Thursday, December 23, 2004

Why I Love Christmas, Part 1

What a beautiful present. Thank you NASA.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Tobacco Control

So it's official. Anti-smoking bylaws in Toronto have sweet fuck all to do with public health. The issue (as was obvious from the beginning) is all about control: there are now plans by the city to prosecute bars trying to attract nicotine-addicted customers with heated patios (I'd provide a link to this, but the story was in the Toronto Sun, and their webpage won't load.) The only people who frequent said patios are smokers, because heated or not, it's still warmer inside. Non-smokers, feeling no persistent nicotine craving, have no reason to leave the warmth, and they don't. There's no public health issue here: smokers don't worry a lot about second hand smoke (the science behind which is dubious, at best) given that they're already inhaling the first-hand kind, so trying to protect smokers from second-hand smoke strikes me as misguided at best. The socialist assholes in Council saw that entrepreneurs around the city were finding loopholes, had aneurysms at the thought that someone might be trying to slip their control, and are cracking down on the flimsy pretext of concern for the health of others.

Where's Guy Fawkes when you need him?

Monday, December 13, 2004

On Media Violence

How many times have you heard this: media violence desensitizes impressionable youth to violence, normalizes its use, and results in more violence in society. This conclusion is often used as an excuse to condemn musicians, directors, comic book artists, game designers, and anyone else whom the busybodies in the media regulation business dislike. Every christmas, for instance, there's a list of the ten worst toys, worst video games, etc.

What utter shite.

The truth is, the amount of media violence seems to be inversely proportional to the actual level of violence in society. My generation, for instance, has been exposed to far more violence in the media than, I think, any generation before. When we were kids, it was He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. A little later - when I was in my early teens - saw the rise of hyperviolent, gore-soaked comic books. Then came video games, which have only gotten more violent with time. Oh, and metal, which experienced a spike in popularity just about the time I was turning 18, with bands such as Marilyn Manson and Slipknot leading the way, much of it glorifying violence, anger, and flat-out irrational hatred to a degree never before seen in music.

My generation also happens to have been raised with historically low levels of actual violence in our lives. Zero-tolerance policies at high schools, for instance, meant that even an innocent scuffle in the schoolyard could result in expulsion. Many of us had ex-hippie parents convinced that the testosterone-fueled escapades of growing males were the source of all evil, and did everything in their power to squash their childrens' natural desire for rough-and-tumble play.

Is it any wonder we salivated over Thundercats, bought Image comics by the truckload, and damn near shat ourselves with glee when upon discovering doom? That Fight Club is on every red-blooded male's list of 'best movie of the 90's'?

People don't seek out a reflection of their lives in media; rather, the look for those things which their lives lack entirely. Remove violence from everyday life, and it will express itself in art.

The fact that our media gets more violent with every increasing year should be taken not as a condemnation of depraved artists and debased content corporations, but as a ringing endorsement for the success at our society.

Friday, December 03, 2004

News on the Home Front

Before going any further, I should note that this must be some sort of record. Four blogs in one day. All of them brought about primarily out of boredom.

At any rate, in a personal aside to the pearls of timeless wisdom I have been casting so profligately about lately (and no, I compare you not to swine, you sensitive, delicate creatures you) I offer for your edification the somewhat stupefying, holee-shit news item that I have a date with a girl, tomorrow night. An actual, honest-to-omega girl. A cute one, too, as I'd be more than happy to show you if I had a digital camera (hint hint, Christmas givers.)

Why, one might ask, is this newsworthy? Very simple, really: in addition to being mean and cantankerous, I am also a colossal geek who gets nervous as hell around women I like. Additionally, it has been a year and half since breaking things off with my awful monster of an ex-girlfriend, a creature who did more to put the fear of a wrathful old-testament god into me than years of compulsory church-going. The time since then has been spent in a state of almost monkish chastity, with only two encounters having even the remotest connotation of mutual sexual interest. The first was holding-conversations-with-herself Golem crazy, the second a cocktauntress of the worst sort, who spent the night at the bar carressing my quivering genitalia and promptly hopped into bed with my friend (who was just as baffled as I, even to the point of offering - with no prompting on my part - to kick her slut ass out of his bed and send her my way.) Neither of these proceded to coitus, for which happy fact I prostrate myself before Dionysus in thinks for his uncharacteristic forebearance.

