Friday, December 31, 2010

The Unbroken Window

The Unbroken Window: "So let’s end this year at the Unbroken Window on that happy note! We’ve destroyed a billion and a half dollars worth of valuable cars for the sake of stimulus that never really happened. We made the lives of poor used car buyers more difficult and expensive. We’ve spent over 6 times as much to reduce carbon costs as the carbon is costing society in the first place. And people like me who raise eyebrows over such absolute nonsense are painted as the nutty, man-hating, ideologues. If this sort of stuff is not fair game, then what may I ask is? Please tell, so that I can spend the 2011 year at the Unbroken Window making sure I point out only the truly egregious stuff.

Happy New Year’s everyone. I am just hoping I can stay awake to see the ball drop."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Economic Optimism? Yes, I’ll Take That Bet - Findings - NYTimes.com

Economic Optimism? Yes, I’ll Take That Bet - Findings - NYTimes.com: "The really good news is the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas. It’s now selling for less than half of what it was five years ago. There’s so much available that the Energy Department is predicting low prices for gas and electricity for the next quarter-century. Lobbyists for wind farms, once again, have been telling Washington that the “sustainable energy” industry can’t sustain itself without further subsidies."

Economic Optimism? Yes, I’ll Take That Bet - Findings - NYTimes.com

Economic Optimism? Yes, I’ll Take That Bet - Findings - NYTimes.com: "As an alternative to arguing, Julian offered to bet that the price of any natural resource chosen by a Malthusian wouldn’t rise in the future. Dr. Ehrlich accepted and formed a consortium with two colleagues at Berkeley, John P. Holdren and John Harte, who were supposed to be experts in natural resources. In 1980, they picked five metals and bet that the prices would rise during the next 10 years.

By 1990, the prices were lower, and the Malthusians paid up, although they didn’t seem to suffer any professional consequences. Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Holdren both won MacArthur “genius awards” (Julian never did). Dr. Holdren went on to lead the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and today he serves as President Obama’s science adviser."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Volokh Conspiracy

The Volokh Conspiracy: "Economist Alfred Kahn died this week at 93.  Kahn had a remakrable career as an academic, administrator, and government official.  A noted regulatory scholar, he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell and Chairman of the New York Public Service Commission.  In 1977, President Carter tapped Kahn to chair the Civil Aeronautics Board where he had a profound effect on the shape of the airline industry.  Though a liberal Democrat, Kahn oversaw deregulation of the airline industry and championed reforms that eventually shuttered the CAB.

Though air travel is often no picnic, and the  industry is more turbulent than it was in the days of price regulation, it’s much cheaper thanks to Kahn’s efforts.  By some estimates, airline deregulation saves consumers as much as $20 billion per year and helped democratize air travel.  Airfares have climbed of late but, as this WSJ editorial notes, “fares are still lower today in real terms than they were in the 1970s.”"

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Longs For 'Golden Age' Of The Bush Years

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Longs For 'Golden Age' Of The Bush Years: "The cable was sent in July 2009, which would become the deadliest month for foreign troops since the 2001 invasion. The surge in casualties resulted from an offensive to oust the Taliban in opium-rich Helmand Province, as well as the increasing power of roadside bombs. On July 7, when Amb. Karl Eikenberry met with Karzai, the Afghan president was looking backward rather than forward, wistfully longing for the early days of the Bush administration, which he referred to as a 'golden age.'"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Harsanyi: Save the 'Net; abolish the FCC - The Denver Post

Harsanyi: Save the 'Net; abolish the FCC - The Denver Post: "Because there exists no area of human activity that couldn't benefit from more paternalistic attention . . . Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Federal Communications Commission to your Web browser.

Congressional Democrats could not find the votes to pass 'net neutrality.' No problem. Three un-elected officials will impose rules on hundreds of millions of satisfied online consumers. A federal appeals court stops the FCC from employing authority over the Internet. Again, not a problem. Three out of five FCC commissioners can carve out some temporary wiggle room, because as any crusading technocrat knows, the most important thing is getting in the door.

It's not that we don't need the FCC's meddling, it's that we don't need the FCC at all. Rather than expanding the powers — which always seem to grow — of this outdated bureaucracy, Congress should be finding ways to eliminate it."

Census: Fast growth in states with no income tax | Washington Examiner

Census: Fast growth in states with no income tax | Washington Examiner: "Finally, let's get to politics. The net effect of the reapportionment was to add six House seats and electoral votes to the states John McCain carried in 2008 and to subtract six House seats and electoral votes from the states Barack Obama carried that year. Similarly, the states carried by George W. Bush in 2004 gained six seats and the states carried by John Kerry lost six.

That's not an enormous change. But it's part of a long-term trend that has reshaped the nation's politics. If you go back to the 1960 election, when the electoral votes were based on the 1950 census, you will find that John Kennedy won 303 electoral votes. But the states he carried then will have only 272 electoral votes in 2012, a bare majority. And without Texas, which he narrowly carried, the Kennedy states would have only 234 electoral votes."

Census: Fast growth in states with no income tax | Washington Examiner

Census: Fast growth in states with no income tax | Washington Examiner: "Census: Fast growth in states with no income tax"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Althouse

Althouse: "Bleh. You just disagree with the call. I hate this sort of political posturing. It's not the massiveness of the congressional record that makes a statute constitutional. It's fitting within the Constitution.

Specter is acting as if the question at the confirmation hearing was: If we put a really, really huge number of words into the record, do you promise to let us do anything we want? And the answer was: Yes, of course. When I see a lot of pages, I always think, wow, that must be true."

Althouse: "That snow outside is what global warming looks like."

Althouse: "That snow outside is what global warming looks like.": "Weather is proof of global warming."

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Volokh Conspiracy

The Volokh Conspiracy: "The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution—African slavery as it exists amongst us; the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Petals and Bones › An Interview with Sara Sanger: Photographer and Bad-Ass Rock Star

Petals and Bones › An Interview with Sara Sanger: Photographer and Bad-Ass Rock Star: "Petals and Bones adores Sara’s no-nonsense approach to living a creative life without selling out or toning down her unique approach to the arts for the sake of profit."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Senate Dem leader drops nearly $1.3T spending bill

Senate Dem leader drops nearly $1.3T spending bill: "Democrats controlling the Senate have abandoned a 1,924-page catchall spending measure that's laced with homestate pet projects known as earmarks and that would have provided another $158 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nevada Democrat Harry Reid gave up on the nearly $1.3 trillion bill after several Republicans who had been thinking of voting for the bill pulled back their support."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Stupidity Defense - WSJ.com

The Stupidity Defense - WSJ.com: "One of the most famous books about constitutional law is called 'Taking Rights Seriously,' and I wish I had $20 for every scholarly law review article that's titled 'Taking [something in the Constitution] Seriously.' I think 'Taking X Seriously' is the biggest cliché in the history of law review articles. And what that means, Josh, is . . . Hey, I love the way [a guy] whose name means joke wants the test of the truth to be whether or not people laugh.
But I'm not joshing, Josh. The reason there are so many law articles called 'Taking X Seriously' is that we don't rule out a proposition of constitutional law simply because no one seems to taking it seriously right now. We work through the analysis, and maybe we discover that it should be taken seriously."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Virginia judge strikes down federal health care law | Washington Examiner

Virginia judge strikes down federal health care law | Washington Examiner: " A federal judge declared the Obama administration's health care law unconstitutional Monday, siding with Virginia's attorney general in a dispute that both sides agree will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Searching for Bobby Fischer :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews

Searching for Bobby Fischer :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews: "If we can operate at the genius level in a given field, does that mean we must - even if the cost is the sort of endless purgatory a Bobby Fischer has inhabited? It's an interesting question, and this movie doesn't avoid it."

