Friday, May 30, 2014

How Conservatives Use This One Weird Trick to Out Themselves As Douche Nozzles


I get email. Lots and lots and lots of email.

Some of that is my own fault. I'm a promiscuous subscriber to political lists, even lists relating to ideologies I oppose. Because know your enemy and because, hey, one of my jobs is commentary aggregator.

Some of it is not my fault. I have damn near burned up the IntarTubes trying to get "conservative" site Town Hall to stop filling my inbox up with crap. I understand that others have run into a similar situation: Click the unsubscribe link. Mail stops coming. A few days later, mail starts coming again. Rinse, repeat, but sooner or later messages start arriving again with subject headers like:


This Might Have Just Killed America


And internal text like:

America has been dealt yet another major blow. ... America may soon fall victim to the powers of the East. ... just last week, Putin may have delivered Obama's final blow. ... How to Take Advantage of Obama's Lack of Action ... remarkable opportunity .... there has never been a better time to speculate .... I am not only going to introduce you to this explosive opportunity, but also introduce you to a Company that is poised to take advantage of this upcoming growth market.

And hey, if they are going to keep sending it to me no matter how many times I tell them to stop, I guess I'll just use it in a blog post.

Now, here's the thing:

This email is sent via Town Hall, but is presumably one of their "partner" (read: Paying advertiser) emails, even though this particular one doesn't say so (some of them do say so).

I have nothing against companies that offer speculative investment opportunities based on current events. But when a "conservative" site takes money to expose its audience to a message at odds with its own claimed message, one has to wonder just how sincere the claimed message really is.

In theory, the "conservative" message is "America is in crisis ... let's save it."

But the constant stream of spam (a term I don't use willy-nilly but which applies when I tell you to stop sending it and you keep sending it anyway, Town Hall) carrying the message "America is in crisis ... hey, let's see if we can make a buck on that!" is in direct conflict with the former message.

It's not just Town Hall, by the way. I'm only picking on them because NewsMax, et. al actually honored my unsubscribe requests. A lot of these "conservative" outfits play the same game. I've been reading their emails since the Internet first got big. They love it when there's a Democrat in the White House. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been their biggest profit centers. The only trick in their bag during the eight-year Bush Interregnum was to dance on the graves of the 9/11 dead.

Interestingly, most "progressive" outfits take a very different tack. Their advertisers don't say "the Republicans are killing America, here's how to make money off it." Instead, they say "here's a company that embodies and/or supports our cause -- you should do business with them."

Not that I think "progressives" are any better than "conservatives," mind you. It's just that "progressives" are better at aligning their advertising with their ideological messaging so that they're not fighting against themselves.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Yes, I Am Going to See It


Maybe not on opening day (movies are expensive down here these days so I usually wait for them to hit the $2 theater), but I'm going to see it. Seth MacFarlane and Neil Patrick Harris at the same time? Who could ask for more? (Well, we could ask Hollywood to go back and make an Ender's Game that doesn't suck, but that's probably asking too much.)

I don't do trigger warnings per se, but if gratuitous violence, swear words, sexual talk that goes way beyond innuendo, Sarah Silverman, etc. cause you to have seizures you might think hard before hitting "play."


The World Wars, or Six Hours of My Life I'll Never Get Back


It's bad. Really bad. I sat through it mainly because it was so full of howlers that I couldn't make myself stop hanging on for the next one.

Did you know that Joseph Stalin (as opposed to Lenin and Trotsky, who are never mentioned) founded the Soviet Union?

Or that Winston Churchill learned about warfare in the trenches at the end of World War One (that's right -- he never served in India and Afghanistan, didn't accompany American forces as a journalist in the Spanish-American War, didn't get captured, escape across hundreds of miles of enemy territory, then ride back across that territory on a bicycle as a messenger during the Boer War)?

Or that Patton led the invasion of Sicily? Apparently Patton didn't report to Harold Alexander. Apparently Bernard Montgomery and his half of the ground force weren't even there. Also, the invasion of Sicily was the first major American operation in the European Theater -- Operation Torch never happened and nobody ever heard of Eisenhower during the war. I guess they staged the Sicily landing out of London or some damn thing.

I never knew that Douglas MacArthur was the most important leader of US forces in World War One. Silly me, I thought that was Pershing. I thought that MacArthur was, until the last little bit of the war, Chief of Staff of the Rainbow Division. Yes, he did go out on attacks, but he wasn't supposed to. He was supposed to be at army headquarters making sure the division's staff officers did their jobs. And similarly to Churchill, no mention of his distinguished career prior to that war -- he just happened to be a general by that time, apparently for no other reason than that his dad won the Medal of Honor in the US Civil War.

And those are just ones that I noticed and remember, not having bothered to take actual notes.

OK, OK ... so they only had six hours to cover two World Wars (whose fault is that? They could have made it five two-hour nights). That might entail glossing over some of the finer points. But it doesn't mean they had to just be stupid and wrong. And especially if they were going to focus on seven individual people (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill, FDR, Patton and MacArthur) they could have taken the time to get the important things about those people and their interactions right.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

2012 + 2014 = 1984


September 2, 2012:

"I put forward a specific plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. We are in the process of doing that right now," Obama said Saturday during a speech in Sioux City, Iowa. "And when I say I'm going to bring them home, you know they're going to come home."


May 27, 2014:

President Barack Obama said the U.S. will cut its military presence in Afghanistan to almost zero over the next two years and redirect its efforts to combat the evolving nature of terrorism.

As the U.S. combat role ends this year, the force in Afghanistan will be reduced to 9,800 troops, enough to help train Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism operations, he said. In 2015, that deployment will be cut in half and by the end of 2016, as Obama prepares to leave office, the U.S. will leave only enough troops for security for the American Embassy.

