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Thursday, November 18, 2004
"Happy Republican" has said that I haven't been providing any solutions.
(I'm not sure that's the reason for my existence, or even this blog, but anyway...)
I snapped back that I've been providing plenty of solutions, and he wasn't seeing them.
But that got me thinking...
Why'd he even think that?
A couple of reasons come to mind:
1) Running up to the election, I was anti-Bush. I became pro-Kerry because the Libertarian candidate didn't stand a chance, and I liked the fact that Kerry had the nature of doing the right thing in tough circumstances. Give me an ethical President I don't agree with over a scumbag whose policies I agree with. Really. That knocks me out of the Republican party right there. Anyway, being anti-anything is great for pointing out problems. It isn't about providing solutions. (The solution was: vote out Bush. That didn't work, so now we have new problems.)
2) I tend towards satire. Satire is a form of attack.
3) The solutions I was presenting were ones that "Happy Republican" was often just skipping over--like voting for Kerry.
4) This is an opinion site. Notice that I'm not named "atheist libertarian blog" or anything like it. Just Brandon Starr's blog. That's why I write about what interests me. Lately it's included a ton of politics and religion. But often, and especially before Bush's War, I wrote about oddball stories, TV shows I like, and so on. But opinions can include opinions ON SOLUTIONS, you might say. True. But I know I'm pretty far from the mainstream. My interest is in putting out my point of view--because a lot of folks share some or most of my opinions, yet don't even realize that there are others like themselves in society--not really into God, and not wanting big government, and not knowing where they fit. Putting out my solutions? If I had my way, the federal budget deficit would be gone, along with the majority of the federal government and its regulations. I don't feel like arguing about my far-in-the-distance solutions when they aren't going to be acted on any time soon. It's a moot argument for now.
5) Because I don't want to argue about my not-too-damn-likely solutions, I leave a lot of them implied. Some examples:
November 14: entry "For the God-lover in you:" "But know this: you can live a very happy, giving life and not believe there's a deity out there watching your every move, and just waiting for an excuse to torture you until the end of time, and asking for a handout every week."
November 16: entry "What's up in the stock market" While I wrote about what I'm doing, not giving advice or solutions, I am trying to get people to think about what they are doing with their money and what is going on around them in the world of business. I do this a lot, like when I write about oil or silver or the dollar or interest rates.
November 9: entry "For Ariana--on libertarianism" This is my most complete entry on my political theories until now. You won't see a lot of specific solutions. Part of this goes back to 4) above, but also libertarianism lends itself to solutions that don't get a lot of press--i.e., stripping laws away instead of adding new ones.
Plus there were my post-election predictions on trends, which with just a little imagination lend themselves to finding solutions. Example: One trend will be towards escapist entertainment. So if you're in the entertainment field, do escapist projects. If you're an investor, invest in escapist entertainment companies, such as video games or certain movie studios.
But let's get down to some specifics.
Here are my solutions:
Leave people alone, unless and until they harm others. Period.
Consensual sex between adults in privacy harms no one and must be left alone.
Free speech, as long as it is orderly and nonviolent, harms no one.
Abortion: I'm pro-choice. If pushed, I'd say that if a fetus is in the third trimester and is viable if born, it's really too late to make that choice. But before that, it's the woman's choice. If outlawed, it won't stop abortion, just as the outlawing of drugs hasn't stopped drugs. People should be allowed to try to convince their friends and loved ones to not have an abortion if they are anti-choice, but shouldn't be allowed to badger women going into a doctor's office.
Drugs: I've never taken an illegal drug. Not marijuana, not OxyContin shopped around through ten doctors, nothing. But I favor the legalization--and HEAVY regulation and taxation--of drugs. The drug war is deadly, wasteful, and useless. (If legalized, laws should also make it clear that drug users take responsibility for all actions they take while high.)
Porn: Legal, of course. Only porn which harms others by the act of its creation (ex: rape, murder, and child porn) should be outlawed. Yes, it should be kept out of the sight of minors. Playboy-type porn is one of those things I can't even believe anyone gets their head in a twist about. Christians do know that there is sex in the Bible, don't they? Never mind.
Prostitution: Legal, regulated, and taxed.
Public support of art: I'm against. I don't believe in the government picking winners and losers. Not avant-garde art, not childrens' choirs. I don't believe in government subsidies in general, and art in particular.
Guns: People need to be able to defend themselves. Law-abiding citizens must be able to carry firearms. I'm even in favor of arming law-abiding citizens on planes with non-plane-crash-causing weapons. Yes, it is a problem keeping the more dangerous weapons out of criminal hands. That'll always be a balancing act. But I'd rather that good people be able to defend themselves with good weapons than for them to be at the mercy of a criminal who is already prepared to duck the law to gain access to guns.