Best Value Law Schools | the National Jurist

Best Value Law Schools | the National Jurist: "2010 Best Value Law Schools: The Top 20

1 Georgia State University
2 Brigham Young University , UT"

Yoo and Delahunty: The Collapse of the Guantanamo Myth - WSJ.com

Yoo and Delahunty: The Collapse of the Guantanamo Myth - WSJ.com: "This week the intelligence community reported to Congress that one-quarter of the detainees released from Guantanamo in the past eight years have returned to the fight. Though the U.S. and its allies have killed or recaptured some of these 150 terrorists, well over half remain at large. The Defense Department reports that Gitmo alumni have assumed top positions in al Qaeda and the Taliban, attacked allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and led efforts to kill U.S. troops.

Even that 25% recidivism rate is likely too low. The intelligence community reports that it usually takes about two and a half years before a released detainee shows up on its radar. Our forces probably have yet to re-engage most of the terrorists among the 66 detainees released so far by the Obama administration."

Friday, December 10, 2010

iowahawk: Obama Names Bill Clinton to Presidential Post

iowahawk: Obama Names Bill Clinton to Presidential Post: "Ending weeks of speculation and rumors, President-Elect Barack Obama today named Bill Clinton to join his incoming administration as President of the United States, where he will head the federal government's executive branch.

'I am pleased that Bill Clinton has agreed to come out of retirement to head up this crucial post in my administration,' said Obama. 'He brings a lifetime of previous executive experience as Governor of Arkansas and President of the United States, and has worked closely with most of the members of my Cabinet.'"

California’s High-Speed Rail Off to Awful Start – Gas 2.0

California’s High-Speed Rail Off to Awful Start – Gas 2.0: "California has plans for an 800-mile high-speed rail system running the length of the Golden State, and initial estimates place the cost somewhere around $45 billion (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it cost twice that by the time it is finished). Even a 800 mile journey begins with the first step, and California has been trying to find the area most receptive to the idea of a high-speed rail line. They found that place in the Central Valley, between Borden and Bakersfield, with stations to be built in Fresno and the Hanford area of Kings County. In total, the plan calls for 65 miles of track and stations at a cost of about $4 billion.

Sounds good, right? That is, until you realize that this section will be completely un-powered and un-supported until more lines are built. No trains, no maintenance facilities, just empty tracks and stations. Que?"

Instapundit » Blog Archive » CHANGE: Why I’d rather my daughter marry a rich man than have a brilliant career….

Instapundit » Blog Archive » CHANGE: Why I’d rather my daughter marry a rich man than have a brilliant career….

I wanted to like the article, but instead I found it pretty annoying.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Simon–Ehrlich wager - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simon–Ehrlich wager - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "More people, and increased income, cause resources to become more scarce in the short run. Heightened scarcity causes prices to rise. The higher prices present opportunity, and prompt inventors and entrepreneurs to search for solutions. Many fail in the search, at cost to themselves. But in a free society, solutions are eventually found. And in the long run the new developments leave us better off than if the problems had not arisen. That is, prices eventually become lower than before the increased scarcity occurred."

Simon–Ehrlich wager - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simon–Ehrlich wager - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "All of [Ehrlich's] grim predictions had been decisively overturned by events. Ehrlich was wrong about higher natural resource prices, about 'famines of unbelievable proportions' occurring by 1975, about 'hundreds of millions of people starving to death' in the 1970s and '80s, about the world 'entering a genuine age of scarcity.' In 1990, for his having promoted 'greater public understanding of environmental problems,' Ehrlich received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award.' [Simon] always found it somewhat peculiar that neither the Science piece nor his public wager with Ehrlich nor anything else that he did, said, or wrote seemed to make much of a dent on the world at large. For some reason he could never comprehend, people were inclined to believe the very worst about anything and everything; they were immune to contrary evidence just as if they'd been medically vaccinated against the force of fact. Furthermore, there seemed to be a bizarre reverse-Cassandra effect operating in the universe: whereas the mythical Cassandra spoke the awful truth and was not believed, these days 'experts' spoke awful falsehoods, and they were believed. Repeatedly being wrong actually seemed to be an advantage, conferring some sort of puzzling magic glow upon the speaker."

Simon–Ehrlich wager - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simon–Ehrlich wager - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "It's not clear if Ehrlich consulted with economists. If he had, the flaw in using commodity prices as the best way to understand biophysical limits might have become obvious. Many economists understand the principle of substitution and the dynamic influence of technology with respect to commodity prices. For example, in the absence of any new technologies, copper prices would indeed be expected to increase as growing economies demanded more copper to meet the needs of expanding communications networks and plumbing infrastructure. Technological changes mitigated much of this expected demand as fiber optics replaced copper wire networks and various plastics replaced the once ubiquitous copper pipes throughout the construction industry."

Conservative legislators take lessons on how to subvert the feds. - By David Weigel - Slate Magazine

Conservative legislators take lessons on how to subvert the feds. - By David Weigel - Slate Magazine: "'How many of you know something about the Second Amendment?' asked Randy Barnett. This was a rhetorical question. Barnett, the Georgetown law professor who has spent the last few years researching ways for states to opt out of federal mandates, was speaking to conservative state legislators gathered in Washington for the American Legislative Exchange Council's post-election meeting, and they were spending their third consecutive day boning up on federalism.

In response to Barnett's question, every hand went up."

A rhetorical question that everyone answered.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Althouse: The high-speed rail boondoggle at its worst — in California.

Althouse: The high-speed rail boondoggle at its worst — in California.:

''Via Instapundit, Reason has the nauseating details:

The California High Speed Rail Authority is committed to breaking ground on a leg of the train that will serve passengers between the unincorporated town of Borden and the half- incarcerated town of Corcoran.

Corcoran!

Whether you call it the train from nowhere or the train to nowhere, nobody will be riding it even when it’s done. That’s not libertarian cant: The actual plan for the $4.15 billion leg is that upon completion it will sit idle until other sections of track are completed.

$4.15 billion!

Background: The CHSRA needs to break ground by September 2012 or lose $2.25 billion in federal funds. The U.S. Department of Transportation has for reasons of its own favored the sparsely populated Central Valley for this first leg of the thinly imagined high speed rail project.

Reasons of its own? Can we get an investigation?"

I'm going to be sick.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Althouse: Why aren't there any black Senators?

Althouse: Why aren't there any black Senators?: "In the interest of increasing minority representation in the House and state legislatures, the act mandates the drawing of 'majority minority' districts.

On its own terms, this has worked very well. The size of the Congressional Black Caucus relative to the House is within a few percentage points of the black proportion of the population. Seats in state legislatures and the House frequently are stepping stones to statewide office. But because black politicians need not cultivate a transracial appeal to win office in the first place, they are at a disadvantage when they consider a statewide run."

WikiLeaks founder could be charged under Espionage Act

WikiLeaks founder could be charged under Espionage Act: "'How do you prove that a particular cable about secret negotiations with Russia was dangerous to national security? You have to disclose more classified information to explain to the jury the damage brought about by the disclosure,' he said."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gore: On second thought, I was just pandering to the farm vote on ethanol « Hot Air

Gore: On second thought, I was just pandering to the farm vote on ethanol « Hot Air: "Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore said support for corn-based ethanol in the United States was “not a good policy”, weeks before tax credits are up for renewal. …

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol,” said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank.

“First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.[']"

I agree.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

George F. Will - The T.S. of A takes control

George F. Will - The T.S. of A takes control: "Tyner: 'I don't understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying.'

TSA: 'This is not considered a sexual assault.'

Tyner: 'It would be if you weren't the government. . . .'

TSA: 'Upon buying your ticket, you gave up a lot of rights.'

Oh? John Locke, call your office."

