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Saturday, December 5, 2009

"New Right" Rumblings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For your weekend contemplation, below are some thoughts on politics by Zdeno. First let me strap on my Kevlar flak jacket to do a CYA: My post that Zdeno mentions at the top was a link to a statement by someone who actually did raise the question of women voting; in the main text I simply added that, absent female franchise, U.S. politics likely would have been less liberal (probably a valid conclusion given polling data). Just for the heck of it, all this brings to mind science fiction writer Robert Heinlein who, in one of his novels, allowed multiple votes to citizens who had various qualifications such as having served in the military. Hmm. I served a hitch in the Army. Heinlein's notion is beginning to have a strange appeal ... :-) * * * * * Donald recently asked: Should women have the right to vote? Obviously this question is completely and unquestionably beyond the limes of respectable thought and thus should not be discussed. But here’s the problem: By the standards of a Libertarian or Conservative, women are unarguably worse at voting than men are. Or is it a problem? I suppose not, if one regards democracy as the only legitimate form of government, and that a person’s vote is no less fundamental of a human right as their life, liberty, pursuit of XBOX 360’s etc. However if, like me, you regard Democracy as a means to an end, a useful tool that has produced decent, if not spectacular government in Europe and North America for a half century and counting, the worst form of government except for all the others – well then, yes we have a problem. Because it seems that, as great as Democracy is, it can be improved upon! We can have all the benefits of Democracy, but with a significantly more Conservative voting pool! And why stop there? The quality of public policy would be even more improved by a property-ownership restriction, an IQ test, or the disenfranchisement of everyone employed in the public sector. Once you start limiting suffrage to those who are (according to your personal political leanings) "good" at voting, the implications quickly become unpalatable. This line of reasoning can be similarly dangerous to Progressives. How can one justify insisting on the suffrage of Caucasian, middle-class suburbanites, who remain obstreperously defiant in the face of American Progress? Sure, Democracy has proven quite amenable to the goals of Progressives over the past century or two, but Progress can always progress a little bit faster, no? Fortunately, Progressives have an answer to this: Democracy is a Human Right! Says so right here! “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” (Interestingly, that is a direct copy-paste from,... posted by Donald at December 5, 2009 | perma-link | (54) comments

