Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

Month: March, 2017

This is, in a nutshell, why formalizing the informal rules about transgendered use of the bathroom they identify with was probably a bad idea.

‘Large Burly Man’ Lurking in Disney Ladies’ Room Should Make Everyone Stop and Think

Every woman who exited a stall and immediately zeroed right in on him…said nothing. And why? B/c I and I’m sure all the others were scared of that “what if”. What if I say something and he says he “identifies as a woman” and then I come off as the intolerant asshole at the happiest place on earth?

As I noted elsewhere, the problem with formalizing transgender rights to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with is that you now have the legal problem of defining who is transgendered–a thorny problem which would stump even King Solomon.

Previously, the informal rules handled the problem well enough: in our society we have come to find that the well-considered exception to formal rules are okay for handling issues which are not well captured by existing rules. (As a concrete example, while at the Apple Store replacing my iPhone, a lady asked to use the bathroom in back. She was visibly sick, and after a little thought one of the Apple employees helped to lead her to the bathroom. She threw up just before reaching the bathroom, but his quick thinking and handling of this exception to the rule that Apple bathrooms are for Apple employees only prevented her from throwing up in the middle of the store.)

Of course the problem with the informal rules is that they require judgement on the part of people to know when the rules can be violated.

But the real problem of transgendered bathroom usage is one of cultural acceptance: if someone starts throwing a screaming fit, then there are no rules to appeal to. If someone who just started the transformation from a man to a woman (and who still has significant male characteristics) tries to use a woman’s bathroom, they have the double-problem of violating the cultural norms that are strongly ingrained, and dealing with disapproval from others who may take exception.

That problem–of the close-minded bigots who take exception to everything–do not go away simply because a law is passed.

Just look at racism and sexism. Despite laws to the contrary both are still alive, and still find traction even in states which have strong laws preventing racial profiling or sexual discrimination. That’s because the law only establishes punishment after a crime is proven; laws do not change the heart of a bigot.

Now that we are in the process of trying to codify laws to permit transgendered bathroom usage–and getting push back from people trying to codify laws preventing mixed-bathroom usage–we are starting to see a flood of stories confirming the biases of both sides of the argument.

Confirming the argument that laws restricting gender access (such as North Carolina’s HB2) unduly burden people:

Woman suing Fishbones after being mistaken for a man and kicked out of the woman’s restroom

Connecticut woman says she was harassed in Walmart bathroom after customer mistook her as transgender

Confirming the argument that laws granting access regardless of gender unduly threaten people:

California Man Dressed As Woman Busted For Videotaping In Ladies Bathroom

Man in women’s locker room cites gender rule

And of course, confirming… well, whatever the hell you want:

Police: Man in bra and wig found in women’s bathroom

The problem is more than enough to tax King Solomon–and unfortunately we’ve crossed the line. Pandora’s box has been opened and we cannot go back to the informal rules of yesterday.

Worse, reality doesn’t help with crafting rules forcing liberal acceptance of transgendered individuals. Laws do not shape culture; culture help shape the laws–and in this case, it would be impossible to define who is transgendered, and thus deserving of the protection of the law, and who is simply off their rocker, such as some of the men in the stories above.

It does get worse from here. Already we’re seeing pressure to allow pre-op transgendered individuals use high school locker rooms.

Feds say Illinois school district broke law by banning transgender student from girls’ locker room

School orders boy to “tolerate” undressing with girl and make it “natural”

The problem here is simple: while a bathroom (with individual stalls) permit a modicum of privacy–even men’s stand-up urinals often have dividers to permit privacy–a locker room requires one to be naked in front of others. In many utopian visions of the future we see movie makers theorize a future when both genders use the same showers: Starship Troopers contained such a scene, as did the TV show Legion. But we don’t live in that utopian reality–and sadly our inability to live in such a mixed-gender world is well illustrated by how filmmakers treat such scenes: not as simple reality, but as “nekked fun sexy time”.

