jump to navigation

Good Police and Bad Police January 22, 2018

Posted by federalist in Police.
1 comment so far

A veteran police chief once said there are three reasons people are drawn to police work:

  1. To help other people
  2. Action and excitement
  3. Authority

We don’t want police who take the job for anything other than the first reason. Those are the “good cops.” But we have *a lot* of police who have taken the job for the latter two reasons. These tend not only to be “bad cops,” but also people whose mere presence in the ranks tends to poison and corrupt the police force.

The action junkies unnecessarily escalate situations so that they can get their adrenaline fix. They seek pretexts to speed, chase, draw weapons – their default solution to every problem they encounter on the job is the use of force. Too often these police leave a trail of victimized citizens and property damage. We do not need people like this in the police, and we cannot afford them. Action junkies should not be given a badge and a gun. They should find other jobs, and if they can’t get excitement from their job they should take up exciting hobbies.

The authoritarian police are essentially sociopaths. Police forces shouldn’t be providing a salary and pension for adult bullies. Police exist to protect and to serve the public. The moment an officer shows a hint of entitlement, or of irritation at a perceived lack of deference to his badge, he should be shown the door. Police who think they are above their fellow citizens because of their office are toxic to their colleagues in uniform, to their communities, and to the very foundation of our system of law and order.

Advertisements

NRA crosses a line with #BackOurBlue campaign August 23, 2017

Posted by federalist in Police, RKBA, Special Interests, Unions.
Tags: ,
add a comment

It’s Time We Honor Our Law Enforcement Again

Our nation’s police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect those in need—including the ignorant and ungrateful who direct criticism toward the entire profession. – NRA’s #BackOurBlue campaign

The NRA has stepped up its unconditional support of the American law enforcement establishment. This is why I don’t have an NRA life membership, and why I won’t be renewing my membership for now.

Put their lives on the line every day? No, not really.

Protect those in need? Well, at least when they feel like it. (And when they aren’t assaulting, robbing, or killing those in need.)

The ignorant and ungrateful who direct criticism toward the entire profession? So the salaries, union security, and defined-benefit pensions provided by every taxpayer aren’t thanks enough? (Besides, who maintains the notorious Blue Privilege? Critics, or the members of the profession?)

American police are a mixed bag: There are some exceptional officers who go out of their way to honor their oath of office and to “protect and serve.” And there are incompetent, intemperate, and even psychopathic individuals who hide behind qualified immunity and the institutional “thin blue line” to violate American civil liberties with virtual impunity.

Taken as a whole, the American law enforcement profession is no friend of civil liberties in general, nor of Second Amendment rights in particular. The NRA claims to be, “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization. Together with our more than five million members, we’re proud defenders of history’s patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.” Until the NRA honors that claim, I will beg to differ.

Cheap HVAC Sensors Could Save Tons of Energy June 10, 2017

Posted by federalist in Energy, Regulation, Uncategorized.
Tags:
add a comment

Years ago I noted that modern gasoline-powered cars operate inefficiently on gasoline with suboptimal octane, and their engine control units even detect when that is occurring. If they simply communicated this fact to their operators, they could be fueled with the right gasoline, saving money, energy, carbon, etc. But there are still no cars that do this! (I hate to invoke government, but if it took a government mandate to get automakers to put tire-pressure monitors on their cars, at a substantial cost, I wouldn’t chafe at government mandating an essentially free “low-octane” notification on the dash.)

Add to the list of things that are already measured, that affect vast amounts of consumer energy, but which are not communicated to users:

  1. HVAC filter pressure
  2. Heat-pump coil cleaning required

Central air handlers in residences have two points of maintenance that are notoriously neglected. The most common is the air filter: If it is allowed to get too clogged with dirt the energy required to run the blower will increase. In all but the most expensive systems (which can sense and adjust for airflow) the efficiency of the heating and cooling exchangers will also begin to drop. Most residents are told to change the filter at regular intervals, without regard to the dirt load on the filter. That’s unnecessarily wasteful too.

An extremely cheap sensor and controller can detect when the filter should be changed. (In fact, modern variable-speed systems already detect this, but don’t communicate it to users. And for any other system a piezo sensor on the filter flange that detects a rise in average filter pressure does the same job.)

