Friday, April 29, 2016

What Would Socrates Do?

I've been thinking, as I'm sure most of you have, about the coming presidential election. As you are probably aware, I've been backing Ted Cruz since day one. He is the only candidate with an actual record of standing on the principles of the Constitution (unlike Hillary Clinton who actually stands on the Constitution - couldn't resist a little dig - Hillary does respect the fifth amendment, at least).

So at this point in the race it looks like the election will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton has so far received 55% of the Democratic vote, and Trump has gotten 41% of the Republican vote (so much for the "will of the people"). If these things do not change, and given recent polls, and recent election history, I'm calling Hillary Clinton our next president by a landslide.

For her part, Clinton has already started maneuvering her positions to take away as much of Sanders' power at the convention. And Trump long ago ceased caring about his constituency or positions (which is why his base has been eroding, or as he would say, which is why he's being cheated out of what's rightfully his).

But that's not what this post is about. What I'd like to address is, if you are a Cruz or a Sanders supporter, what do you do when faced with a Clinton/Trump ballot? Quite a number of my friends subscribe to the "you must vote with me or "X" will win (where "X" is a candidate they know I don't like). However, this to me is political blackmail - it is using a negative consequence ("X" will win) to try to make me do something I don't want to do (vote with them). It is a fact that if you will always vote for someone you don't like over someone you do like, then you will always get a candidate you don't like, and will never get one you do like.

So let's talk about some of the principles involved. I am not trying to convince you to vote one way or the other, I am telling you why I will vote the way I will, and why I don't want to listen to the same old arguments of people trying to influence me to vote for their candidate, for whom I do not want to vote.

1. Vote for the lesser of two evils. This is based on two fallacies. First, that there are only two choices, and second, that choosing an evil is good.

In voting for president there are more than two choices. At this point someone will no doubt chime in with "Oh, but Mike everyone knows that only one of the two big parties will win." That's only true if everyone follows the "vote to keep 'X' out of office" strategy. There is nothing preventing large numbers of people from voting for a third party, or even writing in the candidate they like. So, faced with a myriad of choices, why should I vote for evil, even if it is less than another evil choice?

2. Don't vote like Onan. If you recall, in Genesis 38, Onan neglects his duty to produce a child for his sister-in-law by spilling his semen on the ground. I've heard the term used to describe voting for a candidate who has no chance of winning (aka is not one of the big two parties).

The fallacy here is that your vote matters more if it is for one of the two parties than if it is for someone else. In reality, your vote counts as... ready for this? One vote, regardless of who you vote for. When you look at it from a mathematical perspective it is one vote. From a philosophical perspective we could say that only one vote actually counts - the one that puts the winning candidate in the lead. But I think that's a pretty negative view, and doesn't do justice to the democratic system of elections. If my vote counts for little it's because there are so many other votes, not because it doesn't count.

3. Don't let perfect be the enemy of "good enough." The problem is, who defines "good enough?" There is a problem in ethics called "The Trolley Problem". It goes like this. There is a trolley going down the tracks. five people are on the track ahead and will be killed. If you pull a lever, the trolley will be diverted to a different track on which there is one person, who will be killed. Do you pull the lever? Don't be too hasty to pull it - with minor changes to the description of the scenario you will say "no."

Socrates said "it is better to suffer evil than to do evil." Likewise, the "correct" answer depends on whether the pulling of the lever is cooperating in evil (explore the variations on the problem if you think the answer is obvious). The principle on which the lever can be pulled (or not pulled) is called "double effect" and I find t interesting. You can read more about it here.

You may say "well, neither candidate is going to kill people" but that's not true. Abortion kills a million Americans a year. A(nother) war could kill millions. Foreign policy and/or immigration policy could allow thousands to die from terrorist attacks. The things many people think will kill people (elimination of entitlements or an environmental policy) are unlikely to have much of an effect, but it's something to think about. So it is literally a matter of life and death. Don't think I don't take that aspect seriously.

But if I say "candidate A will get us into a war and not really change anything else" and conversely "candidate B will get us into a war and make things worse" why should I participate in electing either of them? It's the trolley problem, with a third option. I could yell "stop" and hope the trolley stops. The odds are as small as my voice (e.g. my vote), but at least I will not have contributed directly to the deaths of millions.

4. It's fine for you because you have the luxury of not having your vote matter. Yes, I live in NJ, which is a heavily "blue" state. No matter how I vote (one might be cynical and say no matter how everyone votes) my state will throw it's measly 14 electoral votes behind Hillary Clinton (I also think "winner takes all" policies are the worst abuse of power in the political system).