1984:

As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a 'categorical pledge' were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.

...

Winston was smoking a Victory Cigarette which he held carefully horizontal. The new ration did not start till tomorrow and he had only four cigarettes left. For the moment he had shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen. It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grammes a week.

How do you spell "bullshit?" H-O-P-E-A-N-D-C-H-A-N-G-E.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Quote of the Day


Actually from Sunday, but who's counting? Quoth Ann Althouse:

The post actually begins with "Trigger Warning: Violence against Women." That's after the headline, quoted in my post title, so anyone already knows the subject. The "Trigger Warning" isn't so much a way of warning readers that there's something triggering in the post content as it is a way of asserting that the writer is part of a movement that purports to care about the sensitivities of women.

"Trigger warnings" are claims of ideological solidarity with this or that designated victim class. Which is an important topic for a much larger discussion some other time.

The important point here is that they're disguised as something else for the purpose of smuggling certain assumptions into the discussions which follow them.

Q: Who's Responsible for Elliot Rodger's Murderous Rampage?


A: Elliot Rodger.

Not women who wouldn't have sex with Elliot Rodger.

Not "men's rights activists."

Not "the National Rifle Association."

Elliot Rodger.

Hope that clears things up for ya.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I'm Not An Economist


I don't even play one on TV. And I try to make an effort not to pretend to be one on the Internet beyond applying the bare-bones basics.

Nonetheless, I'm going to take a swat at an economic issue here, and in doing so I'll be gainsaying both a fairly standard libertarian talking point and the talking point of its opponents.

The issue is whether or not consumers "pay for"  Internet services that are priced "free" in terms of demand for monetary payment. Paul Ohm at Jotwell does a reasonable job of outlining the two sides (he takes one of those sides), while linking to a couple of source papers. I'm going to link/cite Ohm and leave it up to you to decide whether the papers he cites in turn are worth your reading time. So, Ohm:

Have you heard any of these arguments lately? Consumers willingly pay for the wonderful free services they enjoy using the currency of their personal information. We can't trust surveys that say that consumers despise commercial tracking practices, because the revealed preferences of consumers demonstrate that they are willing to tolerate tracking in return for free social networking services, email, and mobile apps. If privacy law X were implemented, it would kill the free Internet (or more immodestly, the Internet).

... and ...

The core libertarian argument that drives the rebuttal in Free and Free Fall is that people "pay" for free, online services with their data. No they don’t, at least not if "payment" is supposed to represent an accurate measure of consumer preference and definitely not if "payment" means that consumers rationally give up data about themselves in exchange for free services.

To which I reply:


  1. Yes, libertarian economists do sometimes tend to overplay the "rationality" hand with respect to what consumers do and why they do it;
  2. But that doesn't and shouldn't matter.
The price of "free services" on the Internet is usually at least partially paid in personal data. I want free web mail. In return for that free web mail, I let Google show me ads. Pursuant to Google showing me ads, I give them some of my personal information and allow them to track my activities on the Internet so that they can target those ads to my interests. This theoretically means that both I and the advertisers benefit because I'm seeing ads for things I might want to buy. And of course Google profits by selling those ads and (at least implicitly) that information.

Is it likely that many, perhaps even most, Internet users don't think very hard about what they're paying for what they're getting? Absolutely.

On the other hand, many, perhaps most, shoppers make irrational decisions all the time. There's a reason that the candy bars, individual beverage servings and tabloid newspapers are located next to the cash register at your local grocery store. The store owners (rationally) expect that a non-trivial number of customers will (quite possibly irrationally) "impulse buy" items like that.

The important question about my decision to pay for Internet services with my personal information isn't whether or not that decision is rational. It's whether or not that decision is voluntary.

As long as a provider of "free" Internet services isn't actually defrauding me in some way -- lying about how my data will be used in order to get something of value through deception -- the decision to engage in that transaction is and should be mine, not some government regulator's or "privacy advocate"'s.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dark Wallet Update


The better anonymous angel of BTC nature responded again to my bleg, upping my BTC-E balance to a total of 0.0102 BTC. So even though I had pretty much called the whole idea off for lack of funds, I figure I owe it to said angel to go ahead and test Dark Wallet instead.


  1. I transferred my BTC-E balance to my Dark Wallet.
  2. The balance after BTC-E withdrawal fees arrived in my Dark Wallet immediately, marked "unconfirmed" and therefore not spendable.
  3. Within a couple of minutes, Dark Wallet stopped displaying "unconfirmed," which presumably means that some threshold of block chain confirmations was met (blockchain.info reported two confirmations).
  4. The 0.0102 total that I started with came from three addresses. I had 0.0092 BTC remaining by the time it got to my Dark Wallet, so I decided to send 0.009 BTC back to the address that made the largest contribution (0.01 BTC).
  5. Dark Wallet reported for about a minute that it was "mixing" -- this, as I understand it is Dark Wallet's "money laundering" function to obfuscate the origins of Bitcoin transfers -- then reported that it was "sending with no mixing" (this may be related to me clicking on the "mixing" notification).
  6. Blockchain.info reported the transfer as complete, with one confirmation, almost immediately.
What does all this tell me? Not a lot, but at least one thing I needed to know: This alpha release of Dark Wallet does in fact work as a Bitcoin wallet and in/out transfer system. It should be obvious that that is one of the non-negotiable specs.

I wish that the "mixing" had happened so that I could comment on its obfuscation functions, and later on when I have some of my own BTC to mess with instead of having to ask others to donate, I'll experiment with that some more.