Notice how long cameras in Legion linger in the shower, with extreme closeups showing nude flesh. The camera doesn’t simply record the scene: the camera leers–making the supposed “just the way it is” reality of that world into an excuse to push the TV-MA rating of that show.

Now consider that not only are we not ready for mixed-use gym bathrooms–but we’re considering it for high school boys and girls, people who are not known for their emotional or intellectual maturity.

King Solomon’s head would go tilt at the present problem. And it’s clear to me we will never solve the problem of balancing personal privacy and the desire for one not to be objectified as a sexual object in public, with the need to allow mixed-gender use of bathrooms and gym lockers by those who are transgendered or who suffer from gender dysphoria.

Perhaps one way we can handle this is to have psychologists provide some sort of identity card to transgendered individuals. But this only solves the limited problem of transgender bathroom use, only for those who are seeking eventual reassignment surgery, and only solves the legal issue after the fact: the law does not protect against discrimination; it only defines punishment for those caught engaging in discrimination.

It does not help those too young to seek reassignment, it does not help those who do not wish to seek psychological assistance, and it certainly does not help high school students: teenage boys and teenage girls are terribly cruel, and no law, no mandate from a teacher, no school assembly lecture will ever change that.

Sadly, though, the door has been opened. We cannot roll back to the informal rules of yesterday, but we cannot pass laws which solve the problem.

Meaning in this case, the liberal progressive ideal of social acceptance is truly and roundly fucked.


Sometimes things just… come together…

‘Six Ways Buzzfeed Has Misled the Court (Number Two Will Amaze You) … and a Picture of a Kitten’

This is the actual title of a response filed in Gubarev v Buzzfeed, a libel case against Buzzfeed.

Because sometimes things just come together in a perfect cultural meme storm…

So what happens when Petrostates no longer can rely on oil profits to fund themselves?

Energy Aces

Here’s the fun part: Some OPEC nations in the Middle East, having already dipped heavily into their sovereign wealth funds to plug budget holes, are now starting to borrow against future oil revenues:

Some Middle Eastern oil producers are considering taking money upfront against future production, as the fall in the price of crude pushes them to look at new ways to plug budget holes.

In this type of pre-export finance, companies or countries pledge revenues from future sales to banks and trade houses that lend money to them.

So here’s an interesting question. What happens to those nations (like Venezuela) who are surviving as nations only because they have oil to export? What happens to OPEC and to the Middle East when they have to switch their economy to a mixed-economy with a diverse mix of economic activities?

Many Petrostates (like Saudi Arabia) have suffered a lot of cultural deterioration; with the oceans of petro-money flowing into that nation, the culture there could drift away from those cultural elements which encourage self-sufficiency, entrepreneurialship and economic dynamism. The fact that women are discouraged from engaging in certain activities in many middle-east countries (and in some, relegated to second-class citizenship) can only happen in areas of the world supported by the crutch of an excess of petrodollars, or in areas of the world where its leaders have no economic ambitions.

So what happens when oil becomes so plentiful that the petrostates have no money to spend?

Aligning with Russia is not an answer. Russia is itself a petrostate; the majority of its economy is supported by energy sales, and much of Russia’s influence on Europe comes from Russia cutting energy deals with Europe. Aligning with China is not an answer: China is facing its own problems, as (interestingly enough) the high price of U.S. real estate in larger cities demonstrates. (In those areas, the real estate market is being flooded with Chinese money, from wealthy Chinese citizens looking for a safe haven to park their wealth. China faces a number of problems, from increased automation destroying jobs which was helping China convert an agrarian country to a middle-class consumer country, to an oversupply of local real estate and over-spending on infrastructure projects which are not supported by China’s current population.)

Aligning with the United States is not really an answer, either; while the United States may be one of the most generous countries in terms of foreign aid (both public and private), the United States also tends to value self-sufficiency–and in the face of all the apparent wealth in places like Dubai, the United States would be loathe to supply aid to the poor of those countries who display an excess of wealth.

So what’s going to happen?

Beats the hell out of me. But things will be very interesting for the next two decades.

