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Welcome!

This post is set up to float to the top. I'm getting a bunch of new readers lately, so I figured a welcome/orientation post is appropriate.

Welcome to my journal! (Yeah, yeah, I know, the cool kids call it a blog these days.)

I post intermittently, sometimes at length, usually about personal topics, sometimes about controversial ones. I love thoughtful comments, even (sometimes especially) when they disagree with me. Anonymous comments or private messages are OK, too.

I expect politeness, though -- especially to my other commenters. If you can't be civil, be silent. If I start getting a wave of hostile anonymous commenters, I will likely change my policy.

Some links I keep here for convenience:

More scenes from the Internet

(Capturing more comments from elsewhere.)

I'm still not sure that Trump's lead in the polls isn't just the U.S. collectively taking the piss on, well, everyone, including itself; I keep feeling like we're in that awkward moment where the joke stopped being funny a while ago but we're all still laughing because we aren't quite sure how to stop.

That said, what do I know? There's always the possibility that I'm wrong and the current slope really does predict a future trend. I just don't think it's likely.

But I've been surprised by such things before, and will be again.

As for the consequences of believing, or pretending, that he's not a likely nominee... well, I'm not really sure what I'd be doing differently if I believed otherwise, to be honest.

I mean, on a personal level I'm the child of Hispanic Latino immigrants, married to an immigrant man. On a policy level I endorse public services, and taxes as a mechanism for the population to pay for those services, and progressive taxes as a mechanism for the wealthy to differentially pay more for those services; I endorse legislative tyranny as a necessary counterbalance both the tyranny of the majority and the tyranny of the marketplace and endorse it doubly so nowadays when the marketplace has become so disproportionately dominant; I think military power is an important diplomatic tool but needs to be used in service to diplomacy; I think religion in general and Christianity in particular play too much of a role in our public institutions and need to be scaled back.

The Republican party of 2015 opposes immigration, opposes same-sex marriage, opposes taxation and public services and especially opposes the wealthy paying more for those services, aligns itself with the marketplace against both the courts and the mob, prefers direct military action to diplomacy, and endorses a greater role for religion in general and Christianity in particular in our public institutions.

So, y'know, unless the Republicans nominate someone completely unexpected, their nominee will be opposed both to my policy beliefs and to my family's existence, just as they have been for decades. Whether Trump is nominated or not won't change that; I will likely be equally opposed to whoever is nominated.

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Scenes from an Internet

Fragments from an Internet conversation I figured I'd capture.

Not sure if they'll make any sense stripped of context.



I agree that local institutions are better able to make decisions that reflect local needs, and that's valuable.

That said, the ability of larger-scale institutions to coordinate plans and resources and information is also valuable.

So I endorse local interventions for local issues, and local experimentation followed by coordinated local implementation of larger-scale policies for larger-scale issues, and I endorse the existence of larger-scale institutions to implement and coordinate those larger-scale policy interventions.

And part of what coordination means is that sometimes we pay local costs to solve non-local problems. For example, Rhode Island may not want to fight wars in the Middle East or help Louisiana recover from natural disasters. But they nevertheless are expected to pay taxes to fund military interventions and disaster recovery.

And this isn't just true of government or legislature, btw. I accept that quite a lot of commerce is implemented through local branches and franchises of larger-scale corporations, and I understand why that is, and I'm OK with that.

I might prefer to eat at a local restaurant or shop at a local store, but I certainly don't want all nationwide/global companies to shut down, or think there's anything wrong with my local Panera franchise having to follow corporate policies or pay franchise fees.



I agree that a small number of legislators are unlikely to accurately forecast the impact of interventions, not only on the market, but on indidivual lives.

For example, your suggestion that raising the minimum wage (or, indeed, having one at all) eventually "re-calibrates" the economy in ways that harm the people it's meant to benefit is certainly possible.

I would go further - the same thing is true of a large number of legislators; appointing another thousand Senators is very unlikely to help. (To say the least.)

I would go still further -- the same thing is true of any group of humans, whether they write laws or run charities or run businesses or plan roads or whatever. We are fallible systems.

(A bit of a digression... I acknowledge that you believe the "market of interventions," and the "wisdom of crowds" more generally -- that is, large groups of individuals operating in their own interests, independently, in unregulated ways -- is significantly less fallible than other kinds of human organizations, and therefore more likely to accurately make interventions that achieve its goals than, say, legislatures.

For my own part, I'm skeptical... which is unsurprising, given that I'm a "technocrat."

