Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Random Thought

I read the following comment to a certain article,

Well, flying is a privilege, not a right. Driving a car is a privilege, not a right. Living where you choose to is a privilege, not a right. Saying what you feel like saying… associating with whom you choose to associate… breathing… living.

I find that formula is always short for power grab.
and a thought just occurred to me:  People are often talking about how flying, driving, etc are privileges, and not rights...but where in the Constitution does it mention privileges?

I, for one, say that driving, flying, and other modes of transportation are rights, and they are affirmed--but not granted, because the Constitution doesn't grant rights, it only recognises them--by the following amendment:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Money Without Money--Or, Money as Communication

In the comments section at The Lair, Ian Argent asks a couple of good questions:
  • How do you calibrate value of a commodity without money? If we dropped every currency today and people used money denominated in X amount of Y material at Z% purity; what is the cost of a smartphone, much less the service contract? How many oz of .999 silver is an iTunes download, or an hour of my time?
  • Money is a metric. Without money, you can't measure value. How long is a stick of wood in thumb lengths when the standard thumblength is undefined?

I liked my answers so much, I thought I'd post them here. Indeed, this answer is sort-of the post I intended to get around to write, where I wanted to make this point:
Money is an illusion. It isn't, in and of itself, valuable--it's merely a means of communication we use to say "I have done something of worth, and I would now like to trade a portion of my service for a new item or service."

The surprise is this:  we don't have to use government-printed money! Value is produced when we do something of value for someone else--whether it be to bake a loaf of bread, or rake some leaves, or even sell an item--and using dollars, or gold, or silver, or bullets, as a medium of exchange, is merely a way to simplify the trade. While gold and silver have certain chemical and rarity properties that make them ideal for trade, we could use literally anything for this purpose--and, in time, we have come to the point where we use little bits of paper printed by--and largely controlled by--government entities.

And the IRS knows this. Several years ago, before I resorted to computer software to do my taxes, I remember reading an example in the Federal Income Tax Instructions, where, if you were a dentist who traded "putting braces on the mechanic's daughter" with a mechanic who "fixed the dentist's car", both were expected to pay income tax on the value of the trade they received.

So, here is my comment, in its entirety. I'm actually surprised at how long it ended up being!

The 11th and 12th Comments

If we are using commodities as money, we would calibrate value the in same way that we already do with dollars.

For example, if I had some smartphones I wanted to sell, I would ask myself, "How much gold would I accept to give up a smartphone?" Then I would say to myself, "It took this much effort to make this device, and I want enough profit to feed my children, and to go to Europe this year, and I know that if I sell X smartphones for price Y, I'd be able to do that--but I also know that my competitor will sell his smartphones at price Z, so I better lower my price a bit--but my smartphone has features A, B, and C that my competitor doesn't have..." and, taking all these factors into consideration, and a bit more, I would settle on some sort of price, in ounces of gold.

I would then repeat this with silver, because when silver isn't money, the price of silver won't be tied to the price of gold, and so I'd want to make sure that the price in silver is reasonable. In practice, this would be easy to do: I would just check out the trading rates between gold and silver for the day, and make adjustments accordingly.

Of course, I could get the price wrong--if it's too low, I'll sell out too quickly, and if I set it too high, then I won't sell very many units. But this is a risk of pricing in general, and has nothing to do with the money we use.

While it's true that money is a metric, it's not the only metric. Indeed, I could sell a TV for dollars, or pounds, or francs, or yen, or pesos--and if I wanted the same value across all of these things, I would just look at the exchange rate. I can, and people often do, set the price in tables, or in services (if you rake my leaves for a year, I'll give you a smartphone and a contract), or in TVs, or in bullets and guns, or anything else imaginable. The IRS knows that when you do this, you produce "income", so the IRS wants you to keep careful track of these things, so that they can tax it.

We can even print our own money, as was done in Salt Lake City, during the Great Depression, when deflation literally sucked Salt Lake dry of money. It facilitated trade between barbers, grocers, and so forth, so things didn't grind to a halt--but it was an imperfect solution, because you couldn't use Salt Lake dollars to pay your mortgage to that company in Omaha. They could have easily traded in bullets instead, and they would have worked just as well, and would have had the same problem.

The funny thing about claiming that money is a metric, is that while it's true, it's also not good to compare it to thumb-lengths. The nice thing about thumb-lengths is that I could either use my own thumb, or just declare a given length before I start my project as "one thumb", and complete my project with consistency. Unfortunately, no monetary system has this attribute--every system is subject to inflation and deflation--and even if I traded only in smartphones, the "price" of smartphones, relative to anything else, is always being adjusted.

I would also add that the only thing that keeps us from going to a private gold or silver standard is the widespread belief that we have

Finally, if we traded in things where their value is allowed to float, we avoid the effects of Gresham's Law. This is why a gold-backed currency is a bad idea--we fix the price of a dollar to a fixed amount of gold--but imagine what would happen if we fixed our dollar to the price of the pound, and the value of one or the other dropped! By allowing the values of currencies relative to each other to float, we avoid the effects of Gresham's Law.

For that matter, isn't Black Friday an attempt by merchants to take advantage of Gresham's Law, in order to sell things?

A Random Thought

While reading about people fed to bonfires in Killers Without Remorse, a thought occurred to me about the Christian witch hunts of Medieval Europe--which is something that's used as an example of why religion is evil, and needs to be stamped out.  I also can't help but remember how not all Christians at the time agreed with what was happening; I even remember reading the words of a bishop, decrying the lack of logic that went into convicting a witch.

Now, people today, whether or not they believe in God, say to themselves "We are better than that!  We would never burn a witch at the stake!"  But, are we really better?  Or should we learn from this--and similar examples, like Stalin's show trials--and realize that we, too, can get caught up in the emotion of the day, and do horrible things to the innocent?

As for "Killers Without Remorse":  it's a very good reminder that, no matter what Government we create, we cannot trust it with too much power, because whatever levels of power we give it, some power-hungry soul who wants to kill us will get ahold of that power, and use it to the fullest extent possible.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gifts that are neither Rights nor Duties

A couple of years ago, I wrote a "Declaration of Duties".  I'm not yet sure what to with this document, but I explained that, in addition to having certain rights, we also have duties that we must perform, for otherwise we lose our freedoms.  I also explained that certain people, in an attempt to take away our freedoms, have called certain duties "rights", and then proceeded to erode our true rights.

Take, for example, education.  We don't have a right to education--we have a duty to learn what we can, in order to benefit ourselves and others; and our parents have a duty to teach us those things we need to know to have productive, fulfilling lives.  By turning this into a "right", we have been forced into public schools, and have been put at the mercy of teachers, who may or may not care when we "slip through the cracks", and we are forced to learn what the Government says we should learn.

Yesterday, I started reading a debate at the Smallest Minority, challenging the viewpoint of one James Kelly.  In this debate, James takes the position that the only freedom he understands is "Freedom from Fear".  This, along with "Freedom of Speech", "Freedom of Worship", and "Freedom from Want", are the four "freedoms" that Franklin Roosevelt advocated.

Besides arguing that "Speech" and "Worship" are probably the same freedom--or at least closely related--these other two "freedoms" aren't freedoms at all...but neither are they Duties.  As I thought about them, I have come to realize that they can be described as Gifts, and, being emotions, they can become Curses, if they are not bridled, and channelled correctly.

And, like Duties, if they are declared Rights, they can be used to destroy the true Rights we have.

How can I make the claim that Fear and Want are Gifts?  They are emotions, and if they are checked by Reason, they can push us to do new things, that make our life better.  In the case of Fear, it can warn us of disaster or danger, and help us to prepare for the future.  If I fear losing my job, for example, I could push myself to work hard, I could save food and money, and I could keep an eye for other positions around me, so that I'd have an "action plan" in case my fear becomes reality.

Similarly, if I have Wants, I could push myself to fulfill those Wants, and look for new ways to make sure that my family is provided for, and to try to provide things for my family beyond the "necessities of life" as well.

Both Fear and Want can be Curses, too, because they could push us to do things we ought not to do, or to prevent us from doing what we ought.  That is, Fear can become Panic, or Paralysis, and Want can become Envy, or Greed.

Because Fear and Want are Gifts, we cannot be totally free from them--and I, for one, don't want to be!  I really want to be aware of that dark, scary alley, so that I'd be ready for that mugger that's going to try to stab me for my money; I really want to remember that my job--for whatever reason--can disappear overnight.  I really want to be aware that, suddenly, without much warning, we can find ourselves having to ward off societal collapse, or an invasion, or a civil war.

With regards to Want, I really want to experiment with new ideas for computer interfaces.  I really want to personally visit Mars and Venus, using anti-gravity devices designed for that purpose.  By remembering these, and other, desires, I can push myself, and encourage others, to explore new ideas.  Admittedly, some of these desires (e.g. antigravity) may lead to dead ends, but that's the risk we take when we desire the (seemingly) impossible.  And it's a risk I'm willing to put up with!

