Apr 26, 2016

Modern Monetary Theory going mainstream (kinda)

English: Portrait of Milton Friedman
English: Portrait of Milton Friedman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Modern Monetary Theory, operating under other brand names, is starting to gain traction, interest, and legitimacy. Not just me and a couple of crazy academics who think there's something there.
From this article in Bloomberg View, "Milton Friedman's Helicopter Money is Looking Less Crazy."
...the claim of Modern Money Theory that governments shouldn't be afraid of deficit spending is gaining traction with some of the smartest people in the financial room.
What's driving the conversation is a resurgence of interest in Milton Friedman's idea of "Helicopter Money." From an article "What is Helicopter Money" in World Economic Forum.
In the now famous paper “The Optimum Quantity of Money”, Friedman included the following parable:
Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over this community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community. Let us suppose further that everyone is convinced that this is a unique event which will never be repeated.”
Friedman's goes on to explain how doing such a seemingly insane thing  would not necessarily lead to hyperinflation; that it might have beneficial effects on an economy. But the silly name guarantees it won't be implemented. Friedman was no marketing guy. Or maybe he was an antimarketing guy.
MMT's mechanics are different than HM. MMT does not suggest dropping money from helicopters, notably. But in most practical respects, helicopter money seems entirely consistent with MMT. The differences are  mainly semantic, but there is a practical difference as well: Friedman defined helicopter money as a one-time event. MMT defines its equivalent as one of the ongoing tools of fiscal and monetary policy, and has a well developed theory (along with historical examples of use) to go along with it.
The nutty idea of "helicopter drops" was brought back into the mainstream by Ben Bernanke, who spoke about it in 2002. It was further legitimized in 2014, by a paper, "The Simple Analytics of Helicopter Money: Why It Works -- Always" 
by Willem Buiter, chief economist for Citibank. Buiter's paper argues that when applied "properly" it will increase demand and production and GDP and not lead to hyperinflation. The conditions for proper use are spelled out in his paper.
A 2014 article, "Send In The Helicopters," in the Economist, also discusses it as a legitimate option.
Bernanke has recently published an article at Brookings on the subject. "What Tools Does the Fed Have Left? Part III Helicopter Money." and that seems to have  prompted the latest spike in in interest in "helicopter money" as shown here in Google Trends. 
HelicopterMoney
 Bernanke gives it a new, less stupid name: "Money-financed fiscal actions" or MFFAs and distinguishes between "money financed fiscal policy" policy as distinct from "debt financed fiscal policy."
Whatever.
He's pretty much accepting one of the wacko policy prescriptions of MMT. People are taking this seriously because  a) it's originally Milton Friedman's idea, and Milton's not a wacko and b) Ben Bernanke is behind it, and he's not a wacko, and c) the other tools of fiscal and monetary policy have failed just as MMT had predicted, and in the way that MMT had predicted. So maybe?
It seems that the time is nigh to start the discussion that leads to this as a real option as the suffering of "fiscally responsible austerity" is becoming unbearable for many.
Greg Ip in the Wall Street Journal writes "A Time and a Place for Helicopter Money"
Helicopter money merges QE and fiscal policy while, in theory, getting around limitations on both. The government issues bonds to the central bank, which pays for them with newly created money. The government uses that money to invest, hire, send people checks or cut taxes, virtually guaranteeing that total spending will go up. Because the Fed, not the public, is buying the bonds, private investment isn’t crowded out.
Unlike with QE, the Fed promises never to sell the bonds or withdraw from circulation the money it created. It returns the interest earned on the bonds to the government. That means households won’t expect their taxes to go up to repay the bonds. It also means they should expect prices eventually to rise. As spending and prices rise, nominal GDP goes up, so the debt-to-GDP ratio can remain stable.
Technically, the government is not running the printing presses, a criticism of MMT. Instead, a Treasury issues bonds to its Central which then gives the Treasury money to spend. The bonds would bear interest which the government would have to pay to the Central Bank, but the Central Bank returns the interest to the government, so the net cost of the money ends up zero. 
And the notion that this is not a guaranteed disaster is gaining credibility. The article continues:
In his book “Between Debt and the Devil,” which advocates helicopter money, the British economist Adair Turner cites Pennsylvania in the early 1700s, the U.S. Union government in the 1860s and Japan in the early 1930s as examples of governments that used monetary finance without triggering hyperinflation.
An even better example is World War II. The federal government had to borrow heavily to finance the war effort and the Fed helped by buying bonds to keep their yields from rising above 2.5%. Between 1940 and 1945, the Fed’s holdings of debt rose from $2.5 billion to $22 billion, an increase roughly equal to 9% of annual GDP. Though this only financed a fraction of the war, it was still debt monetization: most of those purchases proved to be permanent.
Discussion continues.