For example, I don't actually believe that turning off all the traffic lights will improve traffic; indeed, I have trouble believing you're seriously suggesting it.

More generally, though, I think we're capable of significantly improving on that by building systems and cooperating with those systems. In fact, I think we've been steadily doing that for centuries now. I don't think that modern crowds are wiser than the crowds of a thousand years ago, but I think we've significantly improved the systems through which those crowds are managed, and the results have been nothing short of miraculous.)

So anyway, yes, I endorse larger institutions (governments, corporations, etc.) intervening in markets, and in individual lives, in order to make improvements. But I acknowledge, as above, that they are fallible and some of those well-meaning interventions will be problematic, even disastrous.

In general my response to this reality is that we have to learn from and correct those mistakes.

With respect to governments in particular... so, let's say our government decides to invade a foreign country, provide resources for elderly citizens, build and maintain roads, put drug dealers and users in prisons, send spacecraft out into the solar system, build and operate schools, and provide people with health care.

Some of those decisions will undoubtedly turn out to be mistakes, and we'll have to recover from them somehow. I'll have my opinions as to which ones they were; we might disagree.

I think that's fine. I mean, obviously I'd rather we make fewer mistakes when we intervene, but I don't think that giving up on intervening altogether is an improvement.




Yes, giving up $30B in tax revenue in exchange for an extra $230B in charitable giving would probably be worth doing.

I say "probably" because of course it depends a lot on the nature of the charities. E.g., if $200B of that hypothetical extra $230B goes to scam charities that line the pockets of moustache-twirling evil foreign dictators who use it to finance terrorist attacks on American soil, I'd consider that a mistake.

Of course, I'm not really serious about that example, but my point here is that what we're spending the money on matters as well, not just how efficiently we're spending it.

E.g., I'd prefer $30B in tax revenues that fund legislative changes that allow my family to legally exist, to $230B in charitable giving to fund legislative changes that prevent my family from legally existing. And that example I am serious about. (And I recognize that many of my fellow citizens have the reverse preference: they'd rather $30B go to preventing my family's legal existence than $230B go to allowing it to legally exist.)

That said, I do recognize that you consider the "wisdom of crowds" more reliable than the wisdom of "technocrats" in such matters, so presumably you think bad outcomes less likely with a million individual charitable givers donating independently than with a government allocating tax revenues. Which is fair. There are contexts in which I would even agree.



I agree about conservatives prefering, and liberals opposing, what we're calling "rising-tide-lifts-all-boats" approaches here. (These are also sometimes called "trickle-down" approaches.)

In a similar spirit, I would say that liberals/progressives believe that equality matters as much as growth, so approaches that "lift all boats" in such a way that 90% of the population is lifted one inch, 9% is lifted a foot, 1% is lifted a thousand feet, .01% is lifted a mile, etc. are problematic.

For my own part, I think it depends a lot on the situation.

To switch metaphors.. in general I endorse everyone slowing down a little to help the slowest runners along, such that we reach the finish line later but we reach it together. But if we're trying to escape a rampaging herd of elephants, I might change my policy in that situation.

That said, just because people are shouting "Elephant, elephant, oh there's an elephant!" doesn't mean I suddenly endorse abandoning the slowest runners. And in particular, when I hear the fastest runners saying "oh no, the elephants are almost on us, quick, give me all your supplies so at least some of us will survive!" I'm extremely skeptical.



Sure, depending on specifics, I'd support something like an agreement whereby a company gets $X of infrastructure spending and tax breaks, and in exchange commits $Y to a scholarship fund for disadvantaged youth or low income workers, offers a guaranteed job to each and every scholarship recipient, etc.

Incidentally, I suspect one big point of difference between us here is that I look at tax policy basically in these terms to begin with.

That is, I see it as an agreement whereby in exchange for access to the public infrastructure that gives me various advantages that are worth $X, I pay $Y into a common fund that supports scholarships, job placement programs, or whatever else needs doing.

Whereas I think you see the $Y I pay in taxes as basically lost, yes?

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Leadership

An LJ-friend (who is welcome to identify themselves if they wish) recently asked me what people mean by "leadership."

My ten-minutes-of-thought answer was:


(1) visibly working towards a goal that other people aren't working towards (at least locally)

(2) breaking a high-level goal into a set of concrete tasks and a set of resources required to implement those tasks; relatedly, arranging for other people to perform those tasks

(3) committing to a goal such that I cannot easily give up on that goal short of achieving it

Some things I think other people often mean (potentially in addition to the above):
(4) charisma

(5) expertise

(6) status within an organization tasked with a goal


Thinking about this personally... I'm pretty good at (2) and I am usually too scared to do (1) or (3).

