Saturday, December 08, 2007

Too Far, Way Too Far

An Ohio lawmaker is proposing his state help its citizens track the locations of registered sex offenders by using RFID technology.
Supporters of [the technology] say that the device provides an easy method for concerned individuals to know when one is nearby. According to one of the investors in the project, "it gives you an opportunity to gather your family, get in the car and lock the doors."
Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper to strap a big flashing blue light to their heads that yells "I am a molester"?

I've never found slippery slope arguments very compelling, but we are already starting to slide down that slope. California is proposing tracking arsonists in the same manner as they do "sex offenders."

If we are going to punish criminal for life, then keep them incarcerated for life. Let everyone see this as a police state if we are going to act like a police state.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Someone Please Help Me

My advisor during my career at DePaul is, by definition, my instructor for Foundations for Learning (a class to determine what classes I'm going to take).

If I decide to take Foundations in the Winter this is going to be my advisor.

I am seriously thinking that I made a poor choice in selecting a school.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Official

I had my admittance interview yesterday. I drove onto the Naperville campus not quite sure what to expect. We had to submit a bunch of writing exercises, some of them were self-evaluation (see my Learning Autobiography) and one was an in-class persuasive essay.

Would they criticize the writing and provide direct feedback? Would they dig into the sacrifices I was willing to make to ensure successful completion of school this time around?

I was more than a little worried about my in-class essay. The topic was "Should the US Implement a National Health Plan?" Or something very close to that. If you have ever read my blog before you know that I strongly oppose national healthcare. Very strongly.

Would this obviously liberal organization hold my, apparently, conservative viewpoints against me?

The whole process went something like this:
2 minutes going over my transfer courses. A good chunk of my previous coursework was pre-approved, though there are a couple that I will have to request exceptions for.
3 minutes asking asking if I had any questions (I had none).
2 minutes stating that I had strong writing skills, but recommended that I take college writing anyway.
3 more minutes asking if I had any questions (nope, still no questions)

I have now been officially accepted into DePaul's School for New Learning.
Yay Me!

I'm not sure why I had to go through that in person, but whatever. I am still viewing this entire exercise as something akin to a fraternity initiation anyway. It doesn't provide anything of value, but it proves you want something bad enough to endure any amount of pain and humiliation.

The good news is that about half of my competency requirements are complete. There are a couple of requirements that I should be able to take proficiency exams to meet. At the end of the day I think that I can probably complete everything in about a year and half or possibly two.

My journey begins finally begins in January. I sign up for my first (almost real) class next week.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Last Class Before My First Day of Class

It is kinda odd, I decided to go back to school and signed up for the required Learning Assessment Seminar. This was, I thought, the official beginning of my return to college. Unfortuntaley, no. I learned at this seminar (that I had to pay $350 to attend) that I hadn't even been accepted to DePaul yet.


I'm not even entirely sure what the point of this exercise was. Well, it was required and it cost me money, so that is part of the point I guess. There was also an amazing amount of writing required, one portion of which I shared on this site. I feel bad for some of my classmates that struggled with the exercises. There was very little direction given and no examples of what good writing actually is.

Perhaps that was the point.

The only thing that I learned during this exercise was that I have to take a 6 credit, mandatory class, to decide what classes I'm going to be required to take to finish my degree.

6 Credit Hours! I had no illusions that college was going to be cheap but $2400 for a class that has zero practical purpose beyond filling in a box in the requirements list! If I wasn't already convinced that college is little more than signaling I would be really upset.

Someone in the class suggested that we share email addresses and I volunteered to take the collection. I sent the list out to everyone, but didn't even get a thank you back. Its too bad, it will be interesting to see how everyone else fares over the next couple of years, I hope I can keep track of at least some of these people.

The journey is going to be much more interesting than most of the classes I'm going to be required to take.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The First Day of Class

At least I thought it was. It turns out that I haven't even been accepted yet.

Returning students have to attend a three week course called a "Learning Assessment Seminar." I Think the purpose is to dump a bunch of writing assignments on the potential students to make sure that they really want to go back to school (and for the school to make sure that the students can handle college level writing I suppose).

