Archive for April, 2010

High finance morality

Ronald J Colombo provides a simple explanation of what is going on with “the Securities and Exchange Commission’s securities-fraud civil suit against Goldman Sachs.” The essence is that a house of cards was built so one client could gamble it would fail and other clients could gamble it would not. The moral dilemma is about whether those who gambled the house of cards would not fail were properly informed about the reasons for its construction.

Goldman’s behavior might be permissible under U.S. securities law, it most certainly is impermissible under traditional notions of right and wrong. All the disclosure in the world does not absolve someone of the basic moral precept to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s simply morally wrong to sell someone – especially one’s own clients – junk specifically designed to fail, regardless of how many warning labels are attached. A degree in moral philosophy is not needed to see that.

Today, however, a degree in modern moral philosophy might actually get in the way of seeing that. For we live in an age marked by an unprecedented lack of consensus over what “morally wrong” means. Indeed, one of the few vices recognized nowadays is that of being “judgmental,” and perhaps it was this vice that Goldman sought to avoid when it refused to characterize Paulson & Co.’s plans as morally wrongful. Instead, Goldman probably rationalized the proposed course of conduct as a legitimate business strategy within the confines of the law.

The principle is caveat emptor (wikipedia). What this has become is a political argument about just how far government should go to protect buyers.

The fact is that both sets of Goldman Sachs clients were playing games looking for unrealistic financial gain through market manipulation gambits. The issue is whether Goldman Sachs was right in playing neutral referee or whether the company should have been a coach for each side using its knowledge of the other side’s goals to help construct its advice.

Behind all of this were two factors. One is the massive amount of money looking for investment return and the other is the pool of financial instruments fostered by the government’s policies to encourage home ownership. The two made for a deadly mix.

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Modern revenuers

A look at crime reports shows that a third to a half of police activity in some areas deals with traffic matters. This often entails traffic citations and is why some are thinking “To ‘serve and protect’ has become ‘serve and collect.'” Stimulus? Michigan speed limits set illegally low to generate speeding ticket revenue is about how some municipalities ignore the process defined in state law for setting speed limits.

Turning public safety on its head and converting that directive into a money maker for local communities isn’t anything new.

There are side effects. When police turn into revenue instruments, trust is tarnished. When local politicians make excuses for bad laws, they reinforce the image of corrupt politician. When insurance companies use traffic citations as reasons to increase rates, the image of ‘greedy corporation’ is reinforced. These perceptions make it a game and not a matter of civil society and that does not forward public safety and community.

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The slavery obsession

Thomas Sowell points out how history is misused by those seeking to fulfill their view of reality. One of the first examples is that of slavery, which seems to be an obsession in some circles such as PBS.

If American society and Western civilization are different from other societies and civilizations, it is in that they eventually turned against slavery, and stamped it out, at a time when non-Western societies around the world were still maintaining slavery and resisting Western pressures to end slavery — including, in some cases, by armed resistance.

Only the fact that the West had more firepower put an end to slavery in many non-Western societies during the age of Western imperialism. Yet today there are Americans who have gone to Africa to apologize for slavery — on a continent where slavery has still not been completely ended, to this very moment.

It is not just the history of slavery that gets distorted beyond recognition by the selective filtering of facts. Those who mine history in order to find everything they can to undermine American society or Western civilization have very little interest in the Bataan death march, the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire, or similar atrocities in other times and places.

The degree to which some will go to adjust reality to fit their viewpoints can be truly astounding. Much work is to be done before the related issues can even be discussed in an honest manner.

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Oligarchy: the police and judiciary getting together?

Glen takes note of a case where a man arrested for photographing the police in action was freed. A photographer is within his rights to take pictures where there can be no expectation of privacy by his subjects and a cop acting in public has no pretense for such expectation of privacy.

Graber was harassed, intimidated, illegally arrested, and jailed for an act that clearly wasn’t illegal.

In addition to this, it appears that the search warrant for a raid of his parent’s home was anonymous. That is another phenomena law professor Reynolds notes and relates to another recent case where police confiscated a blogger’s equipment after he posted a rundown on a lost Apple prototype.

Judges shouldn’t have “privacy” regarding judicial acts. They shouldn’t even have immunity. The doctrine of judicial immunity, as I’ve noted before, was created by . . . judges!

