Ferguson Burning

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In the wake of the grand jury decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown comes (via Instapundit) an interesting and timely review of what a grand jury is and why we have them:

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution gave its name to the protection against self-incrimination, and it also contains three other famous (and these days somewhat battered) guarantees--against double jeopardy; against deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and of just compensation when private property is taken for public use. But before any of these, in pride of place in the very first words of the amendment, comes perhaps the least thought-of protection in the whole Bill of Rights: the assurance that no one will be "held to answer" for a serious crime unless indicted by a grand jury. [bold added]
Elsewhere, I learned that the identities and deliberations were kept secret to prevent pressuring the grand jury into making any particular decision. At the risk of sounding callous, this is something that keeps our government from behaving like a lynch mob directed by whoever is in charge. It's too bad that so many people think that no deliberation is necessary at all to render justice.

As relieved as I was to hear that the forgotten man in the Micheal Brown case was no-billed, that relief has been nearly cancelled out by my disappointment in the rioting -- the worst yet -- that has followed. Thanks to rampant arson, there is "nothing left" along a stretch of road I happened to travel earlier in the day of the initial confrontation. Smiling looters raided a toy store last night. Others carelessly fired guns, of all things. That's just a sample of what happened last night. My only question: Why did anyone bother to wait until 8:00 p.m. last night to get started?

As a St. Louisan, I now have to keep tabs on this barbarism since it is close enough to my doorstep to represent a threat to my personal safety and that of my family.

Most disappointing of all are those who chant that "Black lives matter," from one side of their mouths while condoning and abetting behavior like the above. Committing crimes is not the way to protest what one is claiming to be a crime. Refusing to consider evidence is not the way to show a concern for justice. Making one's immediate vicinity a living hell is not the way show that one's desire for respect comes from self-respect and a regard for the lives of others. This is pathetic, and I must say that pity is one of the most unpleasant emotions one can feel.

I take solace in the fact that there are still legitimate aspects of our government that function properly, such as grand juries, and that most people are not as mindless as the self-lynching mob that is incinerating Ferguson, or the other mobs like it that have been cropping up across the area lately.

-- CAV

P.S. I will take tomorrow and Thursday off from blogging for the holiday. I wish you a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I will not allow the necessity for vigilance to cause myself to forget that life is precious, and worth living.


Today: Corrected wording of a sentence and the P.S. 

No "Gift Horses" in 2016

Monday, November 24, 2014

There is an interesting article out on possible "Rust Belt Republican" candidates for President in 2016, which offers sketches of four Republican governors of Midwestern states who could figure as Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidates. It is clear to me, as an advocate of laissez-faire, that I could offer only highly qualified support, if that much, of any of them. 

As an example of what I mean, Take Wisconsin's Scott Walker, who has racked up some impressive wins against public sector unions:

Walker, 47, won national attention after beating back a labor-led 2012 recall attempt. He has pushed through a series of big-ticket bills, including requiring women to get ultrasounds before they have abortions and paving the way for more mining in the state. He's now preparing a legislative agenda that includes mandating drug tests for welfare beneficiaries, repealing the Common Core education standards and cutting property taxes. [bold added]
On the one hand, one could conceivably make a case for drug-testing recipients of government benefits as part of a sunsetting program. On the other hand, there is no such case to be made for forcing someone to undergo a medical procedure, as required by the abortion bill. Indeed, that requirement is a fresh intrusion of improper government into the lives of individuals, and is, as such, the exact opposite of restraining government to its proper role of protecting individual rights. Like those conservatives who regard us as having, not so much a right to our  lives as a duty to live, Walker holds positions that are inconsistent -- with each other or with advocacy of limited government.

Our culture is presently too saturated with the idea that the government should be running our lives in some form or fashion for a truly acceptable candidate to emerge. That said, advocates of limited government must approach any candidate with a high degree of skepticism. We might wish that a Scott Walker were also  secular and pro-choice, but wishing doesn't make it so.

No matter who wins in 2016, we will probably find ourselves fighting him at least part of the time.

-- CAV

11-22-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, November 22, 2014

No Friend to Law and Order

Attorney General Eric Holder has issued a stern warning ahead of the grand jury decision in the shooting of Michael Brown:

... Attorney General Eric Holder urged law enforcement authorities Friday to minimize the potential for confrontations during possible demonstrations.

