Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Hardly Ever Notice my Dropbox ...

... and that's what makes it so important.

Really. Think about it. About the only time I ever log in to Dropbox on the web is to grab my referral link for posts like this one (if you sign up, I get more free storage!), or to set up Dropbox on a new machine.

Outside of that, I don't have to think about Dropbox. I have a folder (with subfolders!) on each of my machines. Whatever's in the folder on one machine is in the same folder on every other machine I have (okay, okay, there's a few seconds when I boot up and it's syncing, but I've never had to wait to use something on a different machine that I can remember).

If every machine I own inexplicably breaks down at the same time, I can go out, buy a new computer, turn it on, install Dropbox ... and BAM! All of my important day-to-day offline data is back. I used to try to force myself to adhere to a schedule of burning a CD of the stuff every month or so. Now I don't have to. It's up-to-date right to the last instant I used it, all the time, period.

The only reason I'm even mentioning it is that venture capitalist Bill Gurley has an interesting piece up on his blog, justifying what seems like a pretty large valuation of the company by investors. It's not, he argues, because Dropbox solved a problem that nobody else has solved yet, and has made itself one of those "essential products" by doing so.

I don't know if he's right about the valuation, but I've tested some other sync services and none even come close to Dropbox's ease of use for me. The others require more attention, they want to impose software "management client" downloads on users, etc.

Dropbox just works, elegantly, and it stays out of your way while doing so. It is to other sync services what the Mac was to the DOS command line: All of a sudden stuff that used to be complicated and burdensome got very simple. After awhile we stopped noticing that because we got used to it and everyone else was offering a reasonable (sort of) facsimile, but that doesn't diminish the importance of the original, or eliminate its edge on the copycats.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Really Have Only One Comment ...

... on tonight's Republican presidential debate, and that's on foreign policy, which the candidates are discussing right now.

There are two possibilities:

  • Santorum, Romney and Gingrich are just typical political gangsters who want to continue seizing as much of your money as possible and funneling it to their benefactors in the military-industrial complex and who would, as presidents, continue the fairly disastrous Bush-Obama policies, in which case it really makes no difference whether one of them, or Obama, wins in November; or

  • They actually believe the bizarre things they're saying, in which case they all three need to be fitted for straitjackets, stuck in rubber rooms, and fed Thorazine until they hopefully eventually become mentally stable enough to make themselves useful at one of those workshops where the mentally handicapped eke out livings by making pencil cups and other handicrafts, with the proviso that the nuclear "football" never, ever, ever be allowed within, say, 500 miles of said workshops.
Jesus ... 300 million Americans to choose from, and somehow the Republicans manage to narrow their field to four people, three of whom are, to all appearances, world-class sociopaths who sniffed too much fucking glue as teenagers, and the fourth of whom is in fourth place.

Update: Heh ... I figured it out! Newt was doing the whole debate in character, a moving homage to Peter Lorre! Bravissimo!

Things Change, Part 54,319

When I was ten years old, someone would occasionally mention that Japanese people eat raw fish, and everyone would be like ... eewwwww.

My son Liam is ten now. He requests sushi out at least once or twice a month, and also occasionally rolls his own (he's got the mat, etc., and we pick up ingredients when there's something he wants to put together). He also makes (and eats, and apparently enjoys) some kind of Japanese "sticky rice ball with plum" concoction.

He didn't get it from Mom and Dad. I mean, we've both eaten sushi and are fine with it when he brings it up (I'm not very experimental -- I generally stick with California roll or spicy tuna), but I don't think we ever prompted him or anything.  I guess I probably ate sushi one time between his birth and the time he started asking for it (at a buffet in Austin, Texas when he was three years old).

I'm guessing he picked the idea up from anime/manga.

I may have to take him to see this:

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A New Commenting Conundrum

I had a note from a KN@PPSTER reader (and frequent commenter) this morning. She's attempting to escape the long arm of Google, and is now finding it difficult or impossible to comment on blogs.

Right now I'm using Disqus here, LiveFyre  at another blog (not yet ready for prime time, really), and IntenseDebate at RRND.

The would-be commenter informs me that both Disqus and LiveFyre (I don't know about IntenseDebate yet) require the user to "allow" Google, even if the user isn't attempting to sign in using a Google account -- or, for that matter, sign in at all.

Yes, that's right -- even if you comment as "guest," or use your Facebook, Twitter, etc. logins to connect, it still insists on pinging Google for some reason.

