Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DoubleSpeak

Has anyone noticed that Republicans get vilified for pandering to the “extreme right-wing” of the party but Democrats get praised for “doing the right thing?”

If that isn’t doublespeak I’m not sure what is.

Monday, January 30, 2006

What is That Saying About Politicians and Moving Lips?

If you need any evidence that politicians are nothing but hack opportunists I present the following evidence.

"We need to recognize, because Judge Alito will be confirmed, that, if we're going to oppose a nominee that we've got to persuade the American people that, in fact, their values are at stake," Obama said.

"There is an over-reliance on the part of Democrats for procedural maneuvers," he told ABC's "This Week."

"There's one way to guarantee that the judges who are appointed to the Supreme Court are judges that reflect our values. And that's to win elections," Obama said.

What’s so bad about that you say?  That seems like a principled opposition to a man that has very different political views.  If this were still Sunday I would agree with you.  On Monday Obama voted no to end debate on the nomination – or in other words to attempt to filibuster the nomination.

I’m not sure if Obama wanted to ensure that he came down on both sides of the issue, fell captive to the far-left KOS-ites or needed to make some backroom deals to ensure support for his certain Presidential run in ’08.  Whatever the reason, one thing is certain Obama is a hack.

My Dollars Hardly At Work


Funding from federal Homeland Security grants helped build Chicago's new City Incident Center to coordinate traffic, towing, fire fighting and snow removal.

This is the logical next step in our ongoing effort to integrate the communications and dispatch operations of all the relevant city departments, so they can respond rapidly and effectively to any emergency -- whether it's a blizzard, a major fire or a terrorist attack, said Mayor Richard M. Daley opening of the state-of-the-art facility Monday.

Chicago already has one of the world's most advanced 911 emergency response centers next door to the 3,000-square-foot Incident Center.

The $4 million center has 24 computer workstations, 42 television screens, and advanced Web-enabled communications including an 18-foot tall, high-definition video wall. A dozen of the television monitors can descend to eye level and display live television images from citywide cameras.

Did they build a operations center or a movie set?  This type of spending is wasteful and completely unnecessary.  

It will not reduce terrorism.
It will not improve response to terrorism.
It will not improve snow removal.
It will not do anything except provide Daly with an impressive toy to impress all of the other mayors in the country who will begin to clamor for similar payoffs.

Instead of buying 18-foot High Definition video walls with my money they should be spending just enough to get the job done and let me keep enough so that I can buy 3-foot HD TV.  I’m pretty sure I’ll put it to better use than they would.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tiananmen and Google

There is an anti-Google meme floating around the blogosphere that poses the following comparison:

However that view is fallacious, the accurate depiction is this.
Censorship is evil and should be opposed in all of its forms, but let’s be clear about who is conducting the censorship – the Chinese government.

I’m not sure if there is a belief that all Chinese are dissidents searching for ways to oppose the government or if the only thing that the internet is good for is to search for essays on democracy, Tiananmen, Taiwan and Tibetan independence and Falun Gong, but Google will make lives easier for the Chinese citizens that choose to use it.

I’m certain that the citizens of China know what they are missing, or at the very least know that something is missing since the page says so (via Google Translation).

According to the local law laws and regulations and the policy, partially searches the result does not demonstrate.
You are not must look for: Tiananmen

The oppressive Chinese regime will not be successful in keeping its citizens ignorant any more than the prohibition prevented drinking, the drug prohibition has prevented drug use or the criminalization of sex has stomped out prostitution.

Don’t begrudge the 100 million internet users in China their small advances, without Google they would simply be stuck with the information that the government provided and I know they would be worse off for it.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Government - Solving Problems That Don't Exist

A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce a package of legislation next week aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness in science and technology by doubling federal funding for basic research and establishing a new science agency within the Department of Energy. The bills will be collectively titled the Protect America's Competitive Edge Act.

Huh, I wasn’t aware that America was falling behind the world in technology or science.  Maybe I was wrong – let’s look at how much everyone else is spending.

According to a recently released UNESCO report, in 2002 the world spent $830 billion on research and development in the public and private sectors, which represents about 1.7% of global GDP or $134.40 per person. The United States spent 3.1% of its GDP or $1,005.90 per person; the EU spent 1.8% of its GDP or $431.80 per person, Japan 3.1% and $836.6/person, Israel 4.9% and $922.40/person, China 1.2% and $56.20/person, and India o.7% and $19.80/person. This data come from this table in PDF.

I guess my anecdotal experience wasn’t so far off.

North America continues to lead in scientific investment, with public and private funding accounting for 37% of the world's gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) in 2002. However, Asia is now the second largest investor, with a share of 32%, overtaking Europe which contributed 27% of GERD, according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) featured in the UNESCO Science Report 2005.

Is there a chance that Asia’s contributions are increasing because they are increasing incentives for innovation while Europe continues to remove incentives?

Anyway, what are the 20 Top 10 recommendations that the NAS has to make?  (That’s no typo – 20 Top 10 recommendations – something only the government could pull off with a straight face.)

  • Annually recruit 10,000 science and mathematics teachers by awarding 4-year scholarships and thereby educating 10 million minds.

  • Strengthen the skills of 250,000 teachers through training and education programs at summer institutes, in master's programs, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate training programs and thus inspire students every day.

  • Enlarge the pipeline by increasing the number of students who take AP and IB science and mathematics courses.

OK, does anyone really trust our public school systems to hire teachers that would better educate our kids?  Until our broken educational system is broke throwing money at the problem isn’t going to accomplish much but waste tax dollars.

  • Increase the federal investment in long-term basic research by 10% a year over the next 7 years.

  • Provide new research grants of $500,000 each annually, payable over 5 years, to 200 of our most outstanding early-career scientists.

  • Institute a National Coordination Office for Research Infrastructure to manage a centralized research-infrastructure fund of $500 million per year over the next 5 years.

  • Allocate at least 8% of the budgets of federal research agencies to discretionary funding.

I can see the charlatans lining up for free money now.

  • Create in the Department of Energy and organization like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Office called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

I hear that creating agencies with long, funny sounding names increases scientific innovation.  More bureaucracy is unlikely to accomplish much.

  • Institute a Presidential Innovation Award to stimulate scientific and engineering advances in the national interest.

Government sponsored competitions are more likely to provide positive results than any of the other 19 Top Ten suggestions.

  • Increase the number and proportion of US citizens who earn physical-sciences, life-sciences, engineering, and mathematics bachelor's degrees by providing 25,000 new 4-year competitive undergraduate scholarships each year to US citizens attending US institutions.

  • Increase the number of US citizens pursuing graduate study in "areas of national need" by funding 5,000 new graduate fellowships each year.

  • Provide a federal tax credit to encourage employers to make continuing education available (either internally or through colleges and universities) to practicing scientists and engineers.

  • Continue to improve visa processing for international students and scholars.

  • Provide a 1-year automatic visa extension to international students who receive doctorates or the equivalent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or other fields of national need at qualified US institutions to remain in the United States to seek employment. If these students are offered jobs by United States-based employers and pass a security screening test. They should be provided automatic work permits and expedited residence status.

Again, relying on a broken education system to solve the “problem” of American competitiveness is a losing proposition.

  • Institute a new skills-based, preferential immigration option.

  • Reform the current system of "deemed exports."

I’m skeptical that any attempt to liberalize immigration law or liberalize export policy would be able to get through Congress.  Even if they did get passed I don’t think they would affect the “problem” of American competitiveness one way or the other.

  • Enhance intellectual-property protection for the 21st century global economy.

Code phrase for enhanced protectionism?  Politicians would like that.

  • Enact a stronger research and development tax credit to encourage private investment in innovation

  • Provide tax incentives for US-based innovation

That line mentioned above is already getting longer.  Subsidies merely succeed in rewarding the politically connected over the truly innovative.

  • Ensure ubiquitous broadband internet access.

Where did that come from and how is that supposed to increase American competitiveness?