Religion: People should be able to believe in whatever they want. That's why it's important that the government remain neutral on all religious issues. Otherwise they're picking one religion over another--or religion over atheism/skepticism.
Leave people alone, even businesses, except when they harm others.
Free trade: Pro free-trade. Generally, this means low tariffs, low (while retaining safety) barriers to imports, low regulations, and almost no subsidies. BUT: When foreign governments are favoring their industries with tax breaks, etc. it isn't always possible. For instance, removing all farm subsidies would make for an ugly few years. Work on continuing expanding free trade agreements.
Regulations: Generally low regulations--but where an industry has been proven to be dangerous when not regulated, regulations have to remain. Example: I used to be in the investment industry. When not regulated or merely underregulated, investors get screwed over on a regular basis. Removing regulations would be hazardous to our financial health. There's just too much temptation with the big money involved in the stock and bond markets. Even with current regulation, you get things like the recent insurance scandal.
Environment: Environmental damage needs to be minimized or paid for. When you ruin a city's drinking water, it's time to pony up for the damage. Otherwise the government is picking the business as the winner and the city as the loser. Still, the tendency should be for business to be able to do business without reams of green/red tape. Good business leaders recognize that damaging the environment isn't good business, but not all business leaders are good.
Taxes: Low taxes and a much simpler tax code. The wildly complex tax structure means the governments (state and federal) are picking winners and losers ALL THE TIME. This really needs to stop. I am in favor of progressive tax structures--because poor people can't shoulder the burden of taxes. However, under my scheme, government would be so much smaller that taxes would be lower all around anyway. Also, it should never be SO progressive that it hampers peoples' ability or willingness to succeed. That happened when the top tax bracket was 90%, but it isn't a problem at current levels.
Military: Pro military, but please be more careful about actually using it. Defense is one of the only legitimate functions of government. Defense helps us all. Defense is important. But before we attack people, can we please make sure that we are attacking the right people? The military would be about the same size as it is now, if I had my way, though the structures would be moving away from nukes in silos, Star Wars, and other outmoded forms, and moving towards special forces, intelligence groups, and futuristic weapons, including non-lethal battlefield weapons. Selective service would be for both men and women. By now you know the reason: the government shouldn't pick winners and losers. Whether women can be in every job in every branch at equal levels now may not be possible, but should be the goal.
Law Enforcement: Pro law enforcement. Law enforcement is one of the other few legitimate functions of government. Ethical, firm, evenhanded law enforcement helps everyone. (Even getting to there involves some improvement.) Plus they're one of the final barriers to terrorists. I have more problems with the laws they're enforcing than the enforcers themselves. If we could get rid of the laws that go after victimless crimes, we'd be so much better off. Police spend so much of their valuable time enforcing those laws. It's a real shame. But they're just doing their job, and enforcing the laws as they exist.
Social Security: Because in the long term anyone can do better than Social Security by putting money away, I favor privatization. It shouldn't come at the expense of people nearing retirement, though--they've already planned their retirement around the current state of SS. So long term, if you can get over the lack of current taxes into the system, privatize.
Welfare: The current system, where there is a social safety net, but the people on welfare have to work, seems to me to be a reasonably decent solution. Certainly I don't believe in welfare so cushy that people become dependent. But a Social Darwinism-like stripping of all welfare means that if we hit another Depression, millions die. While I'm not thrilled about welfare from a philosophical standpoint, I just can't bring myself to say "let's get rid of it all" either.
Foreign relations: I break from traditional Libertarian thinking on this. Extreme Libertarians tend towards minimizing relations and pulling inward--rather how the U.S. was pre-World War One.* I think the U.S. must work with all countries, to improve business relationships and knock out terror groups and so on. However, I do think one aspect of their thinking is well taken: when you f*ck with other countries--putting in puppet dictators or supporting them, like Noriega and Hussein, or the Afghani muhajedeen who became both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, for instance--it often comes back to bite you right on the butt. So my advice? Don't f*ck with them. Don't send in assassination squads, don't train guerrillas to overthrow guys you don't like, don't do other underhanded things--but don't turn away from foreign relations, either. The unethical stuff is why so many folks distrusted the U.S. even before Iraq. We need to be the good guys.
To sum up: Small government. Leave people and businesses alone except where they do harm to others. Don't allow government to pick winners and losers.
* Extreme Libertarians are far, far, FAR more small-government than I am in many ways. Though outside the mainstream of politics for most people, I am in my way a moderate.
Trivia question o' the day
What animated shows had the following plot points during their first-ever aired appearances?
1) Characters play baseball using frogs as the ball.