It's made me think twice about whether or not DePaul was the right choice for me though. The program is a liberal arts degree. Sure they let you focus on a particular area, but it's only a handful of courses. Most of the requirements are liberal arts, with a particularly heavy emphasis on liberal. Check out some of these:

Power and Justice:
Can analyze power relations among racial, social, cultural, or economic groups in the US.

Can analyze issues and problems from a global perspective.

Interconnections in the Natural World:
Can describe and explain connections among diverse aspects of nature.
Eek! What did I get myself into? I'm half tempted to take some particularly liberal leaning class and see how much they respect diversity of thought by interjecting my libertarian philosophy. Then again, completing the degree is the important part, so I probably won't try to rock the boat.

So far I've learned three things. First, the library doesn't have any books - just librarians. Second, they don't give credit for life experience - they make you write a paper about your life experience and they give credit for that. And finally, they don't teach professional writing, they teach academic writing.

I'm certainly glad that they are preparing students for the real world!


Sunday, November 04, 2007

My Learning Autobiography

My success has been driven, in a large part, by my passion to learn. Beginning as a child I was obsessed with learning how things worked. Before I even started school I would take my toys apart to figure out how they worked. Some of these experiments ended in success, others ended with parts that simply wouldn’t go back together, much to the chagrin of my parents.

Formal education itself was very enjoyable. I enjoyed nearly every subject and enjoyed the recognition that success brought me even more. School itself was very easy; I was able to achieve high grades with very little effort. However, the drive to be the best is what kept me interested. This drive to succeed followed me into high school as well. I joined a number of extracurricular activities like chorus, band, theater and speech team. This provided me with additional opportunities to learn and excel; it also provided the sort of challenge that the regular curriculum was not providing.

Unfortunately, this addiction to success also had a downside, if I didn’t have the skills to be the best I simply lost interest. My initial forays into sports and athletics didn’t hold my interest. Although I was able to make the teams I had no chance to be recognized as the best, so I just quit. The only thing that kept my interest in less interesting subjects – at least to me – like English and Spanish, was the desire to keep my grade point average as high as possible.

College started the next chapter of my learning experience. I had chosen my major based on the expectations of those around me; I was smart and particularly skilled at math and science. Such people went into engineering, so that is what I did. I also chose my school on those same expectations. University of Illinois was one of the best engineering schools within my reach, so that is where I would go.

It started off as very similar to the rest of my school career, I succeeded without much effort. But as the curriculum moved from the basics that were geared toward the general student population and towards more specialization, I started to struggle. I could no longer succeed by just showing up and didn’t have the discipline or drive to put in the extra effort required to be the best.

I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong and initially blamed it on my choice of majors. I switched majors to computer science from engineering but that didn’t seem to make much difference. Looking back it’s clear that I was having a crisis of identity. I was no longer the one that everyone looked to and I didn’t know how to turn to others for help – people came to me for help!

I couldn’t force myself to go to class anymore and constantly found ways to procrastinate. Eventually, I failed out. After taking a semester off I was determined to return and finish what I started, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I successfully completed my probation semester, but I no longer knew what I was going to do with my life and withdrew from college.

It’s possible that a different choice of institutions would have led to a very different outcome. If I had known how much my drive for excellence affected my overall performance I may have made a different choice. It would have also been beneficial to determine what my career aspirations really were instead of relying on the expectations of others.

But it was not to be; I was working my way through college so had some reasonable options to put food on the table. I was well liked and respected by my management, so they were anxious to promote me to a management position. This began my chapter in life as a restaurant manager. I spent the next three years working to successfully advance my career in restaurant management. I wouldn’t necessarily call them happy years, but I was content. I was learning about what it took to make a restaurant successful, and what it meant to manage people. But most importantly of all, I was being recognized for my efforts eventually becoming assistant manager then restaurant manager.

Shortly after taking over my own store I came to the sudden realization that there was no next step. There was nothing left to strive for and simply being good wasn’t good enough. So I tendered my resignation and moved to Chicago.

My stint as a restaurant manager may not have been overly satisfying intellectually, but it wasn’t devoid of learning. I spent much of my free time with my lifelong hobby – computers. I was introduced to computers during the fourth grade, ever since that introduction I was enamored. I played games, did homework, took computers apart, put computers back together and learned everything about computers that I could. I was very active during the early stages of the internet and would spend hours web surfing; I’d follow link after link enamored with all of the interesting things there were to learn.