Now, how does "Freedom from Fear" and "Freedom from Want" destroy our freedoms?  By declaring these as Rights, they become something that need to be preserved.  Since each of us fear different things, and want different things, however, this means that we have to decide which fears we squish, and which wants we support.

In the case of Fear, if someone--such as James Kelly--fears guns, this means we have to ban all guns.  (For some reason, the alternative--to try to educate James Kelly about guns, and put his fears to rest--is never discussed.)  We have to require seatbelts, 55 MPH speed limits, and breathalyzers in all cars, so that no one has to fear car accidents.  And we have to ban fatty foods, so that no one has to fear being overweight and getting diabetes and heart attacks.

And, in the case of Wants, because I want to go to Mars, we have to take money from my neighbor, who doesn't care about Mars--or worse, does not want to go to Mars--and we have to use solid rockets, because NASA wants to, and Senator Hatch wants to make sure that Thiakol will continue to provide jobs--even though I would like to use polywell fusion for space travel instead.

We cannot be free from these Wants, or even simple Wants--like my desire to be debt free, and to provide for my family--because our Wants are the things that push us to sustain ourselves, and to try out new things.  And we shouldn't be free from them, either, because then we become children--and worse than that--we become spoiled brats!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can't Trust My Neighbor Syndrome

In my last post, I said that libertarianism is scary.  Why is it scary?  I rambled on a bit, but I don't think I adequately answered my concern.  It can be best summed up by a comment I read years ago, that went something like this:
If you put me in front of a table with rocket launchers, machine guns, and grenades, I would be ok.  I won't touch them.  But they need to be illegal, because I can't trust my neighbor, who would probably pick one of these things up and shoot it into my house the first moment he got mad at me.
Perhaps the person who made this comment had a specific neighbor in mind, who he knew would do such a thing, but somehow I doubt it.  It is this tendency that we seem to have, that says, "Oh, I can be trusted with Adult decisions, but my hypothetical neighbor cannot be; thus, no one should be trusted with them."

Ironically, if a person can't be trusted with a rocket launcher, that same person shouldn't be trusted with gasoline, or cars, or bulldozers, all of which can be easily obtained.  Indeed, it's almost illegal for a civilian to purchase a rocket launcher in the United States*, but an individual bent on mischief could easily obtain gasoline, or a car, or even a bulldozer, without a license.  (Admittedly, the latter two may have to be stolen, but they are so prevalent, it would be fairly easy to do so.)

So, if we have crazy neighbors who can't be trusted with rocket launchers--because of their short tempers and lack of common sense--why do we trust them not to torch our houses with gasoline, or not to run us down with their car, nor to steal a bulldozer and tear down our house?

Answer:  Because most people are reasonable about these things, enough so that, when they aren't reasonable, it's a Major News Story(tm).  And sometimes, even when these things are abused, there might be a reasonable explanation--such as unexpected erratic behavior from someone who has diabetes, but has not been diagnosed with it yet.

It is sad when we don't trust our neighbors--even the ones we have a reason not to trust--to make basic, personal choices about the things around us.  And the saddest thing about this is that, when we limit other people's choices, we limit our own, as well.

Thus, you might wake up one morning, and think to yourself, "I'm tired of my drab brown house.  It's been like this for a decade!  I think I'll paint it blue...or red...or maybe green" and then discover that you can't, because your Home Owners Association couldn't trust you to choose the correct color of your house, and so you must choose your colors from a stunning palette of drab brown colors.  And continue to live in a stunning neighborhood, consisting entirely of houses of drab, brown colors.

Enjoy your distrust!

*Or is it?  I'm a little confused about the law on this matter:  it seems that certain volatile things, like flame throwers, are surprisingly perfectly legal, at least in most States; most people don't own them, though, because they are also impractical weapons.  Have you ever tried to conceal a naphtha tank?  In any case, it's possible that rocket launchers are legal where you live, too! but I'm too lazy to try to find out right now.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Ideal Size of an Organization

In a blogpost somewhere (one I won't try to find at this time, although it sparked a desire to express a certain thought), a certain person was trying to decide what the maximum size of an organization should be.  I only briefly skimmed that post, for two, perhaps three reasons.  The biggest is this:  I already know how big organizations should be!
Another thing you notice when you see animals in the wild is that each species thrives in groups of a certain size. A herd of impalas might have 100 adults; baboons maybe 20; lions rarely 10. Humans also seem designed to work in groups, and what I've read about hunter-gatherers accords with research on organizations and my own experience to suggest roughly what the ideal size is: groups of 8 work well; by 20 they're getting hard to manage; and a group of 50 is really unwieldy.

Whatever the upper limit is, we are clearly not meant to work in groups of several hundred. And yet—for reasons having more to do with technology than human nature—a great many people work for companies with hundreds or thousands of employees.
There you have it, from one of Paul Graham's essays:  the maximum size of a company should be 20; if you could keep it down to 8 to 10, that would probably be ideal.

What does this mean for big monoliths like Microsoft?  I'm not sure.  I, for one, would rather just ignore such organizations, and hope that such organizations would ignore me--and to the extent that such a company could harrass me, it will be because they have a certain amount of the force of Law on their side, whether wielded legally or not.  Surely, though, if Microsoft is too big, then so is the government that would try to break it up.

But even in a big monolith like Microsoft, at one point, it seems that individuals were given great power to get things done.

Undoubtedly, certain projects are so large that large organizations--or, at least, organizations of organizations--are useful, if not needed, to create them.  Perhaps operating systems fall into this category.  Even something as small as a car almost does.  When you consider the regulations that have been placed on the car industry, a large organization artificially becomes necessary.  And even if those organizations aren't strictly necessary, I would add that they are at least very useful for achieving certain goals.

Even so, I have often wondered:  would it have been possible to create something as big as Microsoft Windows with Office, or something like Apple OS, with loosely-coupled groups, instead of one big company?  The growth of Linux would seem to indicate that yes, this is possible--but is it possible to do so, and be profitable?  This line of thinking definitely deserves exploration and experimentation.

Ultimately, though, I'm not afraid of large non-government organizations.  Their powers are limited to buying and selling products and services, to making contracts, to hiring and firing people...oh, and to suing people.  When they interfere with my life, it's usually made possible only because it's backed up by government force--which, in turn, is often made possible by copyright and patent law, mostly.  (And, at this moment, I won't even touch on why these things are evil!)

Governments, however, even the smallest ones, have powers that the biggest Megacorporations can only dream of:  to pass laws to make what I'm doing illegal; to drag me to court at gunpoint; to fine me, imprison me, even kill me; to tax what I'm doing--often in an effort to get me to stop doing it.

And this is why I am far more concerned about the size of Government, than I am the size of corporations.  Ironically, many of those people who think large corporations are evil, are also those who champion Government as it grows exponentially.

Of course, large corporations are evil, if only for one thing:  the leaders of these organizations are often in league with government, in attempts to secure their market-dominated positions and thwart competition--and even in atempts to "improve" society itself, by forcing other people to do what they think is best, independent of the mission of the corporation itself.  (Tell me again, just why is Bill Gates in a position to lecture us about Estate--ah hem, Death--Taxes?  Taxes he so diligently makes sure he won't have to pay?)  But then, this is far more an issue about power, than it is about organization.  That is, corporations become evil by blurring the line between corporation and government.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Libertarianism is Scary

I consider myself a conservative libertarian:  Differences between right and wrong exist; we need to choose the right to be happy, but government shouldn't be forcing what is "right" on other people.

As I have thought about various options for Libertarian government, I cannot help but notice two tendencies in my own soul:  to have the desire to do as I please, so long as it's right; to restrict what others do, because I see it as wrong.

An example:  Even though I understand that sometimes yards go to pot because of hard family circumstances, and I strongly feel that if I really want my neighbor's yard to look nice, I should volunteer to help my neighbor with yardwork--I can't help but occasionally have sympathy for neighbors who worry about property values, and think "There ought to be a law!"--and then quickly squash that idea as stupid and cruel.

This is the funny thing about Libertarianism, and it's probably the biggest reason why most people--even a large number of Libertarians--are afraid to adopt it fully.  We've lived for centuries in environments where the State has provided us with basic needs like roads and schools--and we're afraid to imagine how it could be different.  We also like freedom for ourselves--but we can't allow even an ounce of freedom to our neighbor, who wants to--GASP!--paint his house a different color from ours!

Perhaps we just aren't ready for freedom.

Or rather, there's a lot of work ahead of us, to understand what freedom really means.  And then, perhaps, we'll be ready for freedom.

An addendum to Mike Lee

To this, [the previous post], I would add that the only reason I voted for you in the primaries was because, while I don't trust you, I trusted Tim Bridgewater even less; the only reason I voted for you this time, instead of Scott Bradley, [the Constitution Party candidate], was because I wanted to give the Republicans one last chance.

This is your chance:  go, and prove yourself!

The fate of our nation depends on you, doing the right thing!

