Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Problem With The Feel Good Crowd

I want to present to you a comment that demonstrates the fallacy inherent in the thinking of many Do Gooder types who believe that good intentions automatically translate into good results. Let me preface this by saying that the argument presented in the comment is false, but I do not believe that it is intentionally false. That is, I do not believe the person who made this comment was actively trying to distort anything but rather actually believes that things are as simple as the comment represents. This naivety is central to the problem of arguing or debating with certain people. This is not quite the same thing as those who demonize their opponents because those people are doing it maliciously with the intent to shut down debate. These people, on the other hand, truly believe that there is no debate because they truly believe that there are only positive results from what they want and only negative from the other side.
I should also note that, while this comment deals specifically with the climate change argument, the fallacy involved is by no means restricted to that debate. This thinking is widespread and interferes with rational discussion in all kinds of areas.
"The thing that bothers me about people who deny man-made global warming is this; what if public politics and policy ultimately reflect your views, and you end up being wrong? We are not only stuck with more pollution in the air, we also potentially have to deal with crop-threatening droughts and the sea swallowing up our coastal cities.

If the people who believe man-made global warming is real have instead their vision of public policy being adopted so that pollution is reduced, and they end up being wrong, we have... cleaner air. Hmmmm....

Any person vocally opposing man-made global warming theory seems to me simply short-sighted. There are so many other lousy causes to take up that are better."
See there? Only sunshine and flowers from what I want; only doom and gloom from what you want. If you're wrong it kills everything; if we're wrong nothing gets hurt and you get a bonus. I have seen people intentionally and maliciously use misrepresent the debate in this way - and I have jumped down on them with both feet - but I have also seen plenty of people for whom this is a genuine belief, and those people need to be addressed as well.
First of all, the number of people arguing for more pollution is vanishingly small. Sure there are those in various areas of business and industry who would love to be able to do anything they want to maximize profits with no consideration for consequences, but they are not the bulk of the skeptic community any more than those who want to use environmental issues for power and money are the bulk of the climate change community. The bulk of both communities is predominantly real people who truly believe that their position is the best position for people as a whole. Anyone who dismisses that fact is not giving you an honest discussion.
Disagreeing with, being skeptical of, or arguing against human caused climate change does not equal supporting more pollution. It is absolutely impossible to give the "stuck with more pollution in the air" argument when existing environmental regulations have already reduced air pollution levels to their lowest points since the Industrial Revolution began. The argument here is not over whether or not to lower air pollution levels - that has already been decided and the decision was to do so - but rather it is about how fast to lower them, what methods to use to lower them, and whether or not to add such things as CO2 to the list of pollutants. That is an entirely different debate than is represented by the comment.
There is no consensus that global warming would result in "crop-threatening droughts". It might happen but it is just as possible that global warming could result in improved farming conditions. Longer growing seasons, arable land where none currently exists. What is most likely, if global warming were to race along at the worst predicted levels - is that some areas would see the negative results while other areas would see the positive results and the net global change (as far as crops go, anyway) would be just about zero. Yes, the people who cannot grow food where they used to do so will not be very happy, but I'll bet the people who can grow what they couldn't in the past will be thrilled.
It is also utter nonsense that rising sea levels will "swallow" coastal cities. The predicted sea level increase is only about 3 millimeters a year or about one foot over the next century. Read that again. A predicted sea level increase if one foot over a period of 100 years. Hardly the Blob That Ate New York. Also keep in mind that this is during an interglacial period when incremental sea level increases are to be expected, regardless of anything else.
In short, the Doom and Gloom of the "if you're wrong" scenario is simply repeating talking points without checking to see if there is any validity in those talking points. However, nothing in that Doom and Gloom scenario of "if you're wrong" is precisely impossible so, if the "if I'm wrong" description is accurate, it's still a better choice, right?
I suppose it could be called a better choice if it were accurate, but it's not accurate so it is not automatically better.
The "if I'm wrong" scenario completely ignores the costs involved. We're not talking chump change here. Far from, in fact. We're talking about billions upon billions of dollars, just in flat, measurable costs. That, alone, should make you want more information. It isn't alone, though. We are also talking about the costs of unemployment - it cannot be denied that many people will be put out of work by the proposed regulations - increased bureaucracy, decreased freedoms, and various other less tangible, less measurable costs. If there truly is a coming catastrophe and if these costs can truly help to avert that catastrophe then it might be possible to argue that the costs are worth it. However, you cannot simply dismiss these costs out of existence when making comparisons and you cannot make any argument that the costs might be worth it by pretending the costs aren't there in the first place.
As I said at the beginning, there are many people who actually believe that it is as simple as "even if I'm wrong you get cleaner air and no one gets hurt, so there is no downside", but it is not that simple. There is a potential downside and you cannot make that downside disappear just by offering cleaner air. I, personally, am all for cleaner air. We, as a whole, are already working toward (and quite successfully, I might add) cleaner air. The difference is, my preferred methods have already demonstrated positive results and lower costs while your preferred methods cost boatloads more and are largely untried and experimental. In the presence of an imminent, fixable catastrophe costly new methods might be just the trick. In the absence of such a catastrophe, however, they are irresponsible, possibly criminally so. So let's get back to determining the realities of that catastrophe, shall we, and skip the naive "I'm all sunshine and flowers but you're all doom and gloom" comparisons.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Comparing Insurance Apples And Oranges