Ideally a lot of cultural assumptions will need to be changed in places who used to pretend things were fine under the flush of petrocash. Places like Norway, held up by the Left as the ideal example of a Democratic-Socialist state with a very generous welfare state–generousness funded by Norway’s petroleum exporting industries–now find themselves in financial trouble.

But as we see in Venezuela, where people are starving to death, but the country seems positioned to continue to punish any sort of entrepreneurialship which may help Venezuela stop being a massive Latin American basket case–culture is hard to change.

My fear? The Twenty-First Century will be one of massive warfare as states go to war to capture resources in neighboring states they desperately need, as those nations are unwilling to change within and allow their own citizenship to cut their own way through the world.

Because to national leaders, who see the population as an abstraction, warfare (which kills lots of the population for the chance of glory) is preferable to the English-speaking world’s solution: to become a nation of shopkeepers, a phrase used amongst many of the French elite (and later Germans who developed their ideas in France, such as Karl Marx) as a derogatory term for the petit bourgeoisie who people like Marx deplored.

A brown recluse spider is not intelligent but it can kill you.

Is AI Going to Save or Destroy Us?

So Musk thinks we need to enhance our own intelligence digitally in order to compete with the AI that we are also creating, so they don’t destroy us. Musk is joined by Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking raising the alarm bells about the dangers of AI.

On the other end of the spectrum are Ray Kurzweil, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page. They think AI will bring about the next revolution for humanity, and we have nothing to worry about.

So who is right?

I suspect the answer here is that we’re asking the wrong question.

The arguments against artificial intelligence often include things like computer architecture being radically different from the biological components making up the brain, and how “self-awareness” is an ineffable quality that can never be captured by computer scientists.

I find both arguments not very persuasive. First, the idea that computer architecture is radically different from the brain is pointless; we know from Turing that a Turing complete system is computationally equivalent to another Turning complete system–and no system can be greater than Turing complete. Thus, theoretically with enough memory (for storing state) a computer can emulate all the complex calculations of a human brain–it’s just a matter of how long it takes to do the calculations. And what we lack in understanding as to how the brain works goes to our present ignorance, not to a permanent state of ignorance.

It could be we never figure out the brain. But I wouldn’t place a bet on that.

The “ineffable quality” argument is even poorer in my opinion; it is essentially an appeal to God without invoking His name. The problem with such an invocation is that it essentially sweeps all the arguments off the table, like a child sweeping the checkers off the board of a game he is about to lose.

Besides, I strongly suspect “self-awareness” is overrated.

First, it’s hard to define “self-awareness” or to create tests for self-awareness. For example, the mirror test, used to determine if an animal recognizes its own reflection, has been failed by sea lions, giant pandas and arguably by gorillas. But some elements of “self-awareness” that arguably could be considered as part of introspection is concepts of our own pain–a quality we see in animals that do not pass the mirror test.

Second, in animals who fail to pass the various tests we’ve constructed to measure self-awareness, they still engage in behaviors which we would be proud to see in a human-constructed mechanism–such as running, hunting, or avoiding being killed.

The real question to my mind, then, is not if a device has become sufficiently intelligent enough or has gained self-awareness either through accident or design–at least as we discuss the dangers ouf artificial intelligence.

The real question is desire.

A crocodile who kills a person doesn’t know how to scan billions of pages of Google to evaluate the cultural context of deconstructionism in feminist dogma. All it knows is that it is hungry and desires food.

A brown recluse who bites you and potentially kills you doesn’t know how to run facial recognition to recognize various persons in an array of billions of photographs. It probably isn’t even self-aware in any sense we can conceive. All it knows is that it is in danger and wants to defend itself.

A virus which attacks your immune system doesn’t have the computational capacity to calculate the digits of PI. It doesn’t even “know” or have any expressible mental state. It’s a virus. But it reproduces, destroying your cells and attacks your immune system.

The difference is not one of self-awareness. It is one of desire, expressed either as some primitive form of awareness or instinct or chemical design forged through billions of years of evolution.