I still confused as to what problem we are trying to solve?  America is the worlds’ wealthiest nation, the home of most technology companies, inventor of 70% of the world’s medicines and the world leader in computer technology.  How are we not competitive?  This looks like an ill-devised plan looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Hollywood Destroying American Culture

What kind of country do we live in when we pay orchestral musicians an average of $57,000 while top pop talent can rake in well over $1 million.  What kind of country do we live in where musicians that spend years studying music at top colleges, spending their entire lives struggling to win a spot in an orchestra and get to achieve a modest middle-class lifestyle if they are lucky.  Meanwhile a pretty face or simply being in the right place at the right time leads an income 17 times that of the lowest musician and a life of luxury.

The wealth of the top entertainers has been steadily increasing while orchestras and theaters are struggling to make ends meet and are closing in communities all over the country.  

Government needs to step in and protect American cultural values.  Government can save our dying fine arts institutions by taxing tickets to movies, pop concerts, CDs and DVD sales and use the proceeds to fund investment in local theaters, actor troupes and symphonic organizations.


Such a view is, of course, ludicrous, but I maintain that the causality is probably better justified than that contained in this study, which relies on the same fallacious zero-sum views of the world.

The disparity between rich and poor is growing in America as the federal minimum wage has remained flat for years, union membership has declined and industries have faced global competition, according to a study released Thursday.

Renwick said the government "needs to continue its commitment to correcting the natural outcomes of the marketplace" by raising the minimum wage with inflation and by tax policies like the earned income tax credit.

Desperation

US authorities have discovered, what they say is the largest and most sophisticated tunnel under their border with Mexico, one that was used by drug trafficking gangs. ... The secret route is cut a staggering 26 meters (85.3 feet) below ground, directly under a heavily protected sector of the frontier and is much larger than the 21 others detected under the border since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on US soil, US officials said.

Wow, how desperate are people to come into the US that they are willing to built at least 21 tunnels to get here.  US interests would be better served by making it easy to enter the country so that they could, at the very least, know who it is that is coming in.

HatTip: Professor Bainbridge

Who Is the RIAA Defending?

In August 2005, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed a complaint against David Greubel for alleged file sharing. Greubel is accused of having 600 suspected music files on the family computer. The RIAA is targeting nine specific songs, including "Sk8er Boi" by Arista artist Avril Lavigne, a Nettwerk management client. The RIAA has demanded Greubel pay a $9,000 stipulated judgment as a penalty, though it will accept $4,500 should Greubel pay the amount within a specific period of time.

"Suing music fans is not the solution, it's the problem," stated Terry McBride, C.E.O of Nettwerk Music Group.

Nettwerk became involved in the battle against the RIAA after 15-year-old Elisa Greubel contacted MC Lars, also a Nettwerk management client, to say that she identified with "Download This Song," a track from the artist's latest release.

Can the RIAA pursue a lawsuit on behalf of artists that don’t want to pursue penalties?  That sounds like a dubious stance to say the least.  

File sharing is a contentious issue and reasonable people can fall on either side of the debate.  However I think that it is clear that RIAA is abusing the system and intentionally targeting people that are unwilling or unable to defend themselves.  I am not sure what the correct answer is, but I am quite sure that if the recording industry would stop resisting the move towards digitization of everything they would find a non-legal solution.

Nothing New Here

Canada's networks are wrestling with those very issues in Ottawa. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters has asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to regulate video programming on cellphones, ensuring there is still room for domestic content and local advertisers.

Translation – We don’t want to work hard enough to provide content that people want to watch so we expect you – our government – to force people to watch instead.

One thing that struck me a bit funny about the article.

In as little as five years, the global industry could be drastically altered by the rise of alternative ways to watch television, such as downloadable programs and TV streamed over the Internet, say a group of researchers with technology giant International Business Machines Corp.

Would the average reader recognize that name as Big Blue – IBM?  Of course 5 years is a bit optimistic, the change is happening now with technology such as Satellite, Tivo and other DVRs.  If Canadian television is just now starting to worry about losing advertising dollars they are bit behind the times.

EU Still Not Happy

In its quest to show the world how little it knows about – well, anything, EU commissioners offer up this gem.

Its offer to open up its software blueprints "underscored its commitment" to meet the European Commission's demands, Horacio Gutierrez associate general counsel for Microsoft Europe said in a statement.
However, Brussels has warned the offer may not go far enough.
"It would be premature to conclude that offering access to source codes would necessarily resolve the problem of compliance," said EU anti-trust spokesman Jonathan Todd.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes added that users needed more than just the code - they also need comprehensive instructions that would allow them to develop software compatible with Windows systems.
"Normally speaking, the source code is not the ultimate documentation of anything," she said.
"[This is] precisely the reason why programmers are required to provide comprehensive documentation to go along with their source code."


Is there an absence of Windows compatible software that I am unaware of?  Is there any evidence that “users needed more than just the code” in order to develop software?  I am not even a developer and I can write sufficient code to do simple tasks.

The EU is just looking at Microsoft for a revenue stream, they really want that $2.4 million dollars a day there is no other for this stance toward Microsoft.  You don’t need to absorb millions of lines of source code to write software for Windows, you use APIs.

I was amazed that Microsoft decided to capitulate with the already ridiculous demands I’m curious to see how far they are willing to bend over to appease the EU.  I imagine there is a wall somewhere I would have thought they past it long ago.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bringing Wal-Mart to Chicago

After Chicago rejected Wal-Mart Inc.'s proposal to open a store on the city's South Side, the retailer will open one Friday just outside city limits - leaving city officials shaking their heads at the prospect of hundreds of workers and countless shoppers flocking to this tiny suburb.

"It makes you go ballistic," said Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr., who pushed unsuccessfully for a Wal-Mart in his ward. "When you look at the revenue stream that we're losing and the property taxes and sales taxes there and you look at the opportunity, we're not going to stop these people from going to shop at Wal-Mart."

Brookins lamented the news from Wal-Mart that of the 25,000 applicants - a record number, according to the retailer - for about 350 jobs, all but 500 were Chicago residents. Further, he said he has no doubt that when the store opens, most shoppers will be Chicagoans, too.

I giggle as I picture Wal-Mart execs flipping the bird at the hack Chicago politicians across the street from the city.    Whose interests are these idiots serving?  25,000 people wanted to work at Wal-Mart!  And given the (non) ease of getting around the city one can only assume that is a small fraction of the number of people that would have applied city wide if distance wasn’t an issue.

Liberals often paint Wal-Mart as a rural business and its wage-slaves as stuck by circumstance.  “There are no other jobs” they say, “you have to work at Wal-Mart or go hungry.”  That argument just doesn’t hold up in the third largest city in the country.  They just don’t understand that a reliable job at a respectable employer at a respectable wage is something that people want.  

If any liberal happens to make their way here they will insult me for calling the above sentence, but I don’t feel bad because at 25,000 Chicagoans agree with me.

Hamas and Palestine

I was going to blog a bit about how the Hamas victory in Palestine may not be all bad.  However, David Bernstein at Volokh has outlined every relevant point I could make on the issue.

If I were voting in the Palestinian elections, I would have been sorely tempted to vote for Hamas, even if I rejected their Islamicist views and their policies toward Israel. This is because the Palestinian Authority is one of the most corrupt and incompetent governments in the world. The PA has received billions of dollars in foreign aid but one would be hard-pressed to find a single school, hospital, park, or other public building built by the PA with that money. The money has disappeared either into the hands of corrupt officials, or into paying salaries to the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work for the government, who do basically nothing but are thus bought off by Fatah. Indeed, the election results almost certainly overestimate the PA's real support because assumedly government patronage employees and their dependents voted for Fatah. Because of the PA's low standing among the Palestinian public, it probably was not capable of reaching any kind of agreement with Israel, much less disarming Hamas and Jihad, and even if it were capable of reaching such agreement, it would not have had any legitimacy among the public.

Assuming that Israel and the US don’t move immediately to isolate the new government I think that Hamas has the ability to do something no one else has been able to do.

Only Nixon could go to China.

Only Sharon could negotiate with Arafat.

Perhaps one day we will say “Only Hamas could bring Peace to the Middle East.”