The second fix requires the addition of a few electronic thermometers (at a cost of pennies) to the outlet of every heat pump’s heat-exchange coils: If those coils become dirty or damaged, they lose the ability to exchange heat, which again reduces efficiency, increasing energy consumption, carbon, etc. All the thermometers have to check is the temperature difference between the outgoing refrigerant and the ambient air with which it is being exchanged. If that difference begins to rise, the coils need to be cleaned. This is something that may never happen, but if it does it should be fixed right away. Hardly anybody proactively checks for this, but the HVAC systems that don’t have these sensors built-in could be retrofitted with them for a matter of a few dollars.

Midgrade Gasoline: Worst Deal on the NJ Turnpike February 24, 2017

Posted by federalist in Energy, Markets, Regulation, Transportation.
2 comments

The New Jersey Turnpike is an interesting study in government price regulation. In order to avoid price gouging by the gas vendors at Turnpike rest stops, the NJTA requires prices to be set competitively with regional gas retailers.

Furthermore, the NJTA contract allows only one price change per week. A familiar consequence of this has been that during spikes in gas prices people flood the Turnpike to fill up at the old prices during the few days before the Turnpike vendors are allowed to raise their prices to the market level.

Another strange pricing quirk has persisted for years: Sunoco, which has the contract for most of the rest stops, offers four grades of gasoline. A recent offering was:


  • 93 octane: $2.83 (“Ultra”)

  • 91 octane: $2.81 (“Premium”)

  • 89 octane: $2.70 (“Plus”)

  • 87 octane: $2.37 (“Regular”)


The weird thing is that 91 octane is always priced 2 cents per gallon lower than 93 octane. It turns out that this 93-91 price spread is specified in the NJTA contract, because most competitors used in the survey to set prices only sell three grades of gas.

This makes 91 octane the worst deal on the NJ Turnpike. Why? Gasoline octane is a linear function of blending. I.e., you can get a tank of 91 octane gas by mixing two parts 93 octane with one part 87 octane. (In fact, most gas stations only store two grades, and the pumps blend them to produce the mid grades.) At these prices, one could buy a tank of 91 octane by blending 93 and 87 at a cost of just $2.68/gallon – that’s lower even than the listed price for 89 octane!

I suspect Sunoco is exploiting this in two ways. First, NJ still does not allow customers to pump their own fuel. So blending a tank requires explaining the process to the attendant, who rarely seems that attentive. Second is the fact that Sunoco labels the overpriced 91 octane blend as “Premium.” The manuals and stickers in cars designed for high-octane gas typically specify “premium” fuel. Depending on the season and location the highest grade available might be 91, 92, or 93 octane, so drivers are likewise accustomed to asking for “premium.” On the Turnpike, “premium” gets you a tank of 91 octane. You have to explicitly request “Ultra” or “93” to get the highest grade.

Californians strain at a gnat… December 14, 2016

Posted by federalist in Regulation.
Tags:
add a comment

Two years ago the California government enacted a 4000-word law to essentially ban retail stores from providing single-use plastic bags, and requiring them to charge customers at least $.10/bag should they desire recycled paper bags to carry purchased goods.

Last month this law was sustained in a referendum (Proposition 67).

California is a peculiar state, but in reviewing the background of this law I found essentially three arguments:


  1. Plastic bags produce unsightly litter. (Never mind that littering is already a crime in California.)

  2. Plastic bags “harm or kill wildlife.” Lots of things, natural and artificial, harm and kill wildlife. I’ve never seen a wild animal killed by a plastic bag, and I don’t know how that would happen; nevertheless, I’ll concede it as a possibility. But anecdotal photos of animals with litter don’t make this argument. Where do wildlife management scientists rank plastic bags on the list of threats to animals? E.g., above or below lightning strikes?

  3. Plastic bags are produced from “petroleum” (actually, mostly natural gas) and hence are not “environmentally sustainable.” First of all, bag-grade plastics can be produced from all sorts of “renewable” plant-sourced polymers. Second of all, even if they are all produced from “fossil fuels,” they could still be the most efficient use of those resources. Presumably, people have to carry their groceries in something. What do they use, and what do those things cost to produce and maintain? (Or what are the sanitary costs if they aren’t maintained?)

