flwyd: (transparent ribbon for government accoun)
2017-06-17 05:52 pm

Letter to My Senator: Republican Health Care Plan

According to reports, Colorado's Cory Gardner is one of thirteen Republicans drafting a Senate version of the House's rush job American Health Care Act. Observers expect Senate leaders to try to ram this bill through before the July 4th recess, which doesn't give Americans much time to comment on the substance of the measure. This week is therefore your opportunity to talk to your Senators about the House bill and your feelings about health care in general. This BoingBoing post provides links to useful resources, including contact information for health care staffers for all Republican senators. Interestingly, 28 of 52 health care staffers have female-sounding names, with two or three ambiguous first names while only 5 Republican senators are women.

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your work in support of an effective Veterans Administration, ensuring that Americans who have served their country can receive a high quality of care. I am writing because I have read news reports that you are among a group of senators developing a health care bill based on the one recently passed by the House. I have also read that Republican leaders hope to pass the Senate bill before the July 4th recess. I have concerns about both the process and the rumored substance of this bill.

America’s health care system needs improvement. Americans spend more on health care per capita than any other country, yet our life expectancy and other quality of life measures trail many of our peers in the G20 (https://ourworldindata.org/the-link-between-life-expectancy-and-health-spending-us-focus). This imbalance puts America at a competitive disadvantage. Higher health care costs lead to less discretionary spending, weakening domestic demand for American products and services. Worse overall health leads American workers to be less productive as they must take time away to care for their own health or for sick family members. The imbalance between coverage offered in the group market and individual market also makes it harder for entrepreneurial Americans to leave a large employer and start a new business. By increasing access to care and reducing its overall cost, America can become stronger, more productive and innovative, and more resilient as a nation.

The message that the House sent with the AHCA was that insurance premium costs are the biggest challenge facing the American health system. Premium costs are an important issue, but they pale in comparison to both the overall cost of care and the ability of many Americans to access quality care at all. Many of the premium savings offered by the AHCA are driven by changes which allow insurers to offer less coverage or to offer cheaper policies to younger and healthier people while older and at-risk Americans’ premiums will rise. These changes will not bring about a healthier or more resilient America. Rather, they will lead us to abandon the Americans who need help the most: the CBO estimates that the AHCA would cause 23 million Americans and 280,000 Coloradans to lose health coverage by 2026 (https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52752 and http://acasignups.net/ahca-coverage-loss).

2016 was a challenging year for my wife and I, navigating several medical crises. We were able to survive the financial aspect not because of low premiums or our ability to save about $2000 through a HSA but because of a reasonable out-of-pocket maximum and because in many cases our insurance-negotiated rates were half of the provider-billed amounts. My biggest worry as I faced months of illness was that I would lose my job and therefore my insurance. Under the AHCA plan and with my newly discovered pre-existing condition, I worry that if I lose my job that the high cost of American health care would lead to either bankruptcy or death. This is a prospect that Americans need not face: our nation is strong and innovative enough that we can find a way to ensure that every citizen can receive quality health care at a reasonable cost.

Finally, I am concerned that you and other Republican senators are developing this bill in private and are hurrying to pass it before the American people can come to understand the proposal and provide our input. America’s health care system needs significant improvements, but the situation is not so urgent that we cannot take six months to have a national conversation about how we can best ensure that Americans have access to the care we need. The United States Senate has a proud history as a deliberative body, carefully considering the impact of legislation not just on the current political cycle but on the effect it has on the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans for generations to come. The House version of the AHCA bill was prepared in such a rush that the CBO has not yet had time to estimate the macroeconomic effects and share that data with the American people. I hope that the Senate takes a more careful approach and listens closely to the people of Colorado and America. I encourage you to include success metrics for cost, coverage, and overall health in the Senate bill; if these metrics do not improve under the bill, its provisions should sunset.

Come 2020, the resilience of the American health care system will play a significant role in my voting choices. I will be swayed not by how low my monthly premium prices are but by whether I and the people I care about receive better or worse medical and mental health care than we could in 2016. I am blessed to have a good job and modest investments; I happily paid $221 for the Net Income Investment Tax knowing that it helps provide health care to those less fortunate than I. And I would gladly pay more in income tax to achieve a healthier and more resilient America.

Thank you for your consideration and hard work on this matter,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, Colorado
flwyd: (charbonneau ghost car)
2017-06-13 10:55 pm
Entry tags:

In this week’s episode of It Could've Been Worse…

I spent Thursday through Sunday hanging out with the Colorado burners and other local freaks at Apogaea near Trinidad in southern Colorado. I signed up for the Saturday night graveyard Ranger lead shift (just me and other Ranger rockin' the whole event). I was able to bed down in a camp hammock in the shade at 7am, and managed to kinda-sleep until around noon. I then leisurely ate breakfast and packed up camp, and left the site around 4pm. I took a left at Colorado City and spent an hour at Bishop Castle in the San Isabel Forest in Custer County. If you've never seen Bishop Castle, it's totally worth the detour if you're anywhere near Pueblo or Florence.

I got back to the Denver metro area at about quarter to 10 and cruised up I-25. At 10:20, as I exited onto US-36 to Boulder, my engine started surging and lost momentum. I was able to safely pull over to the side of the highway on top of an overpass. I took a look under the hood and didn't see anything obviously wrong, so I started the car again (something sounded odd) and tried to creep forward to the nearby off ramp. The car felt like it was going about half a mile an hour, which would've taken me until midnight to get off the freeway, so I turned off the engine and called my insurance company's contracted roadside assistance company.