It gets to be very dangerous when the police and judiciary start defining their own view about what is proper and what is not, especially when they only look to their own interests.

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Zealots and advocates

Traffic control is one area where zealotry and confused motivations combine to a dangerous poison. As red light cameras grow more popular, an academic dispute at USF simmers provides an example.

It seems some research as the USF College of Public Health “concluded that instead of improving safety, the cameras actually make intersections more dangerous. Further, its study said, the cameras give insurance companies a reason to jack up rates for those who get tickets.” The director of the USF Center for Urban Transportation takes exception to the findings and has conducted a publicity campaign to impugn the research.

Red light and speed camera traps are favorite point of interest collections for personal navigation devices. They represent one area where the taint of money is real and omnipresent. The whole idea of automated traffic control is to reduce the expense of generating tickets. The taint of money shows in this case in that “Trauma center hospitals, facing budget cuts, were in search of revenue. They had been approached by vendors of red light cameras to support bills in the Legislature that would make them legal in the state. In exchange, they’d get a cut of the money, according to the researchers.”

Besides such blatant money grabs, municipalities also have to repair the reputation that has been earned by shortening yellow light times in intersections monitored by automated equipment and the use of arbitrary and rapidly changing speed limits in certain areas. All of these behaviors taint the traffic control issues as being for reasons other than safety.

But that does not matter to some zealots. As is the case here, there are some who are absolutely convinced that the issue is safety and will bend the rules of evidence to create a reality they desire. That makes it very difficult to repair the damage and actually create safety improvements.

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What’s wrong in the debate

Leo has a good example of what is wrong in many policy debates. In Iceland volcano gives warming world chance to debunk climate sceptic myths it appears he just can’t help himself in his departure from facts and reason towards ridicule and logical fallacies.

Consider the assertion “Climate sceptics’ favourite theory…”, this is a straw man plus. It selects a current event, ascribes it to a group as indicative of that group and then sets up a false premise in order to bash that group.

Ridicule shows in many phrases such as “barrel-aged climate sceptic canard” and “lanced this festering boil” and “put this hoary old chestnut to bed”. None of these address the issue but rather all address the people Leo calls “sceptics.” This is the ad hominem fallacy.

By choosing just one volcano to counter questions about the long term that include many, the story devolves into a “reduction to the absurd” logical fallacy,

Then there is the “debunked sceptic arguments” which shows the win/lose paradigm that is also a straw man. A skeptic isn’t presenting an argument that can be debunked, by definition a skeptic is asking questions about someone else’s argument that need answering.

When you create your own race of people and assign them certain attributes and then give them positions and arguments to suit your feelings, you are not engaging in any productive debate.

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Not as described or labeled

Strategy Page describes how China measures the competition and concludes:

China is also uneasy that America is so different as a superpower. American might is based more on economic, financial and cultural, than military power. Although the United States has the largest military in the world, those troops are often involved in disaster relief, or removing tyrants (like Saddam and the Taliban) from power. When the American military rolls in, they eventually leave the “conquered” nation better off. That sort of thing does not compute using the ancient Chinese foreign affairs calculus.

In this, it appears that China is a bit more realistic than “America’s liberals.” Edward Bernard Glick describes The Grand Illusions of America’s Liberals to bring allegations of racism and imperialism into perspective. He concludes that

America’s liberals have never learned to look at life through the prisms of contrast, comparison, and context. If they would honestly compare our country to ancient Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome, or to Ottoman Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Russia, Britain, and France, then they would have to conclude that America was and is the least imperialistic power in recorded history.

There is something unique about the United States. Whether it is considered special or not seems to depend upon whether someone is trying to compete with it or to live it.

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Alinsky’s rules with examples

If you’ve heard about Alinksy’s rules for radicals but don’t know what they are, Jay Tea has a nice summary list for you. The list is used to illustrate tactics that have surfaced to combat the Tea Party movement.

If you can recognize these tactics and common logical fallacies, you’ll have made significant progress in understanding the positions in many debates and discussions. See also UNC and CSUN for more on logical fallacies.