California is straining at a gnat while swallowing camels on all these matters. If the concern is “wasting” petroleum and creating trash, why not step up enforcement of existing litter laws and build waste-to-energy plants? That would recover vastly larger quantities of litter and energy than this disproportionate focus on one consumer item.

Every American Should Celebrate These Federal Election Results November 9, 2016

Posted by federalist in Federalism, Government, Judiciary, Regulation.
Tags:
add a comment

I haven’t made as much time for current events in recent years as I used to. My news on the campaign concluded with yesterday’s election was mostly limited to whatever people would mention during conversation.

I learned this morning that the used car salesman was elected President, and that vociferous supporters of his leading opponent, a politician who should have gone to jail long ago, are in mourning.

When our federal government was smaller, and when it hewed more closely to its Constitutionally proscribed role, the person who held the office of President didn’t matter as much. Good leadership and good ideas can bubble up from anywhere, and the guy behind the desk in the oval office doesn’t want to go down in history as a monster. Recent years have shown us that as government has grown the President has acquired the power to inflict extensive damage through often subtle administrative actions that are quite difficult to check. On that score, the losing candidate, with her long history and proven expertise in abusing such power, seemed to me far more dangerous than the blustery winner. Trump seems more inclined to work in broad strokes in the light of day than in dark rooms through a thousand cuts.

This election was, however, absolutely critical in one regard: The future composition of the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). SCOTUS is presently evenly split between (liberal) activists and (conservative) constructionists. If a liberal had won control of the presidency the current SCOTUS vacancy would have been filled by a liberal, and that least-accountable branch of the federal government would have resumed its activist practice of “legislating from the bench:” establishing laws by judicial fiat that are nearly impossible to reverse.

Instead, we have a conservative majority in the executive and legislative branches that will allow SCOTUS to be repopulated with judges who respect the role proscribed by the Constitution.1 America may not appreciate how close it came to a long reign of judicial tyranny. But for that everyone should today breathe a sigh of relief.


1Trump has said his nominee will come from the list compiled with the help of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the legal group, the Federalist Society.

Why #BlackLivesMatter July 15, 2016

Posted by federalist in Police, Social Politics.
Tags:
4 comments

First they came for the blacks, and I did not speak out – because I was not black.

The “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement is about two problems: racism and policing.  Critics of BLM confuse themselves by addressing questions of racism when they should really be focusing on what race is revealing about the police.

Nobody denies that as a subpopulation black Americans are disproportionately violent and criminal.  Based on that observation, it is not unreasonable to expect that proper law enforcement will have a disproportionate effect on black Americans.

But BLM isn’t about statistics.  It’s about individuals, and the dignity that every American deserves at the hands of public servants.  And it’s a warning about the kinds of people who are allowed to work as police officers, and the kind of behavior that is tolerated within their ranks.

We know that there are people who, when given the opportunity, will exploit authority for sadistic pleasure.  These sadists will for their own amusement harass, humiliate, torture, and even kill others.  Law enforcement fosters precisely the circumstances that attract and facilitate such sadistic behavior.  BLM is trying to alert us to the widespread institutional failures to address and control such police behavior.

BLM is the canary in the coal mine.  The black subpopulation will be the first to detect a culture of police brutality and corruption, and will suffer its effects most severely.  But every American is at risk when police are given institutional protection to abuse their authority.  BLM critics shouldn’t assume that the “bad apples” in law enforcement only harass black criminals, or that collateral damage is limited to upstanding black citizens who should understand that racial profiling is an unfortunate but necessary evil in our effort to maintain law and order.

Sadistic police can and do target all citizens.  One can readily find daily accounts of abuses perpetrated by virtually unaccountable police cowards hiding behind their fellow officers, their union, and the qualified immunity enjoyed by government agents.

All those who offer unqualified support for this police institution must understand that they share culpability for every incident in which an officer harasses, tortures, or unjustly kills a citizen.  They should also realize that, no matter their race or social status, they could be the next victim of police brutality.

Whom Do Police Protect and Serve? July 9, 2016

Posted by federalist in Police, Social Politics, Unions.
Tags: ,
2 comments

Police should be held to a higher standard. And they should hold themselves to a higher standard.