Apr 13, 2016

How a scam made me a Wikipedia edtor


I was doing some online research when I found myself on this page. It looks a little bit like the page that Chrome displays when you go to a site that Google deems unsafe. Only it's red.

Danger! Danger!

Still, it's Google, right? It's got the Google favicon on the browser tab. It says "Automatically report details of security incidents to Google." It's got a link to their "Privacy Policy." So Google.

No.

If you click the OK box to dismiss the dialog, you get -- another copy of the same dialog. Click it again, you get it again. Over and over. Browser is now useless. Must be something really bad.

No.

The telltale: no indication of a secure certificate (green icon next to the URL). So this is not Google. And it's not anyone to trust.

To leave the page you need to note that the second time the dialog appears there's a checkbox that says: "Prevent this site from opening other popups" or words to that effect. That's the escape hatch. Click on it. Click OK, the dialog does not appear. Thank you, browser! And now close the page. And you are done.

My question is: how the heck did I get to that page.

It took a little figuring out, but I finally did. I had been reading a Wikipedia article and clicked a link in the article and that's what got me here. I tried the link again, and again. Each time I clicked it, I went to a different page. Just my luck to get that one.

Next day I did something that's long overdue: I created a Wikipedia account. Then I edited the page and got rid of the offending link.

I hope it will be the first of many contributions.

Apr 12, 2016

When does a person become person?

The Jewish position on abortion, as I was taught it, is this: "A fetus can be aborted at any time until it completes law or medical school." Some mothers hold a child can be aborted until it produces a grandchild. Others believe "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out." I don't think that the Supreme Court would agree. Certainly the "right-to-life" crowd would not.

1.
The right-to-life group argues that says abortion, from the moment of conception, is always murder and must not be permitted. The strongest argument to support that view goes like this:

1. The act of conception (sperm meeting egg) produces a new human being.
2. An unborn human being is innocent of any crime.
3. Killing an innocent human being is murder (killing someone who is guilty of a crime -- including the crime of fighting your army --  might be permissible)
3.  Therefore abortion, which kills an innocent human being, is murder.

QED.

Calling the thing you killed a zygote, a gastrula, a blastula, an embryo, or a fetus doesn't change it. No matter what you call it, what you are about to kill is still a unique human being, and killing it is murder, and murder is a crime, which must be prevented and punished.

Some argue that a zygote is not yet a human being, but is it? Once an egg is fertilized by a sperm you've got something new and unique. It's not its daddy. It's not its mommy. It's itself. Given time and the right environment, it will be a human child. Since we can't identify any point in the development process where the zygote transitioned from not human to human, it must be that the moment at which the zygote came into being is the moment at which human life and personhood began?

And if that's true, then ending the life of a zygote or what it becomes is ending the life of a human being. And that is murder.

Pro life people aren't trying to deny women control of their bodies. They just want to preserve the rights of unborn human beings, and stop murderers from murdering them.

So is the thing growing in a woman't body actually a human being? A person? If you believe in souls, does it have one?