"It is vital to engage in planning and preparation, from evaluating protocols and training to choosing the appropriate equipment and uniforms,'' Holder said in a video message posted on the Justice Department website. "This is the hard work that is necessary to preserve the peace and maintain the public trust at all times-- particularly in moments of heightened community tension."
Reading further, one will fail to unearth one jot about the protesters remaining calm or working with authorities to stop vandalism, theft, or violence. One will find no, "Harm to persons or property will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," there. This is amazing since, were there no protests, there would be no possibility of an escalation to violence, vandalism, or looting.

I don't particularly object, under these circumstances, to reminding law enforcement to behave professionally, but standards for civilized behavior apply to everyone. Given that such violent anti-capitalist reactionaries as Lisa Fithian are on hand to incite rioting, this omission is beyond derelict on Holder's part.

Weekend Reading

"[N]ot feeling good every moment of the day doesn't mean that you're doing something wrong." -- Michael Hurd, in "Is 'Feeling Good' Really the Purpose of Life?" at The Delaware Coast Press

"True closure involves not only accepting the facts and getting out of denial, but also understanding why and how the relationship ended." -- Michael Hurd, in "'Closure' After Breaking Up -- What's It Mean?" at The Delaware Wave

My Two Cents

A neuroscientist has recently made a case that high altitude might contribute to depression, but Michael Hurd's first column still speaks to the so-called "Utah paradox": The state with the suicide epidemic also happens to rank as "America's happiest state". Given how commonly "feeling good" is mistaken for happiness, any survey attempting to create such a ranking will probably be polluted by that premise, particularly if any form of self-reporting factors into the results. Hurd's column even describes how acting on that mistaken premise can lead to depression.

Earworm Infection

I don't know how it is that I am immune to the latest earworm, from the movie Frozen, but the author has my sympathy:
Wikipedia tells me that you have kids, too. As I live and breathe, I swear that one day I will write something that will get in your kids' brains and move into your house. My words will haunt the echo chamber of your minds, day in and day out. And you, too, will fall down sobbing. You'll understand. And I'll laugh from afar, letting the storm rage on.

Then, once the dust settles, maybe we can meet for coffee or something. Maybe a playdate? We can work around nap schedules.
On a related note, isn't it incredible how much adulation for royalty there is in Disney's entertainment? I think some of this stems from much of its early work being derived from fairy tales, but I can't help but wonder if, as in many comics, part of the phenomenon lies in a foreign-ness of the heroic to our culture. (This is not to say that comics shouldn't exist, or can't portray heroism accurately.)


Friday Four

Friday, November 21, 2014

1. Interesting medical news concerns a possible role for marijuana in treating an aggressive form of brain cancer:

"We've shown that cannabinoids could play a role in treating one of the most aggressive cancers in adults," Dr. Wai Liu, one of the study's lead authors, wrote in an op-ed earlier this week. "The results are promising ... it could provide a way of breaking through glioma and saving more lives."
Fortunately, legalization of marijuana as a recreational drug might, in some jurisdictions, keep the FDA out of the way for anyone who wishes to try this in the meantime.

2. A news story about a girl who joined "Santa" for a meal to keep him company sounds a little like something my daughter might do:
"As soon as we walked in, Gracie was saying, 'Look Mommy, he's here,' and 'Daddy, look, it's Santa!' He obviously heard her because 3-year-olds aren't quiet by any stretch of the imagination. We didn't know if he wanted to eat and be left alone, but he said that if she wanted to come talk to him, it didn't bother him at all. He was open-arms welcoming to her," said [mother Lindsey] Wilson.
File under "too cute to pass up".

3. Not that I condone theft, but I can't think of a more deserving victim of car theft than Elizabeth "Fuck the Police" Vega:
So while debriefing after the action my car got stolen.
Perhaps this incident will spur reflection on the legitimate role of the police by Vega, but I doubt it. In any event, she got the poetic variety of what she and so many other hooligans are claiming to want: justice.

4. Do you Shazam? Then you may enjoy this story on how the ubiquitous music identification app is affecting the industry:
By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else. "Sometimes we can see when a song is going to break out months before most people have even heard of it," Jason Titus, Shazam's former chief technologist, told me. (Titus is now a senior director at Google.) Last year, Shazam released an interactive map overlaid with its search data, allowing users to zoom in on cities around the world and look up the most Shazam'd songs in São Paulo, Mumbai, or New York. The map amounts to a real-time seismograph of the world's most popular new music, helping scouts discover unsigned artists just as they're starting to set off tremors. (The company has a team of people who update its vast music library with the newest recorded music -- including self-produced songs -- from all over the world, and artists can submit their work to Shazam.)
Also interesting is how the algorithm works, which is among the first things in the article.

