Fuck credit scores

The Equifax leak (which still happened and is still a problem for, well, an absurd amount of people, though it’s fallen off the news radar) should really have us question why this sort of thing is allowed to even be.

If credit scores/reports were just for credit cards, I could see a case for their existence, maybe. But that’s not what they’re just for. Rather, they’re used for credit cards, loans, bank accounts, renting, and hiring. Basically, your options are just be incredibly wealthy or have three private companies with almost zero oversight have an absurd amount of power in your life. Given the former isn’t an option for almost anyone, three companies are essentially acting as a pseudo-government. Except instead of at having to pretend to care about people, they can be as misanthropic as they want.

There’s already plenty of used reason to break them up. Monopolies, especially unregulated private monopolies, cause problems. That’s why there’s laws in place to break them up. Sometimes those laws are even enforced. There’s also laws about price fixing that are occasionally enforced. Now, whether those by the letter include non-monetary prices is not something I know, but if they don’t, there’s no good reason not to expand them to do so. Because selling your personal information to these companies is absolutely a price. It’s just also a price charged by nearly every bank, landlord, etc.

(Now, whether these reports could even function if people had options that enabled them to avoid them entirely is another question. Seeing them fail entirely seems quite alright.)

Going perhaps a bit further, though, why do a few numbers enable someone to create so many problems for someone else? Like, I understand which existing mechanisms are the source of the problem. Why not fix them? As the video below points out, the problem is you cannot change your SSN or date of birth. I really can’t see any reason why not to take the obvious solution: Allow people to change their SSN and date of birth.

(SSNs also were not originally intended for identification. Really the idea of any sort of permanent identification rubs me the wrong way. Especially the kind anyone can look up. (Or demand your consent to look up. I could see perhaps having a permanent medical record. I can’t justify, say, potential employers having any sort of (de facto) right to access your history.)

 

Even if we hold that we will have some ID, SSN is a terrible authentication method. Given how many forms and databases they’re in, in an unencrypted format at that, they are incredibly insecure. If we are going to have fixed identifiers, SSN seems like a good enough ID inasmuch as it’s non-ambiguous. Indeed, terrible for authentication for the reasons you listed. If someone really wanted to create havoc (and possibly make out with a ton of money in the end) they could rob a bank of all of the papers with people’s SSNs, DOBs, names, etc. and abuse those. (Or go to a rental leasing office. Or, hell, put up a Craigslist ad for a job that doesn’t really exist and have that information on the bogus application. Sure, phishing scams are bound to happen with any system (Well, TFA could be tricky to phish.) but also given people fall for them so frequently, a system wherein people’s most sensitive data can be easily and permanently stolen is ridiculous.

According to the video (I haven’t dug deeper) you can freeze your credit and then unfreeze it with a PIN you set. Of course, that also costs a bit every time because of course it does.

My favorite form (or factor) of authentication is still social, though how to make it work online or in very highly populated areas can be tricky. It’s nearly impossible to fake, though, and is more directly what we’re really doing when we identify people. We (people) are generally pretty good at identifying others. If I see someone I know I don’t need to see an ID card to figure out who they are. If someone else tries to claim to be someone I know, I can tell they’re lying regardless of any ID cards. Identifying people as themselves seems thus ideal. (The two biggest problems I’d foresee in expanding it to the current age and urban areas are the obvious just not knowing millions of people to just get a credit card or buy something online or whatever, and also presumably it’d worsen economic stratification as knowing the right people could become even more important if not handled with proper care.))

The entire problem of credit scores seems to be relatively simple: having an informational advantage over someone gives you an advantage. Of course anyone doing business with you would prefer to know everything about you. And of course you’re better off if you can keep your hand hidden. The people on the employer/loaner/insurer/banker side of the table will collude if they’re allowed. Anything done from the other side presumably has to be done via the legal system since those are very hard things to avoid.

(I suppose filling the information with noise would also do the trick. Either by plenty of omissions via options to do things while avoiding the credit reporting agencies or else by somehow filling the databases with garbage information. Similar things to the former have happened. Some people tried to do something similar to the latter with web ads (via a program to hide all ads from view while also spamming them with bogus clicks) but clearly it didn’t go so far.

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Pervasive technological problems don’t get solved by just opting out

Interesting article, if you ignore the stupid headline. The mentioned studies connecting screen-based activities and unhappiness is of note. (Though I wonder how ebooks compare to books.)

“As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves.”

Is, well. Something. (Reminds me of the meme showing 80s/90s rock screaming “I kill motherfuckers” and 00s rock saying “I wanna kill myself, motherfuckers”.)

“Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet.”

Well someone born in 1995 having an Instagram account (possible only in 2010 and after) before high school would be mildly impressive. Considering the Internet started somewhen in the 60s, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first generation to not remember a pre-Internet world.

(Ofc this is just me poking fun at boundaries at fundamentally spectral things.)

And the best thing about this article is, as long as I’m on the generational boundary, I get to feel smugly justified in refusing to appear in pictures on social media (in general — I still do photos that would have justified a Polaroid).

The article suggests getting away from phones as a solution, but I really question how much good any individual can do for themselves.If the population is full of isolated people, cutting yourself off from the one means of communication with them doesn’t magically bring back the old methods. It just leaves you alone.

Ignoring values (is silly)

A certain article on the Huffington Post is making the rounds on Facebook among those opposed to the current actions of the GOP regarding healthcare. The main point is that the author cannot argue for caring about other people on the basis of their being people.

This cuts right to a common problem in popular discussions about most political problems right now: we have lots of arguments getting from a value to a policy, but the values themselves are left untouched, despite their being the crucial starting point.

I’ll move to the question of minimum wage because I think it more easily illustrates the point. Let’s say Larry thinks we should raise the minimum wage, and Ronnie thinks if anything it’s already too high. Larry argues that the minimum wage right now at full time is not enough for someone to get by on, so it should be raised. Ronnie argues that minimum wage creates a market inefficiency and thus should be chopped.

That Larry and Ronnie don’t necessarily disagree on the descriptive facts (minimum wage is not enough to get by on, and it also creates market inefficiencies) should indicate that the problem is not the descriptive facts of the matter. The disagreement is on the values driving the decisions, and that disagreement has to be settled first. The relative importance of making sure everyone can get by, everyone working can get by, unemployment is minimized, GDP is maximized, etc. has to be settled first. (Unless one option satisfies all of the values — in these cases the value question can be skipped, but they’re pretty uncommon unless you stumble upon a close cluster of values.)

My particular position and the progressive series of compromises going rightward illustrates the importance of settling the value question. In this case, the main value driving my position is that everyone should have enough to get by and their individual freedom maximized. An anarcho-communist system (as far as I know — the descriptive matter is less important for the sake of this post) maximizes this, and with such a system the concept of wages isn’t really there to have a minimum. Given capitalist, a move over to universal basic income makes sense, and with such there’s no need for a minimum wage, so then my ideal minimum wage given capitalism and a UBI is $0. However, if there is not UBI, then (again, as far as I know) people are best served with a higher minimum wage than the US currently has. So with the one value a wide range of incompatible policy options are optimal depending on the other givens.

Now, we may or may not agree on the goals. Usually there’s more than one in play, complicating the matter. I saw a clip from Hannity last night and, despite the usual anti-conservative rhetoric suggesting the otherwise, he made repeated appeals to helping the poor, unemployed, and uninsured. As it turns out, apparently a lot of conservatives aren’t monsters. Rhetorically, getting that first matter sorted out as the goal makes the following discourse much clearer. Getting the further goals into play and sorted out also helps. One may place more or less value on, say, keeping resources out of the hands of the undeserving, and who is deserving a further question.

For example, drug testing welfare recipients and pouring money into immigration control is, economically, stupid. However, that may or may not be the point. If the goal is to save money, then obviously don’t do those things. However, if spending a little extra is worth keeping money out of the hands of the undeserving, and either of those groups are considered undeserving, then that it costs a little extra isn’t an effective argument against it.

One more example: abortion. In this one, I see people even putting values onto each other. Every now and then I’ll see someone say everyone agrees that killing people is wrong outside of self-defense, and the whole disagreement is the fact of the matter of whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is a person. However, the famous violinist argument even goes as far as to use an adult person as an example of someone it’s okay to deny access to your body to. (For the unfamiliar: Consider a famous violinist was deathly ill and to survive required being hooked up to your body for a few months, using you as life support. The one making the argument says you’d be within your rights to deny him access or allow access and later change your mind.) Clearly some people value bodily autonomy over a dedication to the lives of persons. For these people, the personhood argument is a waste of time; the heart could beat and brain be fully functional at 1 week.

Thinking skill in the STEM fields measures intelligence is bad

For whatever reason math, science, and pretty much any heavily quantitative study has become the metric on which intelligence is based. Someone who can do calculus mentally must be a genius and someone who struggles with fractions must be dumb. I’m not immune to this oddity–I met one particularly brilliant individual years ago and assumed he must be great at maths. (He’s not bad,  but also not significantly above average.) However, this sort of assumption is just toxic for many people. While some people let the cultural assumption roll off their backs, I have friends who insult themselves for being dumb simply because they’re not skilled with a particular mental skill or two.