Every day there are beautiful stories of police who exercise admirable restraint or go the extra mile to help people in their communities. But those are overshadowed by daily stories of police who abuse their authority and their fellow citizens, and who only rarely face consequences befitting their crimes.

Pro-police rhetoric in the United States has become detached from reality. When five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas, a national police union renewed its insistence that there is a “war on police.” Politicians lauded the “difficult and dangerous work” of community policing. Never mind that by any objective measure police do not face exceptional risks. (In fact, citizens are far more likely to be murdered just by residing in dangerous cities than by working as police.)

The reality is that it is police who seem to have been escalating a war on Americans. The government has declined legislative mandates to track police assaults, but independent projects have found increasing numbers of police homicides: In recent years police have killed more than a hundred citizens every month.

When cops hurt or kill citizens, they hide behind the blue line of their fellow law enforcement officers, their union, and the shield of the government. Personal accountability for egregious misconduct is astonishingly rare.

Many demagogues reflexively refer to police as “heroes.” Police should not be lauded as heroic merely for taking the job. Heroes are people who display courage, bravery, or nobility. An officer who uses deadly force against a person who is not immediately threatening the lives of others is not a hero. Police who resort to excessive violence because they know that, thanks to their office and colleagues, they can get away with it are cowards.

Police who can’t put on a badge and gun every day without also donning an “us versus them” mindset against the citizens they have sworn to protect and serve should simply quit their job. We don’t need police who cravenly exploit their office to harass or kill.  We need police who will risk their own lives to save the lives of the citizens they have sworn to protect and serve.

What will you do with your new rights? June 28, 2015

Posted by federalist in Natural Rights, Regulation, Social Politics.
Tags:
add a comment

The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. (Obergefell v. Hodges)

Free at last! The Supreme Court has clearly ruled that government must affirm the legal definition and expression of our identity without discrimination from sea to shining sea!

National Concealed Weapon Carry license reciprocity is at this point a fait accompli. But Constitutionally enumerated rights are so last-century. We are now free to define and express our identity, and if it bears on a legally recognized characteristic then, per the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Obergefell, the government has to certify it and grant it equal protection. Given the social advances in gender identity it should not be long before one can walk into a government office and demand that one’s state ID or passport reflect a different gender. Religious identity is, according to the law, essentially a matter of declaration, and ethnic identity and race must not be far behind. So expand your mind and think hard about who you truly are, because it is only a matter of time before the United States mandates the respect of all legally recognized aspects of identity.

Do you know what I realized? I actually have three distinct identities. (And lest you suggest that “multiple personalities” is a “disorder,” remember that homosexuality was also regarded as a disorder before it was given legal protection and then recognition.)

  1. I am a child at heart. Eight years old, to be exact. My physical body was born on the East coast decades ago, but my latest identity was born eight years ago in Skagway Alaska. I happened to be there on a cruise at the time. And I felt such a profound kinship with the land that I must be Eskimo. I now look forward to receiving my birth certificate from Skagway affirming as much. (Should I choose to apply to a competitive institution I imagine my status as a minor Native American from Alaska will make me quite attractive! And if I am ever charged with a felony: it’s the eight-year-old that did it.)
  2. Fortunately I am my own guardian. My second identity is a very nurturing black woman, born 65 years ago in Alabama. Oh, the hardships my people endured! I am absolutely ecstatic to have lived to see a black President of the United States, and to finally have my identity legally recognized. I’ll stop by the DMV to have my driving license updated accordingly. I guess this makes me eligible not only for senior citizen discounts and privileges, but also for preference in government contracting and employment. (All my business ventures are owned by this identity.)
  3. Then there is my “birth identity.” Just another privileged, white, heterosexual man. All he does is complain about taxes. But even he has reason to celebrate: Not only does he have two new dependents, but he has just decided that his blindness to social injustice must be literal for tax purposes. (It’s OK, my second identity is an excellent driver and has perfect vision.)

This is what government agent accountability looks like April 16, 2015

Posted by federalist in Government, Natural Rights, Regulation.
Tags:
add a comment

Today’s example care of the TSA (though examples from other law enforcement agencies abound at the Free Thought Project):

Three months after an employee alerts the TSA to sexual abuse of citizens by two “security” screeners they get around to checking into it and, sure enough, it’s going on as described. And the penalty for the perverts hiding behind government agency and paychecks? They (we are told to believe) lose their jobs. Nothing more. Not even their names have been released.