Friday, December 4, 2009

Personal Pace
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- So here we are in Honolulu. Early evening. Raining like hell. Yesterday, the day we arrived, the weather was pretty nice and we wandered around for a few hours after checking in at our hotel. Today the weather also was pretty good much of the day so Nancy did some of her things and I did some of mine. Nancy is the sort of person who keeps on her feet much of the day -- off playing tennis, buzzing around the house or yard. But when walking around in the country, in a city or a shopping area, she's very poky. Me, I can sit around a lot. But when I do physical labor, it's at a strong pace -- little flitting or being distracted. And when out and about, I also operate at a fast pace, sweeping through the places where Nancy dawdles. I don't think these differences are of the male-female kind. But they are indeed differences that have to be accommodated, especially in a marital relationship. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 4, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Zdeno Sims
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Johnny" von Neumann was a central figure in the development of digital computers. He and Oskar Morgenstern wrote the book on game theory. And, since the days of D&D on minicomputers and Pong on Ataris (and even before), there have been computer games. Below, frequent guest-blogger Zdeno meditates on a popular computer game and and politics. * * * * * I haven’t played SimCity since it’s “2000” incarnation, but some faint memories returned to me once after I’d spent several years steeping myself in Libertarian. My thought at the time was: “That game was implicitly socialist in the kind of behaviour it encouraged from the player!” In case you haven’t played it or something similar, success requires massive investments in public education, fire safety, police, parks, strict zoning regulations, and subsidies for various business sectors. The fiery teenage Libertarian Zdeno was briefly enraged. Upon reflection though, I realized that this did not so much reflect the pinko, fellow-traveller sympathies of the EA Games development staff, but rather the inherent dullness of a video game planner that minimizes the role of a central planner, in which the player is a central planner. EA tinkered with the parameters of the Sims’ behaviour until they got what they wanted. And they made a fun game. Now, what if we developed a SimCity for the purpose, not of entertaining the bored and megalomaniac, but of educating ourselves on the art and science of effective government? I don’t propose an attempt to perfectly model human beings in a simulated environment – if we did, we’d have created the world’s first true AI, and populating SimCity 2009 would be well down our list of things to do. But if some model of human action were constructed, we could use SimCity-like simulators to determine what kind of assumptions are necessary to make given sets of public policies workable. For a rough example, SimCity2000 takes a Conservative approach to the question of law enforcement – more and better-funded police stations result in less crime. A Sim-AI designed with Progressive assumptions about human behaviour would react to an increased police presence by feeling more oppressed, and acting out his perceived marginalization by robbing a liquor store. Or something. Either way, this exercise forces ideologues to quantify exactly what it is their policy proposals require of human nature. Once we have those assumptions written down, we can test them in real life. Obviously this is a pipe dream, and I doubt it will ever come to pass. I’d much rather see actual policy experimentation in the real world (for example: impose mandatory minimum sentences for various crimes in 25 randomly selected US states). But in an imperfect world where the latter is, for now, politically infeasible, an open-source SimPolitics may have legs, even if it has to wait for a doubling or two of computing power. So, Blowhards of a technical, game-savvy bent: Is such a thing technically feasible? Anyone know anything about... posted by Donald at December 3, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Clothes Make the Cocktail Waitress
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is it okay for a Down Syndrome victim to pilot the airliner you are about to board? You're not bothered if you son's career goal is Axe Murderer? And it's fine if a doctor with really shaky hands is about to perform brain surgery on you? One of the distortions being perpetrated on our society is that people have the right to hold jobs even if that goes against the best interest of employers or even society at large. I suspect all of you are not okay with the items noted in the first paragraph. So clearly there are limits to personal desire satisfaction in the job market. In other words, nearly all people probably agree that the right to a job is conditional, despite the "equal opportunity" onslaught of the past 40 years or so. The problem / issue / debate is where lines get drawn. What prompts this post is some of the cocktail waitresses I noticed at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas last week. A number of them were elderly or well on the way there. That is, elderly compared to the typical Vegas cocktail waitress whose age seems south of 30. One waitress appeared to be pushing 60 really hard and a couple of others looked to be about 50. All were wearing the standard Mirage skimpy cocktail waitress uniform. This, to me, was the greatest problem. Push-up bras and high-thigh garment cuts are not flattering to most women over age 50 or so. There are two issues here. One is the appropriate age range for Las Vegas cocktail waitresses -- the women who deal with drink orders for gamblers at their tables and slot machines. Casinos clearly prefer to have a waitress staff comprised of young (18 to 30 or maybe 35-year-old) women who are of average weight or less for their height and otherwise are "pleasant" looking or prettier. This probably enhances drink sales at the margin. I suppose casinos tend to think that women older than 45 or 50 seem too "motherly" or have simply lost their looks -- the assumption here is that sales will be lost on the margin where waitresses are older. The second issue, as I see it, is attire appropriateness. We older folks have bodies that sag, wrinkle, bulge and have other unattractive features. Which is why we wisely don't usually wear skimpy clothing. So it seems to me that the Mirage, having chosen to employ over-45 cocktail waitresses, would be doing both waitresses and customers a service by having an alternative uniform that is much more modest. For example, slacks to cover aging legs and tops showing a bit less cleavage would do. The comment thread to this ought to be fun. (Name-calling comments might never see the light of the Internet, however; so be thoughtful, please.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 1, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Brilliance Revealed
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't watch Fox News on TV -- or any other TV save the occasional football game, for that matter. So I must have been reading too many of those slimy right-wing web sites run by fascist, Hitler-loving Jooooos such as John Podhoretz, Scott Johnson and William Kristol or Rightist goons such as Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds. At any rate, I had this silly notion that Barack Obama's administration has been unsuccessful and losing popularity. Now I have been set straight. The scales have fallen from my eyes and I see the world in a new light. Roger Kimball has done me the great service of calling my attention to this article by Jacob Weisberg over at the Slate site. Weisberg informs us that, in fact, Obama has been a smashing success as president. And if just a few major bills make it from Congress to his desk for signing, his administration will be off to one of the most successful starts in presidential history. Now it's time for me to do my part. Perhaps I'll start by looking for a slightly used Obama poster on Ebay. And seems to me that someone had come up with an "O" for Obama salute a year or so ago ... gotta start practicing that to be With It in the paradise that is being brilliantly created by Our Masters. NOTE: This post was written in light of certain commenters who assert that I hide my opinions by quoting or referencing material written by others whose ideas I happen to agree with. This means they can be be certain that Weisberg precisely mirrors my political point of view. Obviously (from their point of view), the Iron Law of Blogging holds that bloggers must cite only sources they totally agree with. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 1, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ain't Science Wonderful!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Charlton Griffin has been passing along links to "Climategate," as some call it. That's the impact of the appearance of emails from a major climate research center in England indicating that climate researchers were trying to silence opposition to "global warming" and perhaps fudging data used by policymakers. The situation has been evolving so rapidly that I'll pass over links Charlton sent a few days ago to feature this article from The Times (London). It deals with the fact that the research unit destroyed primary climate data, saving only data that had been processed in one form or another. So, unless other sites have copies of the original data, conscientious scientists cannot perform the necessary task of checking the "findings" of the East Anglia organization. I do not know whether or not "global warming" is real, but I've had strong doubts for years that we've departed from normal patterns of temperature swings. Moreover, the business about the warming being "settled science" has driven me to long rants (as my long-suffering wife can tell you) about the inherently tentative nature of scientific findings. I suppose there are others who are more into this and have documentation available, but for years there has been a consistent effort by the pro-warming crowd that dissenters were the equivalent of "flat-earthers" and attention to them should not be paid. This is not science. It is a religion trying to purge heretics. (Hmm. How many stake-burnings will it take to raise world temperatures 0.1 degrees Centigrade?) The fact is, government and academic climate researchers need grants and glory, and the best way to keep all that flowing is to juice up the panic levels. They're human after all. And so is Al Gore: Nobelist, fat and happy, profligate consumer of energy (think huge house, huge houseboat and jet trips everywhere to soak up the cash and adulation of the pious). I'm pleased the sordid truth about the warming movement is finally coming out. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 30, 2009 | perma-link | (33) comments