I have always done best in roles where I can do (2) in close partnership with someone else who does (1) in ways I can support.

I'm also smart and articulate and often charismatic, and I'm white (or at least look white) and cis-male and able-bodied and speak fluent English with a conventional accent, all of which leads to my having or being perceived as having (4-6), which frequently leads to my being framed by others in positions of leadership where I'm expected to do (1) and (3).

This was much more true in my twenties and thirties; it's less true now.

What does leadership mean to you?
What do you think it means to others?
How do you relate to it?

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Employer loyalty and automation

(A comment that got way out of hand, so I moved it here.

The discussion it comes out of started out as a discussion of how raising minimum wages will drive the automation of entry-level jobs. Which I agree that it will, and one of the things we will decide collectively is what we do with the displaced entry-level workers... and more generally with workers displaced by automation, entry-level or otherwise.

The suggestion was made that the solution perhaps is job training, like what IBM did in the 50s-70s, and that we ought to go back to a model where companies demonstrated loyalty to their workers.)


Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I agree that loyalty is great, but I just don't see how this works.

To go back to the example that started this... so, I work at FoodPlace, and the owner decides to implement automatic kiosks because they're cheaper to operate and customers seem happy enough with them. So I lose my job, because my job no longer exists... the work is being performed by machines.

And, we say, this is a failure of loyalty.

So, OK, what would a loyal employer do? Well, we say, train me.

But... train me to do what? Maintain the machines? Program the machines? But FoodPlace does neither of these things, they hire ComputerPlace to do that stuff. So... do I go work for ComputerPlace now? I guess not... that would defeat the whole point of employer-employee loyalty, right?

So I guess FoodPlace hires me in some other position... but what about the person working that position now? Is the assumption that when FoodPlace automates the jobs being performed by 15% of its employees, it ought to expand some other part of its operations by 15%, and move the employees around and train them to do whatever that new job requires?

Or maybe what FoodPlace does is subsidize my college tuition. And four years later I return to work for FoodPlace... well, again, doing what? Is the idea that FoodPlace gets to decide what I major in in college, to ensure that I'm of value to FoodPlace when I graduate?

I dunno. The whole idea just seems unsustainable to me. We can chastise employers for their lack of loyalty all we want, and with justice, but I'm not sure how employer loyalty actually solves the problem created by automation.

For my own part, it seems clear that I need some kind of path forward in this scenario, but equally clear that the need is larger-scale than what individual employers can coherently address, which is precisely the sort of thing governments are for.

Vole update...

I've been voling a lot of late about how the "it's my responsibility to conform to social norms so as to support the society" model interacts with the "it's our/society's responsibility to adopt social norms that support everyone" model.

I haven't come to any worthwhile conclusions about it yet.

I prefer the latter model, at least in principle. That said, I benefit from the former model, and that affects my thinking.

In practice we don't approach the latter, so it's more of an aspirational model.

But my culture seems to be doing a thing where we identify groups that are poorly served by existing norms and make attempts to revise those norms (especially the ones embedded in laws) to serve them better.

This turns out to be enormously difficult, I think primarily because there's an enormous amount of resistance to doing it.

None of this is news. It's just where my head is at right now.

Today, in learning compassion...

So, I have always been pretty bad about dealing with paperwork. It makes me anxious, I avoid it, etc. The last few years this has been getting worse, to the point where I basically haven't been reading my mail at all, just letting it pile up and pile up and pile up.

A few days ago I woke up with some cope. Over the last few days I've first-pass sorted everything into two bags of my mail, one bag of my husband's mail, and a bag of trash. Today I started working through the bags and setting up a system for processing it all.

About an hour ago I found the chronological bottom of the heap, the earliest stuff that I just didn't deal with, the seed crystal around which the whole paralyzing mass formed: a bunch of medical paperwork from 2008, right after my stroke. (Which, for those of you following along at home, was seven years and two weeks ago today.)

Which... yeah. I guess that explains a lot, huh?

I am being very entertained, in a distant sort of way, by the amount of emotion I seem to have locked away inside those long-neglected papers; I'm pretty much bursting into tears every few minutes as I deal with them, and wandering off to piss around on the Internet instead.

I think I'll go for a walk and eat some lunch now.

For those of you who worry... yeah, well, so do I, but beyond being a bit fragile I think I'm basically OK. Supportive comments welcomed.