2.
Pro-lifers argue that it is a human being.

This article, uses Scripture as a basis, goes through what we know about embryology, and ends up by using Biblical authority:
A purely scientific examination of human development from the moment of fertilization until birth provides no experimental method that can gauge humanness. Stages of maturation have been described and cataloged. Chemical processes and changes in size and shape have been analyzed. Electrical activity has been monitored. However, even with this vast amount of knowledge, there is no consensus among scientists as to where along this marvelous chain of events an embryo (or zygote or fetus or baby, depending upon who is being asked) becomes human.
Since science can't tell us when a baby becomes human we must rely on other sources:
The Bible contains numerous references to the unborn. Each time the Bible speaks of the unborn, there is reference to an actual person, a living human being already in existence. These Scriptures, taken in context, all indicate that God considers the unborn to be people. The language of the text continually describes them in personal terms.
The article cites a dozen passages from Scripture that make such references.

Then it argues:

Since the Bible treats those persons yet unborn as real persons, and since the development of a person is a continuum with a definite beginning at the moment of fertilization, the logical point at which a person begins to be human is at that beginning. 
The Catholic Education Resource Center makes a similar argument, without recourse to Scripture. The analysis is done on the basis of moral logic.
The reason we should love, respect, and not kill human beings is because they are persons, i.e., subjects, souls, Is, made in the image of God Who is I AM.
... development is gradual-after conception. Conception is the break, the clear dividing line, and the only one. I am the same being from conception on. Otherwise we would not speak of the growth and development and unfolding of that being, of me. I was once an infant. I was born. I was once in my mothers womb. My functioning develops only gradually, but my me has a sudden beginning. 
And what is that beginning?
No other line than conception can be drawn between pre-personhood and personhood. Birth and viability are the two most frequently suggested. But birth is only a change of place and relationship to the mother and to the surrounding world (air and food); how could these things create personhood? As for viability, it varies with accidental and external factors like available technology (incubators).
Less is more. The best argument that I've found comes from a Blog called Pro Life Philosophy. does not depend on Scripture. It does not depend on the existence of a soul. The author argues:
An unborn child is not just a clump of cells (though we begin life as a cell and develop into an embryo/fetus). You could say that fundamentally, all of us born people, child and adult, are just a clump of cells. But an embryo/fetus is human. They have human DNA and are conceived by human parents. Creatures reproduce after their own kind. Two humans will conceive a human. Humans are alive or dead. They are not simply "there." An embryo/fetus grows, which living entities do, and all the signs of life that I learned in elementary school biology (e.g. cell division, response to stimuli, respiration) are all there. Doctors and scientists know when life begins; at conception. Doctors who perform abortions know when life begins. There's no denying that a unique human being comes into existence at conception. And humans, simply by virtue of being human, are valuable and should have the fundamental rights afforded to all people: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I'm pretty sure there's a reason life was listed first in that famous declaration.
3.
There's are fundamental problems in all of these arguments.

Suppose I decide to create a sculpture. As its creator, I start with a block of granite. Now clearly a block of granite is not a sculpture. It has the potential to be a sculpture, but it is not one, yet. Not until I hack on it with my sculpting tools.

At some point, after I've worked on it for a while, I, as its creator, say declare that my sculpture is complete. You look at it and agree: definitely a sculpture.

The development of a person, as the first source argues that since development "is a continuum with a definite beginning at the moment of fertilization, the logical point at which a person begins to be human is at that beginning." Likewise the creation of my sculpture is a continuum with a definite beginning. We might argue whether the beginning is when I first conceive or my work or whether it's when I take my first whack at the stone. But it seems there is a beginning.

If you asked me the moment after I first conceived of it if it was a sculpture, I would have laughed: "No, it's an idea for a sculpture." And if you asked me after I took the first whack at it, or even a while later, I would answer: "No. It's a work in process. Not a sculpture."

I'd say that until I decided that I was finished. Work in process, until done. What gives me the right to say that? I claim I have the right, as its creator.

I don't have the same belief in God that you might, but for the purposes of this discussion I can assume that God is the omnipotent Creator of the Universe. If that's true, then a person becomes a person when God says it is a person. It a person and a soul are related concepts, then the soul enters the body when God says it does, and not otherwise.

So what does God say about the point, between fertilization and birth when God invests a soul in a body? As far as Holy Scripture is concerned, God doesn't say.