CLEAN UP Washington

Senator Obama recently introduced legislation that offers real reform by increasing transparency in government and decreasing the influence [sic] of lobbyists in the legislative process. It's called the Curtailing Lobbyist Effectiveness through Advance Notification, Updates, and Posting Act (CLEAN UP Act)

This bill would require that all legislation introduced in the Senate, including conference reports, be posted on the Internet 72 hours before the legislation is voted on by the full Senate, including specific projects - or "earmarks" - that under current law are anonymously attached to appropriations bills. It would also require conference committee meetings and deliberations to be open to the public or be televised and would require both chambers of Congress to identify any changes made to conference reports and which member made the change.

Letting bloggers review legislation a full three days before a vote would be a huge boon to the democratic process.  Senators, now, have no shame in adding amendments and earmarks to an otherwise commendable bill (assuming that such a thing exists) because no one is paying attention.  By keeping pork and other such nonsense in the dark Senators are free to act of their own cognizance and self-interest – but bringing such antics to the light of day would – perhaps – shame them into a bit of restraint occasionally.

More information is (almost) always better than no information, barring some fine print that they wouldn’t care to mention in a press release, I can think of no reason not to support such a bill.  Supporters of the status quo will invent all sorts of “harm” such a delay would cause but read it for what it is -  obstructionism.

FireFox Brings Out the Geek In Me

I’m a relatively new convert to FireFox, but am a full fledged FireFox geek, it just suits my nature since I get geeked by gadgets. Extensible by nature FireFox is chock full of gadgets developed by geeks and corporations around the world.

My latest gadget for FireFox is HyperWords which not only made my browsing more efficient and fun – it replaced four other extensions! What is this wonder-gadget you ask? It is the swiss army knife of FireFox Extensions – select any text on any webpage and you can:

Search News
Search The Web
Search Flickr
Search Blogs

Lookup on Wikipedia
Lookup on Dictionary.com
and CIA Factbook
AND IMDB

AANNND it can
Map – Shop – Email – Tag – Blog

And finally translate from or to English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese

In essence it is the ultimate resource tool for people (like me) that like to pretend they know WAY more than they really do. If there is any extention that should be charging a usage fee, this is it, without a doubt because it does SO much. Get it today (and FireFox too) and you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Freedom Loving Google

Google now joins Microsoft and Yahoo! in conspiring with the enemy in the War on Tyranny.

Apologists will likely insist, as they did with Microsoft, that "any web access is good" for China's oppressed citizenry. Hogwash. Google is no different from the
Swiss banks that financed the Third Reich, and will in fifty years be apologizing for its myopia just as those collaborators continue to do to this day.

That analysis is wrong for a couple of reasons.

First – The Swiss banks’ customer was the German government directly, they could not have financed their evil without the cooperation of some bank. Google, on the other hand, is dealing with the citizens of China directly. The Chinese government will oppress their citizens with or without Western search engines.

Second – Search engines, even censored search engines, make censorship harder – not easier. Especially when they are powerful engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN. It will be impossible for the Chinese government to filter out every possible way for dissidents to find the information that they want. Sure, they can block primary sites like Western news outlets and major sites that talk about Taiwan independence and student protests and the like. However, they didn’t even think to block sites that talk about In Memory of Ms. Liu Hezhen, a Chinese classis that tells the story of a Chinese warlord that fires on protestors killing one of his students.

The site that discusses this piece of classic literature has served as a proxy to discuss current circumstances in China. Would it have been possible for the people of China to find a site like this without the aid of western search engines? It’s hard to say, but I find it unlikely.

Google is providing 90% of its services to the citizens of China, it is providing part of the tools necessary for the oppressed to become informed, discuss their frustrations (even in code or analogy) with likeminded compatriots and otherwise partake of activities that the Chinese government would probably not approve of.

Knowledge is power, especially in this day and age, Google is providing a portal to get to most of that knowledge. Without companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft the vast array of that knowledge would be mostly unavailable. If these companies start cooperating with Chinese authorities by providing who is searching for content about freedom, democracy and revolution, then they become a tool of the government and not the people and should rightly be condemned by freedom loving peoples everywhere.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chicago Schools Have No Choice

Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan says city public schools face a $328 million deficit that will lead to fewer schools, teacher cuts and class size hikes.
In a speech to business leaders Monday, Duncan said increasing high school class size to more than 30 students per teacher would be a last resort. CPS Budget Director Pedro Martinez told the Chicago Tribune that 600 teaching positions already were set to be eliminated because of declines in enrollment system-wide over the last two years.
“People need to understand that if we don't get more money, kids will be get hurt," said Duncan, chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools.

And what happens to private schools that can’t manage to balance the books?  They go out of business of course.  So the students that are suddenly without a school get the option of going to a different school that just happens to be better run.

Can anyone explain to me why the current system is better?

UAW v. Ford

The cuts represent 20 percent to 25 percent of Ford's North American work force of 122,000 people. Ford has approximately 87,000 hourly workers and 35,000 salaried workers in the region.
Plants to be idled through 2008 include the St. Louis, Atlanta and Michigan's Wixom assembly plants and Batavia Transmission in Ohio. Windsor Casting in Ontario also will be idled, as was previously announced following contract negotiations with the Canadian Auto Workers. Another two assembly plants to be idled will be determined later this year, and production at St. Thomas Assembly in Ontario will be reduced to one shift.

Why all this talk about idling plants instead of closing them?  Because UAW contracts stipulate that Ford must negotiate closures with the union and the workers will have to continue to be paid until the contract expires in 2007.

Talk about the massive re-organization at Ford will invariably look at Ford’s inability to compete through poor management decisions, poor car design and general lack of business acumen – which is all very true.  However, insanely generous contracts with non-skilled labor is certainly a significant variable that will be all but completely absent from the discourse – I mean what sane manager would agree to pay laid off workers nearly full wages for almost TWO YEARS in the advent of a company downsizing?

One can only hope that union leadership will start to see that they have succeeded in putting themselves out of business, but I’m not holding my breath.

Flint v. Ford

As yet another auto plant prepares to shut is doors, the mayor of Flint, Michigan has come up with a radical -- and possibly illegal -- plan: a city-run assembly plant
....
"We will (build) our own manufacturing plants that the city funds," [Mayor Donald Williamson] said. "We are going to specialize in nothing but truck accessories."
...
It's not clear if the city would be allowed to run a for-profit enterprise, and many have questioned the rationality of the plan.

I'd give odds at 1:100 that a plant operated by the government in Flint could generate a profit. They'll keep assembly lines running (and never automating) just to avoid the political fallout of laying people off. The downside would be that create accounting would probably make it look like a successful venture to the casual observer.

Meanwhile politicians would add increasing wages, headcount and benefits to their stump speeches with nary a look at the bottom line to see if it actually makes any sense. My gravest concern is not that government would nudge legitimate business out the door, but that government wouldn’t know when to just call it quits. The last thing that Michigan needs is another drain on its already fragile economy.

HatTip: KipEsquire

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Pearls Before Swine

I think that this is an accurate representation of both – American understanding of foreign policy AND jazz music.

Du Bist Beutschland

I stop by Technorati once a week or so in the vain hope that someone actually links to my blog.  After the disappointment that usually associates such a visit I’ll take a quick peak at the “Top Searches” to see if there is anything interesting going on.

Today the top search is “du bist deutschland,” curious about what could possibly be generating so much interest I clicked the link only to find that the first two pages of the search were people that were using the phrases popularity to drive traffic to their site.

Now doesn’t the “Top Searches” lose its purpose when you have to dig three or four pages into the search to actually get any information for what you were searching for?

Just so I don’t get accused of perpetuating the practice, I’ll actually supply a bit of info on “du bist deutschland” for those of you wondering what all the fuss is about; consider it a value add service provided by your’s truly.

You Are Germany is a feel good campaign spawned by a government thatwould rather guilt it’s citizens into feeling better about themselves than actually try resolving its problems – you know stuff like high unemployment and a contracting economy.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Poor Tax

Kip points out that sales taxes disproportionally penalizes the poor that spend a greater percentage of  their income buying things.  Here are some other “poor taxes.”