If none of this makes any sense to you, this probably isn't a great time to ask me to explain.

Seven.

One through five are bounded by a handspan.
And six is the product of so much that came before.
But seven opens something new.
Seven is full of unrealized potential.
Hard to live up to.
Hard to ignore.
(A comment on Republican Senator and Presidential Candidate Rand Paul's endorsement of getting government out of the marriage business altogether that got too long for Facebook.)

Unsurprisingly, I basically reject this entire approach, because I endorse governments as a good way for us to come together and (among other things) support one another's civil rights, and I endorse the idea that supporting one another's marriages is part of that. In other words, I'm not a Libertarian. I'm not even a libertarian, for the most part, though there are libertarian ideas I endorse.

That said, though, I don't necessarily object to modeling marriages as contracts that individuals can negotiate with one another.

That said, I don't consider contracts sacrosanct -- there exist contracts we collectively have a compelling interest in not allowing each other to sign, for example, and a similarly compelling interest in not allowing each other to enforce if signed. This is as true of marriage contracts as it is of employment contracts.

And also, the reality is that marriage isn't just a relationship between the married people. If it were, Paul could have negotiated a non-governmental private contract with Kelley Ashby in 1991, rather than marry her. But the two aren't equivalent, because marriage is also a social construct that constrains and shapes how we collectively treat married people.

For example, I can't sign a contract with my husband that grants me conjugal visits or protects me from having to testify against him in court... those are among the many services we collectively (and civilly, and secularly) provide to married couples, and individual contracts can't speak to them effectively. Similarly, I can't sign a contract that grants him freedom from criminal prosecution if he murders me, because that's not a power I have as an individual... if we want marriage to include that freedom (which I don't!) we need to decide that collectively.

Which means that even if we get the government out of the business of licensing marriages and redefine marriage (gasp!) as a private contract signed by individuals, we will still be operating under those social constraints on how we collectively treat married people, and as long as we have a government which instantiates our collective treatment of married people at all we will need to constrain and empower our government accordingly.

Which means our government will still need some way of recognizing marriages. Maybe that's as simple as "a marriage is any contract that includes a clause asserting that it's a marriage." Maybe it's more complicated than that. I dunno. Either that, or we're going to have to get the government out of the business of recognizing married families at all, not just out of the business of licensing them. Which I recognize, is something Senator Paul basically supports, so hooray for consistency!

But for the folks who want to keep the government controlling what it controls now, and simply want it to remain free to treat same-sex families the way it did before without obstruction, that isn't going to be sufficient.
Clearly I should rethink the life choices that led me to this point.

Anyway, figured I'd capture this here, because that feels somehow less pathetic than just writing it as a comment on someone else's wall.

Feel free to skip it.


Yes, cars are dangerous on a similar scale to guns.

For good or bad, though, to participate fully in the society we've built, most of our fellow citizens need to drive. Most jobs, stores, post offices, voting booths, hospitals, etc. etc. are conveniently available only to car-operators.

I own two cars, and I drive them regularly. Hell I drove one just a few minutes ago. And I acknowledge that in doing so I put myself and other people at risk in various ways. That makes me uncomfortable but I do it anyway. I don't think it makes me especially virtuous or noble or anything.

And I'm in favor of tight regulation of cars and car operators. I'm in favor of mandatory car registration, and operator licensing, and routine inspections. I'm in favor of traffic laws and car-safety laws and emissions laws and collectively paying to enforce those laws. And I'm in favor of social changes that make cars less necessary.

I also recognize that some people choose to own guns, and I recognize that some people believe that operating a gun is similarly integral to being a fully functioning member of society, or something somehow analogous to that. I don't really understand _why_ people believe this; it doesn't make a lot of sense to me... like, I understand why most people need to move people and goods from place to place to perform various functions, but I don't understand why they need to accelerate metal slugs to high velocities. (Oddly, the same people who insist guns are necessary for self-defense also insist that guns are no more dangerous than hammers. It seems like those claims ought to contradict each other.)

But, anyway, I accept that people have these beliefs. And I accept that we choose to interpret the 2nd Amendment to cover modern firearms, rifles, etc., while mostly choosing _not_ to interpret it to cover tanks, bazookas, bomber jets, and nuclear weapons. Thank goodness for small favors, I suppose.

I'm in favor of tight regulation of guns and gun operators. I'm in favor of mandatory gun registration, and operator licensing, and routine inspections. I'm in favor of gun-operation laws and gun-safety laws and collectively paying to enforce those laws. And I'm in favor of social changes that make guns less necessary.

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