Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Top ten reasons why I’m excited to move to Prospect Heights.

#10- Living with my sister, Sir D’bry, and possibly, Jim.

I am social by nature and have a perpetual urge to be making jokes, talking, and/or laughing with other people. Living with Dane, Dews and Jim would be a real treat. In fact, it is more like a decadent indulgence, and I’m super excited.

#9- Serenity at last

Ever thought that your building might crumble on top of you while you’re asleep at night? Well, I have. My last landlord was a slumlord, and not just any slumlord. He was pretty much the king of all slumlords- stairs crooked, ceilings falling, black mold spreading, it’s a miracle we escaped unscathed (let’s hope we aren’t calling 1-800- mesothelioma a few years from now). Fast forward to September and we will be living in a newly renovated 3 bedroom with modern everything, and a working video intercom. Heaven.

#8- Change is good

NYC is a big place. But for some of us it can seem small, especially when we continually bump into old classmates or see someone on the street and remember that we saw that same person on the subway just a few days ago. Also, commuting an unvarying route every day and going out in the same neighborhood (lower east side) truncates the city into familiar segments one can comprehend. This is probably a way for us to feel more comfortable in a city full of strangers. But these defaults locales are actually quite restrictive and hinder exploration of what the city has to offer.

Moving to a new part of the city requires us to get to know new streets and the people and places that fill them. For any mortal, the city has infinite offerings and the best way to experience them is to change it up.

#7- Brooklyn Museum, Botanical Gardens

Moving on to the Prospect Heights specifics, I will be living exactly .2 miles away from the Brooklyn Museum and .3 miles from the Botanic Gardens. Aside from the fact that these are perfect places to bring visiting friends and family, I actually plan to frequent these places myself. Especially the Brooklyn Museum, which has outstanding exhibits and free parties on the first Saturday of each month. The parties include film screenings, poetry readings, and dancing. The museum pretty much turns into a nightclub once a month. Here is a yelp.com review by Jessica E. who gave the Brooklyn Museum five stars:

I went to the July edition of Target-sponsored First Saturdays at the BK Museum, a little dubious about what it meant that there was a "dance party in the parking lot," according to a friend in the know. Well, good lord, I've never experienced such a thing in my whole life. "Dance party in the parking lot" doesn't begin to describe what was going on that night:

-hot, hot young people, ages 20-45, all races & ethnicities
-a swarmed scene (people hanging in the front, watching karaoke in the lobby, seeing the new Warhol exhibit, as well as hundreds groovin' in the back)
-the most amazing 80s DJ I've ever heard
-reasonably priced drinks ($6 Brooklyn Lager)
-incredible dancing and a really enthusiastic crowd who could care less about looking ridiculous

Anyway, people--do what's right for yourself. Go dance. You can thank me later. See you in August.

Well thank you, Jessica. That sounds great.

#6- Park Slop food co-op

I realize that the co-op is in Park Slope and I’m moving to Prospect Heights but it is literally 5 minutes away on bike, and I’m psyched. Now that I will have some free time on my hands, I will be able to buy healthy foods at 20-40% less than market rate in exchange for working 2 hours and 45 minutes per month and a onetime fee of $125 ($100 of which is returned upon termination of membership). Environmental sustainability is one of the co-op’s main tenants and the food they sell is as locally grown and organic as possible. Right up my tree hugging alley!

#5- Speaking Spanish

Alas, my once fluent Español is now in a sad, sad state. Law school did a number on my practicing so I really need to up the ante when it comes to hablando. Although there are a handful of Spanish speakers in my life, it’s hard to switch to communicating in Spanish after our relationship was built in English. Somehow, someway, I’m going to try to make friends in Spanish. If that doesn’t work I will go down the street to the Multilingual Center at the public library and see what they have to offer.

#4- How does your garden groooow?

In attempt to lure us into an apartment, one of the brokers showed us the local gardens where anyone can get a free plot of land to till. Sold! In most of NYC, a piece of land to garden on is a rare gem. Last year, I was so desperate for my own garden that I risked my life to venture onto our crooked roof attempting to grow jalapeños, green onions, tomatoes, and spinach. Although I got some decent jalapenos and onions, the roof was far too hot and sunny for any leafy green and I’m not quite sure what happened with the tomatoes.