This would end up serving me well; after moving to Chicago I served as a temporary secretary. Whenever there was a computer related problem or question I would jump in and do what I could. My associate was convinced that my knowledge was more than enough to work on computers for a living. She convinced me to apply for a desktop technician job; so I took the chance and obtained a computer job as soon as my temporary position was over.

It was amazing, I had found my calling. It was astonishing that you could have so much fun at work. People were actually paying me to do something that I had been doing for free for years. I was constantly learning something new and was being recognized for my skill. The limits of my education were only set by my desire to learn; from basic computer skills to networking to programming I wanted to learn it all. As the computer industry grew, I did as well. I gained the status of technical promotions and filled my yearning to figure out how things worked with no practical limit in sight.

For someone that loves to learn and someone that loves to figure out how things work information technology was too good to be true. Every day brings a new puzzle that must be deciphered and every year brings a slew of technology that must be discovered.

My career continued to advance successfully for a number of years and I was more than content. Then something changed, although I wasn’t able to realize its impact at the time. The advent of blogging was about to become a major contributor to both my professional career and my career as a learner.

It started off as a convenient way to read content from the web sites I would have visited anyway. Then I discovered a community of like-minded bloggers and academics. My political philosophy has always been a little different from most others, but this community shared my worldview and they had a lot of great content, research and theory to justify their positions. I started to devour this new world of economics and politics with the same lust that I originally computers.

I really wanted to participate in this community, so I launched a blog of my own. While it was not successful by the way these things are measured, it was very satisfying to participate in the blogging community. I applied my newfound knowledge of economics and incentives to improve my ability to make decisions. I also honed my writing skills, all of which had a positive impact on my career. My arguments were more persuasive, my ideas were better developed and I was much more effective when communicating with others. What started out as a pleasurable diversion had turned into a promotion to manager and recognition as a leader within the organization.

Which brings us to the present; I still enjoy learning how things work but taking toys apart isn’t as satisfying as it was when I was four. The things that I want to understand are much more complex now. What makes a business tick? How do you make a business better? When a business is broken what can be done to fix it? I certainly have thoughts on this subject, but in order to put them to the test I need to continue advancing in my career.

My career advancement to this point has been very natural, taking what I do well and love I have been able to achieve the each successive level of achievement. In order to continue advancing I will need to go back and finish what I originally started, completing college.

Not having a degree may not be a hard requirement, but I do not want something that I can control to prevent further success. Unlike discovering computers – where everyone else was essentially learning along side with me – there is a vast amount of knowledge about businesses and organizations. Completing my degree at this time is an opportunity to catch up with everyone else and an opportunity to continue the journey of learning that I began as a small child.

The Pats are freaking amazing

In response to a post over at Atlas Blogged:

All of the whining about running up the score is nonsense. Its a game, the point of a game is to win, it's not to make sure that the other team isn't embarrassed. When you have possession you try to put the ball in the end zone, that's what you are supposed to do. What does everyone want the Pats to do? Punt as soon as they get the ball so the other team has a chance? That's just ludicrous.

What the Pats have done so far this year is nothing if not spectacular. They have completely dominated every team they have faced (except Indy). This team is the best team to ever play football - no questions asked. The only remaining question is by what margin.


DePaul uses a competence based system for determining graduate requirements. I'm not sure that I can explain it over a blog post, but I found this a bit interesting:
Medieval master craftsmen taught not only technical skill, but also problem solving, standards of quality, and good citizenship. We can regard today's college education as a means of achieving competence in the work world, in the community, and in general -- that is, a knowledge of the arts and sciences.
This is, in part, what I view as the arrogance of academia. In my experience, college grads spend the first year of life in the "real world" unlearning what college taught them, or having it beat out of them by their coworkers and supervisors.

I honestly don't think that most academics have a clue about how the rest of the world really operates. If it wasn't for that piece of paper I don't think I could tolerate this.

Hello, My Name is Inigo Montoya

Since I have re-purposed this blog, it may be helpful to get a bit of background on me. It may provide some important context as to what will be going on.

I'm an IT Manager at a larger retailer based in Chicago and have decided it's time to go back to school and finish my degree. I quit school the first time for a variety of reasons. The burdens of paying my way through college with a full time job and not really having any clue what it was that I wanted to do were probably the most important.

