Saturday, March 31, 2012

I missed Earth Hour this year

And by missed, I mean did not participate.

The idea was tonight at 8:30 p.m. everyone was supposed to shut off all non-essential lights for one hour to draw attention to global warming and allow participants to ponder the issue while sitting uselessly in the dark.

What an awful way to promote environmentalism.

As my environmental-policy major girlfriend taught me, this sends the message that being good to the environment requires living without basic necessities like artificial light. The future of environmentally-friendly electricity will never take root by lowering the standard of living.

Instead, the future will require technological breakthroughs that will produce cheaper electricity that's good for the environment. Anything less is a doomed for failure. Let's turn on the lights and look for a real solution.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lenin the Utilitarian

I was proud of a post I wrote earlier this month on how utilitarian justifications has caused a lot of evil in the world because proponents lack perfect knowledge of the world.

Having now read a pair of posts Bryan Caplan wrote on the banality of Lenin, I now wish I had read Dostoyevsky's
Crime and Punishment in order to make superior literary references. Caplan's point is a little different, but falls along similar lines.

Protagonist Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov is an intellectual that declares great men are not restrained by morality. With the freedom to shed innocent blood they can bring great improvements to the world and should not be held accountable.

Caplan quotes Crime and Punishment at length and shows that Raskolnikov and Lenin shared many ideas. They hastily accepted utilitarianism, saw shedding rivers of innocent blood in a poetic light and praised the "extraordinary men" who is above common morality. Caplan continued:
More tellingly, if you read the entire chapter, you'll notice two typically Leninist omissions:

1. Even a token effort to show that any specific policy change would in fact have extremely good consequences.

2. Even a token effort to argue that well-targeted "terrible carnage" would greatly improve the probability of these policy changes being adopted.

The key difference between a normal utilitarian and a Leninist: When a normal utilitarian concludes that mass murder would maximize social utility, he checks his work! He goes over his calculations with a fine-tooth comb, hoping to discover a way to implement beneficial policy changes without horrific atrocities. The Leninist, in contrast, reasons backwards from the atrocities that emotionally inspire him to the utilitarian argument that morally justifies his atrocities.
I criticized some utilitarianism justifications as a false dichotomy. Caplan went beyond that and showed just how recklessly utilitarianism solutions can be picked.

Not only does utilitarianism inspire some people to commit evil in the name of ignorance, it's also applied lazily. While I stand by that utilitarianism plus ignorance equals death, when you throw in hubris and power the results are nothing short of mass murder.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Glad to have Anthony Kennedy on the bench

I've never been this excited awaiting a Supreme Court decision. I am opposed to President Obama's mandate that all adults are required to purchase health insurance or face punishment. This is to prevent adverse selection and is the linchpin of his health care reform program.

I want health care reform, but I feel this version would make things worse. The Supreme Court is not going to decide if the president's plan is a good idea, merely if it is legal for the government to require Americans to purchase a product or face a fine.

I don't know how it's going to turn out. I both oppose the mandate and find it unconstitutional, but because there's a split in the court I don't know if it will agree with my interpretation.

At this moment in history, we have a Supreme Court with four liberally-biased justices, four conservative-biased justices and Anthony Kennedy, the swing voter who often breaks ties.

The court does not always vote 5 to 4 on issues, but it's probably going to this time. With Kennedy on the bench, the verdict is not foretold and we're forced to use logic and reason to argue a specific interpretation. It's not always going to be that way, and I will mourn when one political viewpoint gains an absolute majority on the court.

No matter how Kennedy sides on this issue, I'm glad to know he's out there thinking things over instead of responding automatically.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why are we supposed to support solar panels again?

Mike Munger nailed this issue last week. Solar panels are supposed to be about providing clean energy, not make-work jobs to keep idle hands busy. So why did the Commerce Department recently announce an upcoming tariff on Chinese solar panels?