Does anyone know of a comment system (a "universal" one, not one internal to a specific site or site software type) that doesn't require you to slave your identity to Google? Personally, I don't mind affiliating with one of the Big Guys for ID purposes around the web, but some people do and I prefer to keep my blog accessible to them if I can.
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Monday, February 20, 2012

It's Elegant in Its Simplicity

Contraction for "it is" or "it has" -- it's

Possessive of "it" -- its

If you think this post may be cattily referential to your otherwise beautifully written libertarian blog posts, you're probably right.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Government Debt = Terrorism?

The US government's post-9/11 "war on terror" breathed new life into its long, failed "war on drugs."  An American public showing signs of increasing disenchantment with the latter was told that drug money fueled and financed terrorism, and that the "war on drugs" was part and parcel of the war on al Qaeda.

Now this, via Reuters:

Italian police said on Friday they had seized about $6 trillion worth of fake U.S. Treasury bonds and other securities in Switzerland, and arrested eight Italians accused of international fraud and other financial crimes. ... Potenza's prosecutor Giovanni Colangelo said an international network "in many countries" was behind the forgeries. Italian daily Corriere della Sera said on its website that the criminal network was believed to be interested in acquiring plutonium, citing sources at the prosecutors' office.

I can only think of a limited number of reasons why someone would want plutonium, and all of them except for use in atomic/nuclear weapons would more likely run through legal/"official" channels of securities fraud, theft, etc.

Or, to put it a different way, if the US government didn't visibly run some serious debt, al Qaeda and so forth couldn't try to finance its nuclear terror aspirations by faking instruments of that debt.

If heroin cultivation in Afghanistan is a "war on terror" concern, so is an unbalanced US government budget and $15 trillion + in US government debt. But I'd advise against holding your breath while you wait to see if Congress declares "war" on those things.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Dark Ages Misogyny" ... Really?

What's got Charles Johnson (the wrong-headed Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, not the right-headed anarchist Rad Geek) so worked up?

Now the GOP Wants to Permit Any Employer to Deny Contraception Coverage

What's all this "permit" and "deny" stuff?

An employer doesn't (or at least shouldn't) have to offer health insurance as a job benefit at all (he or she may choose to do so, including as part of some contract negotiation or whatever, of course).

And if an employer does offer health insurance as a job benefit, excluding this or that item from said offering isn't "denying" anyone anything, nor should any "permission" to exclude anything, nor any excuse for excluding anything, be required. As long as he's not lying about what it is he's offering, I'm free to take it, leave it, or try to negotiate something different.

There's no "right" to force someone else pay for or deliver whatever health care you might happen to want, and there never will be, no matter how many times Johnson clicks his heels and shouts "war on women's rights! ... [W]ar on contraception!"

The whole "religious exemption" thing is just a distraction. I suspect that's where you'll find most objections to covering contraception in particular, for the simple reason that most employers and insurers would rather pay for contraception, vasectomies, tubal ligations, etc. than pay for pre-natal care and delivery of a baby, then cover that baby's health care expenses as well. But the general principle extends far beyond religious objections.

Maybe my employer finds out that he or she can save $10 per employee per month by offering us policies that exclude sports injuries. Unless we have a contract specifying otherwise, why should he be mandatorily out $10 extra a month so that I can play rugby or ride bulls on the weekend?

Or maybe I've had myself snipped and my significant other has had her tubes tied. Why should we not be able to buy a policy that doesn't cover (at an extra premium cost) a bunch of services we're never going to need?

Hey, maybe ... no, not just maybe ... the details of what health insurance we buy (or don't buy), or negotiate (or not) with our employers, are none of Barack Obama's and Kathleen Sebelius's business.

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A Bad Idea to Fix a Worse One, Because I Can

The "Fair" Tax is a really, really bad idea (see here, here and here for more on why). But, one of this really, really bad idea's really, really bad effects is fixable.

I've mentioned the solution in passing before, but I figure it's worth elaborating on. That way if it gets used (I hope it doesn't, because I hope the tax never gets implemented), I can brag about how I reduced the damage or something; and if it doesn't get used (and the tax gets implemented without it), I can bellyache about how it could have been made not quite so really, really bad if anyone ever listened to me.