If I had known then what I know now - that knowing what you wanted to do wasn't important - I probably would have stuck it out. I was under the mistaken assumption that the degree actually mattered, in reality it's only completing the degree that matters.

Either way, I haven't really regretted making that choice - I have had a pretty successful, so at worst it has only been a minor setback. I've reached the point in my career, though, where the lack of a piece of paper may end up closing some doors. So I decided to finish.

I settled on DePaul for three main reasons. First, it's close and they offer both online and onsite classes. I probably won't go for the online courses, but I like having the option. Second, the program is geared specifically for adult students. It's an accelerated program and they offer credit for life-experience (more on that in another post). And finally, DePaul has a much better reputation than many of the other alternatives in the area.

So my hectic life is about to get much more hectic. I'm a new manager that is taking ownership of a somewhat dysfunctional team. I have two lovely girls at home (6 and 9, there picture is above) and I'm a chronic procrastinator. (Probably part of the reason I'm blogging again, gives me something to do besides homework.) And somehow, amidst all of this I need to finish a degree, thankfully I should be more than half done.

It should be interesting, at the very least.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'm Back

Yes, it's true, after a long hiatus I have to returned to blogging.

So why did I leave in the first place?

Several reasons, the first of which I felt that I was just echoing what a lot of better bloggers were already saying. I just didn't have that much to add. Second, my blog reading had decreased considerably and I couldn't keep up with the topic du jour. Instead of struggling to keep up, I just stopped writing.

So what has changed?

Well, I'm not likely to blog on current affairs much anymore. I reserve the right to do so, but that won't be my main motivation. I'm going back to school to finish my BA and have decided to use my blog as a psuedo journal.

I'll start attending DePaul University in January and after reading the required "competencies" and attending a preliminary seminar on going back to school I just needed some outlet to express my - amusement? - at the process. I also wanted to record my progress - does attending school again change my outlook on life? The professor that ran the seminar assured me that it would - but I'm rather skeptical. Hopefully some of my former readers are still around (say hi in the comments) so there will be at least a handful of sympathetic ears to my plight as a (l)ibertarian in a very liberal institution - I think I may need the support.

Which brings us to one additional change. I'll no longer be blogging anonymously, I'm not sure why I started, but it's ending now.

I hope you follow the journey with me, it should be interesting.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Even Record Execs Hate DRM

If you weren't convinced before, how about now?

Mr Mulligan said he was "surprised" at the strength of the responses which came from large and small record labels, rights bodies, digital stores and technology providers.
The study revealed that about 54% of those executives questioned thought that current DRM systems were too restrictive.

Also, 62% believed that dropping DRM and releasing music files that can be enjoyed on any MP3 player would boost the take-up of digital music generally. However, Mr Mulligan pointed out that this percentage changed depending on which sector of the industry was answering.

Among all record labels 48% of all executives thought ending DRM would boost download sales - though this was 58% at the larger labels. Outside the record labels 73% of those questioned thought dropping DRM would be a boost for the whole market.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Why DRM-less Music Will Be Cheaper

The Economist is skeptical that in a world without DRM, the price per song will decrease.
This prompts Wired's blog to speculate that music prices could fall if DRM were abolished, as consumers would no longer have to subsidise expensive DRM systems that will only grow more complicated over time. That strikes me as extremely unlikely. Even if Apple employs a huge, lavishly funded DRM programming group, how much could it be costing? A few tens of millions? According to CNet, in the first nine months of 2006, iTunes sold 695 million songs at $0.99 a pop. The DRM problem cannot be enough to knock more than a few cents a song off the price . . . unnoticeable even to heavy iPod users like me.
The cost of DRM free music will drop, not because the marginal costs have declined, but because it removes a barrier to entry.

New entrants to the market will have a difficult time maintaining DRM systems and convincing the Big Four that there music is piracy free. Once they no longer have to maintain DRM, the Big Four don't have many reasons to prevent every Dick, Jane and Harry from selling music online.

Since the marginal cost of an MP3 is very close to zero the expansion of competition can really only drive the costs down.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I Hear The Fat Lady Singing

When the largest supplier of DRM says that it needs to go away the end is truly near.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs has made a surprise call for the end of digital rights management technology, which is designed to stop copyrighted music from being shared illicitly. Jobs says Apple would sell only DRM-free music on iTunes if it could.
I've talked about DRM and its demise here, here, here and here.