So, does this mean that my vote counts for less, and therefore I can throw it behind whomever I choose? I don't see it that way. As I said above, my vote counts for one vote, no more no less. I take voting just as seriously as if I were the only one voting, which is precisely why I will not vote for someone whom I do not like.

Conclusion? Let's see who actually gets on the ballot and we'll see. If it's Trump/Clinton you can bet I'll be researching third party candidates. Worst comes to worse I can write in a name. Laugh all you want, I will do what I feel is right, as long as I have a country that let's me vote I will vote my way. I recommend you consider carefully who you will vote for, and why...

Now, here's a shiny video of why our voting system sucks:

and some alternatives to think about (I am not endorsing these candidates, just mentioning them)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Opposite Donalds

Another story from the Opposite Files. For newcomers, the opposite files are my record of double standards and hypocrisy. You can click on the link to see the whole list - and more are being added all the time.

Won't be held responsible for what supporters do.

Picture of Trump's wife posted by supporters
Trump holds Cruz responsible for what supporters do,

Friday, April 15, 2016

These Eyes

There are blue eyed people ad brown eyed people, right? Well, it's not that simple. You see, not all blue eyed people have 100% blue eyes, some have flecks of brown. And not all brown eyed people have perfectly brown eyes. There are even people with one blue eye and one brown eye. So, in fact, there is a whole spectrum of colors, and the term "blue" or "brown" shouldn't be applied to people's eye color.

In fact, since we have shown there really isn't any "blue" or "brown" we should allow people to choose what eye color they believe they should be. They could buy contacts to change their eye color, but even if they don't, if they identify as "brown" or "blue" or any combination of those or other colors, who are we to judge?

Therefore I'm petitioning to have the state remove eye color from all recognized identification. States that don't should be boycotted and given economic sanctions. Don't you agree?

Friday, April 8, 2016

We the People

With Antonin Scalia's death, the subsequent 4-4 split on the union case, and the twists and turns in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, I've been thinking about Scalia and his approach to constitutional law. Scalia was what is termed an "originalist". That means, when interpreting the constitution, the interpretation should be based on what a reasonable person living at the time of its adoption would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be.

Scalia defends originalism in this article:
“My burden is not to show that originalism is perfect, but that it beats the other alternatives, and that, believe me, is not difficult,” Scalia said.
Even the most ardent non-originalist will have to resort to historical inquiry at times to understand legal concepts like the writ of habeas corpus or cases of admiralty, he said. 
Scalia pointed to District of Columbia v. Heller, a 2008 Supreme Court case in which several D.C. residents challenged the District’s ban on handguns and restrictions on other firearms. Defenders of the law said the right to “bear arms” as outlined in the Second Amendment had an exclusively military meaning, but a 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court showed the meaning was different by looking at historical texts. 
The right to have arms for personal use for self-defense was regarded as one of the fundamental rights of Englishmen, Scalia said. 
The prologue of the Second Amendment, “a well-regulated militia being necessary for the defense of a free state,” could not be reconciled with the personal right to keep and bear arms unless one had the historical knowledge behind it. In England “the Stuart kings in had destroyed the people’s militia by disarming those whom they disfavored.” 
Critics of originalism exaggerate the difficulty of determining original meaning, Scalia said... But in most cases, especially controversial ones, the originalist point of view is clear, Scalia said. No provision of the Constitution guaranteed the right to abortion, homosexual sodomy or assisted suicide, and nothing prohibited the death penalty, he said. 
“All these questions pose enormous difficulty for non-originalists, who must agonize over what the modern Constitution ought to mean with regard to each of these subjects, and then agonize over the very same questions five or 10 years later, because times change,” he said.
...and there's the rub, and in my mind the best argument in favor of originalism, regardless of which side of which issue you are on. If the Constitution means what we think it ought to mean, instead of what it says, then we no longer have a republic. We have a "democracy" where only nine people get to vote. We are never more than several votes away from tyranny, and American citizens have no rights except those granted to them by five justices.

If, on the other hand, we fix the Constitution with regard to what it says, we have a republic, where rights are guaranteed b law. But what about cases where the Constitution is legitimately wrong? What about things it never mentioned?

