March 2005

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

National Sales Tax 

I think that 23% is too high, but I'm happy to see proposals for replacing the current federal income tax (and others) being considered (as in this George Will column).

As I indicated in the fascinating comments to this post, I think that such a replacement would be a step in the right direction.

I think it would be great to eliminate the need for the government to know all of the intimate details of our earnings and expenses; or to have an excuse to intimidate and harass us about them. It will also be much better to avoid all of the inefficient resource allocation (both individual and corporate) going on now to reduce tax burdens rather than to improve productivity. Additionally, it will be great to stop congress from being able to engage in all of their current tax code manipulation mischief.

The Left should be pleased that the rich would continue to bear the major portion of the burden, but I suspect that they won't see it as sufficient punishment for the sin of financial success.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Discrimination 

I agree with David Bernstein that this refusal to discriminate was stupid and costly.

Irrational discrimination can be very painful and ugly, and so it's very tempting to outlaw and discourage all discrimination (based on certain unchosen characteristics, anyway) regardless of whether they may be rational. But, such laws and practices can also lead to injustice and, as in this case, to tragedy as well.

I think it's far better to respect liberty and permit both rational and irrational discrimination, and leave it to evolving social norms to discourage the ugly, irrational, sorts of discrimination.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Fools and their Money 

I'm not sure why, but I find this site hilarious. Here's the pitch:

Toby is the cutest little bunny on the planet. Unfortunately, he will DIE on June 30th, 2005 if you don’t help. I rescued him several months ago. I found him under my porch, soaking wet, injured from what appeared to be an attack from an alley cat. I took him in, thinking he had no chance to live from his injuries, but miraculously, he recovered. I have since spent several months nursing him to health. Toby is a fighter, that’s for sure.

Unfortunately, on June 30th, 2005, Toby will die. I am going to eat him. I am going to take Toby to a butcher to have him slaughter this cute bunny. I will then prepare Toby for a midsummer feast. I have several recipes under consideration, which can be seen, with some pretty graphic images, under the recipe section.

I don’t want to eat Toby, he is my friend, and he has always been the most loving, adorable pet. However, God as my witness, I will devour this little guy unless I receive 50,000$ USD into my account from donations or purchase of merchandise. You can help this poor, helpless bunny’s cause by making donations through my verified PayPal account by clicking on any of the Donate buttons on this site, or by purchasing merchandise at the Savetoby.com online store.
This reminds me of the National Lampoon magazine cover that said "If you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog."

Ok, so the site is a hoax. I'm sure there are still people dumb enough to send the guy money, though. And, there's a part of me that thinks that the sooner those people are separated from their money, the better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Political Orientation 

What are the psychological factors that help form our political views?
>
>There are many smart left-liberals, conservatives, and libertarians who will probably never agree about politics no matter how long they consider the same evidence, and argue. They just have different conceptions of right and wrong, and human nature, what people should be forced to do and what they should be free to choose.
>
>Randy Barnett wrote a post at the Volokh Conspiracy blog yesterday discussing this article from Liberty magazine, and opened up comments for libertarians to try to explain their own psychology. If you're curious about the psychology of political ideology (as I am), I encourage you to read the article, the post, and the comments.
>
>I don't know what the answers are. I don't think many of us are very good at introspection about why we have formed our deep assumptions, and we're even worse at figuring out what makes others tick. But, I think there's an element of the truth in much of what is suggested by these thoughtful people speculating about it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Mostly Dead 

I'm no expert on the Terri Schiavo case, and I don't want to be one.

My semi-informed take on this is that Congress is out of line interfering in this case. It seems to come down to a factual dispute about whether her husband is accurately portraying her wishes to not live as a vegetable. I don't think Congress has more insight into this than the several courts that have already ruled; and the role of fact-finder is supposed to reside with the courts.

It seems to me that many are trying to force the result they emotionally prefer, rather than to respect her previously expressed wishes. The terrible comments I've seen about Mr. Schiavo remind me of the people who wanted Martha Stewart to go to jail, mostly because they didn't like her rather than any knowledge of facts of the case.

On the bright side, the more time Congress spends debating whether baseball players used steroids and whether individual court cases have been rightly decided the less time they'll have to pass stupid laws that will harm the rest of us. So they can get invoved in every traffic stop for all I care. I'd prefer that they appease the religious extremists by intervening in one woman's treatment than work to pass anti-abortion or anti-gay constitutional amendments.

It may be stupid, but it will probably be less damaging than what they'd otherwise be doing.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Vengeance 

Eugene Volokh has stirred up a hornets' nest with a recent series of posts.

Basically, he commented about this story that he actually happened to agree that human monsters such as the one in the story did deserve brutal, painful, public executions and that the families of victims deserve to participate.