Some combination of busy callers and short call center staffing meant I spent around 15 minutes on hold before I talked to a person, who said she'd dispatch a tow truck and that I'd get a confirmation text message in 10–15 minutes. 20 minutes later, I called back and spent a couple more minutes on hold. The representative said someone was still working on getting ahold of a tow for me. A few more minutes passed and I got a text that said Apple Towing & Roadside Assistance would provide the tow with an ETA of 12:30am (two hours after my initial phone call). I hung out in my car, feeling the shake as vehicles passed by in the right lane, ate camping snacks, and played games on my iPod for a while. 12:30 came with no tow truck, so I called the number given in the text (303-222-4343), which led to a recorded message that a voice mailbox had not been set up, then disconnected. I called twice more with the same result and then called roadside assistance again. After another 10+ minutes waiting in the queue, the agent tried calling the company a couple times and also couldn't get ahold of them, so they put in another dispatch request.

Finally at 1:30am, a guy with a wrecker from 24/7 Towing showed up. Holy cow was I excited to see him. He loaded up my Subaru and homeward we went. A couple minutes into the ride, a supervisor from the roadside assistance contractor called me and said he was trying to figure out why I hadn't been picked up yet. I said I had just been picked up and gave him the name of the tow company, so he said he'd go poke at their computer system.

At 2:03am I joyously walked into my front door, kissed my wife, and took a shower. (OMG was I dirty after four days running around like a weirdo in the mountains.) Final bedtime was something like 2:30am. I'd already told my coworkers that I might take Monday off, knowing I might be tired from the graveyard shift, so I set a goal of sleeping in. A combination of my internal clock, the near-solstice sun, and a hungry cat woke me up at 8:30, but I was able to relax in bed for a couple hours, which was almost as nice as sleep.

Final score: 270 mile, 10 hour trip home. 5.5 hours driving, 1 hour climbing a castle and taking photographs, 3 hours on the side of the freeway, half an hour in a tow truck.

There was a bit of a happy coda. After unloading on Monday I couldn't even get the car to start, so I called roadside assistance back to see if a tow from my house to the repair shop would be covered. The representative said it wouldn't be, but then looked at my record in the computer system which still showed that no tow had arrived. She was therefore able to schedule my 2-mile tow under the original claim at no additional cost. So I had that going for me, which was nice.

I'd been worried that this might be the final outing for my car, which is now 20 years old, and has 213k miles and a bunch of body damage. It turns out that the failure was due to my fuel pump, which only cost $850 to replace (along with the fuel filter and diagnostics), which seemed like a better deal than shopping around for a new vehicle (since I'm not sure quite what my next ride should be).

Hopefully my family is done with car trauma for the year. In March, my mom totaled her Subaru by running into a large rock at the corner of her street and my dad's minivan stopped operating safely, so they ended up buying two used vehicles in the span of a week. And then in May, Kelly's car got totaled in the crazy Denver hail storm, though the car is still fully functional.
flwyd: (currency symbols)
2017-06-06 11:35 pm
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Capitalists Without Bars

Among the many imbalances between labor and capital is what happens during detention.

If a laborer is in jail for a year, he loses a year's worth of wages. (Setting aside the other consequences of likely losing his job.)

If a capitalist is in jail for a year, still receives a year's worth of investment growth. He might even be able to change his investment mix if he's able to get a message to his agents.

And a corporate person can't be arrested at all.
flwyd: (Vigelandsparken face to face)
2017-06-04 03:12 pm

Groups Without Babies

Religions are moral exoskeletons. If you live in a religious community, you are enmeshed in a set of norms, relationships, and institutions that work primarily on the elephant to influence your behavior. But if you are an atheist living in a looser community with a less binding moral matrix, you might have to rely somewhat more on an internal moral compass, read by the rider. That might sound appealing to rationalists, but it is also a recipe for anomie—Durkheim's word for what happens to a society that no longer has a shared moral order. (It means, literally, “normlessness.”) We evolved to live, trade, and trust within shared moral matrices. When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide, as Durkheim showed more than a hundred years ago.

Societies that forgo the exoskeleton of religion should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. We don’t really know, because the first atheistic socieites have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies every known at turning resources (of which they have a lot) into offspring (of which they have few).
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, "Religion is a Team Sport."

While many European countries have low native birthrates, the successful ones have high immigration rates. I see this as a transitional phase in group selection. Haidt argues that religious communities and practices are a group adaptation: groups of humans with a strong religious bond are able to overcome free rider problems and outcompete—as a group—groups which are less cohesive or whose cultural practices are less effective at bringing collaboration to fruition. For most of human history, one's membership in a religious group was generally from life through death: leaving a religious group meant leaving a tribe, or having a conquering tribe's religious system forcibly replace the conquered tribes.

