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As you can plainly see, I haven’t been blogging much lately. I still enjoy long(er) form writing and I intend to keep writing on this blog. I’m sure it will continue to emb and flow a bit. My RSS feed is still screwed up, so most people aren’t paying attention anyway! One of these days I’ll get that fixed up. You know the story about the cobbler’s kids having crappy shoes….

I am still sharing my thoughts, though, mainly on Twitter and a little on Google+. You know what to do!

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Cooperation over competition

In another thread I am having a conversation with “carter”, who seems to be a smart and thoughtful person, and a fellow rocketeer, by the look of it. The following is a response to one of his comments that I felt deserved the spotlight of its own post, especially considering how rare I blog these days.

He said, among other things:

I’ll admit there is a sweet spot for taxation and regulation.

How should we figure out where the sweet spot is? This is perhaps my prime problem with the “small government” rhetoric of the Right. It would be lovely if we could set a certain policy, run the experiment and then rewind, use a different policy, run the experiment again, etc. and really truly find out the right amount of taxes and regulation to make for the strongest economy. We can’t do that.

So instead, like astronomers, we have to observe different experiments in action and then try to normalize them somehow and get our insights that way. What are the other experiments? They are the other countries that are also experimenting with varying degrees of taxes and regulations.

The odd part about this is that the US is an anomaly. There is no Westernized country more conservative than us. There are none with lower taxes. When you look at the other thriving economies of the world they all, every one of them, have more taxes and regulation.

The Right likes to point to this and say “See! We are on to something here in the USA! Less taxes and less regulation make for a stronger economy.” Unfortunately that is a statistically insignificant sample of one. There are a lot of other factors that have contributed to the strength of the American economy besides the conservatism of the last few decades.

So I’m glad we agree “there is a sweet spot for the level of taxes and regulation.” You think we have erred in one direction and me the other. I really try to imagine your view as correct. I do trust people to look after their own best interest. I do see how the government screws some things up.

The reason I end up disagreeing with you is this: homo sapiens rose above the bloody fray of survival of the fittest and started cooperating in larger and larger groups. While the law of the jungle certainly applies, a stronger “law” has led to the great success of our species: cooperation. We all do better when we all do better. I can’t escape this ideology and economists have been unable to prove me wrong. I think we should put our efforts into making government better (for we are the government, after all) rather than trying to dismantle it.

I have written elsewhere on this blog why I think progressive taxation is fair and smart. Moving from taxes to fees is regressive. For certain things, I think it is viable and useful. But our government is so more than a service provider.

I also agree that Amy’s child safety law had ridiculous unintended consequences.

Thanks for the great conversation.

Cooperation over competition

Podcast No. 77: Midterm Elections and Obama

I actually recorded a podcast! It’s been over a year. Here are my profanity-ridden reflections on the midterm elections and the irrational and uninformed electorate. Enjoy!

Listen/Download: http://www_lolife_com.s3.amazonaws.com/podcast/lolife_podcast_77.mp3

Subscribe: http://www_lolife_com.s3.amazonaws.com/podcast/lolife.xml

Podcast No. 77: Midterm Elections and Obama

Geithner nails it

How short the memories of the electorate.

When the president took office, the American economy, the envy of the world, was falling off the cliff. Growth was declining at an annual rate of about 6 percent. We were losing three-quarters-of-a-million jobs every month. The American financial system was in freefall.

People were wondering whether they should keep their money in banks, whether they should buy treasuries, the first time since the Great Depression that happened. That was the reality when this president came into office. And there was no way out of that, except for the president, working with the Fed and the Congress, to go take aggressive, strong, bold actions to arrest the freefall and start the economy growing again. And that’s what he did, and that’s what’s happened.

From PBS.

Geithner nails it

Brain vs. Mind

Via this reddedit thread via Pharyngula I was made aware of this article: How to Think About the Mind and I found it very thought-provoking.

I think the atheist viewpoint is that the mind and the brain are the same thing. There is no ghost in the machine. I don’t find that idea disturbing in the slightest. I obviously feel my personhood and my free will and my me-ness. I really don’t think we understand consciousness very well and the notion that it can be explained through neurology is not surprising to me at all.

