Showing posts from 2007

Doofuses against Ron Paul

Idiots like Chris Petrilli think that this is an "articulate deconstruction of why Ron Paul is dangerous" . Chris conveniently disables comments on posts with which people might disagree, so I reply here. The "article" is not so much a deconstruction as an emotional roller-coaster ride through what Ron Paul has said about a few arcane topics that are of disproportional importance to the author of the "article". The facts are that, yes, Ron Paul is not as well-educated on science as we would like. Yes, he has been recorded stating that evolution is "just a theory". But there is a greater moral principle that scientists shouldn't get to run other people's lives just because they think they're right. The FDA shouldn't be able to prevent you from taking human growth hormone, or taking steroids, or smoke pot, or take useless nutritional supplements , because it thinks those things are bad for you. The U.S. presidency is a supr

Non-conformity and groups

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes brilliantly about the substantial difference between joining a rebellion and founding one . The difference is that if you join "Standard Rebellion #37", you are merely joining an existing group of people who are going to think you are cool. Joining an existing rebellion is just switching sides. But being the first one to think original thoughts, stepping outside of the box, saying "No!" to what everyone around you accepts for a "fact" - that takes a willingness to separate from the group and replace it with nothing , a willingness to put a higher value on correctness than on being part of some kind of group. To paraphrase Eliezer, it's the difference between going to school dressed in black, and going to school in a clown suit. I did go to school in the clown suit. I did get the non-understanding, the quizzical looks, the "you're weird ", the shrugs. Even so, I never considered conforming an option. It would mea

The ethics of patent trolling

I would have no problem whatsoever if Dr. Michael David Doyle, as a form of just return for his major contributions to humanity - those contributions being negative - were run over tomorrow by a train. I would similarly have no qualms if David E. Stout and others benefitting from the Blackberry ripoff met with the very same fate. The U.S. patent system is thoroughly broken. It needs to be changed. But when a system is broken, people who abuse it for their benefit - at the expense of other individuals; at expense of humanity at large - are evil. Just because a system is broken, and abusing it is legal, doesn't mean that you should feel free to abuse it at will. And if you do, you are a scumbag, deserving of the worst fates that scumbags should meet. Suppose a quirk in the law meant that in some particular circumstances, you could legally get away with what was plainly murder. Would you not be a scumbag deserving of punishment if you did so, even if the law did not see it that

The free market at work: outsourcing surgery

Comparative cost of medical procedures in the U.S., compared to the same procedures at hospitals targeted at foreign medical tourists in India, Thailand and Singapore, from this 2006 article in TIME Magazine:

Totally not like a corrupt, tyrannical empire

This is totally not like something a corrupt "police force" of a 17th century autocratic European monarch might do. Thank noodle that the federal government is there to protect Mr. Ricks from ruthless exploitation by the monopolistic practices of Bill Gates. Like I wrote before : No Bill Gates has even 1/100 of the economic power as the person on whom you depend to protect you from Bill Gates . Who protects you from the person who protects you from Bill Gates?

The truth about giving

A recent holiday-themed 'charity' post over on Freakonomics prompted me to express the following thoughts. This is a deeply felt, and I believe deeply true, conviction that I've held for quite some time, but have never expressed quite so clearly, largely for fear of being perceived as a bad, bad, contemptible person. All too often, fear of how we will be perceived prevents us from speaking what we know is the truth, when that truth is of a cynical nature; and this allows the spreading of naive, nice and rosy false beliefs. But we should not have a bias in favor of naive, nice and rosy beliefs. We should not speak the truth only when it is nice. We should speak it always, or else people will act on false premises, and do damage because they believe in nice falsehoods instead of doing good on the basis of sound, real truth. So here it is. The truth about giving. To give without reservation is to spoil. To give is to bleed in order to allow someone else to consume resource

What men are really looking for

In October, Steven Levitt posted this amusing article on the Freakonomics blog. Go read it. It's about this personal ad posted by someone claiming to be a "spectacularly beautiful" 25-year old woman, asking for advice on how to marry a man who makes $500,000 a year or more. She's frustrated that she can't seem to get a guy that makes more than $250,000, while these millionaires walk around with wives that are just plain . What is she missing? What is it that these men are looking for? Before I tell you my response, let me first draw attention to this comment under the same article: The few guys who marry smart, beautiful women don’t seem to be very happy either. They also keep mistresses. Perhaps the decision to marry is based more on hormonal attraction than to cerebral considerations. [...] Strangely, the guys who marry Asian women seem to be the happiest and don’t have anything on the side. Why? I have no idea. Let me tell you why the guys who marry Asian w

Victims on Trial: The Everyday Business of Courts

This is your well-functioning state. And here it is in another instance.