Congratulations, and a Warning

I'd like to congratulate my fellow Republicans on this special victory.  We have the House!  We nearly have the Senate!  And we've made great gains in various State Congresses and Governorships!  This is a fantastic, sweet victory!

But it's only a victory against Democrats--it's not a victory for Republicans.

As a Republican, I put you on notice:  I do not trust you.  I only voted for you because the alternative is worse, and because I wanted to give you one last chance.  If you don't cut taxes until Government hurts, and slash Government programs until I hurt, I will replace you with someone else that will.

Yes, I know that these things will be difficult.  There will be screaming lobbyists, unions, and special interest groups, wanting their pet programs to be left alone.  It is thus your responsibility to make it clear to the American people that if we don't do this, we will collapse as a nation.

And please, above all else, remove the regulations that prevent individuals from creating the welfare societies and businesses that will be crucial for us to help each other in the difficult times ahead.  Indeed, even before Medicare is cut, for example, we need a pathway cleared so that viable private sector organizations will be able to rise up and take up the slack.  Private organizations cannot do this right now, though, because of the over-burdening regulations that have been put in the way.

Good luck!  You're going to need it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Debt Paradox

Yesterday morning I got a phone call from one of my credit card companies.  They were complaining that I only made a partial payment last month; they added a warning that, if I didn't get caught up, the Special Payment Plan I am currently on may be cancelled.

Of course, the reason I made partial payments last month is this:  we had just gone through two moves, and that strained our already-tight budget.  Thus, we did the best we could in paying our bills.

During the course of the first move, my wife's credit card lost her Special Payment Plan, because of disruptions in budget and payment.

So, here's the paradox:  we get on these plans because we couldn't afford the typical monthly payment.  We couldn't keep up with these payments, because we would rather make sure we had things like food, shelter, and transportation...and so our plans are revoked.

All this, because we used credit to buy things (in our case, the Biggie was health insurance) in the first place!

Am I the only one who finds this paradoxical?

Of course, the way to cancel out this paradox is to pay off our debt, build up a nice emergency cushion of money and food, and then never get in debt again.  (With probably only one exception:  medical bills, if they can't be avoided, because of danger to life and limb.  But then, I can live with medical debt, if I have to.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Quote of the Day

From Eric, by Terry Pratchett,
The Tezumen were happy.  When no amount of worshipping caused the Luggage to come back and trample their enemies they poisoned all their priests and tried enlightened atheism instead, which still meant they could kill as many people as they liked but didn't have to get up so early to do it.
Pratchett likes to poke fun at religion now and again, and with this quote, he demonstrates that atheists are fair game, too!

It annoys me when an atheist tries to make it seem that all conflict, all death and destruction, ever perpetuated on the Human Race was a direct result of religion--ignoring atheists like Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao--or even going so far as to say they merely "borrowed" religious techniques.

As I have looked back on all the world's conflicts, ranging from the esoteric (The War of Jenkin's Ear) to the tragic (two World Wars, the Cold War, two Iraq wars, etc) it became clear to me what causes wars:  one group says "You will do X", and the other group says "Over our dead bodies."  In other words, it is strictly politics.

Since religion, economics, ears, land, resources, and so many other things, get caught up in politics, all these things--and much, much, more--can be traced to the cause of some war, somewhere.

Thus, the Libertarian ideal of "Do not initiate force against another person", if practiced by everyone, would do far more to establish peace, than any other principle that I could think of.

And this would be the case, despite whatever other wacky things individuals choose to believe!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Japanese-American Internment: Lesson Learned?

During the Intermission of the Scarlet Pimpernel, my brother and I got into a very brief argument about the need of a "League of the Scarlet Pimpernel".  I gave the example of Japanese-Americans in WWII, and he responded that those internment camps were far less harmful than the German concentration camps, and that we learned our lesson.

While I would grant that life wasn't taken by these camps, as Joe Huffman pointed out (search for "Japanese" in document), many Japanese citizens lost their homes, never to return to them, for the crime of having Japanese parents.  And they certainly lost their liberty during this time.

And who's to say that their lives were not in jeopardy?  What could have happened to them, had there been a Japanese terrorist attack on American soil?  Or if the war had gone longer, and we were in dire need of resources--including food?

And in a society that respects life, liberty and property--indeed, is founded on the principle that these are God-given rights, which governments are created to protect--how disturbing is it that our government trampled on two of those rights, without just cause?

My brother said we learned our lesson.  But, have we?  What evidence is there that we have?  The best that I can come up with is this:  when I learned about it in history, in public school, the textbooks lamely apologized for it, said that it was understandable for the time, and that we've paid reparations for it, so it's ok.

I have little confidence that we've learned our lesson here.

But what if it weren't a "lesson" for us to learn from?  What if it were a test?  We, the American People, should have done all in our power to prevent the Japanese, Italian, and German Americans from being rounded up, and to try to free those who have been rounded up...but we didn't.  Will this embolden the next Administration that decides something like this needs to be done?

And perhaps this was also a warning:  a signal that concentration camps can happen here, in the land of Liberty, and that, next time it happens, we need to act, and to act decisively.  We can't just look over the Atlantic and say, "Well, it happened in Germany because they were Germans, but we're Americans, so we'll get it right."

I once read an essay online--I can't find it now--that claims that the Government only gets one Waco.  I wish that were true, but only time could tell, and I have my doubts.  But another question we need to ask ourselves is this:  How many "Wacos", how many internment camps, do we get, before we recognize that the signs of tyranny are upon us, and that we need to act now to stop it?

And what do we do when tyranny is at our very doorsteps?

These are difficult questions.  I wish I had the answers to them.

The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel

I fear Revolution.  And I especially dread the possibility of French-style Revolution--where specific "enemies" are identified, gathered together, and executed.

In the past couple of years, as I was exposed to bits and pieces of "The Scarlet Pimpernel", the idea occurred to me:  In the event of such a Revolution, I should create a Scarlet Pimpernel Society, for the purpose of saving as many people from such groups as possible.

Last Saturday, my family took me to see "The Scarlet Pimpernel" played locally, in Theatre in the Round.  It was the first time I saw the musical in its entirety, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! even despite its sometimes cheesy musical score.

And I learned that the Proper Name for my society would be "The League of The Scarlet Pimpernel".

Seeing the play, and reading the program, also helped me to understand just how the French Revolution was different from the American one.  When we rebelled, we were pushing against continuous attempts of the British to try to "reign in" those American rogues.  We wanted to be free, and we didn't want masters ruling over us.  We wanted to be masters over ourselves.

When the French pushed against their masters, they immediately decided to become the new masters--and to execute any "master" of the old regime, and any who sympathised with that regime, regardless of innocence.  As Rose Wilder Lane explained, when the French rebelled, they merely overthrew the old masters, so that they could replace them with new ones, that hopefully wouldn't be as oppressive as the first.

I would also add that it would seem that England, even with aristocracy that was probably just as clueless as French aristocracy, probably avoided Revolution simply because they were more free--they had a greater tendency to respect life, liberty, and property--and that this freedom is far more ingrained in the English psyche than it is in the French.

And, to a large extent, I'm confident that Americans will be able to face adversity, and be more likely to come out of it with some semblance of freedom afterwards, because freedom is far more ingrained in the American psyche than it is in the English!

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's Still An Estate-Death Tax

This is the third post in response to Kent Pitman's blog posts.  In the first, I addressed his desire to gamble with Global Warming; in the second, I addressed his parable of George in relation to Global Warming.  This, the third post, has nothing to do with Climate Change.  Instead, I will address his take on the Estate Tax, and how those Evil, Scheming Republicans have started to call it a Death Tax (and Democrats have never changed the language to obfuscate the debate in their favor, of course :-).

After this, I will stop reading Kent's writings, except his technical ones...at least, I will try to.  These initial blogposts, especially, got under my skin, and I'm confident that if I continued to read Kent's blogposts, I'd get a severe case of eczema.

Kent Pitman wants to declare a $1.00 Tax on Death, so that Republicans would have to go back to calling the "Death Tax" an "Estate Tax", and so that Democrats can be on the Moral High Ground(TM) again, justifying the confiscation of yet more wealth.  There are a couple of problems with Kent's proposal.

First.  It doesn't matter what Kent wants to call his tax, it is still an Estate Tax.  you cannot tax someone who is dead; you cannot do anything to a dead person except to desecrate his body and tarnish his reputation--and since the person is dead, even these things don't really matter one whit to the person that's dead.  Thus, the only way you could collect this tax is by collecting it from his estate.  Hence, Kent's tax is as much an estate tax as the estate tax is a death tax.

Second.  Estates do not come into existence when someone dies.  If you want to, you could tax an estate before a person dies, as well as afterwards.  Indeed, property taxes are applied directly to the estate of an individual, so this is just as much an estate tax as a tax applied when a person dies.  Since the latter Estate Tax is applied when someone dies, it makes just as much sense to call it a death tax as it does an estate tax.