Lottery – 41 states now rely on lotteries to supplement their tax revenues, yet those lotteries are mostly played by low and middle income families.

Studies illustrate that low-income people are more likely to play the lottery.

-In Lexington, Kentucky, 79 percent of the money spent on lottery tickets in 1997 was spent in zip codes where the residents’ per capita income was below the $20,274 county average.3
-Similarly, 47 percent of Maryland’s most frequent lottery players come from households earning less than $20,000 a year.4

“Riverboat” Gambling – In addition to lottery revenues, the tobacco settlement and their normal legislatively approved tax rates, states are relying increasingly on gambling revenues to pay their bills.  They rely on them so much that Governor Blagojevich has convinced himself that he can add Keno to the list of approved games that can be played (even though he isn’t restricting the games to casinos or approved gambling institutions) so that he can increase the revenue stream without that cumbersome process of getting it passed through the legislature.

Not only are casinos more likely to be placed near low income neighborhoods, the poor spend a much larger portion of their incomes on gambling.

It may seem to be an odd position for a libertarian to take, getting rid of gambling, but billions of dollars of tax dollars are spent, in essence, to subsidize gambling habits.  If Joe Average can afford to buy scratch off lottery tickets and tokens for the slot machines then they certainly can afford to buy their own food and housing.

You Think It's Bad Now?

The crisis in "translational science," or turning basic discoveries into therapies, has been brewing for years, but it hit a depressing nadir in 2005, when just 20 new drugs won approval from the Food and Drug Administration,' Sharon Begley writes in the Wall Street Journal. Concerned researchers and foundations are pushing for more sharing of data between basic scientists and clinical investigators, and Stanford is launching a program to train doctoral students in bench-to-bedside research.(image placeholder)

Is it any surprise that companies are not investing in medicine?  The result is that you typically get sued when your product carries a risk, your product gets pulled because of the incessant blathering of wackjobs or your patents stolen by foreign governments.

Why would a company invest hundreds of millions of dollars on drug research when it is all but certain that they won’t receive a profit on their investment?  The more that government ratchets down on regulation and the more liberals push for ignoring patent rights the less advancements we are going to get in medicine.

If this is the state we are in now, how much worse will it be when companies are precluded from making a profit under a social healthcare system?  I shudder to think.

HatTip: SlashDot

Image More Important Than Facts

In her Sunday column, ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote that Abramoff "had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties," prompting a wave of nasty reader postings on post.blog.
There were so many personal attacks that the newspaper's staff could not "keep the board clean, there was some pretty filthy stuff," and so the Post shut down comments on the blog, or Web log, said Jim Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com.

How sad is it that you can’t mention a fact without being the target of gross partisan hate mongering?  The state of politics has reached the point where issues matter so much less than making the other side look like dolts and crooks.  Newsbreak – all politicians are crooks, but only the ones in power have the capacity to follow through.

HatTip: Crime and Federalism

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Simple Minds, Simple Pleasures


I’m not sure what it says about me, but I really get a kick out of comedy that you really aren’t supposed to get. My Name Is Earl has tickled my funny bone twice with such antics.

The first is a situation where one character hurls what seems to be an epitaph in Spanish at her antagonist, to which the insultee responds “I’m sorry, I don’t speak maid.” An irreverent style of comedy sure, it’s easy to see how it would be funnier when you realize that the maid said:

I want to take this moment to thank our Latino audience for watching. And for those of you who can understand me but who are not Latino, I want to commend you for learning a second language.

The second bit was even better. The cast of characters weasel their way into getting hired at a company to pull a heist – you cut to a scene that shows each of the characters hard at work with Darnell (Eddie Steeples) busy pushing a cart a la The Rubberband Man commercial from Office Max.

It doesn’t take much to amuse me.

What's Good For the Goose

For decades, newsrooms have shredded or thrown away notes some time after using them both to save space and to prevent prosecutors like Fitzgerald from demanding them as part of an investigation. This “routine expungement is a longstanding practice in many news organizations,” says Sandra Davidson, a professor of communications law at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Yet, when companies like Arthur Anderson do it the media holds a lynching and forces them out of business.  Go figure.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Ask Americans something like, “Should the government be allowed to read e-mails and listen to phone calls to fight terrorism?” and you’ll get a much different result than if you ask, “Should the government be allowed to read your e-mails and listen to your phone calls to fight terrorism.” . . . .
In 2002, The Pew Research Center for People and The Press asked just those questions -- and by simply dropping the word “your,” the number of people willing to support such government snooping jumped by 50 percent. Only 22 percent were willing to let the government peek when it was personal, but 33 percent were willing when it sounded like only someone’s else privacy was at risk, said Scott Keeter, director of survey research for Pew.
It should surprise no one that citizens will only agree to regulate things that won’t affect them.  They don’t mind the NSA eavesdropping on calls because they don’t call anyone internationally – but if NSA expanded that power to US only calls there will be a major outcry.

This feeling extends into almost everything.  New Yorkers don’t mind random searches on subways because they don’t feel they would be subjected to the search.  I mean, what police officer is going to randomly search someone that is clearly a businessman?  Punks in ragged jeans and a nose ring – sure.

Next time government wants to use its vast police powers to right some “wrong” ask yourself if you are truly affected by the law before you decide if you are for or against it.  I’d be willing to be that you won’t be for the law very often when you are the one that government wants to pinch.

Eavesdropping Snail Mail Style

Apologists for increased government power to fight crime and terrorism often tell us that the powers are only used to catch bad guys.

Reuters is reporting that Customs and Border Protection is opening international mail coming into the U.S. without warrant.
Sadly, this is legal.
Congress passed a trade act in 2002, 107 H.R. 3009, that expanded the Custom Service's ability to open international mail. Here's the beginning of Section 344:
(1) In general.--For purposes of ensuring compliance with the Customs laws of the United States and other laws enforced by the Customs Service, including the provisions of law described in paragraph (2), a Customs officer may, subject to the provisions of this section, stop and search at the border, without a search warrant, mail of domestic origin transmitted for export by the United States Postal Service and foreign mail transiting the United States that is being imported or exported by the United States Postal Service.

Government has always pushed the boundaries of what is legal when it feels it is in its interests to do so.  Why should we trust anyone (least of all, government) to use that judgment wisely?  That is why we have, rightly, setup a system by which government actors have to convince at least one other person that their actions are justified.

So when they tell me that NSA can eavesdrop on international telephone conversations – but trust me its just for the bad guys – I find myself more that a little skeptical

HatTip: Bruce Schneier

Junk Mail

Legislation being proposed in the State House would create the equivalent of a do-not-call list for junk mail in Illinois.Democratic Representative Careen Gordon of Coal City says she sponsored the bill after hearing from senior citizens concerned about deceiving junk mail.The idea is modeled after the federal telemarketer do-not-call list.

People are concerned that some of their junk mail is deceptive so they are going to get rid of all of it?  If someone doesn’t want junk mail isn’t it easier to just not read it?

First, getting rid of junk mail is easy – stop subsidizing bulk mail.  In this day of e-mail and digital communication is bulk mail really necessary for commerce anymore (if it ever was)?  The only type of junk mail I receive is Pre-Approved Credit Cards, catalogs and the odd political campaign flyer.  I am reasonably certain that life would go on if we stopped spending tax dollars on delivering them and the money saved could likely go to better uses.

Second, why are only senior citizens complaining about this, or is it just a tactic so that Ms. Gordon can accuse opponents of not caring about old people?  If the practices are truly deceptive there are plenty of “truth in advertising” and fraud laws that would make prosecutions a trivial matter.   Unlike spam, we know where all of this crap is coming from.

Secure Macs

Mac OS may not have the gaping holes that let viruses spread, but worms, spyware and even keyloggers are out there.
They can't spread as easily, and most would only be installed by a careless user clicking "Accept" on a dodgy install dialog, but the regular stream of security fixes from Apple's software update service makes it clear that there are real dangers.
This, of course, is precisely the same way that viruses get spread on Windows machines.  The “gaping holes” in Windows are the result of the very feature that makes Windows more prevalent than Macintosh – easy administration.  People that run large networks want to perform maintenance remotely without asking the user permission first.  

