Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

C.S. Lewis on Forgiveness

No Comments »

“Mere Christianity”, Book 3, Chapter 7:

Select quotes:

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. “That sort of talk makes them sick,” they say. And half of you already want to ask me, “I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?”

So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.” There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly dear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?

It is going to be hard enough, anyway, but I think there are two things we can do to make it easier. When you start mathematics you do not begin with the calculus; you begin with simple addition. In the same way, if we really want (but all depends on really wanting) to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo. One might start with forgiving one’s husband or wife, or parents or children, or the nearest N.C.O., for something they have done or said in the last week. That will probably keep us busy for the moment. And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker.

If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment—even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace.

Food for thought, no?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

State Taxes

No Comments »

Created an interactive state map using the D3, d3-tip, and jQuery libraries and the GeoJson encoding format. I took a lot from the book, Interactive Data Visualization for the Web.

statetaxesIt uses data from a Mercatus Report to show the tax burden per capita of various tax instruments. It’s a lot of data, so can take a while to load and works best for me in Chrome.

Not sure if it would be good for policy making, but it’s interesting and fun.

Check it out.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

AGW Policy

No Comments »

Fine. The anthropogenic climate change debate is settled in the direction of assention.

Now that that’s settled, what policies did you have in mind? Or were you just looking for a conclusion so you could hand it over to government to solve for you?

Do you turn out the lights when leaving a room you don’t soon plan to return to? Do you compost or would you if you had the opportunity? Do you generally bring your groceries home in re-used bags?

These questions of environmental stewardship are irrelevant. Consensus uber alles.

Here’s the WaPo mocking the Farmer’s Almanac prediction of a cold winter in the midwest (egg meet face) in August 2013:

If you believe it, residents of the Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast may want to start stocking up on warm weather gear, snow shovels, and salt right now! The Farmers’ Almanac is calling for a “bitterly cold” winter for much of the region.

“Yes, the Farmers’ Almanac believes that the “days of shivery” are back,” says the Farmer’s Almanac press release.

For the record, it’s 17 degrees Fahrenheit and snowing off and on in midwest Indiana.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Organic Farmers and the FDA

No Comments »

The L.A. Times reports Planned food safety rules rile organic farmers. While it clarifies that “full enforcement of the rules is still years away,” …

Now, farmers are discovering that the FDA’s proposed rules would curtail many techniques that are common among organic growers, including spreading house-made fertilizers, tilling cropland with grazing animals, and irrigating from open creeks.

Obviously there are negative implications for small businesses:

“They are going to drive farms out of business,” said Dave Runsten, policy director for Community Alliance with Family Farmers in Davis, Calif.

“The consumer groups behind this don’t understand farming,” Runsten says. “They talk out of both sides of their mouth. They demand these one-size-fits-all regulations, then say, ‘I don’t want to hurt those cute little farmers at the farmers market. I shop at the farmers market.’ It is frustrating.” …

“The public loves to love and idealize us little family farmers,” he [Crawford, a farmer] said. “But the vast majority of us are hanging by a thread. Now, the government is saying, ‘We are going to put a lot more weight on that thread.'”

And I hate to get back into regulations being trade-offs, but the shoe seems to fit. Of course we need common sense food regulations, but isn’t the trickle up economics obvious? Small farms close and big-agra is either unaffected or can subsume and move on.

And what about the EPA and the environmental groups that shape its agenda (as the consumer groups shape the FDA’s)? Petrochemical fertilizers rather than compost or animal manure? Get your water from someplace far away rather than the nearby creek? Using fossil-fuel driven machinery rather than grazing animals (granted, I’m sure PETA is pleased)? I can’t see Greenpeace, etc., getting behind that.

Somehow we need to find a more comprehensive view of the regulation environment. There are shared goals of liberty, economy, ecology, and safety here. To pursue one without heeding the others will not end well.

Side note:
I also find interesting that when the L.A. times says, “Tens of millions of consumers are sickened by tainted food each year, and some 3,000 die annually as a result,” they link to this page from the CDC. I’m not sure where they got the “tens of millions” number, as the five illnesses listed here make up 91% of all cases and add up to less that ten million. That said, the number one cause of illness (58%) is Norovirus, which the CDC itself says you can get, “from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces.” The question this raises is how many of these 5,461,731 cases of Norovirus were directly related to food and not from person-to-person or surface-to-person contamination? If it includes the other two, isn’t the five million plus figure misleading? I may just be cynical and this may be above board, but it just seems like they’re using these numbers to justify constrictive regulations which will have little to no impact on said numbers.

 

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Conservative Environmentalism

No Comments »

I’ve been explicitly concerned about the environment since I was a hippy in my late teens. As I evolved from hippy to punk in my early 20’s, I took my environmental concern with me. I recall when the accuracy of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came under skepticism, my reaction was that even if it wasn’t all true, it was okay because the world needed to be shocked into action. More on that later.

I was also a liberal throughout this time. In addition to heavy-handed government to stop environmental degradation, I also wanted single-payer health care, and government redistribution of wealth. Without irony, I also considered myself something of an anarchist while advocating these positions, and probably would have participated in Black Bloc activism had the opportunity presented itself (similarly, I was sympathetic to Earth First! style environmental terrorism).