Surely there must be a point in time when that happens. It's simple logic that there would be one.

So here are some problems that science presents to people who think they can determine the divine will of God in the absence of God saying anything.

First: there is no "moment of conception." After a sperm penetrates the outer layer of an ovum, it takes some time for the nuclear material of the sperm and the nuclear material of the ovum to combine, and for the process of cell division to begin. So does God put a soul in the ovum when a sperm enters it? Or does God wait for the nuclear material to join? Or for cell division to begin. Scripture does not say.

Perhaps it doesn't matter. Whatever the case, by the time that there's something that can aborted -- murdered -- cell division would has started. But this is just a foretaste of the problems that will face those who think they know what God is up to.

The cells start to divide and the developing embryo goes through several stages. The first is the development of a morula -- a compact ball of about 32-64 cells. The next stage is formation of a blastula -- a hollow ring of cells, with a central mass of cells on once side. Until the end of blastulation, the blastula can spit and if both parts survive the result will be monozygotic -- identical -- twins.

So when does God inject the soul? If by the time that cell division start, what does God do when the blastula splits? Does God add a second cell? Or does soul division accompany cell division. The Bible doesn't give us a clue.

To make matters worse, each of two sperms can fertilize each two eggs producing two zygotes. Suppose each has a soul, or is a human being. Sometime after that point the masses of cells from two separate zygotes merge. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. The result is a chimera. A single body some part of whose cells came from zygote1 and some from zygote2. There are several reported and documented cases of human chimerism and chimerism in other species are well studied.

So what does God do then? If both zygotes had souls do chimeric individuals have dual souls, just as they have dual chromosomal inheritances? Or does God revoke one of the souls. In which case, which soul gets sent back. The Bible doesn't help us with that.

It's pretty clear that the simplistic idea that personhood begins at the moment of fertilization is wrong. First, because there is no moment of fertilization. Second because of the problems of twinning and chimerism.

And add to that the complexities created by in vitro fertilization (IVF). Some might argue that IVF by itself goes against God's plan. But to make that argument, they must know more about God's plan than God has revealed in Scripture.

4
If someone accepts the authority of Scripture, it seems reasonable to make a claim about what God says, but it seems arrogant to claim to know what God thinks. And if someone believes that God is omnipotent, it seems contradictory to suppose that God can't do something, if God wants.

God has not said when a person becomes a person. It's pretty clear the "moment of conception" argument is wrong. Here are some other times, adapted from Wikipedia's article on human personhood, when God could decide a bunch of cells was a human being, a person.

  • Implantation, occurring about a week after fertilization
  • Segmentation, after twinning is no longer possible.
  • When the heart begins to beat
  • Neuromaturation, when the central nervous system of fetus is neurobiologically "mature"[16]
  • "brain birth" concepts (compare with brain death):
  • At the first appearance of brain waves in lower brain (brain stem) - 6–8 weeks of gestation (paralleling "whole brain death")
  • At the first appearance of brain waves in higher brain (cerebral cortex) - 22–24 weeks of gestation (paralleling "higher brain death")[17][18]
  • At the time of fetal movement, or "quickening"
  • When the fetus is first capable of feeling pain
  • When it can be established that the fetus is capable of cognition, or neonatal perception
  • Fetal viability
  • Birth
and, of course:
  • Bar/Bat Mitzvah
  • Completing law or medical school

God's got a lot of choices. The soul could enter the body just before, or during birth. It might happen earlier. Of after medical school. As a creator of a sculpture I get to say when it stops being a work in process, and when it's a sculpture. A God who created the universe and all that is in must have at least the power that I have over my sculpture: "It's a person when the Creator says that it is a person."

5.
Unless you happen to be God, even if you believe the Bible is the literal word of God, you don't know when a person becomes a person. God doesn't say, so it's just your opinion.

But what if your presumption is not based on God. The writer of Pro Life Philosophy does not depend on Scripture. The moment that sperm and egg are united, he says, you have a unique, living being. He says his argument is scientific: it is necessarily human because DNA decides what is human and what is not.

