Sunday, April 30, 2017

Just the Basics

In other words, yes, Bill Gates will get $12,000 too but as one of the world’s wealthiest billionaires he will pay far more than $12,000 in new taxes to pay for it.
Why we should all have a basic income
While I see what the piece is getting at, I really hate it when people are glib about important topics like this. Wealth and income are not the same, and they really shouldn't be conflated, because it confuses the issue. And when you give people the idea that you will tax wealth directly to fund programs like this, it tends to drive opposition. Heck, the idea of taxing income drives enough opposition as it is.

For me, what makes me dubious about Universal Basic Income schemes is that they tend to be explained in the way that this one is - with the unstated assumption that the status quo doesn't change except for the fact that "the rich" pay vastly higher income taxes than they do now, and "poor people" get checks. Now, I'm not an economist, so I can't be certain, but I don't think that it's quite that simple. And that raises this question for me - once the government commits to creating and funding a universal basic income how does it guarantee the tax revenue to support it? For many people, the answer seems to be simple - since whatever new taxing structure goes into place has no other economic effects, hey presto! you're in business.But it strikes me as unlikely that there won't be economic ripple effects.

This isn't to say that a Universal Basic Income scheme that funds itself from income taxes is unworkable. It is to say, however, that one that assumes that it's business as usual across the whole of the rest of the economy is suspect.

Friday, April 28, 2017

No Time Left

Arkansas has put to death convicted murderer Kenneth Williams. His was the last of a series of executions accelerated because the state's lethal-injection drugs were about to expire.
Arkansas Executes 4th Inmate In 8 Days
Someone commented to me that Arkansas was executing people like it was going out of style, and that prompted me to think about the circumstances of this recent series of executions. The stated driver of the push to execute 8 men (that number was quickly whittled down by the courts) in the latter half of this month was the fact that the state's supply of the sedative midazolam was due to expire.

Pharmaceutical companies, wary of being seen as supporting the death penalty, have been shying away of selling states the drug for use in executions. In fact, one of the lawsuits that challenged Arkansas' plans was from McKesson, which makes a different drug used in the executions, vecuronium bromide. The drugmaker claimed, among other things, that their business would suffer "grave reputational harm" if their drug was used.

For opponents of the death penalty, this is all welcome news. Although there's nothing that prohibits states from returning to older methods of execution, such as the electric chair or firing squads, the push for more humane ways to put people to death (an oxymoron to some) means that they are unlikely to return to widespread usage, and so lethal injection is likely to remain the method of choice. But, in theory, after this month, Arkansas no longer has access to that choice, unless they manage to find other sources for the drugs required. And so they implemented as many of the executions as they could in the time they had available.

And so I wonder - if the State of Arkansas wasn't up against a deadline, would there have been the same rush to complete the executions? I can't give a definitive answer to that, given that it's a counterfactual, but my initial impression is "no." And that leads me to an ironic conclusion - that the effectiveness of opposition to the death penalty set in motion a chain of events that lead to the rapid executions of Ledell Lee, Marcel Williams,  Jack Jones Jr. and Kenneth Williams. Given that they had been on Death Row for some time, and had exhausted their appeals, one could say that their fates were already sealed, and this isn't to imply that anti-death penalty activism is responsible for their deaths. Responsibility lies with the people who signed the warrants and carried them out. Governor Hutchinson may have felt that he had little choice but to proceed as quickly as possible, but in the end the choice was still his in large part.

An attorney for Ledell Lee claimed that he'd been executed before DNA testing could be done to determine if, as he'd claimed for the nearly half his life he'd spent in prison, he was innocent of the charges against him. It seems strange to consider that if the state had understood that they could still execute him a month or a year later than they did, there may have been more time to pursue his claims.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Belonging

While we might mainly encounter this sentiment in regard to physical possessions, it seems worthwhile to think of it in broader terms than that. There are any number of intangible things that we consider ourselves to own in some regard, like culture, and those things can also exert what becomes an ownership interest over us if we come to see them as something that we have no choice but to possess - or to keep from others.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Cluster of Yellow

I hundred tiny yellow flowers, all in a bunch.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Silence Bubbles

Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak at Berkeley this coming Wednesday, but university administrators have cancelled the event, citing "active security threats." The Young America's Foundation, the Republican group that was to sponsor the event, is, unsurprisingly, crying foul, especially after it appears that the conditions that the university caved in to liberal students who wished to deny Ms. Coulter a venue.

