Saturday, December 31, 2005

Security Bugs - A Year in Review

Security researchers uncovered nearly 5,200 software vulnerabilities in 2005, almost 40 percent more than the number discovered in 2004, according to From the article: 'According to US-CERT...researchers found 812 flaws in the Windows operating system, 2,328 problems in various versions of the Unix/Linux operating systems (Mac included). An additional 2,058 flaws affected multiple operating systems.

Can someone explain to me again why Unix and OpenSource is inherently more secure than Windows?

Answer – it’s not.  So why do Microsoft’s security problems get so much press?  It’s simple economics, you get far more return from screwing with Windows than you do with all of the other operating systems put together.  If you can infect 10% of all Windows computers you get far more press than if you infected 100% of all Macintosh – and the virus writers thrive off of infamy, they rarely get anything of actual value out of their exploits.

I’m guessing that once Macintosh is released on x86 platforms it will increase its market penetration, primarily because it will be billed as safer.  People will be disabused of that notion as it becomes more profitable for hackers to write exploits for Macintosh.

HatTip: Slashdot

National Healthcare - One State at a Time

Health care, too, continued to challenge legislatures. Missouri created a state prescription drug program for lower-income seniors to pick up costs not covered by the new federal Medicare prescription plan. Nevada now requires insurance companies to cover cancer patients participating in the earliest phase of clinical trials. Wisconsin lawmakers expanded the states health care program for the working poor to provide prenatal care and delivery services to illegal immigrants and inmates.

This is how socialized medicine is going to come about, through the states.

Which is a good thing, in my opinion. As healthcare gets more and more expensive thanks to governmental meddling, the public is going to become more and more infatuated with “free” healthcare. Especially as they are misinformed about the effectiveness of European and Canadian models.

The best case scenario is that the federal government moves too slow and states decide to act on their own. If states are given ample opportunity to screw their economies perhaps we can learn an important lesson without having to screw the national economy.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Switcharoo on Lesbian Students

I blogged earlier how I didn’t think that two students would have much luck suing a school for kicking them out because they were allegedly gay.

KipEsquire stopped by in the comments and persuaded me that I am wrong. The students shouldn’t be punished for breaking a rule that they may not have known existed. And if they did break that rule there should be some due process to actually prove that they were – in fact – lesbians.

If the students had identified themselves as lesbian prior to admission then Dale would probably come into play. Heck, if they had informed the school that they were not gay as a prerequisite for admission they could probably be removed without recourse.

I still don’t agree with Kip that Dale is at odds with FAIR, but he convinced me on this one.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tolerant - Just Not of You

Two 16-year-olds who were expelled from a Lutheran high school because they were suspected of being lesbians have sued the school for invasion of privacy and discrimination.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Riverside County Superior Court, seeks the girls' re-enrollment at the small California Lutheran High School, unspecified damages and an injunction barring the school from excluding gays and lesbians.

It is unfortunate that small minded people have to show such intolerance – especially to the point where someone can be expelled simply on the suspicion that they might be gay.

Kirk D. Hanson, an attorney for the girls, said the expulsion traumatized and humiliated them.

There is no right to not be humiliated and private institutions can bar individuals from membership (Boy Scouts v. Dale) unless Congress ties funding to the discrimination (Rumsfeld v. FAIR).  I don’t think that their legal chances look good.

A Good Reason to Be a Libertarian

The science that underlies our understanding of complex systems is now thirty years old. A third of a century should be plenty of time for this knowledge and to filter down to everyday consciousness, but except for slogans—like the butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane halfway around the world—not much has penetrated ordinary human thinking.

On the other hand, complexity theory has raced through the financial world. It has been briskly incorporated into medicine. But organizations that care about the environment do not seem to notice that their ministrations are deleterious in many cases. Lawmakers do not seem to notice when their laws have unexpected consequences, or make things worse. Governors and mayors and managers may manage their complex systems well or badly, but if they manage well, it is usually because they have an instinctive understanding of how to deal with complex systems. Most managers fail.

I never knew that Michael Crichton was such a smart guy.

Hat Tip: DinoCrat

An End to Title IX?

At colleges across the country, 58 women will enroll as freshmen for every 42 men. And as the class of 2010 proceeds toward graduation, the male numbers will dwindle. Because more men than women drop out, the ratio after four years will be 60--40, according to projections by the Department of Education.

The problem isn't new-women bachelor's degree--earners first outstripped men in 1982. But the gap, which remained modest for some time, is widening. More and more girls are graduating from high school and following through on their college ambitions, while boys are failing to keep pace and, by some measures, losing ground. . . . The consequences go far beyond a lousy social life and the longer--term reality that many women won't find educated male peers to marry. There are also academic consequences, and economic ones.

Why is this getting so much play? And why do people think that it is such a serious problem? I, for one, hope that this does not lend itself to government intervention claiming that men are being discriminated against. Or that men need special protections to be given “equal opportunity” in higher education.

It really is easily explained, at least to my simple mind. Men are disproportionally represented inmilitary, jail and in overpaid, unskilled union jobs – why is it surprising that women are over represented in higher education? For years the balance of women were just staying at home and if they aren’t staying at home they had to go somewhere didn’t they?

I guess I do hope that this leads to Congressional action – the end of Title IX.

Update: Another reason for the disparity just occured to me - the IT explosion over the last decade. The IT industry is largely male dominated and requires suprisingly little traditional education. You can make a remarkably good living with little or no advanced education, which I think is a good thing. Perhaps I'll blog more on the subject in the future.

HatTip: Instapundit

Update: More thoughts at DinoCrat

[Less Than] Shocking

Via Hit and Run:
The city of Manassas has declared that aunts, uncles, and cousins are not really relatives. That may sound like good news for people who dread attending family functions, but it's bad news for extended families sharing a house. Under a new ordinance aimed at Hispanic immigrants, inspectors are instructing relatives the city considers unrelated to move. The official rationale is to prevent "overcrowding," but insufficiently related family members have to go even when the total number of occupants is below the legal limit. In addition to redefining family, Manassas seems to have redefined overcrowding to mean "too many Hondurans."
You mean that government is using its power to legislate to discriminate against a powerless minority?  I’m shocked.  

XBox Crash

Is it just me or does this sound like a really nasty accident (and accompanying lawsuit) waiting to happen?

Conceived by Nissan Design America Inc. (NDA) and equipped with the Xbox 360 next-generation video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, the Nissan URGE concept car allows drivers (while parked) to play 'Project Gotham Racing 3' using the car's own steering wheel, gas pedal and brake pedal while viewing the game on a flip-down seven-inch LCD screen,

I’m sure there are ways to disable the car while the X-Box is running, but will they go far enough to make it idiot proof?  I’m skeptical.

Peace On Earth

As 2005 draws to an end, no two nations in the world are at war with each other.

That is truly a remarkable statement.  Is it possible that we could actually see peace on earth in our lifetimes?  The current number of conflicts is down to just 18, another remarkable number when you consider that just 15 years ago it was almost twice that number and only 30 years the world was perpetually on the brink of global war.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Slashdot Wrong Again

Slashdot is way off on its analysis of what is going on at Dell.  For one, Dell doesn’t toe the Microsoft line.  It provides Windows on all of its computers because that is what consumers want.  If a significant portion of the public wanted PCs with Linux on them, I would bet dollars to donuts that Dell would be there to provide the *nix boxes.  And when/if Apple actually provides Macintosh for Intel platforms (and there is an accompanying demand) Dell will provide that as well.