The first is that it once again tries to prove to much. The second is that, if true, it would compel us to do things which do violence to our moral intuitions. Consider this situation.

A building is on fire and you have a choice: you can either save the lives of five people who are visiting the building, or 10 children playing in its day care center.  I choose the kids. I think most would.

Now imagine the building is a fertility clinic and the people are innocent of anything bad that happens there. I think that makes no difference.

Now imagine the choice is between saving ten zygotes and five people -- or five children. I'd sacrifice the ten zygotes.

Supposing it was 50 zygotes. 100. 200. My answer would be the same: save the people, not the zygotes. Because they aren't people.

Change the situation again. Now it's still five people -- or children on one side. On the other side, through some strange combination of events, there are ten women, just about to give birth to ten babies. The deal is this: you can save the unborn babies, but you can't save the moms. My choice is to save ten rather than five, because I see the ten as people, even though they aren't born and ten is greater than five. Meanwhile the lives of a thousand zygotes, even a million are not equal to the life of a single child, or baby, or unborn.


The flaw in the reasoning is the idea there must be a moment when something becomes a human being. And that is counterfactual. There are no moments when anything.

A baseball batter hits a baseball. At what moment was the baseball hit? It seems an instantaneous event, but we know that's not true. The bat and ball meet, and for a while both ball and bat compress at the point of impact. Both decelerate and some of the bat's momentum transfers to the ball, and off it goes in the opposite direction.

So there is no "moment of the hit." You can argue that it's the moment when ball and bat first contact one another, but that doesn't work, because there is no such moment. Balls and bats are made of atom and atoms are not little spheres with discrete boundaries. The interaction between bat and ball is really the interaction between bat-atom-fields and ball-atom-fields, and fields don't have discrete boundaries. Fields are spread in space with their strength falling off with distance from a center that moves over time. So you can argue that it's the first moment when a ball-atom -field interacts, however weakly, with a bat-atom-field. But that doesn't work either, because every field in every atom interacts with every field in every other atom. Generally the interactions are negligible. But they exist.

Nothing in the universe happens at a discrete moment of time. Everything is a process that unfolds over a span of time. The joining of ovum DNA with sperm DNA to produce a human zygote does not happen in an instant. It happens over a period of time. Likewise the change from a zygote to a human being, a person, also happens over a period of time.

I don't know what that period of time is, but I know it's got to be some period of time  -- because that's the way the universe works.

My opinion is that an embryo is not a person until well past the time that it is able to move -- probably when it is capable of cognition. It's just my opinion. I can back my opinion with reasons, but in the end, those are just reasons, and it's just my opinion.

You may choose, despite the problematic nature of your choice, that personhood begins during the period of time in which the egg DNA and sperm DNA combine.  You can back your opinion with your own reasons, but in the end, they are just reasons, and it's just your opinion -- no better and no worse than mine.

If you believe in God, then what God actually thinks and does would be of paramount importance. If God says "Thou shalt not kill" then that's pretty clear. And if the Bible said: "when a sperm and an egg unite, then is a human be created" that would be pretty clear. But it doesn't say that.

I'm inclined to think that finding the exact moment is not such a big deal. If it was a big deal, and God didn't make it clear it seems a little negligent of God. If you're the Father, and something is important, and you don't tell your child that seems stupid. I could  believe in a God that didn't tell us every single things, but I wouldn't want to believe in a God that was stupid.

6
If there is a God, I am sure that there are things that God would know that I am incapable of understanding. But if I were God, here's what I would do:

I wouldn't put souls in the bodies of children who I knew would die before they were born -- either for natural reasons or by abortion. It just seems like a shitty thing to do. If I were God, I would not be shitty. And if there were a God, I'm inclined to think that God wouldn't be shitty.

I also wouldn't put souls in the bodies of children who would die young. For that matter I wouldn't put souls in the bodies of people who lived horrible lives. I'd make them NPCs, Non Player Characters. They'd be just like real people, but they wouldn't feel anything, and so they would not suffer.