I'd much appreciate comments from knowledgeable people on the security/privacy aspects of the thing -- whether or not what's there works and works effectively or not -- to the extent that those things can be evaluated form both a use and code analysis standpoint.

For obvious reasons I am not expecting an alpha product to be perfect, but Dark Wallet does look very promising to me. If I'm wrong and anyone out there knows it, please tell me and tell me why. And thanks to the angel or angels for the "messing around with it" coinage!

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Will Power


I don't always agree with George Will, and I've personally given up all hope that electoral politics can accomplish anything positive. That said, his column in yesterday's Washington Post is pretty damn good. The opening paragraph, just to get you interested enough to click thru:

All modern presidents of both parties have been too much with us. Talking incessantly, they have put politics unhealthily at the center of America's consciousness. Promising promiscuously, they have exaggerated government's proper scope and actual competence, making the public perpetually disappointed and surly. Inflating executive power, they have severed it from constitutional constraints. So, sensible voters might embrace someone who announced his 2016 candidacy this way ...

After which he describes (in "announcement speech" format) a standard so high that even the Libertarian Party hasn't come close to meeting it in at least a decade. The only recent general election presidential candidate I can think of who might answer to it would be 2008 Boston Tea Party nominee Charles Jay.

"... but some animals are more equal than others"


September 7, 2012:

Michigan voters looking for a third-party option in November will have to look somewhere other than the Libertarian Party.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman in Detroit ruled Gary Johnson won't be on the ballot because of state law that prevents a candidate from losing in a primary for one party and running in the general election on another party's ticket.


May 5, 2014:

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the Libertarian Party of Ohio its chance to get a gubernatorial candidate on the primary ballot on the eve of Tuesday's election.

Ohio's elections chief disqualified that candidate, Charlie Earl, in March after his nominating petitions were challenged. Secretary of State Jon Husted agreed with a hearing officer who found that two Earl petitioners failed to properly disclose their employers.

May 23, 2014:


A federal judge in Michigan on Friday ordered Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to be placed back on the state's Democratic primary ballot.

...

Earlier on Friday, the Michigan secretary of State had denied an appeal from Conyers because he did not have the necessary 1,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Due to a Michigan state law that requires people gathering petition signatures to be registered in the state, more than 600 signatures for Conyers were tossed out because the people who helped collect them were not registered to vote in Michigan, the country clerk had said.

...

"The State’s interest in combatting election fraud is compelling, but the State may protect that interest through a less restrictive means."

[U.S. District Court Judge Matthew] Leitman also said the Conyers campaign's failure to comply with the law appeared to be a good faith mistake.

...

The 50-year incumbent will now face off against primary opponent Rev. Horace Sheffield III, who first challenged the petition signatures.

Because DEMOCRACY, see?

Friday, May 23, 2014

BTC Bleg


I need some Bitcoin.

I don't need a lot of Bitcoin -- even an amount that translates into a few pennies in US currency will suffice.

Why don't I have any Bitcoin? Because I was dumb enough to leave what little I had sitting in a MtGox wallet and it disappeared when MtGox did. I haven't purchased or otherwise received any since. If I needed a significant amount, I'd go buy some, but I don't need a significant amount. Something like 0.0002 BTC should be plenty.

Why do I need it? I want to race it into, around and out of a new track -- the Dark Wallet alpha -- just to assure myself that said track is sound (so far as an alpha release can be expected to be sound) before I do some writing that refers to it.

And no, I'm not content to just use the Testnet coins. I've already used the Testnet coins. Interesting, but if I haven't tested it with real BTC, I haven't tested it.

My little "tip me with Bitcoin" widget is over in the right sidebar. Thanks in advance.

Update: Someone hooked me up. Thanks! Unfortunately, I'm an idiot and hadn't noticed before that the online wallet I use since MtGox went tits up (BTC-E) has a 0.01 BTC withdrawal minimum, so I can't do the things I want to do. Guess my writing on Dark Wallet will just have to be of the "it's in alpha and looks promising" variety instead of "intrepid crypto-currency user tests it out for you" variety."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Two New Pieces at C4SS


First, Space: The Long Arm of the Law Really Isn't That Long. Teaser:

"[T]here is enough wiggle-room in the language of the treaty that spacefaring nations can sign memoranda of understanding with each other to allow specific commercial activities," writes Koebler. But there's a lot more wiggle room in space itself to get away from nation-state memoranda and corporate "human resource" policies.

It's likely that both Earthbound nation-states and corporations will encourage the populations of habitations far from Earth to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. It's neither cheap nor trivial to ferry people and supplies back and forth between Earth and low orbit or the Moon, let alone Mars or the moons of Jupiter or Saturn.

And the instant those off-world habitations are self-sufficient -- that is, once they are capable of providing their own shelter, air and air pressure, food and water without depending on the long and tenuous tether to Earth -- odds are they will begin to feel limited (at MOST) obligations to their previous nation-states or corporate bosses and will start doing ... well, whatever they damn well please.

Second, Guns: Out of the Bottle, Like it or Not. Teaser:

It's time to repeat, with emphasis, what Cody Wilson told the world a year ago when he rolled the Liberator out:

"Gun control" is over.

It's done.

It's as dead as music copyright, and for the same reason: Advancing technology has taken the matter out of the hands of government regulators and their privileged industry monopolists.

Nobody has to like it.

That's how it is whether anyone likes it or not.

Personally, I like it.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Universally Applicable Claims Are Almost Never True


For example, this one:

Nobody wants to see police officers -- already underpaid and underappreciated -- get hurt in the line of duty.

In real life, as opposed to in A. Barton Hinkle's imagination, lots of people want to see police officers get hurt in the line of duty.

