Sunday, December 30, 2007

Two Sides of Secularism

The goal of a secular government is for people to check their religious beliefs at the door of the legislature. In the legislature they would discuss the limits that the government needs to set to maintain civil order.

People would define and pursue their ideals in their religion (and or philosophy of life).

The result of this classical liberal form of secularism was an increasingly tolerant society.

Radicalized secularism is a different beast. This starts when group of people decide to start forming their belief systems around secularism or science (a prime example is Marx's Material Dialectic which claimed to be a science). By claiming secularism as a tenet of their belief system, the adherents to this new irreligious-religion would take the stance that, since they hold secularism as a tenet of their beliefs, that they were excused from the need to check one's beliefs at the door of the legislature.

The ironical thing is that the people who take the paradoxical view of radical secularism is that they end up becoming less tolerant than the religions they despise, and end up trying to dictate their ideals and often become totalitarian in their actions.

I think secularism works best is a society where people recognize that they have a relgion. We all have ideals that we use on a personal level to guide our lives. Many of these ideals should be checked at the doorsteps of the Legislature so that we can create a workable society.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Religion Test

I like that Romney gave a speech on religion in America, and I liked the overall direction of the speech which seemed to support the classical liberal view of secularism.

Unfortunately he made several statements that dramatically detracted from the speech. The most powerful part of the speech was the statement "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."

Unfortunately, the powerful statement is clearly a fallacy. History is full of totalitarian states that used religion to cement in the fealty of the people. He probably made the slip simply because he was not taught logic in school. These days, no-one is taught logic; so we've come to expect such fallacies.

I suspect that Romney was trying to make an argument similar to the argument that you can't separate faith and reason. Science is built on a belief that there are discernible physical laws. Faith is meaningless unless you have some sort of logical method to act upon faith.

You can argue that there is a dependency between faith and reason. Freedom and religion go well together, but aren't dependent on each other.

It is possible that Romney was referring to the Mormon doctrine of "free agency." Free Agency is something different from the common usage of freedom. If he was using a definition of freedom that is specific to his Church, then he blundered by not explaining to us that he was using a stipulated definition.

Either way, including a statement that most people would see as a logical fallacy in a major speech shows a disturbing lack of judgment.

The public schools may not teach logic, but we still get upset when our leaders make blatant logical fallacies in major addresses.

The biggest gafaw was to put the statement "A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith" in a speech about the importance of faith.

I agree that a candidate should not be seen as a spokesman for their faith. Nor should they be judged for all of the silliness of a church's theology. The public should grill a candidate on any belief that might affect a candidates decision making process.

We can find a good example of a religious tenet making a member of the faith a bad presidential candidate in a religion called the Hutterites. The Hutterites are fanatically against the use of violence. They are so thoroughly opposed to violence that they conscientiously object to serving in the military.

The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief of the United State's military. Even though I respect the non-violence convictions of the Hutterites, I would probably reject a candidate whose religion would prevent him from serving in the military that he must lead.

The vast majority of theological disputes should be checked at the door steps of the Capitol. However, any tenets that affect the functioning of a candidates fulfilling of their position should be up for debate.

Religion shouldn't be a test. However, we are wise to discuss how faith affects the decision making process.

If faith matters; then people should reject a candidate when they have substantive objections to how the candidate's faith would affect their performance in office.

A Long Post on Mitt Romney's Religion in America

Earlier this week Benazir Bhutto, a champion for democracy and freedom, was assassinated by some religious kook. Several weeks ago, there was an equally horrendous attack on Ms. Bhutto that killed 140 people. This assasation was not a lone gunman, but a concerted attempt to stifle the dream of democracy in the Middle East.

These political/religious motivated killings going on in the Middle East are horrific.

On a more civil tone, one of the highlights of the American primary election was Governor Mitt Romney's Faith in America speech delivered earlier this month.