God, if all-powerful could do that. Maybe there are good reasons not to, but this seems like a good strategy to me.

And as far as I know there's nothing in Scripture that says God would not do that.

But I'm not an expert.

Also not God.

7.
As far as I can see, Scripture is silent on when that which is conceived become a person. It seems pretty wrong when people attempt to force people to follow their interpretation of Scripture, while failing to do things that God has said we should do in the plainest and least ambiguous language.

Can anything be clearer than this, from the Sermon on the Mount:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Seems obvious to me that even if abortionists were evil that God would have Christians not resisting abortionists and abortion clinics. Seems they would not even try to impede them, but would walk with them. Seems that if an abortionist should ask for help, a Christian should give help.

That seems completely straightforward to me, while the idea that zygotes are persons, that abortion is necessarily murder, and that good Christians should do whatever they can -- in the name of God, Jesus, and women's health or anything else they can come up with -- to make abortion as difficult as they can is just plain fucking wrong.

And downright unchristian.

Apr 6, 2016

The right to have an abortion

Next week's topic in our local discussion group, Beyond Labels, was triggered by discussion of the Texas abortion clinic case currently before the Supreme Court. The case, known to its friends as "Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt" revolves on the following legal point:
Issue: (1) Whether, when applying the “undue burden” standard of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a court errs by refusing to consider whether and to what extent laws that restrict abortion for the stated purpose of promoting health actually serve the government’s interest in promoting health; and (2) whether the Fifth Circuit erred in concluding that this standard permits Texas to enforce, in nearly all circumstances, laws that would cause a significant reduction in the availability of abortion services while failing to advance the State’s interest in promoting health - or any other valid interest.
The full record of proceedings can be found at Scotusblog, here.
To comprehend the dimensions of the case I went back to Roe v. Wade. (Wikipedia, text of decision) and the underlying judicial argument on the right to privacy, and the history of thinking about abortion.
Roe v Wade's justification on the basis of the right to privacy seems to be pretty widely misunderstood by conservatives and liberals alike. Conservatives say things like: "Neither the Bill of Rights nor the rest of the Amendments nor the rest of the Constitution says anything about a right to privacy. This is more liberal legislating a new right from the bench." Liberals say: "Well, of course we have a right to privacy" but they generally can't make the argument that explains why such a right would exist under Constitutional law.
The liberal "argument,"  which amounts to "Well, it's obviously the right thing to do, so it should be a right, even if it's not," may be (self-) satisfying, but it's vacuous.
The conservative argument, which is an actual argument, and so doesn't get scare quotes, is wrong. The Constitution does not enumerate every right of the people. But it does, specifically say, in several places, that the Constitution does not remove existing rights. So if the people had a right to privacy before the Constitution, they still have it.
The argument that the right to privacy is new is based on a misunderstanding of what "privacy" means, under the law. A simple definition is: that which is not public, is private. What I do in the middle of Main Street is a public act. What I do at the lobby of the local hospital is public. What I do in my bedroom is private (though some would have it otherwise.) And what I do in my doctor's office is private -- between me and my doctor.
Another definition of privacy is "the right to be left alone." Absent compelling state interests, about which there can be discussion, we have the right to be left alone to do what we choose to do unless what we choose to do runs against a compelling public interest. So if we are engaged in creating nuclear weapons in the privacy of our bedrooms and the government finds out, then the government can stop us.
The argument against Roe v. Wade is also based on a misunderstanding of the history of the law on abortion. Under English Common law, abortion prior to "quickening" -- the first movement of the developing fetus -- was not an indictable offense. Quickening occurs around the 16th to 18th week of pregnancy and would certainly be consistent with first trimester abortion. 
The first state law in the United States that specifically addressed abortion dates to 1821. So a social liberal taking a strict constructionist point of view could argue that prior to 1821 a woman had a right to have an abortion and a doctor had a right to perform one -- at least through the time of quickening. This was a private act. There was no law against it. 
On that argument, the subsequent state laws that abridged that right -- other than in the interest of an existing state interest -- such as the health of women were unconstitutional. The argument that the state had an interest in protecting the life of the unborn child is an argument, but it's a new argument that overturns an existing right. So, no.
The argument supporting Roe v Wade then goes like this:
1. The 9th Amendment says: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people"
2. The 14th Amendment says: "...No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..."
3. So the rights that people had under the prevailing conventions of law -- English Common Law -- are not denied or disparaged under the Constitution, and a state can't enforce laws that abridge the immunities or privileges of citizens.
4. So if the people had a right, privilege, or immunity and a state passed a law that took it away, that law was unconstitutional.
QED
In 1890, Samuel D. Warren and  Louis D. Brandeis, the latter eventually to become a justice of the Supreme Court, wrote an article that was published in the Harvard Law Review some 27 pages long, including footnotes traces the evolution of rights in common law. 
The law, in earliest time granted people the right to life -- which originally just meant freedom from battery. People had the right to live their lives unimpaired. To kill someone or to beat them violated that right.
Long before the Constitution was written the understanding of these rights began to change.  English civil law recognized that threats of battery -- which include we call assault were also a rights violation.  We have the right not only to be let alone and not beaten, but also the right not to be threatened.
The law recognized that not only was an individual's body not subject to ill-use by others, but also each person's reputation was also a valuable asset and that destroying that asset -- by libel, by slander, by defamation violated a right.
The right to be protected from assault is not explicitly stated in the Constitution -- because it didn't need to be. It was a right that already existed. Same with the right to privacy and the right to have an abortion.
So that's what I've learned