The really, really bad effect in question is the "Fair" Tax's impact on people with savings upon which income taxes have already been paid. Roth IRAs, for example. The holders of such accounts paid income tax on that money before they socked it away, and now under the "Fair" Tax, they'll take an additional 30% tax hit when they spend it.

The solution is something I'm calling the S-Dollar. The "s" is for "saved." It's a second currency, to be issued/created with implementation of the "Fair" Tax. Like this:

- A section gets added to the "Fair" Tax bill specifying that post-income-tax dollars in designated types of financial institution accounts (once again, Roth IRAs are first that come to mind) as of a date certain will automatically become "S-Dollars," which will thereafter have the same value as, and exchange equally for, regular US dollars.

- When these "S-Dollars" are spent, the "Fair" Tax is not levied on the purchases made with them -- but upon the first tax-free expenditure of an "S-Dollar," it thereafter becomes a regular dollar, once again subject to the "Fair" Tax.

Obviously some technical gimmickry will be required to implement the "S-Dollar."

I'm guessing it won't be too difficult to do when it comes to digital transactions -- just give account-holders a special debit card and set up a transaction in terminal software to handle it. When money leaves the debit account, no tax. But once it's in the merchant's account, it's "regular" money again.

If a physical cash solution is needed, special Federal Reserve Notes of a different color. The merchant knows not to charge tax on stuff bought with those; when he deposits them in his bank, they go into his account as "regular" dollars and the bank turns the notes in to the Treasury Department for destruction (it gets "regular" dollars in exchange too, of course). Eventually, the "S-Dollars" would all become "regular" dollars and the program would be shut down.

Presumably there'd be some schemes to re-use (or counterfeit!) the "S-notes," but that's just a cost of doing the tax business (and some of them would be caught -- no matter what guff the "Fair" Taxers throw out about "eliminating the IRS," there will still be revenue agencies).

Anyway, that's my little plan for letting people spend their pre-"Fair"-Tax, already-income-taxed savings without taking the extra 30% hit.

But, once again, I'd rather the stupid and evil "Fair" Tax scheme doesn't ever get implemented.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Remember the Maine (Caucus Results)

Another typical Mitt Romney "win."

Romney, the northeastern moderate Republican, got 39% in a northeastern moderate state.

61% of Maine Republicans voted against him.

Ron Friggin' Paul came within three points of beating him.

And this, write Rosalind S. Helderman and Felicia Sonmez of the Washington Post, is something that Romney "hopes will put his campaign back on track and help him regain momentum."

He's like the Leonard Lawrence of presidential candidates.

Recommendation to Political Candidates

No, this is not an affiliate post, nor has it otherwise been paid for, solicited, etc. I just happen to like this company, and receiving a mailing from them today put it in my head to give them a little free promotion.

They're called postcardmailer. They used to be called Pure Postcards. They did an absolutely fabulous job for me in my 2008 congressional campaign in every respect -- fast work, fantastic customer service, great prices, just a beautiful, trouble-free experience. If you need postcards, rack cards, flat or tri-fold brochures, mailing services, etc.,  for your campaign (political campaign, marketing campaign, whatever), I highly recommend them.

If you need help with brochure copy and so forth, I've been known to offer such services.

Chuck Moulton: Open Letter to Gary Johnson on the "Fair" Tax

I'm not going to post the whole letter here -- you can read it at Independent Political Report. And you should. As a teaser, here's the opening:

Main libertarian objections to the Fair Tax:
1. The prebate would start a new welfare entitlement.
2. The transition would redistribute from savers to borrowers.
3. There is a danger of getting BOTH an income AND a consumption tax.
4. Advocates disingenuously quote a 23% rate when it is actually 30%.
5. Advocates use protectionist rhetoric to sway populists.

Also well worth a read is Jason Gonella's open letter to Johnson, which covers some other issues.

And two pieces on the "Fair" Tax by LP presidential nomination candidate R. Lee Wrights (here and here).

And finally, while I don't by any means claim to be "the father of libertarian opposition to the 'Fair' Tax,'" I can claim to have done a bit of writing on it long before it became a football in the Libertarian Party's 2012 presidential nomination process -- see here and here.
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Resolved ...

... that neither the Holy Roman Catholic Church, nor any other institution, organization or person, has any moral obligation whatsoever, absent some voluntary contract or commitment on their part to do so, to pay for anyone's aspirin, amoxicillin, fluoxetine, sildenafil, braces, spectacles, surgical procedure, estrogen/progestin combo, metformin, etc.