First off, the Constitution is about limiting federal powers, not about being a litmus test for every law and every issue. Where it is mute, the states or the people have the right to decide for themselves. Making issues constitutional is a bad idea. Justice Scalia once said in an interview:
Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
And where the Constitution si flat out wrong we are still ot in a hole. Consider the nineteenth amendment. The states have the right, under the Constitution, to decide who can and cannot vote. At one point some states allowed women to vote and some did not. On this point the Constitution was mute. How was the issue solved? By installing judges and justices who magically found "implied" rights for women to vote? No, they went and ratified an amendment:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Had they not done so, and instead relied on justices to settle the matter, the rights of women would depend on the good will of five individuals, and that right could be overturned by a future administration installing justices who would magically find some different view.

Instead, we have a written amendment which guarantees women's rights regardless of what people think about it.

Today we have a runaway court, which finds all sorts of implied rights. If those rights are to be real, and not just the opinion of five people, we need to stop the tide of judicial activism and do things "the right way."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy VD

Although not much of St. Valentine's life is reliably known, most scholars agreed that St. Valentine was martyred and then buried on the Via Flaminia to the north of Rome.

The way he became the "saint of love" is interesting. In order to ensure a supply of soldiers unencumbered by wives and children, emperor Claudius II banned traditional marriage. St. Valentine, who was either a priest or bishop, secretly married couples in violation of the law.

But his more serious crime was being a Catholic. He refused to renounce his faith and worship Roman gods. For that he was imprisoned. While in jail, he healed his jailer's blind daughter, after which the jailer and his whole family converted to Christianity.

Valentine was beaten with clubs and stoned, and when he didnt' die fast enough, beheaded. Legend has it that on the day of his execution he left a note for the jailer's daughter, signing it "from your Valentine" - the first Valentine's card.

Yesterday Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. It is expected President Obama will nominate a replacement soon. It is further expected that he will use this opportunity to try to pack the court with justices who are politically motivated to uphold the laws he favors, rather than to enforce the Constitution.

This could radically affect some upcoming cases, such as that of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The sisters, under ObamaCare, are required to purchase contraception and abortifacients, in violation of their religious beliefs.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a religious order formed in 1839 in France. A group came to America in 1868. They provide care to the poor elderly so they can live out the last years of their lives in dignity and peace.

What does this have to do with St. Valentine? In Valentine's day, citizens were required to purchase a little incense, which was to be offered to the Roman gods. The penalty for not doing so was martyrdom. The law was made specifically to target the Catholic Church. Today we have the HHS mandate under ObamaCare, that requires citizens to purchase contraceptives. the penalty for not doing so is $36,500 per person per year. This would efectively ban all Catholic religious orders and institutions in the United Stated, and in fact, it was learned that the mandate was specifically designed to target the Catholic Church. Welcome to the new persecution.

Antonin Scalia, Requiéscant in pace.

St. Valentine, ora pro nobis.

Saturday, February 6, 2016


So the following FB discussion took place, and I promised to post a longer discussion, but as FB is not a good media for that, I have done it here on my blog. The subject is the constroversial BernieCare.

Posted on Facebook:
It’s time to join every other major nation and guarantee health care to all as a right, not a privilege. That's why my ‪#‎MedicareForAll‬ plan provides health care to ALL Americans, including the 50 million uninsured or Underinsured—the only plan that does that.
Medicare for All means no more copays, no more deductibles and no more fighting with insurance companies when they fail to pay for charges. Which means a family making $50,000 would save $5,807 a year under my #MedicareForAll plan.
I replied
1 - single payer - already failed on constitutional grounds when Obamacare wanted to do it. Why should we think Bernie will suddenly make it constitutional?
2 - same standard of care for people everywhere - um, how? works in Europe where a short ambulance ride can take you anywhere in the country - not so much in a country 4000 miles wide. Building that kind of infrastructure is incredibly expensive.
3 - Gov't could negotiate prices... it can now, but chooses not to. Look at Japan, where the gov't negotiates prices without providing the healthcare itself. BTW this is the only part of Bernie's plan that makes sense and is doable, and the least likely to actually be implemented.
The fact is whoever pays for medical treatment gets to say what medical treatment you can get. And when that decision is removed further and further from the patient, the patient has fewer choices about their own body.
and the O.P. replied (in part):
I'm one of the 29 million uninsured. I'm costing you money. I have a couple of chronic conditions that require doctors care that I do not seek out. Every time I do go to the hospital or doctor, I cost you money. I know that. You know that. 
..and with BernieCare you would cost me money whether or not you went to the hospital or doctor. This isn't really an argument for BernieCare but rather against it. But think about this. Obama promised that Obamacare would cover the 29 million (or 20, or 50 or whatever number you want to claim) uninsured. it did not.