Eugene is a brilliant guy, and a good friend, and he knows that his opinion is controversial in this culture (to say the least). He was honest and brave enough to declare his genuine, considered, opinion that his instincts about what would actually constitute justice for vicious mass murderers should be official policy. He understands the many objections and is thusfar unpersuaded by them.

I can certainly understand his emotional reaction to these crimes, and the feeling that these monsters deserve to suffer greatly, and that the families of the victims should be permitted to get comfort from participating. I understand what he means when he indicates that it slights the victims and their families to not have the culprit suffer. I also feel that there’s a tragic moral imbalance in the universe if the killer isn’t getting the horror he deserves.

BUT...

I have to disagree with him on this one.

While they are sometimes right, I think that our initial instincts are often wrong about what actions are proper, and they're very often wrong about what actions to establish and institutionalize as public policy. Just as I think that the collectivist instinct that tells many that people should be forced to share their wealth is disasterous public policy, I also think that the universal instinct to make those who caused suffering to experience suffering themselves would likewise be a very bad policy.

First, let me say that I am not impressed by the argument that treating murderers cruelly brings us to their level and makes us monsters ourselves. And I also don't think that the example of official infliction of pain will cause private citizens to be much more likely treat their non-criminal peers that way. Furthermore, I don't think that even the worst criminals deserve respect for their human dignity; I think they forfeit their right to that from decent people.

The argument that does impress me is that no matter how carefully such a policy is drafted, it is very likely that it will be misapplied and expanded to be used in many cases other than the narrow ones it was initially intended to cover. I would much rather see criminals treated too leniently than to see innocents, or people guilty of lesser crimes (or merely taboo violations) subjected to horrible infliction of pain. The biggest problem with governments is that there are many factors that lead them to grow beyond their proper scope and increase their abuse of power. The policy change Eugene suggests will make this problem worse.

Additionally, the more I think about vengeance, the less I think it makes sense for us to want it.

I'd be the first to admit that if somebody viciously killed someone I loved, or even just empathized with, part of my initial reaction would be to want him to suffer horribly himself. I think this is a very natural and superficially reasonable reaction.

But, does it make sense?

Is it really in our interests to place a high importance on what's going on inside the head of some warped scumbag? Why should it matter to us whether he feels pain and regret? He's an asshole!

What if we beat him and he just laughs and declares that this helps to confirm his theory that life is all about exploiting your power over others when you have the advantage? He could go on to say that obviously that's the official position because that's what society is doing right now. He could declare that each blow he receives only serves to entrench his theory that the only thing he did wrong was to get caught.

If he reacts that way should we feel bad?

I don't think it makes any sense to pin our happiness on our ability to mold the experience and theories of a psychopathic monster. Fuck him! He's not that important. The main thing about him that we should care about is that he never gets a chance to repeat his crimes. Perhaps we can also learn something about his psychology to help prevent others from getting as screwed up as he is.

Other than that, I think we should focus on furthering our own goals and values, and not make our success dependent on the experiences and ideas of the worst among us.

UPDATE: Eugene seems to have changed his mind about whether we should adopt deliberately painful executions for practical, institutional, reasons. But, he continues to defend his view that retribution is a legitimate goal of criminal justice.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Bathroom Justice! 

Ok, I've blogged enough about politics and religion. It's time for a really controversial issue...

If a bathroom is shared among male(s) and female(s), should the toilet seat always be put down, or should it stay where it was after its last use?

(Let's assume this is a private bathroom; so the issue is one of practicality, rather than presentability. Even if it isn't, it's easy enough to change the policy when entertaining.)

The first question that comes to my mind when considering which policy is best is "Which policy requires people to adjust the seat position the most?"

Let's call one policy AD (Always Down) and the other candidate policy CWN (Change When Needed). There are other potential candidates, but I think these are the main interesting ones.

Even without going through the gory details of the math, I think you can see that the answer is that AD requires more seat adjustments.

In AD, all of the seat adjustments are driven by a male urinating. Whenever this happens the seat must be raised before use, and lowered afterwards. So the number of seat adjustments in a day is twice the number of male urinations in a day (let's call M1 the event and m1 the average number of M1 events in a day); so we have 2m1.

At first, I suspected that CWN would be better unless the ratio of females to males rose above a certain point, and then AD would be better. But, that turns out not to be the case.

In CWN, the worst case is also 2m1 (two adjustments for each M1, but at different times). But, if there are ever consecutive M1 events, we save two adjustments (one after the earlier M1 and another before the later one) In most cases, I think CWN will yield a number significantly below 2m1, but as we change the scenario (e.g. by adding females to the environment) to increase the frequency of non-M1 events (F1, F2, M2), consecutive M1s will become less and less frequent and we approach 2m1 as a worst case limit.

Note also that the answer to another interesting question: "On whom does the burden of adjusting the seat fall under each policy?" is that under AD the entire burden falls on the male(s), and under CWN at least half of the burden falls on the male(s) (because it will always be a male who raises the seat, and it will sometimes be a male who lowers it), and some falls on the females.