I should mention that I've been climbing the contact ladder with this girl for over a month now. The first e-mail didn't get through (for which I am also grateful, having some days later re-read the invitation therein and almost suffered cardiac arrest at the sheer, overpowering, awkward geekiness of it.) Turned out she never checked that address, given to me by her friend and my housemate, the talented young artist Meg Hewick (I'd been too chickenshit to ask her for it in person.) Later I e-mailed her and asked to to the Alexander preview, and although she did not get it in time she responded with her phone numbers, for future convenience.

An encouraging sign, I thought. I did not, however, call her that weekend, as I already had plans: Friday, to see an old friend whom I have not seen in months, and Saturday, to attend a party being held by an old friend whom I have not seen in years. Friday fell through entirely. And as for Saturday, well ... the party was frankly underwhelming, if only because I knew naught but one of the attendees, and her a hostess. Sushi was good, though, by which I mean plentiful and free.

Volunteer publicity spot: if you're in Toronto, check out Boiled Weiners. This is the sketch comedy troupe that threw the party as a fundraiser for their upcoming Chicago trip. The principals walked about in costume, and they were funny as hell. One of the characters is a Serbian immigrant who moves to Church Street, and as a result sings a song about how 60 Percents Are Gays. Offensive and sometimes cruel. Great stuff.

The point, though, is that I could have called, but didn't. It's all good though. We MSNd this week, I called her yesterday, she returned it today and we have a date for tomorrow.

Oh, her name's Pam by the way. Did I mention that she's cute? And, for some unfathomable reason that almost makes me doubt her sanity, willing to be seen in public with me?

Great god above, I am motherfucking delerious. I'm going to bed.

Demarketcy, or, One Man, One Hundred Votes

Okay, so this is my second long post in the same day. It's a slow day at work, and I'm bored.

The problems with the current system are myriad. It's a steam age government operating in an information age society, with results that grow more ridiculously dysfunctional every day. There's little accountability, either in legislatures or bureaucracies ... more than in a dictatorship, perhaps, but that's hardly saying much. There's no incentive to get results, just to appease the electorate by pretending to get them.

Tinkering with the system won't work. Somethign drastically useful is called for. So, here it is: the demarketcy.

The principle is simple. Everyone in the system - regardless of age - gets 100 votes to start with. These votes are used, not to elect people, but to elect ideas. The electorate votes directly on the laws themselves. Legislatures with elected reps can be retained, or not, but the power of creating new legislation is denied them; all they can do is propose. Citizens ratify.

So far there's no difference between this and a standard direct democracy. Here's the innovation: a citizen's voting power increases or decreases based on the effectiveness of the laws he votes for, or against.

For instance, lets say Charlie thinks gun control is a good idea, and that a total ban will result in a fewer gun deaths and less crime. Ayn, meanwhile, thinks a gun ban will result in a disarmed citizenry prostate before an emboldened population of criminals, and that crime will as a result increase. However, a majority of voters initially agree with Charlie, and the gun ban is imposed. Five years later, home invasion rates are up significantly, and the votes of those who voted for the gun ban decrease, while those who voted against gain. Charlie now has 90 votes, while Ayn is worth 110. Furthermore, the law - having been shown to be (worse than) useless - is automatically repealed.

The basic idea, then, is to turn the legislative process into something more akin to a stock market. Those who make the best decisions, voting for laws that actually work, will see their elecotral power increase. Those who make bad decisions will see their franchise decrease in power. The majority, who muddle through making as many bad decisions as good, will tend to stay about the same.

There are several advantages to this system. It gives citizens a direct stake in political life. It allows people to vote directly on issues, without having to understand the obfuscations of professional politicians. It distributes political power more evenly through society, such that it will resemble a bell curve more than a step function. It takes demagoguery completely out of the equation, which is important given that charisma is not always correlated with good sense. And finally, the system can be set up in parallel to the current system, without the necessity for a revolution.

