Apathy Towards the NSA Leaks

I was at a bar that one of my friends runs near Wrigley Field when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. I hadn't considered that the area would turn into a full on mostly peaceful drunken riot. Not so bright in retrospect. I'll get back to this.

On the train there I read an article (worth reading) that outlined the blowback the US is beginning to experience from the rest of the world concerning the NSA leaks. It's intriguing because it's such a comprehensive non-US-centric view, and this isn't on the list of common talking points in the US. The main issue I and many people have had in reacting to the NSA programs is, what exactly does one do about it? Riot or demonstrate in the US? Not likely.

The crowds in Wrigleyville proved otherwise. The police can't control that many people, and if they tried to use violence it'd just bring more attention to it. The depressing part is that people will form en mass for hockey but not to protect the Bill of Rights, and I'm not bashing people liking sports. I just wish people gave a fuck about the world they live in. To be fair, it's not that obvious or easy as protests aren't planned for a specific time like a hockey game.

What's so strange about the whole affair is that the Obama Administration and Congress are walking in lock step on the matter; the first issue both parties have agreed since I can remember (wtf?). Obama mostly keeps talking about how he's going to extradite Snowden, but not a single person I've talked to wants this. Yet he keeps saying it as if to pacify. What we want is for you to stop acting like the Stasi, or maybe just keep your campaign promise (italics are my emphasis):
Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.
Update: Obama doesn't think this is a big deal.

It's Official: Petitions to Whitehouse.gov Are About As Effective As The Close Button On Elevators

They're vestigial. At best they make you feel like you're doing something.

Here's the one that originally tipped me off. The White House won't even comment on it. It's one thing to say you won't enforce federal laws that contradict states laws, but it's another to see an injustice happen and then willingly turn a blind eye. Why does the Obama Administration never comment on marijuana laws? He acts likes it's the ultimate taboo. Gay marriage and weed - the two issues that my generation does not understand the illegality of.

Here's a current one brought on because the Justice Department was in the process of ruining Aaron Swartz's life for downloading the JSTOR library. Heaven forbid someone get their hands on... peer reviewed papers funded by the public..?

Links for May 13th

First, some background music, Irene by Beach House (hat tip: Chris).

The first several Boeing 787's are going into service. Why is this interesting? There are two main airline manufacturers in the world: Boeing and Airbus. They've both moved to composite materials to reduce weight and increase the range their planes can travel. This changes the routes airlines can fly - it's game changing; new hubs, longer distances, smaller cities being connected, more diffuse growth in general. Where they differ is in size. Airbus went huge with the A380 and Boeing downsized with the 787. In my opinion, one of the lessons of recent history has been to downsize: smaller baseball parks, smaller cars, smaller laptops, smaller homes, smaller cameras. I'm betting on Boeing but to be honest I think the contest will mostly just be awash.

It's no longer illegal to tape record police officers in Illinois. How anyone thought that police officers being immune to public scrutiny in this manner benefited citizens I will never know. In my opinion every police officer should be wearing a camera at all times. Tiny cameras that can fit in sunglasses already exist. Why shouldn't we be allowed to see the activities of those who have been entrusted with such immense power and responsibility?

Apparently being unemployed is bad for people. No shit? Among other negative side effects, people commit suicide more often when unemployed. So yes, in the long run the economy will fix itself, but by sitting idly by we are in fact collectively allowing an entire generation of young (and old) Americans to suffer. Krugman on the matter (sort of).

Oh, and college is expensive. Colleges response: “I didn’t think a lot about costs. I do not think we have given significant thought to the impact of college costs on families.” - the president of Ohio State University






Charter Cities

This is a concept I've been curious about for a while, but Paul Romer seems to have worked out a lot of the details and is actually making it happen. The concept is this: cities are worth more than it costs to build them. But yet historically they have to develop naturally and are their growth is burdened by their complexity, laws, and bureaucracy. What if instead the general framework for the city is predetermined? A vast tract of land is set aside and laws and a tax structure that encourage growth are put in place. The city is essentially a sovereign city-state within a country. There will definitely be some interesting problems that arise but it none the less is very fascinating and I think promising. South Korea and China have already done similar things and are actually helping with the project (second video).

The first video is by far the more interesting of the two.


And the follow up of this actually becoming reality in Central America...

Sunday Reading

From the NYTimes: The Supreme Court is getting more conservative.

The Bush tax cuts of '01 and '03 are expiring and Republicans are vowing to extend them while Democrats plan to extend only the cuts to the middle class (under $200,000 a year per individual or $250,000 a year for a family, yea... middle class) and below - which only accounts for 95% of the country, but the Republicans are drawing the line in the sand. Surely a party that talks about balancing the budget AND keeping taxes low for the rich can be taken seriously.