I came across a new argument in the health care debate (new to me, at any rate). If you've been paying attention at all then you already know that one of the most controversial components in the reform package being discussed is the one that says everyone will be required to purchase health insurance or pay an annual fine for not doing so. Needless to say, there are many people who don't like being told they have to buy something whether they want it or not. It's intrusive. It's even insulting. Oddly enough, it's also quite the opposite of saving money since many of those people who choose to not have insurance are those who are young, healthy, and and possessing a lower income. The argument says, "You don't complain about mandatory auto insurance. Why should you complain about mandatory health insurance? You care more about insuring things than people?" This, of course, ties into what I said yesterday about demonizing your opponents so they are more easily dismissed, but there are a few problems with this argument.
For starters, there are many people who do complain about mandatory auto insurance and it is safe to say that all of these people are also numbered among those who complain about mandatory health insurance. These people don't much care for mandatory anything. They believe that it is demeaning to tell a free adult what to do with his or her life. I have to admit, I lean toward this camp, though I do not fit squarely within. I will make carefully tailored exceptions, but they're rare and you have to show a good, rational reason.
Of course, there are those who don't complain about mandatory auto insurance but do complain about mandatory health insurance. Why is that? What is the difference?
Well, for one thing, it is misleading to say that everyone is required to purchase auto insurance. No, actually it is plain false. You are only required to have auto insurance if you own and drive a car (or a truck or motorcycle or whatever you put on the highway). You are free to opt out of auto insurance by taking mass transit, riding a bicycle, walking, bumming rides with friends or family, or just plain not going anywhere (there are shut-ins and they are certainly not required to maintain auto insurance). In short, mandatory auto insurance is a long way from universal.
Mandatory auto insurance also serves a completely different purpose from mandatory health insurance. While there may be exceptions I don't know about (I doubt it, but you're free to correct me if I am wrong), the only thing mandatory about auto insurance in all locations with which I am familiar is liability insurance. In other words, you are not required to carry insurance on yourself; you are required to carry insurance to cover the possibility of your damaging someone else. That is a very distinct difference. See, this is why I said I make carefully tailored exceptions. I'm not thrilled with mandatory auto insurance laws, but I can see the necessity. When you're hurtling several hundred pounds of plastic and metal down the highway at sometimes dizzying speeds and surrounded by many many other fast-moving, heavy masses, it is safe to say that things can go wrong sometimes and there should be some reliable means of compensating the injured party when that "things can go wrong bit" happens to be your fault. I believe there are things that could be done to make the mandatory nature less onerous, but politicians are too lazy for that and I don't believe in miracles. At any rate, we can safely maintain that requiring you to carry some form of comprehensive health insurance on yourself and requiring you to carry some form of liability insurance on your car are not the same thing. They're not even cousins. Maybe distant cousins by marriage, but that's about it.
The final nail in the coffin of this comparison is the simple fact that auto insurance requirements are handled by state laws, not federal law. In fact, using a collection of state laws to justify a massive overreach of federal responsibility strikes me as serious arrogance, ignorance, or some twisted combination of the two. Are you people really not aware of the fact that one of the biggest complaints in this debate is the fact that this is not a proper, Constitutional function of the federal government? And you're using an example of that fact to support your case? You didn't think this through all the way, did you?
Apples and oranges have never been comparable and they still aren't. Just because you're trying to be snarky doesn't mean you're being clever. Perhaps if those of you who are so convinced you are right would step down off your high horses for a little while and actually listen to what is being said, rather than dismissing your critics as EEEEVIIIILLLLL, you might actually be able to have a debate and get something accomplished. Crazy talk, I know, but I'm pretty sure it's been done before.