Missing WFB

George F. Will - The T.S. of A takes control: "When Buckley was asked how he came up with topics for three columns a week, he jauntily replied that the world annoyed him that frequently."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Don’t Touch My Junk - Charles Krauthammer - National Review Online

Don’t Touch My Junk - Charles Krauthammer - National Review Online: "Don’t touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm-election voter. Don’t touch my junk, Obamacare — get out of my doctor’s examining room; I’m wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back. Don’t touch my junk, Google — Street View is cool, but get off my street. Don’t touch my junk, you airport-security goon — my package belongs to no one but me, and do you really think I’m a Nigerian nut job preparing for my 72-virgin orgy by blowing my johnson to kingdom come?"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sociology Professor on Mormonism


Of course, the sociology of Mormonism is separate from its truth claims, and though skepticism probably comes more naturally to me than belief, I nevertheless choose to believe. I savor what we have in common with other Christians—the Bible, resurrection, forgiveness of sins, gifts of the spirit, the example of our savior, the importance of moral living (though I certainly acknowledge that Mormons are not orthodox Christians)—and I love the doctrines of the Restoration (as we call it): that everyone who has ever lived has an equal opportunity for salvation, that sinners and unbelievers are not cast into hell forever, that God is not ultimately responsible for all the evil and suffering in the world, that marriages and families can last into eternity, that there is no end to knowledge and progress, and that God continues to speak to prophets today just as in biblical times. When I go to the temple, I marvel that I belong to a religion with such a sense of sacred ritual, and that it means so much to me. As I have studied and researched the Book of Mormon for scholarly, academic publications over the last few years, I find it more and more impressive. Though I respect the opinions of those who are attuned to its many historical improbabilities, it seems to me to be a revealed text, with roots in the ancient world. It may be hard to believe such things, but I do. They make sense to me, and as I have prayed, studied, served, and performed priesthood ordinances such as giving blessings and baptizing my children (another advantage of a lay ministry), I have had spiritual experiences that I interpret as the Holy Spirit bearing witness to me of the truths of Mormonism.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Balance the Budget

This is a pretty cool interactive way of seeing how our budget goes together. I managed to balance the budget without increasing taxes.

Here's my plan:


Make your own here:

Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Decision Points - Politics - msnbc.com

Decision Points - Politics - msnbc.com: "LAUER: Let's get to the picture that we may have seen more of you (laughter) in the last couple years of your Presidency than any other picture.� You're sitting in Air Force One, flying back toward Washington.� You fly right over New Orleans and you look out the window.
BUSH: Yes.� Huge mistake.
LAUER: Yeah, it made you look so out of touch.
BUSH: Detached and uncaring.� No question about it.� And--
LAUER: Whose fault was it?
BUSH: It's always my fault.� I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor, and, you know, walked out and said, 'I hear you.'� I mean, 'We know.� We understand.� And we're gonna, you know, help the state and help the locals, governments with as much resources as needed.'� And-- and then got back on a flight up to Washington.� I did not do that and paid a price for it."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Decision Points - Politics - msnbc.com

Decision Points - Politics - msnbc.com: "LAUER: About a week after the storm hit NBC aired a telethon asking for help for the victims of KatrinAa.� We had celebrities coming in to ask for money.� And I remember it vividly 'cause I hosted it.� And at one part of the evening I introduced Kanye West.� Were you watching?
BUSH: Nope.
LAUER: You remember what he said?
BUSH: Yes, I do.� He called me a racist.
LAUER: Well, what he said, 'George Bush doesn't care about black people.'
BUSH: That's, “ he's a racist”.� And I didn't appreciate it then. �I don't appreciate it now.� It's one thing to say, you know, 'I don't appreciate the way he's-- handles his business.'� It's another thing to say, 'This man's a racist.'� I resent it.� It's not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my Presidency."

Decision Points - Politics - msnbc.com

Decision Points - Politics - msnbc.com: "LAUER: If you knew then what you know now--
BUSH: That's right.
LAUER: --You would still go to war in Iraq?
BUSH: I-- first of all didn't have that luxury. You just don't have the luxury when you're President.� I will say definitely the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

And the Age of Accountability is . . .

Four.

The Volokh Conspiracy � The Negligent 4-Year-Old: "[I]nfants under the age of four are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence (Verni v Johnson, 295 NY 436, 438 [1946]).... Juliet Breitman, however, was over the age of four at the time of the subject incident. For infants above the age of four, there is no bright line rule, and “in considering the conduct of an infant in relation to other persons or their property, the infant should be held to a standard of care ... by what is expected of a reasonably prudent child of that age, experience, intelligence and degree of development and capacity”"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dear Loyal Readers

It's not you, it's me.

I have started blogging at Bull v. Elephant. I'm not sure how it all happened, but it just did. I'm not sure if I'll be able to continue giving both this blog and the new one the attention they deserve. It doesn't seem quite appropriate to post every random thought over at B. v. E. like I can here. However, I like that fact that more than Danny, Brett and Val (and maybe Dallas?) read the other blog. In short, I do not know how much blogging time will be left to blog here. I think you are more than welcome to read and comment at B. v. E. if you'd like. I don't really know that for sure, though.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Telekinesis!

That's the name of the opening band that played last night. Here's a song of theirs I like.



But we were at the Wonder Room to see Teenage Fanclub.



They were good, but they looked twenty years older than in the video. Of Course, that video was made twenty years ago.

BONUS: What's the link between Telekinesis! and The Velvet Teen?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FIFA, Soccer, FIFA Soccer

1. When we were in Scotland I discovered I very much like watching soccer. We went to a Rangers game and had great seats. It was very cool. We also watched a lot of soccer on TV. Even though the first two games I watched ended 0-0 ties, they were still interesting.

Soccer has its strengths and weaknesses. Its most obvious drawback is not very much scoring. These Simpsons clips speak much truth about the sport's drawbacks:



Low scoring is also sort of a virtue because scoring a goal in soccer is kind of like catching a long bomb in football or hitting a home-run in baseball. Goals are rare enough that they're always exciting.

I also like the fact that the game is a constant flow of action. There's really only one break at the half.

There seems to be a conservative divide on soccer--that is liberals like it and conservatives think American sports are better. I'm not sure why that is. Also, I find most American fans of soccer really annoying for some reason. Like I saw a bunch of galaxy fans with their scarfs on in LA and just thought it was kind of obnoxious and not very authentic.

2. I really haven't played video games that much in the last 4 years, but in Scotland I played a lot of FIFA 10, and got really into it. I thought maybe it was only fun because I had a lot of people to play with, but I've had FIFA 11 for 2-plus weeks now, and I still look forward to playing every day. There are some differences between 10 and 11. Passing is harder in FIFA 11, and so is making that chip/lob-shot over the goalie. But it's more or less the same game I've been playing straight for over a month. Not sure why the game has such depth, but it does.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Material

The new Velvet Teen EP is recorded. You can listen to the song, No Star, here.


Update: or here:
No Star by The Velvet Teen

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Utilitarianism

The author of that trolley problem has died:

The most arresting of her examples, offered in just a few sentences, was the ethical dilemma faced by the driver of a runaway trolley hurtling toward five track workers. By diverting the trolley to a spur where just one worker is on the track, the driver can save five lives.

Clearly, the driver should divert the trolley and kill one worker rather than five.

But what about a surgeon who could also save five lives — by killing a patient and distributing the patient’s organs to five other patients who would otherwise die? The math is the same, but here, instead of having to choose between two negative duties — the imperative not to inflict harm — as the driver does, the doctor weighs a negative duty against the positive duty of rendering aid.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bad Example

Here's a comment I tried to post at EconLog:

I mostly liked your EconTalk podcast about immigration, and thought most of your arguments for open immigration were pretty good. But your thought experiment where a person goes to Haiti to do humanitarian work only to discover he can't return to the U.S. is, I think, off. What I think you're trying to show is that only country of birth--which is a matter of luck --separates poor Haitians from comparatively well off Americans. The randomness is unfair! Well, the listener certainly gets a sense of outrage, but, I think, for the wrong reasons.

I think the biggest source of outrage in the example is not the randomness of allocation to countries, but the random government rule change mid-trip. The humanitarian was relying on the fact that he would be able to return to the U.S. The reaction would be much different if the humanitarian knew before he left that he could not return. I don't see how outrage over a sudden rule change helps your case for open immigration.

The hypothetical is also unsettling because the humanitarian had something that was taken away from him, as opposed to having had less to begin with. I'd feel bad for a billionaire that lost his fortune and had to make due with $100,000 a year, even though that income is actually quite good by most standards. But maybe that is parts of your point--that we should be just as outraged about the unseen consequences of immigration policy as the seen consequences in the hypothetical? Maybe we should lament missed opportunities as much as a loss? At least the humanitarian got to live in the U.S. for a while. But psychological, I don't think we do, which makes the U.S.'s arguably unduly-restrictive immigration policy at least more psychologically benign than your hypothetical.