Gambling: Legality and Morality December 18, 2014

Posted by federalist in Economic Policy, Regulation.
add a comment

My general attitude towards legal gambling has been libertarian melancholy: I don’t consider it a positive means of recreation, but as long as everything is above-board who am I to tell people how to spend their money? The expected losses from gambling are well known. The fact that it is addictive and can financially ruin people is also fairly evident.

But after reading this story I don’t think the way it’s done in America is fair: Yes, the industry and its regulators go to great lengths to ensure that games yield their expected negative outcomes to players — no more, no less. But when a player finds a bug or advantage and exploits it he is treated as a criminal. This takes the industry’s built-in “heads-I-win tails-you-lose” bias one level too far.

Casinos can already eject and ban players they think are playing at an advantage. They have virtually limitless resources to detect what they would term fraud, and are not even legally required to pay out “fraudulent” winnings. The law has no place buttressing the house’s enormous advantages just because the house actually determines the mechanism by which a player manages to “cheat.” After all, when an addict loses his fortune there are no legal repercussions or claims on the casino for having exploited the addict’s mental defect. Why should the law bear on a player who, despite the unlimited scrutiny and safeguards of the house, manages to find and exploit a defect to his advantage?

Pathological Altruism November 5, 2014

Posted by federalist in Government, Uncategorized.
add a comment

William Voegeli, summarizing his recent book:

The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do. Or it may be, at least in some cases, that it just isn’t possible for the government to bring about what liberals want it to accomplish. [T]he intended, beneficial consequences of social policies are routinely overwhelmed by the unintended, harmful consequences they trigger. It may also be, as conservatives have long argued, that achieving liberal goals, no matter how humane they sound, requires kinds and degrees of government coercion fundamentally incompatible with a government created to secure citizens’ inalienable rights, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Government Competition Update May 18, 2014

Posted by federalist in Government, Markets, Regulation.
add a comment

What remains of state sovereignty in this country is both entertaining and heartening.

Of course state competition for business has a long history. Before government became a distinguishing factor businesses would often establish themselves based on access to needed natural resources, labor, and markets. Gradually each state’s tax and regulatory burden became a significant part of that equation. Now the political environment itself is becoming an explicit factor.

For example, the last round of gun control hysteria had quite disparate results. States that enacted draconian new gun laws have found themselves losing firearm businesses to more friendly states.

More recently the CEO of a California company complained publicly that its government is becoming reminiscent of the communist Vietnam he fled 35 years ago. Texas is one of the states that has been reaching out to companies with this compelling invitation from its governor:

Texas’ low taxes, predictable regulations, fair courts and world-class workforce make our state the ideal place for any business looking to relocate or expand….

Government Shakedowns May 4, 2014

Posted by federalist in Markets, Regulation.
add a comment

He knows that it’s cheaper to settle than it is to fight this investigation.

Most government shakedowns don’t get coverage like this in the Wall Street Journal. But then, as the FERC lawyers paraphrased above noted, most people realize it’s cheaper and easier to just settle.

In its legitimate role the government enforces clear laws and applies well-defined penalties to lawbreakers. In practice the government has promulgated so many laws that they are uncountable. Executive agencies ostensibly ordained to enforce these laws then compound them with rules and regulations so extensive and opaque that even expert enforcers often cannot say with certainty what is or is not permitted.

I have previously noted that the greatest peril of this situation is selective enforcement. I have since observed a more nefarious phenomenon: the government shakedown.

What motivates regulators in a system in which one can argue that virtually anyone is doing something wrong? Criminal convictions for clear violations of the law are great, certainly. But evidently when it’s too hard to find or convict criminals the next best thing for a regulator is a settlement. And, like all gangsters, the government goes after people with money.

I’ve seen this from traffic courts to tax assessors to market regulators: Pick an amount that is low enough that the target will decide it’s cheaper to settle than to fight. When you run out of criminals start with the wealthy, or just pull people over at random. Threaten them with laws and rules that may not even exist. Find the highest number they’ll pay to avoid further hassle, and if they turn out to be fighters just close the case and move on to the next target. There are no penalties for government enforcement agents who engage in such harassment. On the contrary, it seems, they are rewarded for “settlements” even if no wrongdoing was admitted or even committed. And since shakedowns are easier than full-scale prosecutions that could be lost under the judicial scrutiny of the courts and juries it often appears that enforcers would rather accumulate these token settlements than pursue the hard criminals they were created to take down.