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The Good News Is That You Can Still Get Movie Popcorn At Home

I predicted that all of the major movie studios would sign up for downloadable movies and that it would take long.

Turns out that it took less than 5 months from the moment of my prediction.
This morning, [name withheld] is rolling out what it calls a "beta" of its pay-per-download video service
it features new and recent releases from every major Hollywood studio, including Sony (Columbia, Screen Gems, MGM), Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal, and Lionsgate.

Now why on earth would I withhold the name? So that I can say "I told you so" yet again.
But several weeks ago, in the midst of rumors that Apple was close to announcing a deal with Disney, Wal-Mart's David Porter - the executive responsible for stocking the retailer's shelves with DVDs and CDs and whose influence is so immense in Tinseltown that he's been named to Premiere magazine's annual power list - made the rounds of Hollywood studios.
Not only did Disney not worry too much about cutting a deal with Apple, Wal-Mart is jumping into the game with both feet forward.

The movie industry has been a lot smarter and much quicker to embrace the digital age than the music industry. [side note: what I can't figure out is that many of these companies are the same. Do the different divisions just not talk to each other?]

So with Wal-Mart bringing movie downloads into the mainstream I expect a couple things to happen. First, prices will start dropping, though I'm not sure by how much. Second, one of my first predictions in this area will start coming true: near simultaneous theatrical release and home video release.

It won't be quite there this year, but the time will start shrining. When the media finally reports on it, expect another "I told you so" post from me.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Democrats Soak The Poor

Democrats want to collect money from those evil tax dodgers.
House and Senate Democrats say the government could collect as much as $100 billion more a year by whittling the tax gap — the unpaid taxes, mostly on unreported earnings, that the I.R.S. estimated was about $300 billion a year.
Kip rightly points out that most of these unreported earnings take place near the bottom of the earnings scale, but he forgot the biggest culprit - waitresses and waiters.

In my experience, tipped employees report less than half of their actually earnings. The people that earn tips, but aren't 'expected' to earn tips (maitre'd, valets, dancers, etc) probably don't report anything at all.

Its unfortunate that when Democrats say they care about the little guy more people don't realize that the caring stops at the voting booth.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Linux To Self-Destruct

I've always had the feeling that Linux was going to implode upon itself but was never quite sure what the mechanism was going to be. I think I've figured it out.
The Free Software Foundation is reviewing Novell Inc.'s right to sell new versions of Linux operating system software after the open-source community criticized Novell for teaming up with Microsoft Corp.

"The community of people wants to do anything they can to interfere with this deal and all deals like it. They have every reason to be deeply concerned that this is the beginning of a significant patent aggression by Microsoft," Eben Moglen, the Foundation's general counsel, said on Friday.

The foundation controls intellectual property rights to key parts of the open-source Linux operating system.
Making decisions based on the purity of the players sounds like a sure fire way to limit growth of a product. Having self-righteous technocrats in charge is equivalent to a death sentence for any project.

Its A Good Day

According to Cato@Liberty, Utah has passed a universal school voucher program.

the Utah House of Representatives passed the nation’s first universal school voucher bill (HB 148) in a nail-biting 38-37 vote. From what I hear coming out of Utah, it’s going to pass the Senate next week as well, and be signed by the governor.
There are three things that keep me awake at night about current policies in the US: healthcare, energy policy and education. These sectors are the last vestiges of command economies left in the country, they are also the sectors of the economy that most people complain about because they are either overly expensive, low on quality or some combination of both. Fixing the problem seems so abundantly obvious to me (let them compete) I just can't understand why the vast majority of the polity doesn't come to the same conclusion.

Its great news that one state is taking the plunge into competition in education. Yes there are some short comings. One of those shortcomings ($3000/student, half what public schools get) may actually be a blessing in disguise.

Public schools are so over funded this will be an excellent opportunity to show how efficient the market is at supplying superior quality at a lower cost. If the prices were at parity private actors would take the money even if they could do it more efficiently.

I'm very optimistic that the program is going to be a resounding success and that it will spread to many parts of the nation. Too bad we are going to have to wait for a decade or more to get there.