The "liberal" (= socialist) worldview

No Bill Gates has even 1/100 of the economic power as the person on whom you depend to protect you from Bill Gates . Who protects you from the person who protects you from Bill Gates? I wrote a longish comment concluding with the above thought in response to this statement on reddit . This is my response: It is sad how your interpretation of reality is wrong and misleading on nearly every count. There are some claims I can easily dismiss offhand. Before there was the FDA, there were private organizations, similar to Consumer Reports today, which served the function of keeping food manufacturers to high standards. Furthermore, before there was an FDA, it was possible for there to be competition among providers of such supervision; depending on their selectivity when buying, consumers could choose to hold their food providers accountable to some or all of them. Furthermore, if some food producer in a privately supervised system does prove negligent to the point of causing harm, ther

The doghouse: Opera files antitrust complaint against Microsoft

Following to the EU court's disastrous judgement against Microsoft in September, it looks like the EU is going to become a preferred playground for niche vendors who aren't satisfied with the smallness of their chosen niches, and harbor ingenius ideas that the government can help them carve out larger niches than the market would otherwise provide on its own. What prevents you from installing Opera's browser on your Windows system? Nothing. You aim your browser to Opera's website, download, and run. A minute later, Opera is installed and running. But Opera thinks that users merely having the ability to run their software on Windows is not enough. No, Microsoft should bundle Opera's software with Windows, because, er... Opera wants a bigger slice of the search engine revenue that comes from that "Google" search field in your browser. How is it that people understand that the mere fact that Microsoft is allowing third party software on their platfor

Amazon strikes with low prices; the French strike back!

Just in case you had any doubts that the French were mad, here is their latest affirmation : may not offer free delivery on books in France, the high court in Versailles has ruled. The action, brought in January 2004 by the French Booksellers' Union (Syndicat de la librairie française), accused Amazon of offering illegal discounts on books and even of selling some books below cost. [...] Retail prices, particularly of books, are tightly regulated in France. Using "loss-leaders," or selling products below cost to attract customers, is illegal. Other restrictions apply to books retailers must not offer discounts of more than 5 percent on the publisher's recommended price. [...] But the free delivery offered by Amazon exceeded the legal limit in the case of cheaper books, the union charged. The union said it was pleased with the court's ruling, which would help protect vulnerable small bookshops from predatory pricing practices. Yes, predatory pric

The cost of secure software

Software that needs to be secure against a motivated attacker - say, a hacker - costs a factor of magnitude more to produce than software that only needs to protect against incidental abuse. The security panel at the Embedded Software Summit estimated the total cost at less than $1,000, but more than $100 per line. That tells you why all versions of Windows prior to 2003 and Vista, and all existing releases of Linux and OS X, are hackable crap. Sadly, though, security does not seem to be something the median user makes a purchase decision on. The big new feature of Windows Vista is significantly increased security. For me personally, this was important enough that I went out and bought a new machine specifically to run Vista. It works great. Yet, most other people keep dwelling on things like: "My buggy Windows XP drivers do not work." Granted, for every day users, the security is not nearly there yet. Microsoft has improved greatly in recent years, largely as a response

A small first step to WikiLaws?