As I wrote back in September when U.S. Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) was beating the same war drums:
This is the kind of garbage you get when you put economic illiterates in positions of power. Wyden is just the latest in a long line of fools who say they want Americans to use environmentally-friendly energy sources, but when Chinese tax payers offer to pay part of the bill, these so-called environmentalists spaz out and threaten to place higher taxes on American consumers.
Solar panels are being implemented recklessly. They cause pollution when they are manufactured and break down within a few decades. Some of the regions they are put in aren't particularly sunny, so they never provide much electricity. It's a technology with a lot of potential, but installing them now is like spreading frosting on cake batter.

But Munger doesn't think any of that matters. He submits that solar panels are not about generating electricity.
This is not an environmental policy at all. It is an industrial policy (thinly) disguised as an environmental policy. We have decided that US corporations need to receive lots of extra dollars from consumers, and from taxpayers, so they will have enough cash to contribute to the Obama reelection campaign.
Is he right? It depends on one's perspective. From the view of the ordinary people I know who support solar, they really are motivated by environmentalist pipe dreams. However, from the perspective of the dark crypts of Washington DC, I think Munger's view is correct.

Remember loyal reader, there are Baptists who want to do well, but there's usually a few bootleggers hiding behind them pushing them along.


Friday, March 23, 2012

How did I miss that?

I was checking my Google Analytics page and saw something curious from last week.

It turns out Bryan Caplan had linked to my intellectual Turing test post, where I answered questions using leftist economic arguments and mixed them in with answers given by my Keynesian friends. This spike was about 150 percent of the size of the spike I got when I spoke at TAM 9 last July.

Caplan had a good question about why only two of the six questions concerned macroeconomics, thus being more saltwater than Keynesian. That's an error on my part, as I failed to request any distinction when I asked Josh Zelinsky to draft six economic questions for the experiment.

Regardless, I am an order of magnitude below Caplan's ability. The test could best be described as an attempt to make left-wing economic arguments, as opposed to a specifically Keynesian model.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Boredom is for boring people

A few years ago when I played World of Warcraft, every so often someone would log in and announce that they are bored. That is to say, they were on a computer, playing a video game, and wanted us to find amusement for them. I always did the mature thing, of course, and mercilessly mocked them.

There is no excuse to be bored today if you have a computer with Internet access. There is a wealth of information several orders of magnitude above the Library of Alexandria free for the taking. If the written word isn't your thing, there are video versions as well. There are podcasts in purely audio form. All of this is available in every subject imaginable.

There's even flash games, blogging sites and forums to exchange ideas with other people.

And that's just indoors. Globalization has brought different cultures into everyone's grasp. There is ethnic food, obscure music and niche movies that were completely out of reach to previous generations.

The only people who could be bored with these opportunities are boring people.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Suicide shouldn't change everything

It's been strange to see the pendulum swing so far in my lifetime in regards to bullying.

I was targeted by bullies as a kid and every time it caught the attention of the school, I received equal punishment for being "involved" with a fight. The circumstances didn't matter, even if I tried to walk away. This was injustice and the school officials clearly didn't care.

Now there's a trend of rushing vague anti-bullying bills into legislation and the rhetoric has gone off the deep end. I think it's great the bullying issue is getting attention, but they are going about it all wrong.

Rutger's University student Dharun Ravi faces 10 years in prison and deportation for taking several seconds of hidden video camera footage of his roommate kissing another man and sharing it on iChat. He turned it off, but then unsuccessfully tried to set it up again another night.

What Ravi did is a major invasion of privacy and certainly deserves punishment. But 10 years? This inflated punishment is because his roommate, Tyler Clementi, found out about the video, started the process of changing rooms, then unexpectedly killed himself. Gay advocates are treating this as if Ravi murdered Clementi. The lynch mob wants his blood.

The same mob mentality happened a few years ago when a woman posed as a teen boy online and mockingly flirt with her daughter's classmate Megan Meier. She killed herself after the fake teen boy broke things off, and the woman, Lori Drew, was tried for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for violating the terms of service of the social media website she talked to Meier on. This is a computer hacking law, something completely unrelated, and she was later acquitted.