But now large group "superorganisms" (including religions, nations, governments, and companies) don't have to be tied to a human lifecycle. In the 21st Century, humans have considerable ability to move between groups. Much as an animal organism doesn't die as its cells come and go at a steady pace, a paper entity can grow and thrive so long as it can get a continual influx of new resources, even if those resources shift focus to providing outcomes beneficial to the group rather than reproducing on their own. This is particularly true for companies: two parents often work for different companies; a baby born to the couple is not generally part of either company's culture; and there's no assumption that the child will grow up to be part of the company as an adult. Workers might be part of a company for a few months or a few years (and rarely more than half their lives), yet companies like IBM and UBS are older than roughly half of the countries in the UN.
flwyd: (rose red sky blue)
2017-05-21 12:08 am
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Eusocial Polygamy

The Wikipedia article on Eusociality notes that E. O. Wilson has claimed that humans are eusocial, but his arguments have been refuted by a large number of evolutionary biologists, who note that humans do not have division of reproductive labor.

Human colonies certainly don't have a single queen and a separate cast of infertile workers. But I can't help but wonder if the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, polygynous Muslims, and other historic polygamous cultures meet a reasonable version of this criterion since they free up many worker or soldier males without fathering duties.
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-05-20 08:57 pm

A Nation of Hives

When a single hive is scaled up to the size of a nation and is led by a dictator with an army at his disposal, the results are invariably disastrous. But that is no argument for removing or suppressing hives at lower levels. In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy and satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls. Creating a nation of multiple competing groups and parties was, in fact, seen by America’s founding fathers as a way of preventing tyranny. More recently, research on social capital has demonstrated that bowling leagues, churches, and other kinds of groups, teams, and clubs are crucial for the health of individuals and of a nation. As political scientist Robert Putnam put it, the social capital that is generated by such local groups “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, “The Hive Switch”

The driving metaphor for the final section of the book is “We are 90 percent and 10 percent bee.” He spends quite a while arguing for a limited form of group selection (specifically multilevel selection theory which I previously resonated with in David Sloan Wilson's Darwin’s Cathedral). Haidt says that humans usually act with the familial interest that any evolutionary biologist or economist could explain. But we’re also capable of switching into a eusocial hive mode akin to ants, bees, some shrimp, and naked mole-rats. This hive capability (which other primates do not possess) has allowed humans to build progressively larger groups from tribes to city-states to nations to empires to multi-national corporations. It's at work with sports teams, religions, politics, and any scenario where groups compete with each other and can form a strong internal bond.

Cheap travel, mass media, and the Internet have allowed the last few generations to develop and scale hives which are much more geographically diffuse than we could at America’s founding. I wonder if this, plus our winner-take-all political system, puts us more at danger of one hive being able to impose that hive’s will on all the others.
flwyd: (Trevor shadow self portrait)
2017-05-14 11:58 am
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The Ups and Downs of Weight

I've been weighing myself a couple times a day for seven months. The first three months feature a slow decline as I would have days where I couldn't get enough food in my body and was then unable to recover. Then there was a rise as I had a drug that let me eat food (and also triggered water retention). Then a drop after surgery and I was on a liquid diet, then a rapid rise as I started eating like a normal person, then a plateau at what appears to be a new stable weight, though it's 10 lbs lighter than I used to be.



One thing worth noting is how noisy the numbers are: my weight before urinating at night is often 2 lbs higher than my weight the next morning after urinating. There are also several periods where I'm up a couple pounds for a few days and down a couple pounds for a few days as my body retains or excretes water and waste. The upshot of this is that the number on the scale is an overly precise measure of a person's general weight, especially if they're wearing clothes—my weight at a doctor's office was often five pounds higher than when I was naked at home in the morning. If you're weighing yourself hoping for a psychological result (you want the number to be high or low), you can cheat a little by timing when you step on the scale. If you just want to know how much you weigh, just round to the nearest 5 lbs and don't worry about weighing in more than once a week.
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-05-13 11:45 pm

None of us are as smart as all of us are

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it's so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or a community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or advisory board).
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

I think that's an excellent case against one-party rule. It also suggests that majority rule, when a single homogenous party is in the majority, is less effective than majority rule with votes requiring cross-party collaboration or at least heterogenous thought within the party.

The focus of the first part of this book is "Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second," using the metaphor of a rider on an elephant. Haidt offers a lot of evidence that our intuitions and emotions (the elephant) typically make decisions and our consciousness and reason (the rider) is mostly focused on justifying those intuitions. This contrasts, of course, with the Rationalist world view (exemplified by Plato) in which consciousness and reason are in charge and can act independently of intuition. Haidt aligns more closely with Hume and his claim that reason is "ruled by the passions," though Haidt softens the "rules" claim.
flwyd: (spencer hot springs feet)
2017-05-06 04:53 pm
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Liberty and Death Sticks

I'm sympathetic to a lot of libertarian arguments, but I've always felt put off by the prominent position in which American libertarians place firearms. I just thought of a punchy way to express why it bothers me.

You're not at liberty as long as someone's pointing a gun at your head.

Libertarians tend to focus on unchecked power in government hands. But I'm worried about unchecked power in anyone's hands, particularly if I don't trust their trigger reflexes.

(Previous thinking about libertarian gun arguments.)
flwyd: (pentacle disc)
2017-04-29 10:36 pm
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RIP Margaret Alia Denny

I was saddened to hear that [livejournal.com profile] teal_cuttlefish Margaret Alia Denny passed away today. It sounded like her body couldn't quite readjust after a surgery a couple days ago. If you have a Facebook account, you may be able to read more on her wall; as a non-user, I had to have Kelly show me what folks posted.