Finally, your hypothetical misses the mark because the humanitarian is permanently and involuntarily relocated. I think people would find the idea of a person who lives in Portland, OR going on a business trip to New York, NY and then discovering that he can't return to Portland mid-trip troubling, even if he could take his family and friends with him. And by your account, New York is better than Portland. So I don't think this sense of unease has much to do with different standards of living. The average person is going to find this sort of involuntary, permanent relocation and disruption of life troubling, regardless of economic opportunity.

Hysteria

Just watched part of a Muse concert on Pallidia, and the base line from the song Hysteria is seriously hard. The base player has serious chops.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Objectivism

Are there any objectivists out there? Danny? Anyone? Because I have a question. If I understand objectivism correctly, the basic premise is that you should not live for others. Instead, you should do what is in your self interest.

The common objection to this is, what if an objectivist sees someone drowning? Acting only in their narrow self interest, they would let the person drowned. But objectivists always respond, that self interest should not be construed so narrowly, or that's not a proper understanding of self interest. That's fair enough. I mean, it's arguably in a person's self interest to save another. It would create a relationship. Or it might impress others.

So here's the hypothetical I have. Suppose an objectivist happens upon a drowning person he doesn't know. He has no reason to believe that he wants to know them. Or maybe it's someone he dislikes. There's no one else around. All he has to do is throw a life vest at the person to save him. Can an objectivist decide not to? If not why not?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Can Someone Explain to Me. . .

why BYU's football team sucks so bad this year?

The only good I can see coming from this season, is it will be particularly embarrassing if we beat Utah.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How HOAs Help Show You Don't Need Consent in Government

I posted the following comment at Cafe Hayek (slightly edited):

Since the time I read Machinery of Freedom on Professor Boudreaux’s recommendation, I've thought two things: 1. It was be great to have a government/society that did not coerce anyone, but derived its authority from the consent of all its constituents, and 2. there is no way to do this.

Mr. Hinkle tries to use his HOA example to draw a distinction between a government of consent (HOA) and government, which rules without its constituent’s consent. The example is not persuasive, mostly because this case he uses as a jumping point is some kind of anomaly. Owners do not sign a contract to abide by the CC&Rs when they purchase into a HOA; They are bound to the terms of the CC&Rs regardless of whether they assent. You could argue that when a purchaser buys the property that they know is subject to CC&Rs they assent to them. But there is no ability to negotiate the terms of the contract; the purchaser must take or leave the CC&Rs, just as an immigrant must take-or-leave the laws of the country he immigrates to. And what if a person is born to a family living in an HOA and later inherits the property? The person is still subject to the regulations in the CC&Rs. That situation seem no different to me than being bound to the laws of the country you were born in without ever having consented to those laws.

You could say, if HOA's/CC&Rs aren't consent to, then we don't need them! We'll just let property owners opt in and opt out of private law system created and enforced by private companies (the Protection agencies from the Machinery of Freedom.) But HOAs solve property right problems, and their CC&Rs must "run with the land" to do so. If I want to buy property in a neighborhood where people mow their lawns and cannot paint their houses bright pink, these obligations must run with the land. While current owners may agree to those terms, I have no assurance that subsequent owners will likewise comply unless the contract, like CC&Rs, bind future owners, too.

I agree with Professor Kling that HOAs are better than government, because they are generally small, and easier to escape if they get too oppressive. However, on the question of consent, I see no principled distinction between an HOA and government. Both bind all who fall within their territory, regardless of consent.
I made another comment at the Kling link.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

30 Days. . .

To hone my FIFA Skills before Fred arrives.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Aerials Up

Here are two videos from a band Leigh and I saw in Glasgow. She knew the lead singer growing up and the base player is also from her town. They've already played T in the Park, and opened for Snow Patrol.

This is their first single, which you can legally download for free here:

Superglue is their next single (fyi, I think this recording could benefit from some better mixing, and maybe a little tuning):

And this Infatuation Isn’t Even Sober and Mature!

And this Infatuation Isn’t Even Sober and Mature!: "Question for Mr. Cohen: if government officials and the courts are free to choose which words of the Constitution to “adhere to” and which to ignore, what meaning does the Constitution really possess?� And why did the Founding Fathers struggle so hard during the long, hot summer of 1787 over the precise wording of the Constitution?� Why didn’t they – to ensure that they would win the respect of future generations of Very Smart Persons – simply draft a document that reads “Government may do whatever it judges to be best for The People” and leave it at that?"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chistopher Columbus

Does anyone want to try to rectify this with this?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

American Idol

American Idol - Simon Cowell = 0

Thursday, September 9, 2010

WikiAnswers - What is the difference between a lake and loch in Scotland

A slightly different answer:

WikiAnswers - What is the difference between a lake and loch in Scotland: "My understanding is that the Lake of Menteith is the only 'lake' amongst over 3000 lochs. It was originally a swamp and was described as such at the time of the building of Inchmahome Priory on the island. The Gaelic word used was leagh meaning swampy place and this was corrupted to lake. So yes there is no difference !"

The difference between a Lake and a Loch?

The difference between a Lake and a Loch? in The AnswerBank: Environment: "Nothing to do with water in or out flow. Both lakes and lochs can have one or both. Loch is simply a word of gaelic derivation and describes a body of water in the same way the english word lake does. Lake of Menteith is supposedly an accident in naming due to confusion with the word laigh meaning low ground"

We were up by the Lake of Menteith yesterday.

Blair Understands Rational Ignorance

The Volokh Conspiracy � Tony Blair on Political Ignorance:
The single hardest thing for a practising politician to understand is that most people, most of the time, don’t give politics a first thought all day long. Or if they do, it is with a sigh...., before going back to worrying about the kids, the parents, the mortgage, the boss, their friends, their weight, their health, sex and rock ‘n’roll.....

For most normal people, politics is a distant, occasionally irritating fog. Failure to comprehend this is a fatal flaw in most politicians.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Open-Shirt French Philosophers

This post is dedicate to Brett for saving all his old emails, and, more importantly, not switching email accounts in the last 4 years.

I can't remember exactly how all this happened, but at lunch yesterday, one of my coworkers started talking about French philosopher that he emulates when it comes to shirts. To his surprise, I instantly knew he was talking about Bernard Henri-Levy.

How did I know? Maybe it's because I'm only familiar with one living French philosopher. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because this co-worker has recently decided that he need not wear undershirts or fasten the top four buttons on his dress shirts. Consequently, his look is now a mix of hippy, libertine-swinger, and, most importantly--creepy old French guy. And when I think of creepy French guys, I immediately think of this article where Monsieur Levy deeply meditates on the philosophic implications of showing some chest:

I wake up at 5.30am. I have no problem getting out of bed. The first thing I need is a cup of tea, usually lapsang souchong. I dress as lightly as possible. I often wear a shirt open down to under my chest, but not out of vanity. The truth is, I find clothes suffocating. I want to live as much as possible in the open air, in the sun. I’ve never worn a tie in my life. That caused problems a couple of times: once at the Elysée Palace when I was invited to a lunch with the then president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and once at the Vatican at a private audience with Pope John Paul II. I put my foot down both times. The Vatican let me not wear one on the spurious grounds I suffered from a serious handicap.

James Lileks wrote a parody I love, which I could not have found without Brett:
I awake, as is my preference. My waking had, as usual, the pleasant quality of surfacing from one world to another, with the gradual abandonment of one state for another, a trading of realms whose various attributes have merits in eternal opposition. In the sleeping state, one might be conversing with Descartes on an iceberg, while walruses provide hors d’oeuvres on the points of their tusks; in the real, physical state, one finds one has wet the bed again. But to wake is to be born, one thinks, and a certain amount of fluid is present in either case.
It's especially impressive considering the original material already reads like a parody.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Really, Really Hard Math Problem

Forty-five minutes is pretty long for a video about math, but I found this fascinating:



Update: I originally saw this on Cafe Hayek. He found it through this blog. Of course, the movie isn't about math, not really. It's about trying for the impossible and achieving it. It's also about human tragedy.

