Octavo Dia

Monday, February 28, 2005

Civil Unions

You know what I liked about parliamentary debate? You could stand up and talk for your set amount of time, and then you had to sit down and shut up. Once the last rebuttal was over, the issue was over and you made a decision. One can only get so obstinate in eight minutes. If we let a debate continue endlessly, it would degenerate into screams and inane babble. Speaking of screams and inane babble, I'd like to give my rebuttal to the "Gay Marriage" issue in the vain hope that it will make people sit down and shut up.

It seems to me that the entire debate is about semantics. Does anyone really care who a person choses to have in the hospital with them? Does anyone really care to whom a person can leave their property when they die? Does anyone really care whose signatures are on the lease? Or a checking account? Or tax forms? So why is this an issue? It is an issue solely because of using the term "marriage." "Marriage" has, among its connotations, the Judeo-Christian interpretation [note: I am not saying that ALL churches interpret it in this manner, only that a significant number do so] that it is a union of a man and women instituted by God. I, for example, would still be married even if the government decreed that "marriage" constituted two men and a chicken. I was not married by the government, nor can the government in any way make me unmarried, all they can do is make me a different legal entity. Yet the specter of the state interfering with a religious belief raises quite reasonable and justifiable fears.

Therefore, we can solve the issue by striking the term "marriage" and all of its derivatives from government documents and replacing it with the term "civil union." A civil union, in this sense, could very well be a male and a female--since it is a legal term, not a religious one. The definition of marriage should be decided by the church (and I am quite willing to let every church decide for itself how it will define marriage for its members). The civil union, and its legal consequences should be decided by the government. It would be a separation of church and state, but removing the state from the church's sphere, as Solzhenitsyn said, "Separate church and state properly and do not touch the church; you will not lose a thing thereby." There, that's the rebuttal, now sit down and shut up.

Electoral College

Today, once again, [sigh] I read in the newspaper another misunderstanding of the much-maligned electoral college system. Government seems so simple, right? All it takes is giving everyone a vote, counting them up, and then doing what most of the people want, right? Right? The purpose of government is not to facilitate majority rule, but to impede majority rule so as to protect the minority. The electoral college is not "fair", nor was it intended to be "fair". It is an equitable arrangement; it is not an equal arrangement. Equity is a deliberate distortion to correct the injustice of an equal situation. For example, if all calories were apportioned equally, some people would starve while others got fat. An equitable arrangement would distribute calories according to need--even though it isn't "fair". The electoral college protects a minority, the rural minority. Without the electoral college, no candidate would ever visit North Dakota. Without the electoral college, if the rural demographic disagreed strongly with the urban/suburban demographics, they would be outvoted in every election. Thus the electoral college is unfair in order to defend the North Dakotans from de facto disenfranchisement.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Paradigm Shift

"An opinion poll released just as [Bush] arrived [in Germany] suggests that more Germans trust Russian President Vladimir Putin than the U.S. President." BBC News. "US and Germany Bury Differences."

Isn't that astonishing?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The ICC

It's amazing how conclusions can slip past, even though you have all of the information you need. This happened to me when I read a letter to the editor in the Economist this week, which stated, "If we ratified the [International Criminal Court], but an American court was unwilling or unable to try, say, President Bill Clinton for bombing a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, America would have to extradite him to stand trial. What would the repercussions be if the seven-judge pre-trial chamber determined that the actions of a sitting president were criminal? The American constitution does not allow such an international check on our executive branch." The "unwilling or unable" phrase struck me, since the President does not answer to the courts, but to the Senate. Interpreted in this manner, the ICC is designed to bring American presidents to "justice." No wonder the current administration is a bit skeptical. I myself shall begin to ponder this.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Social Security

Isn't it great when one discovers that there are actual terms for your ideas? It's like validating your existence--that others have confirmed your thoughts. When people complained about political parties, I explained that I founded the "Party of Me" and that its platform perfectly matched my opinions. The trouble was, I only got one vote (but I had my target minority vote locked out). So I decided to choose a political party whose views best matched my own. Thus I was trading perfect representation for political power. This, I have recently learned, is called "interest aggregation," and it is the means with which options are eliminated in the selection of policy alternatives.

