The Big Think

February 18, 2015

Externalities

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:54 am

A great summation of positive and negative externalities as they pertain to the ACA. Yes, it’s actually rather more interesting than that stunning sentence would indicate.

February 12, 2015

The Destroyer Goeth

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:40 pm

The Destroyer Goeth:

“Jon Stewart’s genius — ‘and for once that overused word is appropriate,’ Aucoin of the Globe insists — is that he provides intellectually lazy people with an excuse for forgoing the hard work of informing themselves at anything but the most superficial level about political events. Human beings being what they are, there will always be an acute need for humor in our political discourse; Stewart’s contribution has been to substitute humor — and an easy, vapid, shallow species of humor at that — for the discourse itself, through what Jim Treacher deftly described as his ‘clown nose on, clown nose off’ approach to commentary: When it comes to Obamacare, the minimum wage, or the national debt, you don’t have to get the economics as long as you get the joke.”

Stewart has always had an uncanny behavioral resemblance to a certain class clown during my high school days. Able to be sincere and intelligent when the circumstances called for it, he nonetheless opted to play the buffoon and go for the easy laugh. Smart guy who ended up looking pathetic and adolescent at my 10th reunion. He was still reliving the high school glory days while the rest of us had moved on.

If Stewart truly represents the Genius that his admirers are lauding, if his leaving the daily show is “akin to the Beatles breaking up”, then that says quite a bit about his average viewer, and what it says shouldn’t make them feel too comfortable.

February 5, 2015

Check Pants Status Re: Fire

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:31 am

Brian Williams: Big, Fat Liar | Ricochet: “NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years…

The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.

‘I would not have chosen to make this mistake,’ Williams said. ‘I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.’”

(Via .)

No sir. It’s not a “mistake”. A mistake is getting the tail number of the aircraft wrong. A lie is saying you were onboard it an hour earlier when it crashed as a restult of rocket fire, then repeating that same statement for over a decade.

Kind of makes you wonder what else he’s “mistaking” about.

February 4, 2015

The Police No Longer Work For You

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:40 am

The Police No Longer Work For You:

“To the casual observer it appears that Virginia is run by violent psychopaths. That’s the takeaway from the recent report of an anti-poker SWAT team raid in Fairfax County, in which eight assault rifle-sporting police officers moved against ten card-playing civilians. The police possibly seized more than $200,000 from the game, of which 40 percent they eventually kept.

There was no indication that any of the players was armed. As a matter of fact, it appears that a gambler is more likely to be shot without provocation by the Fairfax Police than the other way around. The heavy firepower at the Fairfax raid was apparently motivated by the fact that ‘at times, illegal weapons are present’ at such poker games, and that ‘Asian gangs’ have allegedly targeted such events in the past. This is, then, a novel approach to law enforcement: as a matter of policy, Fairfax police now attempt to rob and steal from people before street gangs get around to doing it.

It is a mystery why we put up with this obscene police behavior. Gambling itself is not illegal in Virginia; it is simply controlled by the state. So the Fairfax police department did not bust these hapless poker players with guns drawn for doing something truly immoral and fully outlawed, merely for doing something in a way not approved by the state legislature. Were gambling actually forbidden in Virginia, then a crackdown could at least be understood, if not condoned in so paramilitary a fashion. Yet Virginia’s stance on the matter is not to treat gambling as malum in se, but rather as an instrumentum regni: our government prefers to funnel gambling money into its own coffers for its own ends, outlaw the same thing when it’s done outside of the state’s jurisdiction, and then steal the money of the poor fellows who happen to get caught….

…Governments control gambling not to legitimize and sanitize the practice, but to extract as much money from the citizenry as they possibly can. In the state’s eyes, the fault of the poker players in Fairfax lay not in betting money on a card game, but in not pouring money into the state’s bank account while they were doing so.”

Because Public Safety.