2) Mom scares baby when baby takes "rock-a-bye baby" too literally.
3) Hairballs used as a disguise medium.
4) Baby attempts to kill mom...several times.
5) Character has eighty-foot astronomy dish erupt from his rectum.
6) Perfectly sane character given psych test at school, flunks, is forced to take self-esteem class.
7) Character hates delivery-boy job, at end of episode happily gains new delivery-boy job.
(edited to give answers)
1) "Beavis and Butt-head," in their first appearance on MTV's "Liquid Television."
2) "The Simpsons," in their first appearance on "The Tracey Ullman Show."
3) "Ren and Stimpy."
4) "Family Guy."
5) "South Park."
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Aliens preparing us for their eventual arrival?
UFO Expert: Aliens May Be Preparing Us for the Ultimate Encounter.
All right. Here's my rationalist take on aliens:
1) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Outer-space aliens haven't yet met this test by a mile. Lights in the sky? Claims of alien abduction that leave no trace evidence? Secret government projects on fallen saucers that haven't come to light decades after they happened? I'm less than convinced.
2) There's nothing that says aliens CAN'T exist. Actually, if you've read my blog for a while, you may have noticed I often link to NASA and astronomical stories. One subgroup is stories about scientists figuring out ways to detect planets in other solar systems. How common are planets? And how often are they Earthlike? Those are two of the questions that will lead to the more important ones: How often do Earthlike planets sprout life? And how often do planets with life lead to intelligent life? Currently those are strictly in the "speculation" file.
Personally, in my less-than-expert way, I'd have to guess that there are many planets with life within our galaxy, and at least a few with intelligent life. But that leads us to....
3) If aliens exist, they'd have to be advanced enough to do one of the following:
a) Have developed so early that they've sent out sub-light ships which have reached Earth over a period of decades or centuries, perhaps millenia, or
b) Have developed far enough to figure out rules of physics far in advance of ours, which allows them to travel faster than the speed of light.
Based on my thorough investigations (okay, I just watch PBS's 'NOVA'), I'd say that they'd have to be amazingly advanced to figure out a FTL means of travel. Because there is basically ZERO on the horizon as far as our current understanding of physics goes to allow it. The theories that even vaguely might allow FTL travel involve powers so awesome that the energies used would be greater than that contained in our sun. Criminy, how'd you even survive something like that? So, they'd have to be as advanced compared to us as we are to termites-on-a-stick chimpanzees.
So, while I'm not saying aliens don't exist, or even that they aren't here, I'd say there's NO WAY we can say that they are here based on the current, extremely weak evidence.
Which is too bad. Because I think it will change a lot of our perceptions when we do finally contact an alien species. There was a genuine global shift in thinking the first time astronauts took pictures of the entire Earth. (Anyone heard of the Whole Earth Catalog? It had one of those early Earth pictures on it, and everyone held their breath the first time they saw one.) Alien contact would make that mental shift look like the the shift between the colors black and off-black navy blue.
Virgin Mary sandwich back up on eBay
Virgin Mary sandwich back up on eBay
eBay, reasonably assuming it was a joke, pulled the sandwich before.
But the seller argued successfully that she was serious, and so the auction was reinstated. The link has a picture of the famed comestible.
If you ask me, that isn't a picture of the Virgin Mary. It's a picture of Marlene Dietrich
So, why do Jesus and Mary show up on so many tortillas, smears of peanut butter, mold growths, etc.?
It's the same principle that has us see clouds as objects, or makes the Rorschach ink blot psych test work. Or makes us see a face on mars
Essentially, our brains are set up as pattern recognition devices. It's what our brains do. We aren't good at straight on-off logic, like a computer. Instead, we take lots of information and see what fits best, and come up with an answer based on that. Sometimes this lets us recognize a long-lost friend. Sometimes it saves us when we see a dangerous stranger lurking in the bushes. Sometimes it fakes us out, and we see ghosts or other things that just aren't there. The brain is a better-safe-than-sorry mechanism, and gives lots of false positives this way. It's just how we work.
But if you're a true believer, I can have a grilled-cheese sandwich with Jesus's portrait out to you in three business days for the low, low price of $500. Or Elvis, your choice.
* The link is to the Skeptic's Dictionary, and I highly regard that site as a bastion of logic and irrationality debunking. Seriously, check it out.
FLA Supreme court to feel the Russssh...
Russssh Limbaugh's case to go to the Florida Supreme Court
Russssh is desperate to keep his medical records from becoming part of the prosecution against him.
As I read the story, it sounds like Russssh has a tough climb. There is a law protecting the privacy of medical records, but it's for civil cases, not
Sorry, I just get a little happy whenever I see Russssh and "felony investigation" in the same story.
