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I’ll have to remember this one…

It’s a good phrase

Play the ball not the man

or, perhaps more correctly:

Playing the man, not the ball

Sadly describes the vast majority of blog responses, or frankly argument, these days.

A “football”, or as some say, “soccer” quote.

The harassed…

Via my best friend we find that rats are being harassed:

“Experiments on different groups of rats of different ages showed that the most effective means of instilling depression (measured by overall listlessness) was to constantly harass young rats, and then intermittently harass them again when they got older, and that doing this is likely a better overall model for depression than other methods. So that’s good news for drug testing, and bad news for lab rats.”

Which, forgetting the ethics (or lack thereof) of harassing rats brings me to the question:

Is it better to spend the money on experiments to harass rats to in turn make drugs to help harassed depressed people *or* to identify the people doing the harassing depressing and nail them to trees?

I’ve got a lot of nails in my garage that are voting on the later, not to mention it would be more fun to watch.

Oh, if only it were so simple. Still, I’ve got to say, it definitely shows that we are treating the symptom, not the cause. The only way to truly make the world a better place is if we humans are just, well, better.

Responding on “merit”…

Responding to a quote in Sean McElwee’s excellent screed on the topic of why Americans seem to be so complacent:

“The Waltons and Kochs, parasites living off their parent’s work rather than creating their own fortunes, are examples of how the old story of the “self-made man” is increasingly out of date.”

My cross-posted comment:

But even if they had “created” their own fortunes would it really be fair anyway? Did Bill Gates will himself to be smart? Did Warren Buffet will himself to be ambitious?

The answer is “no”. They can except credit for their God given (or universe given, or whatever) talents as the farmer can take credit for the rain watering his crops. Their success is at least as attributable to luck as any self-derived talent. Sure, maybe Lloyd Blanfein works harder than I do, but the fact that he wants that and is able to sustain that has less to do with a choice, than the hand that he was dealt by genetics and upbringing. That someone is the CEO of a corporation is not because they choose to try harder, it’s because trying harder is literally easier for them. They are wired to try hard – the “trying hard” they do, unlike most of us, isn’t “work” (or at least as much work) for them.

I am better at computers than many people I know, but while I can claim I have worked harder on computers than others, the reason I worked harder is ironically because it was easier for me. I may have struggled with this or that, but it sure as hell wasn’t as much of a struggle as most. While I will allow myself to be proud of my accomplishments, objectively I cannot claim to be the source of my talents. I was just lucky to be wired the right way at the right time.

So, why should the Wal*Mart employee be punished because he’s not wired like Lloyd Blankfein (or me the lucky computer guy)? Why should Lloyd Blankfein (or me the computer guy) get all the spoils of his good luck rather than effort?

Sure, we want to incentivize certain traits to encourage those with and without luck to aspire to them, but it’s a matter of degrees. Even “meritocracy” can be taken too far (and that of course even forgets your well put arguments, the fact that we confuse “merit” with hubris/assholedom, and that claims of merit are often remarkably exaggerated or even false).

Obviously there are limitations to this philosophy and one could easily end up in trouble should you go too far down this road, however we find ourselves in the trouble we are in currently because conversely we have gone too far down some other roads.

One problem we have as humans is we want everything to fit in a nice tidy box, when the truth of creating a better world will probably be an ugly and ever-changing mish-mash of ideas and methods. It would be nice to say, “Everyone who believes X will go to Hell and everyone who believes in Y will go to Heaven,” but we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work that well. In the end, just because you need water to live, doesn’t mean that holding you underwater will be double-plus-good.

But going to extremes is as American as apple pie or rather, the Big Gulp (though to give us Americans credit, we do seem to do a better job than our European brethren at stepping back from the brink).

UPDATE:

Incidentally, I am not the first one to question the idea of “merit” as being a good metric:

O.M.: The merits of the metal machine would be far above those of the stone one?

Y.M.: Of course.

O.M.: Personal merits?

Y.M.: PERSONAL merits? How do you mean?

O.M.: It would be personally entitled to the credit of its own performance?

Y.M.: The engine? Certainly not.

O.M.: Why not?

Y.M.: Because its performance is not personal. It is the result of the law of construction. It is not a MERIT that it does the things which it is set to do–it can’t HELP doing them.

O.M.: And it is not a personal demerit in the stone machine that it does so little?