January 23, 2015

Things in Common

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:54 am

This surprised me: “Given that nine in ten African-American women voted for Democrats in 2014, it may be no surprise that a focus group of urban, female, African-Americans had mostly contempt for all things ‘Republican’ or ‘conservative.’ But what was shocking is that this group also, unprompted, uniformly opposed both extended unemployment benefits and a minimum wage increase, and volunteered conservative economic and moral arguments about their potentially destructive impact on job creation, costs, and conduct.

The focus group, done by the Polling Company on behalf of Independent Women’s Voice in the lead up to the Louisiana runoff U.S. Senate election, confirmed what we already know about the GOP’s brand:  These women see the GOP as a clique of rich, white people seeking to consolidate wealth and power, indifferent to and uncaring about people like themselves.  Characterizing something (a policy) or someone (a politician) as ‘Republican’ or ‘conservative’ immediately poisoned the well, even when it was a fellow African-American making the case.  At best, the participants would consider any ‘Republican policy’ with skepticism. 

Yet their discussions of policies apart from political labels revealed more fundamental conservative instincts than the initial conversation—or conventional voter behavior—would ever suggest.”

The rest of the article is very revealing: a lack of support for extending unemployment benefits, a disagreement with raising the minimum wage, etc, from the very constituency we are told is demanding this. In their own words:

Ashley, a thirty-one-year-old, never married mother of four, said, of raising the minimum wage, “It will raise the cost of everything else more than it’ll increase what I get paid… We will end up even further behind.” Another participant pointed out that it would do nothing to help the unemployed get a job, and might even make it harder. Still another seemed to speak for many when she said that giving more money to someone who doesn’t have the skills to handle it is a waste. These women saw a higher minimum wage as leading to even less employment opportunity in their communities.

It’s very opposite of what the conventional wisdom expects.

I wonder what is causing their antipathy toward the parties that espouse the things they themselves agree with?

Trust Us

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:11 am

America’s healthcare portal is sharing your personal data with ad agencies:

“A report by the AP has revealed that Healthcare.gov, the Government’s affordable care portal, shares some of your personal data with a whole raft of marketing agencies. The action has been independently verified by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has found that a person’s location, annual income and smoking habits are all being freely distributed.

The foundation has also discovered that enabling Do Not Track doesn’t protect users against the surveillance, since the data is being shared in the site’s referrer header. In essence, the referrer header is a fundamental part of how the internet works, and can’t be anonymized.”

January 13, 2015

Medianesia

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:36 am

“Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward–reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story–and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of ‘falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus’, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.
But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.”

– M Crichton

h/t Matt

January 10, 2015

Confessions of a former TSA officer

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 6:27 pm

Security Theater:

“WE KNEW THE full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, in December 2009, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.

‘They’re s—,’ he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.

We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.”

The Blasphemy We Need

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 12:30 am

Instapundit:

“We are in a situation where my third point applies, because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more. Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.”

I’m not a fan of people going out of their way to offend me (I mostly just roll my eyes and go about my business), but I certainly don’t want to live in a world where I risk death if I offend someone else.

January 9, 2015

The Uncomfortable 1%

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:26 am

Yes, You’re Rich, and It’s Time You Admit It:

“If you’re reading this article, chances are that you are in the top 1 percent of global income. And chances are also that you really don’t feel like a tycoon.

The cutoff for the global 1 percent starts quite a bit lower than the parochial American version preferred by pundits. I’m on it. So is David Sirota. And if your personal income is higher than $32,500, so are you. The global elite to which you and I belong enjoys fantastic wealth compared to the rest of the world: We have more food, clothes, comfortable housing, electronic gadgets, health care, travel and leisure than almost every other living person, not to mention virtually every human being who has ever lived. We are also mostly privileged to live in societies that offer quite a lot in the way of public amenities, from well-policed streets and clean water, to museums and libraries, to public officials who do their jobs without requiring a hefty bribe. And I haven’t even mentioned the social safety nets our governments provide.

So why don’t we feel like Scrooge McDuck, rolling around in all of our glorious riches? Why do we feel kinda, y’know, middle class?