Now, apparently you don't believe that a rational person would want to get rid of the Death Tax.  I guess that means I can only give you some irrational reasons for getting rid of the Death Tax:
  • The Death Tax does not tax the wealthy.  The Bill Gates, William Buffetts, George Sorros, and Kennedys of the world hire armies of lawyers and accountants to make sure that the Government gets exactly what the Government asks of them, and not a penny more; and they have the clout to make sure that as many loopholes as possible are put into the laws as possible, so that "not a penny more" often means "not a penny".  Yet these people have the gall to insist on making taxes like this high.
  • The Death Tax is a tax on the middle class.  A family business could easily be worth $3 million on paper, but in practice only brings in $50,000 a year; thus, such a business owner cannot afford armies of lawyers and accountants.  Rather than continue family operations, such a business can be destroyed when the father dies, and the rest of the family have to pay Estate Taxes.  Historically, the Death Tax has been the death of many family businesses.
  • Even where the children have no interest in a business, or there's simply an estate, a Death Tax could destroy the retirement hopes of those children.  I know someone who barely makes enough for his family to make ends meet, and who has some hope in his father's estate for retirement.  While it's bleak hope--he's well aware that he could die before his father does--it's still hope.  And it's hope that could easily be dashed to pieces with a high enough of a Death Tax.
  •  What in the world has Government done that gives Kent any confidence that Government will know how to spend value from an Estate, better than the children of the parents of that estate would?  The children would have to do a lot of spending before they can even hope to achieve the levels Government Waste, even when taken on a percentage basis.

In closing, I will address this statement from Kent:
Hey, don't you always say you should tax people on what you don't want them to do. You don't want them to die, do you?
This is far more in line with what Democrats want to do, than what Republicans want to do; too many of these things, though, have been proposed by Republicans, and too many of such taxes have been able to get enough votes to pass, because of a few Republicans who have broken ranks.  Government, especially Federal Government, should get out of the business of regulating behavior, or of nudging behavior through taxes!  This is a major factor as to why taxes are so bad in the first place.  It's time we give up our deductions, so that we could have a simpler tax code!  And it's time we stop letting government gobble away our life's work, just so that some bureaucrat could pretend to do some good!

For the life of me, I can't think of one Rational Reason that a Democrat could provide on this issue.  Is it "Tax the Greedy Rich!  Except the Super Rich, of Course!"?  Or "Government is Wiser at Spending Money than YouThe Rich, Except the Super Rich!"  Or is it "The Person Is Dead!  Why Should He Want the Money Anymore?"

That Other George: A Parabolic Response

This is the second post in a series of three posts addressing blogposts by Kent Pitman.  In my first post, I addressed Kent's desire for us to "draw a line in the ice".

This second post is related to that, because Kent gives us a parable where he described his teddy bear George, which had a music box that one day broke--and he tried to fix it by repeatedly throwing it against the wall, because that worked the first time he tried it.  Naturally, this applies to Global Warming, because we broke our planet, and now we're just throwing it against the wall, figuratively speaking, in our attempts to fix it.

I will give another parable, in response to Kent's parable:  a car driver named George, who was having engine troubles.  He had never tried fixing his car before, and hasn't even read much about engines, but he figured, how hard can it be?

So he replaced the battery, and it ran for a little bit; he replaced the alternator, and that seemed to help for a little bit; he replaced the spark plugs, tightened the bolts, adjusted the belts, and tinkered with this or that.  Sometimes it seemed to help the problem...sometimes it seemed to make things worse.  Often it had no noticeable effect at all.

Then one day, his car stopped working:  the engine wouldn't even turn over.  So, at this point, George decided to give up, and take the car to the mechanic.  As soon as the mechanic opened the hood, he gagged, and exclaimed, "What did you do to this car?!?"  It was a mess; the car finally died because an over-tightened bolt popped off and put a hole in the oil-pan, which caused the engine to overheat due to lack of lubrication--so the engine fused together.  And the problem that started it all?  A bad solenoid.

The point of this parable is this:  sometimes tinkering with a "broken" engine makes things worse.  This is especially more likely if we don't know what we're doing!

Take Cap and Trade in Europe, for example.  Currently, carbon credits are almost worth nothing, so any business in Europe that wants to pollute is free to do so.  Of course, this came at the cost of coal and steel businesses moving their operations to other nations, and importing the coal and steel--thus, a net increase in carbon footprint, because we need coal and steel to build things and keep things running.

The problem is, society is a chaotic system, made of literally billions of people, each making decisions every minute, trying to figure out how to solve the problems that are before them.  Overall, we can expect individuals to act rationally--because that's the ultimate goal of each individual--but what may actually be rational might only be viewable in hindsight, when everyone has sorted through a bunch of semi-rational, and sometimes even downright irrational, decisions.  Sometimes it may take years to figure out why people have decided to do what they did.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the Earth's climate is also a chaotic system.  197 square miles of ocean, land, mountains, islands, oceanic trenches and rifts, volcanoes, sunlight, starlight, spacedust, magnetic fields, and whatnot--each of which is subject to random fluctuations.  This doesn't take into account the cubic miles of air above, filled with clouds, pollution, dust, ionic bands, trees, buildings, airplanes, birds, and so forth; nor does it take into account the volume below the water or the land.  And all this has been morphing for over four billion years.

For the past two hundred years or so, we've been measuring temperature of the surface, and we've even been doing it sort-of accurately--although there are plenty of irregularities.  We've then used this data to try to extrapolate temperatures for the past thousand or so years, based on tree rings, ice layers, and other data.  Because there are more things than just temperature that could affect tree growth, however, this is inherently less accurate than using thermometers.

Now, we're expected to take these measurements, that, at best, only tell us what the Earth was like for the last 1,000 years or so...and then use this to prognosticate what will happen decades into the future, when (1) we only have the last 1,000 years or so of data for a system your billion years old, and (2) there's always a danger when extrapolating data, and that danger gets worse the farther out we go, because anything can mess up the trend...whether it's a trend in population growth, or in business profits, or in rising temperatures, or what have you.

Then, from our "trustworthy" extrapolations, we're supposed to fix this dynamic, chaotic system we call Our Global Climate--which, due to its chaotic nature, will respond unpredictably with even the tiniest of changes.  (It is said that a butterfly in China could cause a hurricane in New Orleans--the so-called "butterfly effect".)

And the tool we are to use to do these effects?  We are to tax, and to regulate, and to control the Population.  We will use a Smart Grid to tell people when they could run their air conditioners, and when they will just have to "sweat it out"; we'll tell them when they can use their furnaces, and when to "put a sweater on"; we'll tell them what cars they could drive, when they could drive, how far they could drive; and we're just getting started!  The funny thing is that each of these things are meddlings with a chaotic system--the actions of billions of individuals--which, each one in and of itself will have unpredictable consequences--all to control Our Global Climate.

Ohhh, boy!  Butterfly-effect squared!

bound to save the world...isn't it?

And, unfortunately, if we mess things up, we don't have a mechanic to go to to make things better.

The Other Bet of High Stakes Gambling

In my pursuit of interesting things written about Common Lisp, I decided to visit Kent Pitman's website.  Unfortunately for me, the political voice is a lot louder than the technical voice on his website; this is the first of three posts that will address three of Kent's blogposts:  two on Global Warming, and another on the Estate, er, the Death, Tax.

After that, I will try to leave well enough alone, except for in the comments.

In the first post that I will address, Kent asks us to "draw a line in the ice" where we'll accept that Global Climate Change is happening, and then we'll do something about it.  In particular, he wants us to
call that what it is, shall we? It's gambling. High stakes gambling. Gambling with the fate of the world.
He then pointed out that, almost every single advice booklet on gambling advises us to set a limit where we are no longer willing to lose any more, and then stop, before we lose all.  Kent would like us, in particular, to decide how much more Climate Change we cannot handle, and then start to believe from there; he calls this "a line in the ice".

