and when I say devil, I mean the manifestation of doubt

Here’s a list of stupid things that I do out of principle.

1. Boycott Sony. Sony mixes evil and stupid together in a way that astounds me when I’m not retching from it.

No matter what you think of the nature of online file-sharing, you have to agree that Sony’s steps in combating it have gone past the draconian and into the actively spiteful. Sony’s attorneys have advanced the argument, in court, that copying a music file to your computer, WITHOUT distributing it, is the same as stealing it. Sony surreptitiously installed rootkits on personal computers which secretly transmitted data back to the company, then brazenly refused to apologize when caught (“most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?”). And Sony has been stodgily maintaining useless proprietary hardware for years.

This is probably the least stupid item of the three. There’s nothing dumb about refusing to give money to an evil corporation that makes garbage products. And furthermore, it seems to have worked: Sony’s projecting a $2,920,000,000 loss for the current fiscal year. But Sony’s a really big company, and my lone boycott’s not going to change their ways. It still counts.

2. Boycott Kellogg’s. This is a recent one, and I had to polish off a box of Club crackers in the pantry before I could start this one. But ever since Kellogg’s severed their sponsorship deal with Michael Phelps (after pictures of him smoking pot surfaced in tabloids), I’ve decided that Kellogg’s isn’t getting my money.

First off, what Seth said:

Second, and I’m paraphrasing Radley Balko here, the most successful human swimmer in the history of the Olympics smokes pot. Rational people, on hearing this, would re-examine their convictions about drug use (“hmm – I guess marijuana isn’t the career-killing, brain-wrecking, body-shattering toxin I was led to believe”). Irrational people would cling to their fervently held myths. They would insist on punishing the transgressor, because his misbehavior might “set a bad example,” inspiring millions of children to smoke pot and then turn into disgusting slobs, even though the very example Phelps sets means that that ain’t so.

(Now, in spite of my better judgment, I have faith in the attitudes of most educated Americans. Since about forty percent of Americans have tried pot, I suspect most of us know that the War on Weed is ridiculous. Even if people don’t believe that genuinely harmless behavior should be made legal and left alone, they think of pot as laughable and goofy, not poisonous and life-ending. Oh, those potheads. But there’s still a significant, shrill minority that wants to ruin the lives of people who consume a drug that’s less harmful than alcohol. And those are the idiots to whom Kellogg’s catered by publicly shaming Phelps. So that’s why they won’t see another dollar of mine)

Now, this boycott is demonstrably stupid. Unlike Sony, Kellogg’s has a workable business model – no one’s going to go bankrupt making salty snacks for Americans. But I’m sticking with this one, too.

3. Refuse to Show ID for Allergy Meds. This is the dumbest of the three, and probably the stupidest thing I do.

Last week, I tried to fill a scrip for Allegra-D that my doctor had written for me. The tech made some phone calls, double-checked my insurance information in confusion, and then called over the pharmacist to talk to the insurer. They chatted on the phone for a bit.

“Your insurer’s no longer covering it,” he finally told me. “They recommend getting the over-the-counter equivalent.”

I can get the generic equivalent of Allegra-D at any pharmacy in the U.S. It will be just as potent as the stuff I could (up until recently) get on prescription. And it’ll only cost a little more than I would have spent on a health insurance co-pay. All I need to do is get a little card from the rows of drug meds, walk to the pharmacist counter, and exchange the card for a bottle of Sudafed or Claritin-D. After presenting my driver’s license.

I won’t do it.

You used to be able to buy Claritin-D without showing a government photo ID, if you recall, but the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 changed that. Because pseudoephedrine – a powerful decongestant – can be used to cook up some crank, you now have to present ID when buying it. This will supposedly diminish meth production (even though it hasn’t).

This shouldn’t bother me, right? After all, I’m not a drug dealer, and I have no guilty intentions.

First off, that’s a variation of “if you’re not guilty, you don’t have anything to hide,” a disgusting maxim that’s been used to justify every invasion of privacy from Octavius’s triumvirate to the PATRIOT Act. And second, it’s not even true. You can get arrested and convicted for buying large quantities of cold medication, period, full stop. Not for manufacturing meth. Not for intent to distribute. Simply for owning large amounts of cold meds. William Fousse was sentenced to a year of probation for such a crime. A man who bought up to the legal ration of allergy meds in a month was arrested when he bought some for his child. This is not paranoia; this has already happened to real human beings.

This is a useless law that will not produce results, and with which compliance merely facilitates a charade. I will have nothing to do with it.

Now here’s why this boycott of mine is stupid.

Go back to the top of #3 and read the beginning again. I was going to a pharmacy to fill a scrip for Allegra-D. In order to get that prescription at co-pay cost (instead of $156, and what does it say of American health care that I’d only be paying one-fourth of that if I had health insurance?), I had to present my insurance information. The pharmacist had to verify this with the insurance company, creating a record of my name, my home address, my date of birth, my employer, etc.