Crooks who get caught by cops. People whose dogs get shot by cops. Drug users and sellers whose businesses are disrupted by cops. Sex workers in jail courtesy of cops instead of making a living. Etc., etc.

I'm not posting this to argue about whether or not we SHOULD want police officers to get hurt in the line of duty, although I have opinions on the subject.

I'm just posting it to point out that claims starting with "nobody" (or with "everybody") are almost always false.

Also, because the article I link to is interesting.

Why the Republicans Hate Eric Shinseki


It's not because of the Veterans Administration hospitals scandal.

It's because back in 2003, as Chief of Staff of the US Army, Shinseki fairly accurately (and more to the point, publicly) assessed the likely costs and troop level requirements of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Shinseki's candor and honesty embarrassed Republican president George W. Bush, Republican Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Social Democrat (er, Republican ... but I repeat myself) Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who were busy promoting the planned war of aggression as a "cakewalk" which would be inexpensive and maybe even "pay for itself" with oil profits (while at the same time denying it was a "war for oil").

Politicians never forgive people who expose their lies and idiocy. Republican pols have wanted Shinseki's head on a platter for more than a decade now, and it looks like they may get it.

While I'm Blogging About Tattoos Anyway ....


As I mentioned in my Ink Master gripe, I've got five ... er, four, because one was covered up ... of them.

My first two tattoos were done by: Me.

When I was a callow youth, I noticed my dad's tattoo, his initials on his wrist, and asked him about it. By then I'm sure he regretted it, but he did tell me how he'd gotten it. It had been done (I don't recall whether by him or by a friend) with a plain sewing needle, India ink and some thread wrapped around the needle to hold the ink.

When I was a slightly less callow, but just as stupid, youth, I resolved to do the same thing. So, onto my right arm (above the elbow) went a girl's name: "JULIE." Yeah, it's always a girl, isn't it? And while I was at it, onto my right shoulder went an anarchy symbol (not because I was really an anarchist yet, but because I was into punk). They were ugly tattoos, but small and easily kept hidden.

When I returned from the 1991 Gulf War, my best friend and I went out into town from Camp LeJeune and browsed the tattoo shops. We settled on one run by "Doc Holliday." When I look up that name in relation to tattoos, I get several hits for different artists, but anyway, I chose a grim reaper design from the wall flash with "USMC" lettered beneath it, my friend (Bill Koleszar) chose a very nice "Marine aiming a rifle at you" design, and Doc went to work.

As he was working back and forth on us (one for a little bit, then a break while he worked on the other), Bill and I started looking around the room (the tattoo chairs were in a separate room from the lobby with flash all over the walls).

The first thing I really noticed was a bookshelf beneath a TV ... with a copy of Mein Kampf on it. Then I looked above the TV and noticed a little sign: "Death to Race-Mixers."

Turned out that "Doc" was a klansman. And I should probably mention that Bill is of dual Hungarian-Japanese extraction. Awkward. But the tattoos were already in progress, "Doc" was nothing but friendly and accommodating, and with reasonable speed our tattoos were finished. My grim reaper has faded and blurred a bit with time, but it covered the "JULIE" tattoo and in my opinion it's held up pretty well -- the reds and yellows are still pretty bright, etc. I haven't seen Bill Koleszar in close to 20 years, but I bet his tattoo fared even better.

My next tattoo was done in 1997 by Chris Bowman, late of Houston, Texas, apparently now of Blue Horseshoe in Virginia (no link because tattoo site linkage seems to break on little or no notice, but Google him or it). It was a tribal anklet. I know that tribal is not a big thing anymore, but hey, this was the 90s.

The anklet remains a boss tattoo. I had picked some flash, but Bowman got inspired and asked me if he could freehand his idea. Hey, why not? This is much better than your typical tribal -- very crisp line work with interior shading, imbued with red and yellow highlights instead of just flat black, with a sort of "black sun" motif on the outer edge. If I had the luxury of traveling the country for ink, I would track down Bowman for my next tat without hesitation. He does unsurpassed work, as a glance at his online portfolios shows (I won't be surprised if he shows up on Ink Master ... but that might be a step down for him).

A year or so later, another artist started a small chest piece (a Japanese kanji character in black, with a blue aura) in that was intended as a gift from a girlfriend. Then he closed shop and left town before the finishing session. So that one remains incomplete and I plan to have it covered with something else (I'm considering a black "Illuminati-style" pyramid with the C4SS logo reshaped into a triangle as the cap stone) soon. But while he was at it, the artist did run his black needle around my "jailhouse" anarchy symbol, making it look crisp and reasonably nice. So there's that anyway.

I normally don't heavily edit my posts after I make them, but I plan to come back into this one and insert photos (can't take them at the moment -- my camera is charging).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Disappointing #Inkmaster Season


Ink Master is the only "reality TV" show I watch, and I watch it because I love tattoos (I've got four -- five if you include one that was covered up -- and intend to get more, but that's a story for another time).

I know that there are several respects in which "reality TV" isn't, you know, real. There has to be a certain amount of scripting to keep things interesting. But if it's going to be good "reality TV" that scripting has to be at least plausible. And in season four, the scripting required to bring one particular artist to the finale just completely failed the "suspension of disbelief" test.

The artist in question is Scott Marshall, who of course is a fine artist (he'd never have been on the show, let alone in the top five, if he wasn't).

At the beginning of Episode 11, title "Karma's a Bitch," the field stood at five remaining competitors -- Marshall, Walter "Sausage" Frank, Matti Hixson, Halo and Melissa Monroe.