Y.M.: Certainly not. It does no more and no less than the law of its make permits and compels it to do. There is nothing PERSONAL about it; it cannot choose. In this process of “working up to the matter” is it your idea to work up to the proposition that man and a machine are about the same thing, and that there is no personal merit in the performance of either?

Of course you do risk getting back to this:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

But as I said, “mish-mash”, the Libertarians aren’t all wrong, nor were the Marxists (and besides, putting down the Marxists is a bit of “hippie-bashing“, a way to say, “We’re not one of those people.”).

 

Why Ukraine is not a joke…

And why we should not be encouraging further unnecessary discord:

2014-05-14_8-31-54

As told to friends…

Here’s a reply I sent to some friends some time back and thought worth putting here. As western civilization seems to continue it’s steady decline, I think it’s topical:

I do not care what system we choose, whether it be capitalism, socialism, communism, libertarianism, plutocracy, democracy, dictatorship, Ryand-i-ism, a mix an match of all, whatever. I do not even care if it leaves some filthy rich while others are just “satisfied” as long as it at least addresses the following:

  • It is sustainable long term, whether that be political or environmental.
  • It ensures everyone gets food and shelter.
  • It ensures the greatest level of comfort and prosperity for all humans, regardless of divisions.

I would note that “comfort” goes beyond simple material comfort, but also spiritual comfort in the sense of addressing the need for “freedom”, the insults of things like “relative deprivation”, the general need for fairness, and other “human rights” that are often generally accepted.  Health would also be included. That is, the vast majority of people cannot be miserable whether from physical need or spiritual (emotional) need.

Whether any system can provide that (particularly ones that insist on ideological consistency), I do not know. However I do know the current system is failing miserably on all 3 bullets and I do know we have in our very lifetime seen better.

So if Tedd Cruz can pull that shit off,  he can have at it, but from what I can see not only is his viewpoint a total failure, so is that of the so-called opposition.

The rest is “fiddling while Rome burns”…

Honestly, it doesn’t matter about the deficit, it doesn’t matter what Christie did, it doesn’t matter who’s going to win the Super Bowl, it doesn’t matter if Miley Cyrus gets naked, it doesn’t matter if the Royal couple are going to have twins, comparatively it doesn’t even matter if there is Middle-East peace or not. It’s all “fiddling while Rome burns” compared to this:

We need to put aside our petty and not so petty struggles and figure out an answer before there is no answer to be had.

Parasite of the world Unite!

“The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves. The relationship produces nothing but mutual corruption. It is impossible in concept. The nearest approach to it in reality – the man who lives to serve others – is the slave. If physical slavery is repulsive, how much more repulsive is the concept of servility of the spirit. The conquered slave has a vestige of honor. He has the merit of having resisted and of considering his condition evil. But the man who enslaves himself voluntarily in the name of love is the basest of creatures. He degrades the dignity of man, and he degrades the conception of love. But that is the essence of altruism”

- Ayn Rand

So here’s how I see it:

Little Ayn Rand sees the big bad communists do (legitimately) bad things around her and to her family. Little Ayn Rand gets traumatized. Little Ayn Rand is emotionally stunted but nevertheless grows up into Big Ayn Rand. Big Ayn Rand needs to see a therapist but instead blows her personal problem into an ideological thesis. Lots of people who are also emotionally stunted, in need of a good therapist, and are looking for a philosophy that justifies their massive egos and/or selfishness join on.

Voila – modern day Randians.

The stupid thing is – no one does anything out of true “altruism”. Those who “live for others”, live for themselves. They get emotional feedback that makes them feel good. Thus to criticize altruism is quite literally to criticize selfishness.

Now, just as Randians think that everyone working in self-interest magically benefits all, some people think that working to benefit all actually, oddly enough, has a better chance of benefiting all.

In fact if we want to see what creatures that work only for themselves are like, well they’re easy to find in the animal kingdom. They’re called “parasites”.

Bacon and Beans and Limousines – Will Rogers

Now don’t get scared and start turning off your radios. I’m not advertising or trying to sell you anything. If the mouthwash you’re using is not the right kind and it tastes sort of like sheep dip why you’ll just have to go right on using it. I can’t advise any other kind at all.

And if the cigarettes that you’re using, why if they don’t lower your Adam’s apple, why I don’t know of any that will. You’ll just have to cut out apples, I guess. That’s the only thing I know.