From Marginal Revolution:

Here is one of my all time favorite documentaries, the 45 minute Fermat's Last Theorem made by Simon Singh and John Lynch for the BBC in 1996. I've watched it many times and every time I am moved by unforgettable moments.

The plainspoken Goro Shimura talking of his friend Yutaka Taniyama, "he was not a very careful person as a mathematician, he made a lot of mistakes but he made mistakes in a good direction." "I tried to imitate him," he says sadly, "but I found out that it is very difficult to make good mistakes." Shimura continues to be troubled by his friend's suicide in 1958.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Cracks in the Plan

Anarchists are having problems raising money:

Dear Supporters of the Center for a Stateless Society,
I blame myself.

When we launched the month-plus long fundraising drive for combined July and August expenses two weeks ago, I tried to convey that because it was for two months worth of expenses (and that those particular months were ones with growing expenses), it was going to be a challenge.

I was right, but I should have been working harder to explain that, again and again, to you over the past two weeks.

Right now, the ChipIn fundraising meter shows only $489 (from only 8 donors) raised out of our goal of $4522. That’s 10% of our total goal raised with the drive almost 50% over with.

The irony here is that the anarchist plan for national defense in a stateless society is that people will voluntarily giving money to an non-government entity.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Appropriate Blogging

1. A blog I regularly read linked to, what I though was a Mormon article about the mountain meadows massacre. I perused the website until it realized that, actually, it was an anti-Mormon website.

At first, I was irritated, and thought about trying to write a few scathing comments. But then I realized that these people have spent days of their lives writing and thinking about the church, and how wrong it is. And despite their dedication, the church continues to grow. I decided the church's mere existence already annoys them more than any comment ever could.

Who are these people that spend their lives writing anti-Mormon literature? Isn't it strange to devote so much of your time to attacking someone else's religion? I find it particularly odd because, more often than not, the attacker is usually an evangelical Christian. Ironically, there probably is less daylight between the teachings of Mormons and evangelicals than between Mormons and most other Christians (e.g., Catholics).

Maybe there are similar anti-religous groups out there, and I'm just not aware of them because I don't belong to those other religions. I could never see dedicating huge amounts of my life to writing anti-Seventh Day Adventist or Jehovah's Witness literature, though. Of course, maybe that's because I respect those religions, and I frankly don't have the drive.

Could there be money in it? Why else would any sane person dedicate so much time and effort to attacking a peaceful religion?

2. For some time I've been thinking about the question: why do we need priesthood authority. You don't need the priesthood to do certain things--praying, for instance. Mormon's recognize that God will countenance the prayers of Mormons and non-Mormons alike. Yet, to perform ordinances we do need priesthood authority.

An example I used frequently on my mission to illustrate this principle was a police officer. I would say to investigators, if I personally stopped you on the street and tried to give you a ticket, would you stop and pay the ticket? This example was usually more confusing than helpful at first. But the analogy eventually became clear enough. No, they wouldn't pay the ticket because I'm not a police officer and I don't have authority to give out tickets.

But that sort of begs the question: what is is about police officers and priesthood holders that makes it so not just everyone can do it? Why does this particular job require authorization?

I don't know if there are any official answers, but you can think of some logical ones. One answer is order. Priesthood leaders like police officers, have significant power. You want to make sure that they are using that power appropriately and that there is some organization to how it is used.

Related, is training. Police officers need to know how to identify bad guys and shoot guns. Priesthood holders need training so they can perform ordinances properly. Ordinances are symbolic and slight changes can destroy the symbolism.

Worthiness. You don't want crooked police or unworthy priesthood holders. We need a filter.

Accountability. If a priesthood holders, like a police officer, misbehaves you want some kind of system of accountability and priesthood structure gives you that.

When this topic came up a couple of weeks ago a member of my ward used another analogy: a person selling insurance. An insurance company would not honor an insurance contract sold by someone who did not represent the insurance company. God will not honor ordinances performed by people who are not authorized.

Initially, I thought this analogy suffers from the same problem as mine. Why doesn't the insurance company honor the agreement, and how is that similar to the reasons for why God will not honor an unauthorized ordinance? Then it occurred to me that this is probably a better example because the insurance contract is like the covenant, we enter into when we perform an ordinance. It makes complete sense that God will only give the blessing of the covenants to those who accept his terms, just as an insurance company will only agree to a contract on acceptable terms.

There are also some similarities between agency law--the law that determines when a person is an agent for another, called a principal, and can bind the principle in contract--and priesthood holders. By common law, you can be an agent in at least two ways: by actual authority and apparent authority. Actual authority is when the principle authorizes you to perform an ordinance. This is kind of like a worthy priesthood holder authorized to perform an ordinance. Apparent authority is when the principal represents that a person has authority to do something, without ever actually authorizing the agent to act. For example, if you are the president of a corporation, you have apparent authority to do certain things--hire, fire and sign contracts--by virtue of the position you hold. Even if the president's corporate bylaws prohibit him from executing a certain contract, if he does execute it, the corporation will likely have to honor it because the president has apparent authority to so act. Apparent authority is similar to how God treats an unworthy priesthood holder performing ordinances. The priesthood holder doesn't have God's actual authority to perform the ordinance, but God will be bound to the ordinance because the priesthood holder appears to be acting for God.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More on Anarcho-Capitalism

I hadn't read the chapter in The Machinery of Freedom dealing with providing for national defense before I wrote this post. Good try, but I don't find it convincing. Even Friedman's not positive he's right.

Re: What Does this Graph Mean to You?

As I understand it, this graph is the revision of the famous hockey stick graph. Apparently the algorithm that produced the original hockey stick would create a hockey stick out of any data set. So now we have this graph.

I really don't know enough about statistics or the methodology to say whether this graph is accurate. Lets suppose for a second it is. The red line represents the scientist best guess at earth temperature for the last 1000 years. The gray area represents the margin of error for this measurement.

I think it's interesting how little this graph tells us. You could say the following about the graph, all of which are true:
  1. Data indicate that the earth's temperature has been rising since industrialization.
  2. Data indicate that the earth's temperature will continue to rise.
  3. Data are inconclusive as to temperature trends in the last 1,000 years.
  4. Data are consistent with no change in temperature for the last 1,000 years.
  5. Data are consistent with slight decline in temperature for the last 1,000 years.

WTT 1967 Fender Bandmaster 3 10 W/ road case Combo

WTT 1967 Fender Bandmaster 3 10 W/ road case Combo:

Orange Dual Terror or Tiny terror W/ ex Cab, Vox AC 15 (Heritage) DR. Z, Port City. Or maybe something cool I don't even know about. Must be tube. I am not really looking to sell, and lets face it, its hard to sell anything right now anyway:) so lets make a deal.
I wonder if there is an economic theory to explain this behavior. Money is used to facilitate exchanges among many people. It's going to be hard for this guy to find a person who wants his amp more than the other amps on his list and has that amp to trade. Why is he limiting himself to trades?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

About that Mosque-like Islamic Center

Initially I was very not against this mosque center thing. It seemed like a simple property rights issue. The Muslims own the property? Then they should be able to build. But I kept having this nagging feeling like something is not quite right with it.

Upon reflection, I think I am against it. I still think it's clear that the owners have the property right to put the mosque there, and I don't think those who oppose the mosque should use the government to get what they want. But. . . I think that the people who are building the mosque are using ground zero to be intentionally provocative. Specifically they are intentionally building a mosque by ground zero to "promote inter-community peace, tolerance and understanding locally in New York City, nationally in America and globally.
" In other words, they picked a spot next to ground zero--where American's were slaughtered by Islamic extremists--to launch a program to teach tolerance to the most tolerant nation in the world. It's condescending. And it's bad form to use a tragedy to gin up attention for your project.

The fact that there are other non-controversial mosques located near by, I think, proves my point. My objection is not to Muslims or mosques in the vicinity--its to the intentions and condescensions of these mosque builders.