Around 2009, through a complex series of reconsiderations, I developed a more conservative worldview. This involved transitions from revolutionary to a return to first principals and, importantly, from looking to government for answers to advocacy of limited government.

While my concern for the environment was unabated, my previous thoughts on policy implementation were no longer acceptable, so most of my advocacy was on the personal level: composting, recycling, rain barrel, prudent consumerism, riding my bike to work, organic and local food, etc.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

More on Regulations

No Comments »

In my last post, I wrote generally about the trade-offs in regulations. The idea being that regulations are simply “good” versus “bad” is not a constructive argument. In this post, I hope to highlight some regulations I consider bad and perhaps look into more appropriate regulations.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is probably a good place to start. As the linked article points out, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is not funded by congress and hence very little accountability to them. So-called “Systemically Important” banks is essentially codifying “Too Big to Fail” — exactly the wrong message to send to banks that were bailed out for previous failures. Nearly 14,000 pages of regulation have been cranked out to implement the law. Note here that the bill itself was approximately 2,253 pages, but couldn’t contain a fourth of the myriad actual regulations it has spawned. This Forbes’  quote represents a what seems to be a consensus:

This sounds all rather confused. But that may just be the point of Dodd-Frank: to keep everything churned up so that no one is sure at any given point what the rules really are. That way financial institutions (very broadly defined in D-F as banks, insurers, and anything else that might conceivably qualify) have to constantly ask for help and guidance from busy and powerful financial regulatory bureaucrats in figuring out what they may or may not do.

And yet they didn’t even address Glass-Steagall, whose repeal many implicate in the crash.

This 2011 National Review Article gives perspective perspective on the pace of new regulations in general :

How busy have these thousands of regulators been? The numbers tell the story. The first Federal Register was issued in 1936. It contained eleven pages! For the first 147 years of the nation’s existence under the Constitution we somehow managed to get by with only eleven pages of regulations. During that time we went from an insignificant state to the most powerful and economically vibrant nation on the globe. By 2008 the Federal Register contained 31,879 documents and 79,435 pages, while the Code of Federal Regulations comprised 163,333 pages in 226 individual books. Rules have been accumulating at a rate of nine pages a day since 1936. … The Federal Register has grown 20 percent in just the last two years, and there are another 4,225 rules already written and winding their way through the system.

How can anyone keep up with all these rules? Like the Tax Code, they can’t. They hire specialists, often the ones that wrote the regulations.

Moving on The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA), The Hill reports:

For decades, Congress has inserted language in appropriations bills prohibiting OSHA – an arm of the Labor Department – from enforcing provisions of the 1976 Occupational Safety and Health Act at farming operations with 10 or fewer employees.

But in recent months, the agency has begun issuing thousands of dollars in fines under the statute, saying that it has jurisdiction over non-farming operations – including grain storage – on farms, the lawmakers said.

“Lo and behold, OSHA has decided it can label certain sections of the farm as something else – by fiat – and send in their inspectors,” Johanns said in remarks on the Senate floor before Congress adjourned for the year. “OSHA ignored what Congress directed.”

The Food and Drug Administration:

This perfect storm of increased regulations and increased oversight has had a ruinous effect.  For example, during the Bush Administration, Congressman Henry Waxman often pummeled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), demanding more oversight and more regulatory reviews in an unrealistic quest to find perfect, risk-free medications.

When Barack Obama became president, Democrat acolytes took over the FDA and implemented the strategy of excessive regulatory control that Waxman had advocated.  And what was the effect?

New pharmaceutical development, once an American competitive edge, has slowed to a crawl and the nation is in danger of losing its leadership in new drug development. In 1996, the FDA approved approximately 45 new drugs—and the world clamored to buy American pharmaceuticals.  Now, despite larger budgets, increased manpower and more sophisticated technology, the FDA approves only 20 new drugs each year.

And where to begin with the EPA?

I’d like to do a whole post on the EPA. I’m not saying it shouldn’t exist or doesn’t do any good, but they really seem out of control to me (and, apparently, SCOTUS), micro-managing and usurping state environmental agencies’ power.

If you’re not familiar with crony capitalism, it is “A term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials.” This generally comes into play when regulations are created  arbitrarily too arduous for small business or other competitor compliance. A very clear case of this is a 2009 law that benefitted Altria/Phillip-Morris over its competitors in the tobacco industry.
Here are a few links speaking of crony capitalism more broadly:

To sum up, I think regulations are essential, but they should be understandable, accessible to congress, and as local as is reasonable.

If you’d like to submit a comment, please fill out this form in triplicate and have it authorized by your supervisor and his or her supervisor. We will get back to you in 10-14 business days.

John Stossel on “Regulation and the Small Entrepreneur”:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Regulations

No Comments »

There’s more to regulations than economics, but I think this definition is instructive:

Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.

In this sense of scarcity, ocean water is scarce, as opposed to infinite. As these scarce resources have alternative uses, any choice to be made is a trade-off. There is no free lunch.