Second, and maybe more importantly, pointing out a logical fallacy is a way of removing an argument from the debate rather than just weakening it. [CSUN]

When you identify and take note of a dishonest tactic, you set it apart from the realm of intellectual integrity. That makes it clear that those who participate in such behavior are not concerned about reality. That sad part, as Dr Sanity has described in detail, an attachment to reality is often not considered of much value in many circles.

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Political differences

The American Digest has a list. Its point of view is rather obvious but the items do delineate the partisan differences that are such a source of rancor in political debate.

When your friends can’t explain why they voted for Democrats, give them this list. They can then pick a reason.

It is in the form of the ‘top ten’ lists that have become popular with certain late night TV hosts.

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Slipper slopes and crime

There are two opinions on the Washington Times that point out how good intentions can sometimes create rather dangerous unintended consequence as they get taken a bit too far. First is Shibley on Unwitting rapists and their oblivious victims at Duke. The second is Balko on how Paramilitary police don’t make us safer.

In the first, the definition of crime is being expanded to the point that a criminal may not even be aware of having committed a crime. That is because the perception is gaining the credibility of actual action.

The policy not only departs from state law and common sense when it comes to consent but also sets up procedures for sexual-misconduct hearings that differ from the procedures for every other offense. … Also remember that according to Duke, the purported victim doesn’t even have to think she (or he) was date-raped, because intoxication or “perceived power differentials” can make sex nonconsensual without either party knowing.

In the latter, the police have become more like the military and are expanding their capabilities and military style tactics to include even mundane police activity.

“Democracy means that when there’s a knock on the door at 3 a.m., it’s probably the milkman.” The idea is that free societies don’t send armed government agents dressed in black to raid the private homes of citizens

What gets interesting is that a SWAT team raid meets the Duke criteria for rape.

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Excited dumpster divers

Lewis and another student, Ashli Briggs, traveled to Sacramento Tuesday to give Brown office material they said had been thrown out, including two boxes of documents and two trash bags filled with shredded files.

“This is our little Watergate in the state of California,” Yee said Tuesday.

What did they find? Palin Contract Found in Trash Sparks Probe. Compare and contrast to another recent document find, that of the climate FOIA data dump. That, too, was often labeled as “stolen” but that has never been established and the data released was of the sort subject to FOI requests. The Palin material, however, was appropriately confidential material obtained vi breach of locks. The climate material did include evidence of ethical or legal problems. The Palin document did not.

What was the ‘Watergate’ level discovery? It appears that it is that Governor Palin requires two water bottles with bendable straws when she speaks and that she travels first class.

Meanwhile California Attorney General Jerry Brown is on the case to see if there was something fishy about the secret contract and the hiring of Palin to speak at a fundraiser.

One has to wonder about the enthusiasm in the investigation. The funding was via private sources not public. The speaker was a celebrity of proven capability to raise funds. What was the breach of ethics or law that is being suggested here?

What this appears to be is yet another attempt to inhibit the expression of certain ideas much as in the attacks on Coulter in Canada recently. These episodes are part of a pattern of ideological warfare. They are of the sort also seen in the attacks on the Tea Party gatherings that actually try to project these sort of tactics on the opposition. There is a fundamental lack of honesty that is trying to deny and impugn rather than listen and debate.

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Politics today

It turns out that flagpoles are joining guns as potential weapons. Tax day demonstrators are being prohibited from flying flags that have poles more than a foot long out of fear of violence. That is a fear about the same group that promulgated false charges of racism that were promoted out of a baiting exercise. Despite the baiting, the only violence so far has been among those who are trying to impugn the Tea Party participants.

Then there is the class warfare. That one is seen in the obsession about Governor Palin’s income over the last few months and speculation about how it will alienate her from the masses. Very few have noted the true American value of success and its proper rewards.

S. Fred Singer takes on similar behavior in the ClimateGate Whitewash. Again, the core of the issue is an attempt at displacement. It is an effort to look past misbehavior of those on the politically correct bandwagon and find misbehavior on those who call it for what it is. As is often the case in these arguments, Singer cites fact and lists specific behaviors whereas the other side of the argument gets into the ad hominem and other logical fallacies.