How Andrew Breitbart Makes James Cameron Look Like an Ass | TheWrap.com

How Andrew Breitbart Makes James Cameron Look Like an Ass | TheWrap.com: "Cameron attended the event on Sunday and used the platform to say of those who question man-made global warming: “I think they are swine.'"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Right on This One

Isaac Chotiner writes:
I am a little late coming to this, but yesterday's David Brooks column, which discussed our ability (or inability) to (in Orwell's words) face unpleasant facts, included the following:
The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.
Is Brooks really comparing these two things? A huge percentage of Republicans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim. A huge percentage of Democrats (presumably) think they were right to oppose the surge. In other words, a lot of Republicans have a bizarre, often bigoted, and undeniably wrong opinion on a very simple topic. A lot of Democrats think that a hugely complex, somewhat successful, and still inconclusive policy was right to be opposed. (Let's ignore the question of whether it was smart to oppose the surge based on the evidence people had at the time.)
Chotiner's right, this is a bad analogy. A more apt comparison to 31 percent of Republicans believing that Obama is a Muslim, is 35 percent of Democrats believing Bush had knowledge about the 9/11 attacks in advance. Of course, there is nothing per se wrong with being a Muslim, whereas Democrats inexplicably believe Bush was complicit in the largest terrorist attack on American soil ever.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sentence of the Day - The Corner - National Review Online

Sentence of the Day - The Corner - National Review Online: "From a NYT editorial: “But many of Mr. DeLay’s actions remain legal only because lawmakers have chosen not to criminalize them.”"

So true.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

More Machinery of Freedom

From The Machinery of Freedom:
If I invest time and energy in discovering which candidate will make the best President, the benefit of that investment, if any, is spread evenly among 200 million people. That is an externality of 99.9999995 percent. Unless it is obvious how I should vote, it is not worth the time and trouble to vote 'intelligently', except on issues where I get a disproportionately large fraction of the benefit. Situations, in other words, where I am part of a special interest.
Funny how the conventional wisdom on this point --that for the greater good, we all should vote for, and those who do not vote or educate themselves on public policy issues are acting irrationally--is exactly backwards

Friday, August 20, 2010

Unqualified Reservations: Why I am not a libertarian

Unqualified Reservations: Why I am not a libertarian: "If some government is limited by its own volition, it can abandon these limits at any time. (Historical experience suggests that the 'sacred-document' trick is of extremely limited utility in preventing it from doing so.) If the government is limited by some external power, it is not a government in the usual sense of the word, and we should direct our attention to the limiting power."

This, it seems to me, is a fundamental problem with anarcho-capitalism. Some protection agency is going to emerge as the strongest, in which case they can demand the best bargains, and use the threat of force in a way that gives it all the characteristics of government anarchists hate.

Unqualified Reservations: Why I am not a libertarian

Unqualified Reservations: Why I am not a libertarian:
In my opinion, the practical problem with grounding libertarianism in the ideals of the American Revolution is that Americans no longer hold those ideals, and Europeans never did. Both, today, follow a moral code which is essentially socialist. It is true that this is the natural consequence of 'education' at the hands of a government which is essentially socialist.
This has occurred to me, too. Some people need to be led to water. But all the people doing the leading have a vested interest in the current state of education, and vicariously, government.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Murder in 24

24 Spoilers below.

In season 3 of 24, President Palmer's very duplicitous wife, Sherry goes to visit the wife of a former political ally now turned against him. The former ally is old and frail and takes many medications. He accidentally comes upon the meeting and gets very angry, triggering a heart attack. The two wifes can easily give him the medicine, but decide not to do so, mostly due to Sherry pressuring the wife.

When president Palmer find out what happens he calls his wife a murder. But I'm not sure that's the case--at least as a matter of law.

In law school we study the old common law, which is mostly worthless because the common law is now entirely replaced by statute. At common law, however, you generally have no duty to save. If a world class swimmer walks by a drowning child and decides he wants to watch the kid drown, then at common law he can without legal consequence.

Maybe statutes have changed this result. I found Com v. Pestinikas, 421 Pa.Super 371 (1998), a case where a Pennsylvania court upheld the conviction of the Pestinikas, a couple unrelated to the victim who were supposed to care for him but failed to feed him or give him medicine.The court, while recognizing that a stranger refusing food and medicine to a person does not give rise to a murder claim, still upheld the conviction in Pestinikas because the Pestinikases were contractually obligated to provide food and medicine.

but I think for the most part, american law generally has stayed the same on this point--there is no duty to save.

Now, the wife was related, so she may have had a duty to save, but it seems Sherry didn't.

The only two other ways I can see that Sherry may be guilty of murder:1. she made the former supporter mad constituted creating a life-threatening condition such that she needed to save him from it, or 2. she interferred/discouraged the wife from saving the supporter making her some sort of accomplice to the murder of the wife or otherwise guilty of murder.

On the question of creating a life-threatening condition--I wonder whether you take your victim as you find them (like you would in tort law) or whether the condition has to be objectively life-threatening to normal fit people. I would assume the latter, because we would want the perpetrator of the crime to have the mens rea, before punishing them. If I'm correct, then Sherry would still have no duty to save.

My inclination then is to think that what Sherry did was not murder.

This is supposed to be L.A., so maybe I'll have to do some California-specific research.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The If-You-Loved-me-You'd... case study challenge!

The ground zero mosque controversy reminds me of those arguments that high school couples have. The if-you-really-loved-me-you'd-do-X argument. The obvious retort is always, if you really loved me you wouldn't ask me to do X. For the political context just replace "love" with "respect" and "ask me to do X" with "offend me by doing y." the retort: if you respected me you wouldn't view my action as offensive.

Four case studies:
1.Mormons performing baptisms for the dead for jews who died in the holocaust.
2. Carmilite nuns moving into an abandoned Nazi death camp and praying for holocaust survivors.
3. Muslims building a mosque two blocks from ground zero.
4. Drawing cartoons of the prophet Mohammad or Allah.

In each case, one party takes offense at something the other party is legally entitled to do. Stop doing that; it offends me! In each case the offending party can reply: don't choose to be offended!

Here's the challenge: in which of these cases is the offended party justified and in which case is the offended party being thin-skinned? What principles help you differentiate between the cases?

Portland lemonade stand runs into health inspectors, needs $120 license to operate | OregonLive.com

Portland lemonade stand runs into health inspectors, needs $120 license to operate | OregonLive.com: "Technically, any lemonade stand -- even one on your front lawn -- must be licensed under state law, said Eric Pippert, the food-borne illness prevention program manager for the state's public health division. But county inspectors are unlikely to go after kids selling lemonade on their front lawn unless, he conceded, their front lawn happens to be on Alberta Street during Last Thursday."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Perry v. Schwarzenegger

The Volokh Conspiracy: "The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage."

Does anyone actually believe that?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Are the Corporate Money Floodgates About to Open? | Mother Jones

Are the Corporate Money Floodgates About to Open? | Mother Jones: "But free-flowing corporate money may also have a price. In Minnesota, it's fueled a backlash from gay rights activists who have slammed Target and Best Buy for backing Emmer, a gay rights foe who's called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as 'the union of one man and one woman.' Both Target and Best Buy had previously garnered praise from the LGBT community for their support of gay rights in the workplace and beyond. Target, for instance, offers domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees, and has backed the Minnesota AIDS Walk and Twin Cities Pride. Best Buy had a similarly gay-friendly reputation, and both companies have been celebrated by the Human Rights Campaign."
Two points about this Citizens United: 1. business people are always giving money to politicians expecting political favors. What is the practical difference between CEO Smith giving money or corporation Target giving it? 2. Does any politician in his right mind want to be the Taco-Bell-McDonalds-Walmart-Target candidate?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nobody thinks,,,

From the Machinery of Freedom:
Nobody, except a few Brahmins in Delhi and two or three Trotskyites in New York, still believes that the earthly paradise can be achieved by nationalizing General Motors and turning the corner grocery store over to the Mayor's office. Socialism, as a coherent ideology, is dead and is not likely to be revived by student rebels in Paris or Soviet tanks in Prague. (emphasis added).
hmmm.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

24, Machinery of Freedom, Journolist

1.
I agree that this is a non-apology apology. Best Parody of Jounolist e.v.e.r.

2.
Breitbart screwed up and should apologize to Shirley Sharrod. I don't agree with the the video's apologists (Also, I think its interesting that Sharrod thinks it's okay to pick and choose who to help based on wealth). I think the most interesting thing about this ordeal is how swiftly the right-leaning blogosphere corrected the misreporting and denounced the deceptive editing.