Whether the university is being straightforward about their reasons for nixing the event or not, I don't know. But, let's presume for the moment that the Young America's Foundation is correct in their assertion that pressure from more liberal students lead the university to back out of the engagement. (And it's likely that at least a few anti-Coulter students and their allies will claim credit for this turn of events.) What has been gained?

Okay, so a speech by someone that many liberals consider hateful has been nixed. And that's really about it. The people who would have gone to hear what she has to say can still hear her speak - she planned to go to the campus and talk anyway, and I'm not certain that the school can prevent her from doing so. But even if she didn't go in person, she could always make the speech and post it on YouTube. Or summarize her remarks on television. She could send out the text of her speech in an e-mail to supporters and allow it to be passed around to other people who wish to read it. She could make it into an e-book or/and print-on-demand and offer it up for sale (or for free) on Amazon or another online bookseller. She could distribute it as a podcast for download.

I'm not the world's most creative thinker, and so I'm sure that there are lots of other ways that Ms. Coulter could get her words out to any and everyone who is willing to listen - and this could be a much larger audience than just the members of the Young America's Foundation. But even if the goal was to simply come between Ms. Coulter and expansive news coverage of her remarks, the coverage of her being denied the chance to speak during the formal event would seem to have rendered that moot. So... I don't really understand what has been gained here.

The only concrete effect of all of this seems to be that Ann Coulter will not be speaking at Berkeley as part of a formal event sanctioned by the University itself. And I don't really understand how that changes anything. It's not as if Berkeley formally places its stamp of approval on everyone who sepaks there or everything they say. And, as I noted above, nothing about this new situation prevents anyone from actually hearing what she has to say. About the only effect that I see is that some number of students can go about their day secure in the knowledge that speech they disapprove of is being given outside of any sort of official university channels. Which may be of some comfort to those individuals, but it doesn't seem to move the needle in any other way.

If one presumes that the things that Ms. Coulter is planning to say are legitimately a clear and present danger, that danger has not been mitigated. Her words can still reach a receptive audience, and if the fear is that those people will take those words to heart and act on them in unacceptable ways, nothing has been done to educate them in a different direction or convince them that their actions would be harmful. If the worry is that the in-person interaction carries some increased influence, little more than slight inconvenience has been added to overall situation - there are other places where the talk could take place that are easily reachable by the students who want to hear her.

And if the point is really as narrow as simply not having the talk at Berkeley, that smacks of NIMBYism, and all of its accompanying concerns. Simply preventing conservative speakers from formally coming to campus isn't going to get rid of the conservative students who attend the school. Even "safe space" arguments seem to be weak here. If the very presence of conservative speakers prompts one to feel unsafe as an 18 year-old freshman, it seems unlikely that college will do enough to defang the world that it will be safe for that same person when they graduate at 21 or so.

(As an aside, this was one of the things that I was dubious about when I worked with children. As much as I understood the goal of protecting them, or even sheltering them, from the nasty aspects of life in the broader world, without some experience in engaging them, all we were doing was delaying the day when they had to deal with them unprepared.)

I understand the appeal of closing oneself off from a world that seems to legitimize one's dehumanization. But that doesn't make that world go away. Sooner or later, the bubble will go away. And that world, warts and all, will be waiting.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Progress and Falsehoods

"On the left if you're consuming fake news you're 34 times more likely than the general population to be a college graduate," says [Jeff] Green[, CEO of internet advertiser Trade Desk].

If you're on the right, he says, you're 18 times more likely than the general population to to be in the top 20 percent of income earners.
The rise of left-wing, anti-Trump fake news
This was, of course, only to be expected. While "fake news" has become a buzzword for deliberate misinformation designed to mislead, in the end, the entire phenomenon is less about taking in the public than it is about taking in advertiser dollars. For those of us who don't earn money this way, the fact that even relatively obscure websites can generate enough traffic to enable someone to make a living from advertising revenue may be something of a surprise. But that's the reality of the situation, and that reality places a premium on one of the Web's primary forms of currency, the pageview.