Dell is willing to provide FireFox for a couple reasons.  First, it costs them almost nothing to do so.  Second, FireFox is growing in popularity so Dell is heading off the competition at the pass, providing the upstart browser before it becomes a feature that consumers require as part of the purchase of a PC.

So despite Slashdot’s continued conspiracy theories, Dell is providing consumers with what they want, not what Microsoft is telling them to provide.

More on Krugman and Health

They will certainly come under pressure to dispense the drug, for free, across the continent of Africa and various other poor countries struggling with AIDS. National drug buyers in richer companies will surely demand bulk rates. Citizen groups in the US will surely demand the right to re-import the cheap foreign versions of the drug. Politicians will surely reimport drugs and dispense them at cheap prices. All of these will reduce the profitability of the drug by limiting the drug company's ability to price.

And remember -- they can only price high until the patent wears off and competitors enter the market. At that point competition will reduce the price to marginal cost (or close to it) and the profit is gone.

Winterspeak also left out an important disincentive in the AIDS vaccine game when discussing Paul Krugman’s recent piece on healthcare – disrespect for IP rights. India, Brazil and others have shown that they are more than willing to ignore patents and property rights if they don't get the [almost] free medicines that they want.

Why would a company spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a drug that it can be reasonable sure it will never be compensated for? Good will? I’m reasonably sure that isn’t going to be enough unless the CEO and every member of the board (and most of the investors) are infected with the disease and are desperate for the cure.

The simple fact is that governments do not provide the proper incentives to innovate and if we left the decisions to government on what research to fund we would have endless debates in Congress about whether or not AIDS was a gay disease or whether diabetes research was more important than impotence research. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want asshole congressmen deciding which diseases are important enough to cure, because I already know the answer, it is going to be the disease that his mother has.

Safe Landing

Here is an interesting firsthand account of a plane that depressurized during flight complete with pictures.  I’m a bit confused by this account:

The enraging fact is that a non-union baggage handler ran into the side of the plane moments prior to take-off … and that it was never reported.

Is he enraged that it was a non-union baggage handler or that the incident was never reported?  Also, is he somehow insinuating that the accident wouldn’t have happened, or would have been properly reported if it had been a union worker?  Because Unions always follow all the rules, right?

HatTip: Instapundit

Monday, December 26, 2005

Government Rationed Healthcare

it's neither fair nor realistic to expect ordinary citizens to have enough medical expertise to make life-or-death decisions about their own treatment.

What universe does Paul Krugman live in that he thinks a government official is qualified to make life-or-death decisions about my medical treatments?  They can’t even manage to get my drivers licensed renewed in an efficient manner.

The Solution for Global Warming Is - More Pollution

Pollution may be slowing global warming, researchers are reporting today, and a cleaner environment may soon speed it up.

Writing in the journal Nature, an international scientific team provides evidence suggesting that a reduction in haze from human causes may accelerate warming of the earth's atmosphere. The researchers said pollutants had held down the rate of global warming by absorbing and scattering sunlight.

"If people clean up the air, more warming will come blazing through," Jim Coakley, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Oregon State University in Corvallis, said yesterday in a telephone interview. Nature selected Dr. Coakley to write a commentary on the study.

The lesson is really quite simple – before we invest a gazillion dollars on a ‘solution’ for global warming, smog, or any of the thousands of other pet projects that special interest groups have, let’s make damn sure we know what the consequences are going to be.

It would really suck if we adopted an aggressive plan to reduce pollution that does serious harm to the economy only to find out that we are doing serious harm to the environment in the process.

That’s not to say that I think that we should give a free pass to all corporations to pollute however they see fit. My only point is that the environment is an incredibly complex entity that can’t be comprehended in simple sound bites like “global warming is bad” and “reduced CO2 is the answer to all of our problems.”

HatTip: Red Guy in a Blue State

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Not So Merry Christmas

To Erick from Red State and Britsh MP Jack Straw:
Fuck You.  If I want to celebrate Christmas without a single reference to religion of any type I will do so, regardless of how you feel about the subject.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Light Blogging

There will be light blogging over the next several weeks as much of my free time is going to be devoted to playing Santa and breaking playing with my kids' new toys.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

British Spying

Yet another reminder that the US is not the only country to take fear of terrorism way too far:

Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.

Not exactly a first I would be terribly proud of.  I wonder why stories like this don’t generate a “Great Britain is Evil” meme like the NSA spying story did?

Legal File Sharing

France has legislated a free pass for people that swap music and movies over the internet. I think that the entertainment industry is trying to hijack the copyright process in order to protect its business model, but government theft of intellectual property is not the answer.

I’ve blogged before about what I think the future of music will look like. I’ll republish it here.


The internet and associated technologies are so much fun to watch since they are the closest thing to free markets that we can really observe. Added to that fact the extremely large customer base and the relative ease of entry allows change to happen so quickly that equilibrium isn't difficult to achieve.

With the advent of iTunes and similar products, the entire face of the music industry is going to change radically, unless the established players are able to hijack the political process to establish protectionist policies. It is interesting to think about how that change might happen over time. Recently Q101 in Chicago changed their radio format, calling it 'Shuffle.' The basic concept is that there are no 'heavy rotation' songs and that they play vintage Metallica alongside 80s The Cure and present day The Hives. I'm not a huge fan of commercial radio, but the format change makes it bearable, whereas before the change you had a 50% chance of hearing one of five songs at any particular time.

This change is only suggestive of where radio and the music industry in general, is heading though. In order to get the true glimpse you have to look at the major internet radio stations like Launch! from Yahoo! You customize your station based on personal preferences choosing the genres that you like and listing favorite artists and songs. Then, as the station plays, you get an opportunity to rate each song as it plays. These choices then influence future selections as the radio station learns what you like to listen to. As commerical Wi-Fi and satelite technologies become more prevalent, it will become easier to connect your car to the internet making such radio stations portable. Perhaps even more likely, they would operate through your wireless device, similar to a streaming iPhone. So instead of a radio, you simply get BlueTooth access to your car's speaker system.

This will also drastically change the way that the music industry markets it's material, possibly even making the industry obsolete. The costs associated with producing an album have been reduced drastically over recent years as computer technology places homegrown studios very near the quality of proffessional studios. Additionally, MP3 players are driving consumers to care more about single songs as opposed to full length albums. This change could push artists to release songs more regularly to maximize name recognition as opposed to spending a year or more producing an album with ten or more songs on it. This model can give artists near real time feedback on their product allowing them to react to what consumers want, this makes each venture less risky and maximizes the ability to experiment with their style.

The push towards a single based market is what excites me the most, since each song released contains less risk, established artists will not need to fallback to safe styles in order to guarantee the return on their investment of time and money. I envision a world where artists can experiment by regularly (weekly, monthly) releasing a song, or re-releasing a song after jamming for a session or two. The internet provides feedback with mind-boggling speed as blogs and whatnot will spread buzz and reviews in near-real time.

The very talented artists would continue to stay fresh as long as their artistic abilities allow them without falling into the record companies trap of reducing artist freedom. I would also hope that it would give up-and-coming bands an market for their goods since the distribution machines of the industry wouldn't be necessary to get airplay. By building up a local following (which hopefully also participates in the online ratings system) new artists would slowly establish an online pressence as their songs are played on the online stations

Common Sense on SSM

the essential issue is symbolic. I disagree with both about the conclusion. A law that forbids same sex marriage imposes on everyone the view of one side of the controversy; a law that permits it imposes on everyone the view of the other side. My colleague has the right to live with his partner on the same legal terms that I live with my wife, but he does not have the right to insist that other people regard their relationship as marriage. Making laws about symbolism is not the business of the U.S. government.The only way out of this dilemma is the neutral option: Get the government out of the business of defining what is or is not marriage. Revise laws where necessary to define legally relevant relationships in gender neutral terms. If a state wants to give special rights to one person in regard to another based on their relationship--the right, say, to make medical decisions in an emergency --let it define the relationship by how long they have lived together, whether they share property, the existence of a public commitment, or whatever other criteria are relevant. Churches, and anyone else, are free to handle marriage as they choose. The legal consequences are gone. The social consequences are up to all the other people who do or do not choose to regard a couple as married.