In other words, I had no problem giving the pharmacist an ID to fill out a prescription. But I have irreconcilable problems giving the pharmacist an ID to buy over-the-counter meds.

I know this is a rather silly little contradiction. I know that my diminishing stockpile of pre-2006 pseudoephedrine and my stubborn refusal to take care of my allergies won’t change the law. It won’t make things harder on Pfizer, or the FDA, or the DEA. I’ll live a stuffier and more inconvenient life until I die, or the law changes, or pseudoephedrine is banned outright.

That’s what principle makes me do.

rappenin’ is what’s happenin’

I’m abandoning political discussion for a while. Looking back over the tone of my political entries, you could charitably call them “condescending” and justifiably label them “assholish.” If someone talked about the Ravens with half the venom that I devote to the Ruling Party, I’d spit on them. And lots of people like the Ruling Party. So I’m trying to soften up.

But I need to get it out of my system.

So in the future, if the Ruling Party raises the minimum wage or the Opposition Party subsidizes the auto industry, and you’re dying to know what I think about it, and years of reading my impotent snarling hasn’t given you a hint, then you can reference this post. If you’re happy not hearing me talk about issues I don’t vote on, then skip this.

What I Believe: The Short Version

  • Ninety percent of what Paul Krugman or Thomas Friedman write is bullshit.
  • One hundred percent of what Lou Dobbs says is bullshit.
  • Anyone who wants to improve the lot of poor people or minorities in the U.S. whose first suggestion isn’t “Decriminalize marijuana” doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
  • Not only is torture immoral, the fact that the U.S. reached a point where that was even up for debate is sickening.
  • Sending U.S. citizens tremendous distances at great expense to kill foreign citizens is wrong. Let’s not even get into the debate over whether or not it’s effective (at what?) or justified (by whom? to whom?). It’s just bad.
  • Siccing federal agencies on giant corporations will not make giant corporations more honest.
  • Any legislation passed to prevent the “terror of the week” – whether it’s shark attacks, school shootings, online sex predators, shoe bombers or hurricanes – is a bad idea.
  • Printing money doesn’t make us richer.
  • Neither the Opposition Party nor the Ruling Party are uniquely dumb. They have particular flavors of ignorance depending on current voting blocs. If you’re tired of your party’s religious fundamentalism or weak-willed centrism, just wait twenty years.

The cheat sheet above should handle most of the news cycle for the next two to three years. What follows are some more abstract (read: boring) ramblings on broader political / ethical philosophy. I will probably make updates to the following as ideas come to me, so you may want to check back. Or ignore it and move on.

Continue reading

it’s not a habit, it’s cool; I feel alive

In part of a slow effort to improve my productivity, I cut myself off from as many political weblogs as possible over the last month or so. I refused to let myself get drawn into the minutiae that amateur pundits obsess over (OMG Palin’s expensive wardrobe! WTF Obama socialism!), because I knew it would only make me angry.

But I had a few minutes to kill on Monday morning so, in a moment of weakness, I revisited IOZ.

Oh, sweet mother of Motown, that felt good.

From Moving to Montana Soon:

If the election of Barack Obama makes America “socialist,” then this blog makes me Tom fucking Clancy. I mean, here you have a dude who basically says he’s going to tinker a little bit with the marginal tax rate and try to close some corporate loopholes (yeah, uh, bon chance, yo), but who otherwise promises to invade Syria and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran and the Moon and Kupier Belt, to expand the death penalty to include absentee fatherism, and to have the NSA eavesdrop on everyone in the universe. Ohmigod, America has been taken over by a dude who believes in American primacy and hegemony, who calls Israel our double-super-BFF-forever, who embraces a narrative of National Greatness that should give Canadian bagman David Frum the biggest only hard-on he’s ever had. Are we really in for four years of the chest-puffing closet cases of the putative right trying to convince us that a Wilsonian is some kind of crypto-Leninist?

From Phallibertarians:

Male libertarians who denigrate the pervading social constraints on women and people of minority racial groups and people with less common sexual predilections–i.e., most male libertarians–do so because their ideology is grumpy and reactionary; it is forged of the same stuff as crybaby conservativism; its concerns with genuine liberty are purely tactical, and entirely personal. These scattershot beliefs, which consist principally of disliking taxes, regretting surveillance, and smoking weed hardly constitute a political identity at all. Sometimes they involve opposition to imperialism abroad; sometimes not. They’re the reason libertarianism in general is routinely mocked as a kind of solipsism: it is!

[…]

Many, many self-identified libertarians are in fact bourgeois white men firmly ensconced in a patriarchal heteronormative social order that they fundamentally do not wish to change.