Because we don’t compare our personal experiences to a Tanzanian subsistence farmer who labors in the hot sun for 12 hours before repairing to his one-room abode for a meal of cornmeal porridge and cabbage. We compare ourselves to other Americans, many of whom, darn them, seem to have much more money than we do.”

As Instapundit put it, traditionally, envy was regarded as a sin.

It’s easy to live as a middle class (i.e. globally “rich”) Westerner among the Super-wealthy elite. It makes the super-wealthy an easy target for jealously and envy, with demands for “social change” as a tasty side dish. But I wonder what would happen if those Tanzanian subsistence farmer suddenly started picketing all of those iPhone/MacBook wielding protesters: the members of the “99%”. Would the protesters be willing to give up their Western comforts to spread the wealth around? Take on a few dozen roommates? I think not.

Ultimately it comes down to the viability of relative systems. If your society is structured around opportunities for advancement and personal success based on hard work then your society will tend to attract people that are willing to strive for their own future benefit (as well as the predictable gathering of lampreys that prefer to sponge off of the hard work of others, but that’s the inevitable friction of any successful economic system). If, however, your society rewards graft, personal connections, and the unfair application of laws and regulations based on who-you-know, then there will be a limit to how much your society can advance economically.

Once a society breaks out into entrepreneurialism, the trick is to keep regulations and graft from choking it to death. In the meantime, protesting about “the wealthy” while making calls on an iPhone and sipping your Starbucks is the height of hypocrisy.

January 6, 2015

Roost

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:03 am

Changes at Harvard:

“‘Deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.’  That’s what Harvard Classics professor Richard F. Thomas calls the changes in Harvard’s health plan, which have a large number of the faculty up in arms.

Are Harvard professors being forced onto Medicaid? Has their employer denied coverage for cancer treatment? Do they need to sign a corporate loyalty oath in order to access health insurance? Not exactly. But copayments are being raised and deductibles altered, making their plan … well, actually, their plan is still extraordinarily generous by any standard:

The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.

The deepest irony is, of course, that Harvard professors helped to design Obamacare. And Obamacare is the reason that these changes are probably necessary.”

Of course, they thought that these changes would affect everyone else, and they were okay with that (know your place, peasant). When they are directly impacted by the law, well, then it becomes “deplorable”.

Too bad they didn’t listen when voters were shouting for them to stop.

Related:

2015 The Obamacare Crucible: “It is likely that ObamaCare’s low point hasn’t been reached. The year 2015 is shaping up to be the ACA’s worst yet. A confluence of events will have significant implications for the law’s ultimate disposition and may give the law’s opponents their best chance to date to relieve the American people from some of its most crushing burdens.”

December 31, 2014

Workaround

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 3:15 pm

When The FISA Court Rejects A Surveillance Request, The FBI Just Issues A National Security Letter Instead

…the FBI had a neat way to get around a rare FISA Court rejection: just issue an NSL and ignore the First Amendment concerns.

Apparently, to some, whatever weak “oversight” there is from the FISA Court really just means “find another door in to violate the same Constitutional issues.”

Sheesh, this is reprehensible.

A Case of the Vapors

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:41 am

2014: The Year of the Fainting Couch:

“2014 was the year, thanks to the hack of Sony Pictures in retaliation for the spoof movie ‘The Interview,’ that even the North Koreans made the ‘do not offend’ list.

It was the year that a scientist made an abject apology for wearing a shirt that offended feminists in a TV broadcast; that Amazon Prime put a label warning of racist content on ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons; and that various news outlets refused to say the name of the NFL team from Washington on grounds that even uttering it made them complicit in rank offensiveness.

It was a year when the nation’s colleges and law schools cemented their reputations as places where easily offended children go for a few years to become slightly older easily offended children.

Colleges canceled appearances by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Condi Rice (who technically pulled out of her scheduled Rutgers commencement) and George Will for fear students might hear something they disagree with from a figure they object to.