Police wiki lets you write the law : Due to a new wiki launched by New Zealand police, members of the public can now contribute to the drafting of the new policing act. [...] "It's a novel move but when it comes to the principles that go into policing, the person on the street has a good idea ... as they are a customer," [NZ Police Superintendent Hamish McCardle] said. [...] The wiki version of the Policing Act will be viewed by New Zealand parliamentarians, before an official bill is introduced into Parliament, Superintendent McCardle said. Via Amos . See also my proposal for a technological upgrade of democracy into a wiki-inspired form , doing away with elected representatives and their ample opportunities for abuse, reducing oppression and cleaning up unreasonable laws. Guys, politicians benefit from the current system. Even if WikiLaws were so great as to cure AIDS, the common cold and cancer, the current crop of politicians aren't the ones who are going to pro

Justly acquired endowments

A common reasoning applied to justify disproportional taxation on the income of successful people is that they are "lucky" in the sense that they have talent and drive, whereas other people are "less lucky" and have neither. The "less lucky" ones (less talented, less attracted to hard work) should obviously be compensated, because humanity is a big brotherhood, you see, and everyone should be equal. This is as opposed to the animal kingdom at large: it would be "silly", you see, to extend the same benefits obtained through coercive taxation to elevate the standard of living for other "less lucky" creatures like gorillas, chimpanzees, or vervet monkeys. The big brotherhood of humanity only extends as far as the human race , you see, it does not extend to an arbitrary number of other creatures that might be even "less lucky", however similar to humans they may be . Besides, we can't subsidize all creatures, where would the

How big should a minimal state be?

Amos and I have recently conducted a conversation over on his blog , which segued into what fundamental framework should be provided by the state, and what should be left to the market. This is a topic of many worthy and important academic discussions, but here is my take. Amos: "What is considered 'fundamental'?" The minimum that works well. More generally, a law is beneficial to the extent that its benefits outweigh its costs. I think we can agree on that because it's a very general statement. I am in favor of those laws where benefits to all clearly outweigh the costs to all by factors of magnitude. Because laws are inherently a burden, I am against those laws where clear and great benefit cannot be unambiguously shown. Laws aren't free, every law that is passed is additional complexity and burden. So each law that is passed should undergo rigorous tests to make sure it is actually necessary and has substantial benefits that vastly outweigh its costs.

Taxing investment to spend it on consumption

Tim Bray recently wrote this in passing : [L]ike most Canadians, I have long loathed Mr. Black for his lecturing tone, towering arrogance, and unbearably-pompous writing style. I’ve also loathed his wife Barbara Amiel for over twenty years, since she was an newspaper writer in Toronto, reciting the dogma: we should slash social benefits and labour laws to motivate the poor to work harder, and simultaneously slash taxes and otherwise send money to the rich to motivate them to work harder. This was essentially about Conrad Black's prison sentence, about which I also commented on Tim's blog. But here is my response to the economic and moral assertions that Tim makes: [...] As for the lower-taxes-for-the-rich and less-benefits-for-the-poor jibe: this is obviously unpopular, but it has a point. Motivation requires both a carrot attracting to desired behavior, and a stick warning to stay away from undesired behavior. Aside from Paris Hilton, most rich do not get rich by sitting idl

WTC: the controlled demolition hypothesis

This is a recording of Steven E. Jones, physicist, talking about 9/11 to an audience at Brigham Young University. I started out watching this video thinking I would learn more about Steven's investigation into the suspicious collapse of World Trade Center building 7. This was a 47-story building that was not hit by any plane, was 100 meters away from the nearest tower, endured only minor structural damage, and yet collapsed , ostensibly from "fire", some 7 hours after the two towers, in a way suspiciously akin to what a professional demolition would look like. Steven's lecture talks about that, convincingly, but then he goes on to talk about more, also convincingly. Some highlights - partly from Steve's talk, with some additional quotes from this crackpot's page : G. W. Bush has a brother, Marvin, who was director of a company, then named Securacom, that used to be in charge of security at WTC. (Zack) The owner/leaseowner of WTC took out an insurance poli

Ticket scalpers

Bruce Schneier draws attention to the CAPTCHA-breaking aspect of this article by Jeff Atwood, which discusses how ticket brokers are circumventing Ticketmaster's CAPTCHAs in order to buy tickets for concerts in bulk, and then resell them at a higher price. I would like to draw attention to another, more boneheaded aspect of Jeff Atwood's otherwise great article. I quote the boneheadedness: scalpers are evil, profiteering bastards, to be sure. They deserve all the pain we can send their way. Jeff Atwood might not be a communist, and the communistness of this statement might not be obvious to you. But this is a communist statement. The economy is all about the distribution of scarce resources. If resources weren't scarce - for example, if we mechanized agricultural production to the point where it literally took 0.000% of the workforce to produce all the food we need, rather than some 2% that it takes today - well, if food could eventually be produced like that, then it w