An old article from Slate by Krugman on cornering commodities markets, in this case copper. This is in response to a British man doing the same now to cocoa - that is, chocolate.

Completely random: Clownfish change sex and stay small to form social hierarchies. Very short and utterly fascinating.

BP does some terrible photoshopping on "official images" of the oil spill clean up effort.

The DOT (Department of Transportation) is looking at creating water highways for barges to alleviate road traffic. Which is interesting because ships are the most efficient way of transporting large quantities of anything... but yet require so much resistance from water to move. I wonder if anyone has ever conceived of a barge sized train?

Machete, the spoof trailer from Grindhouse, is actually getting made. I'm excited. Here's the new trailer.

Why Prostitution Laws are Sexist

There are quite a few laws in the United States which have no real underpinnings other than moral grounds. Which is kind of absurd if you're aware that morals change from one country to the next. Some people, such as myself, don't really believe in morals at all. To us all situations are unique and some shade of gray (although, to be honest, some of those shades are pretty damn black and white). People from India think we're barbaric because we eat cows (we are); they of course consider cows sacred. The Germans have brothels and I think we can all agree they're pretty okay post 1945.

What I really want to talk about is the idea of a commodity and its time value. It's a very proletariat, capitalist, alienation type-talk that is pretty common with me. Regardless of how you feel about these things they exist. I mean, I don't necessarily like UV radiation but I acknowledge its existence. There's nothing inherently wrong with them either. It's just the context in which they operate that upsets people.

Take for example me. I just turned 25, I'm about 180 pounds, in good shape, and know my way around industrial construction. Thus, I get paid to lift heavy things into place and weld them there. It isn't exactly what I'd like to spend my brief time here doing, but c'est la vie. I need money and would prefer to make more as opposed to less. Sure, I'm good at drawing, taking photos, cooking, riding a bike, shooting people, etc. but no one is going to pay me even close to that amount of money I can make as a mechanical contractor. Here's the thing. That skill only lasts so long. I won't be able to do this kind of work in 30 years. I have a window of "opportunity" in which I have the option to capitalize on my knowledge and physical ability. I could take a pay cut and do one of those other things and hopefully the difference I experience in well-being would make up for the lost wages, but that is my choice to make.

Enter a young pretty female (or male I suppose) with few economic opportunities. She could go work at a bar or restaurant and make more than any male there because old creepy guys give young pretty girls creepy stares, stories, and excessive tips. In this way she is exploiting her looks in some way. I would argue that female beauty is worth more than most people realize. Think of the wars, social, and personal problems that arise over female beauty, or even the amount of money that gets allocated to it (models, plastic surgery, etc.). The same girl could also go work at McDonald's or some other job in which her looks played no significant role in her earnings. She would essentially be rejecting the idea of profiting off of her looks. Again, this is a personal choice to be made by that individual.

So why is it that women aren't allowed the epitome of profiting off of their looks; that is, prostitution? I know I know... "it's wrong." Assuming no skulduggery or human-trafficking - both obvious no no's - what's the problem? I'm not saying it's perfectly okay, but if both parties willingly agree then why does anyone else care? Is it degrading? I think so, but not to the woman. A guy who has to pay for sex is to my mind shamed more than the female who takes advantage of that situation. Religious arguments are moot here as we're supposed to be a secular state (yeah, right). So again, why do we deny women the ability to profit off of their looks? Isn't that in some way kind of sexist? I'm not not allowed to work blue collar labor because I'm strong. And of course you could argue that that skill is more necessary to the world's well-being, but I think a lot of unsightly lonely men would disagree.

Like many of the unconventional things I support the legalization of; regulate it, tax it, and make it safer for everyone involved. Prostitution isn't going away. It's something we must live with, so why not try to mitigate the negative effects it can have on its participants. Make drugs legal - drug dealers become extinct. Make prostitution illegal, human-traffickers involved in the sex trade go extinct (if you disagree post a comment and we'll debate).

Disclaimer: Please view this as some sort of economic commentary. I'm a firm believer in everything economists propose being vetted by a philosopher before being implemented as is done in Norway, Denmark, etc.

Picturequote

"I've got a peculiar weakness for criminals and artists--neither takes life as it is. Any tragic story has to be in conflict with things as they are." -Stanley Kubrick

Well I'm glad it isn't possible for my life to be a tragedy.

This is my friend Elise's tattoo that she designed herself.



Links

Bush's soon to be disclosed illegal wiretaps.

Paul Krugman, the latest Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics, on what Obama needs to do. The Nobel Memorial Prize in economics isn't actually linked to the original Nobel Prize. Both are worth reading if you weren't already aware.

The best article I've seen yet on the Houdini Project. The last 3 or 4 paragraphs are the relevant ones.

Operating systems (finally) get smaller.