David Friedman has one of the most common sense solutions to the same sex marriage debate I have seen to date.  Of course such an approach means that our government would have to engage in common sense.

I’m not holding my breath.

Microsoft Bashing

The European Commission on Thursday threatened to hit Microsoft with a 2 million euro daily fine for refusing to open Windows to third parties.

In March 2004, the EU ordered that Microsoft give competitors access to certain Windows networking protocols, which "would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers."

This has to be one of the most mind-numbingly stupid decisions I have ever witnessed.  Essentially the EU wants to put Microsoft out of business and will stop at nothing until their goal is achieved.  

First they demanded that Microsoft sell a version of Windows without the Media Player bundled.  Great theory, but nobody wanted it.  Since that hasn’t put the crimp on Microsoft they want to demand that the Windows OS go OpenSource.

As long as an operating system can communicate over TCP/IP and RPC protocols it can fully participate in a Windows network.  All of the protocols for talking to Windows devices are relatively straight-forward.  I don’t know the specific language in the ruling, but it seems to me to meet the “competitor access to networking protocols” requirement.  The only thing that makes sense is that the EU wants to enable other businesses to publish their own versions of Windows, and if they don’t get their way they will fine Microsoft 2 million euros a day.

I’m not sure how Microsoft will respond to this new attack on their business.  How can a company respond to a political body – a political body that operates someplace other than it’s home country – that refuses to let it operate its business model as it sees fit?

The hard line answer is that Microsoft could stop selling Windows to the EU.  Make them start using Linux and Sun on their PCs so that they can see how good they have it.  Of course all that will do is force customers to buy their PCs straight from the US instead of the local distributors.  This would put a crimp on multinationals though as many EU countries have restriction on where local offices can purchase IT equipment from.

This turn of events has to be very frustrating for Microsoft as the panel keeps changing the requirements as Microsoft struggles to meet the previous requests.  They are in a no win situation with an unreasonable political body that only has a single goal – make Microsoft pay.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Judicial Politics

U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation without providing an explanation.
Two associates familiar with his decision said yesterday that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work.
It seems odd that a judge would resign because he felt policy enacted by the Executive Office – an action that doesn’t directly impact his role – was legally questionable.  Wouldn’t such a judge be more likely to stick around so that they can influence the legal process?

I can see why Judge Robertson would be upset, but there seems to be more to this story than we are being told.  Perhaps he was looking to resign anyway and found the timing advantageous for a political statement?

The Internet is Not Private

When are people going to learn that nothing that is done on the internet is private?  I deal with people’s interactions with computer systems every day and it amazes me when we confront someone about an unethical/illegal thing that they have done and they are amazed we have proof.  

When you leave information on systems that you do not own – whether they be public resources or company owned resources – you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.  Surprisingly few people seem to think about this.

HatTip: Asymmetrical Information

A Solution to Spam

The Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday that the CAN-SPAM Act has worked, and was effective in protecting consumers from unsolicited e-mail. The agency publicly released a report at a press conference in Washington that studied the effectiveness of the law.

It’s hardly surprising that a governmental agency would public declare victory over spam while email administrators are drowning in a deluge of unwanted email. Total spam has increased steadily over the last year.

That looks like a 50% increase in spam rates – how does that get defined as success?

Some believe the law needs to be tightened, and that consumers should opt-in to receive commercial e-mail rather than the current opt-out process. Others claim that the only groups that are concerned with compliance are those that actually are legitimate bulk e-mail companies, rather than the spammers themselves.

I will guarantee – for any monetary amount that you would like to wager – that such a system would do absolutely nothing to stem the flow of spam. The vast amount of unsolicited email doesn’t even comply with the existing laws; why would making those laws stricter accomplish anything beyond hampering the business of legitimate companies?

The FTC maintains that the law does not need to be changed

At least they can get something right.

Brief Aside: The SPAM-CAN Act is generally a waste of tax payer dollars, going after a handful of lowlifes every once in awhile is akin to intercepting 4000 pounds of cocaine at the border and throwing the courier in jail - you have done nothing to solve the source of the problem (in this case a healthy demand for drugs and a large monetary incentive to provide it for them). For drugs the answer is easy – end the prohibition so that costs will come down and suppliers will have to go legit.

Spam isn’t quite so easy because the “customers” aren’t asking for the service. The only true answer is to make sending spam more expensive and technology such as SenderID and Computational Puzzle Validation are the beginning stages of that solution. Technology will eventually solve the problem; it just isn’t going to be the quick fix that the generally public is clamoring for. The public just needs to be convince that government cannot solve the problem. The only thing that government can do is make the cure worse than the disease.

HatTip: BetaNews

Monday, December 19, 2005

Limitless Search

  As I understand it, all of the monitoring involved in the NSA program involved international calls (and international e-mails). That is, the NSA was intercepting communications in the U.S., but only communications going outside the U.S. or coming from abroad. I'm not aware of any cases applying the border search exception to raw data, as compared to the search of a physical device that stores data, so this is untested ground. At the same time, I don't know of a rationale in the caselaw for treating data differently than physical storage devices. The case law on the border search exception is phrased in pretty broad language, so it seems at least plausible that a border search exception could apply to monitoring at an ISP or telephone provider as the "functional equivalent of the border," much like airports are the functional equivalent of the border in the case of international airline travel.

I’m not a legal expert by any stretch, but would this mean that any email, phone call or computer traffic could constitutionally be monitored by the government?  Would the same logic be able to extend to private traffic (i.e. point to point data lines) that travel over international borders?  If so, that’s more than a bit frightening.

Politicians for Sale

Instapundit says:

Lots of politicians have semi-captive nonprofits, though they're more often think-tank-like operations. To some degree, of course, this is just more evidence that the nonprofit sector needs more scrutiny; whether there's more to this story, well, we'll see.

Do non-profits need extra scrutiny or do we need to take the restrictions off of campaign finance so that politicians don’t have huge incentives to cheat?  

You can’t take the money out of politics, the rewards are simply too big.  If you allow the money to flow freely, out in the open, at least you would know who is being bought and by whom.  

A Free China

To conduct business in China, popular Internet companies Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have had to accommodate a regime that forbids free speech, bars political parties and jails journalists. This means filtering searches on their sites, censoring news and providing evidence in the trials of political dissidents -- or risk having their sites blocked in China. Forced to choose between ignoring the world's hottest market or implicitly endorsing a system of censorship that a recent Harvard study called "the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world," the companies have decided to cooperate.

I’ve blogged before that Yahoo!, Google, et al are providing the means for rebellion while paying lip service to the censorship laws.

Even though Yahoo and Google are not able to link to sites that openly advocate rebellion, they do link to sites where these discussions are taking place in euphemistic code words. Markets are infinitely flexible, they will often obtain the product that the consumer wants, regardless of the heavy-handed tactics of regulation. By providing the means, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Cisco and others are giving the resistance the tools that they need to continue to fight. Think about what the alternatives would be. A government provided search portal that would only contain 'government approved' sites where each web site would have to under-go strict scrutiny before a searcher could find it.