When you make it easy to administer computers remotely you expose yourself to the risk that some of those other systems are malicious.

Any Mac user who believes they are totally safe is being reckless with their files and personal information. What's worse, they are also being reckless with mine.
One reason why there aren't many malicious Mac programs is that there are fewer Mac users out there, but the fact that some have been written shows that they are possible in principle.

Yep, he is exactly right.  Virus writers typically are in it for bragging rights, what glory is there in proclaiming “I wrote a virus that infected 10 Macs!”  Most of them also fancy themselves anti-establishment warriors and Microsoft is the digital equivalent of The Man – and everyone knows how satisfying it is to stick it to The Man.

When (and I do think it is when) Macintosh is capable of running on any Intel PC the state of things is going to change.  Macintosh makes a lot of sense for users that have little or no need to network computers together.  Forcing people to use only their proprietary hardware has kept Apple out of the game for way too long, but once they get wide acceptance they will have to realize that they will have a large target on their chest.  

Mac isn’t inherently more secure, they are just far fewer reasons for malicious users to make them pay for it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mmm, Chocolate

"It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans — the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," the mayor said. "This city will be a majority African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

Does God really want blacks to live in a city that has a high unemployment, lots of murders, crappy schools and is generally below average in every regard?  

Much ado has been made about Nagin’s comment about God punishing sending hurricanes to punish America and New Orleans, but that is an easy wingbat theory to ignore – but why is race such an important factor?

Unions Come Out Against Solar

organized labor and Democrats in the Assembly who were determined to deny Schwarzenegger an image-boosting win

The beauty of Us vs Them politics – you can’t let anything good happen if it was someone else’s idea. (granted killing the solar scam subsidy is a good thing, but still) Hmm, maybe I should rethink my stance on today’s partisan politics. Deadlock is almost as good as a full recess.

Thomas Still a Federalist

Thomas has upheld his place as my favorite justice with this dissent:

I agree with limiting the applications of the CSA in a manner consistent with the principles of federalism and our constitutional structure. Raich, supra, at ___ (THOMAS, J., dissenting); cf. Whitman, supra, at 486-487 (THOMAS, J., concurring) (noting constitutional concerns with broad delegations of authority to administrative agencies). But that is now water over the dam. The relevance of such considerations was at its zenith in Raich, when we considered whether the CSA could be applied to the intrastate possession of a controlled substance consistent with the limited federal powers enumerated by the Constitution. Such considerations have little, if any, relevance where, as here, we are merely presented with a question of statutory interpretation, and not the extent of constitutionally permissible federal power. This is particularly true where, as here, we are interpreting broad, straightforward language within a statutory framework that a majority of this Court has concluded is so comprehensive that it necessarily nullifies the States'" 'traditional . . . powers . . . to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens.'" Raich, supra, at ___, n. 38 (slip op., at 27, n. 38). The Court's reliance upon the constitutional principles that it rejected in Raich -- albeit under the guise of statutory interpretation -- is perplexing to say the least.

With the exception of Thomas I find it hard to believe that any of the Justices actually follow anything even resembling a judicial philosophy these days. Federalism or no? I guess it depends if federalism gets you the outcome that you want.

More At Hit and Run

Killing the Harmless

What purpose does executing a blind, deaf, infirm 76 year old man serve?  It doesn’t make us any safer, the punishment is so far removed from the crime that deterrence is a weak argument.  Vengeance?  For whom?  The victims are dead – the immediate relatives are far removed as well.  

I see absolutely no benefit from capital punishment and the risks from using it inappropriately are huge.  It’s time just to end this anachronism.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Alito Hearings the Final Day

I had an opportunity to catch more bits and pieces of the Alito hearing today.  Needless to say there wasn’t much to learn.  The panelists that supported Alito only seemed to do so because he was a real swell guy with tons of integrity.  The witnesses that opposed the confirmation only appeared to do so because they felt they had him figured out and knew that he would rule in ways that they opposed.  

In addition to thinking that Alito came to the table with an agenda, that agenda was so heinous as to include stripping rights away from everyone and expanding the powers of government to something that even the courts themselves couldn’t question.

There was a single exception to this grand farce of ass kissing and hyperbole – Professor Ronald Sullivan from Yale Law.  Professor Sullivan came to the committee to talk about Alito’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.  Sullivan didn’t use hyperbole to make a case that the sky was falling, but set his arguments out in a clear concise manner that, to my ears, was very persuasive.

His argument was that Alito has a pattern of showing great deference to government that goes beyond biases that may appear as a result of a judicial philosophy but actually reveal an inconsistent method for interpreting law.  Alito appeared to interpret statutory cases very strictly when it restricts a plaintiffs power against government, but very wide interpretations when it expands government power.

I wouldn’t know where to even begin in deciphering legal opinions, so I’m not going to weigh in on whether or not Professor Sullivan’s charges have any merit, but I think the question is one that should be answered – does Alito grant too much preference to government power in criminal cases?

Unfortunately, the political nature of the confirmation process and the need to tap dance around the issue of Roe preclude any chance that there is a substantive debate about what qualities we desire in a judge.  Should judges defer to the executive or legislative branches?  Where should the line be drawn?  As long as Republicans only care whether or not judges appear to dislike Roe and Democrats scream bloody murder these discussions will never occur.

Farve Over Coach

After being named coach Thursday, [Mike] McCarthy said he would be the envy of other coaches if the star quarterback decides against retirement.
"I don't think there's a coach in the National Football League who wouldn't love the opportunity to work with Brett Favre," McCarthy said. "We had a very positive working relationship in 1999, and I'm definitely looking forward to working with him again."
Thompson gave McCarthy a three-year deal to replace Mike Sherman, who was fired Jan. 2 after a 4-12 season, the team's worst in 15 years.
McCarthy, who becomes the league's youngest head coach at 42, worked with Favre as the Packers' quarterbacks coach in 1999.

The Packers decision to hire McCarthy is either shortsighted or proof that they continue to advocate a system of favoring legacy over skill.  Not since the Packers hired Holmgren have they brought a coach in that hasn’t had a history with the Pack.  My personal feeling is that it is both, they wanted to give Favre every reason to come back which happens to fit with the SOP of hiring coaches with historical ties to the team.

My guess is that McCarthy is going to do about as well as Rhodes did in ’99.  What is it going to take to get some fresh blood behind the clipboard?

Liberal Panacea or Destitute Wasteland

Social programs and welfare reduce poverty right?

The report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimated that 82,291 people were homeless in Los Angeles County on any given night in 2005, with about 48,103 of the county's homeless living within Los Angeles' city limits.
The estimates mark the first attempt to gather detailed data on the homeless. The figures will provide a benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of programs to curb homelessness, officials said.
The study also reported that California's estimated homeless population of 195,367 is the highest in the nation. Forty-six percent of the state's homeless population is located in Los Angeles County, according to researchers, who determined that one of every 110 people in the county are homeless on any given night.

So, arguably the most liberal state in the country with the most generous programs for the poor and destitute cannot manage to curb homelessness.  What’s the problem?  The problem is incentives matter – if you pay for something you will get more of it.  California and LA pay people to be poor and are paying them more than they could earn if they managed to get a job.  

The combination of anti-growth regulation, restrictive building ordinances and nanny-state social programs have created a problem, not solved one.

Solving the issue of homelessness is really quite simple – get them all jobs.

Stick It To Wal-Mart

The bill requires companies with more than 10,000 Maryland employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on employee health care or pay the difference into the state’s Medicaid fund. Of the state’s large employers, only Wal-Mart spends less than 8 percent on health care.
The company employs about 17,000 Marylanders at more than 40 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores, and about 1.3 million people nationwide.

I see three possible results; Wal-Mart will pay less in payroll (i.e. hire less people), Wal-Mart will pay its employees less or Wal-Mart will raise prices.  None of these outcomes actually benefit employees.  