Holy hell, my hands are shaking. Someone keep me away from the devil in that needle because, after the two weeks leading up to this past election, this shit got me hooked again.

I ran like a cheetah with thoughts of an assassin

Observed in Target this past Thursday: a scruffy white guy in his late-20s with an oversized sweatshirt, depicting one of Snow White’s dwarves giving a fist jab to the Grim Reaper, under the motto “COUSINS.” I stared unabashedly at the guy until I recognized the dwarf as Sleepy, and then I was like, oh, yeah. I would have totally given him the cool nod, but it took me five minutes to make this connection.

* * *

Another Target observation: some commentators blame the current credit crisis on Alan Greenspan’s loose monetary policies encouraging easy lending. Some blame it on Fannie Mae’s decision to ease credit restrictions for home loans back in 1999. Both of these are correct, but I’d like to suggest an additional culprit: the fact that you don’t have to sign for credit card purchases under $20 with most cards.

When did that happen? I know I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. I think it only happens at the larger chains – Shaw’s Groceries, CVS, Target, etc – but it’s started to expand. The cashier rung me up for $3.50 worth of generic wet-naps*, and I swiped my card faster than it would have taken me to pull out four singles and get change.

If I ever steal a credit card – and with your continued readership, it shouldn’t become necessary, hint hint – I’m going to rack up a string of $19.99 purchases all across Boston. I figure I could get away with it for days before anyone noticed. And the useful things you could get for less than $20 would surprise you.

* * *

In last Friday’s post about why I don’t understand a mandatory 30-hour work week, a few misconceptions surfaced (over on LJ, not here). So, to clear those up:


  • Yes, of course, only rich people have the choice between time and money.** Poor people – and I mean the genuinely poor, folks for whom the necessities are still touch and go – don’t have this to worry about. People with existing financial obligations, like children or debt, don’t have this choice to make. This is certainly true. And you know what? A law mandating that they can only work 30 hours per week would fuck them.

  • My blithe dismissal of the notion – “if you want more time, choose more time; if you want more money, choose more money” – isn’t a Four Hour Work Week thing. I was that kind of an asshole long before I picked that book up; that much should be obvious.

* Best way to wipe off fake blood, like the kind I’m covered with every night in Gorefest. Get your tickets today!

** “Rich” by the standards of either the planet or history, meaning: anyone reading this right now.

and they showed me a world where I could be so dependable

Here’s why I don’t do well at political talk.

I read a pretty interesting article on how America can fix its health care system (c/o hugh_mannity). It brings up a lot of interesting points – Americans spend more per year than any other industrialized country on health care, but American life expectancy and infant mortality are abysmal, blah blah. Some interesting suggestions surface; I nod at some, shrug at others.

Then I get to this one:

Americans tend to work longer hours than people in other rich countries. Europeans, for example, work 300-350 fewer hours each year on average. Laws guarantee them sufficient time off, including a minimum of four weeks of paid vacation a year, and shorter weekly working hours. This leaves them more time to select foods carefully, eat more slowly—and, as a result, eat less—while exercising and sleeping more.

My first thought: “laws? Really? That’s your first instinct – ‘there oughta be a law’?”

Taking for granted that working fewer hours per year would improve my health – which makes sense, though I haven’t seen any studies – I have a remarkably simple solution: work fewer hours per year. I have already implemented this solution and my health, as a result, thrives. With my Economics background I could probably get a job at a major consulting firm if I wanted. I could follow the path that nearly a third of my peers have taken and enroll in law school. I could get on the management track and start supervising people. All of those paths would guarantee me a much higher paycheck. But I choose not to take them, because I like working 40 hours a week and no more.

This mindset has baffled me for about a decade now: the incomplete syllogism of “something bothers me; ergo, it should be illegal.” If something bothers you, quit doing it! I’m not talking about harmless things that other people do but which you can rationalize as “harmful,” like gay marriage or smoking weed or teaching kids that evolution is a fraud. That’s a whole other argument. Rather, I’m talking about behaviors that you have total control over, like the kind of food that you eat or how many hours you work.

I don’t want to imply that the law has no effect on health, mind you. The article I linked above talks about some changes to the law which would undoubtedly improve American health, like ending sugar subsidies. But even there I can feel my enthusiasm starting to wane. Why do I care about “American” health? America is a continent full of strangers. I have a hard time getting worked up about changes that don’t affect the hundred-odd people I know personally and care about (my monkeysphere, if you will).

Maybe that’s just me, though.

teach your children well

I don’t know that I’m a very good libertarian.

Sure, I talk a good game about free market economics fixing everything, order arising from chaos, and middle class uprising. I read the best libertarian weblogs – Unqualified Offerings, Julian Sanchez, Will Wilkinson, Reason’s Hit and Run, Radley Balko, and I’m sure there are others. I make sneering references to what, in my eyes, are gross and obvious similarities between the two major American political parties. If anyone can lay a claim to being libertarian, I can.