I knew Alia as the co-leader of Hearthstone Community Church, which she founded about 25 years ago. Hearthstone most prominently hosts Open Full Moon events in Denver, providing an important venue for folks curious about Paganism and Pagans, often new to town, who are seeking to connect with the community. As organizer, Alia got a diverse cast of characters to take their turn leading a ritual and sharing their approach to Paganism. Open Full Moon provided the venue for many folks to organize and lead their first ritual. Since neo-Pagans tend to be solitary practitioners or gather in small private groups, Alia's nurturing guidance and commitment to community and diversity of practice was a great asset to countless Pagans. She helped us find each other, helped us find our path, and gave us the space and encouragement to grow as leaders. Alia also performed a lot of ministerial services, from weddings to personal counseling.

I really admire the demonstration of courage and commitment to openness that Alia displayed when I hosted an Open Full Moon ritual about Jesus (my journal post, her friends-locked post). I knew it would be a very controversial ritual in the group; a week in advance the church leaders almost cancelled the event, but Alia stood by the principle of diversity of view. I didn't realize how big of a trigger issue it would be for her. But to her great credit, despite being emotionally and visually upset, she stayed in the circle and extended her energy to help support others in the group who were taken aback. At the end of the night she told me "Never again," and I think OFM has stayed a long way from Jesus in the last dozen years. Yet I continue to give her respect for giving me the opportunity to give it a try, and I think a lot of folks got a lot of value from the experience. It would've been easy for the group to say no, but Alia had the great strength to see through the fear and worry and say yes. In a comment thread on her post, she wrote When principles and preferences battle, I try to go with principles. That was definitely her character.

Alia had a lot of strengths in addition to her skills as a religious leader. She was on the on the Board of Directors of Dragonfest when I first attended and continued to advocate her ideas in the community for a few years after the traditional BoD burnout. She was politically active; she fought for feminist ideals, disability rights and more. At least once she ran for office, garnering 37% of the votes for Arapahoe County Commissioner as a Libertarian. She was a mother; although I haven't seen Alyria in over a decade, she was a fantastic tween. She was a techno-acolyte, communicating through computers years before the Internet was a big thing and working in software for more than a decade before the dot com crash put a major kink in her employment trajectory. She was crafty; crocheting up a storm and more. She had a geeky sense of humor that I quickly grokked. She also had an immense drive: her body faced a lot of challenges, but she wasn't one to give up—she made things happen, kept commitments, and raised energy through force of will.

Not long after the Jesus ritual, I stopped going to OFM—not because of any conflict but because life happened and other community attractions grabbed my Friday nights. Around the same time, Alia stopped going to Dragonfest, so our circles have drifted apart. I hope I have a chance to go to a memorial, or at least this Friday's Open Full Moon.
flwyd: (Trevor glowing grad macky auditorium)
2017-04-23 12:21 am

CWA Notes 2017

I made it to eight panels at this year's Conference on World Affairs at CU. Back in college, I would skip most of my classes during CWA week and listen to at least 20, but recently I just pop in for a few interesting talks. Some interesting notes:
Hurricanes! )
Refugees: Crisis? )
Ambassador to Vietnam )
From China with climate data )
Politics, comedy, and lady parts )
Revelations of Art and Symbolism )
Equal opportunity Internet access )

Wow, that took a long time. I typed notes on a tablet during the conference, but it would've been hard to interpret. Retranscribing and contextualizing involved a lot more time-consuming typing than I expected.

flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
2017-04-16 01:51 pm

Politics of Victimization, Resentment, and Cynicism

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That's because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today's reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn't to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

The thrust of the book is that people support environmental protection when their more basic needs have been satisfied and they're less focused on basic material concerns. The authors argue that we can better address environmental concerns by raising standards of living rather than focusing on limits and restriction. It's worth noting that the book was published in 2007 before the financial crisis, but I think many of their ideas hold in the post-crash world where even more Americans are worried about job security.
flwyd: (step to the moon be careful)
2017-04-15 04:29 pm
Entry tags:

Retroactive Fortune

Cleaning out the pantry shelves, I found a fortune cookie that was at least a year and a half old (and smelled it). The fortune said You will be selected for a promotion because of your accomplishments. Sure enough, I got promoted to Staff Software Engineer a year ago.
flwyd: (escher drawing hands)
2017-04-14 09:04 pm
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Modes of Bookkeeping

At lunch, a coworker said she used to be a bookkeeper. Another coworker asked if that meant accounting. This suggested alternate ways in which one could be a bookkeeper:
The Guard
This library is a fortress of knowledge. Anyone seeking to assail these volumes must first contend with The Sword of Dewey!
The Dragon's Hoard
I shall keep these books for I have not yet read them all. If you borrow a book and do not return it, I shall raid your village!
flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
2017-04-12 10:46 pm
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Hope and Fear as Motivating Factors

In chapter 1 we described how a common psychological effect of rising insecurity is for people to become more conservative, less generous, and more zero-sum: think pre-Hitler Germany or pre-genocide Rwanda. Many decades of social science literature strongly correlates rising insecurity, fear, and pessimism with authoritarian politics. In difficult situations, the insecure and the pessimistic seek out authoritarian leadership. What's more, social psychological research conducted in laboratory settings has found that manufacturing insecurity and fear, particularly of one's own death, can have the same impact as real social circumstances of fear, such as during a terrorist attack or rising economic insecurity.