Daniel Solove, at Concurring Opinion, asks:
Should Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft be cooperating? Is business always business? Or should businesses refuse to cooperate with certain foreign legal regimes? If it is acceptable for businesses to cooperate, is there a limit to the level of cooperation that should be provided?

If the products that were produced could only be used to oppress the citizens of China or otherwise harm them, I think that the companies would have some thinking to do. However, should Chinese citizens be restricted from broad access to all of the information that the web holds just because they can’t search the term “Democracy?”

If Yahoo! and Google did withhold their services would Chinese dissidents be able to find information like this?

In Memory of Ms. Liu Hezhen, which Lu Xun wrote in 1926 after warlord forces opened fire on protesters in Beijing and killed one of his students, is a classic of Chinese literature. But why did thousands of people read or post notes in an online forum devoted to the essay last week? A close look suggests an answer that China s governing Communist Party might find disturbing: They were using Lu s essay about the 1926 massacre as a pretext to discuss a more current and politically sensitive event the Dec. 6 police shooting of rural protesters in the southern town of Dongzhou in Guangdong province.

In the 10 days since the shooting, which witnesses said resulted in the deaths of as many as 20 farmers protesting land seizures, the Chinese government has tried to maintain a blackout on the news, barring almost all newspapers and broadcasters from reporting it and ordering major Internet sites to censor any mention of it.

Most Chinese still know nothing of the incident. But it is also clear that many Chinese have already learned about the violence and are finding ways to spread and discuss the news on the Internet, circumventing state controls with e-mail and instant messaging, blogs and bulletin board forums.

Henry, at Crooked Timber, is skeptical (though growing less so) that the Internet can challenge authoritarian regimes, but the fact remains that as long as authoritarians don’t control all of the information they can’t actually control any of it.

Political Honesty

Political hackery is obscene, regardless from which side it comes from.

When RedState says:

In fact, it's more than a little strange to assert that the President broke Congress's law with Congressional approval.

Does that mean that Congressmen can’t break federal law?  

the President has the right, in cases of "Rebellion or Ivasion" or "when the public safety may require it" to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

Never mind that the Constitution grants this power to Congress, the more important point is that there is no when and, despite appearances there is no break between “Rebellion or Invasion” and “the public safety may require it.”  The phrase, in it’s entirety is “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”  That is quite a different reading than what RedState is trying to insinuate.

I think that reasonable people can disagree about the proper scope of federal government, but obfuscating the arguments behind walls of misrepresentation of facts shouldn’t be tolerated – regardless of which side of the debate you are on.

Honest Senators

William Niskanen, on CATO Unbound says:

Among the much larger number of members of the constitutional convention, however, there was only one vote against the provision that U.S. Senators would be selected by the state legislatures. The primary effect of this provision on fiscal responsibility is that it contributed to limiting the unauthorized expansion of federal powers. In 1913, the year in which the 17th Amendment was ratified, total federal outlays were 1.8% of GNP, almost all of which was for the military and the deferred costs of prior wars, and the total federal debt was 3.0% of GNP. Total federal outlays are now 20.3% of GNP, most of which is for programs for which there is no explicit constitutional authority, and the federal debt held by the public is now 36.4% of GNP.

I don’t think that the growth of federal spending can be explained simply by pointing out that Senators are now directly elected.  There is nothing to convince me that legislatures would have appointed (or would continue to appoint) individuals that held the Constitution in high regard.  

The only thing that I think we can say for certain is that “unfunded mandates” would never have become an issue.  A Senator that is appointed by a legislature isn’t likely to twist that legislatures arm by tying federal funding to a coercive law.  What we would probably get instead is a black check from the federal government to the respective states, so at the end of the day we have the same large check – but without the strings attached.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Climate Change

While discussing the air capture of CO2 (the process where air is taken in, CO2 removed and air release) Roger Pielke, Jr has this to say:
Currently air capture of CO2 is a political third rail of climate policy. Here is why:
For most of those people opposed to greenhouse gas regulation advocating air capture would require first admitting that greenhouse gases ought to be reduced in the first place, an admission that most on this side of the debate have avoided. When so-called climate skeptics start advocating air capture (which I have to believe can't be too far off), then you will have a sign that the climate debate is really changing.
If such a transformation occurs, then we have the irony of seeing the climate skeptics become the technology advocates and the greenhouse gas regulation advocates become technology skeptics. Why? For most of those people who support greenhouse gas regulations, even admitting the possibility of air capture is anathema, because it would undercut the entire structure of the contemporary climate enterprise. Consider that the Kyoto Protocol and all of its complex mechanisms would largely be rendered irrelevant. So too would be most research on carbon sequestration (though point source sequestration would likely remain of interest) and management, as well as much of research on reducing emissions in autos, homes, cities, etc.. As well, because among many much of the motivation for climate mitigation lies in changing peoples lifestyles, securing advantages in international economics, and changing energy policies, air capture represents a tremendous threat to such agendas. As a 2002 Los Alamos National Laboratory press release trumpets, "Imagine no restrictions on fossil-fuel usage and no global warming!"
What Mr. Pielke is leaving unsaid is that most environmentalists are, in fact, anti-business.  They have attached themselves to the environmental movement because it is easy to convert into an anti-corporate message that is capable of hiding behind science.  I think that most politicians on the right do themselves a great disservice by denying that climate change is happening.

A better approach, I think, would be to offer alternatives that don’t demand the dismantling of economic growth.  I’m not sure that I would advocate subsidizing CO2 capture, but it is, at least, an argument that doesn’t appear as if you are putting your head in the sand.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Why is Blagojevich in DC pushing his All Kids health care program before it even launches in Illinois?

The paperwork to get Blagojevich on the ballot for a second term was filed Monday in Springfield.

Of course, politics as usual – the plan is a disaster waiting to happen.  He wants the US government to give grants to states that want to try his untested program out.  So how is Illinois going to pay for this without federal help?

Insurance premiums paid by participating families would pay 75 percent of the program's cost, the Blagojevich administration said. The rest would come from using managed care to cut costs in the state Medicaid program, with $57 million in savings the first year.

This prompts a couple questions, not he least of which is – where was Blagojevich in the 90s when everyone came to find out that managed care sucks?  It is not substantially cheaper and the quality is measurably deficient when compared to other services especially when you consider that important medical decisions are being made by faceless bureaucrats rather then you or your doctor.  

But none of that is important when you have an election to win, is it?

Educational Choice

Nearly seven months after schools in a suburban Atlanta county were forced to peel off textbook stickers that called evolution a theory, not fact, a federal appeals court is set to consider whether the disclaimers were unconstitutional.In January, a federal judge ordered Cobb County, Georgia, school officials to immediately remove the stickers, saying they were an endorsement of religion. The ruling was appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear arguments on Thursday.Advocates on both sides say the appeals court's decision will go a long way toward shaping a debate between science and religion that has cropped up in various forms around the country.

This is such a frustrating problem because it is so easy to solve.  Want to stop the bickering between the creationists and evolutionists?  Let them send their kids to the school of their choice.

As long as politics decides what the school curriculum is, courts will the forum where parents try to get what they want for their kids.  So if politics is the problem why wouldn’t taking politics out of the equation be the answer?  Give parents the choice on where to send their kids.  There is a reasonable argument that educating children is in the public interest, so you can even have the state pony up the bill (within reason of course).  So Mr. Evolution can send his kid to Science Academy for the Betterment of Society and Mr. Creationism can send his kid to Religious Academy for the Betterment of God and they can both get what they want without pay a single [additional] dime out of their wallet.

