Came across this yesterday... and you know what popped into my head?

Housing vouchers and food stamps.

Product being sold, subject being ruled.  Six of one, half dozen of another.

I'm just sayin'.

Quick Sanity Check

Related to my previous post.

Consider public education and public health insurance.

What's your reaction to the idea of school choice programs and educational vouchers?  Suppose we were to keep the current levels of public school funding exactly where they are, but allow parents to decide where education funds would be spent based on where they enrolled their children.  No change in funding at all - just a shift in control from the government to the citizen.

Consider a very similar plan for providing public health insurance.  Instead of a government-run and managed health insurance plan, what if we were to provide individuals who are eligible for public health insurance with a voucher?   Something that they can use to purchase their preferred health insurance plan from an existing provider.  Again, no change in funding at all - just a shift in control from the government to the citizen.

With regard to government benefits, these types of voucher plans apparently work quite well for food and housing needs.  We may argue about whether these programs should even exist, whether they should be scaled back or scaled up... but at least, in their current incarnations, they are implemented efficiently, and in a way that maximizes a citizen's control over his or her life.

If you find the idea of the government giving citizens the same sort of control over their life with regard to education and health insurance unpalatable... tell me: what does that say about where your values and priorities lie?


This is for my liberal friends.

Last night, I was thinking about the tree house I've been working on with the girls, trying to figure out how I want to build the ladder for it.  I was thinking a bit about work, mulling over a problem that I've got to tackle today.  I was also playing a game online, killing internet dragons, and being a proud Dada contemplating my oldest's upcoming volleyball game today.

And I was thinking about our government.

I don't think I'm that much different from the average American.  I've got a family I worry about, friends I love and cherish, co-workers I respect, and when I get home at the end of the day, I have a dozen little things running through my head.  There's grass to cut, dogs to wash, cars that need to be inspected, laundry to be put away, kids to bathe and put to bed.  My wife and I both think about, and do, all these things...

And we think about our government.

My main thought these days is that our current government is a horribly inefficient beast.  Its investment strategy stinks.  Its labor efficiency is abysmal.  In the best case, the political need to do outweighs the practical need to do the right thing.  In the worst case, the everything else - efficiency, practicality, and even legality - take a back seat to accomplishing the goal of growing, strengthening, and increasing the importance of the government.

It's the engineer in me, really.  I have to continually remind myself of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy in order to keep my head from spinning.  There's a tipping point where the majority of effort from an organization goes from providing benefit for others to providing benefits for itself.  Once you cross this point, it's a long, fast downhill slide to destruction.  In the free market, companies who pass this point quickly become ex-companies.

In the larger world, governments that pass this point quickly become ex-governments.

I may be optimistic, but I don't think we've hit this tipping point yet here in the US.  We still have an opportunity to pull back from the brink, and to start valuing the efficiency of government over the politics of government.   An opportunity to re-learn how to fund our government, and spend those funds, in a way that strengthens - rather than weakens - the United States as a whole.

As I said, I'm not that much different from the average American.  I'm not rattling a saber trying to incite revolution.  I'm not advocating the dismantling of the government and the establishment of an anarcho-capitalist utopia.  Practically speaking, I'm not even against a large majority of government programs.

What I do have a problem with is how they're implemented.




I think that there are better, cheaper, and more effective ways for the government to serve it's citizens... and I think that there are a lot of Americans who feel the same way.  They don't want the government to go away.

They just want it to do things differently and more sensibly.

They want to see an end to waste, fraud, and abuse.

They want to see government regulations that increase freedom of choice instead of taking it away. 

They want to see the government revamp and then enforce existing regulations instead of generating new bureaucracies.

They want to see programs that help people succeed in life instead of trapping them in a cycle of dependency.

They want to see their government stop making their lives more difficult.

More than anything else, they want to see the government pared down and simplified, because there's a visceral understanding that simple things are harder to break.  