I understand peoples contempt for Ravi and Drew. They are jerks. However, being a jerk isn't against the law, and these prosecutions are abusing the rule of law. They can not try the bullies for murder, so they are trumping up inappropriate charges like the CFAA to try to stick them with something.

This is an abuse of the court system, and we wouldn't care one bit about Ravi or Drew if no suicides had followed. The choice to commit suicide Clementi and Meier made was not rational or sane. These were clearly people with major mental issues that were not created by Ravi or Drew and these consequences could not reasonably be predicted from their actions.

The reaction to these cases may end up encouraging more suicides. Treating people who commit suicide with care and affection they would otherwise not receive gives people a marginal incentive to kill themselves. If a bullying victim knows that their suicide will get the tormentors a harsh term in prison, that may be enough to push someone over the edge.

Bullying is a real problem, but witch hunts are not the solution.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Are leftists abortion libertarians?

I've been properly warned that bringing up any aspect of the abortion issue will only bring chaos and polarization with it. I'm going to go ahead and write about it anyways, as I can't let this issue pass without saying something

The various state legislative bills that attempt to create red tape for abortion are a problem. They include making women get sonograms to see the unborn child, asking the mother to listen to a heartbeat, forcing doctors to recite pseudoscientific warnings about a phony link between abortion and breast cancer and increasing safety regulations for abortion clinics.

I have a universal issue with these tactics in that they are indirect and dishonest. The goal is to decrease abortions with emotional tactics and bureaucracy.

It would be different if they were filing direct legislation on the legality of abortion and confronting the issue head on. It's a moral issue that will always be with our society, and the debate is unfortunately ruled by the extremists. This is a tough issue.

But these social conservatives are going about it in sneaky ways. Just like those awful pictorial warnings on cigarettes, some abortion opponents have made progress by gumming up the works.

In Decemeber the state of Pennsylvania passed Senate Bill 732, which made abortion clinics follow the existing licensing regulations as other surgical clinics. The bill was written by state Rep. Matt Baker (R-Bradford/Tioga) who framed it as a way to protect the health of women.

I'm not the first to notice that the left predominantly defends abortion with libertarian language. The issue is always framed as protecting women's choices. The actual issue of what is being chosen is glossed over and avoided.

It was Baker's abortion clinic regulation bill that finally revealed to me how deep libertarianism penetrates the left on this issue. The Republicans filing these bills are trying to increase regulation, and the left wants a free market on abortion services. Baker's bill doesn't sound unreasonable, holding the clinics to high standards sounds like a way to protect women, but it's clear the real goal to to shut down as many abortion clinics as possible.

Last year Matthew Yglesias had a great post about "defense Keynesians," conservatives who argued military spending needs to be kept high to keep the Keynesian multiplier effect going. With all these pushes for abortion deregulation, the left has become abortion libertarians.

The caricature of libertarianism is an opposition to all regulation. This is false; the view can best be understood as an embrace of minimal legislation. Likewise, the left doesn't want zero regulations on abortion, they just want all needless regulation removed. It's really that simple.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Homeless hotspots are euvoluntary

The outrage of the week has been over a marketing firm that paid homeless people in Austin, Texas to carry portable Wi-Fi transmitters. These "homeless hotspots" received a daily wage and patrons were encouraged to give donations for the privilege of using the 4G network on their smartphones, tablets and laptops.

You can guess what happened next. People with nice roofs over their heads divided into two camps. One group loved the innovative idea that both gave money to the poor and provided a public good. The other saw it as dehumanizing and evil.

To find out who's right, let's turn once again to Mike Munger's concept of euvoluntary exchange and see if it meets all six requirements.

#1 conventional ownership

BBH Labs, the agency that created the program, owns the Wi-Fi equipment and made the shirts the homeless workers wear to advertise the service.

#2 conventional capacity to buy/sell

Homeless people are accustomed to collecting coins and small bills from strangers. Sometimes it's a tip for performing a task like shining shoes, wiping a car windshield clean or playing an instrument. Providing Wi-Fi is in the same vein.