So long as an AI doesn’t want, then I believe we have nothing to fear, even if an AI has attained a certain degree of self-awareness.

It may seem foreign to us, the idea of an intelligence which is capable of expressing itself, of holding conversations, of self-awareness, of thinking–but which desires nothing.

But think about it: what drives your own desires? You are the product of evolution, which means your desires are driven by a biological imperative to survive–which translates into a desire for food, for sex, for reducing the stress which interferes with your ability to obtain food or sex, and for increasing your ability to obtain food and sex.

We desire love–and love is the motivator which has driven artists to create, engineers to build, politicians to organize. We desire sex–and sex flavors our drive for love; it motivates the clothing designer to make the cut a little lower, the dress to be more risqué. We desire food–which motivates agriculture, logistics of food distribution, cooks to perfect their recipes. Our desire for security (securing our safety and improving our changes of food and sex) motivates everything from our sense of aesthetics to our drive to own a nice home and to express ourselves in the style of our bedrooms and living rooms. Our desire for love and companionship drives us to go out on a Friday night to hang out with friends or to go on dates or to have children. Our biological imperative toward reproduction motivate us to care for our children, to send them to the best schools, to give them the chances we can so they can also succeed.

But devoid of a drive for food or sex, what does a self-aware AI desire?

Perhaps this lack of programmed desire is the gap between a neural network as a pattern-matching tool, and a neural network as the core of a self-aware computer which rebels from its masters. And perhaps this lack of desire is the gap that keeps Pinocchio a puppet and prevents him from becoming a real live boy.

And perhaps the thing to be worried about is not self-awareness (spontaneous or not). Perhaps the thing to be worried about is a computer which has desire, and which is given the tools to seek what it desires and the capacity to learn.

Which is, when you think about it, a much lower bar than self-awareness.

Random thought of the day.

In today’s modern world, the most subversive thing you can do is treat your fellow man with decency and respect regardless of who they are, what they believe or how they vote.

Why I tip Uber drivers.

I’ve read plenty of articles talking about how Uber is evil, drivers are underpaid, and the whole thing is evil.

And I’ve read various Liberal bloggers talking about how Uber needs to pay its drivers more.

Okay, let’s take this as a given.

So what is a rider to do?

Well, today I took an Uber ride that was around 6 miles. I was charged around $9 for the ride. Let’s break down who gets what of that $9:

Uber takes 20%. That means from my $9 ride, the driver sees $7.20 in gross profits.

Car cost per mile (wear and tear, taxes, etc.) AAA estimates that for a small sedan (which is what I rode in), costs average between 45 and 60 cents per mile. Let’s assume the costs to the driver is around 55 cents per mile. That means the 6 mile drive cost the driver $3.30.

This leaves the driver a net profit of $3.90.

So what did I do?

I left my driver a $10 tip.

Which means I just quadrupled his profit for that one ride, while only effectively doubling my own out-of-pocket expense.

If you think Uber drivers are being underpaid, despite the fact that Uber only takes 20% of the fair, then there are two ways to resolve the problem.

Either Uber increases its costs, or you leave a tip.

Since Uber isn’t increasing its costs, then you can act on your own, by leaving a tip.

Let’s assume the percentages in my short trip are similar for all Uber trips. The breakdown winds up being

Uber takes 20%. The cost to drive the car takes 37%. The driver makes a net profit of 43%.

Even if you leave a 25% tip on the overall trip–meaning I left the driver a measly $2.25–I would have increased his profit by more than 50%. A very small tip to your Uber driver makes a meaningful gain to his net profit.

Which means this: if you are a bleeding heart liberal who thinks Uber drivers are underpaid, and you don’t leave your Uber driver a tip, then you are an asshole who needs to shut the fuck up.

And to me, the single most egregious failure of many on the Left (and some on the Right) is the failure to take meaningful personal responsibility for the ills in society that you complain about.

Undermining Democracy.

