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Why I won't get a 23andMe account for Christmas

23andMe.com is a website launched by Sergey Brin's wife Anne Wojcicki. For $999 your whole genome can be sequenced. They then claim to offer datamining tools, find characteristics about you, your genetic history, predispositions to possible illness, whom you get that allergy from, etc etc.

I won't buy that for christmas. Why?

Am I put of by the stiff $999? Well a bit but it still seems reasonable. Am I, like many libertarians concerned with the disclosure of my personal information? After all, is my DNA is on the internet, it means omg-gattaca-totalitarian-society. Nope, I don't give a damn.

A quick tour will give you the answer:

Genetic Nondiscrimination.

Various state laws exist to protect individuals from genetic discrimination. On a national level, we support passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress.

So what is GINA?

The Genetic Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 (GINA) was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 420-3. The act will protect individuals against discrimination based on their genetic information when it comes to health insurance and employment. These protections are intended to encourage Americans to take advantage of genetic testing as part of their medical care.

Although I'm dying to use the service I'm not giving $999 to fund socialism >(


Giving thanks for helpful government employees

"Helpful government employee" is not an oxymoron, although libertarians sometimes act that way. I've been reminded of this by a number of positive interactions lately:

  • We had a leaky toilet for several weeks before it was replaced. The city called me up and said "Hey, your water bill got a lot higher - we think you might have a leak." I had already found it, but still, what great service! (I think they were motivated by a drought due to them not setting water prices based on supply and demand, but it was still nice.)
  • The city fire prevention dept called me up about 2 non-code-compliant things they had spotted on our property in their periodic survey. One was a hot tub plugged into an extension cord. The other was a wheelchair lift that had been built un-permitted. They wanted both unplugged until compliant, and the hot tub fenced off, and plugged into a grounded, permitted outlet, and the lift to have an electrical permit.

    Sure, I don't think they should be telling me what to do. But they were very reasonable - and in fact, both the precautions on the hot tub were things we were planning to do and hadn't gotten around to yet. They didn't fine us. They didn't tear them down. They didn't enforce any building permits (only electrical ones, which they felt were important for fire safety), or county health codes (although they warned us that the county might have other objections if they ever noticed the tub). And one could easily imagine a private neighborhood association which inspected properties for fire safety, even in libertopia.

  • Most recently, I'd been fed up with paperwork from the state EDD, which handles the taxes we pay for (some of) our childcare workers. Every quarter, they ask for all quarterly forms since the first quarter, every quarter I would print out and send all of them, and then the next quarter they'd say they weren't received. After a year and a half, they started trying to fine me.

    So I replied with a letter about how I wasn't going to pay the fines, I had sent in these forms again and again, and there must be some snafu on their end, and I would appreciate it if they could figure it out and clear this up. I got a call from a nice lady today who had figured out that I had been issued two different numbers, and so my submissions were under one and the requests under another. Typical bureaucratic snafu - but the state employee involved didn't say "What a whiner, I don't have to do what he says, I have the mighty arm of the state behind me!". Instead she said "Aww, poor guy, let me fix his problem".

None of this changes my belief that there are major, systemic problems with democratic, centralized governments, problems which give rise to worse service on average. Nor that the incentive structures of public vs. private employment tend to draw more talented individuals somewhat more often to the private sector. But surely the incentives also draw more selfish people to the private sector and more altruistic ones into public service. Altruism in the role of managing top-down solutions to problems may tend to do more harm than good, but a genuine enjoyment of helping people, when used to do so directly, is a wonderful thing.

Let's not forget it, lest we be judged arrogant and elitist - with reason.


North Korean Public Execution

In a stadium, no less:

Public executions had declined since 2000 amid international criticism but have been increasing, targeting officials accused of drug trafficking, embezzlement and other crimes, the Good Friends aid agency said in a report on the North's human rights.

In October, the North executed the head of a factory in South Pyongan province for making international calls on 13 phones he installed in a factory basement, the aid group said. He was executed by a firing squad in a stadium before a crowd of 150,000.

Six people were crushed to death and 34 others injured in an apparent stampede as they left the stadium, the aid group said.

Most North Koreans are banned from communicating with the outside world, part of the regime's authoritarian policies seeking to prevent any challenge to the iron-fisted rule of Kim Jong Il.


Pleasure and Happiness vs. Gain and Meaning

The confusion on this subject can be resolved by doing away with the words pleasure and happiness.

Come on, really, how much pleasure can one expect anyway. Eating, sleeping and sex comprise the major sources of the pleasure available to most people. OK, so you can think of some additional ones. If you read a novel or go to a movie, how is this different from going into the happiness machine? And what is happiness? You may be happy one moment and just neutral or unhappy the next.

