Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cliven Bundy, or, Where the Spark doth land.

This started as a comment over at Goober's place, but I thought I expand it here, as well, since I think it was worth saying.

Goober has made an observation recently that Cliven Bundy is A) Not playing by the Rules and B) actually, properly, and in letter of the law in violation of the lease agreement and therefore has no current right to run cows on the BLM land under question. He has a solid workup on that at his blog.

On the one hand, I think Goober has a pretty solid handle on both property rights and adverse possession. Anybody that gets shirty about that is trying very hard to fool themselves. Adverse possession is pretty solid, established law- if Bundy is arguing that, he likely knows that its not really a valid argument, but it makes a good smokescreen. One thing I should really go look for, though, is how/where his original grazing rights were granted. A good many of these rights were purchased from the Secratary of the Interior prior to the turn of the last century. For example, I know a guy in my hometown whose property includes the original Secretarial water rights that were sold to the Franciscan Order when the area was developed, around 1880 and change. If there's only 5 gallons of water in the creek, he has a claim on it. If Bundy's family has been in continual use of the land since then, he may have a claim, not over the land itself, but over the grazing and water rights. I'm sure the Palouse echoes with the repercussions of the water rights battle in the Klamath Basin and elsewhere; people in the East (very much including people in high rank at the BLM, I'm sure) don't always realize how valuable water is in our semi-arid West. The old saying is that Whiskey's for Drinkin, Water's for fightin over

On the gripping hand, however, its not really about the land, or the cows, or the man; just like the last war here in the States wasn't about slavery, nor the Revolution about tea. When a fight is spoiling, waiting for the drop of a hat, most any hat will do. Cliven Bundy is a rancher, not a Saint, but he has the support of state-level officials, local groups, and he's a more sympathetic figure than Randy Weaver or the Branch Davidians. People saw the BLM acting like Stateist Thugs and called them on it. Despite Bundy's flaws, I think that was a good thing.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Confirmation Bias, and Whisk(e)y

Confirmation bias is a fascinating thing. A portion of our psyche is wired to only accept things that align with our preconceptions. It makes unbiased facts hard to come by, and, by my observation, is one of the major drivers of extreme partisanship in politics.

In a departure from my austere content, we will be discussing Whisk(e)y tonite. Since I'm on the Left Coast, of course, this means many of you, my loyal readership, will be discussing whiskey next day, instead. A spelling note- I am apprised that the Scots omit the 'e' included in most American, Canadian, and Irish Whiskeys. In deference, I will omit likewise when discussing that elixir. Being Irish heritaged American, in general use I will include it.

I first started drinkng whiskey at an entirely innappropriate age, but we shan't involve ourselves in that. By and large, however, my introductory experience with whiskey was the various 7 year sour mash whiskeys, such as Jim Beam Jack Daniels, and the like. Being contrary by nature, I decided that Jim Beam was my liquor of choice, as it was generally the less requested and therefore less 'mainstream' choice. Being both young and foolish (at least one of those being partially defeated by now) I convinced myself that I was consuming the paragon of whiskey, and no other would do. Seagrams 7 may be acceptable for mixing, but 'tis none but Jim Beam on the Rocks for me! Years of this attitude have left me with some stellar hangovers, and my affection for Jim Beam wavered. Then, one fateful day, I tried a drop of a whisky just establishing itself among my demographic- Makers Mark. It was delicious, smooth and luxurious! I transfered my allegiance whole! Ne'er again unto Jim Beam go I, for I am now cultured (snerk) and suave (heh), older and wiser. I was 24, and really no wiser, of course. But I had decided that it was so, and of course my choices proved that I was right!

Of course, given time, wisdom does occasionally accumulate, which is why I find myself at a crossroads, and confirmation bias holds much less sway over my beverage choice. In time, I learned that the reason Makers Mark is smoother than Jim Beam is in part due to the wheat in its mash. Suddenly I had a key! Rather than deciding what my favorites are, then selecting my facts to fit, I could ascertain WHY they were my favorites, and investigate other options! My Whiskey world exploded. Makers Mark led me to WL Weller (actually, my Father in Law did, also the source of the previous fact), which (along with a recommendation from Barron Barnett) led me to Washington Wheat. A random reference to Rye in AMC's Mad Men sent me to Pendleton whisky, then back via St Patrick's Day to Jameson, Finnegans 8y blend, and most recently The Tyrconnell, a single malt. Curiousity alone brought me to Scotch- while its legend is nearly ubiquitous, it is a rather intimidating pool to leap into. Some sound advice from an experienced Scotch afficianado brought me the Isle of Islay, first in a bargain introductory bottle and bence to the dram I am sipping this even.

Bowmore Legend New Label, a mildly peated single malt from Islay, aged 8 years in bourbon casks. Its actually quite enjoyable, much smoother and softer than the various entry bourbons, with a distinct combination of flavors that come from the malt and the peat used to dry it. The malt flavor is a bit sweeter than corn or rye whole grain whiskeys, while the peat I described the first time as 'old foot, but in a good way.' Here, of course, is where the confirmation bias comes roaring back.