Then there is the police behavior. One story deals with a Las Vegas man who has promoted civil rights education in the police department due to his treatment when openly carrying firearms. Another involves the repudiation of police testimony about injuries in a mob that was required when video surfaced to show what really happened. This is related to police attempting to confiscate recording devices and other means to inhibit public witness to their behavior. As the Tea Party participants have discovered, plentiful video and I’net communications via the web can be powerful tools to combat deceit.

There was also another story about terrorists leaving a long trail. That one mentioned a 70’s era terrorist who was up for murder due to her DNA being recovered from a letter bragging about the incident. Murder does not have a statute of limitations in most countries and terror leaves evidence that will remain to connect crime to criminal for a long time to come.

The truth will out – but only if sufficient numbers place value on intellectual integrity to make it a force in political dialog.

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How to hide the rise

Willis Eschenbach puts some perspective on the matter in Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics … and Graphs at Watts Up With That. His point is that all of the global climate change fuss is over changes in mean annual temperature changes of a degree or so over a person’s lifespan and this is insignificant when compared to variations in temperature we normally experience. He makes the point by plotting average monthly temperatures for each year of record.

The key is the scale of the graphs. Graphs of annual temperature means usually show a temperature anomaly range of four degrees or so. Graphs of monthly average temperature means show a temperature range of sixty degrees. Climate change is a quarter of the range on the annual graphs but less than two percent on the monthly. That means any trend in the climate is exaggerated by ten times or more in an annual mean versus a monthly mean.

It should be noted that plotting monthly means puts a lot more data on the graph as well. This tends to emphasize patterns that do exist, such as seasonal variations. Long term climate change is given a reference with these seasonal variations that does not exist in annual means graphs.

These issues of presentation do not change the fundamental problem of data quality, sparse data, and the methods for determining a statistical aggregate to analyze over time. The question about just what is meant by ‘average temperature’ is not well defined and that tends to confuse the picture as well.

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What kind of war is this, anyway?

Strategy Page has two stories that highlight the conflict over the conflict. In What was not said, gunship video is used in media outlets to assert that the US is murdering reporters. Roughing Up The Enemy is about a sergeant and a captain were dismissed from the Royal Marines because they beat up an Afghani they caught planting a roadside bomb.

The ‘murdered’ reporters were hanging out with armed men in the wee hours of the morning only yards from a firefight.

The mass media generally went along with the “it was murder” line, while more knowledgeable journalists and military personnel pointed out the fact that this was a legitimate combat operation, and that the journalists (who were not in the employ of the terrorists) were being very foolish to accompany armed terrorists at 3 AM, on a combat mission.

The disciplinary action for failing to pull punches is not unusual, either.

Such disciplinary action is not restricted to British forces. Three U.S. Navy SEAL commandos are being prosecuted for hitting an Iraqi terrorist they captured last year. The Iraqi was responsible for the murder of four civilian security contractors in Fallujah six years ago, and many other atrocities since. The SEALs are accused to punching the prisoner in the stomach.

The stories about these ‘atrocities’ are usually dripping in condescension and moral superiority and certainty. It is enough to make one wonder what reference is being used to form opinions and world views.

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An example of simplistic settled science

When people start asserting that the science is settled or going on about the physics or whatnot, it is a good clue that a skeptic’s view is needed. Diet is one of those. The simplistic view is that weight is simply a matter of energy in versus energy out. New Studies Eat Into Diet Math describes how this simple arithmetic model is perhaps too simplistic.

the 3,500-calorie rule of thumb gets things very wrong over the long term, and has led health analysts astray. Much bigger dietary changes are needed to gain or shed pounds than the formula suggests.

Whether the topic is human body chemistry or climate or any other complex system, simplistic models seldom function well for representing reality over more than very restricted conditions. The use of such models in trying to regulate public health or other behavior should be suspect.

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Private management removes politics

Parks and Rec are often a political football in budget wars. Warren Meyer describes how private management of public resources can turn parks from a sink to a source. It is an example of a private and public partnership that can benefit both. See his Public Testimony on Private Parks Management.

One of the problems Meyers encounters is the modern paradigm of evil business. This is despite many years of example to the contrary. If your business is the outdoor camping experience, you will not make a profit by paving over the wilderness.

Check out Meyer’s presentation notes and see what can be done. Contrast that to the difficulty in trying to sell the benefits of the private sector over the proven problems with governmental bureaucracy.