I love gardening and am rearin’ to go at it once again. This fall, I plan to plant garlic on my plot and have it ready by next summer. Woohooo.

#3- Prospect Park

It’s really unnecessary to discuss how freakin amazing it is to live next to a large park in the middle of a city. 3.35 mile runs every other day and no gym membership needed.

#2- Food

There’s a huge array of food options around Prospect Heights including many Caribbean joints, a Golden Crust down the block, and some hip looking places on Franklin Avenue. The recently opened juice bar Veggie serves fresh and healthy smoothies and juices. I ordered the Franklin Ave specialty pink lemonade aka “the Devon,” it was a magical nectar of lemon, beets, apples, and ginger. Words can’t even describe how happy my taste buds were. To top it off, Veggie is owned by a lovely mother and son duo who plan to start serving vegan food in the near future.

#1- Community

I’ve been to Prospect Heights two or three times to check out apartments and the community sentiment is palpable. People are eager to say hello and are willing to chat. This is in contrast to the staunch anonymity of most of Manhattan and even Downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods (I wasn’t even acquainted with the employees at the Pizzeria next door even after 2 years on Court Street).

I’m looking forward to knowing local business owners, neighbors, and the old people who sit outside and watch the world go by. This is community and Prospect Heights has it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On Happiness

This is a quote from the book "Human Action" by Ludwig Von Mises. I could not make this argument better myself, so I chose to post it without interjection. -JEB

On Happiness
In colloquial speech we call a man “happy” who has succeeded in attaining his ends. A more adequate description of his state would be that he is happier than he was before. There is however no valid objection to a usage that defines human action as the striving for happiness. But we must avoid current misunderstandings. The ultimate goal of human action is always the satisfaction of the acting man’s desire. There is no standard of greater or lesser satisfaction other than individual judgments of value, different for various people and for the same people at various times. What makes a man feel uneasy and less uneasy is established by him from the standard of his own will and judgment, from his personal and subjective valuation. Nobody is in a position to decree what should make a fellow man happier.

To establish this fact does not refer in any way to the antitheses of egoism and altruism, of materialism and idealism, of individualism and collectivism, of atheism and religion. There are people whose only aim is to improve the condition of their own ego. There are other people with whom awareness of the troubles of their fellow men causes as much uneasiness as or even more uneasiness than their own wants. There are people who desire nothing else than the satisfaction of their appetites for sexual intercourse, food, drinks,fine homes, and other material things. But other men care more for the satisfactions commonly called “higher” and “ideal.” There are individuals eager to adjust their actions to the requirements of social cooperation; there are, on the other hand, refractory people who defy the rules of social life. There are people for whom the ultimate goal of the earthly pilgrimage is the preparation for a life of bliss. There are other people who do not believe in the teachings of any religion and do not allow their actions to be influenced by them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Science of Le ‘Good’


Socrates: Shall we discuss the word good

how its very subjective and time sensitive

there is no objective good

there isn't even a constant good, it changes with time

think about it, it might be good for u to smoke right now, but u can't just look at the moment

u have to evaluate it over the entire future effect

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: entire future? as in eternity?

shouldn’t the limit be my lifetime?

Socrates: well that brings in another factor

its your lifetime if u are an individualist

its eternity if u are socialist

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: where to draw the boundaries? how does a person even make decisions about what to do in that instant

if they cant be sure its "subjectively good"

Socrates: whatever the voice in their head tells them to do is subjectively good

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: of course its subjective, but if a lot of people share a specific view of good, then it becomes closer to objective

at least communal good

Socrates: no, i'm looking at each person individually

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: and im a socialist

cause there is a good larger than the individuals definition

Socrates: well that is where u went wrong

to think that there is a larger good is a mistake and a fallacy

and it will only lead to destruction

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: its only larger in the sense that several people share the same sense of good

the same view of it

Socrates: oh i see what u are saying

yes, people can share the same vision of good

but u can't coerce others into sharing your vision

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: no, but knowing how others view good changes how you view good

so ur perception of good isnt developing in a vacuum

Socrates: there is a difference between teaching and forcing

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: yes

does forcing of good occur?