Parents can have their cake and eat it to? Yep, amazing isn’t it?

Secure Borders

I don’t agree with Barack Obama on very many issues, but immigration reform is one area that we see eye-to-eye on.  At least, I think so.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what a politician is really trying to say.

When Congress last addressed this issue comprehensively in 1986, there were approximately four million illegal immigrants living here. Today, it is estimated there are more than 11 million. We are a generous and welcoming people, but those who enter our country illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law. And because we live in an age where terrorists are challenging our borders, we simply cannot allow people to pour into the U.S. undetected, undocumented and unchecked. Americans are right to demand better border security and better enforcement of the immigration laws.
To begin with, the agencies charged with border security require new technology, new facilities and more people to stop, process and deport illegal immigrants. But while security might start at our borders, it doesn't end there. Millions of illegal immigrants live and work here without our knowing their identity or background. That's why we need a guest-worker program to replace the flood of illegals with a regulated stream of legals who enter the U.S. after checks and with access to labor rights. This would enhance our security, raise wages and improve working conditions for all Americans.
You can’t stop the flood of immigrants by making it illegal to immigrate.  Only by making it easier for people that have a legitimate interest in coming to America can you ensure that the tide of illegal crossings are eased.  If the guest worker program includes little or no quotas on immigration – I am all for it.

I also have no inherent issue with securing the borders.  Once it is easy for people that want to come to the US to work the only people crossing the borders illegally are those with ill intent.  I’m not even sure that extra money for this endeavor is necessary though.  If illegal crossings decrease it should become easier to detect illegal crossings.

Google Bashing

I have blogged before that people are going to start revolting against Google as it successful.
And so it begins:
So increasing the amount per word DID increase sales, though not enough to justify the additional cost. Google's revenue per word, of course, went up by 10X. But dropping the price by more than half was greeted by a huge decrease in clicks-through that could only have resulted from some unknown resultant change in GOOGLE's behavior, given that all other variables were constant.
If that's indeed what's happening, it isn't illegal and to some might not even be unethical (I guess) but it feels just a little bit EVIL.
In a nutshell, this nutjob is complaining that a new business has to pay extra for prime placement on Google’s AdWords advertising service, while an existing website (that ultimately is the same business) gets the same traffic for a much lower cost.
Google has to take a risk to display new sites because it doesn’t know if the service will be attractive for it’s customers.  It’s not rocket science, Google wants to make money whether or not your business is successful.  If it displays a not-so-successful business over a proven entity it is risky a certain percentage of its revenue.  By paying a higher fee, you are subsidizing that risk.
Is this any different than networks charging premium fees for PrimeTime TV adds?  Or adds during the Super Bowl which can cost millions of dollars for a mere 30 second spot?  Of course not, but there are people out there that simply hate success and will twist logic into a pretzel to find a scheme to make it seem like the successful are screwing us over.
What they always fail to mention is that we keep screwing ourselves over voluntarily.  No one is forcing him or anyone else to use the Google advertising service.  If he doesn’t like it he can always use any of the competing services such as the one that Yahoo runs.
It always come down to the same basic question, how much is it worth to you?  If you are a brand new business trying to get established, those click throughs are your life-blood.  As an established business they aren’t worth as much since you have an established customer base.  Is economics really that foreign of a concept for so many?
HatTip: Slashdot

Wingbat Opposition

".... so he's trying to keep the definition of victory to be something he can meet." So says Mara Rudman, who was a deputy national security adviser under President Bill Clinton.

I have always been told in management training that setting attainable goals was a sign of good leadership.  Would Democrats rather Bush give Americans unreasonable expectations so that he is easier to attack?  

I’m no fan of Bush, but I wish that opponent would oppose him in meaningful ways instead of reinforcing the “anything that Bush does is wrong” view that make life way too easy for Conservatives.

In other words – I want a respectable opposition instead of the wingbat Democrats we are stuck with.

HatTip: Althouse

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cheap Cigarettes

A coalition of health organizations wants to quadruple the tax on a pack of cigarettes in California to boost funding for a variety of health programs.
The per-pack tax would jump by $2.60 under an initiative the coalition hopes to place on the November 2006 ballot, supporters said Tuesday. If voters approve the proposal, California's total tax on a pack of cigarettes would rise to $3.47, the highest in the nation.

Revenue from the higher tax would be directed to various health programs, including cancer screening, prevention and research, low-cost children's insurance, and tobacco education and cessation.
Because the extra per-pack tax would be expected to curb sales, the proposal allots $159 million a year to offset any loss of revenue to programs supported by an initiative approved by voters last year. That measure added a tax of 50 cents a pack to fund early childhood education.
The initiative also would give money to local law enforcement to enforce tobacco control laws, which critics said would be needed to offset an expected rise in black-market cigarettes.

The tax is projected to raise $2.7 billion annually if cigarette sales remain at the current level, but the higher price is expected to cut sales by about 8 percent a year, supporters said.
There is so much going on in this story, it’s hard to know where to start.  First, there is a tax on cigarettes to fund early childhood education?  How do you even begin to justify that?
Secondly, aren’t programs that seek to eliminate tobacco use counter productive?  How will low-cost children’s insurance and cancer screening programs survive if people stop paying the cigarette tax that fund these programs?
I’m not exactly sure how much cigarettes cost in California today, but I’d bet that an increase of almost $2 per pack is significant enough that their estimated decrease of 8% is more than a little low – according to one source, when New York hiked taxes by $1.5 sales dropped by as much as 64% in NYC.
Now, to be honest, I don’t really care how much CA decides to charge for a pack of cigarettes, but money grubbing politicians really get to me, regardless of the form that it takes.  Liberals that can grasp simple economics rather ticks me off as well and I sincerely hope that this change in taxes creates a net loss of tax revenue.  
I just worry about those kids that will have to do without early childhood education – how will they ever learn that smoking is bad for them?

Exchange 12

Exchange 12 has officially entered Beta 1.  As an official Microsoft geek, I’m pretty excited since Microsoft is going to be supporting integrated messaging with this release.  Which means that you will have faxing, voicemail and email all under one platform.  That is great news for users which have wanted easy access to all of their collaborating tools for years.  It’s also great news for administrators that have had to rely on a hodge podge of third party products that only mostly work in order to accomplish unified messaging.  It’s not so great for those third party providers, competitors in the messaging space (here’s looking at you IBM) or voice system administrators which are slowly getting squeezed out by network admins with the growing use of VoIP anyway.

One aspect of Exchange 12 which has me somewhat puzzled is news that it will only be available on 64-bit systems.  Microsoft has devoted huge resources in ensuring their customers adapt the latest and greatest releases; it seems couter-intuitive that they would place such a large barrier to entry on its flagship product.  (in my experience, more people have migrated off of Novell so that they can run Exchange instead of GroupWise rather than any desire to run the Microsoft operating system)

Does Microsoft think that Exchange 12 is going to be such a killer app that people will be willing to fork over the greater upgrade costs in order to get it?  I’m guessing that they will be wrong and that a 32-bit version will be released within six months of the official release of Exchange 12.

I think that 64-bit servers are inevitable, but the current problem is that hardware is very expensive and software is limited.  Microsoft looks like it wants to tip the scales in favor of wider availability; I’m just not convinced that they will be successful.

Airline Security

In addition to being an ass of mythic proportions, Ted Stevens is also really bad at math.