We need more public scrutiny of the everyday government shakedown. And we need more people like the Gates brothers to stand up and say, “Even though it’s cheaper for me to pay you to leave me alone, I’m going to fight you because what you are doing is wrong.”

Lazy Law Update June 26, 2013

Posted by federalist in Regulation.
2 comments

We already knew that there are so many laws that it is impossible to determine whether an individual is completely law-abiding. I was alarmed to learn that even if we restrict ourselves to criminal statutes, and only those promulgated by the federal government, we still can’t say who is not a criminal. Paul Rosenzweig dives into the subject after noting:

Even the Congressional Research Service can’t count the federal criminal laws.

Net Human Product and Our Purpose April 25, 2013

Posted by federalist in Economic Policy, Education, Government, Open Questions.
2 comments

There is a great Twilight Zone episode, “A Small Talent for War:” An alien emissary appears in the United Nations to announce that humans on Earth have not progressed as fast as they had hoped. We have a small talent for war and have wasted our time bickering over borders with crude weapons, far short of the “better things” for which they bred us. Therefore, they have resolved to terminate the experiment on this planet. The American ambassador pleads the case for humanity. The emissary agrees to give the world 24 hours, though he doubts anything can be done in so short a time. When he returns, the General Assembly proudly presents the emissary with a world peace treaty. He leafs through it and then laughs, explaining that their objective was for us to develop weapons and warriors to fight across the galaxy, not to merely to achieve peace amongst ourselves. The episode ends with alien destroyers descending on Earth.

This essay is a discussion of existential matters: Something that, after adolescence, few people stop to consider in any broad context. Discussion following my post on falling fertility raised the Grand Question: What is our Purpose? In the context of that post a successful human life was one that created positive net production in our global marketplace. That’s a fine measure if our Purpose can be expressed as economic activity. But can it? Is our goal as a species to build the maximum economic power? I.e., to produce the greatest possible value of goods and services, where value is defined by the market of individual human wants and needs? By default, and in actuality, the answer is yes.

But we fancy ourselves an “intelligent” species, and so we should not simply accept the evolved answer to the Grand Question: I.e., to what end should our species devote its resources? If the answer is “to satisfy our instincts” then as a species we seem no more intelligent than any other life form.

Are we intelligent life?

We know the key characteristics of all successful life: survival and reproduction. We are currently an apex predator on our planet. As a species we are the apex predator, so we’ve got that to our credit. But we are surrounded by other species that are more survivable than our own: We know there are planetary catastrophes that would extinguish our species but spare “lower” life-forms that can survive more extreme conditions and extended deprivations. So in terms of survival our species is relatively unremarkable.

We console ourselves with the fact that we are “intelligent.” This does indeed seem to be a rare thing: In our own fertile sphere we are unique in our capacity to invent tools, and to create, store, and transmit information. Furthermore, we have achieved reasonable mastery of electromagnetics, to the point where we can send bursts of information into deep space and scan for other life doing the same. Yet our ability to create and harness energy and matter on a meaningful scale is abysmal. We can only transmute elements in the tiniest quantities, and the total energy our species can unleash, even in an uncontrolled fashion, would barely make the faintest ripple in our local space-time fabric. So by some measures we might be extraordinarily intelligent, while by others we may be pathetic.

The rest of our specie’s activities are no more notable than that of any other locally successful life form. In fact, we know that we are only one unlucky gamma-ray burst or other stellar event away from being wiped from the face of existence. Truly successful life would not be so vulnerable.

Intelligent or not, a successful life form would be one that could project itself across interstellar spaces, in some manner able to reproduce and survive on a vastly larger, less precarious scale. Could we achieve such a thing? Almost certainly not in our corporal forms, which have evolved only to survive and reproduce in the fragile fringe of our home planet. But in theory we could build interstellar seeders: self-replicating, self-healing machines that trawl outer space and seed our form of life anywhere it can take root. Our seed sphere would grow slowly, limited by the speed with which our machines can travel, but still exponentially as frontier seeders transform ambient matter and energy encountered en route to spawn more seeders. Perhaps it is possible to design seed rays: packets of energy that, when they encounter matter of suitable composition, transform it into seeders. Though that sounds vastly more difficult, it would allow our seed sphere to grow at light speed.