Socrates: yes, taxation for government projects

and religion are two excellent examples

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: in the case of taxes, are we forcing people to believe its good

or are we just taking their money?

if they don't see the value in the taxes, then its coercion i guess

Socrates: forcing your good on others, whether they believe it or not is wrong

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: but there are people that like paying taxes

and buy into it

Socrates: most of them "buy into it" because they are coerced and manipulated by the government through education and the media

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: so would u say people are coerced into thinking murder is bad?

they are taught taxes are good, not coerced

just like they are taught murder is bad

Socrates: yes, some people are

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: so people can be taught. coerced almost anything

what point are you trying to make with religion and taxes

Socrates: i'm making the point that coercing others to follow your subjective understanding of what’s good is wrong

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: is it coercion if they decide its the right thing to believe simply because everyone else around them believes it

and there is safety in numbers

Socrates: that is coercion and weakness, good sir

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: how can I put your principle into action

Socrates: You can make changes through anarchy, civil disobedience, or politics

Cletus Joe Bob Pickins: how do I apply the lessons of your principles?

Socrates: well once you think the way i do, you can apply the lessons yourself

getting u to apply the lessons without fully understanding their basis is just another form of coercion

Furthermore, what I teach is a Science and, “ultimate decisions, the valuations and the choosing of ends, are beyond the scope of any science. Science never tells a man how he should act; it merely shows how a man must act if he wants to attain definite ends.”


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Proper Size of Gubmint

What is the proper size of government? If you answered small or big you’re a damn fool. My hypothesis is that contrary to what a neoclassical economist or labor union representative might tell you, the question of government’s proper size is only partially normative. The size of government is largely a function of geography, population demographics, and economic variables influenced mostly by human nature and institutional inertia and minimally by the political party in power. In other words, you can vote for whomever you like, but until you address the abovementioned variables – and good luck with that – the size of government is a mathematical function out of your control.

If we’re measuring government debt/deficit/revevnues as a percentage of GDP or as the proportion of U.S. government employees relative to the U.S. population, then by definition these other variables determine the size of government. If we’re measuring government by the number of laws or regulations in place, and I think this is how most people think of government, then we’ve again exposed to the relationship between population, geography and the size of government. Find a small population of indigenous people in Peru and you’ll see many norms; travel to Chicago and you’ll see many more norms in addition to laws, rules and regulations; go to the moon and you’ll find no such rules to guide social interaction. Human interaction and the frequency and manner in which it occurs dictate the level of social oversight regardless of any formal government or political party. Call it what you will, but it is human nature to form social coordination. The geography variable, or the density of individuals in a given location, only increases the chances that humans will interact. I suspect that if you measure the size of government by the number of formal laws, and compare NYC to Omaha, NE, NYC would come out on top. In turn, some might see NYC as having a big, liberal government and Omaha as having a more conservative and small government. Chalk it up to the political differences if you wish, but I would argue it’s the number of people and density of people that hold the explainatory power. Also, NYC has had more time to accumulate laws.

The interesting aspect of this hypothesis is what it says about where government is and where it might be going. We currently have hundreds of thousands of laws in place and these have developed along with population growth – I suspect we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new laws dealing with international trade and travel (global interaction) and the internet (cyber interaction). So I anticipate government will grow and refuse to fight it. Evoking the constitution to say that government should be constant and small for all of eternity is ridiculous - people will develop norms and laws outside the constitution to cope with the increasing interactions in the population that so frequently (and ironically) result in a violation of individual rights. Defend the constitution as you will, but understand, that when it was written, it reflected a world that minimally understand the upper bounds of geography and population. The final lesson would be that to truly shrink the size of government, don’t become politically engaged, just have fewer children.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Minus Quantum Mechanics- A Fun Theory on Immortality

Here is the theory: Given a powerful enough computer, one may be able to duplicate the algorithms of the brain and essentially create artificial human brains out of silicon. Assuming there is no transcendental soul, all we amount to are billions of atoms. Those atoms make up molecules, and those molecules then make up our brains. Our brains function as a result of billions of atomic algorithms. Put simply, if we duplicate those algorithms, we can duplicate a person’s brain.

Imagine plugging these algorithms into a computer, one should be able to put a copy of a person on a computer. On a computer, your thoughts and emotions will be free from a human body. There would be complete mind/body separation. You would exist in the buzz of a hard drive. Imagine further that you could be placed into a virtual world much like the matrix, or that you could construct a robot that was capable of moving in new and fascinating ways. Your body could be as strong and as unique as you’d like.

