Archive for July, 2016

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Friday’s political gossip

July 24, 2016

I’ll be surprised (very pleasantly) if this happens. So for what it’s worth.

Will Jeb Bush Endorse Gary Johnson for President?

Rumors are spreading that Gary Johnson is joining to receive support from some previous presidential hopefuls. (Getty)

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate might be getting public support from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, both Republicans who have unsuccessfully run for the White House. […]

Via Ricky Campbell and Matt Welch

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Libertarians in politics

July 18, 2016

I ran across a couple of opinion pieces in the last couple of days about Libertarians in national politics. This first one’s by Kevin Williamson. I usually enjoy his pieces even when I don’t agree with them – but I have no big argument with this one. (My emphasis below.)

How’s that ‘libertarian moment’ working out?

Las Vegas — Yeah, I told you so.

As the presidential campaign season kicked off, many of my friends and colleagues insisted that the United States was having a “libertarian moment.” I thought otherwise, and argued (in Politico) that the admirable Senator Rand Paul, the closest thing to an out-and-out libertarian with any currency in mainstream political circles, would have a hard time seeking the Republican nomination not in spite of his libertarianism but because of it. The idea that Americans are closet libertarians who desire a regime of economic liberalism and a hands-off approach to social questions is not supported by the evidence. […]

I am writing from FreedomFest, the annual Las Vegas gathering of libertarians ranging from those we’d recognize as ordinary conservatives to the Libertarian-party types, goldbugs, marijuana obsessives, and the rest of the merry liberty-movement pranksters. The discussions have ranged from libertarianism in the Islamic world to Black Lives Matters to New Hampshire secession, a subject that may be of some interest to my fellow Texans.

The conversations here are familiar: The proponents of free people and free markets have a “branding problem,” and, if we could only figure out the right words to say in the right order, then people would flock to our banner. At the Planet Hollywood hotel and casino, a famous libertarian activist sweeps his hand over the adult video games, the burlesque dancers at the Heart Bar, the people wandering around with foot-high daiquiri glasses and says: “Hopefully, the whole world will soon look like this.”

And we libertarians wonder why we’re losing. […]

The complexity of the real world exceeds what can be adequately addressed by our ideologies, and the variety of real human beings — and real human experience — means that there are real differences in basic, fundamental values. Most people do not want their values to be tolerated — they want their values to prevail. The terrorists in Nice and Orlando are not fighting for toleration. Neither are the neo-socialists now migrating from the Sanders camp to the Clinton camp or the Trumpkins who are sure that their frustrations and disappointments are being artificially and maliciously inflicted on them by a nefarious elite. And that’s why we are not having a libertarian moment, but a nationalist-socialist moment.

I told you so.

Yep. The "let live" part seems to be a lot harder for many than the "live" part.

This second one’s by Kristin Tate, who has a different take on the cause of Libertarians’ problems.

Libertarians’ Big Problem (and How to Fix It)

As purveyor of The Libertarian Chick, I have discovered that it is impossible to please all of my fans. Over the years I have gotten cranky emails from readers who call me “The Tea Party Chick,” “The Republican Chick,” “Democrat Chick,” “hippie chick,” among others (some are too mean to include here — my mommy reads this blog!)

It is no different on my Facebook page. When I post an article about government welfare I am a “heartless neocon”; when I express support for Ted Cruz, I am “bought out by the Republican Party”; when I post about legalizing hemp I am a “left-wing nut job.”

All this capricious griping has become the norm among the libertarian community. The mindset seems to be that if you don’t agree with every aspect of the Party platform, then you are not really a libertarian.

This stubborn purism became especially real to me after I was blocked from the official Libertarian Party Facebook page. (Yes, they blocked the Libertarian Chick! Isn’t that ironic?) After expressing an opposing opinion *GASP* to one of their vocal Admins, he kicked me off the page. Just like that.

The Libertarian Party has a big problem on its hands. The exclusive nature of the group — requiring litmus tests on such topics as immigration, tax policy, government spending and social issues — is largely why we have been unable to affect major change.