Collapse [by Jared Diamond] was intended to help Americans change their social values and create a more ecological society in order to avoid the fate of groups like the Grenland Norse. But in terrifying himself and his readers about the growing risk of social collapse, Diamond's eco-apocalypse narrative risks having the opposite effect. What extensive research finds is that the more scared people become about social instability and death, the less likely they are to change the way they think. Fear of death, wrote a group of social scientists in 2003, engenders a defense of one's cultural worldview.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility

Nordhaus and Shellenberger argue that people will be more motivated to take action on environmental issues if they're presented as positive opportunities, not dire warnings.
flwyd: (spiral staircase to heaven)
2017-04-11 11:10 pm

As More LJ Old-Timers Migrate to Dreamwidth…

[livejournal.com profile] brad et al's decision to build LiveJournal code as open source and let folks access the platform as an API helped content and connections formed on the site survive negative decisions made by the folks who would later lead the company. Defense against future management is a practice that deserves more consideration.

Edit, April 29, 2017: the new LiveJournal Terms of Service was introduced and enforced on April 3rd. I was really busy that week and the following, so I didn't have time to read it. On April 10th, without having accepted the terms, LiveJournal automatically billed me for a year's extension to my paid account. Regardless of whether charge-for-a-service-I-haven't-agreed-to is legal, it suggests that Sup Media didn't put a lot of thought into the user impact of the change. For a service that stores a lot of user content, it's imperative to inform users of changes in terms in advance so that they can consider the change and choose to export their content rather than be subject to the new terms. I think Google did an exemplary job of proactive "Our terms are changing" outreach a few years ago; LiveJournal could at least have sent everyone an email a month in advance.

Reading the terms themselves was a slightly surreal experience. I've read at least one hundred terms of service or end user license agreements. They're normally dry, unnecessarily long, and overbroad, but this is the first time I've read one that didn't seem like it was written by a native English speaker. The page ends with ATTENTION: this translation of the User Agreement is not a legally binding document. The original User Agreement, which is valid, is located at the following address: http://www.livejournal.com/legal/tos-ru.bml which adds further unease to the "I have to accept terms with which I disapprove in order to change my account settings to opt out of your service" situation. (To be fair, non-English speakers face a similar problem when agreeing to the terms of most major websites.)

Finally, I'm quite miffed that the new arrangement forces advertisements onto everyone's journals, even though "ad free" was the main feature I was paying for. After supporting the service financially for over ten years, I'll be discontinuing automatic payments and I don't plan to renew next April.

For anyone still reading my writings on LiveJournal, I'm hereby declaring that https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/ is the primary source for my blog. I'll continue crossposting for now, but who knows when that may break. Userpics will probably revert to a random smaller set once my paid subscription expires, too.
flwyd: (step to the moon be careful)
2017-04-08 10:55 pm

Framing Carbon Reduction as Economic Investment

Imagine what would have happened if environmentalists had proposed that the nations of the world make a shared investment in clean energy, better and more efficient housing development, and comfortable and efficient transportation systems. Opponents of global warming would have had to take the position against the growth of these new markets and industries and for limits. Proponents could have tarred their opponents as being anti-business, anti-investment, anti-jobs, and stuck in the past.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through, “The Pollution Paradigm”

In this chapter, the authors make the case that the pollution-focused tactics of environmental activists are inappropriate for addressing global warming. Carbon dioxide, unlike CFCs or mercury, is not in itself problematic—the trouble is that we emit too much of it. Rather than focusing on limits, they want the environmental movement to call for investments in new and better energy sources; rather than worrying that there are too many people on the planet, they think we should create more efficient cities.

The authors don't cast this as an issue of balance, but as a Taoist I will. The proper ratio of carbon emission and ingestion must be maintained on a worldwide basis, much as an individual needs the right balance of inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide. We won't reduce the planetary fever by suddenly stopping to breathe. Instead, we must steadily work to rebalance our sources of energy. With better technology, we can save our carbon dioxide budget for situations where fossil fuels are especially useful.
flwyd: (intense aztec drummer DNC 2008)
2017-04-08 06:59 pm

Letter to My Senators: Concerns Regarding American Attack on Syria

Senator Bennet,

I am writing you regarding this week’s American missile attack on a Syrian air base in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. Thank you for your statement on Thursday condemning the attacks and calling for action to be taken only with proper approval.
Senator Gardner,

I am writing you regarding this week’s American missile attack on a Syrian air base in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. Thank you for your statement on Thursday in support of “saving the Syrian people from slaughter.” I share your goal of ending the suffering of the people of Syria and effecting an end to the civil war which has ravaged their lives for the last six years.

I have three concerns about this situation, and I would like you to address them through the Senate and in conversations with members of the administration.

First—Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress, not the executive, the power to declare war and to punish offenses against the law of nations. President Trump launched this missile strike without Congressional approval and news reports indicate that he didn’t inform any in Congress about the action until it had completed. This attack on Syria was thus unconstitutional and not in accordance with the separation of powers granted by our founding fathers. I urge you to insist that any further military action be taken only after approval from Congress and in accordance with the Constitution. In matters of military action and foreign intervention, the American people deserve to have our voice heard through our elected representatives.