You see, its possible to spend some pretty wild figures on a bottle of 'good' Scotch. How wild? 5 figure wild. GDP per Capita money. 'Nice full size pickup or a fifth of Scotch Whisky?' type of decisions. My bottle is second shelf at the local liquor store- about $30. How do they compare? I've no idea, but I suspect that the more you spend, the more you will convince yourself that you enjoy it to a high degree. If I dropped $500 on 750 ml of disgusting swill, I certainly wouldn't be happy about it, but I don't think I would notice. Confirmation bias would edit my recollections, and I would drink it over the course of many years, bringing it out on special occasions to convince myself it was worth it. For now, though, I'm pretty happy. After all, Single Malts are way more suave and cultured than those uncouth American bourbons, right? Right...

Monday, March 31, 2014

I like Socialism...

in the same way I like flying. Not airplanes, mind you, but more like Superman. In pure, untarnished theory, it all sounds good, but everyone that steps off that particular cliff seems to end up in the same bag...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Regarding Heaven, Hell, and Fred Phelps

It appears the man is gone away from us, and I do not mourn him in the least. If I make any observation, it is that he, and the people whom he lead, have taken the teachings of a man who devoted his life to love and turned them to hate and vitriol. I have no respect for him, nor his followers, indeed I count them among the enemy. They have set themselves opposed to some who are my kin, whom I love, and thus to me. I'll mourn his passing no more than a rabid animal, or some diseased vermin. However, I have no hell to send him to.

Terry Pratchett, in one of many stories, touches on the idea that one gets the afterlife they believe in, not the one we feel is just. If this is true, the Mr Phelps surely feels he should be in heaven, and there is nothing I can do about that, because we don't share a God. How could we? We may read the same books, we may acknowlege the same church, but any God that embraces such hate is not one that I will follow. If he is right, and I am wrong, then I take comfort in the fact that I will not share a heaven with him, either, because I surely won't make it into his. If thats the kind of creep they have there, I don't want to go.

In the end, I'll just remain grateful- grateful I didn't have to meet the man, grateful I don't have to spend any eternity with him, grateful for my friends and family, the ones he would never approve of. Grateful my God doesn't require such hate.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Your Money or Your Life

A story came through mmy newsfeed this morning of a man in Seattle who was killed for refusing to give up his phone to an attacker. It occurs to me to discuss the idea of your possessions not being worth your life.

First off, the obvious- I put a much higher value on my life (and my family's lives) than on any personal possessions. The point I'd like to emphasize is that the person who offers good old fashioned violence in exchange for not giving them any money DOES NOT. Their opening statement is that they are valuing your life at lower than the sum of what you MIGHT be able to give them. Furthermore, they are explaing that they are just as prepared to take both as they are to take only one. This person does not have your best interests in mind, therefore it would be less than wise to entrust them with either your life or your possessions.

Frame it as a transaction- person A has some money. Person B has some valuable possessions. Person A wants Person B's possessions and offers to trade- except that person B is not particularly interested in person A's money, and would prefer to retain his possessions. Transaction over? Not quite. Person A has another thing- person B's life (or at least the ability to end it, which is, for our purposes, equivalent). By offering to exchange these two things, they are making a statement of equal value (or acceptably similar value) just the same as they were with the money. Person B thinks their life is precious, while person A is making the statement that the same life is worth, oh lets say $100. Does it make sense to trust someone at their word when they've just made the statement that your life is worth $100?

Take it another step- Person A has made it clear that he has valued B's life at $100 but he also makes it clear that he is willing to take BOTH. So what he's really asking is for you to agree with him- your life is worthless. Less than $100. He'll take both if he wants to, but he MAY, if he feels like it, let you keep a little of it. He's not offering anything you want, and if you don't give up the goods he may just kill you and take them, or he may kill you anyway after you give them up. Either way, they aren't much value to him. He has now defined the value of life, and its unacceptably low.

I don't agree with that. My life is pretty damn valuable, and I intend to keep the value of it. Joe Stickupguy is offering violence in exchange for a life he values at nothing and $100 phone- I'm offering an equivalent amount of violence in return. If he decides HIS life is worth more than my money, he'll decline to continue the transaction, and we'll all walk away from it. If not, well, we'll throw both lives in the fire and see which one burns first. I'll take that chance before I let someone kill me over the cost of a telephone.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A bitter political break-up

So we're a year out from the last election, and just starting the run-up to the mid-terms. Parts of this post have been kicking around since last November, parts of it from the Primaries, but I was looking through my old draft posts, and it still applies. I was pretty pissed about the primaries and the general election, I won't lie. In fact, I threw out at least one screed that may or may not have tuned my faithful readers in to that fact. So after a little while to cool down, think about things for a while, I've decided I'm going to register as a Democrat before the next election cycle. Why? Well, because I think I'll get just as much of a voice there, and in the meantime I can actually vote against the nanny-state pricks when it might do some good. It obviously isn't helping to vote Republican, and third party votes are not very effective. So, I'm going over to the 'big-tent' party and see if I can find some converts. If we're ever going to get a viable party out of this partisan mess, we're going to need to steal at least of few of those voters from the left.