Kent would like us to believe that doing nothing will have catastrophic consequences, but doing something will Save the Planet(TM).  What that something is, I don't know, since even Kent admits that
There may be no sure plan to succeed, but at what point are you prepared to admit that the likelihood of disaster looms if we don't start to trust some plan. Probably meager stuff like reducing emissions by 20% won't do anything. I personally doubt anything like cap and trade will work. Leaving things to private individuals to handle as they see fit won't work—that's what we've done so far, and it isn't fixing things. Serious, coordinated changes will almost certainly be needed with how our whole society needs to operate, and we have to have a constructive dialog on that without partisan political bickering poisoning it.
But will doing something, anything, even if it doesn't work, really have no cost?  Consider:
  • Cap and Trade will put an enormous burden on businesses, that could cripple not just the economy, but our abilities to produce the food, machinery, and distribution necessary to feed six billion people--are we prepared for massive unemployment, or even famine, caused by such a bone-headed move?
  • Global Climate Change, to the extent that it may be a threat to our existence, isn't the only threat.  It isn't even the only plausible effect.  Are you prepared for the possibility that the Rules, Regulations, and Taxes put into place today could very easily destroy the resources, initiative, and drive that will be necessary if we are to survive the entirety of Yellowstone National Park magma coming to the surface, or a large asteroid hitting the Earth?
  • Are you prepared to bet that the loss of freedom and money will be worth it, and will never, or at least be very highly unlikely to be repealed, even if, despite your deepest convictions, Global Climate Change proved to be nothing to worry about after all?
  • At what point are you willing to back off of the Rules and Regulations put forth as "necessary" to stop Global Warming?  Will you stop at One Child Only and Forced Sterilization?  Or Let the Sick and Elderly Just Die?  Or Let's Select a Sub-Population And Quietly Liquidate Them?
  • For that matter, what technologies are you prepared to give up on?  Are you prepared to give up flying on private jets?  (I doubt that Kent regularly flies on private jets, but Al Gore and Arianna Huffington, among others, do so on a regular basis.)  Public jets?  Driving in cars?  Long-distance food?  Computers--especially those massive server banks maintained by the likes of Google?
  • If we are to consider all actions, regardless of cost, are you prepared for the over-correcting that may occur as we pump carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, fertilize the oceans so that algae and plankton could thrive in places where they aren't thriving, release chemicals into the air to break down methane and condense water vapor?  That is, are you prepared for the starvation and loss of habitat that would be the result of another ice age, that may be caused by us?
  • Are you prepared for the possibility that, even though we may be the cause of Global Warming, that such warming may very well be at the eve of a natural Ice Age, and that Global Warming may very well be what keeps the Earth in balance?
It should be kept in mind that every single threat to us via Global Warming is hypothetical, and it is decades in the future.  As Kent should know, a decade in our highly technical society is a very long time, and we have the means to deal with these threats, as they slowly encroach upon us.   But one thing that isn't hypothetical, is this:  Rules and Regulations have killed 100 million people this last century, and have made the lives of hundreds of millions of people this last century completely, utterly miserable.

And if you don't think that regulations can't hamper our abilities to respond to crisis, consider this:  we can't build nuclear power plants, which would be crucial to get our cars off of hydrocarbon fuel.  (An electric or hydrogen car that gets its energy from coal powered plants is still a hydrocarbon car.)  And, even if we could build them, we still have tons of nuclear waste, that could be drastically reduced if we could just recycle that fuel.

But we can't recycle it.  Jimmy Carter said so, by Executive Order, for fear of terrorists getting a hold of the product of recycled nuclear waste.  Yet another regulation putting us in danger, in the Name of Safety(TM).

Finally, are you willing to bet all of this, when the science itself has some troubling flaws that need to be addressed--both with regards to data integrity, and with regards to the peer process itself?  Considering that CRU represents a major portion of Climate Science, about a third of Climate Research has been tainted by Climategate.

I, for one, have my line drawn in the ice--I could care less if the polar ice caps disappear.  It won't be the first time that the Earth had been ice-cap free, and it certainly won't be the last.  And life on this planet has adapted every time.  My question to you, dear Global Climate Alarmist, is this:  where will you draw your line in the sand?  At what point will you say, "Get your government off my freedom?"

Live free or die, for death is not the worst of all evils.

If the Democrats are Redcoats...

As I drove to work this morning, someone on the radio said that the Democrats are Redcoats--that is, they are literally destroying our freedoms, and we need a Revolution--and fortunately, wo can accomplish this Revolution via the ballot box.

Now, if the Democrats are Redcoats, what does that make Republicans?  My vote is for Tories, because they are people who ought to be for freedom, but more often than not, they aren't.

Intolerance is now a medical condition?

I am currently working with medical data at my work.  Sprinkled among that data are Medicare/Medicaid codes of various conditions, that have now become rather standard in the medical industry.  As I checked up on my list of extracted codes, I noticed this one:
SNM:102461004    increased intolerance    CODE
It seems now that increased intolerance is now something diagnosable.  I wonder what treatments are available for hate?

Actually, I have a funny feeling that here, "increased intolerance" means "we're giving the guy the medicine, but it's not working as effective as before" rather than "yeah, I used to like hippies, but you know, they've been getting on my nerves lately".  :-)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting a nebulizer

My son is currently having respiratory problems:  he's congested, and he wheezes a bit.  We're a little bit afraid that he may have gotten asthma while we lived briefly in our old place--after all, he slept in the room that seemed hardest hit by the "funny smell" problem.  We took him (and his sister, too, who had some problems as well) to the doctor--who then tried a certain ashma medication on both.  Since it seemed to have no effect on my daughter, but seemed to improve my son's breathing, my daughter got a prescription for antibiotics, and my son got a prescription for this asthma medication.

When we looked into purchasing a nebulizer for our own use, we discovered a funny thing:  nebulizers, locally bought, are expensive, but we could find incredibly cheap nebulizers on the internet.  I wonder why that is, but I suspect that part of it may be that some on-line companies that sell nebulizers don't accept insurance, so they don't have to accept The Game that insurance companies--especially State Ones, like Medicare, Medicaid, and New York's Empire Plan--play:  they cover part of the cost, and demand that the patient only pays a certain amount, and expect the provider of the good or service to "eat" the rest.

Since we needed a nebulizer immediately, we couldn't buy one online, but we decided to rent one for this month, and if we needed to, we would then buy one at the end of this month.

As I've used this nebulizer, though, I've come to understand exactly what it is:  a simple air compressor that atomizes a liquid--indeed, it only pumps air to the little piece of plastic that actually does the atomizing--to make it breathable for infants and toddlers, who can't use an inhaler properly.  Having learned this, it would seem reasonable to expect that such a device would only cost $35 to $60 (on-line only--more expensive models may also have been available)...and that the $100 to $210 price tag on locally-sold devices seems uncalled-for!

In the end, it's probably best that we rented:  although this drug seemed to help in the doctor's office, now that we've tried it for a week, it seems to have had no effect on my son's breathing.  It's likely we'll be trying antibiotics on him, too.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Examples of Failures of LEDs

While driving around this morning, I noticed a few LED arrarys in traffic lights that are dying:  one red light, and two green lights.  Each light has patches that were dark, and patches that were flickering at various states of brightness.

Besides wondering what the heck is causing these LEDs to die in this way (could it be a ban on lead solder?), these lights have caused me to ask another question:  Is LED lighting really ready to take the place of incandescents?

I currently rent my home, and both finances and space are tight for me.  Thus, stockpiling incandescent lights are impractical at this moment.  I hate fluorescent lights, so I have hopes that LEDs will be ready and affordable after incandescent lights are banned.  And while I expect that the Free Market will win in the end, we, unfortunately do not have a Free Market--as illustrated by the ban of incandescent light bulbs.

But seeing these lights flicker have caused me to wonder:  will the LED lights really last as long as claimed?  We already know that fluorescent lights don't--turning them on and off like we do incandescents are abusive to those lights, as is putting them in enclosures and in ceiling fans.

We really should let the Free Market work these details out!

When will we say "Enough!"?

This last weekend, I attended a family reunion for my wife's first cousins.  During one of the evenings, the discussion turned to building permits, to home owner associations, and other such nonsense.  Among the stories:
  • Someone built a shed five or six square feet beyond the limit before requiring a building permit.  Because a building permit was too expensive, the person tore down the building, and then built a two-story shed exactly one square feet below the minimum.  Furthermore, this person spent most of his money building the first shed, and so this new shed was built a plank at a time, producing a significant eyesore for the neighborhood.
  • Another person added a room to his house.  In order to afford the permit, he had to put in two little windows, and only four outlets per wall--but quietly made provisions to expand the window, and add more outlets, after he was finished.  While the inspector was angry afterward, this person made it clear to the inspector, and later, to the judge, that it was legal to alter his home without a building permit.
  • A person managed to move into a new neighborhood without signing Home Owner Association papers; thus, he painted his house freely, without regard to HOA restrictions.  Somehow, the HOA managed to find a loophole anyway (I can't remember the details), and required this person to paint his home using Approved Colors(TM).  So he did:  he chose a drab brown, and then painted his entire house that color.  He then refused to water his grass, and when the HOA complained, he just painted it green.
We swapped several more stories like this, which I won't go into at this time--some of which I don't even remember--but throughout all this, I kept asking myself:  when will we say "Enough!"?  When will we stand up, and demand our Liberties, which is the birthright of every American?

In particular, why do we put up with Home Owner Associations?  I've seen these neighborhoods, and they are drab, boring, and soulless...but then, I suppose that's what you get when you care more about your property walues than you do about your neighbor's freedoms.

When will we say to our local governments, "I don't need your permission to build on my property!"?

And when will we say to local, state, and even federal, inspectors:  "I will build to whatever code I see fit to build to--and if I build a fire hazard, or a house that will collapse in an earthquake, or a house where the ceiling collapses--then I will take responsibility for it myself, up to and including manslaughter for the death of those I love!"?

At what point will we start to stand up to these subtle--and, in many cases, not so subtle--attacks on our liberties?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A New Snow Ordinance

Today I learned on the radio that Salt Lake County is considering an ordinance to require people to shovel their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snowstorm, or face a $50 to $100 fine.  The purpose of this is to make Salt Lake more pedestrian, bike, and wheelchair friendly.