As intelligent life shouldn’t such large-scale survivability be one of our goals? One might argue that the absence of such a capability is evidence that we are not “intelligent life.” Intelligence may include the ability to create tools and transmit information, but life that cannot alter its evolved behavior and nature to better pursue its objectives does not sound intelligent. And since survival is the most elementary characteristic of life we, as a species, are clearly coming up short.

This brings us back to the Grand Question: What is our Purpose? Nature has given us an evolved, or “default” answer, and that’s mostly what we’ve accepted: Our default Purpose is to maximize Gross Production and Production Capacity – economic measures that we can sample with reasonable accuracy. These measures have steadily increased throughout history. But they reflect predominantly individual interests, not the reasoned, collective interest of our species. For example, included in Gross Human Production today are such things as:
• The construction and maintenance of coastal cities below sea level
• Gold-plated palaces and jumbo jets for sheikhs to fly their extended family around to the world’s finest resorts
• Manicured golf courses where the wealthy and non-producing (“retired”) try to hit balls with high precision

We have enormous production potential, but what are we producing? If one assembled any group of humans and asked them to vote on worthwhile projects for their – or any other human’s – spare time would any of the above examples be on their list? The sad fact is that we, as a species, have no intelligent Purpose.

Does it take a visit from a xenocidal alien emissary? When faced with a clear and present threat we unite in large groups and concentrate our excess capacity on survival and achievement. Think of the unified action witnessed during the World War II and the Cold War. But no leadership seems capable of marshaling such a response to anything less clear and present. For example, know the consequences and probabilities of a large asteroid impact, but haven’t waged any significant effort to protect ourselves from possible extinction from one. And the threat of a nearby gamma-ray burst is so abstract and challenging that almost nobody addresses it.

I wish we could unite behind one or more “Net Human Products:” Something that humans collectively produce that increases over years and generations, and that our species could hold up and say, “Here is something we did besides just surviving and pursuing our instincts.”

There are, of course, philosophic and religious answers to the Grand Question, but I don’t think they make good measures of Net Human Product. In the most general terms, most measure human success as something like maximizing the number of people who achieve peace with their creator, themselves, and/or their surroundings. But these are human-centric measures: In the end, some number of human beings have lived and died, and some proportion did so in accord with any particular philosophy. That tally may make adherents feel good, and some philosophies may be conducive to higher Net Human Products, but either way they are at best a means, not an end in this discussion.

What do humans produce that endures? Civilization has produced remarkable terrestrial monuments, although over eons our watery planet will eventually erode these all into oblivion. We have managed to sling a few small artifacts out of our heliosphere. Aside from those the substantive human products that have the potential to survive every natural catastrophe and all the assaults of time are our culture and our technology: Everything that can be transformed into data, which can be replicated and beamed to arbitrary recipients at nearly zero cost. We might measure our Net Human Product in terms of the quantity and quality of that data, and the means we have to protect its integrity and longevity.

Maybe if we reconsider our collective objectives we will refocus our resources. For example, instead of spending tens of billions of dollars each year on professional sports, the demand for entertainment and product placement will shift attention towards teams of developers and their efforts to raise our Net Human Product.

Can we spark a “Moon-Shot” program on a global scale to make our species truly “intelligent” by addressing the shortcomings I mentioned earlier? Can we motivate individual human beings to join an urgent struggle to develop fusion energy and interstellar seeders? Can children go to school aspiring to study the STEM subjects that will enable those technologies? Can we go to sleep each night as worried that a gamma ray burst will obliterate us before we succeed, as we did during the Cold War that a nuclear holocaust would destroy everything we know and love?

We Need a Government of Laws, Not Regulations December 10, 2012

Posted by federalist in Regulation.
add a comment

Larry Arnn does a good job of summarizing the root problem behind many of the posts in this category:

[L]aws are different [from] regulations. Laws are passed by elected (and thus accountable) representatives, they cover everybody equally, and we can all participate in their enforcement because they are easy to understand. Not one of those three things is true of the regulations imposed by independent boards such as those established under Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.