It's this last that I find most attractive, incidentally. Revolutions virtually always lead to autocracies, no matter what the (often utopian) promises of the revolutionary leaders are. Unfortunately, the more out of step a government becomes with reality, the greater the probability that a population with no stake in said government will do what it can to remove it, by force if necessary.

I'll expound more on the individual points raised in this post later.

Officer, Arrest That Man! He Stole My Crack!

Those who know me, know my stance on the drug war. For those who don't, and can't geuss: it's perhaps the biggest waste of time, resources, and human lives since, well ... actually I don't know if it's ever been topped. That it was entered into after the disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibiton has always deeply confused me: I like to think people are smarter than that (actually, I think they are. It's the government that's incapable of learning from past mistakes.)

The reasons for this are myriad. There's the contemptible position that people are unable to control their own recreational behaviour, and that the law must be employed to prohibit it instead. There's the fact that it hasn't worked: as drug war spending goes up, street prices go down, with bug bust effecting only a temporary rise in price. There's the inherent silliness of imagining that cops, propaganda, and foreign policy can have any significant impact on demand for chemicals that numerous groups have enjoyed since time immemorial. And there's the almost unspeakable brutality of the collataral damage - personal, political, and economic - in places like Colombia.

I'd like to make a different point, though. Over and above all of these things is the question of what, exactly, the criminal law is there to do. Implicit in the war on (some) drugs is the belief that criminal law should be used to keep people from harming themselves, or simply preventing behaviour that a subset of the population thinks is immoral. Laws against buggery - excuse me, homosexuality - fall into the same category, though the resulting oppression was relatively minor, and the distortion on the economy essentially negligible. This is not true for the drug war.

Elementary economics - hell, basic knowledge of human nature - will tell you that when there are people who want something, there will be people who are willing to provide it. Legality makes no difference here, save to add a risk premium to the merchant's profit margin. Now, for any economic activity to be viable, there has to be a certain degree of order. In mainstream society, that order is provided through the law: companies that fuck over their customers get fucked over by the government, at least in theory. Similarly, a customer who tries to fuck over a company will, more often than not, have sanctions brought against them. This helps to ensure that when disputes arise, as they inevitably do, they are settled with a minimum of fuss.

If there is no official sanction to an economic activity, the need for order does not disappear. However, being illegal, the entire apparatus of modern society by which disputes are arbitrated is denied the merchants; as a result, they need to enforce that order themselves. Lacking the resources for a parallel legal system, they resort to the most basic level of dispute resolution known to man. Namely, the direct application of violence.

Now consider something else. Merchants tend to have access to their product at wholesale prices. I, for instance, work for a book store; as a result, I get books very cheaply, often for free. Similarly, drug dealers have access to drugs at a very low price. Many of them take advantage of this (indeed, many enter the trade initially because they are drug enthusiasts.) The effects of overindulgence in chemicals on one's judgement and emotional stability are rarely for the better. Knowing this, ask yourself something: how smart is it to make illegal the trade in mind-altering chemicals, knowing that a) those who sell them have cheap access, often use them more often than the population at large, and as a result regularly suffer from impaired judgement, and b) that, being denied official dispute resolution mechanisms, they will have to fall back on violence in order to maintain a semblance of order within their profession.

Consider the alternative: legalize everything (yes, even crack.) At a stroke, drugs are cheaper, by a factor of 20 or so. A day's heroin binge can be had for five bucks, less than the current cost of a pack of smokes. Sure, more people might use them, though less than you might think. At the same time, those who do use them will have little reason to commit crimes in order to feed their habit. Also, at a stroke, those who sell drugs will be able to use the courts instead of carbines.

There's only one rational solution to the drug problem ... unfortunately, the problem is the government, not the drugs, and our glorious leaders will be the last to admit this.

In the meantime, I'm gonna go out tonight and get completely off my head. And no, not just with booze.