Have these people no heart?  Consider, especially, that provisions are not made for the following:
  • Those with disabilities,
  • Widows,
  • Single mothers with young children,
  • Families on vacation,
  • Those attempting to sell an empty house, possibly while out-of-state.

It's up to the goodness and kindness of the hearts of the officers, and later, the judges, enforcing this ordinance, to make exceptions for such cases.

The article I linked to blames "absentee landlords" and "businesses" as the worst offenders.  Isn't it the tenant who is responsible, and not the landlord?  Oh, wait, it is, except for those big apartment complexes--but even then, will there be no sympathy for those landlord companies that have enough staff to fix things, but not enough to make the rounds for shoveling the snow for all their properties--and who may not be able to pay for extra help, because it's monstrously difficult to hire new people (thank you, IRS!), and because they may already be operating "close to the metal"?

Furthermore, if I recall correctly, if a business is next to a sidewalk, and that sidewalk is next to a street (very common in downtown Salt Lake), then that business owner cannot legally shovel that snow into the street.  For the longest time, I've wondered what business owners are supposed to do with that snow.

Clarification:  It was my original understanding (from the radio blurb) that this ordinance was new; according to this article, though, that this ordinance has been around for twenty years, and this is just an attempt to make it more strict.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Martial Arts Pirate Alert!

I've been seeing these "9mm Won't Save You" advertisements all over the place, and just now, I finally decided to click on an ad, and see what they're claiming. Among their claims:
  • How to get away from a larger attacker who surprises you. (It's instantaneous, keeps you safe from any blows, and puts him so "off-balanced" he's toast for your next move. And the beauty is... the bigger he is, the easier it is for you to do this!)
  • How to snatch a loaded gun right out of a "Gangsta's" hand so [darn] fast it will literally tear his trigger finger off! (And then immediately, without even thinking about it, put him down for the count without even skipping a beat.)
  • How to break up the most common street attacks with a single, simple move. (Instantly "cancels out" anything an experienced street fighter can throw at you.)
  •  And while I'm CERTAINLY NOT going to promise you will become a TRAINED KILLER overnight...

              I CAN guarantee you will have the skills, confidence and near-magical ability to protect your family in a violent attack and NEVER fear any man ever again.
Can we say "Martial Arts Cult"?

Dogs and The End of the World

I will not try to disentangle the tangent-web that led me to a couple of articles about dogs, except to say that I think it involved "Tactical Carbine" classes, Mall Ninjas, and (I am absolutely certain about this last bit) the acronym "TEOTWAWKI".

For those who don't know, TEOTWAWKI means "The End of the World as We Know It".  I had to google the term, and in the process, I discovered these:
These articles can be summed up as follows:  If everyone lost their jobs, they'll let their pets loose, and a pack of 45 wild dogs with no fear of humans will be a VERY scary thing to face, even if you are carrying a lot of rounds of ammunition.  Oh, and I forgot to tell you:  either you're a predator, or you're prey, and all those PETA activists have been trying their darnedest to make us prey.

Although I try to imagine, every once in a while, what I would do if our society collapsed one way or another, I wouldn't consider myself a survivalist per se.  Nonetheless, these articles are interesting to think about!  And it doesn't take much imagination to see how the wild-dog scenario could arise, even without complete societal collapse.

Oh, and my favorite quote from these two articles is this:
Arizona recently outlawed trapping. When this happened, I wrote the rule (predator or prey) and stated that the coyotes would start attacking children within five years. I was wrong, it only took two years. In Phoenix last summer two children out playing where attacked and mauled by coyotes, luckily they survived the attack.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rhythm, revisited

A little while ago I wrote a post, where I stated that it's tricky to get the rhythm of blogging right.  It still is, but that's not what this post is about.  :-)

A couple of days ago, after dinner, I loaded up the dishwasher to get it ready to go.  That  may not seem like news, but after two months of moving, getting a new washer and dryer, worrying that the washer is 220 Volts (what the heck?!?), discovering that the washer plugs into the dryer, unloading boxes, filling drawers, etc, it was nice to be able to load the dishwasher after dinner, roll it into place, and start it.

I think we're beginning to find the rhythm of our new place.  And that's a good thing! (although we still have a ways to go....)

Bullets without Brains?

Sebastian has analysis that challenges MAIG's latest study; I felt he did a good job at addressing the issues, and came to good conclusions.  I'm not quite willing to say it's perfect, but more because I don't trust my fuzzy memory of statistics, than because of any flaws Sebastian may have made.

I am a mathematician, after all, and not a statistician.

In his post, however, Sebastian linked to this article from the UK, discussing a UK police department relaxing the requirements for gun registration.  There are a few things in this article that cause me to cringe, and I wanted to point them out, independent from Sebastian's analysis.

First:  "A bullet doesn’t have a brain, its only intention is to kill."  How the heck can something that has no brain have any intentions?  Are bullets shot at a target just itching to kill something?  A bullet is nothing more than some sort of substance--usually metallic, but not necessarily--propelled by some means.

A bullet has no intentions, and it cannot have any intentions, unless we put some sort of decision mechanism in the bullet itself.  It merely follows the laws of acceleration and inertia, and when it comes to its resting place, it merely follows laws of energy transfer, dependent on the materials it comes in contact with.

Thus, this is a stupid statement, meant to rile up emotions against the police department.

Second:  Lucy Cope, of Mothers Against Guns, stated:

“That is a horrendous idea. The one [registrant] they skip could be the one.
“The blood will be on their hands.
"A bullet doesn’t have a brain, its only intention is to kill.
“Are Bedfordshire Police saying we will save money, but not lives?
“It’s sending out a very weak message.
"If they’re not doing checks, how to they know the gun is in the house?”

Mrs. Cope is essentially claiming that the Police can read the minds of those who apply for gun ownership, and that they can magically predict those who will, or who won't, use guns for nefarious purposes.  What makes the Mrs. Cope think that the Police--or any human, for that matter--are able to do this?  And why should the Police be responsible for the actions of any other person than themselves?  And, finally, is Mrs. Cope willing to admit that she herself has blood on her hands, when someone would have defended their life from a mugger, rapist, or murderer, but couldn't, because the gun they would have used has been banned?

The problem with Mrs. Cope's statement is this:  she believes that humans have no free will, and that humans kill each other because "bullets intend to kill" and, because they lack brains, they have to vicariously live their desires through humans.  Unfortunately for her claims, it is humans with brains that have free will, and it is because of this, that the police cannot predict who will, or will not, kill people.

Finally:  "Lucy Cope...created [the] anti-gun campaign group Mothers Against Guns after her son was shot outside a London nightclub in 2002."

This is a story about the registration of shotguns--guns that are very awkward to carry around in a place, like London, where carrying a bicycle chain for self defense purposes is illegal.  Is it possible that he was shot with a shotgun?  Yes.  Is it likely?  Heck no!  It's far more likely that he was shot with a pistol--a pistol that has been banned since 1998.

But it isn't just about handguns.  All sorts of violent crime has increased since the banning of pistols, including gun deaths.  Would Mrs. Cope have been satisfied had her son been stabbed to death instead?  Or strangled with a rope?  Or would she have preferred her son's head to be smashed in with a hammer, or a rock?  Or beat to death with fists and feet?

Mrs. Cope would do well to ask herself:  is she really against guns?  Or is she against violence?  I, for one, am against violence, and I would like to see everyone be committed to non-violent action whenever possible.  An important key to ending violence, however, is legalized, justifiable, self defense.  And pistols are the most important self-defense tool we have.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Newt Is Wrong

It is my understanding that Newt Gingrich had a vision for Government:  that, because we now have computers, Government can be even more efficient than before, and so Bigger Government would lead to better society.

I always had the sense that he was wrong, and because of this Vision, the idea of Newt as President gives me the willies.  As I have read this testimony before Congress, given by a Silicon Valley CEO against Government intervention, I realize why Newt is wrong.

The problem, in part, is this:  Government, even with computers, is no match for the daily, even hourly, decisions made by hundreds of millions of individuals, who, taken together, have better knowledge about the worlds around them than any collection of bureaucrats will ever have--even with computers.

But this isn't the only reason why Newt is wrong--and this is the insight:  Government bureaucrats won't be the only ones who get computers.  If a computer can extend the ability of a bureaucrat in making better decisions, then, surely, a similar computer can extend the ability of an individual to make better decisions as well.  Thus, the ability of bureaucracies to gather information and make decisions will always be dwarfed by individuals making decisions about the world around them.

I would take it one step further:  even if, by some magic decree, we could make the computers of individuals disappear, and ensure that only bureaucrats will have computers, the decisions of those hundreds of millions of individuals will always be better than the decisions made by those tens of thousands of bureaucrats.

Spirited Individualism always trumps Big Government.

NOTE:   I discovered this essay through Paul Graham's Five Founders essay.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oh, Flourescent Light, How I Hate You So

As we moved into our new place, we discovered three of those twirly-bulbs:  one in our bedroom, one in the hallway, and one in the kitchen.  We hated the blue light these cast on these rooms, so we replaced them at our first opportunity.