Edmund Hawley, the assistant secretary of homeland security who is in charge of the security agency, testified before the Commerce Committee that the ban on scissors was sensible when flights resumed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But Mr. Hawley said other measures that had since been put in place, including fortified cockpits and an increased use of air marshals, reduced the chance of terrorists storming a cockpit, as they did on four planes that day.
Mr. Hawley said that checkpoint screeners were opening one bag in four to look for scissors and small tools spotted on X-rays, and that this was a distraction from identifying greater threats.
"It's not about scissors, it's about bombs," Mr. Hawley testified. "Sorting through thousands of bags a day at two or three minutes apiece to sort out small scissors and tools does not help security. It hurts it."
Weighing the risk of small scissors and tools against that of bombs, he said, "If you do the analysis, it is not even close."
But the committee chairman, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, said he found that logic "difficult to follow." Mr. Stevens proposed instead that the security agency reduce the number of bags that passengers may carry on board to one from two, giving the screeners fewer items to handle.
If you reduce the number of bags that passengers carry, you don’t reduce the number of people trying to carry scissors and small knives. So instead of checking 30% of bags, you check 60% of the bags – the total number of bags is unlikely to change.

Mr. Stevens also misses the larger point, if we have our security personnel wasting time searching for miscellanea in luggage they don’t have the time or bandwidth to look for suspicious behavior – a much larger indicator of troublemaker than what size toe nail clippers grandma is carrying.

I’m actually somewhat surprised that a government agency was able to make the connection, it doesn’t surprise me that Ted Stevens isn’t capable of figuring it out even after having it spelled out for him. Small words and everything.

HatTip: Hit and Run

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Google Searches

I just had the opportunity to look at what sorts of google searches are leading people to my sight. While none of the searches were particularly bizarre or twisted, the title of my blog does kinda stand out in the results.

I think I’m going to have to play up that ascetic a bit in the title of my posts. I’m sure my five daily readers will appreciate it.

Newspapers as Public Good

My guess is that we will see a number of financial models for news and commentary, including some of those listed in Tyler's blog post. But two trends will drive newspapers toward nonprofit status. One is that as people get wealthier, they will indulge in their desire to become patrons of the media. The other is that the economics of for-profit newspapers will continue to deteriorate, particularly as they have to compete with high-quality donor-subsidized newspapers.

Does anyone read that and fear that what we will get, instead of donor funded newspapers, is government subsidized newspapers?  And that the leading proponents of such a venture will be the very liberals that today accuse the government of overt propaganda?

Even When the News is Good Someone Is Bound to Complain

TiVo and other 'ad-skipping technologies' have caused an upsurge in product placements on network television shows. The 84%% increase in product placements on TV over the last year has drawn protests from both the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. An example from the article: 'In a recent episode of the NBC series Medium, writers had to work the movie Memoirs of a Geisha into the dialogue three times because of a deal the network made with Sony earlier in the season. They even had the characters go on a date to an early screening of the movie and bump into friends who had just viewed Geisha to tell them how good it was.' Readers may also remember a controversial Cisco Systems product placement on Fox's 24.

So is TV for the writers or the viewers of TV?  I’m reasonably sure that if TiVo and similar technologies spell the demise of commercials then only the hardcore commercial lovers will mourn their passing.  

Will that mean some hack writers will have to sacrifice a bit of “artistic license” and do what they are told to do (does anyone actually believe that this doesn’t happen quite a bit on TV anyway?  The majors have long been accused of “dumbing down” TV, why is product placement any different?)  Sure, but then again is TV really primetime for writers anyway?  The premium channels (read HBO) and movies are where the best talent seems to end up anyway.  

If artistic integrity is more important than the almighty paycheck, I’m sure that there are dozens of cable channels that would love to have them.

HatTip: Slashdot

Cause We Are Special

AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp. are lobbying Capitol Hill for the right to create a two-tiered Internet, where the telecom carriers' own Internet services would be transmitted faster and more efficiently than those of their competitors.

Isn’t this precisely the scenario that most libertarians think about when they argue against government regulation?  AT&T and BellSouth will wrap the protectionist regulation up in a swarm of rhetoric about public benefit and fairness and other nonsense.  The reality is that technology and the free-market are pricing the Baby Bells out of their own game and they are none too happy about it.

Haters of capitalism have been trying to justify excessive government regulation of the telephone industry by claiming that it is a natural monopoly - which is a load of crap, but the government regulatory bodies that they helped setup will be able to ensure that the telephone companies are a government imposed monopoly.  Thanks.  

When will people learn that regulators are always – I’ll repeat that, ALWAYS – hijacked by the industry that they were meant to keep in check?

HatTip: Slashdot

Private Space Flight

Virgin Galactic, the British company created by entrepreneur Richard Branson to send tourists into space, and New Mexico announced an agreement Tuesday for the state to build a $225 million spaceport. Virgin Galactic also revealed that up to 38,000 people from 126 countries have paid a deposit for a seat on one of its manned commercial flights, including a core group of 100 "founders" who have paid the initial $200,000 cost of a flight upfront. Virgin Galactic is planning to begin flights in late 2008 or early 2009.

This should put to an end, once and for all the nonsense that space travel is, somehow, a public good.  If there is a viable tourist industry that is able to pay for itself scientific endeavors should be able to piggy back onto the travel for a reasonable cost.

In addition to a budding space tourism industry, NASA is looking for 3rd party carriers to provide transportation to the international space station maybe we can look forward to a time when NASA is little more than a memory.  If only the recouped cost would be provided to US citizens through tax reduction.

HatTip: InstaPundit and Slashdot

Monday, December 12, 2005


Chris Bertram from Crooked Timber says:

I have no opinion about whether he was guilty or not, nor do I know whether the various good works he has engaged in in prison were sincerely motivated. I am generally opposed to the death penalty, for a variety of familiar reasons. But I m moved to post now, not to articulate those general reasons, but out of a sense of incredulity. The crimes for which Williams was convicted took place in 1979, when he was in his mid-20s. Even if I thought it was right to execute people for such crimes, I think I‘d baulk at the idea of killing someone in his 50s for an act committed more than a quarter of a century ago. To do that is almost like executing another person.

That certainly rings true for me, though I don’t think it is a compelling argument against the death penalty. If you had to make the punishment take place within a reasonable time frame as the crime you would have to eliminate the extensive appeals process.

Partisans on both sides would like to take advantage of that tension (pro-death folks would love to eliminate much of the appeals process, anti-death would toss up their hands ‘We can’t punish them in a timely matter and guarantee due process, guess he gets to live’).


Proof of concept exploit code for an unpatched security flaw in the newly released Firefox 1.5 was publicly posted Wednesday by Packetstorm Security.

It’s not schadenfreude per se since I am actually a recent convert to Firefox.  I’m also excited about the kind of innovations that having two or three browser makers will have on the market.  But it will be nice to have some evidence that supports my theory that virus makers go after Microsoft because they are the only game in town and not because they are inherently less secure than any other product.

Seeing an open source product get some egg on their face is also somewhat satisfying, so maybe it is schadenfreude after all.  This is an important test for the Open Source community; depending on whether or not an exploit actually becomes widely distributed and how quickly a fix is made available could potentially scare a lot of converts away from the Open Source movement in general.  Even worse, unlike Microsoft products, administrators can’t fix this one centrally with the click of a button.

HatTip: BetaNews

Cheap Laptops will Sell Just Fine

Craig Barrett, Intel Corporation chairman believes that the $100 laptop computers to be manufactured by the MIT media lab run by Nicholas Negroponte beginning in early 2006 are merely 'gadgets', making them unattractive to consumers who will be disappointed by their 'limited range of programs'."