But I have this tiny problem: I cannot stand weird people.

Liberty, in any meaningful sense, requires a healthy tolerance for different people so long as they’re not hurting or threatening you. If I advocate freedom of speech “except for, y’know, racists and fundamentalists and obvious wackos,” I’m not really advocating freedom of speech. I’m advocating for protecting the speaking rights of People I Like. Defending freedom of speech means defending the right for people to blare the most illiterate hate. Even if you disagree with it. Hell, especially if you disagree with it.

Now expand the principle outward from just speech into all aspects of life. Freedom means gambling. Freedom means drug use. Freedom means buggery. Freedom means fundamentalists homeschooling their children about how God created the universe in six days. Freedom means filthy, offensive, hateful music. Freedom means fat SUVs with window-shaking stereos. Freedom means trans fats.

Pick something you absolutely hate, so long as it doesn’t entail a gun pointed at your face. Concentrate on it for a minute; hold it in your mind until you start to feel repelled by your own brain. In a free society, someone, somewhere, is doing that hateful thing and getting off on it.

I went off on this rant because of a line I read in an Eliezer Yudkowsky post the other day (it’s an excellent post in its own right; go read it):

And there are islands of genuine tolerance in the world, such as science fiction conventions.

This stopped me dead in my tracks, because a sci-fi convention remains my personal vision of Hell. Fat bearded men in stormtrooper costumes. Pasty girls with too much eye makeup speaking in Olde Englishe. Yaoi. Yiffies. Monty Python quotes. Vampire LARPs. Body odor.

I’m supposed to be cool with that. And I am, I think. So long as it happens in the cloisters of a Holiday Inn convention room far, far away from me. I don’t believe that, given the power, I would use some form of physical or social coercion to lock those type of people in a cage. At least I hope I wouldn’t. Let’s all pray I’m never put in that position.

Then again, I don’t think I’m alone. The human species isn’t programmed for universal tolerance. It’s programmed for an us-vs-them mentality. Identify and bond with the hundred or so members of your Monkeysphere; don’t trust anyone else. Tolerating harmless differences may make for a better society, but it doesn’t come naturally. Nobody loves everybody.

I hesitated to call myself “libertarian” for years because of that term’s conflation with the Libertarian Party. I don’t think libertarians have any future as a Party. I realized this paradox about five or six years ago: if the American people naturally prefer freedom, then why have they been voting the opposite way for two and a quarter centuries? and if the American people do not naturally prefer freedom, what the hell chance does the LP have?

The answer, pretty clearly, is that no American – or really, no human being – wants freedom in the absolute sense. Sure, we talk about it in glowing terms, but nobody really wants to see Klansmen, Flat Earthers and fecal fetishists on the street while walking to the store. What we want is a certain package of rights and privileges for ourselves, our friends and family, and the social class with which we identify. The rich want lower capital gains taxes; the middle class want to deduct mortgage interest; the poor want income tax credit.

That’s why I don’t vote Libertarian – and of course, absenting them, why I don’t vote at all. If we define economics as the science of allocating scarce resources to unlimited wants, we might define politics as the science of allocating the tools for power to the unlimited desire for power. If you approach this game as a libertarian – someone who does not believe that human society should be shaped by a minority with power – then who do you side with? The folks who want to take away your freedom (to get breast implants, smoke cigarettes and eat greasy food), or the folks who want to take away your freedom (to have pre-marital sex, smoke marijuana and harvest stem cells)?

Nobody will ever campaign on the platform of Having Less Power. Theoretically, we can figure this one out from our armchairs: if someone genuinely didn’t want power, they wouldn’t be running for office. Empirically, we only need to take a look at all of recorded human history, from Enkidu vs Gilgamesh to the 2006 Congressional elections. The Opposition Party might want power for ends that you consider benevolent; these are the Good Guys. The Ruling Party might use its power for ends that you consider malevolent; that makes them the Bad Guys. But nobody ever conquered a tribe, started a coup or ran for office because they didn’t want power at all.

That includes John McCain. That includes Barack Obama. That includes included Ron Paul.

So maybe I’m not a very good libertarian. Maybe I still daydream about what I’d do if I became Dictator Of The World. Maybe I want my enemies punished and my friends rewarded with the force of law. Maybe I want power. But I can’t fault myself for being a bad libertarian if the fault comes from just being human. As Schopenhauer (supposedly) put it: a man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills.

I haven’t figured out what to do yet. But at least I know what not to do, and voting’s still on that list.

P.S. You see that? You see how I started out with “here’s what’s wrong with me” and slowly morphed it into a “here’s what’s wrong with all of you people” by the end? that’s some 70th-level blogging right there.

P.P.S. I did warn you.