The relation of government and religion is the central issue of our age. If we cannot find a way for religions to live in tolerance, we will see a nuclear war.

Unfortunately, the political class seems to have taken to the idea that the way to fight religious extremism irreligion. The political elite seem set on forcing scientific socialism (a world ruled by pure reason) on the world.

I find this approach foolhardy. I believe strongly that the founders of the United States were on a much better path.

With the exception of Thomas Paine, few of the American founders were dreaming of an age ruled by perfect reason with no religion. I believe that the founders of this nation were of a more pragmatic sort. They envisioned a structure where people continued to encapsulate their imperfect understanding of the universe in religion. They would meet, however, in civil discourse in elected assemblies to create a small government that provided the basic necessities of governance.

I founders' ideal of secularism could best be described as one with limited government and where the people were free to develop and pursue their beliefs. The classical liberalism of the founders respected private religious expression but demanded public tolerance.

This classical liberal view of secularism is in sharp contrast with modern secular progressivism that seeks an unlimited government with extremely tight constraints on the thoughts of the individual.

Unfortunately, this model given to us by the founders is not the most stable of social orders. It falls apart when government gets too large, or when a sufficiently large number of people adhere to a religion (or belief system) that demands political domination.

The greatest fear of Pioneer Americans seems to be that the top down hierarchical Catholic Church would find a way to dominated a nation full of small protestant sects.

To early Americans, the domineering papacy was the great Satan.

John F. Kennedy experience was important as his election seemed to be recognition that American Catholics were American first. Like Protestant, Catholics were committed to a limited secular government.

JFK's speech can be seen as a height of secularism. In the early sixties, the United States had become a much more tolerant nation.

Unfortunately, it is not in human nature to let good things stand.

While Americans were achieving the classical liberal ideal of secularism, a new insideous ideology was forming in the wings. This new ideology is often refered to as "secular progressivism."

Secular progressivism arose as the result of two political trends. The first is the very human tendency to push any good idea to an extreme. If a little secularism is good, then a lot of secularism must be great.

If the idea that people should leave their religious pontifications at the step of the Capitol is a good idea, then ridding ourselfs of all religious sentiment must be great.

The second force behind progressive secularism is the hope of the left to transform the United States into a socialist state. While it is possible for a small limited government to allow free epression of religion, a socialist state must find a way to either incorporate a religion or stifle all religion.

Most attempts at socialism involve elevating the state to a religion or by adhering to a relgion that demands domination of the popel.

The classical liberal ideal of secularism was premised on a small government with a restricted scope. The secular progressive envision a state with unlimited power and extremely little freedom of expression.

To progress our nation from a free market to socialism, the progressive has to find a way to neutralize all religious sentiment. The obvious path to acheiving the goal of socialism in the 1960s was to form an alliance with those wanting to advance secularism to the next level and socialism.

The result is alliance is a paradoxical belief that is well described as "secular progressivism." Secular Progressivism does its dirty work by trying to make irreligion the religion of the state.

The idea is paradoxical from the start. We are told to imagine a world without religion; However, this act of imagining a utopia is itself a religious act. The ideology of a world without religion is precisely the type of ideology the American founders wanted people to check at the door before discussing government policy.

Irreligion is a religion. We can find an analogy in mathematics. Negating a number does not make a number disappear. Multiplying 3 by -1 does not make the number go away. Negating three makes minus-three. Attempts to negate religion simply creates a religion of irreligion.

The religion of irreligion is inherently irrational. It tends to have even worse results than religions that recognize themselves as religion. People who've deluded themselves into thinking they have achieved a transcendent state by adopting nihilism as their religion tend to become intolerant in their beliefs and actions.

While the classical liberal secularism attempted to create a platform of tolerance where people of different faiths could engage in civil discourse to create a government, the secular progressives have created an irrational belief system that ends with absolute intolerance to those not holding to the group think of irreligion.

Anyway, Mitt Romney was speaking to a completely different world than JFK. In our brave new world order, the left sports a secularism has been radicalized.