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The crux of the matter: dealing with reality

Dr. Sanity has your lesson in understanding people today. The example is the psychotic left vs neurotic right? but the same observations could be applied to areas other than politics.

One of the most important psychological challenges for every human is dealing with reality and the real world–particularly when the consequences of confronting truth are personally unpleasant and painful. That is exactly what psychological denial seeks to avoid.

Today we are witness to the left’s vivid (and psychotic) imagination, feverishly working overtime to reverse all those unwelcome facts and painful truths so they can remain in an endless childhood.

The issue is fundamental and it is as difficult for people as the emotional impact of significant events in their lives.

You would think it would be a simple matter to be “in touch” with reality. But it isn’t. It requires a great deal of cognitive effort–i.e., thinking–and often that effort must assert itself over powerful emotions that draw the person away from the real world, to a place more comfortable and unchallenging–i.e., to their inner reality.

Whether the talk is about health care, global warming, or even lead acid batteries and alternative energy, the behavior patterns Dr. Sanity describes are clearly evident. The problem is that of trying to bring reality back to the front, to bring intellectual integrity back to debate and discussion. That is not going to be an easy task.

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Government means win or lose

Professor Williams takes on the question about whether government promotes Conflict or Cooperation? at Front Page Mag.

The idea is that people who are left to meet their own needs can coexist happily in an environment where there are many differing ideas about what needs to meet. When government gets into the act it decides what needs are appropriate and what are not – and that creates conflict.

the very people in our society who protest the loudest against human conflict and violence are the very ones calling for increased government resource allocation. These people fail to recognize or even wonder why our nation, with people of every race, ethnic group and religious group, has managed to live together relatively harmoniously. In their countries of origin, the same ethnic, racial and religious groups have been trying to slaughter one another for centuries. A good part of the answer is that in the United States, there was little to be gained from being a Frenchman, a German, a Jew, a Protestant or a Catholic. The reason it did not pay was because for most of our history, government played a small part in our lives. When there’s significant government allocation of resources, the most effective means of organizing for the gains are those proven most divisive, such as race, ethnicity, religion and region.

The current issue is, of course, health care. That one brings the idea of everyone providing a fair share to pay for it with that share being defined by the government. It is also feared that government will get involved in defining what is proper health care and what is not – what a citizen needs to be healthy. That means those who are deemed to not be paying their fair share or those who have other ideas about health will be in conflict with the government.

A previous issue is the one that knocked the financial markets silly. It is the idea that government should promote home ownership as the preferred means of housing no matter the financial ability of the citizen. The conflict there comes from those who had to front the money to pay for the housing.

The critical issue for government is to figure out just where the line should be. There are some things where the needs must be defined as these needs define the reason a government is allowed to exist. The struggle at present is that many seem to think that the “we know what’s good for you” ethos has gone a bit too far, created a bit too much conflict, and must be reigned in. Finding a way to resolve that problem without too much social cost will be difficult.

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Many fronts being pushed: Christianity

It was one country under God but that concept is one of many under attack. Kuhner describes the Christianity front at the Washington Times: Christophobia

The American left is following in the shameful – and much more bloody – footsteps of Marxist regimes. Instead of eradicating religious faith through the barrel of a gun, leftists use bureaucratic dictates and mass propaganda.

The result is the same. Christianity is gradually being purged from the public square. Christmas celebrations have become offensive. “Merry Christmas” is now considered to be politically incorrect; the proper greeting is “happy holidays.” The Ten Commandments cannot be displayed in courtrooms or classes. Prayer has been banished from public schools. Christians are regularly mocked in movies and TV. Taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize “art” that depicts Christ in unflattering ways. Hollywood makes films – such as “Angels and Demons” – portraying the Catholic Church as a repressive, sinister and primitive institution.

Anti-Christian bigotry is the last fashionable hatred.

It makes one wonder why someone would try to force their lifestyle on an established organization that eschews that lifestyle. Christian organizations from the church to the Boy Scouts are all on the front line in this. People who wish to flaunt their sexuality or identity seem to flock to Christian organizations or expression while, at the same time, leaving alone religions distant in value, such as Islam.

Tear it apart. Rip it up. … is this some sort of Freudian parent angst or something? Whatever it is, it does no service towards the growth and health of society.

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