Wal-Mart competitors will benefit to the decreased competition which is the ultimate goal of Wal-Mart opponents isn’t it?  Any policy that damages Wal-Mart has to be good.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Envireligion of California

The state Public Utility Commission voted 3-1 to approve the California Solar Initiative, which would provide $2.9 billion in consumer rebates for solar panels between 2007 and 2016. Last month, the five-member PUC approved $300 million in rebates for 2006.
The initiative aims to install 3,000 megawatts of solar electricity on the rooftops of one million homes, businesses and public buildings over the next ten years.
Solar advocates said the $3.2 billion program would make solar energy more affordable, create jobs, reduce air pollution and cut emissions of heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming.

There are lots of reasons to dislike this plan.  First off, it is going to reduce the demand for an alternative to fossil fuels that are actually sustainable.  In areas of the country that do not get consistent sunshine, solar just isn’t a practical option.

Secondly, this probably isn’t going to have a substantial effect on making solar power more affordable to install on single family homes.  As the demand rises (and it will rise swiftly) supplies will diminish (very quickly) causing the distributors of the solar technology to raise their prices (assuming that government doesn’t step in to make the shortages permanent).

Meanwhile consumers are still going to be paying for solar panels, they savings are probably larger than they would have gotten without the rebates, but it certainly won’t be $2.9 billion.

Third, is it a fair question to ask where the Public Utility Commission is going to get this $2.9 billion?  Taxes?  If so then the citizens of California will be subsidizing the Envireligion of wealthy Californians that can afford to invest in solar power, or at the very least the poor are giving up programs that could have otherwise benefited from that money.

Perhaps the money is coming from increased energy fees – so the bills of every consumer will go up.  Doesn’t this disproportionally effect those at the bottom?  The very ones that won’t receive ANY benefit from such a program?

I simply can’t see any reason why this policy is a good idea from either a progressive or conservative viewpoint unless you happen to subscribe to a religion that says anything that superficially benefits the environment is worth any price.

Kennedy - The Cliff Notes Version

I only got a chance to listen to a bit of the Alito hearings so far and fortunately or unfortunately have only heard Kennedy’s questioning in full.  I think that I can sum up Kennedy’s entire point in a single rambling sentence.  Let me try.

I’m going to make pompous, hyperbolic, misrepresentations of your stated views and then totally ignore any counter-argument that you attempt to make because my political motives are met by insinuating that you are a bigot, a racist and believe that the President has unlimited powers as opposed to having a substantive discussion about what your actual views are.

Yeah, I think that pretty much sums it up.

If You Can't Beat Them - Take It To Springfield

A bill in Springfield, backed by a major distributors' group, would restrict Illinois wineries' right to sell wine over the Internet, through the mail or by telephone. Distributors say the bill is necessary in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year -- and to prevent sales to minors. But Illinois wine-makers say distributors are trying to choke competition.
"It would be a disaster for the Illinois wineries," said Fred Koehler, president of Lynfred Winery in Roselle. "It's like Goliath against these little farm wineries that are trying to survive."
Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, a Springfield-based industry group, pushed the legislation, introduced in the House and Senate earlier this month. ABDI Executive Vice President Bill Olson said the state's wineries have used a loophole to escape regulation. The wine bill "hits a middle ground," Olson said.
The idea that this is somehow about “underage drinking” is a farce.  There are two things going on here.

First, distributors are using their clout in order to crowd out the competition that they are getting from direct sales.  (I’m Shocked!  Politically connected parties using the political process to further their own interests?  Say it isn’t so.)

Second, every state is desperately trying to find ways to collect taxes from internet sales.  They haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet, so they are just going to make it harder for you to circumvent the tax and call it a day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Alito vs the Blogosphere

This week's Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel Alito appear to have given rise to a new sport in the blogosphere: Whack-A-Pol.

Here's how the game is played: Every time a senator pops up with a comment on Alito, bloggers whack 'em down with a rhetorical hammer. But unlike the game Whack-A-Mole, where the nimble moles often avoid the blows by ducking into their holes, no senator -- regardless of party or popularity outside the realm of mouth-to-mouth combat over judicial nominations -- can escape the jabs of bloggers. Even worse, bloggers tend to prefer hammers of the sledge variety to the padded pummeling tools used on those carnival rodents.


This is what the state of political discourse has come to in the US – obfuscation through name calling, hyperbole and straw man bashing.

Read the potshot John Aravosis of Americablog took at Lindsey Graham, for instance. Aravosis apparently once thought that Graham might be different from his colleagues, but then he heard the South Carolina Republican address the issue of court reviews of "enemy combatants" being held in the war against terrorism.

"I'm disappointed to see that he has an evil, dishonest, political side just like most Republicans in town," Aravosis said.


What we call those people shooting at Americans in Iraq is CLEARLY more important than the policies that drive why we are actually in Iraq, what we are going to do while we are there and when we actually get to come home.

That dig was tame compared with the one Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos leveled at Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "OK, Tom Coburn really IS a loon," he wrote after Coburn ranted about sodomy, prostitution and abortion.

Armando, another Daily Kos contributor, dismissed "Box Turtle Cornyn" -- that's John Cornyn, R-Texas -- as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party line.

Nothing that they say is important because they are crazy ignorant assholes that only do what Bush tells them to do.  None of this tells me what they said or why it’s wrong.  The non-partisan reader must just take their word for it because they are obviously smarter than the rest of us, right?

Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters called Russ Feingold a "jerk" for his "outright insulting" suggestion that Alito may have been prepped for the hearings a bit too much by White House staff.

Or perhaps Russ is serving his constituents by trying to ascertain whether we are getting a White House mole or a living, breathing independent jurist.  I think that is an important question for partisans on both sides of the aisle and Feingold should be commended for aggressively pursuing that line of questioning.  It sure beats the preening and posturing that we have gotten from the rest of the Senators.

What it all comes down to is the reality that many bloggers (and many Americans, according to polls) just don't respect members of Congress.

I certainly don’t trust them, but for many of the same behaviors that bloggers have been showing – grandstanding, preening, demagoguery that skirts the actual issues and perpetuates an “Us vs. Them” philosophy.  Instead of assisting the Senators in skirting the real issues bloggers should be digging deeper and finding the meanings in between the words that are said.  The name calling isn’t telling us whether or not Alito is going to make a good judge or not, discussing whether his answer about why Freedom of Speech is readily apparent in the Constitution and why a “Right to Abortion” is not just may get us there.

Less Security, Not More

Residents of a trendy London neighbourhood are to become the first in Britain to receive "Asbo TV” -- television beamed live to their homes from CCTV cameras on the surrounding streets.

As part of the £12m scheme funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, residents of Shoreditch in the East End will also be able to compare characters they see behaving suspiciously with an on-screen "rogues' gallery" of local recipients of anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos).

Viewers will then be able to use an anonymous e-mail tip-off system to report to the police anyone they see breaching an Asbo or committing a crime.

This type of scheme is ultimately why ubiquitous surveillance bothers me. If government would guarantee that they would never, ever modify surveillance beyond using it to solve and deter crimes, we could have an honest argument about whether it was necessary or not. Unfortunately, government cannot make such assurances – government officials can (and will) use the surveillance for personal gain. Private interests, such as those outlined above – will use the surveillance for personal gain. And in the meantime you have no idea what this information is being used for and by whom.

Personally, I would rather have a little higher risk of crime than know for certain that someone is watching me trying to figure out how to turn a profit on my actions.

Update: Coincidently, Russell Roberts over at Cafe Hayek talks about subsidies today. The quotes from George Will dovetail my points nicely.

Centrally Controlled Jeans

The problem that I have with central planning is that governments are notoriously lacking in imagination.  The centrally planned economy will pick a winner and stick with it, in the meantime the losers get no opportunity to prove their worth.  Take this example.
iPod, meet Levi Strauss. The 133-year-old denim brand announced Tuesday at Macworld in San Francisco that it would be the first to offer consumers "iPod compatible" jeans.
The RedWire DLX line, due out in fall 2006, will be compatible with iPod's plug and play technology. The jeans will also have a joystick in the watch pocket that would allow the wearer to control the audio player without taking it out.
A docking cradle will be built into the jeans, making the "iPod bulge" all but invisible when wearing. Levi's says this is both for the security and safety of the iPod and is removable with the device to allow the user to look at the screen while not having to disconnect.