If this is your way of understanding the situation, the machine approach is by far superior. Just dial up always hungry, always horney, always happy, a comfortable bed and an unlimited supply of what satisfies the above. This partly describes the life of Elvis in his later years. Or you could have an unlimited supply of crack cocaine. In the happiness machine world you could specify that it wouldn’t kill you.

It is more enlightened to think in terms such as gains and meaning. Let's look at a few examples. You may get pleasure from eating a hot dog. You don't get much pleasure from eating a hundred hot dogs. If your goal is to win a hot-dog eating contest you may eat a hundred hot-dogs, enduring mostly misery in the process but having the chance of gaining renown as a champion hot-dog eater (secondary gain.) Your reward is fame and, if asked to endorse a certain brand of hot-dog, perhaps fortune. A beautiful woman who is attracted to a champion such as yourself might even consider you a fine mate (tertiary gain.) The chance of gaining all this far outweighs the mere solitary pleasure you get from eating a hot-dog when you are hungry. Being an accomplished person brings meaning to your life, even if you mostly just suffer pain from a tummy ache and ulcers from eating too many hot-dogs.

Most of the gains people pursue are not pleasurable at all because they are pursued beyond the point of mere primary gain (pleasure) to the extent that they may cause pain. They are pursued in order to have the chance of getting secondary gain (self esteem and societal approval) and even tertiary gain (money and girls.) Examples include boxing, running, working, and even hobbies such as hiking, mountain climbing, tournament fishing and so on.

So, one of life’s prime pleasures, food, won’t do, as a primary source of happiness and meaning.
What about sleep? It just won’t work. To get personal and societal kudos for one’s acts they have to be hard or painful. Every nursing home is full of people who sleep all day every day with no effort. On the other hand you could gain your fame by staying awake for a world record period of time. This is especially true if you are doing something while awake, such as dancing.

Sex? Why is there no Guinness Book of World Records for the number of times a day some guy masturbated? It is all primary gain. No sponsors, I guess, and it probably wouldn’t help you attract girls. There are also no rewards for abstaining from sex. Someone needs to come up with a better way to make a contest out of sex, otherwise the happiness machine wins.

From this short discussion, I think that it has been established that primary pleasure is not the source of happiness. In fact, just the opposite is true. Actually pain is more likely to bring meaning. I don’t know what this has to do with social policy, but, I have heard that the most intense forms of happiness or meaning are the escape from pain or danger. I am told that, a man who has just passed a kidney stone is very happy, as is a shipwrecked sailor who has just been rescued. A social policy that simulates this might be most efficacious in making people happier. It is futile to try to make people happy by placing them on welfare. It does just the opposite. They become even more hostile and demanding.

Since meaning is gained more often from pain than pleasure, the happiness machine would be most likely to deliver lasting efficacy if it were programmed by the United States Marines or coach Bear Bryant than by Timothy Leary.

Next we shall explore the happiness and meaning that comes from creativity and discovery. In the post referenced by Constant, the example was given of a new pill that equaled the happiness inducing properties of making a major scientific discovery, all while having discovered nothing. Surely no one could prefer the state of fake discovery, even if it were a sure thing to a real discovery.
I submit that persons are awarded with happiness and meaning in their life for fake creativity and discovery all the time. Look at the hordes of brilliant intellectuals who created page after page of Marxist “Works.” Observe the libraries full of scholarly treatises relating to the Talmud, the Bible, Galenic Medicine, and what have you. I am not judging these belief systems here but if they turn out to have no external validity, how are their adherents different from the people who enter into the happiness machine?

Then you have the sad history of various brilliant scientists and intellectuals who made one or two real discoveries and then succumbed to their public adulation and star status by spending the rest of their lives promoting crackpot causes. Bertrand Russell, Noam Chomsky and Linus Pauling come to mind. Once the initial valid work is done, if the later output is nonsense, what difference does it make whether these people are in the real world or the happiness machine?


Eliezer on happiness (hedonism)

Another entry in the discussion of hedonism. Remember the experience machine? Discussed on this blog a while ago. Same topic, I would say. Eliezer:

I value a life complicated enough to be challenging and aesthetic - not just the feeling that life is complicated, but the actual complications - so turning into a pleasure center in a vat doesn't appeal to me. It would be a waste of humanity's potential, which I value actually fulfilling, not just having the feeling that it was fulfilled.

Nozick's experience machine argument (Wiki outline):

  • P1: Hedonism means that the only thing that affects our well-being is pleasure
  • P2: If hedonism were correct, then we would plug into the machine because we would want pleasurable experiences
  • P3: We would not plug into the machine because we are concerned about the reality of our experiences
  • C: Therefore, there is something other than pleasure that affects our well-being and hedonism is therefore defeated.