The University of California at Irvine offered grief counseling (‘in a constructive space’) for students upset at the grand-jury decision in the Ferguson case, and Occidental College brought in a religious counselor to comfort students who had volunteered for losing Democratic Senate campaigns.

An open letter from law students at Harvard upset at the nonindictments in the Ferguson and Eric Garner cases captured the spirit of the year, and deserves an honored place in the history of the rhetoric of plaint.”

We have a cultural problem when the exquisitely overly-sensitive minority gets to define and enforce acceptable discourse. We’re a long way from “I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

December 30, 2014

Grubered

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:40 pm

Instapundit: “Obama Adviser Jonathan Gruber In 2009: Obamacare Will NOT Be Affordable.

‘Gruber said that Obamacare had no cost controls in it and would not be affordable in an October 2009 policy brief, presented here exclusively by TheDC. At the time, Gruber had already personally counseled Obama in the Oval Office and served on Obama’s presidential transition team. Obama, meanwhile, told the American people that their premiums would go down dramatically…

“The problem is it starts to go hand in hand with the mandate; you can’t mandate insurance that’s not affordable. This is going to be a major issue,” Gruber admitted in an October 2, 2009 lecture, the transcript of which comprised the policy brief.

“So what’s different this time? Why are we closer than we’ve ever been before? Because there are no cost controls in these proposals. Because this bill’s about coverage. Which is good! Why should we hold 48 million uninsured people hostage to the fact that we don’t yet know how to control costs in a politically acceptable way? Let’s get the people covered and then let’s do cost control.”

Gruber also said that the only way to control costs is to effectively deny treatment…

…”And despite the president’s pitches to the contrary, Obama also knew that his health care bill was unlikely to control costs”, Gruber said.’”

December 22, 2014

Sunlight is the best sanitizer

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:46 pm

IRS Targeted ‘Icky’ Conservative Groups: “Top IRS officials specifically targeted tea party groups and misled the public about its secret political targeting program led by ex-official Lois Lerner, according to a bombshell new congressional report.

The Daily Caller has obtained an advance copy of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report set to be released Tuesday morning that definitively proves malicious intent by the IRS to improperly block conservative groups”

First we were told it didn’t happen.
Then we were told it was “rogue” agents.
Then we were assured there wasn’t a “smidgen” of corruption.
Then key people took the 5th.
Now the truth is starting to come out.

I predict the next phase will be the “move the goalposts and redefine illegal” phase.

December 16, 2014

Edward Snowden: The Untold Story

Filed under: Politics,Technology — jasony @ 1:05 pm

Absolutely worth the read:

Edward Snowden: The Untold Story | WIRED: “Snowden and his colleagues had discussed the routine deception around the breadth of the NSA’s spying many times, so it wasn’t surprising to him when they had little reaction to Clapper’s testimony. ‘It was more of just acceptance,’ he says, calling it ‘the banality of evil’—a reference to Hannah Arendt’s study of bureaucrats in Nazi Germany.

‘It’s like the boiling frog,’ Snowden tells me. ‘You get exposed to a little bit of evil, a little bit of rule-breaking, a little bit of dishonesty, a little bit of deceptiveness, a little bit of disservice to the public interest, and you can brush it off, you can come to justify it. But if you do that, it creates a slippery slope that just increases over time, and by the time you’ve been in 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, you’ve seen it all and it doesn’t shock you. And so you see it as normal. And that’s the problem, that’s what the Clapper event was all about. He saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary. And he was right that he wouldn’t be punished for it, because he was revealed as having lied under oath and he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for it. It says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders.’ Snowden decided it was time to hop out of the water before he too was boiled alive.”

The rest of this excellent interview details even more appalling behavior that the secret organizations commit.

People say Snowden betrayed his oath to his country. I believe it’s more like he betrayed his oath to the government, and the government is the one that betrayed the country. Betraying his oath to a betrayer is simply proof that he’s back on the right side.

I’m pretty much coming to the conclusion that I’m glad he did what he did.