Does anyone honestly think that you could get a bunch of politicians to agree that dollars should be spent on developing jeans that make your iPod listening experience more enjoyable?  In fact, there would be numerous special interests that actively trying to quash such innovation.  Recording companies would actively try to make MP3 experiences as painful as possible to protect their oligarchy ownership of music.  In fact, in a centrally planned economy neither MP3 nor iPod would ever have come into being in the first place.  Sure, no one is arguing that the clothing industry should be government controlled, and I don’t think that anyone would argue that society NEEDS iPod enabled jeans, but I think that the example is valid.

Don’t buy that argument?  How about this one?

I always like to hear more about fuel cells and Panasonic came out with some good news on this front with its announcement of a new fuel supply method, that would halve the size of current fuel cells—perfect for powering portable devices. Called the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell system, the cell itself is 400cc (24 cubic inches), about the size of a soda can, with an average output of 13 watts, a peak output of 20 watts, and low weight. This bodes well for carrying around and charging things like laptops (which could get up to 20 hours of runtime!). It was demo’d at CES, so let’s cross our fingers that we’ll actually see it sometime soon.

There is a lot of money being sunk into batteries right now.  The innovation is looking into all sorts of factors like environmental friendliness, longer life, lower cost etc.  Imagine for a moment that Congress got to decide that one of these technologies was the “correct” one – in fact, why do we want to spend money on inventing new batteries to begin with?  The batteries that we currently have work well enough.  In fact, batteries are a severe environmental hazard, let’s force everyone to use solar power – it’s clean and free!  What a great idea!  Of course your laptop will only operate on solar power for about 5 minutes, but why do you need to use your laptop on the beach anyway?  

With the makers of Energizer and Duracell anxious to keep competitors out of the marketplace with technology that they don’t have large amounts of money would be spent trying to sway Congress’s decision on the matter.  So not only do we not advance and innovate as a society we are actively spending money to stay that way.  I like free-markets better where money is spent to make life for everyone better as opposed to spending money to keep everyone’s life the same.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

AOL Bashing

AOL is offering 2GB of free mail (a la GMail), I’m not sure how successful the service will be, I just know that they already have caused me not use it by forcing me to open the account to stop the annoying “You Have Mail” messages when I log into AIM.

Here is some free advice for AOL – don’t piss off your customers before they are even customers.

Term Limits

A surgical reform would be congressional term limits, which would end careerism, thereby changing the incentives for entering politics and for becoming, when in office, an enabler of rent-seekers in exchange for their help in retaining office forever. The movement for limits -- a Madisonian reform to alter the dynamic of interestedness that inevitably animates politics -- was surging until four months after Republicans took control of the House. In May 1995 the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that congressional terms could not be limited by states' statutes. Hence a constitutional amendment is necessary. Hence Congress must initiate limits on itself. That will never happen.

George Will wants to change the incentives that lead to political corruption and rent-seeking which is the right approach to cleaning up Congress.  If you have a desire to change behavior you need to change the factors that are incenting that behavior.  

So let’s take a look at what factors change when you introduce term limits.  Congressmen are no longer interested in getting re-elected, at least after X terms.  So that means that at the end of their term they are free to fight for whichever cause will serve their self-interest as opposed to those interests that will get them re-elected.  With the current system there is at least a modicum of interest in serving the constituency for which they serve, with term limits there will be none.  

So what we will end up with is a system where Congressmen will serve the interests of the most powerful in hopes that it pays out for them post public office.  Such a system also punishes districts that have honest, hardworking politicians that serve the public good; you flush the good along with the bad.  It certainly can be argued that there isn’t much good, but there certainly is some.  

As Will admits, the only way to prevent special interests from buying Congressional favor is to ensure that there is nothing to buy.

HatTip: Instapundit, Volokh Conspiracy

Monday, January 09, 2006

Just Ask Yourself

Do you want a healthcare system that works as well as our education system?

I didn’t think so.

A Mini Revolt

Angry members of MySpace, the personal file-sharing website for young adults, are accusing Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation of censoring their postings and blocking their access to rival sites. The 38 million subscribers to MySpace...discovered that when they wrote to each other about rival video-swapping site YouTube, the words were automatically deleted, and attempts to download video images from YouTube led to blank screens. The intervention by News Corp in the traditionally open-access world of the web - in particular the alteration of personal user profiles - provoked a storm of angry posts...The protests gathered pace, and when 600 MySpace customers complained and a campaign began to boycott the site and relocate to rival sites such as Friendster, Linkedin, revver.com and Facebook.com, News Corp relented and restored the links

Such an important lesson in market economies that will be completely lost to the youngsters that typically use MySpace.  When a company doesn’t provide a service that its customers want they go elsewhere (or at least threaten to do so).  When such a threat is substantial enough then said company will change their practices.

This particular example was compressed into a very short timeframe, but it happens every day on a global scale all across the free world when people walk into a shop to purchase any other service.  They are telling one proprietor that they like what they are doing and tell every other proprietor to listen up because they are failing to provide what is desired.

Each transaction is a mini-revolt against the status quo that happens without government regulation, intervention or coercion.  Those that listen will succeed, those that don’t will fail.

Isn’t it grand?

Microsoft Bashing - CATO Unbound Style


Another consequence of digital brittleness and lock-in is that more niches turn out to be natural monopolies than in previous technological eras, with Microsoft once again being a celebrated example. I call these niches "Antigoras," in contrast with the classical idea of the Agora. An Antigora is a privately owned digital meeting arena made rich by unpaid or marginally paid labor provided by people who crowd its periphery.

Microsoft is an almost ideal example, because users are dependent on its products in order to function in cooperation with each other. Businesses often require Windows and Word, for instance, because other businesses use them (the network effect) and each customer's own history is self-accessible only through Microsoft's formats. At the same time, users spend a huge amount of time on such things as virus abatement and glitch recovery. The connectivity offered by Microsoft is valuable enough to offset the hassle.

All of you users of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Word – let’s try an experiment.  Click File – Save As.  In the dialogue that says “Save As File Type” click the little down arrow to the right and take a look at how much interoperability Microsoft has built into its word processor.  Look at how easy they have made it to user competing software.

Microsoft is all but daring you to use something else.  You can interoperate with other people that can read text files (txt), rich text files (rtf), xml files and html files.  And who can’t read an html file?  Back in the days when people actually used Word Perfect you could share those files too.

The problem is not that Microsoft is a natural monopoly but Microsoft has created a product that people like to use with all of the features that they need.  The economics of scale help tremendously in this regard – they have dedicated teams that code the menu system and the help system and similar sub-components.  This allows the developers of the word processor to focus exclusively with what is important in a word processor.

There are free products that do what Word does – Sun Office being the most well known, it just doesn’t do it as well as Word does for most people.   The market has not given Microsoft a free-ride because of some inherent flaw in the computer software marketplace, the free market has consistently rewarded Microsoft for developing innovative software that meets the needs and wants of its customers.

Until a company steps up and develops software that is BETTER than Word, it will continue to be the de facto standard word processor.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Microsoft Bashing - Take 2

From NYT:

But I think that what most people want from the next Windows isn’t more stuff added, but rather stuff to be taken away–like crashes, lockups, viruses, error messages and security holes.

Something tells me that this guy hasn’t used windows since Win95.  I haven’t had a crash on XP since – well never.  I support PCs for a living (sorta) and the only time I see problems is when the user has done something stupid or installed crappy software.  

The request for better security is certainly appropriate, and Microsoft is listening.  Their software has a fraction of the exploits that it used to.  Oh, and it has less than the *nix based OSs (including Mac).  But we wouldn’t want to actually mention that, would we?

Microsoft Bashing - CES Edition

There has been much ado about Bill Gates’s keynote at CES last week.

Many Microsoft bashers are pointing out that some of Vista’s new interface features look very similar to features already available in Macintosh.  Let me break it to all of you – that’s how the free-market works!

Someone gets an idea and starts to make money off of it, someone else notices that it is a good idea and attempts to make money off of it to.  Such “theft” is what drives competition.  It drives innovation.  It makes the world go ‘round.