In reference to the current debate over social security, I am quite surprised by how policy options have been eliminated. The choices we are given are either (a) extremely low risk government programs or (b) extremely high risk stock market investment. The best minds in the world are devoted to the spreading and reduction of risk, and yet this is the best we can come up with politically? How about, for example, we have an FDIC insured investment accounts (returning somewhere between a savings account and a certificate of deposit), or a mutual fund that guarantees an average balance of inflation adjusted or better? Why have we eliminated all of these other options so soon?

Treaties

Here is my personal axiom on international relations, "Treaties are made by those with something to gain; treaties are kept by those with something to lose."

This tends to explain a lot of recurring political problems. For example, there is nothing we can do to North Korea that could possibly make things any worse for them. So we would make a treaty for them to shut down their nuclear program in exchange for some benefit. When they decided they wanted more benefits, they would break the treaty until we gave them more. Weimer Germany, for a second example, was offered peace in exchange for onerous terms. When peace seemed as bad as war, i.e., the Germans had nothing to lose, they were primed for Hitler's spark.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hubble

After the disclaimers in the last two, this one is actual content. The scrapping of the Hubble Space Telescope because of budget cuts is an excellent illustration of the difference between business and government. Were NASA a business, everything and anything would be cut to save the Hubble, which provides the greatest return on investment. Instead of scrapping Hubble, a business would, for example, scrap SETI, since it has never turned a "profit", even if it meant leaving all those hideously expensive radio telescopes to rust. NASA does not need to scrap Hubble; NASA wants to scrap Hubble. By threatening to destroy its greatest asset, an agency can create howls of support so that the budget cutters back down. If the budget cutters stick to their guns, I predict that NASA will mysteriously find a way to "save" Hubble by cutting other parts of its reduced budget, since it would then preserve its threat for the next round of budget cuts.

Shaki

Since my first post was about Shakira, the second one might be as well. Shakira is my favorite musician. She is my ideal woman in an Aristotelean sense. The trouble with philosophy is that, that which was once a very precise term is adopted and diluted by common use, of which "ideal" is a good example. An ideal is very much an archetype. What does one think of when one thinks of a chair? There is some common essence that defines a chair, even though they can be made of entirely different materials, be in entirely different shapes, and serve very different purposes: i.e., a throne and a bean bag. When you conceive of a chair, a certain image comes to mind. When I think female, Shakira comes to mind. She is the essential characteristic that women have in my mind.

The real point of all this is that, as Shakira said, "I mean everything I say, only some things not so much." I tend to wrestle with ideas, even if they're hideously bad, to see if there is any good in them which I can save. This means three things: first, you will probably come across some hideously bad ideas on this blog, and I mean what I say, but not so much. I'll ride any old nag until I get where I'm going or it dies under me--and then cook it for dinner. For example, I've accepted some of Karl Marx' ideas as my own, but that doesn't mean I'm a communist, nor does it mean that it in any way exonerates him or his disciples for the consequences of their actions. Second, I am a thief. I don't steal people's possessions; I steal their ideas and make them my own. You will find bits of other people's ideas strewn about in my thoughts--I make salad from other people's gardens. Third, I don't care what a person thinks so long as they have thought. People who think will eventually either agree with me or improve my thinking. The Housekarl and I disagree on some issues, but because he has thought I accept it. If someone hasn't thought, I will argue strenuously against them even if we agree completely. People who don't think drown out the voices of those who do. There are no agnostics in thought, to be neutral is to harm.

Name that song.

"Octavo Dia" is an anti-war song by Shakira. The general gist of the song is that, after God rested on the seventh day, He returned on the eighth day (thus the title) and saw the mess we had made of His good creation. The melody and the lyrics weren't what struck me, it was the background imagery played at her concerts. It begins with the image of a chessboard, with Bush and Hussein playing chess. As the song goes on, the pieces become model oil wells and missiles. Then the pieces become real. Then it cuts to a montage of war footage--burning oil wells, crying children, usw. Bush and Hussein collapse on the chess board. They're marionettes. The camera scans up and Death is the one pulling the strings. Pacifism is normally such a passive philosophy, yet the juxtaposition of chess--with all its connotations of strategy and rationalism--linked so closely to death is such a powerful metaphorical attack on the political philosophy of realism. I argue poorly with metaphors, but more on this later.