Side note: Telecommunications used to bother me, but the internet and wireless is managing to beat down that command economy quite well. The land line monopoly is very nearly at its end.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Now That DRM Is Dead...

Commenter Eli Dourado asks this in response to my last post on DRM.
If the fixed cost of producing a record is tending toward zero (as it is), and the marginal cost of reproducing the record is very near zero, what happens to the price of music? It seems like eventually it will have to go way way down. It may be the case that musicians will give away the digital recordings to make money on tour. Labels provide a valuable service in promoting artists (and a less valuable service in screening them), but it's hard to see how they will be able to survive in their current incarnation.
I think that the price of music won't change all that much, at least at the top end. Assuming that copyright law doesn't change the artist ultimately owns his/her own destiny.

Artists won't have to compete on price because they are essentially monopolists - distribution companies (ultimately the iTunes, Napster, Launch and similar service) will have to compete on breadth of artists and features.

I think that ultimately the Labels will play a limited role in production if at all - their role will be replaced by small firms that will assist artists with production, PR and advocate services, negotiating compensation rates with the online service providers.

The days of controlling the music industry is coming to end - and not a moment too soon.

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Inequality Doesn't Matter

Brad DeLong doesn't think inequality matters.
Nor should we worry a great deal that some people are richer than others. Some people work harder, apply their intelligence more skillfully or simply have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. But I don't see how alternative political-economic arrangements could make individuals' relative wealth closely correspond to their relative moral or other merit.
Unless it can be used for political gain.
the increase in inequality that we have seen in the past generation is predominantly a result of failures of social investment and changes in regulations and expectations. It has not been accompanied by any acceleration in the overall rate of economic growth. For the most part, it looks like these changes in economy and society have not resulted in more wealth, but only in an upward redistribution of wealth -- a successful right-wing class war.
In a world where the poor make less than $1 a day inequality is just bad luck. In the US where most poor own their home, have a car, a refrigerator and cable TV its a problem that must be fixed because it just isn't fair.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Odd Bedfellows

I don't know much about the details of the case, but the results of the vote in Cunningham v. California seem more than a little odd.
Her opinion was supported by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and by Justices Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens and Clarence Thomas There were two dissenting opinions -- one by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, supported by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, and one by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., joined by Kennedy and Breyer.
Scalia and Thomas agreeing with Ginsburg and Stevens with Breyer and Alito dissenting? How often does that happen - split decisions that split the liberal and conservative Justices?

Is This Ad Hominem?

Someone states a position on an a topic. The reply is this:

I find it inconsistent that you think X but find that Y is ok.
Is that an ad hominem argument?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Death of DRM Imminent

I've said previously that media companies that ditch DRM will find a goldmine at the end of the rainbow.

It is beginning to look like the Big Four may be starting to agree with me.

Most of the big players are experimenting with DRM-less distribution and the content providers: Amazon, Yahoo, and others are all providing MP3s for download.

Heck, EMI is even partnering with a company in China (the home of IP piracy of all stripes) to provide advertising supported downloads.

This is going to put Apple (and to a lesser extent Microsoft) in the lurch as they have spent huge amounts of capital propping up systems and devices that rely on DRM to lock consumers in.

I'll see this as damning evidence against the power of monopolies, though I doubt haters of capitalism will see it in quite the same way.

More thoughts on the NYT piece here.
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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Another Silly Question

The right gets chastised for not evaluating Iraqi and American lives one-for-one.

The way you can tell that, fundamentally, the right's Iraq hawk pundits are deeply unserious people is that you'll see things like Reuel Marc Gerecht making this argument: "I can understand--though not appreciate--Americans who don't want to see Americans dying in Iraq because they value American lives more highly than they do Iraqi ones. This sentiment, more common on the right than on the left, inevitably leads to a bigoted isolationism that allows nefarious forces to run amok." The view that American lives are more valuable than Iraqi lives is obviously false. The view that the American government should value American lives more highly than it values Iraqi lives is, I think, quite different, fairly intuitive, and certainly not something that advocates of neoconservative foreign policy deny in anything resembling a consistent manner.

Isn't that the exact same argument that the left uses on trade - American jobs are more valuable than foreign jobs?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hello Castro Part II

Does anyone really believe that this is only going to last for 1.5 years?
The National Assembly has given initial approval to a measure that would let President Hugo Chavez enact laws by decree for 1 1/2 years, a key step in what the leftist leader calls an accelerating march toward socialism.
I feel great sympathy towards the citizens of Venezuela - they just lost their freedom today.