Instead of dogging Microsoft for taking a good idea and providing the advancement to their customers, praise Microsoft for making their customers’ lives that much better.

Friday, January 06, 2006

An Answer for Tyler

The Viktoria Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, is working on a concept they call PUSH MUSIC, which is software that automatically shares music files with nearby users who have similar tastes. It monitors the listening history of the user, and develops awareness about what kind of new music he might like. The concept envisions Wi-Fi-enabled music players that automatically establish a peer-to-peer connection, enabling people to either "browse" the music collections of others and take a copy of whatever they like, or -- here's the magic part -- just automatically receive music the software has selected for you.

Here is the link, and comments are open for those who know more about this.  Here are the comments from www.digg.com.  Can you be liable if some other listener "pushes" stolen property onto your computer?  Will the risk of passing malicious code make this unworkable?

It depends is the answer to both of these questions.  If the nearby listener is merely broadcasting the music – i.e. the bits of the song are on your computer for no longer than it takes to generate the sound – I wouldn’t regard that as any different than internet radio or similar offering.  If the song gets copied to your computer and you retain possession of it after the song is over, I would view that as a copyright infringement.

The second question has a very similar answer.  If the music is just streamed, there is no inherent risk in the data, if it becomes a file that can be launched on your system then the risk is very large.  

Increased Traffic

I’m getting three or four times as many hits as I used to (not that I am complaining) but I can’t find evidence that anything new has linked here. Any theories?

Update: Somewhere in AOL land there is a quote from my blog about Favre.

You Don't Need Your Own Lawyer - You Need Ours

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in U.S. v. Gonzalez-Lopez (05-352). The Court agreed to review the Eighth Circuit's holding that a criminal defendant is entitled to an automatic reversal of his conviction and a new trial if the district court denies him representation by his chosen lawyer.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant's right to "have the assistance of Counsel for his defense" during a criminal prosecution. The Eight Circuit held that the district court's refusal to allow the defendant representation by the lawyer he had chosen and hired violated the Sixth Amendment. This denial, the court decided, "clearly belongs in the class of fundamental constitutional errors which reflect a defect in the framework of the trial mechanism," and thus the defendant was not required to show that the district court's error had deprived him of a fair trial.

In petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case, the United States argued that the Sixth Amendment's purpose is "to guarantee an effective advocate for each criminal defendant" rather than to guarantee representation by a defendant's counsel of choice. Unless the defendant can show that his inability to choose his counsel undermined the fairness of his trial, the government argued, there has been no Sixth Amendment violation.
What point is there to having a lawyer if that lawyer must be one that the government approves of?  Isn’t that rather contrary to the main point – which is protecting citizens from an overreaching government?

I have lost all patience for the “convict at all costs” mentality that counts for criminal justice these days.  Why is the presumption that what government does is right?  I thought that our country was based on the principle that an individual’s rights and freedoms trumped a government’s desires.

Google Is Making Me Lazy

Google is really making me lazy.  I wanted to write a short dig on Arnold and his attempt to buy an election with public funds, so instead of searching through news headlines attempting to find a story, I just Googled it.

Of course, I had absolutely no idea how to spell the man’s last name so I just entered – schwartzenager – and hit Enter.  Not only did Google recognize my mistake – “Did you mean: Schwarzenegger?” – it provided a friendly link to the search so I wouldn’t be given an opportunity to butcher the spelling yet again.  Perhaps it saves Google CPU cycles by preventing stupid people from repeatedly searching for an incorrectly spelled search.

The truly sad thing is that schwartzenager returned over 500 hits.  I’m not sure which is worse – the fact that I let Google do my thinking for me or that 500 other people didn’t even care if they got it right in the first place.

$222 Billion Dollar Campaign Chest

Arnold Schwarzenegger stunned Democrats and Republicans alike this week with proposals for a grandiose $222bn design to rebuild California's infrastructure.

Striving to restore his battered reputation, the Republican governor devoted his annual address to the legislature to his dream of giant public works projects, reminiscent of those in the mid-1900s that drew investment and migrants to the state in unprecedented volumes.  

Ah, it must be election season - shaking hands, kissing babies and building bridges.  It’s a game as old as Caesar Augustus – rob them blind, but as long as you build them magnificent buildings they will thank you for it.

The fact that we let politicians blatantly bribe us with our own money is humiliating – how can a challenger honestly run a campaign against such tactics.  Joe Democrat isn’t likely to build a library in your hometown to buy your vote is he?

Elect me – Arnold once said – and I’ll clean up government, rid it of corruption and reduce the size of government.  I guess he has given up on that idea and has decided that now that he is in power he’ll use it to make sure that he continues to have power.  Because that’s the point isn’t?  He can’t do the people’s work if he can’t get re-elected.

Althouse's View on the Voucher Decision

I think it makes a lot of sense for the question of the voucher programs to take place at this level. It really is a dispute about how education should be structured and public money spent. You may think the state court went to far, reading too much meaning into that state constitutional clause in pursuit of its own policy preferences, but it's not all that hard to change a state constitution -- unlike the federal Constitution. If the people of the state really want the program, they can get it. And if they don't like they approach to state constitutional law their state judges take, there are democratic solutions to that too.

Althouse has the only level headed response to the despicable Florida ruling that I have read in the blogosphere.  If Florida wants vouchers, its up to them to get them.  I still think that the judges in Florida are result oriented shmucks, but that is neither here nor there.

This is why Federalism is such a great system, if the people that want vouchers can’t get them in Florida they are free to move to a state that has them (as long as they don’t mind moving to a bad neighborhood in Cleveland anyway) .  If this had been the Supreme Court we would have all been screwed.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Suing Government to Be Responsible

I wonder what the result would be if, say, a group of now-disenfranchized Cylert users filed a class-action against PC [Public Choice] and did their best to ride the pain-and-suffering aspect throught the roof. It ought to be a reasonably funny comedy, anyway.

Taken from the comments on Asymmetrical Information about FDAs decision to pull Cylert from the market.

Suing Public Choice for petitioning the FDA to follow its legal duty is a path to futility.  However people have been suing government for failing to fulfill its duties for some time and winning.  Take for instance the suit in New York claiming that the state isn’t fulfilling its duty to educate children.

Perhaps there is a due process claim, the state is imposing hardships on its citizens without due process of law.  There certainly are a number of ways that litigants have twisted law in order to make tobacco companies pay billions because people voluntarily made really bad decisions, there must be a way to force the FDA to sit on its laurels.

Even suggesting such a tactic feels very dirty though, I want the FDA to revise its policy to prevent it from removing drugs from the market and stop the bottleneck that delays (or even prevents) new drugs from entering the market.  Using liberal tactics of bending the law to suit your purposes is counterproductive for almost every other libertarian goal, the ends can never justify the means.  We need a government that facilitates medical advances, not impedes it – clogging the courts with lawsuits isn’t going to help.

Who Decides What is Constitutional?

I don't want the Times deciding, in wartime, just what information I "deserve to have", thank you very much - they are not elected,they are not accountable, and frankly, I do not trust their politics. But rather than abandon my fellow citizens to the mercies or depredations of the Bush Administration, let me offer a constructive suggestion - since we have a representative democracy, complete with institutional checks and balances and two parties, how about if the purveyors of classifed info, when troubled by their consciences, take their troubles to a Congressional oversight committee rather than the NY Times?

In the Us Vs. Them partisan politics of DC that just isn’t going to work.  They go to Congress – which is controlled by Republicans, remember? – and tell them that they think Bush is doing something wrong.  Who honestly thinks that those Republicans are going to blow the whistle, especially at the beginning of a campaign season?  

If you want a real solution that bypasses the good judgment of Main Stream Media, allow government employees to bring the cases directly to court.  Judges, at least, are nominally unbiased and are the ultimate arbitrators of whether government action is legal or illegal.  Concerns about secrecy and national security can be handled by doing the review in closed sessions.

The wrong answer is to leave the answer up to partisan politics because the answer will always be – “The guy from my party didn’t do anything wrong, but the gal from that other party is a lying creep!”

HatTip: Instapundit