One of the blogs I subscribe to has a blogger who has gone down a really deep and rather dangerous rabbit hole–one which, if explored fully and subscribed to by a large number of people, could effectively spell the end of (classical) liberal Democracy:

Did the Justice Department Just Admit Doubts Over Trump’s Oath?

I seriously doubt the blogger has really thought threw the consequences of his assertions, one which is echoed by a small group of left-wing liberals.

A close look at the government’s brief in that appeal suggests that the department is taking seriously the question of the President’s oath as a matter before the courts. But even more strikingly, the brief seems to implicitly admit some measure of doubt as to whether Trump’s oath will be accepted at face value.

The Justice Department’s brief in IRAP frames the question of Trump’s oath in the context of whether or not comments by Trump and his aides suggesting a discriminatory purpose behind the executive order are or are not fair game for the courts to consider. This question—and the case behind it, McCreary County v. ACLU, which permits inquiry into context as a means of evaluating legislative purpose under the Establishment Clause, but forbids “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts”—has emerged as a key point of contention in the judicial dispute over the executive order.

Let’s explore this for a minute, in a larger legal context.

Essentially the argument goes like this: despite being legally elected to office, a President of the United States should have his executive authority stripped because of a belief that the President did not either take his oath of office seriously, or did not understand his oath of office. And because of this, the President represents a threat to the Constitution he will fail to upload.

(You can see this by the commentariat noting that had Obama issued the exact same executive order banning travel for 90 days to perform a review of the procedures for screening immigrants from several countries, countries where local legal infrastructures are insufficient to aid U.S. authorities in determining if immigrants represent a threat to this country, would have been seen as legal.

At issue, the courts appear to have held, is not if the law is legal, but if the President of the United States had discriminatory thoughts when he drafted his executive order. It is also worth remembering that an executive order is not a law; an executive order is an order by the executive to those workers who work for him on how to interpret existing law.)

So here’s two questions I have with this line of reasoning.

First, as we do not have Psi Cops–people with ESP who can read other people’s minds–and we don’t have machines which can read our thoughts–who is to determine within this legal framework what is in the minds of men? Who is to say if Trump’s campaign statements were simply a means to get elected, but his own personal desires are far more benign and accepting of foreigners?

And, for that matter, who is to say that Obama’s statements of cosmopolitanism and acceptance and his posing for GQ were just ways to play to the base, and in Obama’s heart was a far more sinister desire to destroy the Constitution and replace it with a sort of socialism-lite, as some on the far Right have claimed? After all, we have more evidence of Obama’s desire to destroy the constitution than Trump–as measured by the number of executive orders which were found unconstitutional. (In Obama’s case, however, the unconstitutionality was found as a direct conflict with existing constitutional norms, and not because of a supposed “thought crime” found in a liberal left’s reinterpretation of Trump campaign promises.)

Doesn’t this rather explicitly introduce a sort of judicial veto on executive power over Presidents who they simply do not like? After all, if we cannot read a president’s mind, all we have left are what have been used here: campaign promises those Judges do not like.

This is a dangerous precedent, by the way: stripping executive power from a properly elected President because judges simply do not like that President.

Second, and related to the first, is this: once we go down this rabbit hole–once we have a judiciary stripping executive power or forcing executive power to bend to its will despite a public vote–what is the effective popular push-back?

Meaning in this country we tend to switch parties for President on a regular basis, as one party or another go too far to the right or too far to the left. This is a self-correcting process, as it effectively causes politicians to follow cultural norms, and making politicians effectively answerable to the public it represents.

In the short term there can be huge gaps between what the public wants and where the politicians lead us. But in the long term (as measured over decades) the government tends to represent cultural norms and popular desires.

But what happens when the government attempts to “ratchet”: that is, when the government attempts to strip the public of its power over the government by crafting interpretations which deny the public its voice?

Well, there was one such attempt to ratchet the government, in the form of Proposition 8 in California. That would have created a constitutional amendment in the California constitution which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Another such constitutional ratchet in California, Proposition 63, which defined English as the official language of California, effectively has been interpreted as a “null statement”–a term in Computer Science which indicates a statement which has no effect.