I do not discount the possibility that there is more going on here than we can measure. It’s a fanciful idea, but not beyond the realm of possibility. Maybe it’s true that we are beings greater than our mortal coil and return to our true nature, somehow, when we die. That would be fun. It would probably be more fun than being nothing. But, as I said, it’s fanciful without the slightest basis in fact and I would feel silly believing such a thing is true.

We know that the earth won’t last forever, the sun won’t last forever, the galaxy won’t last forever and even the universe itself will become a cold and empty place in the end. If nothing lasts forever, why would we think we last forever? It makes no sense.

The evolution of the mind as served us well. The brain is an amazing thing within an amazing universe.

Brain vs. Mind

War

I recently read Sebastien Junger’s book War. It was captivating because of the real life-or-death action and thought-provoking because of the deeper central idea. If you think about it, for the last 100,000 years, anatomically modern human beings have been struggling for survival. Many times, what was trying to kill them was other human beings. Junger quotes a statistic that 15% of pre-civilization human beings were killed by other human beings. Because of this, core to our culture and, to some extent, our nature, is the concept of the war party. Young men gathered together to go fight and perhaps die in defense of their people.

This is an interesting and powerful notion and Junger’s book brings it to life through the eyes of young soldiers stationed at remote outposts in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.

We see this instinct prevail in non-war ways, too. Men get together to hunt and fish, party or work and they bring to the dynamic these macho ideas of brotherhood and self-sacrifice that have been part of our existence since before we were human. To sacrifice for the tribe is the highest and most honored value. In spite of the seeming contradiction with “survival of the fittest” it appears that we are evolutionary descendants of those willing to sacrifice for tribe.

I’m going to Restrepo tonight, which is the documentary Junger made while writing this book, and I can’t wait. I’ll report back.

War

The Red Pill

(This is an old post I found sitting in my Drafts…)

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. — Morpheus from The Matrix

There is a minor war going on between the “new atheists” and the “new accommodationists”, the latter being namely Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, the hot wonder twins of atheist bashing.

PZ doesn’t like them, Jerry Coyne doesn’t like them and, frankly, I don’t like them. I’ll let the other guys speak for themselves, ’cause they do it a lot, and just chime in with my own two little cents.

First of all, let me agree with them — framing is a no brainer. Anyone who wants to convince people needs to frame their argument. PZ demeans framing as accommodation but that is not the case — framing is a tactic used to get people to drop their guard enough to listen enough to be convinced.

Now the disagreement — atheism is the red pill. Once you open your eyes to it, you can no longer tolerate wild, unfounded speculation, regardless of the source. Religion is nonsense and people who believe it are suspending rationality in favor of mystical faith-based bullshit. I’m not saying they are stupid, I’m saying that they do not think about religion the way they think about everything else. They give it a free pass, usually because they were brainwashed as children to do so.

When you swallow the red pill you can’t go back to a world where you respect people’s religion. You can respect the person without respecting the philosophy.

So the discomfort that Dawkins and PZ create is necessary. Kindness can’t win this one. There are always casualties in revolutions. The notion that atheists are mean or intolerant is not true and is really beside the point. The bigger issue is: religion is indefensible and more and more people are waking up to it.

The Red Pill

Lvl 3 Payload Bay

Here is my under-construction payload bay. On one side are all the batteries, hooked up in parallel to 2 screws in the center:

The screws poke through to bring the voltage to the other side:

The other plate slides over the posts holds my flight computers and GPS/downlink:

The computers are a G-Wiz Arts and a PerfectFlite MAWD. The GPS unit is a Big Red Bee.

Lvl 3 Payload Bay

A rejection of extremes

It is an amazing thing to watch your generation take over the world. The President of the United States is 4 years older than me. The positions of power in industry, government and culture are being occupied by people my age. It makes you think — what are our responsibilities to future generations. What are our responsibilities to ourselves? What will our legacy be?

My hope is that we get rid of these policies of extremes: zero tolerance, no negotiation, maximum return, lowest cost. We seem to value even ridiculous extremes at times.

With this is the rejection of false either-or’s. Conservative or liberal, the environment or industry, socialism or capitalism. These turn debate into contests instead of a process of discovering the truth. What if the government enacted (or repealed) some thing that made a big positive difference to everyone involved. Would you care which ideological category it belonged in? These bi-polar arguments are contrived and unproductive.

My hope is that our generation puts aside some of this pointless vitriol and tries to actually solve problems. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic.

A rejection of extremes