The episode opened, as usual, with a "flash challenge." The competitors first had to draw an impromptu sketch of the Statue of Liberty, live from a moving boat, then use that sketch as sole reference to do a tattoo on a human canvas. In the main challenge, each artist had to tattoo a snake, Japanese-style, on a human canvas's rib cage.

In both of these challenges, Scott Marshall was the clear loser. His Statue of Liberty tattoo was visibly incorrect (the statue's head was missing a spike) and his Japanese snake tattoo was picked by the human canvas jury as worst tattoo of the day.

There was simply no doubt that if the artists were judged on the quality of their tattoo work, Marshall was going home. Period.

But the judges instead chose to send home Melissa Monroe. And they came right out and said that it was not because of her work in the two challenges, but because she had previously not been winning challenges and Scott had.

There's a word for that. That word is "bullshit."

Eleven episodes into the season and Monroe (who has only been tattooing for three years) is constantly improving. She just flat-out whips the ass of an artist who's been tattooing for 15 years ... and instead of sending the loser home, they send her home?

I say again: Bullshit.

To the extent that this was supposed to be a real competition, there was no way for Marshall to win it, because in reality Marshall would never have survived the cut from five to four based on the work the artists did in that stage.

The legitimate top four would have been Sausage, Hixson, Halo and Monroe. The legitimate three finale artists would have been three of those four (my guess is that Monroe would have gone down next and that Sausage would have ultimately won, but those are just educated guesses).

The whole thing was transparently scripted to bring the "Sausage-Marshall feud" to the finale, quality of work be damned. And when "reality TV" is transparently scripted in defiance of reality, it stops working.

Hopefully the next season of the show will find a way to make the necessary tension/conflict scripting work with, rather than against, the skill and talent displayed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Old Car, New Old Computer Setup


I've been attempting to blog at least daily the last few months, but dropped the ball last week because I was busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

As mentioned previously, we were looking for a "new" car for Tamara. We finally settled on one and got it purchased on Thursday and licensed on Friday -- a 1994 Isuzu Rodeo. Pretty sweet so far, but of course it takes awhile to be sure about an older vehicle.

Speaking of new stuff, a few years ago Tamara told me about her new computer setup at work. The next time I visited her office to check it out. She was using TWO monitors. I thought that sounded kind of stupid and unnecessary. Then I forgot about it for a few years.

Last week I started thinking about it again. A lot of my online work involves copying and pasting content from web sites into forms, documents, etc. At RRND, for example, I follow 50-odd libertarian commentary sites on a daily basis (myself -- more when I'm covering for other editors), looking for content to excerpt, blurb and link. At C4SS, I transpose our web-published op-eds into cover letters for submission to newspapers. And so on and so forth.

It finally hit me that running two monitors would mean I wouldn't have to constantly switch back and forth between "copying" tabs and "pasting" tabs in one browser window -- I could just keep them in separate windows on separate screens and be able to see both at once and move my mouse directly between them. Yeah, I know that that's something it should have taken me about a second-and-a-half to realize, rather than several years, but sometimes I'm reaaaaallly slow on the uptake.

So anyway, this weekend I finally got around to adding a second monitor to the Chromebox and it is also pretty sweet so far. Heck, even when work doesn't require two monitors, I can open a Netflix tab or whatever on the second monitor and have entertainment right next to the other stuff I'm doing.

How's that for a completely uninteresting blog post done just get a start on catching back up?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

If it Sounds too Good to be True ...


... you know how that sentence ends, right?

Tamara is car shopping. Which means I'm car shopping (she's more patient than I am -- there are several vehicles I would have pulled the trigger on by now, but she's the one who has to drive the damn thing every day, so it's her call).

Since we're looking at the low end of the market -- inexpensive "to work and back and around town" vehicles for sale by owner -- we're spending a lot of time on craigslist.

So a couple of hours ago, I see a 2003 Volkswagen Beetle listed. We've been looking at bigger cars because we're a family of four, but the price was so attractive that I thought "hey, we're not planning any long road trips ... if it's in good shape she could drive it for a couple of months while we're looking for the PERFECT deal, then flip it for more than she paid ... if we move fast, go see it and snap it up before anyone else has a chance to get it."

But then I started thinking. There was something strange about the ad, above and beyond the low price (about half of KBB value for even a "fair" car, and this looked like a "clean" vehicle).

Instead of the normal Craigslist contact mechanisms, this one had the email address pasted into the picture of the car. Hmmm.

I punched that email address into Google, and it turned up a total of one result: Another Craigslist listing for the same car, from 1,100 miles away in another city, posted 15 hours before. This time the email address was pasted as text into the listing instead of into a graphic, which is why I found it at all. I bet there are a bunch more out there with the picture-paste address instead of the text-pasted address.

Same description. Same seller email. Same price. Not EXACTLY the same picture, but taken in the same parking lot (one was front view, one was side view). No doubt whatsoever that it's the same car.

So, what's up with that?

Whatever listing you find and respond to, it will turn out that the car is in some other city, crated and awaiting shipment once you schlep down to Western Union and send them the money. Of course, if you are gullible enough to do that, you'll never see your money again and you'll never, ever, ever see the car.

I was born yesterday. But not late yesterday. Watch out for scams, folks. They are out there looking for someone not quite as smart or careful as you.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I, For One, Welcome Our New Inuit Overlords


[T]he institution of property protection can be regarded as only a necessary but not also as a sufficient condition of economic growth, that is of rising per capita incomes. So some other empirical factor which does not figure in pure economic theory must explain the length of the Malthusian Age and how we got out of it. And this missing factor is the historical variable of human intelligence.