Health Care Is Not A Right

The debate on health care reform is being grossly distorted by those who insist on calling health care a "basic human right" because, of course, if you call it a right then you can simply dismiss as evil anyone who disagrees with you. This is utterly ridiculous, but it is about par for the course. Is the average American education really this lacking in the basic use of logic? If health care is a right then every impoverished nation that blatantly and obviously cannot afford health care is depriving its citizens of a basic human right based on nothing more than affordability. What a ludicrous idea. This notion of health care as a right could only be argued through the arrogance of the wealthy and, make no mistake America, we are wealthy. Take your delusions about false rights to a country where most people can't afford shoes and see if you don't get laughed at.
This is the natural consequence of the growing belief that "whatever I want is a right", with no comprehension of what "right" actually means. There has never, until now, in the history of the philosophy of rights been a belief that a right could compel someone else to do something. Rights require someone else to not do something. There is a small but critical difference.
My right requires you to not interfere with my free speech, but it does not require you to listen nor does it require you to give me a stage. My right requires you to not take away my gun, but it does not require you to give me a gun nor does it require you to own a gun. My right requires you to not interfere with my free exercise of religion, but it does not require you to agree with my religion nor does it require you to give me a church. Do you see where this is going?
Your so-called right to health care requires someone else to give you health care. Your right makes someone else a slave. That is a contradiction that a true right cannot be. You can compel me to not strike you but you cannot compel me to assist you.
Is it a good idea to assist someone in need? Of course it is, and I don't know of too many people who are arguing otherwise. Despite the rhetoric of the left - calling those who oppose this "health care right" such wonderful names as "selfish", "greedy", and even "evil" - most of those on the No side of this debate are the very people who often donate to relief charities, volunteer at hospitals and homeless shelters, and otherwise give of both their time and money to help those who need help. This is not a debate over whether or not it is good to help people and characterising it as such is nothing more than deceit and character assassination to stifle debate.
What is being argued is whether or not it is acceptable to force people to help and who has the final authority on how to help.
Our health care system is an expensive, blundering mess, but that doesn't mean that replacing it with another expensive, blundering mess would be an improvement. There are things that need to be reformed - fraud and incompetence are rampant - but lying about the debate will not fix the problem. Dismissing the other side through some juvenile ranting about rights will not fix the problem. If you can't be bothered to even try to understand the nature of rights then just go text your buddies about how unfair it all is and leave the debate for the grownups.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Complaining About Your Own Behavior

It is rather funny. The left is up in arms over what they describe as "angry mobs" disrupting Town Hall meetings on Health Care Reform, but I don't recall ever hearing them complain about such behavior before. Even if we concede that there actually is some concerted effort to disrupt these meetings - a point that I, personally, have not seen enough on to concede, but for the sake of argument - such activities are hardly new. Outright disruption of opposing views has been political coin for years and the left never said a word against it. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that they have always been the ones to use this coin.
They have never had a problem when leftists intentionally disrupt conservatives who are speaking to conservative listeners by invitation:

Ryan Sorba attempting to speak at Smith College, 2008

They even bring banners into the speech, shout slogans, and break windows to disrupt:

Tom Tancredo attempting to speak at UNC-Chapel Hill, 2009

They laugh about storming the podium:

Virgil Goode attempting to speak at UNC-Chapel Hill, 2009

Worse, they actually storm the stage:

Minutemen "protest" at Collumbia University, 2008

They even publish videos on YouTube with tutorials on disrupting opposing speeches:

These are the people we are supposed to feel bad for? These are the people who are complaining about angry mobs?
It isn't all bad. While researching this subject and looking for examples, I found one video that actually shows a ray of hope. Mind you, it is yet another leftist disruption of a conservative speaker, but it shows that there are those on the left who are as disgusted by this behavior as I am. If you can stomach the long enough to get to it, at about the 5.45 mark there is a student who chews out the "protesting" students and calls them embarrassing. At about the 7.30 mark there is a student (I believe the same one, but I am not certain) who states that he is a liberal, he is a leftist, but he believes in listening to the other side and truly allowing free speech. Imagine that.

David Horowitz attempting to speak at Emory University, 2007

You might notice a trend here; I certainly did. Everyone of these disruptions took place at a college campus. College campuses are supposed to be the bastions of free speech and the free exchange of ideas. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere between perception and reality.
What really amuses me is how well this ties in to something I saw yesterday. I was watching an Ann Coulter speech on television - I have never heard her speak before, but I was channel surfing and there was nothing else on. This at least looked entertaining, and it was. (The fact that all of the college students present were extremely polite and considerate the entire time was certainly high on the entertaining portion.) At any rate, at one point during the Q&A section, a student asked about whether or not conservatives should ever resort to the kinds of tricks used by the left and the reply was something to the effect of They won't learn by example; They only learn when they get stabbed by their own behavior. Then they are all about fixing the problem. I wonder if this might not be one of those situations.
Could the left actually be learning that it is obnoxiously rude and useless to yell at and mistreat a public speaker just because you disagree? We can hope, but I do have my doubts.

(Note: this is the very first time I have ever attempted to embed video into a blog, so cross your fingers that I did it correctly.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

RIP John Hughes

John Hughes, one of the all time best directors of teen movies, died today from a heart attack at the age of 59.
No one who was in any real way aware of movies through the 1980s needs to be given a biography of Hughes. His movies were some of the only bright spots in what was, over all, not a fabulous decade for popular cinema. He didn't have teens that overreached what it means to be a teen and he didn't have teens so glammed out that they didn't resemble anyone we saw in our own high school hallways. To this day, I still rate The Breakfast Club as one of my favorite movies and can still quote most of it, from beginning to end. The movies were funny, sentimental, and often awkward in pretty much the same combination that those descriptions can be used to sum up the average teenager's life. He got it and we appreciated it, and we had a great time doing so.
Rest in peace, John Hughes, and thank you for the treasures you left us.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