So, it seems that CWN is superior to AD with respect to both seat-adjustment effort, and a more equitable sharing of the seat-adjustment burden. AD imposes the entire burden on the males, and the burden is higher than what CWN divides between the genders.

"OK" I can hear some women saying, "But the issue isn't just seat-adjustment effort. It's also the effort to remember to check the seat before using the toilet. How does that compare?"

I'm glad you asked.

Under AD, the remembering burden is also proportional to 2m1 (the male(s) remember to check and raise (sounds like poker!) the seat before M1 and remember to lower it after M1). Once again, the entire remembering burden falls on the males. Females can just sit down with confidence.

Under CWN, everyone has to check before each use, but nobody has to remember to make an adjustment afterwards. So for males the number of checks is m1+m2 and for females it's f1+f2. Since I think it's fair to assume that m1>m2, this is better for the males than 2m1. And, the burden is similar for the females (compared to males) assuming that they use the toilet approximately the same number of times throughout the day. Admittedly, under CWN, the total number of rememberings will be more than under AD if 2m1<(m1 + m2 + f1 + f2), which will probably happen whenever there are more females than males, but the burden will be shared and it will be better for each person under CWN than for the average male under AD.

So, in conclusion, it seems clear to me that CWN is superior, in terms of both efficiency and burden-equity, to AD.

So, ladies, will you do the reasonable thing and agree to a CWN policy?

Or, will you stubbornly insist on AD?

UPDATE: Glen Whitman applies some Coasean analysis to the problem...

Bork is a Dork 

I completely agree with Don Boudreaux's reaction to an anecdote about Robert Bork.
Bork so hates modern American pop culture that he’s ambivalent about the fall of the Berlin Wall. The reason is that its destruction permitted blue jeans, rock music, and the rest of the panoply of American decadence to spill eastward into countries once protected from this scourge. Opines Bork: "You almost began to want to put the wall back up."

Even allowing for rhetorical overstatement, what kind of person would harbor such a sentiment? I emphatically do not share in Bork’s assessment of modern American pop culture as uniformly degenerate and debauched, but even if I did agree with Bork on this matter, I can’t imagine being anything but overjoyed at the fact that the Iron Curtain is in shreds.

What kind of person entertains the possibility that access to Sunday shopping, rap music, sit-coms, and even pornography might be worse than institutionalized murder, torture, mind-control, and impoverishment?

....

The Democrats’ single greatest contribution to America during the 1980s was to keep Bork off of the U.S. Supreme Court.
I suspect that Bork wasn't completely serious. But, you have to have a severe moral handicap to think that whatever problems there are with our popular culture compare at all to the oppression that existed in East Germany.

Remember, also, that Bork sold his support to Microsoft's competitors in their anti-trust attacks on the company.

He may be a darling of the right-wing, but he's no friend of mine.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Richard Mitchell 

I've already mentioned it, but Mark Alexander's comment in the previous post (alerting us to the fact that he is transcribing an interview with Richard Mitchell) compels me to repeat myself and urge you to explore Mitchell's writing at Mark's Underground Grammarian website.

It's difficult to describe Mitchell's work adequately, so I urge you to check it out for yourself. But for a taste, you might want to read this chapter from his The Graves of Acadame that Mark recently posted at his blog.

If you're as interested in education and politics and their relationships as I am, I'm sure you'll enjoy the chapter and I hope you'll read more of what Mitchell had to say.

I'm very grateful to Mark for making this wonderful collection available.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Ageism 

There are many reasons to dislike yesterday's Supreme Court Roper v. Simmons decision banning the execution of people who committed their crimes before their 18th birthdays. I agree with Justice Scalia that the Court overstepped its bounds by overriding the judgments of legislatures and juries and imposing "The subjective views of five members of this court and like-minded foreigners." I also agree with those like Orin Kerr that the majority's argument that they are merely reflecting changing standards is a very weak (bordering on incompetent, in my opinion) one.

But, strangely enough, the main reason I don't like the decision is that I think it establishes a position that is unfair and disrespectful to children (re-reading that makes me feel like Judge Smails from Caddyshack).

I understand that there may be efficiency reasons for setting arbitrary age limits to certain things (like drivers' licenses), where the consensus is that many people below the age are insufficiently mature, and it's impractical to discover exceptions. But, it seems to me that criminal justice is an area where it's worth taking the time and effort to determine what punishment is appropriate for a particular criminal and crime. Juries spend a lot of time and effort doing just that. If the defense thinks that the criminal was not sufficiently responsible to face the ultimate punishment, then they should make that case to the jury.

I am certain that there are many 16 and 17-year-olds who are completely competent to be held responsible for their actions, both good and bad.

I suspect that many of them could make better judicial decisions than this one.