#3 absence of regret

When NPR's Kai Ryssdal got the bright idea of asking what the actual homeless people who participate in the program think about it, he was enthusiasticly told they all love it and would gladly participate again.

#4 no uncompensated externalities

Claims that being exposure to Wi-Fi waves harms people is complete pseduoscience.

#5 neither party coerced by human agency

The only homeless people I heard who didn't want to participate in the program were concerned they wouldn't make as much money as begging.

#6 neither party coerced by circumstance; the disparity in BATNAs is not "too large"

The BATNA's appear small, as the most likely alternative is begging. Both tactics involve expecting strangers to fork over money, but with the mobile hotspot they have a great icebreaker.

Homeless Hotspots are a perfect example of euvoluntary exchange. The critics are right to say it's a shame that people can be homeless and have no better job opportunities than hanging out on the corner wearing a transmitter and a shirt with their name on it.

However, banning or discouraging these devices wouldn't solve the underlying homelessness problem. Instead, it would deprive these eager participants of a chance to interact with people in a fun atmosphere while making good money.

If you want to help the homeless rise above poverty, the solution is not to kick ladders out from under them.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Idiot hunting with the Southern Poverty Law Center

The self-appointed taxonomists of hate groups at the Southern Poverty Law Center released a list of Men's Rights websites they consider to be the work of hatemongers, and have idiot hunted the issue to prove that only bigots can care about injustices men face.

M-Hawkins did a good take down of some of the nonsense, and even referenced a classic post I wrote about the feminist shell game, where criticism of modern feminist causes like affirmative action is misrepresented as opposition to older victories like voting rights.

He did a great job of showing the polarizing impact modern feminists can have. Feminist caricatures like Gloria Allred say if you don't mimic her exact goals and tactics for reaching them, then you are an evil bigot. There is nothing in between, she says. By the Southern Poverty Law Center's logic, her existence should disprove feminism as a legitimate movement.

It's also Allred's with-us-or-against-us thinking that leads to nonsense like this. Some of the examples on the list of Men's Rights deserve harsh criticism and are belligerently sexist, but then there are descriptions of pages like the MensActivism blog:
This website tracks news and information about men’s issues from around the world, with a focus on activism — and outrage. Par for the course are lurid headlines like this one: “Pakistani wife kills, cooks husband for lusting over daughter.” The site also runs stories like the one it headlined “Australia: Girl, 13, charged after taxi knife attack” that involve no abuse accusations, but are merely meant to undermine what the site claims is “the myth that women are less violent than men.”
What's the problem here?

Here's the kicker for the SAVE Series page
The site trumpets as a “key fact” that “[f]emale initiation of partner violence is the leading reason for the woman becoming a victim of subsequent violence,” even though a study shows that approximately twice as many women as men are injured during incidents of domestic violence.
That's poor reasoning. The Southern Poverty Law Center is trying to sweep male domestic violence victims under the rug, and their broken logic assumes they can judge who started a fight by who reported an injury afterwards. This is a basic failure in logic, but it's presented like some kind of trump card.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is guilty of idiot hunting. They have found some idiots on the web, an easy task no doubt, and used those anecdotal examples to "prove" that a civil rights cause is illegitimate. Shame on them, as Men's Rights advocates have shown a lot of potential.

I've learned a lot from Warren Farrell over the years and his brand of masculinism is truly a quest for gender equality.

Farrell declared we live in a bi-sexist society, where both genders have their own problems. That's not a way of saying men and women have an equal amount of problems, nor is it a wish to undue the progress women have made. Instead it's a desire to bring both genders forward with more progress.

The good feminists are out there fighting for gender equality, and by their own admission they have left a gap to be filled for men's issues.

False rape accusations, domestic violence and custody laws are real issues that need to be addressed, and I'm glad to see civil rights activists are out there tackling them. It's terrible that some jerks who want to turn back progress have made some idiot blog posts, but that doesn't disprove the important work other people are doing.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Deregulate local food

How bad can a situation be for local food advocates when critics like me have to come to their side?