It covered (debatably) 17 million people at a cost of $1.35 trillion. Those are the feds' own numbers, not my claim. That means Obamacare cost taxpayers $135 billion per year to cover 17 million people or $8,000 per person per year for insurance. That's not a bargain.

Now Bernie claims if we just do his plan it will cover the 29 million (or 20 or 50 or whatever numer you want to claim) and be cheaper. Why do we think it will be different? I'm reminded of the saying "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me."
...I do have some experience with both the pharmaceuticals as well as the health insurance industry. It is an absolute nightmare. What is wrong with streamlining things, what is wrong with having one or a few systems (instead of hundreds...thousands?), more efficient! What is wrong with asking everybody to put some skin in the game? What is wrong with asking those who accumulate the most to contribute their fair share?
What is wrong with streamlining things? Nothing, but making something bigger usually is the opposite of streamlining. There's an underlying assumption that if big medicine was bigger it would be cheaper. Where's the rationale for this? Big medicine is expensive today precisely because it is big.

The is such a thing as "economy of scale" - where the incremental cost of making the millionth widget is smaller than making the first one. That leads to cheap goods through mass production. The problem with applying this to everything is that not everything fits the model.

First off, medical companies (by this I mean pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, insurance companies, etc.) are already big. We're not talking handling a dozen versus a million patients, but handling ten million versus one hundred million. There simply isn't anything more to be gained by economy of scale.

What we do lose is competition and responsiveness. Here I'm going to dive briefly into the principle of subsidiarity. From Wikipedia:
Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. 
[Subsidiarity] holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. Functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Subsidiarity assumes that these human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, labor unions and other voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. "Positive subsidiarity", which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle
So I ask, does the federal government do a better job of providing health care than private industry? If we look at government health care, such as the Veterans Health Administration or Medicare, the answer is a resounding NO!

What it has done is lowered the standard of care, treated human beings as products and objects and increased costs through the roof. Why? Because, for one thing, health care regulations are being written by health care companies, not by their patients. So the system is designed to maximize profit, not level of care.

Think of it this way. If you are going to buy a car you will find the one that best suits you at the best price. If you ask a random person to buy a car from you they will buy something that suits them with no regard to what it costs you. So it inevitably is when you have someone else paying the bills.

My mother was recently hospitalized. Medicare does not pay until the patient has been an in-patient for three nights. Guess how long her stay was? Did she need to be there three nights? Did she need to be there longer? That's immaterial. The hospital did what they had to do to maximize profit - they are a business.

Everything in the system is regulated such that the practitioners have to pay for the right to practice, and for the right to be paid. The patients have to pay for the right to get medical care, but also they can only use those providers and treatments that are approved (in other words, those that have paid to play in the system). You yourself have experienced this.

Is making the system bigger, and having less control over it going to improve the situation? No, it's going to give the patient less control over what happens to them.

That's not to say all government involvement in healthcare is wrong. Look at Japan. They have a higher standard of healthcare than the US and at a much lower cost to the patient. How? Not a single payer system, but rather government regulations of consumer cost. But implementing the things that have worked in Japan would mean US big business would become less profitable. Not going to happen here without grassroots effort - and certainly not imposed by a president.
I'll be perfectly honest at this point I don't give a s*** about constitutional, the Constitution guarantees the right to life. This is about providing that right to the people who the Constitution protects this is the ultimate protection. Health care needs to be accessible to all. When you put profits in front of people the people pay the price.

How ironic. First off, you'd darn well better care about the Constitution. The Constitution is the "contract" between the people and their government, which limits the power that the government can have over the people. It doesn't guarantee right per se, but limits the governments power to trample those rights that we have.

Throw it out and you give the government unlimited power over you. You will hold to the state religion, give up your guns, your rights to control your own body, your rights to own property, speak freely, etc. And no, this is not rhetoric. If change is to come it must come through a constitutional means or we have lost the freedoms of this country. even if something you like can't be done, it's still better to have the protections of the constitution than not. Ask the Germans, the Russians etc. about how well that works.

You do realize that giving the government a monopoly on health care means that they will in fact have the power of life and death over you - and they will deny claims. Every insurance company has to - the difference being with single payer there's no alternative when they do.