The Economist misrepresents, butchers FairTax

My respect for The Economist has just decreased significantly after reading their assessment of "Mike Huckabee's tax plan". Here's what they write: Mr. Huckabee's tax plan is as radical as it is ill-thought out. To achieve a populist goal - abolishing income tax - he proposes a federal sales tax. To make up for lost revenue, it would have to be a stiff one, and levied on practically everything. Mr Huckabee says a rate of 23% would suffice, but this is a sleight of hand. Calculated the way sales taxes usually are, the rate would have to be at least 30% and possibly much higher. This would be horribly regressive. Mr Huckabee says he can solve that problem by giving monthly rebate cheques to those who need them. But to track Americans' income month by month would require a bureaucracy nearly as intrusive as the one Mr Huckabee hopes to abolish by repealing the income tax. The plan is a non-starter. Whoa. This is shoddy reporting. There is no mention that Mike Hu

Ekonomija po slovensko

Note: most of my blog posts are in English. This one is in Slovene because it is a reproduction of a comment thread on a friend's blog. Na prijateljičinem blogu je uporabnik s psevdonimom Maj napisal tale komentar, iz katerega se je razvilo nekaj, kar spominja na dialog, ampak kar iz razlogov, ki bodo kmalu postali očitni, ni čisto: Maj pravi: 1.12.2007 ob 10:45 Enotna davčna stopnja je čista katastrofa. Od nje imajo velike koristi le bogataši, srednji sloj ostane približno tam kjer je, revni pa najebejo. Razslojevanje je šlo že danes predaleč in zelo hitro se še nadaljuje in upam, da bo naslednja vlada poskrbela, da bo tega spet manj, ker ne želim živeti v tako zelo razslojeni družbi. Ne želim nobenih “getov” za revne in bogataških sosesk, čeprav je tega žal vedno več tudi pri nas. Prav se mi zdi, da sposobnejši, pametnejši, iznajdljivejši,… plačujejo več in s tem nekaj prispevajo tudi tistim, ki jih narava ni obdarila s takimi danostmi. Ne smemo dovoliti, da bodo rev

The four anti-economic biases

My previous attempt at satire about boycotting Santa was inspired by this article on reason , which excerpts Bryan Caplan's book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies . The article talks about how there are four basic biases with which most people are burdened: the anti-market bias - people believe that prices are set by the whims of CEOs rather than by market mechanisms of supply and demand; people don't believe that prices set by the market are fair; people believe that profits are an "unjust reward"; the anti-foreign bias - trade between individuals is a non-zero-sum game and is good, trade among towns is a non-zero-sum game and is good, trade among regions is a non-zero-sum game and is good - but trade among countries is a zero-sum game and is dangerous; the make-work bias - people believe that there are a finite amount of "jobs" that need to be "preserved" and "protected"; and the pessimistic bias

Boycott Santa! Free the elves! Support your local toy store

The festive season is upon us, and with this time every year comes the night when Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Frost or Father Christmas, whatever name depending on the culture he may be referred with, makes his silent visits under the cover of darkness to bestow prized gifts on children who have behaved well during the past year. As every year, the majority of children who have been good have all the reasons to look forward to this magical night when rewards for their past good behavior will come into fruition. Yet, in our focus on Santa and his bounty, we tend to ignore the lives of those who do not stand to benefit from Santa's benevolence. In all our festive joyfulness, we tend to ignore that Santa's bringing gifts to children is not equitable to everybody - and by that, I do not mean the naughty children who do not receive his gifts. No. Dear reader, let us turn our minds and hearts towards the poor people who are truly and materially disadvantaged by Santa's ann

