of? Huckabee’s supporters look to his faith in Jesus. They do not worry that saving people from themselves and for Jesus isn’t the job coming open next November. Paul’s supporters look to his lack of faith in the federal government. They do not worrying that he’s not against the states violating the rights the federal government violates. Obama’s supporters look to his faith that government can help people if it has the right leaders willing to solve the problems. They do not worry about how much this will cost or that it be the most efficient solution as long as the leader makes the government appear to care more. None of these approaches is good for us.

I admit I’m cynical about politicians and what they promise. But I can still react to what they say with a fair analysis of each proposal. On solving the issues, every candidate is awful. Of course I’m biased in thinking that the government shouldn’t be involved, but supporters of the government intervention every candidate promotes² should explain why each solution is the best solution, with details that do not rely on moral platitudes involving the poor, the rich, public health, family values, or our children. How will each solution help individuals without doing so at the expense of another?

Instead, each part of the blogosphere is promoting an atmosphere of unquestioning built on receiving from the Dear Leader it chooses. As I mentioned, I think there’s a corrective built into the American psyche. But I’d be happier if we engaged pro-actively in solutions rather than reactive adaptations to flawed ideas after they’ve come into ugly, morphed reality.

¹ Maybe I shouldn’t use a term that implies evolution. Without a wave of His finger from the entirety of Heaven that God created Huckabee’s support in His universe, to enable the Huckabee/Christ ticket…

² Spare me the rhetoric about how Rep. Paul is not promoting government intervention.

The ability to vote does not qualify the voter as an entrepreneur.

Consider this another reason I neither live in the District of Columbia nor have my business registered there.

The District could become the second U.S. city to require employers to provide paid sick leave to all workers, a move advocates say could protect employees from having to choose between keeping themselves healthy and keeping their job. Opponents say such a law could prompt businesses to reduce benefits and lay off workers.

The D.C. Council is scheduled to vote on the measure Jan. 8 after several months of negotiations.

Under the bill, large businesses, defined as having 51 employees or more, would have to provide up to seven days of paid leave. Small businesses — those with 10 or fewer workers — would have to offer up to three days. Two other categories of employers would fall in between, and part-time workers would get half the number of days.

What makes the D.C. city council so confident that it knows better how to run the businesses in its borders than the owners of those businesses? More importantly, what makes it believe that it has the right to dictate its opinions on proper compensation packages?

Employers would pay an average of $10.35 more a week per employee to be in compliance, said Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which studies the District’s finances. “It’s not nothing, but it’s not huge,” he said. “It’s not as big and scary as they think.”

Does the business owner think $10.35 more per week per employee, with no increase in productivity or revenue, is not huge? She bears the cost. Her opinion should matter exclusively, in anticipation and response to what her employees demand.

To put this in perspective, we must consider what that $10.35 means in practice, not in subjectively judged theory. Assume the minimum business required for full compliance, 51 employees. The cost is expressed as $10.35 because it appears insignificant. But the first thing the business owner will do is multiply $10.35 times 51 employees times 52 weeks. The result is a $27,448.20 increase in expenses for the employer. What could $27,448.20 buy instead? I’ll guess employee number 51 in my scenario, although the logic holds whether we’re talking about employee number 51 or employee number 63.

The first city to engage in this:

The D.C. measure falls short of a law on sick leave in San Francisco, which became a pioneer when 61 percent of voters approved a 2006 ballot initiative to require that employers of 10 or fewer workers provide five days of paid leave and that larger employers give nine days. The law went into effect in February.

How many of those 61 percent of voters malcontents run a business? Mob rule (allegedly) seeks to raise everyone up to a higher standard, but serves little purpose other than to bring everyone down to a base level. Aside from its illegitimacy, it is cruel. I doubt seriously that the employee who might’ve earned $27,448.20, or the customers who will now be asked to pay the expense, would prefer the sympathy over the money.

The clowns are piling into their car in preparation.

Who said this?

“If players believe they are wrongfully accused in the report,” [he] told the paper, “they are welcome to volunteer and we’ll take it under consideration. But as I understand it, all these players had a chance to cooperate [with Mitchell], and everyone declined to cooperate.

“So, to an extent, that’s what they get.”