Secondly, you are right. health care does need to be accessible to all, and when you put profits in front of the people the people pay the price - but what you are suggesting is doing just that - institutionalizing and strengthening a system that puts profits ahead of people.
I'm tired of one person getting an effective treatment for the same condition that somebody else has and their insurance company can deny that coverage even if it will work. 

Again, look at Japan, not Europe. Stop putting more and more power into a bigger and bigger insurance system and start looking at regulating the cost to consumer and getting rid of excessive profits.
I'm so very tired of all this political posturing and bullshit. I feel left out of the entire political system. So I'm going to vote for the wild haired Jew who's impressed me with his humanist proposals. I'm going to vote where my conscience says I should.

And surprise, I agree with you (except for the wild haired Jew part). You should be involved, you should vote your conscience. But be an informed voter. Read beyond the campaign promises and look at what's real.

Both political parties have alienated the majority of American voters by pandering to their own power. I feel left out too. We all do. And perhaps it's time to dump the failed two party system.

But here's the thing - you and I have the same goals - just different ideas of the best means to get there. Too often people (especially on social media) demonize the person as wanting "X" (immigrants, the sick, women, children, etc.) to die, because they dont' agree with a particular law or policy. I frankly am sick of this tribalism (on both sides of the fence). Let's at least presume that people are decent and if they don't want law "X" or policy "Y" it's because they have a different law or policy in mind that they think is better, not because they hate people.

When you say "what's wrong with all people getting decent health care" I say "not a thing - let's do it!" The difference is not that one of us wants good things and the other wants to stop good things, the difference is that we have different ideas about the best way to provide those good things.

I believe that the best way to provide affordable health care is to give more control to the people, not big business. I believe that the role of the government is to level the playing field so the little guy has a voice in getting goods and services, not to be the sole provider of goods and services.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Revealing Science of God

This is in response to a recent discussion on Facebook wherein an atheist claimed religion was wrong because it did not follow the scientific method. Specifically it does not admit that it might be wrong.

I wonder if this person would admit that he is wrong about religion, because he is - about Christianity, at least. Yes, there are religions that are entirely "this is the way things are because Religion™" but Christianity is not one of them. Here's what I mean:

1. Christianity is based on empirical evidence. Unlike every other religion, the basis of Christianity is a series of events that are public and were historically documented. Jesus performed miracles and taught to thousands of people. He was executed publicly and after his Resurrection continued his public ministry to thousands.

These events are documented not jus tin the Bible, but by secular historians and witnesses. We have said evidence that these events actually took place - not just by the number of people who witnessed them, but by the fact that those witness would undergo torture and death rather than rescind their testimony.

2. Christianity is based on logic. After Christ's Ascension some of the best minds over the next few hundred years teased out the logical implications of those events. The principle of "Occam's Razor" is sometimes thrown about by atheists to imply that the explanation of religion is overly complex. Yet they fail to remember that William of Ockham was a Catholic Franciscan Friar.

Attempts to dismiss Christianity based on logic arguments fall down themselves based on logical contradictions. Because it is evidence based, Christianity is the most easily falsifiable religion. And yet if you deny the basis of Christianity you come up with a problem elsewhere that requires extraordinary faith to solve.

For instance, suppose we believe the Resurrection didn't happen. Then what happened to Christ's body? Do you propose that a small group of frightened persecuted Jews were able to overcome Roman guards? All the Romans had to do to discredit the Christians was to produce the body of the man they had killed.

OK, maybe Christ didn't really die. Now you suppose that Roman executioners whose job it was to ensure the condemned were really dead, couldn't do so. And that putting a spear through someone's heart was not enough to kill him. Or, for that matter, that someone who had undergone scourging or the other tortures to which Jesus was publicly subjected to could, in three days, heal enough to walk long distance and teach people?

Every explanation leads to more difficulties than it addresses. By the application of Occam's razor Christianity is the simplest hypothesis that explains observed facts.

3. Science does not admit to "being wrong" either. The main objection by the original poster was that religion insists that everything it says is right, while Science™admits that it could be wrong about anything. However, this is not quite true. Yes, science admits that its explanation for phenomena could be incomplete, but it does not admit that basic scientific truths are "wrong" or changeable.

For instance, Newton formulated that force = mass times acceleration (F = ma).  It will never be the case that scientists say "oh by the way, force mass and acceleration? Not related, it turns out." We may refine the formula to be more precise under more conditions (think relativity) but those refinements better reduce to the underlying equation in the ideal case.

There are also things in Christianity that we just don't know, things that we have theories about, and things that are "settled science" (like the existence of God).