Apr 5, 2016

The Mr. Mikey Show (Review)

Photo credit: Denis Collette...!!! via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND 
There's this show that I've been watching for years. It doesn't have a name, so I'll give it a name: "The Mr. Mikey Show." It seems to be the only thing that's on the only channel I get, so my choices are limited. And my feelings about the show are conflicted. So today I'm going to write a review, partly to clarify my feelings, partly in the vague hope that some of the writers or producers will read my review and improve the program.

Bottom line: it's a good show. I plan to keep watching. But it could be better.

1.
I'll describe myself as an avid, even obsessive viewer. I turn the show on first thing in the morning and I leave it on all day. From time to time I'll get really interested in an episode or a production detail, but mostly it's on in the background; it's something familiar to occupy spare attention as I go about my day.

I enjoy the show, now in its 73rd season. But sometimes I'm bored by a series of episodes, or long parts of a single episode. I'm not looking for a never-ending series of crises. No, let me say it more clearly: I don't want it to be a never-ending series of crises. But I'd really like it if they could have the main character solve a few of his recurring problems. Can't write? Again? WTF? Didn't we do that last season? The season before? Let's get him over that, and on to something new.

Last summer our hero had to deal with weeks of intense, chronic pain for the first time in many years. One recent episode stands out. It was night, and he was in so much pain that he couldn't lie in bed, much less sleep. Lying on the floor was better, but better is a relative term.

In one memorable scene, it's around midnight and he's trying to get to his "back buddy," a plastic tool that he uses to relieve occasional neck pain. He's got the idea that it will help. Really, he'll try anything. He's in the bedroom and his back buddy is in the utility room, and standing up is agonizing and walking is out of the question. So he gets to the back buddy by a combination of crawling, rolling, and skootching along on his back. He's in severe pain, and sees the irony of the situation. He's kind of laughing. So was I. LOL!

It was an interesting series of episodes -- in retrospect. He learned about how fucked up the medical system was. He gained new appreciation of how brave his wife -- who has had chronic back pain for years -- had been. And he decided that he'd want to find a better way to deal with pain and suffering because (spoiler alert) he knows there's more ahead.

That's the problem with some of these story arcs. They're interesting to recall, but I find that they're horrible to watch. They just go on, and on, and on. Thing get better. Then they get worse. Or they stay the same, day after day. That arc continued from July of last summer to just a short while ago.

Less of that. More of: "I've discovered what I need to do in order to write more."

Please!