And so, with regulations, safer cars may be less fuel efficient, more fuel efficient cars may be less safe, and either type of regulation may price the automobiles out of the budgets of the poor.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of win-wins out there, such as computers becoming more energy efficient and cheaper, while maintaining performance, but there’s still the issue of more people buying more computers more often (as they’re cheaper), adding to the ecological footprint, blah, blah, blah.

The point is there’s always some trade-off and I think that should be considered before forging ahead with the regulation panacea du jour.

For example, I think there should be a clearer distinction between regulation specifically enacted by a legislative body and a legislative body empowering a bureaucratic body to enact regulations on its behalf. Both have their place, but it’s not the same thing. Similar considerations arise when looking at various levels of sovereignty.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

West Virginia Chemical Spill

No Comments »

If you haven’t heard about the somewhat under-reported chemical spill in West Virginia that left over 300,000 without drinkable water,  a coal-related chemical plant that hadn’t been inspected since 1991 had a leak in one of its containers, which happened to be right above a major watershed. This was complex for me from the jump, because I generally think that the EPA is out of control and that Americans and American businesses are over-regulated, but the details just cited seem to cry for a more powerful EPA and more regulation. I hope to do a full post on regulation, as my position is nuanced, so to summarize, the context of this tragedy gave me serious pause for thought.

But that was just the beginning. I quickly found this article in the New Republic, which further alleges that  coal slurry has forced up to 100,000 residents to abandon private wells to access water from a utility company and (perhaps relatedly),  there is extensive coal industry cronyism and corruption in West Virginia (both in policy legislation and enforcement of that legislation). I have some issues with and doubts about some of the details, but certainly further cause for concern and thought.

I discovered that the Charleston Gazette has a series devoted to the developments in the WV coal industry, Mining the Mountains.

Then I found this article. The site looks like something from the 90s, but it looks at the serious economic and social crises in WV and it digests some more reputable sources on the depth of the situation. The culture of widespread joblessness, drug abuse, and welfare fraud it reports is repulsive and begs for reprieve.

The article primarily blames NAFTA and its ilk, warning about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, depending on who you listen to, will expand free trade or enslave us all. The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 is reportedly the name of the bill to codify this partnership, which critics say will severely limit individual and U.S. sovereignty. I tried to read it, but even thought it’s only(?) 103 pages, it’s pretty cryptic. I found this digest, which is pretty damning if accurate, but provides the silver lining that it seems to be stalled via backlash. That may all be conspiracy drivel, but does beg the balances of protectionism versus promoting prosperity and sovereignty versus globalism.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

InformedElectorate.net

No Comments »

I launched a new site last night, InformedElectorate.net. It’s pretty basic right now, but wanted to get something out there.

The impetus for the site was going into the ballot box unfamiliar with the contents of the local/state ballot and then being frustrated when I tried to look into the ballot as early as possible, and still had trouble finding the positions of the people I was voting for. Note in the previous link (in the list of candidates), that I could only find facebook pages and official city/county pages for most people. Some people I couldn’t find anything. The local newspaper and radio station have been some help, but I still felt ill-informed when voting for, say, Township Trustee.

So the idea of the site is to make it easier for citizens to find out about their (esp. local and state) candidates and, necessarily, to make it easier for candidates to share and interact with citizens. This is a long term goal.

Currently, there’s only federal and state data for current representatives (and only congress, nothing about your state treasurer, for example), but the model I’m using for acquiring the data has to do with what’s called an Application Programming Interface (API). This basically means that a provider (government or a third party, in this case) will provide information in a predictable way that can be parsed by a developer and used. To be more  concrete, for example, opencongress.org is a great website to find out about federal legislative action. They and openstates.org are products of the Sunlight Foundation which is where I get most of my current data, via their APIs. However, I could also use data from govtrack.us, which tracks similar information, or opensecrets.org (data, Center for Responsive Politics) which tracks financial contributions. There are also resources directly from the government, such as from the U.S. Small Business Administration and others. Hats off also to democracymap.org, who appear to be trying to aggregate all this data.

Regardless of my efforts, I feel this is inevitable in the internet age.

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Deliberate

No Comments »

Deliberate this:

  1. When used as an adjective, it is pronounced with a soft ‘a’ and means “done consciously and intentionally.”
  2. When used as a verb, it is pronounced with a long ‘a’ and means, “engage in long and careful consideration.”

Etymologically, they both come from Old French “deliberation” from the Latin, “deliberatrionem”, [ late 14c., Old French deliberation, from Latin deliberationem (nominative deliberatio), noun of action from past participle stem of deliberare “weigh, consider well,” from de- “entirely” (see de-) + -liberare, altered (perhaps by influence of liberare “liberate”) from librare “to balance, weigh,” from libra “scale.” ].

The concepts of “deliberating the best course of action” and “deliberately taking an action” seem worlds apart. To say someone deliberately did something basically means that you believe they had at least some form of rational intention. Sociopaths actions may be deliberate, but they failed to deliberate before choosing a course of action.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=deliberate

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather