08
Oct

Why Psychics Should Be Banned

Television hosts make millions by demonstrating their supposed ability to communicate with the dead or predict the future. These extraordinary abilities are often presented with general life advice about “moving on” from past relationships or seeking out new relationships to fill voids. Due to the sensitive nature of such topics, it is sometimes considered insensitive or offensive to state the obvious: anyone who claims the ability to know the future or correspond with deceased human beings is either deluded or a liar.

We have many laws in this country protecting consumers from fraud and false advertising. One cannot sell a container labeled as a gallon of milk if it is in fact a gallon of poison. Most people generally trust that when they pay for something, they will receive exactly what was advertised. Without oversight and regulation of products, consumers would likely be constantly deceived by businesses small and large that are eager to make a quick profit. Indeed, history shows that such snake oil salesmen run rampant before authorities crack down on their schemes.

In principle, most people would probably agree that fraud should always be punished. Society can’t function properly if we have to view every sales transaction with paranoid suspicion. And yet, the frauds of fortune telling and communicating with the dead are ubiquitous. It is a multi-million dollar industry of deceit, preying on the fear of death and the sorrow experienced after a love one has died. It largely escapes criminal repercussions because it can be difficult to prove that psychics are knowingly deceiving their customers. But when such criminal acts can be proved, and it must be provable in many instances, it should be aggressively prosecuted. Psychics and mediums simply should not be able to claim to have a supernatural ability that can be (and has been) debunked.

This proposal, despite how it might appear at first glance, is ultimately a mild one. People can still have a “fortune telling” experience but it must at least be called something else (perhaps something that connotes a ritualistic but not realistic experience) to prevent false advertising. The distinction is a semantic one but it’s important. To charge a customer for a service that doesn’t exist is clearly deceptive, if not a case of outright fraud.

There are some honest people who rely on pseudoscience to make money. I don’t doubt their sincerity, just as I don’t doubt that some salesmen really did believe in magical cures for baldness and impotence. Self-deception is a powerful force but it shouldn’t be tolerated in a country that values justice, truth, and fair play. We can’t expect our fellow citizens to be scientifically literate if we allow superstition to be sold to them. 

05
Oct

Give the People What They Want: The Case for Third Party and Independent Candidates

The number of independent or unaffiliated voters, who are presumably fed up with Democrats and Republicans, has risen steadily over the past few years. When libertarian or progressive candidates are included in polls, there is sometimes a notable difference. For instance, Gary Johnson is polling as high as 10.6 percent in swing state Ohio. This is a substantial portion of the electorate and could sway the state in one direction or the other.

In such scenarios, at least one of the major parties (depending on which one suffers most from the inclusion of third parties) has every incentive to prevent people from voting for alternative candidates. And so, voters are intimidated into supporting the person they dislike least, ballot access is made extraordinarily difficult, and third party candidates are excluded from polls and debates, and are granted limited media coverage.

This is the routine method by which millions of Americans are denied their right to vote for, in many instances, perfectly legitimate candidates. Being twice elected governor of a state or twice elected mayor of a large city should earn one at least a modicum of respect.

Many people, perhaps correctly, argue for pragmatism. Compromise a bit and vote for the better of the two major candidates and ultimately, the country will be a better place to live. This argument usually persuades most voters. However, this pragmatic viewpoint should not be forced onto our electoral system. Let voters decide for themselves if pragmatism trumps idealism in a particular election. One must also take into account the possibility of both candidates being deemed unacceptable for very practical reasons. For instance, the war in Vietnam was considered an inexcusable policy by many young voters faced with literally a life-or-death choice. Elections devoid of anti-war candidates were subject to mass demonstrations and public outrage.

The inclusion of serious third party and independent candidates in televised debates is one necessary revision to our current electoral process. One possible danger of more inclusive debates is that they could turn into a “circus,” similar to the gubernatorial debate in New York that featured, among others, a former madam and “The Rent is Too Damn High” guy. Despite some clownish candidates, New Yorkers voted for Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who was always their preferred choice. There was no “spoiler” or confusion: voters picked the person they actually wanted.

How one avoids frivolous candidates in debates might be a tricky endeavor. A new, comprehensive set of guidelines would need to be created. Perhaps previous political experience, grassroots support, party endorsements, and other criteria could be considered. But, again, the worst case scenario would be the inclusion of eccentric candidates. The more likely outcome would be an election with greater voter turnout, richer discussions on important policies, the inclusion of issues not even mentioned by major party candidates, and a citizenry that feels that someone out there is actually representing their views.

23
Feb

Why I Will Never Believe in the Fallacy of ‘Limited Government’

Stockholm, Sweden. The dystopian capital of evil government coercion.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic created by the United Nations Development Programme that measures a country’s standard of living. It takes into account life expectancy, education, adult literacy, years of schooling, and income. Based on these figures, lists can be created that rank countries by their standard of living. The countries with the best HDI scores also tend to have the lowest crime rates and happiest citizens. In other words, the countries with the best HDI scores are, generally speaking, the best places to live on planet earth. 

Although numbers can sometimes be inaccurate, the great thing about combining all these different statistics into one number is that even if a few figures are off, on the whole we can still make a fair assessment of which countries provide the highest quality of life for their citizens. The development index also allows us to cut through ideological arguments and examine the simple facts.

Since the rankings change a bit each year, I will not pay too much attention to which country is 4 or 5 or 6, etc. Instead, I’ll look at the countries in groups of ten. The top 10 countries in the UN development index for 2011 are:

1. Norway

2. Australia

3. Netherlands

4. United States

5. New Zealand

6. Canada

7. Ireland

8. Liechtenstein

9. Germany

10. Sweden

There is also a second HDI ranking, which takes economic inequality into account. Some would argue that this is a better evaluation of the overall standard of living for a country. When adjusted for inequality, the top 10 countries are:

1. Norway

2. Australia

3. Sweden

4. Netherlands

5. Iceland

6. Ireland

7. Germany

8. Denmark

9. Switzerland

10. Slovenia

Notice the United States does not appear on this second list. When adjusted for inequality, the U.S. ranks at number 23.

The countries that appear in the top 10 on both lists are:

Norway

Australia

Netherlands

Ireland

Germany

Sweden 

These 6 countries will be called our “All Star” nations. So what is it about these All Stars that makes them so successful? 

Let’s start by looking at health care, since the topic is hotly debated in America today.

Here’s a list of countries with universal health care systems. It specifies the start date and exact type of health care system (single payer, insurance mandate, or two tier). How many of our All Star nations have universal health care? All of them

1. Norway (1912, single payer)

2. Australia (1975, two tier)

3. Netherlands (1966, two tier)

4. Ireland (1977, two tier)

5. Germany (1941, insurance mandate)

6. Sweden (1955, single payer)

Notice that universal health care was implemented in all of these countries decades ago. In Norway’s case, a single payer system has been around for 100 years. This shows, at the very least, that a country can prosper for generations despite a “big government” solution to health care.

Health care is certainly not the only indicator of a country’s political philosophy. So let’s now look (courtesy of Wikipedia) more broadly at the type of government policies and economic models that exist in some of our All Star nations.

Norway:  The country maintains a Nordic welfare model with universal health care, subsidized higher education, and a comprehensive social security system. 

Netherlands: Both trade unions and employers organisations are consulted beforehand in policymaking in the financial, economic and social areas. They meet regularly with government in the Social-Economic Council.

Germany: The country has developed a very high standard of living and a comprehensive system of social security. Germany has a social market economy with a highly qualified labour force, a large capital stock, a low level of corruption,[90] and a high level of innovation.[91] 

Sweden: Sweden has the lowest Gini coefficient of all countries (0.23) which makes Sweden the most equal country on earth in terms of economic division. Sweden is an export-oriented mixed economySweden is currently leading the EU in statistics measuring equality in the political system and equality in the education system.[85] Sweden has the second highest total tax revenue behind Denmark, as a share of the country’s income. 

Please take note of some of the key terms and phrases in those descriptions, such as “Nordic welfare model,” “universal health care,” “subsidized higher education,” “comprehensive social security system,” “trade unions,” “social market economy,” “mixed economy,” and “highest total tax revenue.” None of these things, in theory or in practice, are consistent with the policies of small government conservatives and libertarians.

The two All Star nations not included above are Ireland and Australia. Both of these countries are much more similar to the United States in their political philosophy, but neither could be considered as being exemplars of limited government (again, both countries instituted universal health care decades ago). It should also be mentioned that Ireland is currently suffering from 14% unemployment and is dealing with the consequences of deregulated markets, just like America.

Having pointed out the correlation between liberal governments and high standards of living, I should add that correlation does not necessarily prove causation. Perhaps there are other factors at work here that are not obvious to outside examiners. And by no means am I suggesting that capitalism doesn’t work (it generates vast amounts of wealth) or that the market is never effective (Ireland grew substantially thanks to decreased protectionism) or that government should run everything (Cuba…need I say more?).

What I am suggesting is that all the world’s most developed and modern countries have found that government intervention and regulation, in a variety of areas, can work quite well, especially when combined with a competitive marketplace. 

So while I will always be willing to debate the merits of specific taxes and regulations, I will never be able to find merit in the idea that government should sit on its hands and do nothing. The modern world is center-left on the political spectrum and it’s time that the enemies of active governments start admitting it. 

22
Dec

For What It’s Worth: An Official Endorsement of Jon Huntsman

I frequently write about my man crush on Jon Huntsman and tonight I hope to cure my obsession by flat out endorsing his candidacy. Does my endorsement mean anything? No, but it’s 1am and I’m awake with nothing better to do.

Why then is Huntsman worthy of your vote? Allow me to summarize:

- He supports creating a Glass-Steagall Act for the 21st century. In other words, he wants new, smart regulations for banks.

- He believes that “too big too fail” is too big to exist. He wants to break up (or “right size”) the large banks responsible for 2008’s worldwide economic collapse.

- He is, by far, the most open-minded and tolerant Republican candidate on religious issues. His family recognizes the value of different faiths and he never uses religion to promote himself or to attack his opponents. 

- He believes in evolution and global warming. He has publicly criticized Republicans who reject scientific consensus on these issues. Huntsman: ”To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

- He supports civil unions.

- He supports a gradual withdraw from Afghanistan but does not favor the “non-interventionist” philosophy of Ron Paul, which would have us heartlessly deny financial aid to people starving to death in other countries.

- He served under President Obama, demonstrating a willingness to work with Democrats for the greater good.

- He has a great sense of humor, has kids who don’t act like stiff-collared Republican zombies, and he’s adopted two kids from different countries. These are perhaps minor things, but I don’t think they are meaningless. Character and personality do count for something.

To be fair, there are more than a few things I don’t like about Huntsman’s political views. He is pro-life. However, I consider this almost a non-issues since we all know Roe v. Wade is not going to be overturned. His tax policies, while better than his Republican opponents’, are still quite conservative (meaning they favor the 1%). His statement about how “the scientific community owes us more” on global warming was stupid and ignorant. And if I may unfairly judge someone I don’t know, I think he is a bright, ethical person contending with the conservative nonsense taught to him his entire life by his father. (I admit I am entering Freudian territory here, but this is my amateur analysis).

Of course, there are many things I don’t like about Obama’s beliefs and his actual policies once in office. This does not deter me from supporting the President and hoping for the best from him. To be clear, I am not endorsing Huntsman over Obama but rather Huntsman over all the other pathetic Republican candidates. And I endorse Huntsman knowing that in the seemingly unlikely event of Huntsman winning the nomination, Obama would have a much harder time winning the general election. I endorse Huntsman for reasons that I think Huntsman himself would applaud: a sincere love of country and desire to see the very best possible candidates for both parties on the ballot. On the Republican side, Huntsman is undoubtedly the best option and I support him with all the power and influence of my little tumblr page. 

19
Dec

Martin Amis Goes on the GOP Campaign Trail

The narrative on the absent Jon Huntsman is “absent.” So apart from the two likely finalists, chameleonic Romney and avaricious Gingrich, we were left with Rick Santorum (“work in progress”), Ron Paul (“shame he’s so elderly”), the gorgeous corpse of Rick Perry (“can only count up to two”), and the equally decorative, and equally discredited, Michele Bachmann (“very creepy husband”).

19
Dec

Christopher Hitchens on Kim Jong-il and North Korea

…we should instead regard the Kim Jong-il system as a phenomenon of the very extreme and pathological right. It is based on totalitarian “military first” mobilization, is maintained by slave labor, and instills an ideology of the most unapologetic racism and xenophobia.

These conclusions…carry the worrisome implication that the propaganda of the regime may actually mean exactly what it says, which in turn would mean that peace and disarmament negotiations with it are a waste of time—and perhaps a dangerous waste at that.

22
Nov

I Have an Incurable Man Crush on Jon Huntsman

Jon Huntsman…

…wants to drawn down troop levels in Afghanistan.

…wants to create a Glass-Steagall Act for the 21st century.

…wants to break up the big banks.

…thought the economic stimulus was too small.

…supports civil unions.

…was opposed to the war in Vietnam.

…believes in global warming and evolution and criticizes other Republicans for being anti-science.

…wants a return to center-right policies in the Republican Party.

—-

Please, America. Give me hope and vote for this man.  

10
Nov

Good Riddance, Joe Paterno

What happened, or more accurately did not happen, goes to the core of evil that major college sports programs in this country have become, equivalent to Mafia families in which the code of omerta rules and coaches and staff always close ranks around their own, even if it means letting someone who was first accused of inappropriate sexual conduct in 1998 continue to roam.

27
Oct

Why Little Kids Supporting Political Causes is Always Wrong and Never Cute

Small children really don’t know anything about politics. They may understand simple concepts like compassion and justice but they can not understand complicated issues. Every time there is an election, a rally, or a protest, inevitably some parent drags their kid out there, slaps a sticker on their chest, sticks an American flag in their hand and parades them around like a little circus freak. This is always wrong, regardless of the cause or candidate being supported.

These parents are forcing their children to support a cause that the child does not fully understand. The child is being used, in the worst sense of the word, to attract attention and smile for cameras. These parents are mocking important and complex issues by pretending as if it all boils down to the sweet innocence of a child. It does not. It cannot.

So instead of fawning over these kids, let’s start displaying a little contempt and disgust for their parents. Kids shouldn’t be pawns in adults’ political games.  

24
Oct

Bill Kristol’s Appalling Attack on Occupy Wall Street

07
Oct

The Goal of Occupy Wall Street Is Obvious

How can anyone argue that Occupy Wall Street has no clear goal, as Caroline Baum did yesterday?

The goal is to stop Wall Street (defined colloquially as “the financial markets of the United States”) from dominating our government and controlling an absurdly disproportionate amount of wealth. The precise method of accomplishing this varies depending on the political persuasion of each individual. But the target of hostility is obviously Wall Street and anyone with even the most basic understanding of the recession knows why people would be angry at Wall Street. The variety of political slogans seen at the protests (ranging from ending wars to auditing the Fed) are all suggestions as to how we can reach economic recovery in the wake of Wall Street’s destruction.

Large political gatherings are by nature filled with people of different opinions. If one were to visit CPAC, for instance, everyone there would generally agree that Obama has been a lousy President, but they would not all agree on precisely how to reverse America’s decline. The Tea Party’s demands were as diverse as believing that Obama should be impeached for lying about his birth certificate to calling for a return to the Gold Standard. There is simply no such thing as a large political group that agrees on everything but most groups are defined by one common belief. In this instance, the belief could not possibly be more obvious.

05
Oct

Why I Support Occupying Wall Street

I’ve heard it argued, by The Economist and others, that the Wall Street protests are not worth supporting because the protestors are hypocrtical, impractical non-voters who aim to bring down a system they’ve never participated in. This argument essentially amounts to a “do nothing,” maintain the status quo mentality.

If the protestors are non-voters, then participating in protests could cause them to think more pragmatically and start participating in elections. If the protestors are impractical cynics, then surely participating in organized protests is a step towards political engagement. Either way, I find it impossible to buy the argument that the protests are useless. The worst case scenario is that enthusiasm wanes and the protests fizzle out. The best case scenario is that politicians feel emboldened to act on behalf of the 99% and the protestors think more positively about American democracy.

Those who believe the protestors should just vote more often, regardless of whether or not the candidates are worth voting for, are ultimately supporting more of the same. And this, for people without jobs, insurance, or hope, is simply not acceptable.

28
Sep

Why Violence is Vanishing - Steven Pinker

A superb article. Some highlights:

The rate of documented direct deaths from political violence (war, terrorism, genocide and warlord militias) in the past decade is an unprecedented few hundredths of a percentage point. Even if we multiplied that rate to account for unrecorded deaths and the victims of war-caused disease and famine, it would not exceed 1%.

Another contributor was the expansion of international peacekeeping forces, which really do keep the peace—not always, but far more often than when adversaries are left to fight to the bitter end.

The most obvious of these pacifying forces has been the state, with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. A disinterested judiciary and police can defuse the temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge and circumvent the self-serving biases that make all parties to a dispute believe that they are on the side of the angels.

It is probably no coincidence that the Humanitarian Revolution came on the heels of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, that the Long Peace and rights revolutions coincided with the electronic global village.

16
Sep

Bunnies, babies and broads: What is TV trying to tell us about women?

This article has been floating around the past couple days. Given the female characters of some of the most heavily advertised upcoming TV shows (stewardess, Playboy bunny, waitress, lady who constantly jokes about her vagina), I’d say there’s much credence in the author’s argument.

None of these shows, I should add, look even remotely good, whether they be sexist or not. So there’s at least two reasons not to watch them. It’s been so long since a mainstream TV show was actually good, not just diverting or mildly entertaining. The post-Seinfeld world is a cold, dark place with lots of bad, sexist TV. 

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