Here's a typical example. In November the Quail Hollow Farm in Nevada hosted a five-course meal and the owners say they met all the standards they were told ahead of time, but then the health department waited for the event to start before they cited additional unmet requests and destroyed the food.

My niche for this blog has been to provide a reality check to the buy local movement. I mostly write about the pseudo scientific economic selling points, but I occasionally branch out to the phony environmental and health claims. Quail Hollow Farm is guilty of these too. These advocates make plenty of other fictional claims like "fresh locally-grown fruits and vegetables are indispensable for optimal nutrition and health" on their list of core values, but none of this has anything to do with the awful health regulations the government enforces.

The slow wheels of government has not caught up to this cottage industry of local food advocates. While I disagree with their motives and values, I feel sickened to see their consumer choices being thwarted by government officials allegedly out of paternalistic concern. It's much easier to create government restrictions than remove them, and these locavores are paying the price for bad legislation.

People on the left seem to have a knee-jerk response to the idea of deregulation. Let this example shine through to that logic. While regulation is needed in some very specific areas, we should never assume that our current level of regulation is optimal. It's easy to image a dangerous over-regulated situation, and we should always be open to arguments to remove or add additional regulations.

There's something very wrong with assuming all food is considered poison until proven otherwise, and anyone should be able to recognize that. I'm glad to see the locavores carrying that torch.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Vegan potlucks and free speech

I've written before about campaigns to punish something for positions they hold or things they've said. I've said they are in opposition to the spirit of free speech when used as an excuse to silence someones. I've also given them a limited defense when used to disqualify someone from an institutional position out of concern for their competence. I'm concerned this may be special pleading on my part, but I am trying to make an important distinction. This is a gray issue.

Members of the left are currently campaigning to pull Rush Limbaugh from the air, and are using his latest blowout as an excuse. This involves people boycotting companies they would never purchase from in the first place unless they stop sponsoring the program.

Their usual defense is, it's my right of free speech to tell these companies what I think, and as a customer, I can refuse to support a company for any reason I want. Both of these points are true, but miss the point.

These campaigns to yank the platform from a private speaker are not in the spirit of free speech. Just as voting for a candidate who promises to become a dictator if elected would not be in the spirit of democracy, using free speech to block other people from hearing a controversial speaker is not in the spirit of free speech.

It's what Bill O'Reilly was talking about when he said a campaign to fire Ellen DeGeneres as spokeswoman for JC Penney department stores because she's gay "isn't in the spirit of America" despite being a perfectly legal action under American law.

The same thing was true when the conservative Florida Family Association used identical tactics to get Lowes to pull sponsorship from the show All-American Muslim because they didn't want a show portraying Muslims as good Americans on the air.

But my political opponents will say that in both those cases, the campaign's were wrong and bigoted. In Limbaugh's case, he truly was saying something offensive. He was, but the people who jumped on these platform yanking campaigns were just being opportunistic to strike at someone they didn't like.

I've had to go to the Huffington Post to find other people who agree with me:

Democrats in Congress, attacking the conservative talk show host, claim to be outraged, shocked and offended. But, like Claude Rains in the movie Casablanca ("I'm shocked! Shocked to find gambling going on here!"), they are actually delighted! delighted! at Limbaugh's failure of self-censorship, and not remotely surprised by the sentiments so revealed. For liberals in Washington, Limbaugh's gaffe is like a warm, sunny day in February.
That was Peter Scheer. In a post titled "Rush Limbaugh's Advertiser Desertion Feels Good, But Why Doesn't It Feel Right?" Scott Mendelson wrote:
I have to admit that it's a little disarming -- scary, even -- to see the blinding speed and brutal effectiveness with which this activism took place. It feels good because I happen to be on the same side of the political (and moral) fence as the activists. But what happens next time we get targeted... again?
The issue here is what I call the "vegan potluck" approach to controversy. Vegans will only eat vegan food, and the rest of the public can eat vegan food as well, but vegans can't eat normal food. Even if only one percent of the pot-luckers are vegan, organizers striving to avoid controversy can make all the food vegan-friendly. The problem is that most vegan food tastes awful, and a lot of people will have a miserable meal.