December 10, 2014

Fault Lines

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:31 am

Fault Lines:

“In each of these stories, two deep and consequential fault lines are evident. These fault lines aren’t about the usual left-right or elite-populist divides. They’re not solely about race or gender. They’re more fundamental — and more dangerous to the nation.

First, the once-honored and vital role of objective journalism in our society is at a crisis point. Members of the media know how reckless, sloppy, and partisan many in their field have become, but like a gambler going all-in, they keep tempting Americans to call their bluff.

The media wonders why a growing number of Americans no longer trust what they see in the news, but it’s not a mystery. The media’s customers have been burned over and over by bias, and by reporters with an agenda or an axe to grind. They’ve searched for news and information, only to be forced to piece it together on their own when the Official Media decides they’re going to ignore a story. Importantly, they’re exhausted by the constant lectures (disguised as news stories) that they’re ignorant racists, fatties, and hayseeds living in Free Market Jesus Paradise and killing the planet with their SUVs and their Walmart fashion sense.

Many reporters and editors loathe how aware people have become of the journalistic process…

…The left’s desire for separate legal and social standards is a mortal danger to this country. The moment we have two standards is the moment we’ve abandoned the constitutional and moral grounding of this country. So far, conservatives have largely just grunted, “no” and hoped the madness will pass. It seems unlikely, and the reason traces back to the media’s problem: the political fantasy of the Left is being granted legitimacy by a media unwilling to stop picking sides and playing favorites.

The fault lines in the Republic are real. On one side, the social justice warriors are screaming for the end of a nation where one standard applies to all. On the other, it seems their cheerleaders and enablers are willing to play along until the earthquake comes.”

I’ll say it again- fix the media and you fix the country.

Broken Badges

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:13 am

Applying ‘Broken Windows’ to the Police: “‘If tolerating broken windows leads to more broken windows and escalating crime,’ he asks, ‘what impact does tolerating police misconduct have?’ “

Interesting perspective. You can certainly argue that opposing this idea is tantamount to accepting the escalation of police misconduct. Good for the goose and all…

December 9, 2014

Worse than racism

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:55 pm

Worse than racism:

“The truly terrifying thing about Eric Garner’s death is that I don’t think the cops in that video hated anybody. They were just doing their job. And their job included strangling a man to death for having sold ‘loosies’ – untaxed cigarettes. Something he wasn’t doing when he was killed [!!]; he had just broken up a fight that the police came to investigate.

Garner had just broken up a fight. The police hassled him, based on his record as a (gasp!) vendor of untaxed cigarettes, and when he protested the force of law came down on him and snuffed him.

In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy In America that has been justly celebrated for its perception about the young American republic ever since. In it, he warned of the dangers of what he called ‘soft despotism’ – that ‘covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules’, all justified in soothing ways to achieve worthy objectives. Such as discouraging people from smoking by heavily taxing cigarettes.

Eric Garner died in a New York minute because ‘soft despotism’ turned hard enough to kill him in cold blood. There was no anger there, no hate; the police simply failed to grasp the moral disproportion between the ‘crimes’ he wasn’t even committing at the time and their use of force. And an investigating grand jury did no better.

Violent racists, as evil as they are, generally understand on some level that they’re doing wrong. That understanding is written all over the excuses they make. These cops didn’t need an excuse. They were doing their job. They were enforcing the law. The casual, dispassionate, machinelike brutality with which Garner was strangled reveals a moral vacuum more frightening than mere racism could ever be.”

Grubered

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 5:51 pm

Ten Stories NBC Nightly News Aired Instead of Covering Gruber Scandal:

“Below are ten stories that, unlike the Gruber videos, were deemed worthy of coverage by NBC Nightly News during the past month. With Gruber himself set to answer questions at a congressional hearing later today, NBC has a fresh opportunity tonight to fix the glaring omission of the past 30 days — the question is, will they once again pretend the Gruber story doesn’t exist?”

Don’t hold your breath. We have a very close family member who considers (him/her)self up-to-date because they “watch the news”. This individual had no idea who Jonathan Gruber was.

Fix the media and you fix the country.

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