And I Thought Our Government Was Insane

Let me tell you a horror story about creeping totalitarianism moving under the disguise of protecting people.
There is a government that told its people that it was going to protect them from child pornography. To do this, it would implement mandatory internet filtering nationwide, but there is no efficient way to filter specifically for child pornography. It is self-evident that most websites dedicated to such criminal activity do not blatantly advertise the fact. Using obvious keywords would only block the tip of the iceberg, at most. Instead, the government will use an official blacklist and block all sites on that list that are rated as Refused Classification (more on that RC rating shortly). There is a rather severe shortcoming to this method though. The vast majority of sites on that list with an RC rating have nothing to do with children at all. In fact, as a tangent to their “protecting the children” motif, the government in question has adamantly refused to allow any video game ratings higher than 15+ (that is, content suitable for those 15 years old and above) and thus any video game that is not appropriate for children is automatically classified under the RC rating.
Do you start to see where this is going?
To stick with the tangent for a moment, this same government recently banned the sale of all RC games in stores nationwide. These games could still be legally purchased through official download sites (many game companies offer their games in digital formats as well as the traditional boxed variety), but they could not be carried on any “brick-and-mortar” store shelf, with stiff fines for anyone caught on the wrong side of the law. Enter the internet filtering scheme. You know, the one that was supposedly for the purpose of blocking child pornography? Guess what. It has been officially announced that this filtering program will be used to extend the brick-and-mortar ban to include banning online sales of these same games.
It keeps getting better.
There is a specific subset of video games commonly called MMOs (those of you who are gamers, please have a little patience for those who are not), which stands for Massively Multiplayer Online. These are online games with lots of people logged in to play together in virtual worlds that continue to exist whether or not any specific player is present. These games are not traditionally rated in the normal sense because their content is not static. Most MMOs do receive what we in America call the “T for Teen” rating because most MMO publishers do try to keep their content teen appropriate, but there are constant additions to any MMO, making any true rating impossible. The government we are discussing has always exempted MMOs from its ratings classification system (meaning they did not receive an automatic RC rating just because they could not be formally rated) because it was just obvious to do so. Not any more. The government decided recently to slap these games with an RC rating, meaning that it is now illegal to sell them in stores or online and, once the new filters are fully in place, it will be impossible to play them at all, even for people who purchased the games when it was still legal to do so.
Do you remember where we started? It was something about protecting children, wasn't it? So how did we go from there to telling grown adults that they cannot play World of Warcraft or Second Life?
This has not been a fictional, scary What If scenario. It is really happening right now. Contrary to what you might be thinking, we are also not discussing China or Iran or some other such place where everyone assumes such government overlord behavior to be the norm. This is happening, even as you are reading these words, in Australia – modern industrialized nation, one of our allies, and supposedly one of the bastions of modern democracy.
People like me, people who say, “Be careful what power you give them because they will abuse it,” are often dismissed as being paranoid or extremist or pick your pejorative, but I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. When I first started hearing about this some months ago, I dismissed it as some nutjob in the Australian parliament making a lot of noise that wouldn't amount to anything in the real world, but I was wrong. Obviously I'm not paranoid enough! I didn't think it was possible that anything this stupid, this creepy, or this blatant could possibly gain any traction in one of the top democracies in the world, but it's happening. The Australian government has already rolled out the pilot program in nine ISPs across the country and they are discussing tripling the size of the blacklist. What's worse is that they have publicly admitted that they have no success criteria in place for the pilot program. They have started “testing” this with no fixed goal, no means of measuring whether or not it works! The only thing they're testing is how much strain they can put on the filtering software, how many sites they can add to the blacklist before the whole thing explodes.
If you think this has nothing to do with you because you're not a gamer – well, if you're that myopic, you shouldn't be voting in the first place, but seriously. This kind of thing affects everyone! Think about it. They started a censorship program with one stated goal and now they are brazenly announcing that they are tacking on a whole list of things that have absolutely nothing to do with that goal. It doesn't affect you because you're not in Australia? Really? Are you that foolish? Do you honestly believe that you have a different breed of politician in your country than they have in theirs? I know I don't believe any such thing. I know that the politicians we have in America are just as crooked, arrogant, and power mad as the ones they have down under. I'm more than a little concerned at what nasty ideas our nutjobs might get if the Australian nutjobs actually get away with this.
I am of the opinion that a sufficiently tortuous punishment has not yet been invented for those who would abuse children. However, I will run the other direction from anyone who uses the phrase “protect the children” or any of its variants. I can almost guarantee you that the person who says that is getting ready to point a gun at your head, shove a hand in your pocket, and add new locks on your life. Locks for which you will not possess the keys. You cannot protect children by treating adults like children and you certainly cannot protect children by treating everyone like criminals. Those children will grow up eventually and then they'll be criminals, and then what was the point?
This is how tyranny grows. People foolishly grant power that should not be granted because it seems like a good idea at the time, and then that power expands until it no longer resembles what it was and no one is quite sure how it happened. It's happening there and it can happen here. The only cure is for people to wake up and realize that the danger is real. Tyranny is not a thing of the past and it is not something that only happens “over there”.