A Favorable Definition?

From the Devil's Dictionary X:

capitalism

1. a financial system which supports personal choice to buy or sell what one will, allowing another is freely willing to make the exchange; the opposite of stealing.

2. a similar system which accepts a common standard of value for trade, the carrot.

3. the only fundamental difference between America and every nation leaking boat people to Her.

I was worried, with a title like the Devil's Dictionary X, they weren't being sincere, until I read their definition of Slashdot.


Magic Math Used to Determine Peoples True Feelings About Redistribution

According to a Science Daily article titled "People Can Put A Price Tag On Economic Justice, Economists Say" there is science behind redistribution. 

The article starts with the question, "How much would you pay to live in an equitable society in which people get what they deserve and deserve what they get?"   Well my answer is "whatever it takes to enforce our individual rights to within the bounds of human fallibility.  Which wouldn't include any redistribution."    

I however say chock up two more leftist "economists" trying to tease information that is not there from data that no one should take seriously.   Apparently Fong and Corneo think they "have developed a mathematical model to measure the value that people place on distributive justice " and can use "data from the 1998 Gallup poll" that "did not explicitly ask what monetary value the respondents placed on distributive justice".     That is they believe that they can read peoples minds utilizing math and the answers to questions unrelated to the information being psychically determined.

What did these mind readers determine?  There was no link to the study from the article but it did mention that ...

"Whites place a higher value on equity than non-whites, and equity is valued more by those with high levels of education than those with less education."

Even if you believe their methods work the results they got seem to point to the idea that those who supposedly benefit from redistribution are against it.     Perhaps having first hand experience with welfare schemes instead of ivory tower theory leads to the empirically based conclusion that welfare doesn't work.

 I wonder if this study was "peer reviewed".   I guess if your peers as a bunch of leftists you might get away with making this claim. 

 

 


Liberty dollar seized ?

There is of piece of news that has been circulated since this morning on the Internet, 

http://www.rabidquill.com/?p=17

(excerpt) 

I sincerely regret to inform you that about 8:00 this morning a dozen FBI and Secret Service agents raided the Liberty Dollar office in Evansville.

For approximately six hours they took all the gold, all the silver, all the platinum and almost two tons of Ron Paul Dollars that where just delivered last Friday. They also took all the files, all the computers and froze our bank accounts.

We have no money. We have no products. We have no records to even know what was ordered or what you are owed. We have nothing but the will to push forward and overcome this massive assault on our liberty and our right to have real money as defined by the US Constitution. We should not to be defrauded by the fake government money.

But to make matters worse, all the gold and silver that backs up the paper certificates and digital currency held in the vault at Sunshine Mint has also been confiscated. Even the dies for mint the Gold and Silver Libertys have been taken

While I immediately thought of a hoax, I checked their yahoo group and it looks real, their order webpage is down and no one answers the phone. There is the possiblity that this is real, or it might be a huge scam from the founder trying to steal the backing metals.

To be sure, I think that the liberty dollar is crappy, it relies on shady multi-level marketing tricks and their idea to create an implicit parity with the greenback is just retarded.

However

- this is certainly no ground for confiscation
- the same thing might happen to other forms of asset storage, bullionvault for example has a vault in New-York. While there is no easy pretext to crack on it, it is certainly a possibility.

What happened looks like the realisation a cranky libertarian paranoid dream, but it may actually be real. Scary. 


Kling on Health Care

He hits four key points. Don't go looking for earthshattering new arguments. The interest to me is that he put together key points in one place. Maybe I just like lists. Here are key elements of the argument against a free market in medicine.

  1. The U.S. system is flawed.
  2. Other countries' systems work much better.
  3. The U.S. system relies on the free market.
  4. There are two systems of health care in the developed world--ours, and the one every other country uses.

1 is true, 2 - 4 are myths. So far the main point of contention in his comments seems to be (2). I've argued elsewhere against 2 and 3, while the falsehood of 4 is a fresh point I've not seen explicitly made but is something that has become clear recently as closer attention has been paid to the subject.


An experiment among the grassroot Ron Paul supporters

After a few days of experimentation, I have finally been permanently banned from ronpaulforum.com .

I participated in two threads over there, both on the subject of immigration:

http://www.ronpaulforum.com/showthread.php?t=156865

http://www.ronpaulforum.com/showthread.php?t=144320

Some interesting conclusions I reached are

- for the average debater, a reductio ad absurdum is too complicated, it will confuse him into thinking you embrace the absurd conclusion. 
- people believe immigration to be a privilege granted by the government
- people have a hard time making a distinction between immigration and naturalization
- people generally have a hard time following a sequence of logically constructured arguments 
- Ron Paul supporters are trained to answer to socialist arguments, they're completely off when faced with libertarian arguments, it's fun (in a sad way) to watch.

