Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Odds and ends: alternative possibilities

Grandmothers Against the War carry their message to the Oakland federal building, April 17

Despite wars and rumors of wars, all is not lost. This post touches on a few hints at saner potential futures, in the spirit of the little local demonstration pictured above.
  • The forced pregnancy forces may have over-reached by passing their abortion ban in South Dakota. In addition to facing a referendum there, the strong negative popular reaction has legislators elsewhere trying to duck the issue. Talk to Action has a round up.
  • I'm always interested in juries. I've seen serving on them bring out good stuff in quite ordinary people. A recent study suggests that jurors deliberate more carefully and thoughtfully when the panel contains persons of different races.

    "I think the traditional perception about diversity is that [it] is going to be a good thing because African Americans will bring something novel to the table," said Sam Sommers, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Tufts University and the study's author. Although that's true, he said, "a lot of the results of this study come from white jurors acting differently when they were in diverse groups."

    In short, Sommers said, diversity appears to help members of a group think more deeply and clearly.

    "I think the argument could be made that in a homogeneous group, where everyone is like us, it's easy to be a little lazier, and take those cognitive shortcuts," he said. "Diversity seems to be one potential way to shake us out of that, and to attend more carefully to our surroundings."

    How's that for a quick way to make people smarter? Stick 'em in with people of other races. I wish the study had also examined how juries with more than two races worked, but hey, not everywhere can yet enjoy the demographic mix we do here on the Left Coast. California, and all the other increasingly diverse states, can be expected to thrive.
  • Some may find this obvious, but I hadn't thought of it: Lester R. Brown proposes that, instead of taxing income, we should be taxing environmentally destructive activities, like burning coal and, yes, driving cars. As it stands, we have a very poor understanding of what our current lifestyle actually costs society. If the social cost of smoking were included in the price of cigarettes, a pack would run $7.18. A gallon of gas, taxed so as to cover the social cost of burning it, would run $11. On the other hand, our income taxes would drop dramatically as social burdens would be paid for at the point of consumption. I know -- driving addicts would never stand for it. But opponents should think about this:

    Accounting systems that do not tell the truth can be costly. Faulty corporate accounting systems that leave costs off the books have driven some of the world's largest corporations into bankruptcy. The risk with our faulty global economic accounting system is that it so distorts the economy that it could one day lead to economic decline and collapse.

    If we can get the market to tell the truth, then the world can avoid being blindsided by faulty accounting systems that lead to bankruptcy. As Oystein Dahle, former Vice President of Exxon for Norway and the North Sea, has pointed out: "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth."

    Something to think about.
  • Meanwhile, our idiot President may be considering nuking Iran's idiot president (and a lot of other people) thereby plunging us all into WWIII, but it is nice to read something moderately sensible about Iranian nuclear plans coming from an Israeli source, Zvi Bar'el in Ha'aretz. According to Bar'el, after a life spent trying to prevent proliferation of nukes, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has concluded it can't be done. Apparently he has concluded that

    nearly any country, of any size, that wants to be a nuclear power can become one.

    [ElBaradei proposes] to create a bank of fissionable material that can be internationally monitored and from which "worthy" countries can withdraw what they need for peaceful purposes. ... ElBaradei's proposal is, in effect, "anti-sanctions," and an attempt to encourage cooperation instead of threats. One can almost imagine the finger at the temple, turning in the internationally recognizable sign for a crazy idea. After all, how can one offer Iran "positive incentives" after it has already fired the opening shot in the nuclear arms race, and particularly while it is headed by a "zealous," "illogical," leader who might be crazy and uncontrolled?

    The answer to this is simple: The United States has already begun negotiating with Iran about Iraq.... it is not semantic logic that will decide, but rather the understanding that there is nobody right now who can attack Iran, and provide reasonable solutions to the dilemmas that such an attack would awaken.

    I'm not at all sure ANY country ought to be trying to manage "peaceful" fissionable material, but the world does need a way out of the trap its mad men are leaving us into.

1 comment:

Pisco Sours said...

Okay, my memory is a little hazy, but I read this incredible book by Andrew Tobias titled The Invisible Banker, about the insurance industry. I seem to remember that he came up with a figure that reflected how much of the cost of goods was actually taken up by insurance of all kinds—casualty insurance, health insurance, social insurance such as Medicare and Social Security, everything. I also seem to remember that it was a shockingly high number.

Sorry to be vague and all, but the book was written in 1982 and 25 years out of date anyway. But the larger point is, some, maybe not all, but some of the social costs of goods are already priced into the goods we buy.

And the other larger point is, Tobias really needs to update the book; it was extremely good.

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