We libertarians are principled people. We have strong convictions, which is what led us to break out of the the two-party system in the first place. But clinging to these convictions without allowing any dissent is what often hinders us from actually getting anything done. […]

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Dark humor

July 17, 2016

Positively dystopian – from McSweeney’s. RTWT.

CIA MEMO RE: POKÉMON GO.

TO: execstaff@cia.gov
FROM: Office of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
RE: Great Work On Pokémon Go

CONFIDENTIAL

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone on the extremely successful rollout of Operation Pokémon GO to Raise Public Morale. I know we had to hustle to speed up this launch by several weeks from its scheduled release on September 10th but it seems to have paid off. More people have downloaded this game in the last 72 hours than have voted in every Democratic primary combined.

It seemed crazy when we floated this idea last year, between Mass Shootings #188 and #189: could “augmented reality” really distract people from regular, awful reality? We took a bold gamble that it would, and it paid off!

Thank you for giving the American public something to engage with mindlessly after two Black men and five police officers were shot in cold blood within three days. It seemed, for a fraught 48 hours, like Americans would have to engage with the news, and as past history evidences, that’s not great for us. Luckily, we can leave that discussion to the talking heads; good, ordinary Americans can find solace in locating Jigglypuffs in public spaces.

In an unprecedented threat, it seemed even Twitter and Snapchat were getting away from us: a huge number of users were seriously grappling with police brutality and racial politics. Were it not for the power of ’90s nostalgia and dynamic animation, this may have been a turning point for these platforms. I am incredibly moved to see Twitter repopulated with hilarious photos of Pokémon in inopportune places, like a frying pan. […]

H.T. Paul B

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Directions

July 16, 2016

Desintations

Thanks to Jeff G

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This has to stop

July 15, 2016

Like practically everyone who wasn’t there, I don’t know the details about the recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. What I do know is that it seems outrageous to pull someone over for a taillight problem and then shoot him dead.

Was there any possible justification for the shooting in that case? I expect we’ll hear a lot of excuses but I’ll bet we never hear a respectable reason for it. (FWIW, my guess is that the Minnesota shooting was due to a lack of trigger discipline.)

So let’s hear from a couple of people who’ve been there & done that. First, U.S. Senator Tim Scott (S.C.) talks about his experiences with police (in Washington, D.C., I assume).

Tim Scott Shares Personal Stories as a Black Man of ‘Frustration’ with Cops

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) revealed today that he’s been stopped seven times in the past year by law enforcement for “trivial” reasons in a highly personal speech focusing on experiences of black men and police stops.

Scott called it his “most difficult” floor speech of the week because “it’s the most personal.”

The senator said most police “have two things on their minds: protect and serve.”

However, he added, “we do have serious issues that must be resolved” — the “deep divide” between the black community and law enforcement in many cities, “a trust gap” and “tension that has been growing for decades.”

“And as a family, one American family, we cannot ignore these issues.”

Stressing that Americans should be “thankful” for the good job most police officers do, Scott added that “some do not” do a good job. […]

“These are people lost forever. Fathers, brothers, sons. Some will say and maybe even scream, ‘But they had criminal records! They were criminals! They spent time in jail!’ And while having a record should not sentence you to death, I say, OK then — I will share with you some of my own experiences or the experiences of good friends or other professionals.” […]

“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers,” Scott said. “…Was I speeding sometimes? Sure.” Scott held up two fingers. “But the vast majority of time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial.” […]

Next some spot on commentary from The Atlantic. If we citizens allow the police to get away with murder — as we do, both literally and too frequently — then we ought to expect that we’ll reap the whirlwind.

The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence
By ignoring illegitimate policing, America has also failed to address the danger this illegitimacy poses to those who must do the policing.
TA-NEHISI COATES JUL 12, 2016 POLITICS

Last month, the Obama administration accused Donald Trump of undercutting American legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Trump’s call to ban Muslims wasn’t just morally wrong, according to Vice President Joe Biden, it called “into question America’s status as the greatest democracy in the history of the world.” President Obama followed Biden by asserting that Trump’s rhetoric “doesn’t reflect our democratic ideals,” saying “it will make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims.” His point was simple—wanton discrimination in policy and rhetoric undercuts American legitimacy and fuels political extremism. […]