I conclude with Mises

If you have to convince a group of people who are not directly dependent on a solution of a problem, you will never succeed. 


Greed - Milton Friedman clip

Want to argue politics with the benighted? This is how you do it.

From the excellent Cafe Hayek blog.


Second amendment erotica

The right of hot chicks in bikini to keep and bear arms. Apparently it's a real show, not a fake... So there's a reality sports (sure it's all about sports) TV show featuring, hum girls and guns.

Behold:  

Girls and Guns BTSUploaded by girlsandguns

Girls and Guns BTS
Uploaded by girlsandguns

www.toughsportslive.com/?page=ggHome

See also, 
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Rule+34


HHH On the Simpsons and forced cancellation

Yesterday, I wanted to watch the Simpsons on TV. The Simpsons is a very popular show and no doubt that in a free anarcho-capitalist society people would still watch the Simpsons. However, on that same day, the United States decided to execute 5,000 anti-war protestors. This act of barbarism was featured in the news all the evening, and the broadcast of the Simpsons was cancelled. In a free society, there is no government to execute people, thus it is unlikely that the news will spill over the evening cartoons. As long as government mandated killing of protestors continue, it equates to forced cancelling of the Simpsons and therefore the network channel should not be free to change its programming.


We are all wrong

We're all profoundly wrong about something fundamental. Probably the same thing. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm sure we're wrong about it. By "we" I don't just mean people commenting on this blog, or like-minded people (i.e., libertarians).

Think about any time long enough ago. With maybe the exception of a tiny minority, people were profoundly wrong about something. People were wrong about slavery. People were wrong about witches. People were wrong about the divine right of kings.

Why should today be any different? I doubt very much that it is different. There's something that we all take for granted, something that we think it would be loony tunes to doubt, but that is deeply mistaken.

Of course, libertarians stand on the outside of some of today's unquestioned assumptions - unquestioned by the vast majority, that is. The libertarian blade cuts deep. I propose, however, that there are still assumptions which we ourselves do not question, but which one day will be considered as wrong - as obviously wrong - as slavery is considered today.

On the other hand, things could reverse. Scientific and moral truths understood today could be forgotten, particularly in a totalitarian future. I do think that the modern state has managed to bamboozle the majority in ways which they would have escaped a thousand years ago.

Since libertarians stand outside of so many profoundly wrong assumptions, we can at least observe the signs. One possible sign is slapdash rationalization, rationalization that would never convince a skeptic but that allows the believer to think there are good reasons for the belief. Another possible sign is the presence of serious personal consequences for loudly contradicting the majority opinion, making it likely that the belief is held in order to conform rather than because it is true. These are imperfect signs (possible false positives and false negatives), but it's a start.

You've probably witnessed somebody from Country A go on at length about how people in Country B aren't right in the head, how they do this, that, and the other thing backwards and upside down, and how clearly the sensible thing is what people in Country A do. This is a two bit version of what I'm talking about.

But a universally or near-universally held falsehood will tend to be invisible because it is not likely to be much discussed. Discussion tends to center around points of controversy, not points of agreement.


Inconsistent paternalism

Robin Hanson conjectures:

we are much more paternalistic toward the low in status. We allow rich people to invest in most anything they like, but limit poor people to investments approved by regulators, and we are far more concerned about alcohol and illegal drug use by the poor than the rich, even though both groups use them at similar rates. An inner city activity with a similar mortality rate to BASE jumping would be illegal so fast it would make your head spin.

Rings true to me. The evidence he offers isn't knock-down but is suggestive, and we can pile up examples.

There is the similar phenomenon of the rich getting away with murder or other offenses (real or just legislated), or actually being found innocent when they're innocent, in part because they can afford competent lawyers who are actually motivated to defend them in court.

A low status person with no political pull and no other defenses can be more safely used by the police to meet their quotas or to exercise petty authority, and more easily manipulated by the government without ramifications to show that it is doing something, and more easily toyed with by the voters who want to express their personal commitment to virtue by imposing rule after rule on total strangers.

One stark example of the rich being better able to fend off government: when Castro overthrew Batista and imposed totalitarian communism on the Cuban people, it was the rich Cubans who managed to get to Miami in time. The poor were trapped, and now live under the dictator's thumb.

Generally, yeah, the rich do get more respect. Reminds me of the old saw - goes something like, "the poor are insane [lock them up], the rich are eccentric [leave them alone]."

If there's a take-home lesson here: don't be poor.

The resourcefulness of the rich does have its uses for the rest of us. After all, it was the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta and started that ball rolling.