And this isn't a new phenomenon.
Whatever the social effects of talk radio or the partisan agendas of certain hosts, it is a fallacy that political talk radio is motivated by ideology. It is not. Political talk radio is a business, and it is motivated by revenue. The conservatism that dominates today's AM airwaves does so because it generates high Arbitron ratings, high ad rates, and maximum profits.
David Foster Wallace ("Host" Atlantic Magazine, April 2005)

All too often the truth is often secondary to what people want to hear and what they want to enjoy getting worked up about, whether it's in a sexual or righteous way. Information finds its level and its target.
Yoz Grahame (Comment on "Banning blogging, 'Toothing, and Yoz" Many2Many, 5 April 2005)
(Given this, now might be a good time to re-launch liberal talk radio.)

This combination of information seeking its own level and the fact that the dissemination of information is a business, is what is driving the shift in fake news from stories designed to appeal to the American political Right to the American political Left. Okay, so consumers (and sharers) of Right-wing fake news might be individually wealthier than most of the general public, but an overwhelmingly college-educated audience is nothing to sneeze at either, given the general wage gap between the the college-educated and their less credentialed fellow citizens.

And this is important because it points to an important concept: Education is no defense against being told what you want to hear - or other wanting other people to hear it. Fake news poses as news because that gives it the appearance of a legitimate source, and that appearance makes it more likely that, once it resonates with someone, it will be passed along to someone else as "proof" of the correctness of the audience's political sentiments. This is independent of a person's level of education; anyone can want something to be true badly enough to skip checking its veracity when it's handed to them on a plate.

Because the American Left sees itself as educated, and thus, skeptics by default, it was easy to see people on the Right, who are typically regarded as uneducated, provincial, yokels as being taken in by fake news because the purveyors of the medium were smarter than their targets. And this sentiment was likely reinforced by the laughably poor quality of some of the information presented. But one thing that following media outlets on social media has taught me is that all someone needs to respond, positively or negatively, to a news story is the headline. And headlines are often enough at least somewhat inaccurate - and that inaccuracy will often allow someone who has read the article to quickly pick out which commenters haven't. And even when people do read the pieces to which headlines are attached, the desire to be proven right is often stronger than reading comprehension. I have found myself impressed by people's ability to conclude that the main takeaway of an article is something directly contradicted by the text; someone confronted only with vague innuendo or sketchy sourcing will have a simple time of things.

If it is next to impossible to get a person to believe something that their livelihood demands that they don't, it is quite easy to get someone to believe something that their sense of the world asks that they do. Politics, by itself, will never elevate people above that.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Polination

When the weather is nice on the weekends, I try to get out with my camera and take some pictures. I'll likely post one or two a week as an alternative to my usual griping about politics and whatnot.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Flipped

While a lot is being made over President Trump's changes in position on subjects like NATO and China, these are things that strike me as simple part of the normal process that presidents undergo when transitioning from presidential candidate to actually holding the office.

A lot of candidate Trump's campaign messaging could be boiled down to the idea that other nations in the world need the United States much more than the United States needs them, and this lopsided relationship placed the U.S. in a very strong bargaining position, one that previous administrations (especially the Obama administration) shamefully failed to take full advantage of. It's an appealing message on the campaign trail, perhaps because it frames the costs of globalization as unnecessary giveaways, when the nation could, in fact, have its cake and eat it, too.

But it seems likely to me that President Trump is learning differently. Namely, that while other nations may not hold all the cards, they do have workable hands that they can play, and this gives them a reasonable Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, should they simply choose to walk away from the table. This may be a hard sell for the President, should his core voters begin to lose faith in him, because their losses then simply become the price of doing business; one that must be paid to reap the benefits of the global economy. And to the degree that those benefits flow unequally, they're simply out of luck.

One of the lessons of politics, especially partisan politics, is that during a campaign, cold, hard truths and the things that audiences want to be told are always much more in alignment then they are when the work actually needs to be done, because everything is achievable for the person who isn't actually accountable for the results. Of course, we as a society never learn that lesson because there's always going to be someone whose position is that the hard choices and difficult trade-offs of life are simply a cover for wrongdoing, and that idea is always going to be attractive to people for whom the luck of the draw is indistinguishable from being deliberately cheated of their just deserts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I See Your Idiocy and Raise You...

I have to admit that I have both dread and giddy anticipation of someone attempting to go over the top of this lot.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Kayaking

Getting a jump on Spring in Seattle by spending some time on the water.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Wanna Fight?