I'm not talking about fracturing one party- I'm talking about fracturing BOTH. Look, I know a lot of Democrats- I married one, raised by two more, the vast majority of my family are democrats, many of my friends are Democrats- if there's one thing that needs said, its that they are as fractured a party as it is possible to be. The problem isn't with them, any more than Mitt Romney is the absolute favorite choice of all Republicans, everywhere. Much like the Brady campaign did by putting Helmke in charge, we need to find the right standard bearer from the opposition party- and soon. Its obvious that this psuedo-alliance with the Republican party is not working for Libertarians. So I say we go try to make some friends in the Democratic party. They ARE there, they are just not single issue voters. And I damn near guarantee that they all think they are the only Democrats that feel that way. We should OWN the ACLU. But we've been locked in this special relationship with the Republicans so long that we can't get out of it. That would be the Republican Party that brought us the DHS and TSA. The Republican party that wouldnt or couldnt stop the Hughes Amendment. The one that threw us into an oil war we didn't get any goddamn oil from. The one that put Mitt Romney on the ticket instead of going with Gary Johnson in the first place, who I may remind you was also a successful governor of a traditionally Democrat state, with reams of business experience. Mitt was an annointed candidate, chosen by the Republican leadership and the liberal media. With a choice like that they didn't WANT our vote, they didn't think they NEEDED our vote, and they have not acted like they give a damn about our values at all. So aside from this one issue, I don't think we are any worse off on our own than we are with them. So let's break up, and see other people for a while. I hear the Blue Dog Democrats are looking for a date.

Oh, and to the GOP? It's not me, it's YOU.

Friday, October 11, 2013


A few observations on the healthcare debate-

I really should read the ACA legislation, because it seems that an awful lot of people are still accusing others of not having done so. Its three thousand pages long, which seems like a lot until I look at the Robert Jordan books that line my library shelves- 16 books totalling (by my estimate) about 10,000 pages of voluntary reading. I'm pretty certain I could get through it, given enough determination. Anyone else done this yet?

Lacking that, I have to rely on what politicians are saying about it, which is not a good way to get at the truth. However, using my best judgement, logic, and powers of observation, I have filtered a few key points. The ACA does NOT provide free healthcare for the American people, despite the protestations that it does. So all those people who are insisting that it does would seem to be A) mistaken or B) lying. In the spirit of fairness, it is apparent to me that a few people are lying to the populace and a large number of people are, unfortunately, believing them. What the ACA does do, on the other hand, is channel an incredible amount of money into the capacious pockets of a very small group of people who, incidentally, are frequently cast as the villains in this theatre. The ACA isn't busting the stranglehold of greedy and capricious insurance executives- it is REINFORCING IT.

The next observation is that the people in opposition to the ACA seem to be objecting to all the wrong aspects of it, and those in support seem to be using all the wrong reasons to support it. Quite honestly, the Republican Party should be lauding its efforts to encourage people to work with the private insurance industry, while the Democratic Party should be furious that it forces (and I mean that, the act REQUIRES, under a huge tax penalty) one to give money to billionaires. Welcome to topsy turvy world.

Now an observation in the hyperbole. First, its not the President's personal playground. Yes, he supported it, but the man wasn't a legislator when it was passed, so BY DEFINITION its not his legislation. Calling it Obamacare gives him far too much credit while simultaneously cheapening efforts to alter or end it, by short-circuiting any logic and turning the entire argument into an ad hominem attack. Its called the Affordable Care Act- it really doesn't matter if it does what its name says, for the sake of accuracy, use its real name. Second, its not going to be the single most devastating thing thats ever happened, and to say so makes one sound shrill and alarmist. If a person makes a dozen good, solid arguments and then ends with, "This will cause the dead to rise from the grave hungering for brains at midnight tonight!" And that last part never happens, they just shot ALL their arguments in the foot. Now, on the other side, everyone out there that gets all dreamy eyed over the ACA- I really do think you are being lied to, and when you parrot back those lies with your breathy voice, it makes us pragmatists feel like we're living in Brave New World. Its creepy, and does not help your cause. This is not the vast humanitarian effort you seem to think it is.

Now, I may just a wild-eyed optimist, but I still thnk there is room for truth and logic in debate, and compromise, but that faith is fading day by day. So, if we could all step up and get a few facts in order, we could still hammer out a useful result from this furnace of disaster. It may be we are out of time for that, but I really hope not.