Says the man that doesn’t have a $100 laptop in the pipeline. The funny thing about tech gadgets, the only ones that complain about lack of features are the ones that can afford more expensive ones. Currently you can buy a calculator, or a WebTV or a typewriter wouldn’t there be a market for a device that can do all three but can’t play Doom? If I was investor I would be willing to take the risk and say yes. They probably won’t sell well in the United States (if I had to guess) but then again not every country is the wealthiest country on earth.

HatTip: Slashdot

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

How Much is Your Anti-anti-homosexual Stance Worth?

Kip thinks that the likely outcome of Rumsfeld v. FAIR (upholding the constitutionality of the Solomon Amendment) is at odds with Boy Scouts v. Dale (holding that the Boy Scouts could refuse to allow gay scout masters).  I’ll admit, up front, that I am no lawyer and have no law training at all, but I don’t see the conflict.

The Boy Scout case said that private institutions could discriminate against others when the discrimination was consistent with the institution’s values. (At least that is my understanding, like I said, I’m no lawyer)

Quick Aside:  To me, that sounds correct.  Private bodies should be allowed to voluntarily enter into contracts or voluntarily not enter into contracts.  Government should not be allowed to coercively force people into entering arrangements that they don’t want to be in.   Whether the plaintiff was gay or left-handed shouldn’t really matter.

The Rumsfeld case is a bit different though.  Congress is saying that if colleges want a large wad of cash, it will come with a caveat, in order to get the cash, you have to let the military recruit on your campus.  Congress didn’t create a law that said the colleges couldn’t exclude the military.  They didn’t create a law that challenges the colleges independence in entering contracts.  They simply forced the colleges to decide the value of their morality.  Is excluding the military worth $100 million?

In order to create a similar situation under the Boy Scout case you would need to change the facts as follows.  A gay man tells the Boy Scouts that he will give them $10K, but in order to get it they have to let him be a scout master.  The Boy Scouts say “No Way” but you have to give us the money anyway since you offered.

I think that it is quite apparent that the Supreme Court would rule, in fact, that Mr. Gay Man does not need to pay the Boy Scouts $10K, but they are free to exclude him if they are willing to forgo the cash.

But then again, I’m not a lawyer so I could be wrong.

Reducing Farm Subsidies Won't Lower Taxes

One problem that I have with arguments like CATO’s recent essay on farm subsidies is that it relies, in part, on the argument that the policy in question causes higher taxes.  The inference is that if you agree with CATO and eliminate farm subsidies you get lower taxes.  Unfortunately, that simply isn’t the case.  Our greedy politicians would just find another interest group to buy and the consumption of our precious tax dollars would be unlikely to change.

I certainly agree with CATO’s conclusion that farm subsidies should be slashed, but propping the argument on the tax rate is hardly compelling when we all know better.

Big Brother is Watching

ZDNet – via Slashdot – is running a story about using GPS to track vehicles.  At the surface the US Department of Transportation seems to be justifying it by claiming it could be used to ease traffic congestion.  I am unable to shake the feeling that this is just an elaborate ruse to get the courts to sign off on the unmitigated abandonment of fourth amendment protections.

The abuses that the FBI, CIA, local police and other government agencies could perpetrate are terrifying in their scope.  They would be able to track any American at any time without their knowledge.  Other “clever ideas” that proponents are suggesting don’t calm my fear at all.  

One such idea is that the tracking devices by tamper proof, if it stopped functioning it would disable the engine.  Beyond any safety concerns (imagine the little bugger failing at 65MPH) what would stop the government from using such a contraption to stop a citizen where they stand?  Find out where the alleged criminal is, disable their car and send a trooper to pick them up.  Such a policy could be sold easily to the general public.  After all, who wants escaped convicts on the loose?  

This all pervasive surveillance leads to a myriad of concerns about self-incrimination, illegal search and seizure, and general privacy.  Should government officials have this sort of power all in the name of generating some tax revenues?  I have serious doubts that such peak/non-peak systems would accomplish all that much in reducing traffic anyway.  After all, peak traffic – rush hour – occurs because everyone needs to get to work and I don’t think that making it more expensive at that time is going to ease much traffic.  The need for a business to be available during a normal, 9am-5pm, type window is a necessity in most cases.  If the costs of traveling during rush-hour became prohibitive enough that people really didn’t want to drive during that time window you would just force business out of town so that they could operate their business according to their customers’ needs.

This concept is so wrong on so many levels that I must say a little prayer hoping that the public has enough common sense to reject the idea out of hand.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Blogger Down, Kinda

Having an odd problem here at Blogger where I can publish posts but can’t read them.  In fact, I can edit posts, search them, etc.  I’m expecting the KipEsquire post on switching service to powerblogs anytime now.

DeLay Cleared For Now

DeLay is cleared of conspiracy charges because of a technicality, but is still under indictment on money laundering. Republicans, of course, will see this as vindication, which it isn’t. Democrats will see it as a miscarriage of justice, which it isn’t. You can’t be convicted of a committing a crime before it actually was a crime.

Update: I predicted that DeLay would be found guilty) or plead guilty as part of a deal. DeLay isn't out of the woods yet, so my success on that note is still up in the air.

Illusion of Security

Jason Mazzone thinks that the court decision to allow searches of bags at New York’s subway system is justified if it  deters just a single terrorist attack.  The problem is that it won’t deter any terrorist attacks.  At best, such a show of force is going shift the attack to a softer target.  

Terrorists don’t attack because it is easy to do, they attack because the returns are beneficial (by their definition).  Training men to fly airplanes and hijacking them couldn’t have been easy, but the results were spectacular.  

When the inevitable happens and the US is the victim of yet another terrorist attack, how many more civil liberties is Mr. Mazzone willing to give up in the name of perceived security?

Three New Amendments

In an interesting experiment, the CATO Institute has started a new blog that will provide a new essay from a leading intellectual on an Important Topic.  Over the course of the following month, they will post responses, I assume from various points on the political spectrum.  Their first topic is three constitutional amendments as proposed by Nobel laureate James Buchanan.

In its final budget resolution, Congress should restrict estimated spending to the limits imposed by estimated tax revenues. This requirement should be waived only upon approval separately by three-fourths of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

I certainly would support any attempt to codify fiscal responsibility into government.  Unfortunately such a concept would create an incentive to politicize the estimating process.  Projected spending would always be low and projected incomes would always be high.  It could potentially be salvaged by including the shortfalls in the following year’s budget, but the amendment would have to be very clear on how to deal with the subject.  Leave it to our faithful representatives to drive a tractor trailer through a mouse hole if you gave them the slightest opportunity.

Congress shall make no law authorizing government to take any discriminatory measures of coercion.

Such a concept would be a political non-starter.  Opponents would fabricate elaborate tear-jerking stories that only the hardest, coldest sons of bitches would be able to stomach.  I also shudder to think how egalitarians would manipulate the word discrimination to validate their own wealth transfer programs.  The amendment would have to be worded in such a manner as to be airtight against abuse.  Of course such detailed wording would make it incomprehensible to the general public.

It is a fabulous idea; one that could potentially undo a hundred years of Constitutional abuse, but a fairy tail nonetheless.

The Madisonian construction is flawed by its authorization of government regulation through the much abused Commerce Clause. The authorization should be restricted to the prevention of interferences with voluntary exchanges and should not extend to the prohibition, or the coercive dictation of the terms, of such exchanges. Nor should any differentiation be made between exchanges within the domestic economy and those made with others outside the political jurisdiction.