We have a long bulb in the kitchen, a secondary light, that produces a more yellowish light; we like this light, except that after it's been on for a few minutes, it buzzes, and it gets louder as time progresses.  And now my desklight is beginning to do the same.

Why can't flourescent lights just burn out like good incandescents do?  Or just last forever, like those modern LED lights are expected to do?  Instead, they flicker, or they buzz, or both[1]...and I'm certain that some fluorescent light designer, somewhere, is probably working on even more ways for fluorescent lights to be able to torture people.

Of course, all this would only be a minor annoyance, if it weren't for the fact that Government has banned incandescents, starting in 2012.  Thus, I will now be left with the choice of evil fluorescents, or expensive and untested LED lights.

Why, oh why, can't Government just leave us alone?!?

[1] Not to mention that both "features" can cause migraines, or at least, make the life of someone who already has a migraine considerably more miserable!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Brains! I need braaaiiiiins!

This last week has been brutal.  I decided to wake up two hours early every day so that I could make up work; the result has made me a bit of a zombie.  Hence, I'm hungry:  "Brains!  I need braaaiiiiins!"

Actually, today I'm doing better than I did the past couple of days.  On Monday, I tried to get up early out of principle, but realized that, since my wife had a doctor's appointment, and my daughters were still asleep in the bedroom (we have yet to set up their beds...but then, for the last month or so, they've been sleeping in the living room), I might as well just go back to sleep myself.  I became fully zombified on Tuesday and Wednesday, though; due to a headache, I tried waking up only an hour early yesterday.  Today, I slept until I normally wake up, because yesterday I had a migraine.

In addition to trying to catch up on hours at work, I wanted to get into the habit of waking up early so that I could work on personal projects.  As a result of this "test run", I will only get up early on Monday and Thursday; if doing so is still problematic, I may have to convince my employer to let me work 6-hour days.

It's a curse that I haven't yet come to terms with:  I tend to sleep deeply, and if my sleep is too disrupted, I get migraines.  Since I would like to pursue my own work, though, I need to come to terms with this, somehow.

I have a t-shirt with Albert Einstein on it, and printed on it "Be Creative".  One morning, asked myself "What would Einstein do?"  I quickly realized that Einstein won't be of much help:  he slept in until noon!  :-)

On Dependency Theory and Freedom

For some time, I've been wondering:  would it be possible to create some sort of "Dependency Control System"?  This topic has been on my mind recently because I'd like to create a CLtOS ("Common Lisp the Operating System"), and it would be nice to use something like Debian Linux's "aptitude" to install things, and to make sure that the dependencies work out nicely.

As I read this blog about Redundancy vs. Dependencies, I thought it would be nice to have a Dependency Control System for individual projects.  Does something like that exist?

In my efforts to find out, I stumbled on Dependency Theory.  In a nutshell, this states that, in a global economy, the Rich Countries naturally exploit the Poor Countries, keeping them poor, because poor countries are a good source of cheap labor and goods, and a nice dumping ground for obsolete technologies.

Unfortunately, I know of one good counter-example to this theory:  The United States.  Our country wasn't always a Rich, Dominating Superpower.  Indeed, at the time of our Founding, superpowers had funny names like "England", "France", and "Spain".  What made us different?  Individualism.  A determination to be Free.  A desire to try anything at least once, and a distrust of government.  While, to a certain degree, we are a Nation of Laws, we have also been a Nation to Ignore Unjust Laws or Even Laws We Just Don't Like.

What about Third World Countries?  Social Order--an attempt to make things ideal by making a multitude of laws, enforced by hordes of bureaucrats.  Hernando de Soto, in his book "The Mystery of Capital", has a very vivid explanation on how it's nearly impossible for a business in these parts of the world to legally operate, or for individuals to move into cities and build homes.  Thus, a single "factory" has to operate in small rooms, scattered about the city; families who wish to live in a home will build a small shack, and then gradually acquire the materials to expand this shack to a nicer home; and if a bureaucrat or police officer discovers any of this, bribes need to be paid--often periodically.

In other words, these countries don't respect freedom to conduct business without State interference.  And that, more than anything else, is what keeps these countries from prospering?

What lessons can we take from this?

First, Hernando de Soto tries to make businesses in Third World Countries legal, and tries to lessen the bureaucratic burden (which, apparently, is dangerous work:  lawyers and bureaucrats who like the system will go so far as to threaten de Soto's life!).

Second, for decades, we've been adding to our own regulatory boondoggle.  The latest examples are Obamacare and Financial Reform (about 3000 and 2000 pages, respectively, or something like that), but we also have things like OSHA, the EPA, the ADA, and even the Civil Rights Act, that put regulatory and civil liability burdens on our businesses.  Additionally, we have lots of State and local laws that add even more to the burden[1].  What can we expect to happen to our society, to our prosperity, if we continue down this course?

[1] My father-in-law, for example, recently had to file a building permit for a house he built twenty-five years ago.  What is the point of building permits, except to limit our freedom?  And what point is there in filing a building permit twenty-five years late?

We're moved out...and now we're settling in

Last Friday, I took some time off to mow the lawn of our old place, do a little bit of cleaning, and turn in the keys.  We're officially moved out!  And I'm a little sad, because we liked the place a lot, we grew somewhat close to the local congregation of our church (despite being there only two months), and it was a convenient distance from where I work.

Oh, and I forgot to snag a couple of apples from the apple tree in the back yard before we moved.  (I could always sneak back, but at this point, it would feel a little like tresspassing.)

This last week we've been settling in:  since our new place is smaller than our previous place, we can't continue to hang our clothes out to dry, and with winter approaching, we won't be able to put things outside either; thus, we had to find a stackable washer and dryer (so we'd have room for our washing machine).  This week, we had to figure out how to install the darn things.  (For a little while, we had to wonder how to convert our new washing machine from 220v to 110v--until my wife discovered we could plug it into the dryer.)

In the meantime, my wife has been unpacking and/or shifting boxes and furniture.  We're gradually claiming more space...and freeing up some breathing room!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trying to get the Rhythm right

When I first started my blog, I intended to add two or three entries a day.  That's proven to be a lot of work, and--unless I want to echo items from my favorite three or so blogs I check daily--I'm not as connected to the Real World as I'd like to think!

It doesn't help that during the last two weeks, I've been in Move Mode, and that this last week, my family has also had to deal with a bit of sickness (and the upset of having to adjust to a new place isn't exactly calming to my children, to say the least!).

Another factor that I'm trying to come to terms with:  I tend to write long things, and I need to get used to writing brief entries, unless a topic calls for a lot of discussion.

It will be interesting to see what I can do in the future :-).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Little time for me to remember

On Saturday, I would have liked to put up a nice video, and perhaps share an anecdote or two, about the day we shouldn't forget...but I haven't had the time, and I didn't have access to a computer at the time, either.  Instead, we rented a truck, filled it with almost all our furniture, and a lot of boxes, and moved them to our new place.  In the next couple of days, we'll be boxing up loose ends, and cleaning up our old place.

I will say this, though.  I remember tutoring someone who had a hard time concentrating, after 9-11.  She explained that her sister was on the flight to Boston--one of the planes that hit the towers.

So, to those 9-11 "Truthers" who claim that the Government flew military planes without windows into the towers:  what did the Government do to those who were "supposed" to be on those flights?  Did the Government silently execute them?

I shouldn't egg anyone on.  Although I dislike what our Government has become over the last few decades, I sincerely doubt anyone in that Government would have developed such a plot, just to grab more power.  (And that's yet another subject that has such potential...)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Questions of Identity

We've seen a great increase in identity crime lately, and, as a result, we have heard people cry out for a Universal National ID.  There is hope that, once we can definitively identify an individual, we can then ensure that only the individual will be able to act on his own behalf (excepting power of attorney, among other things).

In thinking about this, however, I wonder:  is it really a lack of ID that's causing these problems?  Or is it the increase of anonymity?  And does government-issued ID re-inforce this increase of anonymity?

Consider a major source of identity theft:  the obtaining of credit cards in someone else's name.  This is largely made possible by the fact that credit card companies will send out pre-approved offers, and then finish the approval of those cards, without so much as a check of the person's credit score.  (Who in their right mind ever thought it would be responsible to offer credit to the family pet (in some cases, literally)?  Perhaps the best way to address this problem would be to convince everyone that offers of credit should only be made in person.)

Or another:  the use of a Social Security Number, obtained who-knows-where, to pay taxes, or open bank accounts, or who knows what else.  This is made possible by relying on an arbitrary series of digits as the identity of a given person.  While efforts can be made to match the number with a name, certain factors--such as other forged identification--can be used to interfere even with this.

Now, consider this:  Why does a bank, or a landlord, or a family, or a judge, or a restaurant, need to know who I am?  Let's ignore the restaurant:  the only concern is age, and even that's not a concern when alcohol isn't involved!  But for the remainder, identities only matter because the individuals involved want to make sure that certain things--an account, a (possibly trashed) apartment, an inheritance, or a punishment--are applied to the right person.