Unfortunately, our government has devolved into a bureaucratic state:

This form of government proceeds by rules, and rules upon rules, and compliance with those rules becomes a key activity of the entire nation. That results in bureaucracy, and in the inefficiencies of bureaucracy. Constitutional government, on the other hand, proceeds by clearly stated laws.

Sometimes ‘Nothing’ Is Better Than ‘Something’ – Part III November 17, 2012

Posted by federalist in Government.
add a comment

Nassim Taleb makes a structural argument for decentralized, bottom-up government.

[I]n complex systems, we should limit government (and other) interventions to important matters: The state should be there for emergency-room surgery, not nanny-style maintenance and overmedication of the patient — and it should get better at the former.

His essay (and the associated book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder) is essentially a rehearsal of the virtues of free markets in terms of minimizing catastrophes by ensuring that risks — including policy risk — are born as much as possible by those who understand them and who can react constructively and quickly to failures.

Democracy is not the ideal November 12, 2012

Posted by federalist in Federalism, Government.
1 comment so far

I’ve addressed this before, but Randall Holcombe does it best today:

“Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” That quotation … sums up the ethics of democracy. Democratic outcomes are used to justify a majority claiming the right to impose their will on the minority.

To prevent the unethical exploitation of the few by the many, the American Founders designed a government with strictly limited powers. Government was not designed to further the will of the majority, but to protect the rights of individuals. Democracy’s role was limited to choosing who held political power, and providing a non-violent method for replacing them.

Over the centuries since the nation’s founding, the fundamental principle underlying American government has evolved from “liberty” to “democracy.” At one time Americans thought the purpose of their government was to protect their rights. Now the common opinion is that government should carry out the will of the majority. If the many want to take from the few, the ethics of this view of government justifies it.

Let us remember that America is supposed to be the land of the free. Our government was constituted to secure our liberty, not to practice democracy.

Benghazi goes from Unfortunate to Unconscionable October 28, 2012

Posted by federalist in Government.
1 comment so far

Until now I had thought the September 11 Benghazi (Libya) incident in which 4 Americans were killed was essentially unfortunate.

Granted, the American Executive’s response in subsequent days gave plenty of fodder to anyone doubting the Obama administration’s political principles.

But the fact that a Libyan militia was able to overwhelm an American consulate and kill an ambassador and three other American operatives represents, at face value, an honest failure assess and address the security situation.

The reality we are learning is far more damning.  CIA contractors, including at least two former Navy SEALs, were manning a fortified CIA installation a mile from the consulate.  At least one report now indicates they asked for military backup and for permission to launch a rescue of the consulate.  Those requests were denied by the CIA.  Ignoring orders to “stand down” a team of those operators left the CIA “Annex,” rescued those remaining at the consulate, and recovered the body of one of the two Americans killed there.

Before the night was over, the CIA installation itself came under attack.  Among its defenses were veteran warriors, heavy machine guns, and a laser designator trained on an enemy mortar squad.  They were in constant contact with the chain of command, including calling in the coordinates of enemy forces to allow drone or off-shore fire missions.  It was a mortar that killed two more Americans that night — 7 hours after the attack on the consulate began.  During this time, continued requests for military support were denied.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta complains about “Monday-morning quarterbacking” as we learn that refusals for support came from his level, if not the White House itself.

Given the military resources in the region, the duration of the attack, and the communication channels that remained open throughout the incident, the failure of the military leaders to unleash prompt and decisive support is unconscionable.  Failing to prepare is unfortunate and perhaps even incompetent.  This failure to respond is reprehensible.

(One saving grace is that the military leader responsible for sending reinforcements, General Ham of AfriCON, may have actually ignored orders to wait.  If true, the rumor follows that he was immediately relieved of command, which would elevate the actions of the top civilian leadership to what I consider to be criminal negligence: When a General orders a rescue mission there is no second-guessing that.  Higher-ups can “Monday-morning quarterback” that and end his career after the fact, but AFAIK relieving a General on the spot for green-lighting an isolated rescue effort in an overt conflict is unprecedented.)