One question immediately surfaces: Does that mean I could live forever? The answer is maybe, but not if I was “copied.” A hypothetical illuminates this point. Much like the 2006 film “The Prestige,” where Hugh Jackman goes into the magic box and is copied, imagine that you enter into a magic copying box. Three, two, one, a flash and a copy of yourself stands right outside the box. He is an exact replica of every atom in your body at the moment the flash went off. You now stand outside the box starring at each other. Which one are YOU? YOU would be the original, right? You never went anywhere. A copy was made of you, but it wasn’t you. Applying this reasoning to my theory about downloading your atomic algorithms and you get the same outcome, computer you isn’t YOU.

However, immortality isn’t that far off. While “copying” would not do the trick, “integration” might. Integration would involve a medical procedure wherein your brain is slowly replaced piece by piece with the silicon parts that carry out the YOU algorithms. Imagine a procedure that could take place while one maintained consciousness, ensuring the stream of thought was uninterrupted and the YOU is still you. The procedure of integration may provide much more assurance that YOU would still be YOU, though now existing in a computer.

One last point. While you may actually die at some point if integration didn’t work, to those around you, a computer “copy” would suffice. Given sufficient technology, computer-you might find himself a nice squeezable human-like android to occupy. To your loved ones, you’d still be alive. Imagine the creation of “back-up yous.” There appears to be two types of death: your death, and your death in the eyes of others.

I highly recommend “Unready to Wear,” a short story by Kurt Vonnegut published in 1953. You can find it in Welcome to the Monkey House.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

An Alternative for Life Threatening Illnesses

The government Medicare system reimburses hospitals to cover the actual cost of services the Hospital provides. However, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, hospitals receive anywhere from 93.1-94.1 cents for every dollar spent treating Medicare patients. This is because the government’s actual cost of providing services doesn’t include costs for investing in advanced medical technologies. Hospitals use profits from the private sector to fill this gap. If a public option exists and hospitals continue to invest in cutting-edge medicine and technology, its reasonable to conclude that another gap will develop in the hospitals budgets.

Which technology worked and which didn’t would be the government’s decision. Either way, the government would effectively refuse to invest in new technologies that haven’t proven to be more effective. But what if those seemingly worthless investments funded one that actually worked?

Here’s the big question: If you were dying of cancer, and there was a drug or procedure available but the government said there was a high likelihood that it would not work, therefore refusing to pay for its actual cost, would you want it anyway?

Additionally, in the public option, would you support a provision that permitted risky investment in technology meant to cure life-threatening illnesses? The provision would effectively be asking the government to continue subsidizing innovation in medicine, procedures, and technology that could save lives. In this way, innovation would be focused on curing life-threatening illnesses.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The 'Honest' Question

Would it be possible for a public option to make the private sector ‘honest,’ or would a public option simply cause the private sector to go bankrupt? The very purpose of the public option is to force lower prices by interjecting a leaner, cleaner, operating machine that gives the insurance tycoons a run for their money.

The ‘honesty’ goal is causing some confusion. The public option will offer medical insurance at a lower price, therefore drawing in Americans who currently can’t afford medical insurance. Only those individuals without affordable employer-provided insurance and small businesses that can’t afford their own reasonably priced plans would qualify for the public plan. That means that most insurance company customers, who are affording their plans, would not be eligible for the public option. So how will the public option force the private sector to lower prices?

At the same time, new legislation will prevent insurance companies from denying customers with preexisting conditions. This is good news for the insurance companies because they will get more customers. If most people won’t turn to the public option, and health care reform increases business for private insurance companies, then how would a public option force the private sector to be ‘honest?’

I answer may lie in contradicting data. Even though many people will not be eligible for the public option, it is estimated that over 100 million Americans may leave private plans for government health care. In fact, the purpose of the public option itself implies that the government is betting many people will turn to government health care thereby forcing private companies to lower prices or file bankruptcy.

The eligibility requirements for the public option would serve as the governments leash on the private sector. The harder the government makes it to be eligible for the public option, the less competition threatens the private sector. So the next question is this: what are the public option eligibility requirements that will make insurance companies ‘honest’ without forcing them into bankruptcy?