Last week, 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson murdered five police officers in Dallas. This abhorrent act of political extremism cannot be divorced from American history—recent or old. In black communities, the police departments have only enjoyed a kind of quasi-legitimacy. That is because wanton discrimination is definitional to the black experience, and very often it is law enforcement which implements that discrimination with violence. A community consistently subjected to violent discrimination under the law will lose respect for it, and act beyond it. When such actions stretch to mass murder it is horrific. But it is also predictable. […]

What does it mean, for instance, that black children are ritually told that any stray movement in the face of the police might result in their own legal killing? When Eric Holder spoke about getting “The Talk” from his father, and then giving it to his own son, many of us nodded our heads. But many more of us were terrified. When the nation’s top cop must warn his children to be skeptical of his own troops, how legitimate can the police actually be?

And it is not as if Holder is imagining things. When the law shoots down 12-year-old children, or beats down old women on traffic islands, or chokes people to death over cigarettes; when the law shoots people over compact discs, traffic stops, drivers’ licenses, loud conversation, or car trouble; when the law auctions off its monopoly on lethal violence to bemused civilians, when these civilians then kill, and when their victims are mocked in their death throes; when people stand up to defend police as officers of the state, and when these defenders are killed by these very same officers; when much of this is recorded, uploaded, live-streamed, tweeted, and broadcast; and when government seems powerless, or unwilling, to stop any of it, then it ceases, in the eyes of citizens, to be any sort of respectable law at all. It simply becomes “force.”

Finally, a white man’s view in the the Los Angeles Times. I’m not usually interested in "conservative" vs. "liberal" comparisons but this op-ed makes some good points despite those.

The conservative principle behind Black Lives Matter

It seems almost ghoulish to look for a silver lining in the dark cloud that blanketed the nation last week. But I think there was one. The killings by police in Minnesota and Louisiana, quickly followed by killings of police in Dallas, knocked the lazy certainty out of almost everybody.

At least for a moment, antagonists on either side of polarizing issues could see beyond the epistemic horizon of their most comfortable talking points. Black Lives Matter activists thanked the police for their protection and sacrifice. Conservative Republicans, most notably Speaker Paul Ryan and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, spoke movingly about race in America. Gun rights activists were dismayed that Philando Castille, the man shot by a police officer in Minneapolis, had followed all of the rules – he had a gun permit, cooperated with the officer, etc. – and was still killed. Liberals who insist that rhetoric from their political opponents inspires violence were forced to consider whether rhetoric from their allies might have helped inspire the shooter in Dallas.

It was a welcome change. “National conversations” are usually efforts to bully everyone into accepting a single narrative when the reality is that, in this country of more than 300 million, many narratives can be in conflict and still be legitimate. […]

I doubt the humility we’ve seen this week will last, but that it emerged at all is a source of hope.

I don’t know the root of this problem and I don’t have a solution. But it’s important that people realize that there really is a problem.

I regularly drive past a business that put up a sign this week (with a couple of small American flags, natch) reading, "We support and thank our police." That’s fine; I’m glad we have police forces too. But the sign made no mention of those who’d been kill by police.

That’s an injustice. If I owned land nearby, I’d put up my own sign as a memorial to the civilian victims of the police.


Update (July 17th):
Here’s a good video I found by "Mike the Cop", who’s part of Humanizing the Badge. So to keep a little perspective, here’s Mike:

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The future’s so bright…

July 15, 2016

dont-pokemon

Via Instapundit. ‘Heh’, as he likes to say.

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Are you fated to read this?

July 11, 2016

Several weeks ago, I came across this article at The Atlantic.

There’s No Such Thing as Free Will
But we’re better off believing in it anyway.

"Another report about fMRI," I thought and, sure enough, that’s what it turned out to be. I assumed it would be another exercise in jumping to a conclusion. But see for yourself.

What really piqued my interest was this paragraph from that article:

In another study, for instance, Vohs and colleagues measured the extent to which a group of day laborers believed in free will, then examined their performance on the job by looking at their supervisor’s ratings. Those who believed more strongly that they were in control of their own actions showed up on time for work more frequently and were rated by supervisors as more capable. In fact, belief in free will turned out to be a better predictor of job performance than established measures such as self-professed work ethic.