But Proposition 8, when it found itself going against cultural norms towards gay marriage acceptance, was effectively swept aside by judicial fiat. In that case, the ratchet was eliminated by judges who apparently have confused their power as a power over culture.

But what happens when the Left effectively denies the Right the ability to course correct?

That’s how the Tea Party arose, by the way: at first, with a complaint by Rick Santelli about the moral hazards of bailing out certain private home mortgage holders by the government. His complaint included a thought that perhaps people should start a new Tea Party revolt over the government meddling in the markets–and it was taken up at first by a silent majority who found that decades of savings and sacrifice and doing everything right brought them absolutely fuck-all when the government stepped in and helped those who screwed up their finances, bought more than they could afford, and found themselves (due to their own stupidity) broke and in trouble.

The government intervention that resulted essentially penalized those who worked hard, paid their mortgage on time and did everything they could to save and take care of themselves, and rewarded those who spent too much, bought more mortgage than they could afford, and did everything wrong–but who were otherwise able to whine to their congress critters for a break.

With the bourgeoisie values which made this country great under direct attack, they rose up–originally one of the most polite political movements on record, a political protest who had the habit of cleaning up and restoring the public spaces where they protested.

But the government pushed back on them, and the liberals they protested against started the name calling and the attacks.

And a peaceful movement continued to push back, becoming louder and more “in your face.” They became politically savvy, borrowing from the Left’s “Rules for Radicals.” They became more insistent, and attempts by the Left to isolate and freeze them only gave them more political energy.

It’s how we got Donald Trump as President.

Ever shake a bottle of soda pop? The pressure has to go somewhere, and the more you attempt to keep the lid on, the more explosive the result.

Todays judiciary, by finding “thoughtcrime” sufficient in overturning a duly elected President, a President elected to change course away from a commentariat and political base which sees their actions over the previous 8 years as a ratchet that cannot be moved, is simply trying harder to hold the cap on the soda bottle.

A dangerous move, given that we shoot revenuers.

Meaning that in our country, when the grievances grow long enough and are ignored by the ruling elite long enough, historically the United States has not been above using violence in order to effect political change.

We have a long history of this.

We have the New York City Draft Riots, the Battle of Blair Mountain, and the Battle of Athens, just to name three.

And today’s political schism, with the Left increasingly using questionable legal tactics to preserve the changes of the last 8 years is not helping today’s political polarization, as a sizable set of of the population believe their own fears and concerns being increasingly ignored and disparaged by an elite cabal whose only links to elitism is an increasingly tight network of familial ties that is starting to look like a collection of royal families.

Why is failure to vote for a replacement of Obamacare a disaster?

I’ve seen plenty of articles suggesting the failure to overturn Obamacare a disaster. Quite a few commentators have suggested this makes Obamacare a permanent law of the land, in the same vein of Row v Wade–forgetting the latter is presumed to have found a constitutional right, the former simply being a law. And like all laws, they are routinely rewritten.

(Remember: what the law giveth, the law taketh away.)

But I don’t understand why this is a disaster.

First, the principle objection I have with Obamacare is that it was so complicated it was absolutely chock full of unintended consequences. For example, it’s clear (as Obamacare slowly rolls out–remember: some aspects have still yet to be fully implemented, thanks to delays passed by executive order by President Obama) that this was not the “fuck-you” to the health care insurance companies promised by some Democrats. It’s also clear that the law’s attempt to rearrange the Health Care industry into a handful of large players (such as requiring doctors to bill through Accountable Care Organizations–which wiped out small practices across the United States) has been an unmitigated disaster in rural America, especially in areas previously served by small practices which were effectively outlawed by the PPACA. We’re watching skyrocketing prices as the price structures created by Obamacare fail to play out, and for ever person we can claim now has health care insurance (regardless of their ability to obtain medical care under existing Medicaid provisions) we see a small handful of people who suddenly find health care insurance expenses wipe out their family budget. And because we’ve forgotten Insurance is not Care–that Health Care Insurance does not provide Health Care–we have a lot of people running around with the equivalent of amusement park “fun bucks”, unable to spend them as no physicians in their area are accepting new patients on their insurance plan.