Now, Mr. Owen Young asked me to annoy on this program this evening. You all know Mr. Owen D. Young. You know, he’s the only sole surviving wealthy Democrat, so naturally when a wealthy Democrat asks me to do anything I have to do it, see?

Well, Mr. Young, he’s the head of the Young Plan, you know. He’s the originator of the Young Financial European Plan. He’s the head of Young Men’s Temperance Union, and originator of Young’s Markets, and Young Kippur. And was the first Democratic child born of white parents in Youngstown, Ohio.

He started the Young Plan in Europe. That was that every nation pay just according to what they could afford to pay, see? And, well, somebody else come along with an older plan than Young’s plan, and it was that nobody don’t pay anybody anything, and course that’s the oldest plan there is. And that’s the one they’re working under now. That’s why we ain’t getting anything from Europe.

So when Mr. Young asked me to appear why I said, “Well, I’m kind of particular. Who is gonna be the other speaker? Who else is on the bill with me?”

And he said, “Well, how would Mr. Hoover do?”

Well, I slightly heard of him, you know, and I said, “Well, I’ll think it over.”

So I looked into Mr. Hoover’s record and inquired of everybody, and after I had kind of thrown out about two-thirds of what the Democrats said about him why I figured that I wouldn’t have much to lose by appearing with Mr. Hoover, so I’m here this evening appearing on the bill with Mr. Hoover. So now I expect you won’t hear any more of Amos and Andy it’ll just be Hoover and Rogers from now on.

Now we read in the papers every day, and they get us all excited over one or a dozen different problems that’s supposed to be before this country. There’s not really but one problem before the whole country at this time. It’s not the balancing of Mr. Mellon’s budget. That’s his worry. That ain’t ours. And it’s not the League of Nations that we read so much about. It’s not the silver question. The only problem that confronts this country today is at least 7,000,000 people are out of work. That’s our only problem. There is no other one before us at all. It’s to see that every man that wants to is able to work, is allowed to find a place to go to work, and also to arrange some way of getting a more equal distribution of the wealth in country.

Now it’s Prohibition, we hear a lot about that. Well, that’s nothing to compare to your neighbor’s children that are hungry. It’s food, it ain’t drink that we’re worried about today. Here a few years ago we was so afraid that the poor people was liable to take a drink that now we’ve fixed it so they can’t even get something to eat.

So here we are in a country with more wheat and more corn and more money in the bank, more cotton, more everything in the world—there’s not a product that you can name that we haven’t got more of it than any other country ever had on the face of the earth—and yet we’ve got people starving. We’ll hold the distinction of being the only nation in the history of the world that ever went to the poor house in an automobile. The potter’s fields are lined with granaries full of grain. Now if there ain’t something cockeyed in an arrangement like that then this microphone here in front of me is—well, it’s a cuspidor, that’s all.

Now I think that they’ll arrange it—I think some of our big men will perhaps get some way of fixing a different distribution of things. If they don’t they are certainly not big men and won’t be with us long, that’s one thing. Now I say, and have always claimed, that things would pick up in ’32. Thirty-two, why ’32? Well, because ’32 is an election year, see, and the Republicans always see that everything looks good on election year, see? They give us three good years and one bad one—no, three bad ones and one good one. I like to got it wrong. That’s the Democrats does the other. They give us three bad years and one good one, but the good one always comes on the year that the voting is, see? Now if they was running this year why they would be all right. But they are one year late. Everything will pick up next year and be fine.

These people that you’re asked to aid, why they’re not asking for charity, they are naturally asking for a job, but if you can’t give ‘em a job why the next best thing you can do is see that they have food and the necessities of life. You know, there’s not a one of us who has anything that these people that are without it now haven’t contributed to what we’ve got. I don’t suppose there’s the most unemployed or the hungriest man in America has contributed in one way to the wealth of every millionaire in America. It wasn’t the working class that brought this condition on at all. It was the big boys themselves who thought that this financial drunk we were going through was going to last forever. They over—merged and over—capitalized, and over—everything else. That’s the fix we’re in now.

Now I think that every town and every city will raise this money. In fact, they can’t afford not to. They’ve got the money because there’s as much money in the country as there ever was. Only fewer people have it, but it’s there. And I think the towns will all raise it because I’ve been on a good many charity affairs allover the country and I have yet to see a town or a city ever fail to raise the money when they knew the need was there, and they saw the necessity. Every one ‘em will come through.