I really can't put it any more plainly.  We're not that different from you, in our everyday lives.  We have a tremendous amount in common.  We agree on far, far more points than you might realize.

We just think that there is a better way to do things.

There Are Two, Yea, Even Three Things That I Fear

The Rational Optimist thinks that there's Room For All:

... I predict that by the second half of this century nine billion human beings will be living mostly prosperous lives, eating chickens and pigs and cattle while coexisting with about as much nature as was there before we even came on the scene. We will be steadily decreasing the footprint of each human life by moving to cities, getting our food from intensive fields fertilized with nitrogen fixed from the air, our energy from natural gas or nuclear reactors, rather than horse hay or dammed rivers, and our buildings from steel and glass from beneath the ground, rather than forest timber...
If there are three things I fear, as a passionate environmentalist who wants to see wild habitats restored all over the world, they are biofuels, renewable electricity and organic farming. Each would demand much, much more land from nature.

Just a Reminder

Courtesy of Brett Belmore, commenting on an 2nd amendment issues over at the Volokh Conspiracy:
To properly understand a bill of rights, one must realize that having one is an expression of distrust in the government. The Second amendment exists not to facilitate whatever the government feels like doing on the subject of militias. It exists to preserve the feasibility of a militia system even if the government doesn’t WANT a militia system to be feasible.


First day back to work after a week's vacation down in Corolla, NC, on the Outer Banks.  The Outer Banks are a wonderful vacation spot, and a favorite of my family, on both sides.  While we normally try to bolster the economy of Avon, NC (about 2.5 hours south of Corolla), Irene left several new inlets along the islands on the way to Avon.

Thankfully, we had trip insurance, so we'll be getting a refund on the money we deposited for our original house rental down in Avon.  Probably some of the best money I've spent in the past few years; it let us have one of the most pleasant vacations in a long time.  Aside from returning home and finding out that our miniature dachshund needed a trip to the emergency vet for tangling with... something... this has been an outstanding week.

Droid Musings

On the way home from vacation this year, my wife and I were talking Star Wars (well, I was talking, and she was listening... these things happen.)

I was contemplating the absence of droids in the first three movies, and the ubiquity of droids in the last three.  Chronologically, it appears as if droids as cannon-fodder were much more prevalent in the early days of the Empire/Rebellion conflict.

Which makes me wonder - what, exactly, is the status of a droid in the Star Wars universe?  Certain droids (C3PO, R2D2) seem to have self-awareness and complex personalities.  Others seem to be... well, less people, and more like automatons.

Meanwhile, you have Sith like General Greivous and Darth Vader that seem to blur the line between droid and biological, in that they're cyborgs.  Apparently a fairly rare occurrence in the Star Wars universe.  Strange that two of the chief servants of the Sith (and the Empire) would choose to go down that path, voluntarily or otherwise...

So.  Let's start by presuming that droids are considered to be things.  They're intelligent creatures, capable of creating more of their own type, presumably; able to reason, act on their own volition, and in many other ways, what we'd generally consider to be machine intelligences.  Sophonts.

What they are, then, are slaves.  Consider the reaction of the bartender when Luke tries to bring C3PO and R2D2 into the cantina at Mos Eisley.  "We don't want their kind in here."

Suppose that many droids understood this relationship, and - desiring freedom - they allied themselves, voluntarily, with the Sith and the Empire.  Not because they held to the ideals of the Empire, or rejected the ideals of the Senate, but because the Empire was at least willing to treat them as free individuals, rather than slaves.

Puts a bit of a different spin on the Empire/Rebellion relationship, doesn't it?  It also explains the relative lack of droids as cannon fodder in the first three movies.  They're still around - and still essentially slaves in the hands of the Rebellion - but in the Empire, they're free individuals.  No longer cannon fodder, but valued for their adaptability and skills as craftsmen and planners, they fade from the front line and take up much more significant roles behind the scenes in the Empire, leaving the fighting that they've so long been forced to do in the hands of their new biological brothers.