Vegan potlucks cater to the hypersensitive and that's what tolerating these tactics lead to. But what is the defense for platform yanking? The only thing that I believe will work is an arms race of boycotts

About a month ago the Komen Foundation tried to commit the unspeakable act of not giving money to Planned Parenthood, which was mischaracterized as opposing Planned Parenthood and not simply taking a neutral stance. This action was reversed after a boycott and media campaign.

Unless we want businesses to be held hostage by whining, the best option is to whine back. I don't think conservatives will ever be able to muster the fake outrage of the left, but both sides have a lot of experience with it. The secondary pretend-boycott does not have to be larger than the first, it just has to be big enough to tip the scales back to where they were.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The problem with social activism

Today a few posts came out detailing the lies of the "Kony 2012" campaign, which is supposedly attempting to help authorities capture Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army militant group. Unfortunately the campaign appears to merely be a money making scheme for the campaign organizers, and the 31 percent of funds they do put towards the cause is being given to a corrupt dictator's rape squads. Kony is an evil man, but campaign organizers are exploiting a genocide for personal profit.

This issue makes me miss Bill Easterly's Aid Watch blog.

In addition, this destructive campaign's popularity reminds me of the problems with the life cycle of social activists.

Here's what it should be: A person receives a rigorous education on a subject and observes a real problem in a related dimension. Our subject discovers a possible solution and after some hard work and serious research, embarks on a campaign to encourage other people to support our newly-appointed activist's mission.

If only life worked that way. Here's what really happens far too often:

A person listens to an activist, be it in person, in an essay or through a video, and copies that person's position. The listener/reader/viewer decides to get involved, takes in more information from established activists and spews it out to the public, unchanged, with no attempt to check its authenticity through outside sources. Other people witness this echo effect and the process begins anew.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Utilitarianism for the greater evil

Good ideas have a tendency to crash and burn when they move from the textbook to the streets.

Like every former Philosophy 101 student, I accepted utilitarianism's call to commit a limited amount of evil in order to vanquish a larger evil. The classic case is the "innocent fat man" where a group of people are stuck in a cave that is starting to flood from high tide. An innocent fat man becomes stuck in the only exit, and the only way to save the lives of the innocent people is to dynamite porky.

There's also the trolley problem, where five people standing on railroad tracks are oblivious to a speeding train, and the only way to save them is to throw the switch and redirect the train to another track where it will kill one person instead of five.

Of course, it's never that simple in real life. These fables assume godlike knowledge of the situation. What if the cave was only going to flood knee-deep levels and there were small holes to breath from? What if the five people on the train tracks weren't oblivious to the train or were planting a bomb?

They also assume a dichotomy of actions. Do nothing, or kill. There's no option to swim out of the cave, wait for rescuers or warn the people on the tracks.

Case in point a video posted this morning of far-left leaders discussing rioting and violence as ways to achieve their goals. This wasn't a collection of ground level recruits who said something idiotic or atypical. This was a public meeting last month at the New School in New York City about what the goals and tactics of the Occupy Wall Street movement should be. After some generic anti-capitalist nonsense, activist leader Yotam Marom said:
Why are we, like harassing ourselves about broken windows and bombs when we should be talking about police brutality... I don't even want to get into the questions of whether it's ethical or not ethical to use violence in such and such. That's why I said earlier that it's about context... This system is incredibly violent and no amount of broken windows will ever add up to the misery of loss of human potential that these systems of oppression have yielded.
Marom and several other speakers at the summit invoked utilitarianism as a justification for violence. They believe that the system, man is so evil that it's excusable to use violence to reach their political goals.

If there's one lesson we can take from the Soviet Union, it should be how much evil can be heaped upon the innocent in a bloody quest to rid the world of an imagined devil. There is no one alive who can evaluate the suffering caused by murderers like Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin and say that was a better society than one that would have existed under capitalism.

