Filibuster Reform

Every day I’m blusterin’

Good post on from the Monkey Cage describing how the Senate will function in the future:

 Short version: A Senate majority banned filibusters of executive and judicial branch (save the Supreme Court) nominees.  Majorities now need a majority– not a supermajority– to bring the Senate to confirmation vote.  Long version: Senate majority set a new precedent (by majority vote) that reinterprets the chamber’s cloture rule to require only a majority to invoke cloture (cut off debate) on nominations rather than requiring 60 votes.  So, what changed? The number of votes required to cut off debate on nominations.  (Confirmation votes have always been by majority vote.)

More on Scientific Realism

My last post ended on a note that deserves more explanation.

Scientific realism is the view that science describes the world as it actually is (or approximately as it is, for weak forms of scientific realism). There are however, some criticisms of this view.

The first is underdetermination. When multiple, conflicting theories are all consistent with the data, there is no evidence for believing one theory over another. And since they conflict, they cannot both be true.

The next is known as “skepticism about inference to the best explanation”. It builds off of a possible realist response to underdetermination: It’s fine if multiple theories are consistent with the data, since one will explain the data better, meaning that it is true.

One problem with that approach is defining what characteristics make one explanation better than the other. Another, is do those characteristics make one theory more true than another?

A third is the pessimistic induction, which takes a different view. Consider all past scientific theories that have been replaced. The past theories must be considered false in the present. So what’s to say that in the future, we won’t be saying the same thing about current theories?

Each of these arguments sheds some doubt on the view that science describes truth. And yet, scientists mostly go ahead under the assumption that it does. In truth, whether or not science describes the universe as it actually is doesn’t matter to the practice of scientists. Whether or not theories are true, they are enormously successful in allowing us to build things that we couldn’t dream of even 100 years ago.



Commutes and Apathy

I am not surprised that commutes increase political apathy . I had a ~40 minute commute to and from work (so around 80 total), and getting home meant spending upwards of an hour sitting there before I could summon up the energy to go to the gym.

Same thing at my previous-previous job (~90 minutes one way), even when I was riding a bus and alternately napping/reading/surfing the web.

Long commutes just suck, in general.

Faith and Truth in Science

These two articles are a pretty interesting juxtaposition. The first, from Slate, takes on the argument that faith is compatible with science:

The conflation of faith as “unevidenced belief” with faith as “justified confidence” is simply a word trick used to buttress religion. In fact, you’ll never hear a scientist saying, “I have faith in evolution” or “I have faith in electrons.” Not only is such language alien to us, but we know full well how those words can be misused in the name of religion.

 It mainly argues on semantic grounds, that the way science uses faith is different from the faith of religion. It’s an argument that should be made, since from my perspective, they address different questions, and attempts to make religion answer questions of “what is” is foolhardy.
But, I do think Coyne glosses over some sticky questions when he says this:
The constant scrutiny of our peers ensures that science is largely self-correcting, so that we really can approach the truth about our universe.
It’s an open question whether science is actually truth seeking or not (second link):
But it is important to guard against the notion, so often merely assumed by working scientists but occasionally trumpeted affirmatively by certain mouthpieces thereof, that the instrumental effectiveness of particular sciences provides prima facie proof that their underlying theories correctly describe the underlying reality of the world they purport to.
Whether science is or isn’t approaching the truth about our universe is an open question. For science to describe the nature of the universe truthfully, it would have to answer questions that are taken for granted in the course of normal scientific work.
But science is not immune to the challenges of representation and interpretation which all human attempts to discover and describe the nature of reality are subject to. Science cannot finesse the influences and distortions which its practice by real human beings in real social contexts impose on it. Science cannot evade the problems of justification raised by choices driven more by aesthetics and intellectual convenience—like the preference for theories which are beautiful or which satisfy Occam’s Razor—rather than any a priori necessity. Science possesses no special defenses against the radical skepticism which calls into question our very relation to the world and each other. Science, in other words, does not hold a privileged position outside the core intellectual puzzles of human cognition and relation to reality.
All of this isn’t to say that science isn’t useful, or unsuccessful. So much of what we can do today is because of science.
But there’s a leap of faith that takes place when you say science describes the truth about the universe.

Radical Center

This is a different take on the Radical Center than I’ve seen before. Basically the idea is that along the two political dimensions (economic, social), people are moderate on one, but extreme on the other, and there’s no way to encompass all of them enough to make a centrist third-party.

Earlier articles I’ve read and posted about were more along the lines of people in the center remaining at some midpoint between the two parties no matter how the parties’ position moved. Not really related at all, other than the label.

Single Payer in the States

With all the news about the healthcare reform implementation on the federal level, I wanted to check up on the couple of states that were going to/had passed single payer implementations.

California: I thought it got passed into law, but it turns out it was passed twice in the legislature and twice vetoed by then Gov. Schwarzenegger. And with Democratic supermajorities and a Democratic governor… nothing. From the article it seems like one of the main reasons is the California Nurses Association isn’t pushing for it now for tactical reasons (they believe it will go through ballots for repeal anyway, so they have to fight it there). So California is leading the states with Obamacare, but no longer with single payer.

That leaves Vermont. Single payer is law in the state, but won’t be implemented until ~2017. Looks like Vermont is focusing on its exchange, and it also needs a waiver from the Federal government and to raise funds.

So it won’t be for a while now, but there’s at least one state that will have single payer. It won’t be “true” single payer, as private insurers can still insure, but it’ll be as close as you can get with that caveat.

Minimum Income

I’m really interested in following what happens with Switzerland’s guaranteed minimum income  initiative. It seems like a really clean way to both shrink government bureaucracy and still keep the welfare state alive, and if set right, flourishing.

I do wonder if something like that will become mandatory in the future. With Labor losing its share of the pie to Capital (robots and computers and AI learning replacing much of the jobs humans have to do, among other things), are we going to hit a point where so many people aren’t getting paid enough that something like this will start to look like really attractive policy?