Second—American military intervention in Syria does not have a clear path to success and is likely to make things worse before they get better. Iran, long-term allies of Assad’s Alawite government, and Russia with its sole Mediterranean naval base at Tartus, are unlikely to let the present regime fall. Additionally, the opposition groups best positioned to defeat the government are aligned with Salafist jihadi movements. A military defeat of the Assad government could easily lead to an even bloodier battle between the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-aligned Army of Conquest factions. An eventual victory by either would likely lead to brutal crimes against religious and ethnic minorities across Syria. Rather than American military escalation, please urge President Trump to apply his famed skill in negotiation through talks with the Syrian factions and their international backers, including Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Successful negotiations will involve groups with which the U.S. is not on friendly terms—including designated terrorist groups—but military de-escalation and broad support for a peace deal is the only path to long-term stability in Syria.

Third—one of the most important actions the United States can take to help the people of Syria is to provide support to the more than 3 million refugees who have fled the country’s conflict in the last six years. President Trump has sought twice to ban Syrian entry into the United States. I urge you to instead support expansion of the U.S. Refugee Admission Program. The Department of State is well positioned to evaluate refugee applications—no traveler to the United States is subject to more rigorous security screening than the refugees the U.S. Government considers for admission.[1] Additionally, I hope you will support humanitarian and financial aid in concert with our allies in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere who play host to millions of Syrians in refugee camps. The cost of Thursday’s missile attack has been reported at $90 million. A similar sum could provide a great deal of food, clothing, and shelter for those affected by the conflict.

Thank you for your consideration,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304

[1] From the State Department’s USRAP FAQ
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-04-01 12:16 am

Book Review: The Conscience of a Conservative

The Conscience of a Conservative, Senator Barry Goldwater's 1960 slim volume (ghostwritten by L. Brett Bozell, Jr.) advocating for conservative values, had more impact on right-wing and Republican politics in postwar America than any book besides The Bible and, perhaps, Atlas Shrugged. I sought the book out because I wanted to understand where conservatives are coming from and be able to have more productive political conversations. Since my political thinking operates with a different set of frames I was expecting to disagree with a lot of what Goldwater wrote, and I did. My focus in this review is therefore not to critique the book but to characterize it and highlight its arguments.

The book is an easy read. It's short and readable in an afternoon. My 50th anniversary copy, with foreword (George F. Will) and afterword (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) is 137 pages of roughly mass-market paperback size. It is not a work of technical political theory and is thus accessible to almost any American adult. It takes a personal and casual tone, clearly the broad appeal words of a politician and not the jargon of an academic. I think this accessibility is at least as important to the book's success in the conservative movement as any specific policy idea expressed in its pages.
The book starts with a few chapters on general principles followed by several chapters applying those principles to specific domestic issues that were prominent in the late 1950s.

Goldwater argues for Conservatism in opposition to Socialism and also in opposition to Liberalism and the (then-ascendant) moderate wing of the Republican Party. He starts by quoting Vice President Nixon, Republican candidates should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart, and President Eisenhower, I am conservative when it comes to economic problems but liberal when it comes to human problems. Goldwater is conservative on both fronts and emphasizes that Conservatism isn't just about economics: The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man's nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Growing up in an Arizona which had recently gained statehood and in which the wild west didn't seem so long ago, it's not surprising that the focus of Goldwater's philosophy is individual freedom. Man's most sacred possession is his individual soul—which has an immortal side, but also a mortal one. The mortal side establishes his absolute differentness from every other human being. Only a philosophy that takes into account the essential differences between men, and, accordingly, makes provision for developing the different potentialities of each man can claim to be in accord with Nature. We have heard much in the time about “the common man.” It is a concept that pays little attention to the history of a nation that grew great through the initiative and ambition of uncommon men. The Conservative knows that to regard man as part of an undifferentiated mass is to consign him to ultimate slavery. (Despite this emphasis on spirit and soul, Goldwater did not want the church to be actively involved in politics and he did not like the rise of the Religious Right.)

Goldwater's political framework is focused on the Constitution and a limited federal government. While some people's political approach is to devise a solution to a problem first and then shape it to match the law, one gets the sense that Goldwater would prefer to start with what's constitutional and then work out a solution which is permitted. In the way that some folks on the right treat the Second Amendment as the most important while some on the left elevate the First, the Tenth Amendment is, I think, most fundamental for Goldwater. (The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.) Goldwater objects to several federal programs not because they're bad policies but because he thinks the states should implement them, with structure and prioritization driven by local voters and legislators, not a nationwide legislature and bureaucracy. He argues against federal involvement in education because the Constitution doesn't grant any federal powers over education, thus leaving the subject up to states. Yet if there were a constitutional amendment in place regarding education, Goldwater would seem to have no objection to the execution of it.

Many on the left, citing rhetoric of the Confederate and Jim Crow South, characterize the phrase “states’ rights” as an innocuous phrase meant to mask an underlying policy of racial discrimination. Goldwater acknowledges this perception, writing It is quite true that the integration issue is affected by the State's Rights principle, and that the South's position on the issue is, today, the most conspicuous expression of the principle. So much so that the country is now in the grips of a spirited and sometimes ugly controversy over an imagined conflict between State's Rights, on the one hand, and what are called “civil rights” on the other. He goes on to argue that civil rights are not universal rights granted by virtue of our humanity but rather a right defined in law: Unless a right is incorporated in the law, it is not a civil right and is not enforceable by the instruments of the civil law. There may be some rights—“natural,” “human,” or otherwise—that should also be civil rights. But if we desire to give such rights the protection of the law, our recourse is to a legislature or to the amendment procedures of the Constitution. We must not look to politicians, or sociologists—or the courts—to correct the deficiency. Goldwater was not a racist, and although he spends much of the chapter on civil rights arguing against federal efforts to desegregate schools and questioning the legitimacy of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, he speaks in favor of the principle of desegregation.