Man is physically weak and ill-equipped to deal with brute nature. It was advantageous for him to develop his intelligence -- that is, his knowledge of cause and effect relations -- and to be successful as hunter and gatherers and even more so as agriculturalists (and keep in mind until about 1800 90% of the population worked in agriculture). This required some intelligence.

Not every person was equally intelligent, however, and higher intelligence translated into greater economic success and greater economic success in turn translated into greater reproductive success; that is, led to producing a larger number of surviving descendants. For the existence of both of these relationships, that is intelligence leads to success and greater success leads to reproductive success,there exists a massive amount of empirical evidence.

Now further, this tendency of selecting for higher intelligence would be particularly pronounced under harsh external conditions. If the human environment is unchangingly constant and mild as in the seasonless tropics for instance, where one day is like another year in and year out, high or exceptional intelligence offers a lesser advantage than in an inhospitable environment with widely fluctuating seasonal variations. The more challenging the environment, the higher the premium placed on intelligence as a requirement of economic and consequently of reproductive success. Hence the growth of human intelligence would be most pronounced in harsher -- and that historically of course in more northern -- regions of human habitation.

That's Hans-Hermann Hoppe, speaking at the Austrian Scholars Conference 2010 (audio available here).

I confess myself quite interested to learn that the climes where the Industrial Revolution occurred are more "challenging" than the Atlantic Hurricane Belt, the Sahara or Lapland.

Hat tips -- Roderick Long mentioned this speech in an email, which got me interested. Jonathan Carp mentioned the Inuits in passing in an email on the same thread, which gave me the title.

WTF, CSM?


The editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor writes:

Ukraine's plebicites [sic] are illegal under both its own laws and international law, as well as corrupted by being held under threat of force and slipshod procedures. Yet despite this illegtimacy [sic], the interim government in Kiev has responded with a civic spirit, born of a democracy that seeks firmer bonds of community by consensus.

By "seeks firmer bonds of community by consensus," the Monitor's editorial board presumably means "guns down would-be voters in the streets."

And speaking of "illegal" actions, the Monitor doesn't deign to mention just how the "interim government" it lauds for "civic spirit" came to power less than three months ago. Hint: It wasn't "born of a democracy that seeks firmer bonds of community by consensus."

Friday, May 09, 2014

Craigslist Car Peeve


So we're looking at cars, and Craigslist is generally touted as the way to go. Lots of good deals there, etc. Unfortunately, one out of 10 or so goes something like this:

GREAT CAR! New tires, cold A/C, recently had timing belt and ball joints replaced! Gets INSANE gas mileage! This is definitely a PRIMO daily driver!

[Insert another 100-500 words about how freaking great this car is]

Doesn't run, will need trailer or tow.

About another 1 in 10 substitute something along the lines of this for that last part:

And cheap! It's only ten years old and I'm pricing it to sell -- at least $50 less than you'd pay an authorized dealer for this year's model!

The other 8 out of 10 are reasonable, if you can actually reach the owner, which about half the time you can't and the other half of the time you do only to be told that the car sold 20 minutes before you called.



Thursday, May 08, 2014

Doesn't it Just Make You Feel All Warm and Fuzzy ...


... to know that the state of Florida is committed to killing people in a "humane and dignified" way?

I know I sleep better at night, confident that if the Florida Department of Corrections decides to kill me they won't make me wear a funny hat and watch Dave Chapelle re-runs while they're doing it.

I do have to wonder, though, if it might not be more "humane and dignified" to, um, not kill people.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Election 2016 Handicapping: Bush v. Paul?


They're the front-runners for the GOP's presidential nomination at 13% each, according to a new CNN/ORC poll [hat tip -- Politico, via #sayfie].

What's changed:

- Chris Christie is sinking (he's down to 9%). I predicted this, of course, but it's not like that's a prophetic feat of note. There's only room for one "party establishment" candidate. "BridgeGate" was a chest wound in Christie's presidential aspirations; Bush indicating real interest is the equivalent of La Cosa Nostra sending around a guy to put a .22 in the back of his nascent campaign's head.

- Mike Huckabee, who led the GOP primary polls as recently as a month ago, is fading as the campaigns start to actually crank up -- maybe not officially, but they're burning gasoline and shoe leather and not bothering to keep their intentions secret.

- Paul Ryan is still hanging in there right behind Paul and Bush, but that won't last. No sitting US Representative has been elected to the White House since Garfield, and "I was second fiddle to your last big sacrificial lamb" is not a bankable qualification.

If nothing changes -- and at 2 1/2 years out, all kinds of things can change -- we're probably looking at a Bush/Paul race. If that's the case, it's my considered opinion that Paul's odds are even longer than those his dad faced. The party establishment has had two election cycles to shore up its weak spots against insurgency from the Pauls' direction. State and local party organizations will be locked down tight, the big checkbooks will come out for Bush and the GOP establishment would rather throw the election (if it's not already a lost cause regardless of candidate) than put a loose cannon on the Oval Deck.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Like Fish in a Barrel ...


... only not.


It's "potatoes in a barrel" (actually in a plastic storage box that had a hole in it anyway, so I put a few more for drainage). I had a few extra red taters left when we bought a 5-pound bag for a big (Thanksgiving) meal, so I set them aside over the winter to sprout "eyes" and started them a few weeks ago.

If it works out at all well, I'll save most of this crop and do a bigger one -- either in multiple barrels or in traditional rows in the ground -- this fall. I think I could easily get two crops, maybe three, in per year. Not sure how they'd weather the two months when it sometimes freezes, and not sure how well they'd do in the heat of summer, but I'm pretty certain they'll be just fine in the spring and in the fall.