3.
Leigh and I have been watching 24. I like the show, but there are significant problems (spoiler warning). The whole real time thing seems to work, but really doesn't. Like apparently nothing important ever happens during commercial breaks, which count as time in this world (1 hour is really 40-50 minutes of air-time). Also no two important things are ever happening at the same time such that you can't watch them both. So I don't know that the real-time thing really contributes that much to the suspense of the show, because I don't think that it creates that much of a feeling of reality.

Also, I've only watched two seasons (plus, I think, season 6 when it was new) but we're already seeing a lot of the same suspense creating ploys: mole in CTU, injured person who needs to be aroused from/prevented from going unconscious to communicate some important information; nuclear bomb in L.A. The daughter's plot in season two is completely unbelievable--either that of every dude in L.A. is a creep.

4.
As I always do with books, I read about the first 30 pages of David Friedman's book, The Machinery of Freedom before stopping. It was, in a lot of ways, much like Capitalism and Freedom. I agreed with most of what I read, but I never got the anarchy stuff. Today I read a chapter on how anarchy would work, which buttresses into some of my own thoughts about government.

First, I reserve the right to revise all of these thoughts as, they are pretty much an off the cuff reaction.

So I don't think that David Friedman is right, but I do find his ideas interesting.

Here are my thoughts:

A protection agency could work like a renta-cop within a country, but what about war between countries? There seems to be a presumption that the entire world will submit to this scheme. What if America becomes a functional anarchy: how would it defend against foreign countries? contractual agreement between protection agencies? and what if one agency failed to live up to the contract? Who would enforce the contract? They would lose reputation among other protection agencies, but they would be helping the people they protect, assuming they can free-ride on other protection agencies, and pass those savings on to their customers. This could be particularly true if a foreign country's invasion is in an area where one particular protection agency has very few clients.

If a hit to a person's reputation for honesty was the only way a person is punished for failing to live up to their contract, then I think a lot of people would fail to live up to their contracts. I know a lot of shady characters who get sued regularly, and yet seem to do very well despite that fact. I just think that the transaction costs associated with learning the reputation of a person may be too high to be an effective deterrent to errant behavior. I guess the counter argument might be that in this anarchy world, reputation will become very important to business, and so people will become more protective of it.

The world has lots of community action problem. Protection is one of them. If my neighbor has really sweet cameras and a security guard checking up on him frequently, then he's protecting me to an extent too, and I do not need as much security. We need a government who can forcefully collect taxes to protect free-riding. I guess the counter argument might be that, even with some free-riding, the price reduction that comes from the efficiency of competition might more than make up for it for the person with the sweet security system. He might still get better bang for his buck than provided by government.

I think protection agencies may be able to create externalities that are not properly internalized. Suppose most protection agencies play by some sort of arbitration rules. But what if one protection agency doesn't, and acts quickly before another protection agency can act. Does this mean that what it did was legitimate? What if person is not protected by a protection agency? Can a protection agency act against them with impunity? What if one protection agency just decides that it prefers force to negotiation. Again, I think that a protection agency's repudiation for ruthlessness against people outside the agency may be plus to finding new clients. It may be more expensive, but there may be people willing to pay that premium. Is there a significant difference between government use of force and protection agency use of force? Maybe the counter argument here is that there is no difference, but the profit motive will make protection agency use of force less likely?

There's also a natural monopoly problem. Electronic surveillance may work on an individual property basis, but patrols wouldn't work, because you need to be in proximity to the property. And if people start to choose the protection agency that is closest to them, (and that, maybe, is mostly related to their ethnicity or religion), doesn't that start to look like tribal government, or just government in general?

This segues into what I've been thinking about in the association context. Associations exist to control externalities created by people in proximate to their homes. They solve a community action problem and are very much like small local government. You can't let new owners "opt in" or "opt out" because it disrupts the expectations of the surrounding owners, so you have to force these owners to comply. You do that by having the "contractual relationship" binding on future owners too. Otherwise the association will fall apart, disrupting the current member's expectations and destroying the system. The result is a constitution-like document defining property rights that is binding on future generations.

In what sense is this system of protecting property rights any different from government? (it doesn't have it's own police, but it could.)

Which raises the question: what is the difference between government and private control? Is the Association government or private? In almost all respects, other than the threat of force, it is the same a government, including the ability to bind future generations to things they did not agree to.

There is one difference, however, which I think is key. Associations are small. It is easy enough to leave them by moving down the street. Sure, that's inconvenience, but its a good way to select the rules and laws that you want to live by. Voting with your feet is very important.

So my thought is that the most meaningful way to protect liberty is to 1: have a central government that only does things like provide for the defense of the nation as whole (This is necessary to avoid the community action problem posed by defending against a war) and 2. have very small local governments with all other regulatory power, that people can easily leave by voting with their feet.

I suppose the issue then is how to keep the central government from assuming more power than you intend for it to have, like has happened in the U.S.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Unemployment

There's difference between unemployment benefits being the sole cause of unemployment, and being a factor that increases unemployment at the margins. If the only point is that the graph doesn't support the thesis, great! It doesn't justify distorting Laffer's argument.



Monday, July 12, 2010

Hours of Education

You can watch all of Milton Freidman's PBS series, Free to Choose, here for ... well... free.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July

Happy fourth. Even anarchists must be grateful that they ended up in a very wealthy, classically liberal illegitimate government.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Libertarian Paternalism

I haven't read Nudge. But I've listened to, and read so much about it that I feel like I've read it.

Basic thesis is this--there are ways to influence people's choices (paternalism) without forcing them to make a choice (libertarian), by changing defaults and ordering options. Governments and companies should order choices in such as way as to encourage the selection of the best choice.

Three examples they use:

1. Whether you put the ice cream or the fruit at eye level influences whether people select the ice cream or fruit. So healthy foods should be put at eye level.
2. Making enrollment in a 401k program the default, while still allowing people to opt out, makes enrollment go way up. Thus, enrollment should be the default.
3. Pension systems are too complicated and do not help workers pick good pension option. They should be simplified and make the indexed fund the defaults, or guide workers to pensions that are age-appropriate.

Libertarian paternalism is better than just straight paternalism, because even if the government is nudging you to a choice, at least you still have the option to select something else. But I still have a few problems with it.

1. It's based on the idea that humans don't know how to make choices that are best for them. Maybe they don't. But then why should be trust other humans to nudge them towards better choice? Don't they suffer from the same weaknesses?

2. On top of just having the same perception biases that may prompt the same mistakes, government is also subject to special interest lobbying that may encourage them to nudge towards the option that benefits a constituent rather than citizens at large.

Thaler's response would probably be bureaucrat have to make some choice, should they just chose something random or should they try to make a default choice that is in the citizens interest? But maybe randomization would be better than a choice guided by special interests.


3. Also, another problem is it seems like libertarian paternalism is a way to make government do something better that it probably shouldn't be doing in the first place. Like making a better pension plan. Government doesn't need to do that, and usually does it badly.

Thaler's response would probably be, government is doing these things anyway, so why not help government do it better.

4. If bureaucrats really can nudge citizens towards better choices, then can't they also just make a better choice? If people are clearly better of when they opt into their 401k, why not just skip the "nudge" part and pass a law that requires everyone to opt in?


Monday, May 31, 2010

The Nature of Property

I like when things boil down to one or two simple premises. That's one of the great attractions of libertarianism. It has one simple premise--that people should be free to do what they want so long as it does not cause harm to another person or his property.

But of course herein lies the difficulty--how do you define "harm" and "property"?