I’m not sure why the author (or the researchers) think this demonstrates that free will is illusory. I’d say it shows the contrary. Want to be well-regarded at work? Get yer ass outta bed and get ‘er done, son. And who cares how belief in free will correlates to belief in "self-professed work ethic"? Those could be two facets of the same character trait, IMO.

I’ve always had some fundamental problems with reports that fMRI studies show that free will doesn’t exist based on the timing of events in the brain.

I’ve never studied neuroscience. But I have debugged any number of race conditions in software. My take-away from those is that it’s usually very difficult to tell what’s cause and what’s effect until you’ve solved the problem completely: that is, until you can describe all the states and their interactions in sufficient detail to prove your point. Just modeling those things can be a difficult first step.

I was pretty sure (and still am) that the fMRI guys couldn’t do that for human brains.

But back to the news… Last week, I came across this article at The Register (a U.K.-based geek site).

fMRI bugs could upend years of research
This is what your brain looks like on bad data

A whole pile of “this is how your brain looks like” fMRI-based science has been potentially invalidated because someone finally got around to checking the data.

The problem is simple: to get from a high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging scan of the brain to a scientific conclusion, the brain is divided into tiny “voxels”. Software, rather than humans, then scans the voxels looking for clusters.

When you see a claim that “scientists know when you’re about to move an arm: these images prove it”, they’re interpreting what they’re told by the statistical software.

Now, boffins from Sweden and the UK have cast doubt on the quality of the science, because of problems with the statistical software: it produces way too many false positives. […]

"Oh ho," I thought. "Let’s google this one more time…" And that search turned up this very interesting article.

Neuroscience and Free Will Are Rethinking Their Divorce

Back in the 1980s, the American scientist Benjamin Libet made a surprising discovery that appeared to rock the foundations of what it means to be human. He recorded people’s brain waves as they made spontaneous finger movements while looking at a clock, with the participants telling researchers the time at which they decided to waggle their fingers. Libet’s revolutionary finding was that the timing of these conscious decisions was consistently preceded by several hundred milliseconds of background preparatory brain activity (known technically as “the readiness potential”).

The implication was that the decision to move was made nonconsciously, and that the subjective feeling of having made this decision is tagged on afterward. In other words, the results implied that free will as we know it is an illusion — after all, how can our conscious decisions be truly free if they come after the brain has already started preparing for them? […]

It’s all science. And science is rarely as "settled" as non-technical people think it should be.

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Here’s a good question

July 11, 2016

…in case you’ve been thinking "police state" is just a figure of speech.

Jeff sends a link to this op-ed from the Wall Street Journal. (My emphasis.)

Why Does the IRS Need Guns?

Special agents at the IRS equipped with AR-15 military-style rifles? Health and Human Services “Special Office of Inspector General Agents” being trained by the Army’s Special Forces contractors? The Department of Veterans Affairs arming 3,700 employees?

The number of non-Defense Department federal officers authorized to make arrests and carry firearms (200,000) now exceeds the number of U.S. Marines (182,000). In its escalating arms and ammo stockpiling, this federal arms race is unlike anything in history. Over the last 20 years, the number of these federal officers with arrest-and-firearm authority has nearly tripled to over 200,000 today, from 74,500 in 1996.

What exactly is the Obama administration up to?

On Friday, June 17, our organization, American Transparency, is releasing its OpenTheBooks.com oversight report on the militarization of America. The report catalogs federal purchases of guns, ammunition and military-style equipment by seemingly bureaucratic federal agencies. During a nine-year period through 2014, we found, 67 agencies unaffiliated with the Department of Defense spent $1.48 billion on guns and ammo. Of that total, $335.1 million was spent by agencies traditionally viewed as regulatory or administrative, such as the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Mint.

Some examples of spending from 2005 through 2014 raise the question: Who are they preparing to battle? […]

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Wait… you mean it’s not supposed to be rigged?

July 6, 2016

I don’t get too excited by political scandals. The large majority of them seem to be much ado about very little. But there are exceptions proving this rule, of course. I recall the day Richard Nixon left the White House. He wasn’t tarred and feathered… maybe because it would have been too good for him.