Perhaps the most revolutionary of the three hypothetical amendments natural rights to enter into contracts would be the most difficult sell of all, especially in these times of anti-Wal-Mart, anti-Big Oil anti-Microsoft, anti-any successful company.  There is a prevalent belief that the only thing that is keeping the US safe from monopolistic oligarchy is that the US government somehow protects competition.  I think that this view is fundamentally flawed in that, historically, the only monopolies have been the ones that were protected by government sanctions.

Beyond the anti-trust angels, citizens are frequently looking at the government to be a nanny service, protecting them from the abuses of business.  Not giving themselves the credit (perhaps rightfully so, who knows) that they are incapable of knowing when they are being swindled.  They see boogiemen in every corner.  Foreigners are trying to take their jobs by coercing business to move overseas or by invading the country with low cost labor.  If government didn’t mandate minimum wage then we would all be making $2.50/hour.  If government didn’t criminalize drugs we would be a nation of herion addicts and meth-heads.  What is frustrating is that no amount of common sense or statistics or showcasing government failure is going to convince 90% of the nation that anything should change.  The assumption has always been, “Well we need a better policy”, I’m skeptical that anyone will ever come around to “Maybe we just need no policy at all.”  The proposed amendments would mandate such an outlook, I just don’t know how we get there from here.

A New Wrinkle in Shopping

How schizophrenic do liberals need to become before they consume themselves in a fit of egalitarianism?

Oil companies are bad because they charge too much and are ripping people off.
Wal-Mart is bad because they charge too little.
Shopping phone is bad because people can’t get ripped off.


Sometimes I fantasize about the apoplectic fits that the success-hating left would have if Wal-Mart was an oil company.  I mean how do you come up with a twisted philosophy when you hate both two companies that compete against each other using opposite business models?   But alas, we have to content ourselves with the circus that we have.  

Hat Tip: KipEsquire

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hypothetical Situation

A person works at a shop that sells Nitrous cartridges that are frequently used for illicit purposes, but do have legitimate uses.

This person feels that it is wrong to sell these cartridges to anyone.

When a customer comes in and asks for the cartridges he says that they must go somewhere else or come back when he isn't there.

The owner of the establishment doesn't like that his employee isn't selling the product, but doesn't make a stink about it because other than this one "feature" he is otherwise a good employee.

Should the government mandate that the employee be fired because he isn't "doing his job" by selling product that they have in stock?

Why does the answer change when you subsititute Morning After Pills for Nitrous Cartridges?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sex On TV is OK As Long As You Don't Fall Off

You can always turn the television off and of course block the channels you don t want but why should you have to? – Kevin Martin, Chairman FCC

Because after all we have the protect the kids. We do a sub-category of the nation get to decide what everyone else watches on TV? The right pushed hard to mandate that TV manufacturers implement V-Chip technology so that parent could have tools to filter out “indecent” material. Why don’t they just freakin use it?

Quick Aside: In this age of Plasma TVs does that joke even work anymore?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Is Any Explanation Necessary?

The Scandanavian countries are always held up as a model for social welfare programs yet the evidence seems to contradict that assertion. Contrasting that model is Ireland which decided in the mid-80s to scle back on government expenditures, taxes and regulations. Since that revolutionary idea Ireland has gone from the poorest nation in Europe to the fourth largest GDP/capita in the industrialized world. Meanwhile Scandinavia is stagnant or declining, I think the evidense is clear.

HatTip: Marginal Revolution

Free Markets, Free People

We're into our 4th year since 9/11 and we finally get a serious policy speech about the importance of securing our border and stopping illegals from entering the country. Reminds me a little of closing the barn door after the cows have left.

On the subject of trying to discourage the entry of illegals, one has to be aware that there are two groups that have to be addressed in any solution on the southern border. Mexican nationals and other than Mexican (OTM) nationals.

What we've always done with Mexican nationals is load them on a bus, take them across the border and drop them off. Many times they'd be back in the US before the Border Patrol's bus returned from Mexico. Now, apparently the US is doing something called "interior repatriation":

I find it more than a bit ironic that a blog whose tagline is “Free Markets, Free People” takes a stance that is contrary to both ideals. The huge influx of immigrants (legal and illegal) is filling a need for low cost labor that can’t be filled by people that are already living here. Additionally, people everywhere strive for a better life for themselves and their families, what advocates “Free People” more than letting people choose to live anywhere that they can afford to do so?

The terrorism concerns are facile at best, the terrorists of 9/11 were in the US legally so any efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration is going to is closer to closing the barn door after the egg is broken. The only way to come close to ensuring that terrorists, or others intent on causing the US harm, don’t enter America is to completely close the borders a la East Germany.

Lieberman Sees Progress in Iraq

I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn. . . .

Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.

Iraqi's are better equipped to forecast their future then we are and the numbers have increased dramatically over the last 6 months. Which leads me to two questions: Why does news like this not get reported in mainstream media? (or does it and I am just missing it?) If Iraqi's are optimistic about the state of reconstruction should the US stay the course?

HatTip: Instapundit

Wireless New Orleans

Hurricane-ravaged New Orleans will deploy the nation’s first municipally owned wireless Internet system that will be free for all users, part of an effort to jump-start recovery by making living and doing business in the city as attractive as possible.

I’m not even sure how to respond.  Out of the vast devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina THIS is how they decide to spend federal disaster aid?  They are begging for money to pay municipal workers like garbage men without any garbage to pick up or just refusing to pick it up.  Or begging for money to pay teachers without any students.

We can debate whether or not it is necessary for government to rebuild New Orleans, but if they are going to do it, shouldn’t the money be used to repair the existing infrastructure and services?

Monday, November 28, 2005

How to get around those stupid phone menus.

I’m not a big fan of the tree of menus that you get when you call most companies so try to get around them when I can.  Here is a list of known bypass codes for many of the major companies.

HatTip: Volokh Conspiracy

I Don't Understand Anti-Consumerism

Kip Esquire talks about yet another attack on “consumerism” via a 60 Minutes piece on McMansions.

So while I was watching an atrocious 60 Minutes piece on so-called "McMansions," with a parade of would-be central planners (including bitter neighbors and of course the omnipresent anti-luxury socialist, Robert H. Frank) lamenting that people are tearing down "perfectly good" homes in order to build larger ones, something occurred to me: What exactly is the difference between --

(a) people unable to afford McMansions seeking to ban them via zoning restrictions under the rationalization that they are somehow "unnecessary and wasteful," and

(b) people unable to afford First Class plane tickets demanding that the government ban First Class travel under the rationalization that it is somehow "unnecessary and wasteful"?

Between hating people with big houses because they are “wasteful” and Buy Nothing Day I think someone is missing something important and I’m pretty sure it isn’t me. Do these nutballs think that goods just appear on the store shelves or houses appear out of thin air?

Let’s take this to the extreme and assume for a minute that they get their way and Americans don’t build big houses and don’t buy stuff that they want. How does the carpenter put food on his kids’ plate? How does the Costco (the gloriously benevolent company which sells such wasteful items such as fine art, jewelry, and expensive wine) employee pay for the mortgage on her adequately sized home?

Is it possible that such people are so shortsighted that they don’t realize that the economy is interconnected with everything? That tinkering with something as simple as the tax on yachts has consequences for working class people?

Google Will Be Evil

I just want to go on record saying that Google is going to be the whipping boy of the future a la Microsoft or Wal-Mart.  I’m not sure when it is going to happen but they will be the target of liberal groups for successfully doing what they say they are going to do – making all information available on the web.

I’m not exactly sure what the nature of the attacks are going to be I just want to be able to say “I told you so” and have a document to point to.