2.
Maybe we'll have more stories about the lead character's growing ability to be "awake," as he calls it. This story arc started last season when he read a book that caused him to realize that he's not really awake: that he's been living his life as though he's watching a movie. That it's all an illusion. Ironic, isn't it? Here's a character in a show that he thinks is his life, realizing that he's a character in a show that he thinks that is his life -- and I'm watching the show in which he has this realization!

Great, mind-bending story line! Way better than "how much pain can he endure."

He starts having these waking up experiences. He comes out of what he describes as "his trance" and sees something familiar in his life as though for the first time. And in an important sense, that's true. It's been there but he hasn't seen it because he wasn't present. Or awake. Or something.

Every once in the while he tells one of the other characters about this kind of experience, and every time he does it, he goes through the same process of waking up. Again, irony. He starts telling the story from his trance, and telling the story about waking up, is what wakes him up. It doesn't last long, but he realizes that it doesn't last long. He's working on finding ways to wake himself more often, and to make the waking up periods longer.

He's making progress. I wish he'd make more progress, and faster, because -- oddly enough -- most times when he wakes up, I do too. For a short time the show stops being noise in the background and takes on immediacy. It's as though I'd forgotten the show was on, and suddenly I'm aware of it.

Maybe that's just a plot device to make me care about the character. Or maybe that's the whole point of this arc. Whatever it is, it works. I like it better than pain story, or the not writing story.

3.
As I've been writing this post, the show's been running in the background. Mostly, as usual, I've paid it no heed. But right now I realize that the lead character is writing a blog post, a review of a show that he watches, much like the one I watch.

At this instant, as I am writing this, I'm very aware of what he's experiencing as he writes his own review. How his fingers are moving as they type. How he just stopped and stretched. How he just sighed. How he found himself, momentarily, unable to figure out how to type the word "sighed." He's losing it!

LOL!

Great sequence, guys!

4.
A few recent episodes have been just plain weird, and this might be part of a new, developing story arc. I don't  know. But for what it's worth, here's a recap, and some theories about what might happen.

A few episodes ago he was reading the internet late at night and read a long story about the Villanova basketball team, which had made the Final Four,. The story said that the players had called a press conference and refused to play unless their demands were met. The demands included:
... $25,000 for every player on every team in the 2017 NCAA tournament, health insurance for a minimum of 10 years after graduation, irrevocable scholarships, and the student/athlete’s ownership of his or her own likeness and name, in perpetuity, plus the right to market them.
The story includes reactions from the all over the web and twitterverse, including:


He went to sleep without finishing the article, which was nearly 1500 words long. So did I.

The next morning he got up and looked for it. He couldn't find it. Weird. But, you know, maybe it was just a strange dream.

The problem was that he was convinced it had been real. 1500 words. All sorts of details. Names of players. Names of lawyers. Reaction. Comments from readers. He searched and searched again. Nothing -- except Villanova had played and won their game.

How could it be! Had it been a dream? Had the entire internet agreed to keep it a secret?

He kept going back to search. So did I. He went through web history on every device he had. so did I. Nothing.

Finally, he thought: maybe this is a sign. Maybe I really am living in a dream. This thing happened, and the episode got yanked, and edited and redone for reasons that I could not figure out.

One last time, he says, and opens an incognito window, and tries to search again. He's thinking that the incognito window might be a channel through which something might send him a signal. And there it is! The signal!

The article, just as he remembered it. And this time he reads it to the very bottom, where the article is tagged: "Sports," "News," "April Fools Day."

Crap! The date is, in fact, April 1. He'd been suckered.

But wait, he thinks. Isn't that exactly how bizarre plot twists in other shows sometimes get resolved? It was a dream. There was a parallel universe. It was April Fools Day.

It made sense, and yet the sense of unreality lingered.

That night he went to bed, and woke up crying out. This time, he knew, vivid as it had been, that he had been immersed in a dream.

But still.

It seemed so real.

Looks like season 74 is going to have to have some interesting plot twists, and some thought-provoking ideas about the nature of reality.

I'm going to keep watching. I hope he writes more. I like it when he does that.

And I'll let you know what happens.