I’ll be very surprised, though, if the way Secretary Clinton and her staff handled e-mail correspondence was even a tenth as serious as Nixon’s crimes. Barring a revelation that the Clinton Foundation has profited from information Ms. Clinton leaked via insecure servers (always possible, I suppose) or some foreign government publishing emails that had been hacked from her servers (also possible), this looks like a bad decision made by a technically illiterate boss. And that’s hardly news; I mean, how many times does that happen?

Nonetheless, what the Secretary & staff did are accused of doing (and have kinda, sorta admitted doing) violated Federal law. Clinton rebuts FBI charge of recklessness, by the way.

So the contrast between how Ms. Clinton’s case has been handled and how Federal prosecutions of ordinary citizens are handled is striking. Innocent-until-proven-guilty applies to politicians too, so we’d need to wait for a judge or jury to convict her before we could say she’s guilty. But that can never happen if she’s never prosecuted, can it? The process was short-circuited in her favor.

As an example, here’s how the FBI treated a similar case last year for someone who wasn’t so favored. Folsom Naval Reservist is Sentenced After Pleading Guilty to Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Materials.

And here’s an editorial from today’s Wall Street Journal. (My emphasis below.)

Jim Comey’s Clinton Standard
He shows how she broke the law then rationalizes no indictment.

For our money, the most revealing words in FBI Director James Comey’s statement Tuesday explaining his decision not to recommend prosecuting Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information were these: “This is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.”

So there it is in the political raw: One standard exists for a Democratic candidate for President and another for the hoi polloi. We’re not sure if Mr. Comey, the erstwhile Eliot Ness, intended to be so obvious, but what a depressing moment this is for the American rule of law. No wonder so many voters think Washington is rigged for the powerful. […]

Yep. Secretary Clinton violated the letter of the law in several occasions… no biggie. But don’t you dare get caught doing that.

Here’s a clip called the Email Scandal Supercut from Reason TV. Nice juxtaposition.

For reference, FBI Director Comey’s full press conference.

But the best question I saw about this was Warren Meyer’s. (My emphasis again.)

Hillary Clinton and “Intent” — Can the Rest Of Us Get A Mens Rea Defense From Prosecution?

Yesterday, the FBI said that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted because, though she clearly violated laws about management of confidential information, she had no “intent” to do so. Two thoughts […]

If politicians are going to grant each other a strong mens rea (guilty mind or criminal intent) requirements for criminal prosecution, then politicians need to give this to the rest of us as well. Every year, individuals and companies are successfully prosecuted for accidentally falling afoul of some complex and arcane Federal law. Someone needs to ask Hillary where she stands on Federal mens rea reform.

If you’re not familiar with the term mens rea, follow the link at the end of that snippet. Basically, los Federales can prosecute you for crimes without having to show that you intended to commit a crime or that you were even aware that you’d committed one.

Here’s an example (from this post):

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Happy Independence Day

July 4, 2016

NASA’s Juno Probe Just Made It Safely Into Jupiter’s Orbit

AT 11:54 PM Eastern tonight, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California erupted into cheers. No ooohs and aaaahs at fireworks displays here: The team of engineers had just received confirmation that their intrepid space probe, Juno, has successfully made its way into Jupiter’s orbit.

That maneuver, a 35-minute burn that began at 11:18 pm Eastern tonight, was the culmination of a five-year journey through space and many more years of work from the JPL team.

Juno has been whizzing toward Jupiter since it left Earth on August 5, 2011. And these 35 minutes have always been the 35 most perilous moments since launch. Juno had to turn on its engines precisely 2,609 miles away from Jupiter to get into position. If it didn’t slow down enough, the probe would go right past Jupiter, missing its target. At just the right speed, it would sync up with Jupiter’s gravity. […]

To make this even more of a nail-biter, signals from Jupiter take almost 49 minutes to reach Earth. That means by the time NASA got the signal that Juno had started slowing down, the probe had already slowed down enough to enter Jupiter’s orbit. If something went wrong, there’s no remote fix — and no way to know until after it’s all over. […]

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