If we limit our identities to "the person who opened this account", for example, then a bank really only needs to know a handful of things:  a name (it doesn't even have to be a real one), a signature, a picture, perhaps a thumb-print, and an address of some sort to send bank statements and warnings.  If "the person who opened this account" needs to pull money out of his account, then the bank can issue some sort of ID (a bank-card, possibly with a picture and a thumb-print) to make sure that the person is authorized to take money from the account.

Now, judging is a trickier matter:  but again, the goal is to identify that a given person committed a crime.  It doesn't matter who that person claims to be, so long as that person is clearly identified with that given crime.

What about Social Security Numbers?  Obstencibly, the original purpose for this "ID" is to collect taxes, and to dole out welfare.  Theoretically, I should be able to work under a number of names, though, and pay taxes under each name...and receive payments according to what I paid in.  So long as I don't perpetrate fraud (claim I'm disabled, for example, when I'm not, or claim that I'm 65 when I'm really 40), this also shouldn't be a problem!  (It furthermore wouldn't be a problem if government would just stay out of the retirement and disability insurance field altogether...but that's probably for another post.)

This is where we get to the heart of the matter, though:  while obstencibly, our SSNs were intended to be only a Tax ID number, our government encouraged it to be much more than that:  our government has encouraged us to use it as an ID number for all things...in other words, it was meant to be a precursor to a National ID.  It is only recently, it seems--due to the explosion of Identity Theft--that our government has encouraged us to be more conservative with using our SSN as an ID.

Somehow, and I'm not sure how, just yet (this is, after all, a new line of thought for me), by relying on our SSN, and our governments in general, to establish our identifications, it has simultaniously destroyed, yet enhanced, our anonymity.  It is destroyed, because it's difficult to walk into a bank, call myself "George Smith", and open a new account, one that could be used in emergencies (both moral and immoral--anonymity is a double-edged sword) where anonymity is required.  Yet it is enhanced, because all we need to do to establish ourselves as someone else is to obtain a valid Social Security Number, and maybe furbish a forged ID card or two...or, in the case of our pets, perhaps to send for a free ice cream coupon in our dog's name.

This line of thinking definitely deserves more exploration....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Confirmed: We'll need to move. :-(

It's confirmed:  we need to move.  Our landlord is going to have to make major structural changes to the addition of the place we're currently renting.  He gave us the option to be let out of our contract without penalty, and since we're not sure that the fixes he has planned will completely eliminate the smell (and the asthma attacks), we decided to accept the offer.

We've been able to find another place.  It's smaller and a little farther away from work, but we made darn certain this time that it wouldn't have any potential mold problems!  It's a little less in rent, as well, so we'll be better financially, too.

I'll go into more detail of the situation a little later.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Freedom to Be Small Act

Severa months ago I read an interesting book:  Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, by Joel Salatin, a libertarian, Christian, semi-organic farmer who just wants to be left alone.  A great read.  I highly recommend it!

One of the things that really stuck in my mind, though, was a comment that individuals need to have the freedom to explore new possibilities, but are prevented by numerous regulations.  If I wanted to try to make and sell cheese, for example, I can't just make a small batch in my kitchen, and then take it to the local farmer's market...in the (largely mythical) interest of Public Safety, I need to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stainless steel vats, precise thermometers, and whatnot, and be prepared for the various fines I might face when a random bureaucrat tries to enforce some obscure law.

As a result of thinking about this, I decided it would be fun to write up a "Freedom to Be Small Act", that would go something like this:

WHEREAS individuals need to have the freedom to experiment with new ways to do things, in order to explore possible career paths, and
WHEREAS every small business has the potential of growing into a large one, and many of our largest businesses started out in someone's garage or kitchen, and
WHEREAS bureaucrats, regulations, and zoning laws interfere with this process,
BE IT ENACTED that any small business (defined as a business that has the equivalent of six full-time employees for every 1/6 acre on which that business resides, up to thirty-six employees):
  1.  Shall not be subject to local or State zoning laws, except those that limit noise, fumes, or other noxious behaviors that will interfere with neighbors' enjoyment of property, and shall not be required to obtain a license to pursue business, and
  2.  Shall be free from local and State regulations, and be required to state clearly to their customers, either by sign or by label on their products, that they are not subject to said regulations, and
  3.  Shall not be required to insure themselves against sickness or injury that may result from their product, but may still be held liable for such sickness or injury.
FURTHERMORE, BE IT RESOLVED that any such small business, so long as its products are kept within State boundaries, are not subject to the various regulations passed by the United States Congress, nor its many regulatory agencies.
I feel as though I've left something out, but I can't put my finger on it at the moment--the napkin I originally wrote this on is still packed away, somewhere...but even if I had the napkin, I still would liked to have taken steps to "bullet-proof" the law.  For example, I didn't want "retaining a lawyer" or "contracting an accountant" or even "hiring a plumber" to count as "employing" someone, for purposes of this law, except where it's a clear part of the business model.  In any case, this is the gist of it!

Now, if only I could find a sympathetic representative...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why am I hostile to public education?

In discussing home schooling with my wife, she asked me:  why do I oppose public schooling so much?  I've had to think about this a bit, but I think I have the answer.

Apart from the bullying, which I mostly ignored, I enjoyed my time in public education.  Yet, even during this time, I started to develop a desire to home-school my children.  I think part of the reason was that I liked the idea of being semi-nomadic, moving once every two or three years...and home-schooling is a way to stabilize education over vast shifts of geography.

Even during this time, though, I think the seeds were planted to distrust public education for a second reason:  Public Schools are inflexible.  They are designed to push people down into lesser education.

Allow me to give three examples of this:

Exhibit A.  I was in "7X" English--the level between "Gifted and Talented" and just plain old 7th Grade English.  Although I got straight A's in this class, my teacher took one look at a test score, and signed me up for regular 8th Grade English...and the first day, I was bored, and felt out of place.  Thus, with my mom's encouragement, I went to the office and asked to be placed in the "8X" English class; the next year, I was invited into the "Gifted and Talented".

I came to realize that my teacher arbitrarily tried to stick me in a lower education track, based on a single test score.

Exhibit B.  I had a friend who didn't do well in a certain math class (I can't remember if it were geometry or algebra).  Although he spent some effort to make up for it during the summer, this effectively derailed him from the "Calculus" track in mathematics.  Between this, and the realization that high school only requires two years of this precious skill (as opposed to four for English), I had the sense that something was wrong.  Now that I'm older, I can explain it:  rather than have a flexible system where you can pick and choose math classes, you're stuck on a track.  If you get derailed, it's very difficult to get back to a higher track.

Exhibit C.  Grade advancement, to the extent that it prevents students from progressing, holds back the student as a whole.  If a student is bad at math, but good at reading--or vice verca--he is expected to be held back a grade.  Or, alternatively, a student is often pushed forward, despite being bad at both, to avoid the stigmatism of being "held back".

In either case, this is the direct result of a rigid system, arbitrarily dividing the students up by age, rather than by ability, and arbitrarily tying math and reading together.

Now, I have never been one to believe in "elite classes".  The one thing I despise about a lot of our mythmaking is the idea that there is a certain, small, group of people, who are born into greatness, and everyone else is doomed for the mass of sameness.  You can see it in the likes of Star Wars and the Force; Harry Potter and magic-users (the masses, there, are called "muggles"); and even "X-Men" and other Superheros.  I've always had the sense that anyone has the ability of greatness, if their potential is unlocked.

One work that decidedly is decidedly not in this camp is Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings.  The main characters--arguably the most important characters--are common, everyday farmers, who pop out from nowhere and change the world for the better.  Tolkein makes it clear that, while Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippen are up to the task, almost any hobbit could have done what they did!  And this, because hobbits like to do the right thing.

It is my feeling that anyone could learn calculus, and learn linear algebra, in high school.  I'm an ordinary person, and I at least learned calculus in high school!  All I did was dutifully do my homework; and when I decided to become a mathematician, I dutifully did my homework until I earned a doctorate.  Of course, because I liked mathematics, I read up on mathematics whenever I could, above and beyond what I learned in school.  But then, that's a side effect of passion...and it's also key to getting students to work.

But in our rigid school systems, teachers have limits of time, space, and bureaucracy, that keep them from teaching children to their greatest potential.  To achieve that, students need one-on-one attention...and they aren't likely to get that, even in a class of fifteen, or twelve, students.  And they certainly won't do that in a system designed to push students down, and even provides schools with monetary incentives to place as many students as possible in "Special" Education!

As I've read John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education, I've received confirmation on my suspicions, and I've learned a lot more besides.  I have concluded that I am likely wrong about having my children learn Calculus and Linear Algebra, and being able to read The Lord of the Rings, by the age of eighteen:  I ought to expect my children to be able to do these things by the age of twelve.

And my children will likely be able to do these things, not because they are gifted, but because they are human.