I’m generally alright at math; I think it comes more easily to me than many others. I got a 3.8 on a math major and likely to have a coauthored paper published soon. But when I try my hand at writing a compelling story or poetry, I often fall flat on my face. Of course, with practice it improves, but if math abilities were an indicator of intelligence generally, I’d expect to be at least average at these things. Being able to craft a driving story, create art that inspires or comforts people, or say things that somehow improve life for people are themselves incredible intelligences to have. If I could trade my logic skills for those sorts, it’d be quite the tempting offer. Understanding people, feelings, aesthetics, etc. is hard. In my mind, far harder than crunching numbers and symbols.

Ultimately this is just a result of misdirected priorities. The pursuit of money and new technology (for the pursuit of money) has distracted us from the happiness and fulfillment those things were meant to serve in the first place. Certainly a lot of math and science is done for joy, knowledge, beauty, or some other virtuous thing, but the state of cultural supremacy they have taken seems to stem from these misdirected priorities. These misdirected priorities speak nothing of the art-oriented people. Quantitative skills have their place in good living, but it’s not the place that’s given them their current status.

As I can imagine certain complaints will come in, I’ll address them right now. I’m not saying everyone is smart. Some people are dumb. If nobody was, being smart wouldn’t really be anything. (I’m not saying just that it wouldn’t be valuable–it literally doesn’t make sense for there to only be smart people. Of course, there is a wide spectrum, but I don’t foresee anyone trying to make an object on the basis of apparent binaryism.) This isn’t to say they have less value as people. There’s a lot of very good things to be besides smart. Being smart is often only a useful trait in more valuable things. Nonetheless, for people who desire to have that trait but consistently fail because what they do is aimed at knowledge or some sort of mental skill but not one quantitative in nature, this attitude is harmful. (The underlying issue of priorities is an issue with a much larger scope. That there is a problem is simple enough to state, and all that is needed for my point here.)

Stop making the police so easy to hate

I said some things two years ago when law enforcement and homicides and all those other fun things were constantly in the news. The ideas still hold now as much as they did then, and the problems haven’t really gone away; we just got a new topic for the news to talk about. I’ve been involved in some protesting and I also know a lot of LEOs. While some are acting nothing short of abhorrently, and many are just propping up a system that abuse the weak (see: Standing Rock), there are also quite a few good people under the uniform, and seeing fewer of them get killed would be nice.

The (largely waned for now, though likely to reemerge soon enough) protesting against police and prosecutor corruption is entirely legitimate. Grand juries are fed whatever the prosecutors say, and guess who’s buddied with the prosecutor. Could it be the officers giving them the evidence they need to do their job? People tend to act emotionally and protect their friends; that’s entirely reasonable. I wouldn’t put it past myself to sell out the good of the community for the sake of the people I care about. However, the general public does not gain from this system. Some outside entity needs to be involved to make sure everything proceeds fairly. If an officer can get off free when on camera shooting someone who’s not attacking anyone, we have an issue.

Some LEOs are corrupt or otherwise vicious people, yes, obviously, all kinds of people are. I wouldn’t be surprised if the power attracted some people who have no business being officers. Some extra hurdles to get the badge seems like a good idea. That said, indiscriminate murder of innocent officers is a stupid idea. It’s unethical on the one hand, and only likely to scare more people into encouraging the bad behavior.

Stepping back, though, I’d like to think most rational people ignore the hype and are in the “we need more oversight, we don’t want murder”, etc. category. It’s a pretty middle-of-the-road and easy conclusion. However, there’s a few points I don’t see very often in most discourse on the matter.

The main point that the following culminates to is I want less dead people, both cops and civilians. I don’t just mean the violent protests nor do I mean the racist cases we’ve seen recently, either. Of course, fixing racist cops is a moral obligation the government needs to fulfill, and I’m losing faith in the power of violent protests–at least first strikes. But in general there’s a few big issues that aren’t being addressed much in this context:

-Mike Brown (a divisive case at the time I originally wrote this point, and still a good example) was attacking the officer, yes, and use of deadly force was probably warranted, yes. However, we still have a dead kid’s blood on our societal hands. Most people do not charge officers, or anyone for that matter. Most people also don’t rob convenience stores. At least most people who are in a healthy situation. If we look to areas where things are not well, these become more common. These are symptoms of bigger issues. If a system spits on someone long enough without reprieve, why would we expect that person to cooperate? Poverty breeds resentment which leads to no remorse for crime against the people who didn’t give a damn. Lack of education leads to lack of opportunity which leads to a lack of real risk in committing crimes. Moreover, the aforementioned poverty also stresses parents and harms their ability to properly raise a member of society because they lose mental acumen and often simply lack the time from working bonus shifts. (This isn’t to say poverty elements==poor parents, but it certainly makes it harder to parent.) We have the resources to prevent things like this and we don’t. You want less crime? Get rid of the motivation.

