URLs du Jour

2012-04-23

  • Constitution Signers, National
Constitution Center The editors of National Review examine the proposed "People’s Rights Amendment" that would restrict rights protected by the Constitution to only "individuals acting individually", denying any protected rights to individuals acting cooperatively. It overturns centuries of law, and concentrates unprecedented power in Congress. Nancy Pelosi considers this to be a fine idea. Hey, what's not to like?

    The editors conclude:

    Nancy Pelosi proposes to amend the Constitution the way the iceberg amended the Titanic. The First Amendment has served us well. Nancy Pelosi has not, but she has led her Democrats to a disturbing place in their quest to secure power, even at the cost of cashing in the Bill of Rights.
    You can check the legislative status of this odious amendment here, including its cosponsors. Who deserve your unmitigated contempt.

  • Over the weekend I attended the Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC "Save-Our-Republic Tea Party" in Dover New Hampshire's lovely Guppey Park. Skip of GraniteGrok was there too, and did great work recording the event for posterity. Check out his reports here and here. Attendance exceeded expectations, and the speakers were almost all good. (Only exception: Dr. Joe Tarta, speaking about ObamaCare, was unprepared and lackluster. Sorry, Dr. Joe.)

  • Hey, kids, remember when President Obama was pushing to get Obamacare passed, and repeatedly said things like "If you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan"?

    That was a lie, of course. But the Obama Administration is engaging in a desperate (and expensive: $8 Billion) attempt to make sure a large fraction of the electorate don't find out about that lie until after the election. A bunch of old folks were due to get pushed out of the popular "Medicare Advantage" program in October 2012. But…

    But the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid.

    The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market.

    That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for year.

    I strive to live up to the Costello Pledge ("I used to disgusted, now I try to be amused.") But President Obama really makes this tough. (Also on this topic: Peter Suderman at Reason.)

  • It has been estimated that each smartphone and tablet contains approximately 4000 patented elements. At Wired, Lore Sjöberg reviews some of the more obscure ones, including:
    Method for Using Up All Your Battery Power at Once

    Motorola took out this patent in 2004, which describes a software approach to making it so that your electronic device takes several hours to get down to 50 percent battery power, then suddenly drops to 10 percent “in, like, half an hour, and you’re not even watching movies or anything.” The fact that this functionality is apparently necessary for practically any device with a touchscreen puts Motorola in a strong bargaining position.


Last Modified 2017-12-02 4:49 PM EST

The Righteous Mind

[Amazon Link] As a loyal employee of University Near Here, I requested that the library purchase this book. That doesn't always work, but did in this case. (And near-immediately, two other UNH folks requested it after me; so I had to kind of rush through it, in fear of a $10/day fine.)

It's an excellent, important work by University of Virginia psych prof Jonathan Haidt. And I don't think I've said this about any book before: you should read it. Not "you should read it if you're interested in moral psychology." Not "you should read it if you're interested in how psychology interacts with politics."

No, you should read this book if you're a human being. Just that simple. It's accessible, funny in spots, and well-written.

By coincidence, I read The Righteous Mind in parallel with Charles Murray's Coming Apart, discussed below; this turned out to have a certain degree of synergy, as observations from one book provided insights into the other. That's also a good idea, if you can manage it.

Haidt's subtitle is: "Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion". Why indeed? We're all human beings, roughly in the same environment, equipped with the same mental hardware, confronted with roughly the same problems. What's the deal with not getting along? (The first line in the Introduction quotes Rodney King from 1992: "Can we all get along?") The book is a sequel of sorts to The Happiness Hypothesis which I read back in 2007; it stands well on its own, though.

The first part of the book continues a metaphor Haidt developed in that previous book: "The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider's job is to serve the elephant." We would like to think that our moral sense is based in rationality; in fact, we habitually make moral judgments based on our intuitions (that's the "elephant") and "rationally" justify those judgments (as "rider") after the fact.

In the second part of the book, Haidt looks at the the moral "taste buds" that govern our moral sense. He enumerates six good/evil pairs: Care/Harm; Liberty/Oppression; Fairness/Cheating; Loyalty/Betrayal; Authority/Subversion; and Sanctity/Degradation. Not everyone "fires" on all six pairs; in fact, Haidt's key insight is that this is how liberals and conservatives differ: liberals tend to view things on the first two keys, while conservatives weigh in on all six. (And libertarians bring in another taste arrangement.)

The book's third part concerns the old individualist/collectivist dichotomy. Haidt's metaphor here: we're 90% "chimp" (rugged selfish individuals), and 10% "bee" (collectivistic sacrificers to the group.) Deny either side at your peril.

A significant part of the charm of the book is that it's very much a story of Haidt's intellectual odyssey, and how (as a self-described Jewish atheist liberal Democrat) he gradually began to understand (if not necessarily agree with) the conservative moral outlook. (Conversely, I found myself with a deeper insight into the liberal mind.) The old saw about liberals thinking that conservatives are evil, while conservatives simply think that liberals are stupid? That makes a lot more sense now.

I can't really do the book justice here. Once again, I encourage you to read it yourself.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:29 AM EDT

Coming Apart

[Amazon Link] This latest book from Charles Murray showed up at the library of the University Near Here without me even having to ask for it. Somebody up there likes me.

Murray's topic is the increasing split in the US between (1) a (relatively) well-educated, high-skilled, well-paid elite; and (2) just about everyone else. This is something he alluded to a few years back in The Bell Curve, a study discussing (among other things) how differences in IQ were fragmenting society. Perhaps predictably, everyone focused on the racial angle presented in that previous work. Here, Murray concentrates his statistics on white people only, probably a wise move.

"Oh," I hear you saying. "Yet another book about inequality." Yeah, but Murray shows (in my opinion) the right way to look at "inequality". It makes other treatments look shallow and somewhat silly. For one thing, he doesn't concentrate on income inequality; that's a relatively small part of the problem, and (in any case) not amenable to easy solutions.

What's the problem? Murray is deeply troubled by the trends that point to a rapid degradation of the vision of what makes America exceptional. (Murray, like me, is a fan of American exceptionalism.) Our shared civic culture is "unraveling".

The classes are dividing themselves along multiple dimensions. There's a physical separation, as the well-to-do can increasingly migrate to communities with a high concentration of People Like Us; others find themselves left behind or priced out of their upwardly-mobile communities. Murray statistically exemplifies these trends by creating a semi-fictional upperclass community called "Belmont", and a lowerclass community called "Fishtown."

Trends in Fishtown have been getting worse, year by year. (Things aren't as peachy as they could be in Belmont either.) Especially troubling are declines in what Murray considers to be the uniquely American ("founding") virtues: industriousness, honesty, marriage, religiousity. Page after page, chapter after chapter, Murray measures, to the extent that such things can be measured, the decline in each since the early 1960s.

Murray's tone, as usual, is informal and reasonable. I've been reading pessimistic we're-all-doomed works since the mid-sixties (yes, I'm old), so had started to dismiss them. Murray's somewhat more convincing. He goes out of his way to discuss possible objections to his methodology, and, while upfront about his own libertarian viewpoint, is conservative enough to talk persuasively about civic morality.

Is there hope? Who knows? In Murray's view, the only possible scenario that might reverse this decades-long dismal trend is an at-least-quasi religious revival, a rededication to the things that made America great, and (possibly) a return to smaller decentralized government. I would like to think that's possible, let alone likely. For my kids' sake, if not my own.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:29 AM EDT