As with all radical movements. Radicalized secularism has spawned a reactionary movement. Reactionary movements can be as dangerous as radical movements. This reactionary movement appears to have created a new type of rightwing-mega-church that seems intent on legislating-morality.

The culture war has become a shrill tirade of groups seeking total domination.

The culture war isn't just an American phenomenon. Worldwide, the reaction to secular progressivism has reached epic proportions in the Islamic world. The Islamic world sees the marginalization of Christianity in the West. The Islamic response has been to breeding a particularly insipid reactionary ideology often referred to as radical Islam. The adherents of Radical Islam are willing to kill large numbers of people in a march to domination.

Islamic Radicals have essentially declared a war of extermination against the West.

In our post 9/11 world, the West is in the position of Missouri Governor Boggs. In 1838, the LDS Prophet Sidney Rigdon declared an extermination war on the gentiles of Missouri. Governor Boggs reacted to the extermination war by his infamous extermination order.

In the very heart of America, an elected official of the people ordered the genocide of his political opponents.

The act of an American state issuing an extermination order for a group of citizens was clearly one of the lowest points in this nation's history.

Fortunately cooler heads prevailed. The Mormons left Missouri and migrated to Navou, Illinois where people were anxious to demonstrate the power of tolerance.

This experience is relevant to the middle east. The world needs to find a way to create a structure where different beliefs are tolerated.

Secular progressivism can't do it. The very beating heart of modern progressivism is intolerance. The Islamic world recognizes secular progressivism as nihilistic.

To avoid a war of extermination, we must find a way to confront radical Islam in a way that maintains a positive role for the religious sentiments of the Islamic world.

In this regard, I think Romney's speech was very important. There simply must be a way for people to have different beliefs while having the opportunity to engage in world discourse.

As Mitt Romney approached the podium at the George HW Bush Library, he needed to give a JFK style speech to mitigate fears of his Mormonism while assuaging the sentiments of the reactionaries to secular progressivism.

Romney took a very interesting tact by skirting any discussion of how Mormonism might affect the decision making process. Instead his speech concentrated on differentiating the classical liberal ideal of secularism to the totalitarian visions of radical Islam.

In many ways it is fortuitous that one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidency belongs to an extraordinarily quirky religion.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Run the Republic

I want to do this.

Salt Lake should get busy and build a big building so that Salt Lakers could do the same thing every year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Risk as Part of the Product

Ann Torrence left a interesting comment on my last post about a thing called the New Zealand's Accident Compensation Scheme.

The ACC pretty much picks up the tab for anyone hurt in an extreme sports accident. The result is that the extreme sport industry is huge in New Zealand.

I am not familiar with the ACC or how it is funded. Instead I want to contrast models where you externalize liabilities verses those that internalizes liability.

Before making my reply, I have to make an embarrassing public confession:

Well…as you see …deep down inside … I am a wuss.

I am a wuss in a weird way. I really am not scared of falling off a cliff and dying. I simply can't stand the idea of falling off a cliff and failing to die. When I am trying to make some gnarly move on a rock face, I don't think of the pain that would happen when I slip. The thing that drives me to distraction is that idea that I would end up being a burden on everyone. It is the idea of my actions harming others that really hurts.

The other thing that gets me is that I hate the idea that someone's life depends on a knot that I tied. Packing a parachute looms worse in my mind than jumping out of a plane. Doing an overhanging rappel is a blast. My nightmares are about setting the protection and the possibility of the bolt giving away on the next climber.

(This site shows my last climbing partner)

My inner wussness doesn't really come from a fear of bad things happening to me, but a fear that I might do great harm to others.

Being a wuss should disqualify me from talking about extreme sports, but here goes.

My deep moral conviction is that people should bear the brunt of the risks they take. As such, I prefer the business model where companies internalize risks to those that externalize risks.