More thoughts at: Coyote Blog

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sweet Justice

It would be sweet, sweet justice if Castro died prematurely because of the ineptitude of his own socialized medical system.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro has long prided himself on Cuba’s doctors and free public health care system, but that system seems to have let him down after he fell ill in July , U.S.-based doctors said on Tuesday.

Based on a report in Tuesday’s edition of Spain’s El Pais newspaper, the doctors – who have no first-hand knowledge of Castro’s condition – said Castro had received questionable or even botched care at the hands of health experts on his communist-ruled island.
But come on - how is the libertarian and conservative blogosphere even reporting this? Doctors that have no first-hand knowledge of Castro's condition? Its pure conjecture and I'm embarrassed to even be wasting the time on this.

Those that are quoting this as some sort of "proof" that socialized medicine doesn't work should be ashamed of themselves.

Can't Beat 'Em So Just Beat 'Em Down

The Weather Channel’s most prominent climatologist is advocating that broadcast meteorologists be stripped of their scientific certification if they express skepticism about predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming.

I suppose its too much to ask to have The Weather Channel distance themselves to such a clearly anti-scientific stance isn't it?

If scientists that fall clearly on pro-global warming side of the debate can't distance themselves from people that want to bypass scientific process then expect the politicalization of the debate to continue.

Profit Isn't the Problem

Canadian researches think they have found a non-toxic, very effective drug for cancer treatments.
A small, non-toxic molecule may soon be available as an inexpensive treatment for many forms of cancer, including lung, breast and brain tumours, say University of Alberta researchers.

But there's a catch: the drug isn't patented, and pharmaceutical companies may not be interested in funding further research if the treatment won't make them a profit.

You can almost hear the sneer associated with that dirty profit word can't you?

But profit isn't the problem here - the problem is the prohibitively expensive approval process that pharmaceuticals have to go through to get drugs to market.

If a drug company could get a drug to market without spending a billion dollars in research they would be falling over themselves to bring a non-toxic cancer drug to market.

So before you complain about those greedy drug companies remember that they can only make money by helping people - its the government that is preventing them from doing so.

Why Liberals Should Support Federalism

You can't always control the reigns of government - by crippling federalism and the commerce clause liberals have hamstrung their own efforts in the states.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today affirmed a district court decision to invalidate Maryland’s mandated health benefits law.

“Today’s Appeals Court decision makes clear that employer health plans are governed by federal law, not a patchwork of state and local laws,” said RILA President Sandy Kennedy. “The Court’s decision sends a strong message that similar bills under consideration in other states and municipalities also violate federal law,”

“Congress enacted ERISA, in part, to create uniformity in national health benefit plans,” said Stephen Cannon, outside General Counsel to RILA. “Differing state and local health benefit mandates would only increase health care costs and serve as a strong disincentive for employers to offer health coverage.
This is one of those bizarre cases where I agree with the outcome but despise the reasoning and methods. The anti Wal-Mart bill proposed by Maryland was ill conceived, but Congress should not be able to interfere with state rule making.

Maybe there is an equal protection clause argument, but the courts clearly didn't rule on those grounds and I'm not sure that such protections can (or even should) extend to corporations.

Either way, by fighting to eviscerated the Commerce Clause and give Congress nearly unfettered power liberals have shot themselves in the foot when trying to pursue progressive agendas at the state level.

I will continue to disagree with that progressive agenda, but it should be opposed by good arguments not federal fiat.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Just One Question

Dennis Kucinich wants to re-implement the "Fairness Doctrine."

We know the media has become the servant of a very narrow corporate agenda. We are now in a position to move a progressive agenda to where it is visible.

If the media only serves corporate interest how does minimum wage increases get passed with minimal opposition? How is SOX still good law? And how come I have never once seen a 60 Minutes on the evils of Capital Gains or Corporate Taxation?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NetFlix and Net Neutrality

This is why net neutrality is a bad idea:

Netflix offers subscribers the option of instantly watching movies on their PCs; New feature will be included in subscribers' monthly membership at no extra charge and will have a phased roll-out over next six months.
If (and I argue, when) the internet becomes so congested with video-on-demand services that none of it works any more the business model will die.

