Now what?

1. When the party that seeks to nationalize health care and put the pharmaceutical companies in their place can convincingly bring out Michael J. Fox and sell themselves as our best hope for medical technology advancement, that’s a good sign that the other party has screwed up bigtime.

Embryos are not people. They have no brains, which are the essential source of our personhood. Without a brain, an embryo has no more rights than a houseplant. And the moral issue becomes simple: it is profoundly immoral to obstruct experimentation on things that are not people if such experimentation might save lots of actual people. Too many Republican candidates had that moral issue exactly backwards, and they suffered for it.

Does that mean there’s definitely a miracle cure tucked away in embryonic stem cells? Of course not. Not to mention that there’s still the small matter that you won’t get any 100% compatible spare parts from an embryo that isn’t cloned from you, another step that’s yet to be taken with unknown difficulty and cost. But unless you’re going for the abolishment of all Federal research grants, singling out embryonic stem cell research for grant restrictions makes no moral or practical sense.

The Democrats are full of ideas to take our problematic health care system and make it worse. This issue should have been a slam-dunk for the Republicans.

2. I’m not sure what could have been done to convince people who believe, for instance, that having a lot of troops in Iraq puts us in a worse position to deal with Iran than having a lesser number of troops in Kuwait with Saddam still ruling Iraq would have. Could the point have been more forcefully made that the dead Iraqi civilians have mainly been killed by the bad guys, who are willing to kill the people they supposedly fight for rather than let them enjoy some of the rights we take for granted? Or that resistance to an occupation is sometimes evil, particularly when it takes the form of deliberate attacks on civilians? Maybe if we had mentioned that the bad guys are doing pretty much the same thing that the KKK and other ex-Confederates and Confederate symphatizers were doing during and after Reconstruction, only with better weapons?

3. If Republican lawmakers are going to try and defile the sacred temple of Social Security, or Medicare, or public education, they might as well bring a blowtorch and see if they can burn it to the ground. It would make absolutely no difference in the opposition they get from the left (massive and unrelenting), but it would make a big difference in whether their supporters consider it worth their while to go vote for them. If they’re going to pretend to tinker around the edges and back down when the minority party squawks, then what’s the point of keeping them around?

They had their big chance to clear out a lot of the crap we’ve been putting up with for 70+ years, and they squandered it. And no, “replacing” social security with a forced savings program where the Feds get to pick which investments are acceptable is not going to cut it.

4. This isn’t the end of the world. Hezbollah still isn’t going to blow up shopping malls, schools, and offices in the Great Satan until Iran gets nuclear weapons and (thinks it) is immune to invasion. I’d say we’ve got a couple of years before that happens. And an actual nuke going off in the Great Satan shouldn’t happen for at least 10 years… there’ll need to be enough nuclear powers in the world that one of them thinks they can get away with it, and then it has to find a group that it can trust to hit the Great Satan and not some hated faction in the Middle East or even the home country. Plenty of time to get a cabin and stock the hell out of it.

Bush still has two years left. And the horse still might learn to sing.

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The early stages of regulatory capture

It’s just a request for now…

Leading Internet companies “requested” to keep histories of the activities of Web users for up to two years.

The interesting thing is that none of this is being dressed up as a way to protect consumers from rapacious vendors. It’s explicitly meant as a way to thwart the possible nefarious designs of the consumers themselves. But it’ll all add up to the raising of barriers to entry, oligopolistic behavior, higher prices, worse service, and all the rest that we’ve come to expect from, well, just about every industry outside of IT where regulatory capture is firmly entrenched.

Oh yeah, and remember how the Internet was supposed to make the “old media” obsolete and allow ordinary people to route around the old behemoths and get content that they weren’t willing to provide? Get a few laws in concerning who is and isn’t allowed to set up ISP’s and a laundry list of expensive requirements that all ISP’s must follow, and kiss that Internet revolution goodbye. The Old Guard will use those regulations to extend the same stranglehold on Internet media that it has today on other media.

But it’s supposed to be a great way to combat the gravest threat facing America today. And also to stop radical Muslims from blowing things up.

If you outlaw uranium

If you outlaw uranium, then only outlaws will have uranium. And they’ll use it to make bombs. That’s just a matter of time no matter what we do, unless we achieve complete long-term technological stagnation.

If you let ordinary law-abiding folk have it, they’ll find much better uses for it. Especially after a few of them have experimented with it for a while. Some of those uses will end up making it much easier to survive the inevitable advent of nutcases with nuclear weapons. (Not to mention plagues, natural disasters, and global climate change). And, of course, all of them will add up to lots more liberty and wealth for everyone, which is always worth a certain amount of risk.

What is a reward?

A reward is a consequence of an activity that encourages more of that activity.

A punishment, of course, is a consequence of an activity that encourages less of that activity.

Now a reward can be in the form of a monetary profit. The reason that a monetary profit works as a reward is because people like to make money, and the reason for that is that people who liked to make money consistently outbred and outlived people who didn’t. You can work out further links in the chain of causation yourself.

At any rate, most of what we think of as rewards are rewards because most individual humans will change their behavior to get more of them.

A reward can also work by causing more humans to exist who tend to behave in the rewarded way. This would obviously be a longer-term reward. But it does the same thing… encourages more of the rewarded activity to occur.

So having kids and raising them to adulthood is itself a long-term reward for whatever behaviors are handed down to them through example or heredity. Having kids and letting someone else raise them to adulthood is a long-term reward for whatever behaviors are handed down through heredity, and raising someone else’s kids is a reward for whatever behaviors are handed down through example.

Which means the “free-rider” problem that appears to obtain from parents not getting monetary rewards for raising kids is not as bad as it might seem. The reward is a slower one, acting over several generations instead of a few years. But it is there. And so is the punishment… if you don’t have kids, whatever behavior caused you not to have kids will not be handed down and will occur less in the future.

The real problem comes from just what behaviors are being rewarded and punished in this way…


It’s sometimes said that our affluent society causes or encourages or fails to discourage depression, and that in previous eras when people actually had to earn their keep and/or fight to stay alive, they didn’t get depressed because they had more important things to worry about.

Is this true? Do people actually succumb to depression more often in our affluent society? Or are there simply more surviving depression sufferers around?

When it takes a lot of effort to stay alive, depression can drastically shorten your life expectancy, often in ways that don’t make its presence obvious. It’s really easy to miss in a culture with a higher overall death rate and less meticulous record-keeping than ours.

This is doubly true in wartime. A war offers endless opportunity for a man growing weary of his mortal coil to be relieved of it without anyone (including himself) realizing the nature of his condition.