-- CAV

A Stitch in Thinking Time

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions writes about a common and vexing problem: How can one do in-depth thinking when one hasn't long blocks of time to work with? Her advice concerns stitching together the smaller blocks of time one does have. Here is part of her advice on how to handle the end of a session.

Don't throw that work away! Hold up your hand with a "just wait" sign and take 30 seconds to write some notes to yourself. Sum up.

What were you doing? What were you going to do next? What last idea do you want to record to explore next time? Write the answers out in full sentences so you can understand exactly what you meant when you come back later.

The 30 seconds you spend now will save 10 minutes or more when you come back today or tomorrow, by making it much easier (and less painful) to recover the mental context you interrupted.
Within the article, Moroney mentions a course she offers that features techniques that can solve this problem completely. I recommend it and will point out that there is a free course at her site that one can try to get an idea of what to expect.

-- CAV

Unplanned Consequences of Central Planning

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

If you're having trouble buying, selling, or -- like former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke recently did -- refinancing a home, you might have our paternalistic, "helicopter-parent-from-hell" government to thank. Bruce Bialosky writes about some of the "unintended consequences" of Dodd-Frank including significant impediments to buying and selling houses:

... It used to be that a mortgage broker or real estate agent would contact their reliable appraiser to get a timely and hopefully accurate evaluation of a property. The lawyers behind Dodd-Frank saw that as a means of manipulation and no doubt on some occasions that would occur.

The new system requires a third party service to be contacted that, of course, charges a fee to obtain an appraisal that is added on top of the appraiser's fee. That means out of the box the cost of appraisals have been driven up. Koevary says it is worse than that. He and his fellow professionals used to be able to contact their friendly appraiser and get an idea whether the property will appraise at either the sell price or refinance price. That is no longer possible because of the requirement of using a third party service. Koevary states that often people will incur appraisal fees under the new system and find out the deal will not fly. Thus, his client gets stuck with significant appraisal costs which have done nothing but kill the deal.
The law has also resulted in lots of third-party appraisers falling under the control of "big' lenders; difficulties in obtaining financing for people with unusual sources of income, and an end to discounted fees by mortgage brokers.

I am an advocate of laissez-faire, and I oppose laws like Dodd-Frank on moral and practical grounds. Regulars know this already, and that I consequently never supported this law. That said, on my reading of this column, I am beginning to feel ill at ease with Bialosky's term, "unintended consequences". I am not singling him out for criticism: Many conservatives use the term, and I probably have used it myself in the past. However, my uneasiness lies with the idea that the phrase may be letting proponents of such laws off the hook too easily for meaning well. I am not an economist, but at least two economists I know of have pointed out that central planning is doomed to fail for removing rational thought from the economy. History is also littered with failed attempts at central planning. Perhaps we could use a term like "unforeseen consequences", or "side effects", or even "further ramifications" instead. (Or maybe "unplanned consequences of central planning" would be the ticket.) In any event, I have no patience with the idea that, any time something goes wrong, we should reach to the cabinet for even more government interference, as if that worked the first thousand times. (And I haven't even touched on the question of whether it is the right thing to do with government...)

My question for advocates of government regulation of everything is this: How many "unintended consequences" does it take before I should begin to wonder what it is you intend to do?

-- CAV

Towards a Proper Foreign Policy

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Although he is not explicitly calling for an American foreign policy based on national self-interest, Brett Stephens of The Wall Street Journal makes some recommendations that I think might apply to pursuing such a policy. Stephens proposes that we  apply a criminological insight to bad international behavior in order to make it easier to maintain the peace:

"Disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence," Drs. [George] Kelling and [James Q.] Wilson argued. It had long been known that if one broken window wasn't replaced, it wouldn't be long before all the other windows were broken too. Why? Because, they wrote, "one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing."

The idea that the mere appearance of disorder encourages a deeper form of disorder cuts against the conventional wisdom that crime is a function of "root causes." Yet municipalities that adopted policing techniques based on the broken-windows theory--techniques that emphasized policing by foot patrols and the strict enforcement of laws against petty crimes and "social incivilities"--tended to register sharp drops in crime and improvements in the overall quality of life.
Stephens cites encouraging evidence from our nation's recent long-term decline in crime in support of his view. I think his idea has merit, but that it will ultimately succeed only if coupled with a significant change for the better in what we treat as our objectives in foreign policy.  To look at this merely as a way of striking some sort of a happy medium between Barack Obama's fecklessness and George W. Bush's nation-building export of the welfare state is to miss an opportunity to reconsider our fundamental strategy. As we have seen in many recent wars, great weapons, personnel, and tactics can still lose if deployed for the wrong end.

-- CAV