Consumers (and application owners) will consume as much bandwidth as they have available - at some point the median consumer will refuse to pay more for broadband services and top end consumers will suffer for it.

The only way to avoid this outcome is to allow companies like NetFlix to pay companies like Verizon for priority access - the alternative is that NetFlix will not be able to provide online movies and iTV will be merely a dream.

Then, when service providers don't fix this "problem" those that think government is the answer for everything will use this "failure" to justify government control of the tubes that the internet runs on.

I think that lovers of liberty everywhere can agree that is the last thing that we really need.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beginning Of The End?

Once upon a time, I predicted that the record label industry may become obsolete:
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.
We are approaching this reality very quickly:

Essex rock band Koopa could become the first unsigned group to land a UK top 40 hit thanks to new chart rules.

Their download-only single Blag, Steal & Borrow is on course to enter Sunday's top 40, early sales figures suggest.
If (well, when really) someone finally breaks the Top 40 (and then the Top 10) without the overhead of dealing with a record label little lightbulbs will go off over every artists head. You can make a lot more money when someone else isn't skimming off your profits.

That isn't to say that labels won't have a place - but I think that they will become more like management companies instead of leaches. I think that lovers of music and artists both would be much happier with that arrangement than the current system of labels getting decide what gets produced and what gets played and who becomes famous.

Hopefully, it will also end up with a bit better music at the end of the day as well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Problem With the Problem With Insurance

Predictably Cato Unbound has another great lead essay this month - Arnold Kling's Insulation vs. Insurance which talks about the state of the health industry and why the current model of all-encompassing health care is unsustainable.

Also predictably, I have to throw my two cents in.

The problem with such dire predictions is that they are nearly always wrong because they assume that trends are stagnate. If you separate the problem into separate components - Government Insulation and Private Insulation it should be clear that one is certainly unsustainable and one is self-correcting.

Governments cannot continue to pay pensions and health insurance indefinitely - I don't think that is controversial. California's bill for these benefits is going to approach $30 billion (from $160 million in 2000) within about a decade.

On the private provider side the case isn't quite so clear. Yes, insurance rates are rising. Yes, medical care is getting more expensive. Yes, employers are balking at picking up more of the bill. But you can already see the market starting to correct for some of these factors.

Deductibles are getting higher. Employers are passing more of the costs to employees. Employers are starting to offer high deductible plans. All of these responses to high costs are going to set the market in motion to find more attractive alternatives.

I think Kling falls into the Central Planner trap by thinking he must come up with a solution to get us from where we are to where he thinks we need to be. He should really know better - Central Planners are nearly always wrong.

The correct approach is to let the market do what it does best - adapt. Perhaps remove some regulatory barriers to innovation - up to and including rigid rules around what does and what does not constitute insurance. Relaxing FDA rules to make drug development cheaper would be nice. Perhaps lifting the AMA's monopoly on medical school accreditation.

Arnold is right that the current system of insulation doesn't work. Fortunately, the market "knows" that it doesn't work and is adjusting to the failure. The best that politicians can do is stay out of the way so that they don't prevent the correction and to pay attention for opportunities to roll back almost a century of regulations, tax breaks and market distortions.

The market will eventually make these government interventions obsolete - lets just sit back and watch with amazement at the innovation that happens by the invisible hand.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Google Jobs

An interesting article in the New York Times talks about Google's hiring practices. To assist in filtering out its 100,000 job applicants each month they have written an algorithm to pick out the best applicants.
It is starting to ask job applicants to fill out an elaborate online survey that explores their attitudes, behavior, personality and biographical details going back to high school.

The questions range from the age when applicants first got excited about computers to whether they have ever tutored or ever established a nonprofit organization.

The answers are fed into a series of formulas created by Google’s mathematicians that calculate a score — from zero to 100 — meant to predict how well a person will fit into its chaotic and competitive culture.

The first thing jumped into my mind is that this is a fantastic research possibility - I almost wish that I was an academic so that I could look at the process.

Numbers cannot discriminate so it will be very interesting to determine how women and minorities are capable of making the cut.

There are those that swear that everyone - man, woman, black, white, yellow and green - is equally capable, I have a strong suspicion that the algorithm will show something quite different.