Europe don’t like us and they think we’re arrogant, and bad manners, and have a million faults, but every one of ’em, well, they give us credit for being liberal.

Doggone it, people are liberal. Americans—I don’t know about America being fundamentally sound and all that after-dinner hooey, but I do know that America is fundamentally liberal. Now I want to thank Mr. Gifford, the head of this unemployment, thank Mr. Young, and I certainly want to thank Mr. Hoover for the privilege of being allowed to appear on the same program with him because I know that this subject is very dear to Mr. Hoover’s heart and know that he’d rather see the problem of unemployment solved than he would to see all the other problems he has before him combined. And if every town and every city will get out and raise their quota, what they need for this winter, why it’ll make him a very happy man, and happiness hasn’t been a steady diet with our president. He’s had a very tough, uphill fight, and this will make him feel very good. He’s a very human man. I thank you. Good night.

- Will Rogers, President’s Organization on Unemployment Relief radio broadcast. October 18, 1931

Your daily dose of “outrage”…

I find myself becoming increasingly disenchanted with the blogosphere. It’s not that there isn’t a ton of great information and discussion out there. It’s not that I don’t think it’s valuable, quite the opposite. However, so much of what you read is just, well, petty pearl clutching.

It’s sort of a packaged “daily dose of outrage” (or more accurately, depending on how many RSS feeds you follow, a by-the-minute dose of outrage).

It’s not that there isn’t actually truth in what is written, though again it is often pumped up, however I’m not sure it does anyone much good to read this stuff. Sure, when someone has a long well thought out opinion on some topic of importance that is one thing, but so much of what we see is essentially, “X said something stupid,” “Y did something stupid,” and “Z did something stupid”.

Of course each of these raise our pulse rate and convince us the people on the “other side” are evil, but I don’t think it really does much to raise the level of conversation, educate, or ultimately move toward solutions. In fact it rather divides us.

Worse, I’d think it’s really what Aldous Huxley was concerned about – distractions from anything real.

I say this in part because I also read conservative blogs now and then and it’s funny, if you just substitute liberal names with conservative names and vice-versa, it’s pretty much the same crap. This is particularly true lately as we see conservatives attack Obama for what liberals attacked Bush for (and conservatives defended Bush against) and liberals support Obama for what liberals attacked Bush for. It’s only an outrage when it’s not your “team”.

This helps no one and is ultimately, well, comical (in the “it’s so sad you have to laugh”, kind of way).

I don’t know I’m paranoid enough to believe that this is exactly what the powers that be want – us ruminating on petty disagreements and tribal alliances, but it sure works to their benefit and not ours.

And if that all doesn’t get you outraged, well just remember every outrage pumps you up and makes you miserable. Sure, it’s an emotional high (and probably a sign of our “addictive” American psyche), but it sure does make the world a bad place to live.

UPDATE:

I left off an important detail – I am most definitely part of the problem, or at least have been. There is plenty to be found in this blog that in my mind constitutes a “daily dose of outrage”. Sad but true.

SCOTUS – Shelby County v. Holder

On June 25th in Shelby County v. Holder the Supreme Court essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). While I unfortunately do not have the time to go to great detail here, the court’s majority opinion rests on the presumption that the VRA violates multiple constitutional precepts, which (as with all such decisions) it goes at great lengths to outline.

The problem is, all of those constitutional precepts are based on the Constitution as it existed pre-Civil War. The decision entirely ignores two small but remarkably consequential details, namely the 14th and 15th amendments.

Those amendments say (14th):

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States … Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

and (15th):

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude … Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The emphasis being on “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation“.

In short, if Congress feels that it needs to legislate to achieve the aims of these amendments it has unbridled freedom to do so. It doesn’t matter how convoluted, antiquated, or silly it might seem to the SCOTUS (and the VRA is anything but silly), Congress has the right to do so.

In order for these amendments to become law, all of the states had to ratify the amendments. That means the states agreed to grant these powers to the Federal government.  Moreover since these amendments come after the main body of the Constitution, they supersede any prior language. They are in effect, “the Constitution”.

It is not complicated. The SCOTUS has no place here. In deciding to side against the VRA, they have not nullified a congressional act, they have nullified the Constitution itself. The only way to take this power away justifiably from Congress, would be a constitutional amendment itself. This is a vast overstep on the part of the SCOTUS and hard to not see as simply partisan.