That would be Congressman Tom Davis, who I believe was sworn to uphold the Constitution when he entered office. Allow me to unpack his assumption of what is acceptable:

  • Absence of a trial by jury.
  • Absence of a trial.
  • Absence of an indictment.
  • Absence of criminal charges.
  • Absence of Fifth Amendment rights.

I’m reminded today of all the reasons I despise being represented by a moronic, meddling malcontent.

Top Ethical Breakthrough, circa 1776: Individual Liberty

Time announced its year-end list. While everyone else is in freak-out mode about Putin being named “Man of the Year,” I’ll be in my corner noticing the perpetuation of the same silly myths through omission and a refusal to question. The top “medical breakthrough” of the year:

Circumcision Can Prevent HIV

In December 2006, the National Institutes of Health halted two clinical trials of male circumcision after an early review of the data showed that the procedure dramatically reduced transmission of HIV. Early this year, the details of those studies were published in the Lancet: In the two randomized trials, which included 7,780 HIV-negative men in Rakai, Uganda, and Kisumu, Kenya, researchers found that medically circumcised men were at least 51% less likely than uncircumcised [sic] men to acquire HIV during sex with women. The editors of the Lancet called the discovery “a new era for HIV prevention.” Scientists don’t know yet whether male circumcision can also provide protection for female partners — a new study on the hypothesis is forthcoming next year.

Aside from the general [sic] surrounding “prevention” in the title of its story, Time’s joined the mass blindness and ignored the two key words in the study, voluntary and adult. The glaring ethical problem created from the ommission of those two words means nothing, apparently. Of course, neither does the truth that researchers do not know the specific cause of this alleged benefit for men who engage in unprotected sex with HIV+ women, so I’m not going to fake surprise at this reporting.

Time’s reporting also ignores the potentially greater benefit provided by safe-sex education and the inherent fallacy in looking at data from a 21-month period in which the circumcised men were asked to refrain from sex for 6 weeks after the surgery and the latency period for the disease is up to 6 months. What’s 7.5 months over the long stretch of 21 months?

Please note that Time ranks this revelation ahead of such breakthroughs as a Test for Metastatic Breast Cancer, First Human Vaccine Against Bird Flu, and Early-Stage Test for Lung Cancer.


In related news, Time named this the top scientific breakthrough of the year. Now is a great time to mention how this improves the ethical debate. Instead of using human embryos, molecular biologist James Thomson figured out a way to create stem cells from “regular skin cells”. From Science Magazine (pdf):

Instead of cells from adults, Thomson and his team reprogrammed cells from fetal skin and from the foreskin of a newborn boy.

It’s a good thing we’ve resolved all the ethical issues in the stem cell debate, because taking the healthy skin of a living infant male is much better than taking cells from an embryo that will never be a living human. (Listen to an NPR interview on this story, with mention of Thomson’s use of an infant’s foreskin, here.)

Switch the gender. Would we accept this journalism?

Via Kevin, M.D., a doctor snapped a picture of his patient’s penis during surgery:

A Mayo Clinic Hospital surgeon in training used a cellphone to photograph a patient’s genitals during surgery and now may face disciplinary action and a patient’s attorney.

The doctor took the picture while installing a catheter in preparation of gallbladder surgery on the patient because the patient has “Hot Rod” tattooed on his penis. Obviously this is unprofessional conduct by the doctor and, in my opinion, deserves termination. But that’s just more “people are stupid” fodder. I’m more annoyed by a lack of maturity in the “journalism” surrounding the story:

After Hansen showed the photo to other members of the surgical staff, one phoned a Republic reporter on Monday and left an anonymous message about the incident.

Compare that to this sentence, also from the article:

Hansen told Dubowik that when he attached a catheter to the patient’s member, he had shot a picture.

Is it so complicated to use the accurate anatomical name for the body part? Is that low standard of maturity really too much to expect from a journalist and/or editor? Yes, member is a common euphemism for penis, but journalism should be above stupidity better suited to making a schoolboy snicker. Otherwise, I might believe that “members of the surgical staff” is meant to be hilarious.

How is Circuit City still in business?

I’m searching the Internets for a price on Season 1 of Heroes on DVD. This should be simple. At Amazon, one word – “Heroes”, obviously – typed into the search field and a quick press of the enter key and the results list Heroes as the number 1 result. Imagine that.

