Author Archives: Robert Marsanyi

Trust is fundamental

Good discussion with Shelley this morning, after going to see a discussion in Seattle last night on constitutional law. The main reminder I got from the talk was that institutions need to be designed to work around the inadequacies of the individuals who operate them, so that they don’t fall apart when mishandled through incompetence or malice (the Presidency, the Senate).

Somehow we got to talking about health care, again, and the way insurance is the driver of health care reform in the US, a rather arse-backward approach, and I realized the insurance problem is a symptom, not a cause. The cause is pervasive lack of trust: between patients and doctors, between hospitals and staff, between the population and the judiciary they appoint to decide disputes. Doctors have to carry huge amounts of malpractice insurance, because they can’t trust that their patients won’t sue them for a bad result. Patients can’t trust that their doctors will do the right thing. People don’t trust their neighbors. Parents don’t trust their kids’ teachers to teach properly. So we build an industry based around the idea that we can start from a position of no trust, and have a mechanism to fix the problems that we expect will inevitably arise from people trying to screw us. And when that fails, we revert to trusting only our extended group, our tribe.

Trust is fundamental. It doesn’t need to imply that there won’t be situations where trust is violated. But trust needs to be the default case, or society doesn’t work.

Higher Ed

Sanders wants to make Higher Education freely available. But as Andrew Yang points out, there’s a lot of people finding out that the degrees they’ve been working hard to get are less and less useful in finding a job.

Google and Wikipedia

Maybe 5 times out of 10 when I use Google I’m really looking for the Wikipedia page on that topic. They’re making it harder and harder to find this on Google. So much so that I’m thinking Wikipedia has to do a search engine. I would learn to use it.

Source: Scripting News: Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Which reminds me that I can add “site:wikipedia.org” to my search term when I’m wanting the same thing.

How to find stuff on the net

I just read another article bemoaning the state of the Net, saying things like

There are just four big players, each in its own domain, Facebook for “social networking”, Twitter for commentary, YouTube for video, Amazon, Google, etcetera. So we can’t defect because there’s nowhere to go.

The same fallacy, that the Net is the silos + corporate info-sites. And I, amongst many others, counter that anyone can build tools to publish whatever they like and take advantage of the open protocols that the Net is built on. I can put videos up on my blog, and anyone can view them using standard Net clients like web browsers.

That’s true as far as it goes, but doesn’t account for the reasons that people use, eg Facebook or Bandcamp, which is, I think, discoverability. You can find all the people you want to talk to or listen to easily. Same with Twitter. RSS is how I follow things. OPML was intended as the way to find things you want to follow.

What I’d like from Facebook, for example, is the social graph, but the nodes of the graph should point to content I and my friends maintain on our locations of choice, not on Facebooks servers with Facebooks tools. My scrolling page of goodies is then just the RSS feed of the people I’m friends with. Same with Bandcamp; aggregate releases, point me to the authors site, recommend things by all means but link to content that’s not stored on your servers. If I like the recommendations and the release feeds, bill me for that.

Congressional hearing

So, I went to C-SPAN to see Rep Schiff give what I had been told was a spirited and eloquent rebuttal to calls for his resignation as committee chair, without the distance imposed by the usual media suspects’ spin on the issue. I ended up watching for three hours absorbing the information being given by the panel around whom the session had been convened. This was a really expert group of people with intelligent and useful things to say about how Russia is working the world at large, and I learned quite a bit. I sent Rep Schiff email thanking him for convening the panel, and making the session public.

Prior to digging up the hearing, all I heard about it in the news media was the subplot about Republicans calling for Schiff’s resignation and his response. This was, in fact, a very small part of what I ultimately got from just watching the hearing myself.

Link to hearing video

Making changes

NZ changed its gun laws within a few days of the catastrophic shooting in Christchurch. On NPR, PBS, all over the internet, there’s a response that marvels in how “huge” this is. It’s not huge. It’s a regulatory adjustment, requiring a small sacrifice in giving up access to some kinds of weapon from a small group of people who seem pretty willing to go along with it, and a fairly high one-time monetary cost to the general public to compensate those people, that we’ve decided is more than worth it. For a country that doesn’t revel in a gun culture like the US, this is not a major change, it’s a correction to a situation that most NZ’ers didn’t really realize was a problem.

For a country where guns are so embedded in the political and cultural environment and that have engendered literally decades of argument, I can see that it might be considered astounding that another country could just say, “Oh! There’s a problem. Let’s fix it quickly.” and just do that.

I’ve seen the argument that gun ownership is a right in the US, as guaranteed in the Constitution. Sure. But the Constitution is a law, designed to be clarified and, when needed, changed. May I own a bazooka under the Second Amendment? How about a tank? How about an anti-tank missile? Isn’t there a more fundamental right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that implies that I can go to church and expect not to be shot? So, exactly what’s the argument again? And how is it serving us? Are we all going to take up arms against the US government?

For years, when people have questioned me about the difference between NZ and US, I’ve mentioned (among other things) that making progress in the US is so difficult; everything has to be argued about and fought over, including things that perhaps 80% of the population think are fine ideas. It’s getting harder and harder for me to put up with.