Defining property seems obvious, but it isn't. For example, it used to be the case that your real property rights extended down into the center of the earth and up into the heavens. But now that's not that law, otherwise modern flight would be impossible. So now your property right goes up on the air a distance, but not forever.

And it's not always clear what it means to "own" a piece of property. For example you cannot do whatever you want on your property. If you mix some chemicals on your property that smell horrible and that waft onto the neighboring property, you most likely have gone beyond your property rights and committed the tort of nuisance. On the other hand, you generally can't move next to a pig farm and then win a nuisance claim against the farmer for the smell.

One thing that seems kind of obvious is that when you own property you can keep people off of it. One Supreme Court case, Kaiser Aetna v. United States dealt with whether excluding ships from transversing private property is a property right, such that taking that right requires compensation under the constitution. The court held that compensation was, in fact, required. Except someone can have an access easement over your property, and you can still "own" the property in some sense. Depending on the type of easement, the owner can modify the access, maybe reroute the access, pave the road, leave it dirt, and make other changes, as long as the easement holder can cross the property.

In a condominium, the unit owners usually "own" the exterior of the condominium as tenants in common--meaning that each owner has an undivided interest in the exterior of the property. It's kind of like how a husband and wife might own a house 50/50, but no one owns a specific "half" of the house. Except do the unit owners actually own the common elements? The owners have no power over the common elements. Instead the Association has the power to decide what is done with the exterior--when to paint, what color to paint, when to repair, how to repair, when to replace, who to hire, etc. And the Association is a fiction of law. Really, its just 5 member board elected from owners. In what sense then do the owners "own" the exterior when the association has all the power to make decisions? And who is the "association"? Three of the 5 directors that control the board?

Here's another interesting post about how determining whether something is a externalities depends upon property rights. To some extent it also implies that property rights depends upon who has gotten there first. Not sure I'm convinced with the particular example of pollution because it seems to me like shortening a person's life through pollution is invariably an externalities. Still, there is this principle and property law where property rights frequently turn on who gets to the "property" first. One of the first property cases you read in law school is about two guys chasing a fox, where the first guy chases the fox for most of the time and tires it out, but the second guy actually killed it and carried it off. The second guy was "first" to the fox. Same with nuisance law. The first person in a location generally has the right to continue the activity they are doing. Again, you generally can't move next to a pig farm and then win a nuisance claim against the farmer for the smell.

This is all a long way of saying that ownership of property and property rights really are more a construct of law than anything else. We have a sense of what it means to "own" property, but that definition changes from circumstance to circumstance depending on expectations and policy considerations embedded in the law.

So this was a long windup for what I wanted to get to, which is intellectual property. Two of the blogs I've started reading are against it. Some argue that eliminating copyright makes sense from a libertarian perspective, because it maximizes individual freedom:

To the Editor:

The copyright hassles of Blaise Faint (Independent Weekly 2/1/95) [2010 note: alas, I no longer recall what Blaise Faint’s copyright hassles were] illustrate how obsolete intellectual property rights have become in the electronic age, when information can be duplicated and transmitted a hundred times over in the blink of an eye.

Intellectual property rights – copyrights, patents, and the like – have always stood on dubious ground, both ethically and economically.

Don’t get me wrong. As a wild-eyed free-marketeer, I’m a fan of property rights in general – probably more so than most people. And at one time my enthusiasm for property rights extended to intellectual property as well.

But ethically, property rights of any kind have to be justified as extensions of the right of individuals to control their own lives. Thus any alleged property rights that conflict with this moral basis – like the “right” to own slaves – are invalidated. Intellectual property rights also fail to pass this test. To enforce copyright laws and the like is to prevent people from making peaceful use of the information they possess. If you have acquired the information legitimately (say, by buying a book), the on what grounds can you be prevented from using it reproducing it, trading it? Is this not a violation of the freedom of speech and press?

Me: of course when the constitutional power to protect copyright pre-exists the first amendment. And the First Amendment did not explicitly repeal the protection of copyright. So unless this is just a argument based on what freedom of speech should entail, I don't think this is what the First Amendment was intended to accomplish.

It may be objected that the person who originated the information deserves ownership rights over it. But information is not a concrete thing an individual can control; it is a universal, existing in other people’s minds and other people’s property, and over those the originator has no legitimate sovereignty. You cannot own information without owning other people.

As for the economic case for property rights, that case depends on scarcity, and information is not, technically speaking, a scarce resource. If A uses some material resource, that makes less of the resource for B, so we need some legal mechanism for determining who gets to use what when. But information is not like that; when A acquires information, that does not decrease B’ share, so property rights are not needed.

Of course an MP3 file of a song can be reproduced infinitely without any problem. However, it takes humans real time to produce a song. And people's time is scarce. Increases in productivity and standard of living are due to people using their time more effectively. If the true benefit to the society of a intellectual property is not internalized to the creator of it, then there will inevitably be less of that property created than is optimal.

Some will say that such rights are needed in order to give artists and inventors the financial incentive to create. But most of the great innovators in history operated without benefit of copyright laws. Indeed, sufficiently stringent copyright laws would have made their achievements impossible. Great playwrights like Euripides and Shakespeare never wrote an original plot in their lives; their masterpieces are all adaptations and improvements of stories written by others. Many of our greatest composers, like Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Ives, incorporated into their work the compositions of others. Such appropriation has long been an integral part of legitimate artistic freedom. (In any case, whatever protection innovators may need can be achieved through voluntary means, such as contract or boycott; there are many successful historical examples of this kind of remedy in copyright cases.)

First, just because great artists made great art in the absence of copyright does not mean that copyright would not improve things. The question is whether those artists would have created even more or even greater art with copyright protections in place. Or whether there might have been more artist creating art, but because they knew the benefits of their creation would not be internalized, they did something else.

Also, historically, there were ways to limit the spread of a piece of work, and therefore, better internalize the benefits of it. At the time of Mozart, if you wanted to enjoy his symphony, you couldn't download an MP3; you had to go to the symphony. The benefits of intellectual property were internalized, even in the absence of property.

The argument that copyright may stifle creativity is the strongest. But as the movie Avatar demonstrates, even with copyright, we have plenty of story borrowing. And copyright does not last forever, (although it is extended every time the copyright on Steamboat Willie is about to expire). This is where knowing IP law would be helpful. But I understand you can still use someone else's copyrighted material if you do something transformative with it. You can still do parodies of copyrighted material. You can use those materials for literary criticism. There is a fair use exception to copyright. So I think Shakespeare still could write his plays today because Copyright protections are not absolute.

Protect copyright through contract? I doubt that will work. Once a electronic file gets out, there is no way to trace it back to the original purchaser who promised not to share it. And I doubt Boycott would be effective enough to properly internalize the true value of a product. Think file sharing.

Though never justified, copyright laws have probably not done too much damage to society so far. But in the Computer Age they are now becoming increasingly costly shackles on human progress. Consider, for instance, Project Gutenberg, a marvelous nonprofit effort to transfer as many books as possible to electronic format and make then available over the internet for free. Unfortunately, most of the works done to date have been pre-20th century – to avoid the hassles of copyright law. Thus, copyright laws today are working to restrict the availability of information, not to promote it. More importantly, modern electronic communications are simply beginning to make copyright laws unenforceable, or at least, unenforceable by any means short of a government takeover of the internet – and such a chilling threat to the future of humankind would clearly be a cure far worse than the disease.

Intellectual property rights are a luxury we can no longer afford.

Copyright restricts project Gutenberg printing books, because if the second someone wrote a book it appeared on project Gutenberg for free, many of the books people write today would not be written at all.

I'm not convinced. But there are more thoughts by the same blogger here.

There is one argument against patent law that I do find somewhat persuasive: the gridlock argument. Each technological innovation unintentionally infringes like 100 different patents. And there is no good way of tracking down each patent to make sure you are not violating one. And even if you did track down all of them, negotiating with each patent holder means the transaction costs of innovating legally are probably not cost effective. Podcast on the book, Gridlock Economy, here.

On the whole though, while I think IP law should be reigned in, we still need it to encourage innovation.