Maybe it's just the way I view the world, but it strikes me that people who take the position that "people oppose us because what we're doing is right" also seem to have a habit of picking fights with people - which then become the proof of their correctness.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Exit, Stage Left

In my experience, when people speak of media bias, they are referring to the idea that media outlets select the stories that they are going to present with an eye towards advocacy, rather than simply informing. News outlets tend to push back on this in their public statements, but sometimes it seems that this is because they don't pay much attention to their own coverage of the world.

The story, as presented by National Public Radio's "Code Switch" team, has a fairly straightforward headline: "How Offering Driver Licenses To The Undocumented Makes Roads Safer." And it has a fairly straightforward subject: some new research out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business that says "New research shows a positive safety impact of a California law that gave 800,000 people a license to drive."

Fair enough. But when you read it, the main effect that the researchers noted is a reduction in hit and run accidents. Now, maybe it's just me, but the issue that I have with hit and run accidents, when it comes to traffic safety, specifically, isn't the "and run" part of the formulation, it's the "hit" side of things. After all, unless someone does more damage or injury to the person(s) and/or vehicle(s) struck while fleeing the scene, the simple fact that they don't stick around doesn't make matters worse. You could say that in situations where the at-fault driver is the only party able to call for emergency assistance to a critically-injured person, that their leaving is a problem in and of itself, and I'll concede that point. Still, absent a change in the total number of accidents (and in the number of fatal accidents), the primary effect of California offering driver's licenses to the undocumented is a greater number of people being willing to take responsibility for having caused an accident. Which is a worthwhile outcome, but it seems odd to use that a measurement of safety.

If there is no change in the total number of traffic accidents, and no change in the number of fatal accidents, it seems to me than unless, there is a noticeable shift in the overall number of injury accidents, that driving in California is just as safe (or, I suppose, as dangerous) as it was prior to the passage of AB60.

And in this sense, both the press release from Stanford Business and the NPR article seemed more like advocacy than information. And given that, I can understand how people look at coverage of particular topics; in this case, illegal immigration into the United States; and understand that "the news media" is seeking manipulate people into a predetermined mindset. To be sure, I don't suspect that this is what is going on here. Instead, someone came upon an interesting bit of research, and quickly whipped out a story about it that, rather than skeptically examining it, simply repeated the researcher's claims. But taken with the generally sympathetic coverage of the undocumented that NPR presents, one can see how people feel that there is "an agenda" at work.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Choices

I read this online: "It's sad how victimy and unempowered people choose to make themselves." And I wondered, "Who really chooses that?"

Now, I have an internal locus of control, and so I tend to see the world around me as being highly influenced by the choices that people make, and my own life as being the sum of the choices that I've made. And I do tend to perceive people as chasing victim status, for the perceived benefits that it brings. But that's different than selecting victimization and disempowerment as deliberate life choices. Rather, as I see it, those are, at best, the side effects of other choices that we make.

Even when people see themselves as victimized and disempowered, these are typically not deliberate choices. Rather they are the way people come to see the themselves based on their understanding of the world around them. For instance, my internal locus of control tends to stand between me and and an understanding of myself as lacking agency in my life. And while I, or someone else, can say that I choose to see myself as empowered, the fact of the matter is that I don't know where that internal locus of control comes from. Learning the concept when I was in college didn't enable to make a deliberate selection. Instead it allowed me to recognize and name a facet of my personality that was already present.

Behaviors such as learned helplessness or capture bonding, even though they may be classed as "survival strategies" are not choices in the sense that a person weighs all of the options before them and makes a conscious determination to be passive in the face of unrelenting adversity or to sympathize with the interests of someone who is harassing or abusing them. That is to say, they are not strategies selected based on their effectiveness. Instead they are imposed on a person by the circumstances they find themselves in.

On the other hand, I understand the logic behind seeing a person who understands themselves to be a victim or disempowered as having deliberately made that choice. It's an ego boost for people who understand themselves as victorious or empowered to claim that they could have taken another path, but through strength of character or force of will, made the "better" choice. It's part of building ourselves up by climbing over others, and it's a common facet of human nature.

Judging people who have been induced to see themselves as "victimy and unempowered" does nothing for them, despite what those who see judgment as an incentive to change might tell you. Understanding the aspects of their lives that lead them to perceive themselves as victimized and disempowered, however, could open the way to changing those things. And that has a much better chance of revealing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April Flower