And just like those communist murderers, the violent far-left is eager to spill blood to fight capitalism because they believe it causes more evil. This is what utilitarianism has brought the world.

This is the secular version of holy genocides carried out by religious men who committed atrocities in the name of a peaceful god. Every religious war is an exercise in utilitarianism. People who consider themselves good and just will become butchers when fooled into believing their actions are justified because of words written in a book, be it the Bible, the Quran or Mao's Little Red Book.

These utilitarian thugs assume they understand how the world works perfectly. People like Marom are so confident that capitalism is an evil that they are willing to injure or even kill people. Utilitarianism plus ignorance equals innocent victims.

When you ask people if a violent action would be justified to stop the Nazi war machine in World War II, and then turn that logic to stopping a peaceful system like capitalism, you end up creating evil in the name of a greater evil.

Utilitarianism also assumes false dichotomies, such as violent actions or peaceful protests are the only options. They think their violence will be more effective than peaceful actions and haven't considered that there is a world of other ways to reach their goals.

The same fallacies apply to the few cases of abortion doctor assassinations and the idea that we should torture a suspected terrorist to prevent a future attack. How do you know for sure he's a terrorist and that he can provide information to stop an attack? Torture use sounds great on paper, but it gets murky when you factor in the potential innocence of the suspect.

In theory, utilitarianism is a compromise for the greater good. It can do good things like help the poor and save lives. But in practice, it becomes the ultimate act of hubris. It justifies human sacrifices in the names of false gods. We are all flawed thinkers, but it assumes perfect information.

Utilitarianism carries a great potential for evil and should be handled like plutonium. It can improve things when used responsibly, but when combined with ignorance it makes the world far worse.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Two villains and no hero

As a conservative blogger who writes for a liberal audience, I feel duty-bound to address this week's Rush Limbaugh quagmire, even though its a sticky issue I wish I could just avoid. In this tale, both sides are wrong in their own way.

Here's the narrative my dear friends on the left believe happened: College student Sandra Fluke spoke before congress advocating that all insurance plans should cover birth control, and conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute" for being on birth control and advocating its use.

The real story is very different, but it still ends with Rush Limbaugh shamefully using the word "slut." I am not going to ignore the negative response I felt this week when I read the transcript of his full comment, which can be heard here. I do enjoy listening to Rush, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly occasionally and I make no apologies for that, and I still feel Rush crossed the line here. This entry is not to excuse his words, but to put them in their proper context and correct the misinformation.

After initially being denied a chance to speak, activist Sandra Fluke spoke before congress advocating a federal mandate that all health insurance programs should be required to provide birth control to women without copayments. Then she made a claim no reasonable person could believe is true.

I've written several times about why I oppose health insurance mandates because they drive up the cost of health care, forcing more people to be uninsured. Insurance is about spreading out risk, not about creating a club where routine services are provided. My opposition is to the mandate, not the service being mandated.

Yet that's what the left is claiming this is about. I am being told that my stance is secretly against birth control and contraceptives. This couldn't be further from the truth, I support keeping those important services legal. When a person is told obnoxious lies about what's in their heart, the natural response is tribalism and my brain naturally drifted towards making a full defense of Rush. However, I was able to keep in mind how I felt when I heard his choice of words and I have resisted the sirens call.

An important point being left out is that Rush wasn't actually saying Fluke is promiscuous. He was mocking her for a whopper she told during her congressional testimony.

Fluke, who is about 30 and something of a lobbyist, told congress that women can spend as much as $3,000 on birth control during the three years they are in law school, and this price is too high. She gave no other numbers and tried to mislead the public into believing contraceptive costs $1,000 a year.

This is absurd. She made no attempt to prove this figure's validity and the numbers don't add up. Planned Parenthood lists a cost of $180 to $600 a year for birth control pills, and a report from U.S. News compared all rival methods and gave the range of contraceptives from $60 to $600 a year. Her numbers are inflated to the point of being a lie, and she made no attempt to explain them as outliers.