In a political world following Goldwater's philosophy, one might expect a great many constitutional amendments be proposed. (He argues against high tax brackets, for instance, but not against income tax itself, since that power is granted by the Sixteenth Amendment.) Addressing an issue like education, air pollution, or Internet crime would start by passage of an amendment granting federal jurisdiction on the matter. Yet amending the Constitution is hard, and in the half century since The Conscience of a Conservative was published, the Constitution was only amended five times—thrice regarding voting rights, once regarding presidential succession, and once regarding congressional compensation. Only the latter came after Ronald Reagan and Goldwater's intellectual heirs took power in Washington (and that one was proposed with the initial Bill of Rights). Many more amendments have, of course, been proposed but not passed in Congress—depending on one's perspective, this might speak in favor of or against an amend-first model.

Reading the book after it influenced half a century of politics provides an interesting sense of retrospective. For instance, a book written today wouldn't focus so much on the power of unions, yet it is precisely this book's arguments about unions which provided the framework for the legislation that weakened union power. Goldwater's arguments reverberate through contemporary conservatives: reading Goldwater's complaints about depression-era laws paying farmers to not grow crops (and thus avoid a market crash) reminded me of several folks I've heard rail against the same practice, even though it was ended by the 1996 Farm Bill.

Unfortunately, some of Goldwater's advice was not heeded by conservatives. He ends the “Freedom for Labor” chapter by saying Let us henceforth make war on all monopolies—whether corporate or union. The enemy of freedom is unrestrained power, and the champions of freedom will fight against the concentration of power wherever they find it. The Republicans who came to power with the help of Goldwater's rhetoric duly set about disarming the power of labor unions, yet they simultaneously enacted policies to boost the power of capital and corporations. Conservative-championed deregulation has led to a handful of companies controlling most broadcast and publishing media outlets, granting significant power and control of information to corporations. And despite the breakup of Ma Bell in the mid-80s, many consumers have no choice over telecommunications providers and the companies wield near-monopolistic power (Comcast revenues exceed every state government but California).

Goldwater's recommendations in “Taxes and Spending” were likewise only followed half-way. Goldwater wanted to reduce taxes by cutting back on federal programs: The government must begin to withdraw from a whole series of programs that are outside its constitutional mandate—from social welfare programs, education, public power, agriculture, public housing, urban renewal and all the other activities that can be better performed by lower levels of government or by private institutions or by individuals. I do not suggest that the federal government drop all of these programs overnight. But I do suggest that we establish, by law, a rigid timetable for a staged withdrawal. Yet the oft repeated mantra of today's Republican party is Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter, and Republicans have tended to propose tax cuts without spending cuts, program elimination without reducing taxes, and spending increases (particularly for military expenditure) without corresponding tax increases. While academic fiscal conservatives decry these policies, the party doesn't seem to care: tax cuts are a good way to get elected and eliminating popular programs are a good way to get voted out of office.

Goldwater's last chapter, “The Soviet Menace,” consumes the final third of the book and feels the most incongruous with the modern world. Goldwater begins in no uncertain terms: And still the awful truth remains: We can establish the domestic conditions for maximizing freedom, along the lines I have indicated, and yet become slaves. We can do this by losing the Cold War to the Soviet Union. He rails against the policies then in place to combat the USSR, from NATO and the UN to negotiation and diplomacy to foreign aid. He proposed instead an offensive (and quite so) strategy, The key guidepost is the Objective, and we must never lose sight of it. It is not to wage a struggle against Communism, but to win it. He proposed development and use of “small, clean nuclear weapons.” Recalling his fiscal conservatism, he writes As a Conservative, I deplore the huge tax levy that is needed to finance the world's number-one military establishment. But even more do I deplore the prospect of a foreign conquest, which the absence of that establishment would quickly accomplish. One wonders if he would similarly quiet his objections to spending on social programs if it were presented as a choice between liberal welfare or the election of an American communist or socialist party to congress. Goldwater's commitment to conservative constitutional law was also conspicuously absent from this chapter: socialist regimes generally installed a new constitution and American support for anti-socialist rebels would presumably violate the laws under which they found themselves.

While the flashpoints, proxy wars, and immense military buildups that characterized the Cold War definitely bore Goldwater's influence, the mechanism of victory fortunately took a significantly different tack than Goldwater's plan. He writes We may not make foreign peoples love us—no nation has ever succeeded in that—but we can make them respect us. And respect is the stuff of which enduring friendships and firm alliances are made. Yet despite the trillions of dollars spent on military hardware, the Socialist states collapsed not because of a respect-as-fear of U.S. power and might but thanks to a love-as-admiration we were able to foster in the people. While leaders threatened each other with weapons, support for the state was whittled away rock 'n' roll, hip young people, material comforts, and the gradual awareness that there was a world where grocery stores were always full of food.