We like potatoes -- and even potatoes, which used to be about as cheap as it was possible for food to be, seem way too expensive to me these days. Of the things I'd like to grow for our table, they top the list. So I guess we'll see how it goes.


Lawn grumble


Awhile back, as I pushed my little 22-inch mower around the 1-acre lot I live on, it suddenly occurred to me that the "lawn" is probably a fairly modern development based on emerging "middle class" types wanting to be "like" British aristocrats. A little reading confirmed that yeah, that's pretty much it.

Up until at least the 1930s, and mostly until after World War Two, typical middle- or working-class Americans didn't have "lawns." They had "yards."

What's the difference, and what changed?

A "lawn" is a carefully manicured, prettified piece of land with grass cut off to a uniform height. Upper-class Brits could afford staff (and large herds of sheep) to cut and maintain their "lawns" so that they could have parties, go for strolls and play croquet, tennis, etc. (they had leisure time, see).

A "yard" is just the space around a non-aristocrat's dwelling. Until the 1930s or so, it was usually either ignored, or used to grow vegetables or as space for a few "yard birds" (chickens). I also seem to recall hearing that even in urban Chicago in the 19th century, it wasn't that unusual to keep a milk cow in the back "yard."

So, when and why did regular people get "lawns?"

In 1915, the US Department of Agriculture and the US Golf Association began collaborating on research into the types of grasses that a) made for good golf course fairways/greens and b) could be grown in North America.

By the 1920s and 1930s, the automobile was making "suburbs" into viable living arrangements, and "planned developments" with uniform yard sizes (and restrictive covenants for maintenance) began springing up. People moving into these developments had yards, but without the freedom to raise livestock and with the obligation to keep their homesteads looking almost exactly like the ones next door.

After World War II, the average American had a 40-hour work week (which left some leisure time), some disposable income, and access to small, inexpensive power mowers. Things just kind of took off from there -- Americans now spend $50 billion a year on "outdoor home improvements," presumably mostly of the "mow and landscape the lawn" variety.

So of course, these days small municipalities have pages and pages of ordinances specifying maximum grass length, minimum grass coverage area, required/prohibited plant types, etc. Because once something becomes popular, it must be required, right?

I don't live in such a municipality, but I do have a lease with some language on the subject of lawn maintenance. So I mow, probably two hours a week on average, eight months out of the year. Personally, I'd like to eventually get a place I can just fence off and turn some goats loose in.

Monday, May 05, 2014

How "Thick" was Lew in 2002?


Pretty "thick":

Now, libertarians don't often talk about virtues and vices, mainly because we agree with Lysander Spooner that vices are not crimes, and that the law ought only to address the latter. At the same time, we do need to observe that vices and virtues -- and our conception of what constitutes proper behavior and culture generally -- have a strong bearing on the rise and decline of freedom.

Just sayin' ...

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A Brief Note on Lew Rockwell's "The Future of Libertarianism"


I was looking back over an email discussion today, and decided that something I wrote really merited a blog post. Your mileage on that judgment call may vary, of course.

The topic is Lew Rockwell's latest piece on the "thin" versus "thick" argument that's been taking up so much movement discussion space lately. Specifically, these two parts of that piece:

We have been told by some libertarians in recent months that yes, yes, libertarianism is about nonaggression and private property and all that, but that it is really part of a larger project opposed to all forms of oppression, whether state-imposed or not. This has two implications for the thick libertarian. First, opposing the state is not enough; a real libertarian must oppose various other forms of oppression, even though none of them involve physical aggression. Second, libertarianism should be supported because the reduction or abolition of the state will yield the other kinds of outcomes many thick libertarians support: smaller firms, more worker cooperatives, more economic equality, etc.

...

The danger is that thick libertarianism will import its other concerns, which by their own admission do not involve the initiation of physical force, into libertarianism itself, thereby transforming it into something quite different from the straightforward and elegant moral and social system we have been defending for generations.

My take on it, with some [bracketed] enhancements/clarifications:

Libertarianism is EITHER a single constraint OR a "moral and social system."

If it is the latter, it's going to have to include elements other than [the Non-Aggression Principle], because the NAP is not sufficient to answer all questions that morality and society raise.

If it's the former, there are going to be multiple "moral and social systems" which answer to the descriptor "libertarian" but may be very different from each other.

My way of dealing with this conundrum is to treat it as a single constraint [said constraint being the Non-Aggression Principle] and conclude that there is no single "libertarian philosophy." It may turn out that there is only one that, looking backward from a distant future, turns out to not have been flawed, but "libertarian" is not the same thing as "correct in every respect" and there are and will continue to be numerous "libertarian philosophies" and "libertarian philosophical systems," most of them in a continuous state of development, discovery, etc.

Lew's way of dealing with this conundrum -- and not just Lew['s], but [that of many] other allegedly "thin libertarians" -- is to try to have his cake and eat it too: Pretend that libertarianism is just a single constraint, while simultaneously constantly introducing claims, arguments and conclusions which do not derive solely and directly from the NAP (which of course makes the claims [recently made by some people] that they are actually "thick libertarians" ring true).

The "thick libertarian" way of dealing with this conundrum is to treat libertarianism as a single "moral and social system" which includes both the NAP and other things (although they may not agree on what those other things are).

Side note: A secondary reason for this post is to test the reverse of Robert Wenzel's theory that libertarian bloggers can boost their traffic by defending Lew. I suspect that attacking -- or at least arguing with -- Lew can produce similar results.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Gah!


So the other day, I'm doing some outside work around the house (gardening, feeding the chickens, etc.) and suddenly it hits me: A great name for a political blog, combined with a great name for a pseudonym (the two went together like peas and carrots, as Forrest Gump would say).