To make this point lets look at a Bungee Jumping firm. Let's say the basic materials for doing a bungee jump cost $7 a jump, and the bungee jumping firm takes $3 in profit. So they charge $10.

Let's say that the cord snaps in 1 of every 200,000 jumps. When the cord snaps, the jumper gets splattered. Let's also say that 1 in every 100,000 jumps the cord frays and the jumper is scrunched.

The case of the bungee cord snapping isn't a big deal. When the jumper gets splattered, the bungee jumping company would need to fork out five grand for the funeral. The bungee company firm could probably pay for a funeral or two from petty cash. The funeral probably costs less than a new bungee cord.

The real scary risk for the bungee jumping firm is the 1 in every 100,000 jumps where the cord frays and the jumper get scrunched. A scrunched bungee jumper is going to cost a good $600,000 in medical expenses. This expense falls outside what a typical bungee jumping firm could handle. The bungee company firm would want a policy with a $10k deductible, and would need insurance for the scrunched bungee jumpers.

So, in our model, 1 in a 100,000 bungee jumpers result in a $600,000 expense. So, the liability is about $6 per jump. The insurance company is full of greedy people who want to make an outrageous profit on this misery; so they charge $8 per jump for the insurance.

The bungee jumping firm only makes $3 a jump in profit. They can't pay the $8 out of their $3 in profit and have to raise prices. It turns out that they are greedy too. Instead of raising the price $8, they decide to raise it by $10.

It seems counter intuitive; yet the model where businesses internalize risks and pay for the damages they do can increase profits.

The model where you make risk part of the product increases profits. Since the consumer sees the full cost of the product plus risk, they are likely to make better consumer choices. If the prices reflected risk, then the prices could help a sports adventurist decide between doing the BASE jump or the swim in shark infested waters.

The best part of this model is that a group that when a group that control a risk internalize the risk, they can take steps to make things safer. Our bungee jumping firm might find that it can reduce risk by occasionally replacing the cord.

Another cool thing about the economy where companies internalize risks is that it puts consumers in a better position to make their consumer choices. An adventure traveler has only a fixed amount of time and limited resources.

The higher prices might price some people out of the adventure travel market. My inner wuss tells me that this may not be all that bad. When prices accurately reflect risk, then you reduce the number of people who get scrunched by the risks.

The down side of internalizing risks is that it takes a lot of work and monitoring. Efforts to internalize risks can open the door to fraud. The system also transfer a great deal of wealth and power to the middle agents that cover the risk. The system where a third party owns the risk transfers control over a person that might best be left in the hands of the individual.

I admit, I've yet to figure out if internalizing or externalizing risk is better for society. A free market would tend to transfer control over risk to the agent best able to control the risk. In an employment arrangement or bungee jumping, the company is in the position to control risk. In rock climbing and skydiving, the individual has more control over the risk. The ideal solution is not to saddle part of the economy with all the risk. The ideal solution would demand that people know the costs of risks involved in activities and have the risks covered.

BTW, I think the real difference between the ACC is not so much that the government owns adventure sports related risks, but that their system limits personal injury lawsuits.

In the American system, bastard trial lawyers take shove their hands in the process and take the lions share of the money that we've set aside to tend to the injured. In the US it takes a million dollars to provide $500k once a court gets involved.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Workers Comp

I think it is foolish to put a bureaucracy between people and their primary health care provider. Health is about the well being of a person. Personal well being is best handled through direct person to person contact. No matter how you cut it, the bureaucrat in the middle detracts from that realtion and detracts from health.

That said, I don't think all insurance is a rip.

Areas where insurance works great are Workers' Comp, General Liability, Auto Insurance and Catastrophic Insurance.

In workers' compensation, employers are paying directly for liability exposures created at the job site. Workers' Compensation is great for the economy as it allows risks created by an activity to be correctly reflected on the balance sheets. As workers's comp is an expense of the employer and not the employee, having a third party in the mix actually makes the payment of the claim easier. Actuarial analysis of workers comp claims provide a strong basis for risk management. That is managers are able to take the claims experience of their company and similar companies and use that data as a basis for Risk Management and risk reduction.