Maybe. But not the worst kind. The worst kind is when you take pleasure in seeing nice people suffer. But Russssh is a lying, unethical arm of the right-wing propaganda machine. I'll be happy to see him go to jail, if he does and if he's guilty.
If he's actually innocent, then I hope he gets off. I never have and never will want someone to be convicted of something they haven't done, no matter how ugly they act in the other aspects of their life.
If he really did rope his housekeeper into becoming a drug mule for him, I really, really, really hope he goes down. No one should be spared who pulls other people into crime.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Time is debating who should be its Person of the Year
"Based on the enthusiasm expressed at the lunch for each nominee, it would seem that the frontrunners, for now, are President Bush, Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove, God and Jesus Christ."
I am going to ask my wife to cancel our subscription if ANY of those are chosen.
If God or Jesus Christ are chosen....
shouldn't the Person of the Year be an actual person
? Otherwise, why not call it Idea of the Year or Character of the Year?
"We are the bor...n again. You will be assimilated..."
"...resistance is futile."
Another perfectly-named religious blog: assimilator.
I love the November 16th entry about how new converts to Christianity are like rabbits: they're skittish, they stay close to safety, they run away if you scare them. A must-read.
My take? Very typical of how I think many Christians think about new converts.
Or, as I commented on the blog:
"Also, 'rabbit' is a con man term for 'sucker' or 'mark.' So there's another parallel to converts."
What do you think?
What's up in the stock market
This isn't meant to be an all-encompassing market view, just a highlight of some things I've been acting on.
Google is down today on its first lockup period ending
. You may remember Google just went public a few months ago. Since then, the price has more than doubled. But the number of shares available for trade was limited to a few sold by the company to the public during the IPO. No longer. "Lockups" are for insiders holding shares during the post-IPO period. Eventually these lockups end and the insiders can sell. The first such lockup ending happened today. More are coming. Although I'm confident the company will do fine financially, stock-wise the price is just too high. Thus, I have a bearish position in the stock (betting it will go down).
I don't have a position in Netflix, but it's been hammered lately because of all the big companies (Blockbuster, Amazon, and more) who have either gone into Netflix's movie rental service. (For those who don't know, you pay a per-month fee, and you can have a set number of movies out at a time. When you're done with one, you send it back and that frees up a slot--Netflix then sends the next one on your list to you.) This relative ease of competition is ugly. This is why I love love LOVE eBay as an investor. I currently don't have a position, but I have in the past and probably will again in the future. I was recently sold out via limit order on eBay's recent price jump. eBay has the largest number of auction bidders and sellers, and this means that they attract the majority of FUTURE bidders and sellers. After all, if you're looking for something obscure to buy, you're most likely to find it at eBay. And if you want to have the widest audience to sell something obscure, you're most likely to do well with the millions of eBayers. This creates a barrier to entry to everyone else in the industry. Amazon, Yahoo!, and others have all tried to enter the auction business. All are limping along or have shuttered.*
I have a position in Sirius Satellite Radio. Why? Two words: Howard Stern. I believe he will be the catalyst to both make satellite radio a common way of receiving entertainment and to vault past the current leader, XM Satellite Radio. When the number of folks having Sirius in their car moves from its current hundreds of thousands to millions or even tens of millions, I believe that Sirius stock holders will benefit mightily. That is why I made a gamble on Sirius, even though I usually only buy stock in companies who are both already profitable and reasonably priced. With Sirius, it is not nearly profitable yet and a "reasonable price" is nearly impossible to gauge.
Inflation jumped again. Energy and food made the overall inflation number
jump a huge 1.7%, the largest since 1990. Even when you strip out those often-gyrating factors, the "core inflation" rate was 0.3%, more than the 0.1% expected. When inflation raises its ugly head, gold and silver benefit. I think silver is a better bet than gold, for reasons I've talked about before--it boils down to the fact that for the last 15 years, more silver has been used by industry than was pulled out of the ground. This is leading inexorably to a scarcity of available mined silver. I believe that this will continue to help the price of silver, possibly even leading to a real jump in prices. I've chosen SSRI (Standard Silver Resources, Inc.) because they are a pure silver mining play and because they have a good reputation, as far as I have been able to determine.
Again, this is why I'M doing things in the market. This doesn't apply to anyone else. I just hope it's at least vaguely interesting to a few people out there.
* Minor exception: Yahoo! got into the Japan market early and managed to create the necessary critical mass of auctions first there. eBay then tried to enter Japan, and hasn't been successful there, despite the millions elsewhere that they have. THAT is how impassable a barrier to entry eBay's "big dog" position is in every other country they've entered.