Made a mental note to myself to see if the domain name and/or Blogger URL were available.

Then I forgot to do that.

Then I forgot what the blog name / pseudonym were.

An Uncharacteristically Thoughtful Piece


From Maggie Gallagher [hat tip, even though I find the commentary uncharitable -- Steveningen at Daily Kos]. Read the whole thing, but this is the part that I found most moving:

Whatever we do, and whatever we say, we have to be willing to say it, as if to a beloved child of our own family, coming to us with a loving gay marriage.

There is no line we can draw that pushes gay people "outside" and leaves us free "inside" to be angry, foot-stomping, and morally "pure."

How do I disagree with Mary Gallagher? Let me count the ways. Or how about not? Just consider it said that I'm obviously never going to agree with her on significant matters regarding marriage and family.

She obviously hasn't changed her mind about what's right and wrong in America on those subjects, nor would I expect her to providing that her convictions are honestly held (and I think they are).

But she's recognized that events have passed her policy position by, and she seems here to be forswearing bitterness, spitefulness and hate.

A lot of us, me included, would do well to follow that example -- even when we're right.

Closer to the Heartland


You know those blog posts that start "a lot of people have been asking me ...?" This isn't one of those. I almost never have "a lot" of people ask me anything, because frankly I'm not especially famous or influential. But I did have one person ask me, and another kind of hint at asking me something, so I'm going to answer publicly on the assumption that one, maybe even two more were wondering but didn't ask.

You know those "long post" warnings you see at some blogs? Consider this one of them. I'll give a short answer first, but the long answer is very long. Consider yourself warned that this isn't a two-minute read.

The Question: Knapp, why have you been so hard on the Heartland Institute lately?

The Short Answer: Because I expected better from them.

The Exceedingly Long Answer:

If you religiously read this blog, you've probably noticed a couple of negative, maybe a little snarky posts about Heartland recently. At issue is that organization's support -- or at least the support of several of its writers -- for the Keystone XL pipeline.

How long have I been following Heartland? Well, not as long as it's been around (it was founded in 1984), but for around half that time.

I began reading and linking material from Heartland back in the late 1990s when I was an editor/aggregator for Free-Market.Net's daily newsletter, Freedom News Daily (which I eventually became managing editor of and later took over as publisher of -- it's now a rebrand of Rational Review News Digest, which covers Heartland to this very day).

In the mid-two-thousand-oughts, I went to Chicago to spend a weekend in creative meetings with the late Vince Miller, who was president of the International Society for Individual Liberty (which had bought the Freedom News Daily imprint from Free-Market.Net's bankruptcy sale and eventually tapped me to publish it). Vince and I schlepped down to Heartland's offices where I met the Institute's President, Joe Bast, and the Institute's executive director, Diane Bast. Vince and I had lunch, and a good discussion (IIRC it had to do with why he and Vince were more, and I less, skeptical of anthropogenic global warming theory, but it was friendly), with Joe.

So look: I don't hate Heartland, and I actually like most of the people affiliated with it.

BUT! I have a big problem with them on one particular issue. Which I will begin addressing after the jump.



Thursday, May 01, 2014

Snap Judgments I'm Tempted to Make


Vis a vis this ...

Lee Fang is a "journalist" in approximately the same respect and to approximately the same degree that the Heartland Institute is a "free market" think tank. That is, kind-sorta but not really and certainly not consistently.

Wait ... did I say that out loud?

Of Cages and Fishbowls


On the one hand, I tend to agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phenomenon of "slavery to phones," etc. [hat tip -- Buzzfeed]. I hate carrying a cell phone that just anyone can ring me up on, and these days I don't (for that matter, there are maybe five people on Earth whom I'm willing to gab with unnecessarily on ANY phone).

On the other hand, I suspect that "public officials" are more "enslaved" in certain accessibility particulars than any random selfie-addicted TwitterFacebookLinkedInhead.

Do you think that US President Barack Obama has a personal Twitter account -- or for that matter a personal Gmail account -- that he accesses unmonitored at will? If so, I think you're waaaaaaay wrong. His every statement is, or could become, public. Therefore such statements are made at second hand through other people when possible and heavily massaged and prepped in advance when they have to be made in person.

If you think Victoria Nuland's remarks on the EU were controversial, consider this hypothetical: Obama has a couple too many drinks at a state dinner, gets on Twitter, calls Vladimir Putin a punk and offers to kick his ass. Whole 'nother level of magnitude there.

And what happens when Obama gets out of office?

For most of my life I've seen the eye-rolling and heard the sighs when some living former president speaks publicly in a way that embarrasses the current administration (e.g. Carter on the Arab-Israeli conflict). And those guys tend to continue to do so in the same heavily mediated/massaged way they did in office, because they were fairly isolated -- they had to actually sit down with a reporter or whatever. I vaguely remember, although I can't find a picture of it, LBJ appearing on television with long hair in a pony tail. I bet it caused a bit of a stir.

George W. Bush has been something of an exception, keeping largely to himself. Apart from a few speeches to friendly audiences, the only thing I can think of that he's done is a) paint and b) act as honorary chair (with his predecessor, Bill Clinton) of some disaster relief efforts.

Obama will likely be the first president to leave office, step back into the world and sink up to his neck in a social media swamp that he's now free to flap around in in a way he wasn't for those eight years. He'll be able to lash out at enemies, embarrass himself with friends, etc. And I'm betting he'll be the last to be able to do so, too -- Congress will act quickly to fund "social media secretaries" for former presidents just like they do Secret Service protection and presidential libraries. Future presidents may not be enslaved to cell phones, but I bet they'll live out their post-presidency lives in much smaller media cages precisely because media is now so immediate.

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