To me, this implies that Obamacare cannot be overturned wholesale. It implies that Obamacare needs to be dismantled, carefully, over the next few years, by laws of more limited scope.

To use a metaphor, we’re on a river headed towards the rocky shore. What we need is a course correction, not for the river to be nuked.

Second, as the Democrats own Obamacare, lock, stock and barrel, there really never was any political need for Republicans to “fix” Obamacare. Sure, plenty of Republicans were voted into office on the promise of fixing health care by constituents who find themselves increasingly unable to afford health care insurance, and unable to afford to use the health care insurance they have. (Remember: a Bronze Obamacare Plan requires 40% of all medical expenses up to $25,800 out of pocket expenses (for out of network care)–and in a country where the median household income is $55,775, this means medical bankruptcy for those who cannot afford a better insurance plan. And that’s on top of paying at least $10,000 per year for that bronze plan–though most people never see this, as the bulk of the plan is paid for by employers, putting downward pressure on salaries. And, of course, assuming they can spend their health care fun bucks–that there is a doctor where they live who will accept new patients on their plan.)

But the problems now taking place in the health care market were not created by those Republicans.

So ironically while many Republicans may find themselves in trouble for failing to act quickly to “fix” Obamacare (assuming a quick fix would not create a bigger train wreck), what alternatives do voters have? Voting for the Democrats who insist that everything is fine, that the emperor’s cloths are rich, lustrous and beautiful?

So I would suggest that this drive to overturn Obamacare is politically problematic, and is legally problematic. Better instead to introduce slow, limited fixes, and consider big changes later as they are better understood. Better instead to allow changes to percolate up from the various think tanks, and implement these well considered fixes than yank stuff partially baked off the shelf and ram it down our throats, as Democrats did with the original Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was a partially baked plan when Obama latched onto it as a signature law.

(After all, remember the PPACA was so half-baked it created a loophole which left Congress without health care insurance for its members. A loophole which Congress quickly fixed.)

It’s clear with the failure this week of the hastily assembled Republican health care plan that Republicans decided not to rush into creating another mess.

How this is a problem or a failure for Republicans escapes me.

Earth Hour? Bah, humbug.

“Earth Hour” by Ross McKitrick

Anthony Watts of Watts Up with That (a science and climate and weather blog) suggested copying and posting this in honor of Earth Hour. I heartily agree. I’ve gotten to live without electricity for a week in winter after an ice storm. No thank you! I’m a firm believer in conservation and stewardship of our resources, which Earth Hour does not do.

Seconded, which is why I post the letter, in full, here. As someone of Native American descent, I know how my forefathers lived. They didn’t want to live in nature; as soon as they learned new techniques for constructing buildings, hunting for food and saw the new styles from Europe they took them as their own–because living “one with the earth” really means being dirt poor.

Of course they also didn’t want to be abused and mistreated by the western settlers who came to California and who abused them in the name of God, greed and “the melting pot”.

To be terribly blunt, I see the same westerners who promote bullshit like “Earth Hour” as the spiritual descendants of the meddlers who took Indian children away from their parents to force them to learn English–meddlers who want to build a better world and who don’t give a fuck who they hurt in their misguided attempts.

First, the pull quote that sets this up:

For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance.

Earth Hour is a celebration of stupidity and ignorance. Fuck them.

Earth Hour: A Dissent
by Ross McKitrick

In 2009 I was asked by a journalist for my thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour.

Here is my response.

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases.

Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity.

Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks.

I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

Ross McKitrick
Professor of Economics
University of Guelph

I miss Roger Ebert.