General liability and auto insurance work in the same way. In both cases you are buying coverage for an identifiable entity that has associated risks.

This style of insurance that tacks a liability onto a entity or action work great as it allow people to judge the risks associated with the entity. The only serious problems come with fraud. For example, I've seen cases where a person broke their back on Saturday. They sit around writhing in pain over the weekend then have someone drag them to work on Monday to get workers' comp.

Liability insurance works extremely well.

Interestingly, socializing medicine would actually have a harmful effect on employees. Sadly, many employers are scum. Employers want to move costs from their balance sheets. If we had a system of socialized medicine, employers would try to divert their liability exposure to the public at large.

Liability insurance forces companies into better risk management practices which reduce exposures of their employees and customers. Socialized systems where the government pays for healthcare reduce this liability.

This is actually one of the prime reasons why working conditions in left leaning countries are generally worse than those in free societies.

Catastrophic insurance is an other area where insurance works. I will address this in a later post.

Anyway, I think one of our problems is that that political mind wants a one size fits all approach to health care. Insurance works extremely well in certain areas; so politicians knee jerk and say that it should be applied to all health care concerns.

I believe that, by expandiong insurance beyond what it does well, you actually create a worse situation for people. Sticking an insurance agent between a person and their primary care provider detracts from that care, and it detracts from the ability to accurately assign liability risks to exposure.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Right Direction for Health Care

The debate about health care seems to follow a common pattern: The debate starts with people complaining about something. When the complaints hit a shrill pitch, a progressive steps in and says the answer is a new government program and greater centralization of the health care system.

To get the debate turned around, we need to start the debate by talking about positive trends in health care. If people talked about the positive trends, the public at large would end up favoring less centralization and greater control over their personal health.

My contention is that the best way to handle health care is to get the insurance companies and government out of picture and to let people have direct personal relations with their health care providers. By making a direct contract with the health care professional, the person needing health care will receive better, more personalized service.

One of the most interesting examples of direct personal relations with health care providers is a new trend in the birthing process called the Doula. A doula is a person who works with expectant moms through the pregnancy, birth and post partem process. A doula is not a midwife. A doula might best be described as a lay person who provides support for the mom. The doula is concerned with what the mom is eating, how she feels and is available for the very necessary hand holding that needs to take place in the process.

A doula is a trained professional. Hiring a doula has proven has direct benefits. For example the use of doulas in the birthing process has been shown to decrease the need for cesarian sections by half and to decrease the need for forceps in birth, etc..

Here are links to doulas and related services in Salt Lake and Denver.

Because doula services depend on a more personal connection between the caregiver and patient, they tend to be small businesses and sole proprietorships. As with other small business, doula services tend to have extra offerings to help make ends meet. Michelle Scharf of Kaysville provides an interesting examples of the directions a person might take their doula business. Michelle adds massage therapy and birth photography to her bag of tricks.

The primary offering of doula services is time. Hence, the cost of services is generally the cost of labor with some additional training. Nicole of Denver is a newly trained doula and is currently offering discounted services as she works to extablish a reputation.

We tend to think of health care providers as things that come from another planet. The grandiose health care schemes of Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton and the like are all premised on the idea that health care is some sort of limited resource that must be rationed.

The super dynamic doula industry shows the real nature of health care. Health care is about people serving the needs of other people in the community. In the doula industry we see caregivers entering and dropping back to other professions as supply and demand waxes and wanes.

Health care is the quintessential local business. 90% of quality health care is time and effort. The doula sits there with the mom helping her make the decisions, prepare for birth and to deal with the new infant and post partem depression. This is a lot of very valuable work. The work, however, comes from the community served. In a free society, that money stays in the community. The costs of the doula services simply reflect prevailing wages. So, its not like there will be a community that can't afford the services.