I tried the same approach at Circuit City, assuming it would result in something equally simple. Circuit City suggested 787 options. Heroes was not on the first page, although every version of Guitar Hero for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 2 appeared. “Go Pro Digital HERO 3 Digital Camera” was result number 1.

“Heroes dvd” gave me 14 items, none of which involved Heroes the television show. I was unhelpfully offered Heroes of Earth by Wang Leehom on CD as the first suggestion. The results decreased in relevancy from there, until reaching the end and a pitch for a Microsoft Xbox 360 Elite Console Bundle. Huh?

“Heroes” in Movies & Music faired no better. It’s mostly cartoons and John Wayne movies. “Heroes tv” returns “The Life and Works of Anton Dvorßk, Narration with Musical Excerpts” on CD, “In Search of Ancient Ireland” on DVD, and “Dynasty Warriors: GUNDAM” for PS3. A search for a few of the actors (Milo Ventimiglio, Adrian Pasdar, Ali Larter) suggests several B-movies and items available only for pre-order, but no Season 1 on DVD.

The only method I’ve discovered for finding the obscure little television show Heroes on the Circuit City website requires the following steps:

  1. Click the “Movies and Music” category.
  2. Click Movies.
  3. Click TV Shows from the specialty items.
  4. Scan the best sellers list down to the 15th item, which is Season 1 of Heroes on DVD.

Circuit City’s search functionality appears to have been designed by the hamsters deemed too incompetent to run on the wheel generating the power necessary to run its servers.

For what it’s worth, Amazon asks $41.99. Circuit City wants $49.99. Surprise. It costs real money to feed hamsters.

Subjective requirements have no standing.

Via Timothy Sandefur, here’s an interesting quote¹ from H.L. Mencken. The more robust excerpt that Mr. Sandefur presents deals with science versus religion, and how readily people of science submit to people of religion when truth exists solely on the side of science.

[I]t is the natural tendency of the ignorant to believe what is not true. In order to overcome that tendency it is not sufficient to exhibit the true; it is also necessary to expose and denounce the false. To admit that the false has any standing in court, that it ought to be handled gently because millions of morons cherish it and thousands of quacks make their livings propagating it—to admit this, as the more fatuous of the reconcilers of science and religion inevitably do, is to abandon a just cause to its enemies, cravenly and without excuse.

I would not use moron in my context (unthinking, maybe?), but this is spot-on as to why I refuse to bow before religion as a justification for infant male circumcision.

Religion is not an objective standard by which to judge anything, so excusing its invocation in the face of a healthy child lacking any and all medical need for surgical intervention on his genitals is absurd. Too many individuals correctly deem routine/ritual infant circumcision as a violation of the child’s rights, yet immediately clarify that they won’t judge if someone wishes to impose it as a religious requirement. I will judge, because the judgment is objectively valid.

Every person has an inherent right to remain free from harm without his explicit consent. No individual has a right to practice his or her religion on the body of another person who cannot (or does not) consent. Proxy consent assumes an implicit consent, if the parents even care what their son might choose. Regardless of the intent, such an undertaking is clear, identifiable harm. The body is healthy. There can be no way to confirm that the child would consent. Should he desire the unnecessary surgery for a ritual (or no) reason in the future, he retains that option. If it is forced on him, he is deprived of his option. The only reasonable assumption is that he would reject the surgery, even though we know that will not be unanimously true.

It is always better to offend the sensibilities of a cherished, mistaken notion than to permit an offense on the physical body of a non-consenting person to avoid offending the sensibilities of the offender.

¹ “Counter-Offensive,” reprinted in H.L. Mencken, Prejudices: Fifth Series 120-127 (1926).

“I think I’m a little concussed.”

I’m a fan of Jackass. There’s still a 12-year-old boy inside me who laughs with such stupidity. And it’s quite libertarian to believe that no one should stand in the way of people doing stupid things to and with their own bodies. So I was quite excited to read that Jackass 2.5 would debut for free on The Internets today. When I checked the website, a curious sight met me:

There is no such thing as a “silly little registration process”. From the FAQ:

Can I watch jackass 2.5 without registering?
No. You must register and confirm your email address in order to watch jackass 2.5.