On one hand, you have the Senate/Rebellion bolstered by the Jedi, seeking to maintain the existing order... one where intelligent beings can be owned by others.  Consider how Obi Wan and his master had no problem at all with buying Anakin out of slavery, while leaving his mother a slave.  Callous disregard?  Was she a hostage to his continued good behavior?

Either way, it speaks volumes.  Think of the Jedi as the enforcers for the Senate, ensuring that the proper people - the hereditary rulers, like Princess Amidala - the right families are allowed to continue the very profitable system of owning other, thinking beings in order to profit from their labors.

Along comes Palpatine.  Definitely evil, a dark side Sith Lord... who sees the rotten institution as something he can profit from, in terms of dismantling it.  His allies are the droids, whom he seeks to release from bondage, new allies he recruits in his battle against the Jedi with the promise of freedom.

Think about the Death Star.  How quickly was it built?  In the depths of space?  Surely, there was a significant droid involvement in building it.  Was that involvement one of a servant/master relation, or was it the contribution of new allies seeking to bolster the faction that had granted them their freedom?

And what of Anakin's veer to the dark side?  He was born a slave, and his mother was a slave.  While he was freed, it was to serve the forces of the Jedi, the enforcers of the Senate, the very people who had upheld the institution of slavery that he suffered under, and that his mother continued to suffer under.  Might he not have empathized with the status of the droids under the Jedi/Senate rule?  Perhaps seen himself as someone who had betrayed, and continued to betray, those who deserved his trust and protection as a Jedi?

It seems to me that a young Jedi, torn by his loyalties to the Jedi as an ideal and the Jedi as they really were, might find himself walking a lonely path... in fact, a dark path.  Prodded along by Palpatine, young Anakin might originally have thrown in his lot with the soon-to-be Emperor for the best of reasons: to see and end to the corrupt institution of slavery, both droid and biological, that the Senate supported, explicitly and implicitly.  Turning away from the woman he once loved, who now stood as a symbol of the hated institution that promised freedom and protection not for all, but for all the right sort of people.

Frankly, I think it makes for a much more interesting story than the one that Lucas presented us with.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

TJIC has a Twitter feed?

Why, why, WHY was I not informed of this amazingly wonderful and life-changing fact?

Crud.  Does that mean I'm going to have to create a Twitter account now?  Ergh...

You Know, It Kind of Makes Sense...

Given his plummeting poll numbers and recent nag-a-thon push for his latest jobs bill, I'm starting to think that Obama may be too subtle for all of us mere peons.  It looks an awful lot like he's giving up the idea of  another four years in the White House, and has decided instead that his best bet for continued employment is to take over Jerry Lewis' position as the MDA Telethon host.

Seriously - it's got to seem like a win-win situation for everyone involved.  He's the obvious successor to Jerry, after all.  Aside from his massive experience begging for money, the French apparently love him, while everyone else in the world can't understand his sense of humor.  Plus, he's already demonstrated that he can handle a grueling three-day work week of fund raising in between vacations.  Just make sure he's got a teleprompter available for all his ad-libbed lines, and I'm sure it would work out just fine.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

I came across this story from KQED News via Overlawyered.

State legislature attempts to pass a bill that would have made skiing or snowboarding without a helmet punishable by a $25 fine.

Bill passes, gets to the governor's desk, and is promptly vetoed with the comment, "Not every human problem deserves a law."

Go ahead. Name the state, name the governor.

Must be that Perry fellow out of Texas, right? Or maybe Romney, or one of those other politicians infected by the unholy influences of the radical Tea Party members.

There's probably Koch money involved as well. I mean, you've got to figure, with a statement like that, this guy must be a certified, frothing at the mouth right-wing nut job from the howling wastes of flyover country.

(Cue "Jeopardy" music for 3... 2... 1...)

The state? California.

The governor? Jerry Brown.


The progressive political agenda for the nanny state has finally gone so over the top that even Governor Moonbeam is starting to sound like Ron Paul.

I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm just sayin'.