NOTE, in both socialized medicine and employer based insurance, the money leaves the community, goes to the center of power, then trickles back into the community. Only some 60% of the resources spent on such schemes managed to make it back into the community.

Birthing services, by the way, are one of the greatest failures of the insurance industry. Insurance companies are prone to treat pregnancy as a pre-existing service and deny claims to new policy holders. On the reverse side, juries are known to reward outrageous sums to people who lose children at birth. So, the insurance agencies wham doctors with malpractice premiums that triple the cost of care.

The insurance industry reams expectant moms in two directions by systematically denying claims and pushing up costs to the point that basic care causes extreme financial duress for new families when their claims are denied.

The doula industry is shows how health care should work. People from the community freely work with people in the community to provide care. This stands in stark contrast to the bastardized health care that gets provided when government, politicians, lawyers, insurance companies and other bureaucrats get involved.

Monday, December 03, 2007

I am Number 1

Technorati says my blog has authority 1. In traditional counting systems, you can't get any better than one.

Well, most mathematicians these days like to start counting at 0. So, there is a possibility that there is a technorati score higher than 1. When I was in school, mathematicians called the set {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ...} the natural numbers and the set {0, 1, 2, 3, ...} the Whole Numbers. They called the set {... -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, ...} the integers. In that system, the Whole Numbers were a group and the natural numbers not. I understand that they now use Natural Numbers for {0, 1, 2, 3, ...}. I find that sad as there is now no good way to talk about the important difference between sets that include the zero and don't include the zero.

I got my high technorati rating by shooting off my mouth in favor of vouchers. I never did post the primary reason for supporting vouchers. The people who really need choice in school are the people who are not doing well in the current schools. There is a large percentage of people who really feel trapped in their current situation. They are the ones that need a way out. The people who do well in public schools will stay in public schools.

The next big issue in the war for social progress is health care. I think I will spend much of the year blathering about how insurance companies are the problem, and that all of the utopian plans to force everyone into insurance or into a nationalized insurance system is the wrong direction. Blathering about that issue is guaranteed to keep my site at authority one for the year.

Anyway, I am still working on restoring the photo site. One of my backup sets was corrupted. The medium on my CDs deteriorated with age. Now, I had three CDs with the pictures; so I am trying to reassemble the beasties. Anyway, I knew my host would die soon. I just didn't think that anyone would be as rude as to just turn off the machine and deny access to the data.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Disappearing Photos

If you were wondering. The fly-by-night web host that I had been using for finally flew by night.

I was hoping that the site would stay live for another two months so I could charge the new web hosting fee to next year. It is strange, but every time I make a decision for tax reasons, my decision comes back and bites me. The crappy thing is that the host flew by night right before I did my monthly full data backup; so I lose a month of updates.

The company was actually an okay host back in 2000 when I started using them. They were up for 7 years. As I understand, the founder of the company kicked the bucket, and there was, how shall I put this, a deterioration in the quality of the owners.

Anyway, my original plan was to do a prototype on a discount domain. If what I found an a path to success, I would have moved to a dedicated server (that's about a $100 per month expense) and pounded out the site in Java. I didn't get any success nibbles.

Even worse, because I was stupid idiot and spoke favoring vouchers, I had the few inbound links to my sites removed. So, rather than get a new account for protophoto; So, rather than sinking the cash into a new hosting plan. I decide to do the cheesy thing. I decided to piggyback protophoto onto the account I set up for this blog. If you pinged and you would find they are both on ip address:

This account is with Blue Host. I am not sure if BlueHost existed when I started doing these community directories.

Oh well.

Anyway, since I can't access the old account. I am trying to rebuild from backups. Many of the pictures and thumbnails are broken. I am also trying to make the site DHTML compliant. I have now idea why I am doing that. Some of the pages look really crappy at the moment.