Thursday, August 27, 2009

After seeing District 9

One thing I've been thinking about lately is something I read through some links I followed from Michael Shermer's site (if I remember correctly). A skeptic of so-called "UFOlogy" made a case for why we may never witness alien life come to our planet, that I found very interesting to ponder. He pointed out the amazing technology required to travel through space and interact with life in other planets--other galaxies even--and made the case that if the technology of their space programs could be so advanced, they must also have incredibly advanced consumer and household electronics as well. And if they have such technologies, wouldn't they be zombified the way we humans are by our television sets and broadband internet access? Interesting hypothesis.

Some problems I found with this theory:
  • Human laziness is a result of our evolution, an evolution that presumably took a different path than our alien counterparts, and therefore would suggest they might not share our foibles
  • Prosperity, such as leisure and consumer electronics, are the result of liberty and self-driven entrepreneurship. We see with humans that when a totalitarian regime comes to power, the people cease to have leisure time, toys and the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, instead becoming means to their masters' ends. We take it for granted that alien visitors, because of their evolved intelligence, would therefore be interested in what we consider to be higher pursuits than war, power and conquest, but it seems to me that the most likely alien civilization to reach us would be that of beings subjected to the whims of a self-indulgent authoritarian.
  • If the opposite is true, than the advances in technology must then be brought about not by force, but rather by entrepreneurial activity. This means a relatively free market--at least as free as modern western society. If this is the case, I think that there is a vast overstatement of the ignorance of our modern society. We still have enough freedom that people are driven away from their TV sets and computer screens, even if a large segment of the population cannot resist. These would be the individuals that would bring about technological advances and be adventurous enough to travel to Earth.
I've probably overlooked many theoretical concepts here and certainly excluded many theories both in favour and in opposition to the thinker whose idea I am addressing here. But I just wanted to get a stream-of-thought thinking exercise off my chest, not solve the riddle of interstellar relations.

Oh yeah, and after seeing District 9 and enjoying the movie, I did have some problems with it....Namely, that these creatures created cybernetic-style technology for their weapons and spacecraft, and they had the remote transmission system that the little alien used to get the ship moving over district 9, not to mention the technology of the actual transportation and weaponry themselves. And yet, they were communicating with regular speech--regular given their biology, that is. If they have the technology to mutate the main character into an alien, and the technology to fix him, as the alien insisted he could, along with the cybernetic biologically-integrated technology, why weren't they all fitted with nano-communication devices and cybernetic telekinesis and cool shit like that? I was just recently watching an episode of NOVAscienceNOW that was discussing how close we are to recreating eardrums and other body parts and the prospects of nanotech and cybernetics giving us technological telekinetic abilities in a future not-too-distant.

But I guess I will just take the positives from the movie, be glad I saw it and watch NOVA for the futuristic technology....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reporting health care hoaxes to the White House

There was a fury amongst conservative and libertarian groups recently when the White House put together a campaign to have Americans send in information about health care reform that didn't jive with their views.

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to

First, I should state me annoyance with those of my fellow libertarians that blew this whole thing out of proportion (I was less annoyed with the conservatives, because their nonsense does not reflect back on me). Implications were made by many individuals that the government was getting people to tattle on their neighbours, family and friends, drawing comparisons to Orwellian policies. While I cannot guarantee that the government was not proceeding toward such a program, there was certainly no proof or logic to suggest that it was. The White House has a tough task of selling the people on its plan, and certainly would want to keep on top of all the arguments against it, so as to rebut them and persuade people to accept the initiative.

But we mustn't overlook the very fact that there is too much disinformation to keep track of. (I actually believe a lot of it is not disinformation, but in fact valuable information for the people, but that is a moot point, at least in this post.) Why are there so many points of contention being raised by the various people in opposition? Why does the White House need to concern itself with every chain letter and blog post? Why can't the people tell real information from disinformation?

The answer to these questions and more: the draft of the proposed bill posted by the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pension Committee is a 615-page PDF! (summary) This excludes all the other pages that are adopted into the bill from other acts, where amendments and revisions are made. Compare this to Ron Paul's "Audit the Fed" Bill, HR 1207 which is less than a page and for which the amendments to existing law apply to only one paragraph of the US Code. That is a bill you can read.

The government knows the health care bill is unreadable! It knows that ordinary citizens cannot tell truth from fact because they wouldn't even know where to start. And it knows that the people are dissatisfied with the current system. All it needs to do is offer an alternative, and put forth some arguments against opposing points. These arguments needn't be rational or honest, because the people will not be reading the bill, and the media will validate their existing viewpoints according to the viewership, not challenge them. All they need to do is keep together a coalition of the majority--that is, those who are dissatisfied with the current system--who will cheer for reform. As Hayek wrote in Road to Serfdom, "It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program...than on any positive task."

While I'm glad that the White House has ended its appeal for so-called tattling, it doesn't address the real issue of unintelligible legislation. The real solution here is to have bills that people can read.

Or better yet, the government could just get out of the way and let the free market operate.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Compassion and law

The term "compassion" is thrown around a lot in politics, and proves to be one of the most asinine arguments I am faced with. We are a compassionate society, someone will argue, and must therefore do this, this and this.....(Of course, when they say we, they really mean the government.) What these people do not understand is that government is not compassion, it is force.

You exercise compassion when you give from your own pocket to charity, when you give your own time to someone in need of assistance and when you compel others to do the same. The law eliminates the option of compassion. If you are happy to give money to help some group of needy people, but the government taxes your money and distributes money to that same group, you have not exercised compassion. More importantly, all those people who wished to give different amounts of money or to help different causes (and even those who didn't wish to help anyone at all) have been harmed by the law that compels them to share in your so-called philanthropy.

What is forgotten is that your compassion for one group necessarily means you cannot show compassion to another group. Those who decide to not pay their taxes because the government does not use the money as they wish will be threatened with the loss of property, jail and even death. Just as you wouldn't see it as compassionate to demand charitable donations at gunpoint, it is not compassionate to position the government apparatus against anyone to achieve your ends.

And due to widespread economic ignorance, people also fail to understand how not giving is a laudable use of money. When someone hoards money, they take themselves out of the consumer pool for certain goods and services, which drives costs down, making things more affordable for those in the market. If the money is saved, it drives up supply of available credit, which drives down the interest rate, making credit more affordable for those at the bottom who may rely on it to get through a tough time. By investing, the money is turned into productive capacity that can create jobs. This is a far more pleasing method, at least in my view, to create jobs than to institute government bureaucracies to rob the wealth of the people and then distribute it politically. And finally if the money is spent, that results in someone else saving, hoarding or investing, precipitating a cycle that promotes affordable goods and services and job growth. Bureaucracy robs from the productive wealth of society and hurts everyone.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The World Question

I would highly recommend that you all visit the World Question Center. Every year, some of the most renowned intellectuals in the world are offered a chance to respond to a question that challenges and excites the mind. Such questions have included:

What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?
What is your dangerous idea?
What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?
What questions have disappeared?
What will change everything in our lifetimes? Interstellar viruses? Programming embryos? Electro-magnetic pulse wiping out all computer processors?

I was considering having a look through the whole list of answers and trying to ascertain any political biases that play into the respondents' answers. Pinker: liberal. Shermer: libertarian. And so-on....

I considered looking through the answers to see how many answers proposed a positive change versus a negative change. Global climate change, electromagnetic pulse: negative. Universal broadband coverage, personal energy production: positive.

Instead, I've just let myself get lost in the tapestry of ideas put forth on the site and hope that you will find something to excite your mind as well.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Start with a riff

The title of my blog is a riff on Penn Jillette's vlog feature, Penn Says. I hope to present my opinions in a similar manner here, as a humble and respectful thinker.

I'm likely to have an opinion on anything and everything, so there is no telling what to expect on this blog. But you can be assured you will get a perspective you are not accustomed to hearing.