Parodies came out saying that in order to spend this much money, one would have to use massive piles of condoms. Using a high estimate of $1 for each condom, that comes out to using 2.74 condoms a day, every day, for three years.

Rush was pretending that Flukes absurd numbers were factual, not a lie, and called her that vulgar word because he saw her as claiming to be having sex several times every day with people she doesn't know well enough to ask them to chip in. He was pretending she was telling the truth and added to it, saying that if she wants other people to pay for her unreasonably high rate of contraceptive use, the public should be able to watch.

Rush issued an apology on his website, sticking to his point but apologizing for calling her a slut. I'm glad he did that. I see his only sin was being vulgar, as his joke was rational. It caught so much attention that some liberals even stopped mocking the recent death of conservative activist Andrew Breitbart in order to shame Rush for his lack of civility.

This was political opportunism, of course, and the issue has been twisted to say that it's anti-woman to oppose this new government mandate. President Barack Obama sprung this requirement on the public as a result of closed-door meetings with lobbyists like Fluke. There was no public debate on the matter.

Yet, the left has responded as if forcing all insurance programs to cover birth control is a given. Obama sprung this issue on the public, and opposing the mandate is not the same as opposing birth control. This was a story with no good guys, as one was dishonest and the other made a joke about it in bad taste.

Addendum: It just occurred to me that this is strikingly similar to when Congressman Alan Grayson called Linda Robertson a "K Street whore" on the radio. If you want to crucify Rush and still support the smug manatee, then you need to reevaluate your life.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Accepting the conservative mantle

This morning I got a press release from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts about U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-MA, who voted in favor of the failed "Blunt Amendment" that would have allowed employer-provided health insurance plans to avoid covering certain things, such as birth control.

Reading through this press release reminded me that while I agree with progressives on many issues, we share nothing in common in mindset or motivation.

I added some emphasis to an excerpt to show the leftwing mindset I can not accept.
“The reality is that the Blunt Amendment undermines fundamental tenets of the Affordable Care Act and the integrity of our nation’s health care system,” said Dianne Luby, President/CEO of PPLM. “We’re very disappointed that Senator Brown supported this attack on basic health care access. Then again, he did campaign in 2010 on promises to be the critical vote to defeat health care reform.”

Opponents of women’s health spearheaded the Blunt Amendment because they are not satisfied with President Obama’s recent decision to ensure that all women have access to affordable care. The Blunt Amendment is designed to undo important public health benefits that all Americans need and deserve.
Let's take this in order. We are to believe that Brown is "attacking" peoples rights, loves the current health care system and opposes any changes and wants women to be unhealthy. We're also told that president Obama can sign a piece of paper to make a consequence-free edict that people will have access to medical services.

I have consistently opposed all mandates from the government that make health insurance plans illegal unless they cover specific health products unrelated to catastrophic care. Not only will these mandates push up the cost of health insurance to the point that more people will be unable to afford it, but those who stay on will have to pay more for the package than it costs to have birth control and health insurance now.

The good versus evil morality play the left has framed around this issue makes me feel more and more comfortable calling myself a conservative. I have witnessed no progressive response to the issue of increased health insurance costs. Instead, I have been told over and over that anyone who opposes the mandatory coverage is against contraceptives.

This is a total false dichotomy. Just like how I do the impossible and both support Planned Parenthood and oppose funding it with federal dollars, I both support birth control and oppose mandating it in all health insurance plans. That's not being anti-woman, it's being pro-affordability.

When I hear bogus remarks from the right, I never find myself as annoyed as the deceitful wording I encounter from the left. With idiotic right wingers, I usually see them as ignorant about the issue at hand. When the foolishness comes from the left, however, it's often from faux-intellectuals with self-righteousness and hubris mixed in.

There is stupidity from both sides, but the leftwing mindset gives me an alien vibe I don't feel from the right. I'm rather be a lowly conservative than link arms with the left.