Microsoft is free to set whatever rules it wants in its license for Silverlight™. I’m free to refuse to give over my e-mail address, even though I have an account I use specifically to soak up the inevitable abuse such nonsense creates. I don’t care how likely or unlikely it is that Silverlight™ delivers “the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web”. Interpreting that as Microsoft-speak for “locking users into a restricted, ‘preferred’ experience” makes so much more sense.

And then, there’s this:

How long is the movie available?
jackass 2.5 will be available for FREE exclusively on this site until 12/25/07. Starting 12/26/07, you can rent or purchase Jackass 2.5 at BLOCKBUSTER® stores and blockbuster.com, and download it at movielink.com.

Content-providers are free to offer their material as widely or as narrowly as they please. But I refuse to participate in such silliness. That kind of closed-minded thinking is the mark of a dinosaur. I prefer Netflix to Blockbuster, and I’d never deal with the DRM madness of a site like movielink, in which the viewing experience is tied exclusively to the crap that is Windows Media Player. There is a business-model here that (unintentionally) excludes someone like me. I can live with that. How long can they live with that?

Title reference here.

“Your home” requires ownership or contractual permission.

Government bans on smoking in public [sic] private places are antithetical to liberty and basic property rights. I will not change my view against them, but I find it impossible to get worked up about this story out of Seattle.

… The King County Housing Authority is banning smoking in all units at Plaza 17, the 70-unit apartment complex where [Jackie] Brooks has lived for 14 years.

In addition to the Plaza 17 in Auburn, the authority banned smoking at its 70-unit Northridge 1 in Shoreline and its 82-unit Nia Apartments at Greenbridge project under construction in White Center. The ban starts next month.

Some residents are upset, some are happy. The article also talks about the “strong national movement” to ban smoking, as if such populist demands matter. And the only mention of rights completely ignores property rights, the primary factor involved and so readily violated. None of this surprises.

Still, as a libertarian, I can’t get upset about a smoking ban in public housing. Whether or not government should be providing housing, sure. But it does. That’s the playing field we’re on. So the rules the government sets for our its property is its decision. Don’t like the smoking ban? Buy your own property or rent from an owner who does not mind smoking on her premises. Get it in the lease.

The article doesn’t mention any specifics of the current rental agreement between the tenants and the housing authority. If such a prohibition is an illegal alteration of the existing contract, argue that. I’ll support such an argument against this ban. But this issue is about property rights. Always has been, always will be, even when it leads to an outcome we wouldn’t choose for our property.

Via Radley Balko.

What’s good for us is not good for them.

So many nuggets in this story.

The federal budget deficit would have been 69 percent higher than the $162.8 billion reported two months ago if the government had used the same accounting methods as private companies, the Bush administration reported Monday.

The report was released by the Treasury Department and the president’s Office of Management and Budget. Under the accrual method of accounting, expenses are recorded when they are incurred rather than when they are paid. That raises the costs for liabilities such as pensions and health insurance.

Imagine that. Look at the picture as a whole and it looks worse. Now, why would Congress reject such accuracy?

The new report indicates that funding for Social Security and Medicare will come up $45 trillion short in the next 75 years in paying for projected benefits over that time frame.

Oh, right. But what’s a mere $45,000,000,000,000 in the grand scope of caring about people through government?

As it has for every report, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm, said it could not sign off on the books because of problems at various agencies, most notably the Defense Department.

In a letter, GAO Comptroller General David M. Walker did note that his agency was able to sign off on the financial statement for the Social Security and Medicare programs.

“The federal government did not maintain effective internal control over financial reporting, including safeguarding assets, and compliance with significant laws and regulations,” Walker said in his letter.

If you or I did that in our record-keeping, the government would assume our guilt, take everything we own and throw us in jail.

Then there’s this:

“The 2.6 trillion in record-breaking revenues that flowed into the Treasury this year reflect a healthy economy,” Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in a statement accompanying the new report.

It could just as easily reflect that Congress is taxing the American people heavily. Granted, I’d go along the lines of arguing that the $275,500,000,000 deficit reflects that the Congress and President are willing to spend beyond all rational bounds of fiscal responsibility. But that wouldn’t make anyone look favorable, so it must not be true. Right?