-Our current youth generation doesn’t care much for authority figures, especially of the law. But why would we? Our first encounters are often negative. Most kids aren’t being saved from rapists and robbers. A lot of kids are speeding, drinking underage, and smoking pot. All of those lead to negative encounters with the police or at least fear of the police. The police aren’t widely considered friendly people who will help you when you’re in need; they’re considered the people who will screw you over when you’re not doing anything actually harmful. The other week a friend of mine told me she emergency services to send an ambulance to help her friend who was dangerously intoxicated. Instead the police came and hounded her about heroin (which she didn’t have. Never mind the bodily danger someone is in. We need to punish people with imaginary heroin!) Things like quotas and using traffic laws to fill city coffers sure only worsen the problem since they increase negative reactions to police. While many do have important roles and can’t be taken away from investigating a homicide, spending less time ticketing someone going 46 in a 45 (even though the speed clock is wrong and they were actually going 44) and more time being the most upstanding citizens of their communities would do a lot of good.

-This comes full circle to my “I want less dead cops” point. People breaking the law attack. People who have no reason to respect the law or law enforcement break the law and attack. While you can’t prevent all crime, we have data showing lowering bad stuff like poverty lowers crime and we already have the resources to get the job done. We just need to do it.

Some People Following the Crowd Doesn’t Diminish the Reasons Behind the Movement (A response to Hans Fiene)

Hans Fiene says the move to legalize gay marriage is merely the result of a desire to imitate the Civil Rights Movement.  His article has a number of issues, from making false claims to false equivocations, but it can be taken in sequence.

He first establishes that the current generation learned about the greatness of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as a sort of sainthood, and now we want our own movement to run to be good ourselves. He also reduces the issue to standing up for a cause others aren’t rather than standing up for a cause because we ought to.

The first alternative he proposes is the unborn. He claims the anti-abortion movement isn’t gaining ground because of cost. Outlawing abortion would require a new approach to sex, which would change the lives of many people now forced to risk an unwanted child if they want to have sex. Of course, he conveniently ignores every argument for the right to abortion, including the defense of bodily autonomy, the defense of privacy, and the common consensus that a fetus is not a person.

His second alternative he proposes is poverty. He ignores the push for a state-sponsored fight to end poverty, implicitly stating that if we aren’t personally giving money (due to having a negative net wealth) then we aren’t at all in support of the cause.

This brings us to gay people. Gay people have something in common with another group that the current generation is in wide support of: women. The problems of the gay and female populations both arise primarily not from something tangible like scarcity of resources, but from the minds of others. Equal treatment can be obtained through changing minds, since minds are the source of the problems. Changing minds is a feasible goal for individuals to embark on.

His statement

Of course we know that politely telling a customer you’ve served for nine years that you can’t, in good conscience,provide flowers for his wedding isn’t in the same moral universe as murdering a black teenager for talking to a white woman.

gets a spotlight on the side of the page. He’s chosen two completely different examples, and I could just as easily say the hate murders committed against gay people are of much greater magnitude than refusing to cater a biracial wedding.

He slips in the tired argument that an inherently-childless couple shouldn’t qualify for marriage, ignoring the tired rebuttal that if we take a child-only definition of marriage, post-menopausal women and all people incapable of reproducing need to be banned, yet nobody is calling for a ban on elder marriage.

Fiene also has an issue with Takei’s protesting the RFRA via boycott. Why using the tools you have at your disposal is a bad thing is left unexplained. Perhaps a cause is only righteous if it comes from a point of low power. (In which case any non-Christian religion in the US is poised for a righteous movement.) He goes into a general complaint against the complains against the RFRA, claiming it’s not a big deal, but Benjamin Studebaker covers quite nicely why it is a big deal and his continued comparison to other states is unfounded.

Are there legitimate problems within the movements Fiene has issues with? Sure. Gay marriage has gotten a bigger spotlight than housing and employment discrimination as well as hate crimes. As it turns out, love is easier to market than being anti-discrimination or anti-anything else. Hence why anti-abortionists prefer the term pro-life, even if they take decidedly anti-life stances on other issues. The RFRA also had bigger issues than refusing to cater a wedding: it more or less allowed the law to be ignored by hiding behind a religion. Employers could negate the health insurance laws by claiming parts of it violate their religion. Legislation by a democratic state could be vetoed by religious entities.

Fiene doesn’t take this route, though. He makes a strike against the gay marriage movement by pointing out the fact that some people have self-interested motivations and a bit of Civil Rights hero worship. However he also abuses any instance where he makes the movement look weak to attack the cause itself. Moreover, he ignores parts of the movement that fight things like hate crimes and parts like Stonewall that have taken serious action. Sure most people participate because they want to be good, but that hardly diminishes the core reasons for why equality is the right direction.