The Conscience of a Conservative deserves a place in collections of key American documents, alongside The Federalist Papers and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Like the others it took relatively few words to influence generations of political action and government policy. Many on the left believe its ideas were taken too far; many on the right that they weren't taken far enough. But taken they certainly were, and they continue to frame contemporary discourse.
flwyd: (spam lite)
2017-03-26 10:10 pm
Entry tags:

Increasing Viscosity, Improving Energy

It's my body's half birthday and my new swallowing mechanism is five weeks old. Sounds like a good time to check in. If you're just tuning in, I had surgery in February to address achalasia.

As previously reported, I took the week of surgery off from work. This was a really good move: even though I was feeling a lot better than I'd expected (and my work basically involves reading words on a computer screen, typing, and occasionally talking to people), the dedication to resting and relaxing really helped my mind reset, my energy rebound, and focus on readjusting to food.

I spent the second week working from home, which was also a smart move. I was still on a liquids-and-purées diet which was made much easier by having a refrigerator and a fancy blender fifteen feet from my desk. My dad brought over a big ring of red Jello (a food with strong Stone family associations), Lucky's Market recently started carrying nice cashew yogurts, and I had several bunches of bananas with staged ripeness. I noticed that I pretty quickly transitioned back into "Wait, there's one more thing I should do" mode while working, but since I'd handed off a lot of responsibilities, the number of just-one-more-things was fairly low.

A week and a half after surgery I drove back down to the hospital for another x-ray barium swallow to see how thing were going down. After about two swallows of barium liquid the lab tech got a worried look on his face and called a doctor in to look at the images and compare them to what they saw the previous month. After conferring and calling my surgeon's office, they announced that the study was done and I could leave. Not particularly reassuring…

I had a "review the barium study" appointment scheduled with the surgeon two hours later, so I hit up the army surplus store between the hospital and his office. While trying on a pair of nice "tactical trousers" the hospital called and asked me to return (also not very reassuring…). My surgeon showed me the imagery sequence and pointed to a pattern of liquid spreading that looked like it could be a leak. He was suspicious of this interpretation, though, because I didn't show any signs (like total misery) of having been eating with a perforated esophagus, stomach, or junction for ten days. He had me lie down for a regular x-ray and then conferred with the folks from the barium swallow. After a few minutes he came over and said "What I thought was a leak and what they thought as a leak were two different parts of the image." The additional x-ray and mutual second opinions ruled out leaks in both cases. Thank goodness for questioning data and interpretation.

The recommended diet progression is soft food for the third and fourth weeks. I returned to work since I knew I could depend on tuna salad, egg salad, and hummus in the daily lunch salad/sandwich bar and soggy Cheerios (working up to granola) for breakfast. These were my work-food staples for the second half of last year, so I was confident I'd be able to handle them. I was also very excited to reintroduce things like moist grains (rice, barley, oats, and friends), noodles, berries, and tofu. In week four I made three peanut butter, tofu, and chocolate pies for our office's π Day celebration. The puréed legume goo was a little challenging for my swallowing skills, but not problematic. I was also able to eat several folks' apple pie filling and even some flaky crust. I was able to survive some corned beef, potatoes, mustard, and lamb stew on St. Patrick's Day, though I had a regurgitation episode and concluded that was a little too ambitious.

By the recommended diet progression, I should be more or less back to a normal diet. I'm still eating slower than a normal person, but I can now finish most or all of a large lunch in an hour, which is 80% faster than I could handle a medium plate four months ago. I can get through about 75% of a meal at a restaurant before taking home a box. Spices, dry fish, and little bits that slip through without chewing are still challenging and have led to a few regurgitation episodes, but I'm able to respond to most issues by just pausing a meal and walking around. I've been fairly shy about meat that hasn't been soaked in soup, but I was able to handle ground beef today. I think I'll wait at least another week for meat that I have to cut, but I'll be trying sausage in a day or two.

I've had several intense reflux bouts, usually about half way through the night, though yesterday featured an extended before-bed adventure with mild heartburn. Combinations of Altoids, crystalized ginger, and water only sometimes help settle symptoms. When planning surgery I was aware that a significant fraction of folks experience ongoing heartburn and acid reflux. Having spent 2015 dealing with painful reflux and 2016 dealing with regurgitation and weight loss, I'd decided that I'd gladly trade the latter for the former. I need to get better at building up sleep reserves, though, 'cause I can lose an hour to three of sleep from heartburn without advanced warning.

This month I switched projects at work (still under the umbrella of Drive). We're in the "Figure out what the heck our users really need" phase which means our engineering pace is fairly relaxed and we spend a lot of time reading and theorizing, which has been helpful in continuing my "avoid stress" plan. Unfortunately, I've easily fallen back into the habit of going to bed at 1am, so I'm not making many deposits in the sleep bank, despite not needing to take a lot of withdrawals.

I've still got a "eat as many calories as you can" mindset, but I thankfully don't have to micro-optimize my decisions around it. I'm finally back to having alternating phases of hunger and meals rather than a continuous stream of slow eating and reduced metabolism. I've got way more energy than I did during the second half of last year and I don't feel like I'm in survival mode. I was able to quickly get my weight back to the low 120s but haven't been able to make progress beyond that. I guess my normal metabolism—which has basically been at late-teenager levels for twenty years—has returned. I've abandoned my "eat a pint of ice cream for dessert" weight gain plan, since it seemed to be more effective at triggering heartburn than fat storage. Maybe I should try increasing my beer intake :-)