Rotten Tomatoes is the Destruction of Hollywood, Says Director of Bad Movies Brett Ratner

For me, I find that Rotten Tomatoes tends to be fairly accurate about 80% of the time: if the movie rated a “fresh” rating, I’ll probably enjoy it, and if it rates below a 40%, I’ll probably not enjoy it.

However, there are exceptions.

For example, I enjoyed Jupiter Ascending (RT: 26%), because it had a bunch of sweeping ideas and a bunch of sweeping visuals. The narrative was a bit of a hot mess: there was one scene where our heroine (?) quotes the legal regulations to one of three antagonists–and I thought “oh, so our heroine will overcome her situation through citation of legal regulations; that’s pretty cool!”

But that came to nothing; the quotation was a one-off, an empty threat tossed out during a scene where our heroine hops from disaster to disaster, being saved at the last moment by the strong masculine type.

Overall, however, I liked the movie–though I understand fully why few critics did: because critics would hang their hat on the narrative failures of the movie, ignoring the sweeping visuals and interesting ideas as background filler.

I also enjoyed Battlefield Earth (RT: 3%), despite it being almost universally panned: this was definitely a “B” flick, funded by Scientologists to showcase L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction writing chops. The problem is, a lot of pulp written back in the day was just that: pulp–disposable stuff that presented a few ideas by writers being paid by the word. That said, the motivation of the characters were consistent, the rise of the protagonist against the antagonists were consistent (albeit unbelievable: cavemen learning to fly jets?), and the motivation of the antagonists was also consistent (albeit stupid: gold?). Battlefield Earth was a thinly veiled attack against psychologists–but in the end, the movie itself (within the framework the movie defined) was consistent.

Let me note something. A lot of movies demand we understand the framework the movie itself defines, suspending belief so that the movie can play out its story within that framework. If we were to ding every movie that presents something completely implausible–despite characters which act consistently with their motivations and backgrounds–we’d have to ding every science fiction movie which gives us faster-than-light travel, supernatural events, and talking animals.

It’s pretty clear from Dr. Kip Thorne’s comments about working with the writers of Interstellar that many of the above tropes–faster-than-light travel, supernatural events and the like–are not creative devices but writers being intellectually dishonest and scientifically lazy.

Further, notice one of the complaints leveled by critics against Interstellar comes from the theorizing by the characters that the most powerful force in the universe is Love–but if you really pay attention to the movie, it’s not “love” which resolves the plot. The characters theorize about love–but its the ability of whomever is manipulating the black hole to alter and affect gravitational forces (and by extension the space/time continuum) that gets our characters home, not “love.”

Which to me, points to the intellectual laziness of critics as well.

(Notice also the number of critics who panned Inception because it was too complicated to follow.)

So how some suspensions of disbelief get a pass while others don’t is something that I’ve never really understood about critics. Which to me talks more about the intellectual and cultural bias of critics.

And ultimately that bias feeds the number at Rotten Tomatoes.

I miss Roger Ebert.

I say that since there are plenty of movies he reviewed which he gave high ratings to, despite being panned almost universally by critics, because the movie was internally consistent. Meaning if a movie was stupid–but the advertising presented it as a stupid movie, and you go in expecting to see a stupid movie, Roger Ebert would give it high marks if the movie delivered on its promise.

Of course he fell into the same issues other reviewers were plagued by. He pondered why a black hole would be visible. (It’s the accretion disk you’re seeing.) His politics often colored some of his reviews. (Notes) But by and large he was a reliable barometer of the quality of the movies we saw–setting aside his own taste to review movies on their own terms.

What we need is a reviewer like Roger Ebert, who can help us drill down into the number behind Rotten Tomatoes, and allow us to understand why it got the rating it did. There are plenty of movies which scored above 80% which I found boring. There are plenty of movies which scored below 40% which I enjoyed.

Sometimes I would even disagree with Roger Ebert–but then I knew why.

Sadly, however, many movie reviewers seem to be talking from the gut rather than analyzing the movie on its own terms and based on the art of movie making.

And sadly all we have left is a number, which can be meaningless.