Passive-aggressive economics

I watched my first two episodes of The Office today. It was hilarious... if in a painful way. It was somewhat like watching a train wreck: you know it's awful, yet you can't look away. I don't know if real people actually have to live out their work lives in such offices. Some people say they do. Some people compare their workplace with the Dilbert comic, and say it's exactly like that. I can't say. I only worked in an office for something like 18 months of my life; it wasn't like that. But is it possible that a great number of people are experiencing that kind of workplace? That they have a stupid bumbling boss like Michael from The Office, or a pointy-haired one like in Dilbert? And above these half-competent bosses are people who you hardly ever see, people who sometimes come and give you stupid trendy "motivational" pep talks, but who you feel don't really give a rat's ass about you? They pay you as low as they can, and if the going gets

Amazon's "Kindle" book reading device

I want one. Awesome. It's too bad it only works in the States. If only Amazon would consider a version with WiFi in place of, or in addition to, the Sprint network's EVDO, so that you could use it worldwide, wherever there's internet access... Link thanks to Larry O'Brien , who's already emailing publishers to ask about their support.

All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

It is serious : The appearance of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on the agenda of the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting gives a kind of scholarly imprimatur to a phenomenon that first emerged in 2005, during the debate in Kansas over whether intelligent design should be taught in public school sciences classes. Supporters of intelligent design hold that the order and complexity of the universe is so great that science alone cannot explain it. The concept's critics see it as faith masquerading as science. An Oregon State physics graduate named Bobby Henderson stepped into the debate by sending a letter to the Kansas School Board. With tongue in cheek, he purported to speak for 10 million followers of a being called the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- and demanded equal time for their views. "We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it," Henderson wrote.

The pitfalls of harnessing evolution

Eliezer Yudkowsky has been writing fascinating articles on various aspects of evolution. Here's the latest : Sounds logical, right? If you take the hens who lay the most eggs in each generation, and breed from them, you should get hens who lay more and more eggs. ... Selecting the hen who lays the most eggs doesn't necessarily get you the most efficient egg-laying metabolism. It may get you the most dominant hen, that pecked its way to the top of the pecking order at the expense of other hens. Individual selection doesn't necessarily work to the benefit of the group, but a farm's productivity is determined by group outputs. Indeed, for some strange reason , the individual breeding programs which had been so successful at increasing egg production now required hens to have their beaks clipped, or be housed in individual cages, or they would peck each other to death. ... And the fall of Enron? Jeff Skilling fancied himself an evolution-conjurer, it seems. (Not

Idiot politicians - how the U.S. trade deficit is no catastrophe

The Economist's Free Exchange blog calls attention to Russel Roberts' short essay Why We Trade : To hear most politicians talk, you’d think that exports are the key to a country’s prosperity and that imports are a threat to its way of life. Trade deficits—importing more than we export—are portrayed as the road to ruin. U.S. presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to get tough with China because of “unfair” trading practices that help China sell products cheaply. Republican candidate Mitt Romney argues that trade is good because exports benefit the average American. Politicians are always talking about the necessity of other countries’ opening their markets to American products. They never mention the virtues of opening U.S. markets to foreign products. ... We don’t export to create jobs. We export so we can have money to buy the stuff that’s hard for us to make—or at least hard for us to make as cheaply. We export because that’s the only way to get impor

Photos from a helicopter tour of St. Kitts

A company (Leeward Islands Helicopters, apparently no website yet) just started offering helicopter tours of St. Kitts & Nevis this month, so about a week ago, my wife and I went for their 25 minute helicopter tour of St. Kitts. It was just awesome. We've been around the island several times by car, and there are nice vistas from several vantage points, but you just can't beat the view from a chopper. Here are some of the photos from our tour. Golfview Estates with Half Moon Bay Villas in the background St. Christopher Club with the Atlantic beach in the foreground and the Caribbean beach in the background St. Christopher Club with Ocean's Edge Resort construction in the background Frigate Bay A view towards Conaree Bay, leaving Marriott Golf course with the Marriott building on the left and Half Moon Bay Villas on the right Floating above the rainforest Neighboring St. Eustatius from above Brimstone Hill Brimstone Hill Fortress with an outline of Nevis in the backgro