Further resolved, that this is not a complex issue.


Friday, February 10, 2012

A Little Brisk Out

The weather forecast: "[S]now flurries ending with partial cloudiness and windy conditions continuing overnight. Low 17F. Winds NNW at 20 to 30 mph."

My forecast: Guess I'll probably zip up the mummy bag tonight. 17 degrees and nobody shooting at you is a walk in the park, as these gentleman would likely attest:

Addendum: Yes,  I slept out. So toasty warm and comfortable in the mummy bag that I slept in, too. Best night of sleep I've had in a week. It was in the low 20s fahrenheit when I crawled out of the bag.

Give It Up, Dodd, We've Got You Surrounded

Ernesto @ TorrentFreak on the ease and minimal resource requirements involved in reproducing the important parts of a file-sharing operation the size of The Pirate Bay:

the greatest arch rival of a billion dollar entertainment industry is nothing more than 164 megabytes of text

More on that via Techmeme.

The bad news for RIAA, MPAA & Co. is that intellectual property monopolism is done. It's dead as a dinosaur, even if the dinosaur's brain is so small and so isolated from the rest of its body that its tail is still flailing around.

The good news (once again courtesy of Ernesto, TorrentFreak and Techmeme) is that it doesn't really matter:

A new academic paper by researchers from the University of Minnesota and Wellesley College has examined the link between BitTorrent downloads and box office returns. Contrary to what's often claimed by the movie industry, the researchers conclude that there is no evidence that BitTorrent piracy hurts US box office returns.

Of course, the bad guys already know that. Their real concern isn't stopping "piracy" of their products, it's making it harder for artists to establish their own content distribution channels.

That is, they don't care so much that some people might download the new Michael Bay movie, the new Lady Gaga album, or the new Stephen King novel without paying. That's just "inventory shrinkage" a la shoplifting -- an unfortunate cost of doing business that you throw a little money at deterring, but otherwise don't lie awake at night panicking over.

Their real goal is heading off a bigger -- possibly existential -- threat to their business model. To wit, they want to make it impossible for Michael Bay, Lady Gaga and Stephen King (and any newcomers, of course) to reach you without going through Paramount Pictures, Universal Music Group and Scribner.

In a free market, dinosaur outfits like those represented by MPAA/RIAA would have no choice but to compete on being better at connecting creators with audiences. But nobody likes to change, and these guys have grown fat on a "toll booth" business model: "We've parked ourselves in the middle, there's no way around us, you have to cough up if you want past."

So, their plan is to keep their friends in government at work trying to shut down the makers of flying cars, teleportation devices and such.

It won't work. Too many cats are out of too many bags. The real choice here for those old-style companies is asking themselves "how's that working out for us?" and changing, or eventually going out of business. Everything else is Kubler-Ross "Five Stages of Grief" stuff. They seem to be on the fence between the "anger" and "bargaining" stages.

Addendum: Rick Falkvinge (h/t Tennyson McCalla) wonders why we should give a damn about the IP industry's profits anyway.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Couple of Quick Takes ...

... mainly because I just don't want to get in the habit of not posting every day.

  • If you read Amazon e-books (on a Kindle device or using one of their apps), you should definitely subscribe to Pixel of Ink's email list. Each day they throw their readers links to several free Kindle downloads and discount deals. I'm pretty sure I've seen some B&N Nook downloads from them as well.
  • If you've seen the trailer, etc. for Richard Gere's latest flick, The Double, you know they give away right up front that Gere himself is "Cassius." If you haven't, well:

    So anyway, there are obviously other plot twists. And they're pretty good. The movie's available on Netflix streaming, so presumably it's also out on iTunes, DVD, etc. Worth a watch.
  • Another one worth a watch is Blackthorn.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Clean Sweep for Santorum

Those who follow KN@PPSTER closely will recall that I didn't do a "Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado prediction" post. If I had done such a post, no, I would not have predicted that Rick Santorum would win all three states.

Frankly, this GOP primary cycle has me feeling a little bit like Blackie in my favorite clip from Where the Buffalo Roam:

Robert Stacy McCain is deservingly exultant.

And me? How do I feel? Well, my Youtube search for that video clip above brought up another one too:

Manson makes about as much sense as this ball game.

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"A Slushy Mix"

That's what the weather people are calling this:

34 degrees, feels like 28. That dark blob in the middle of the picture is my tent, to which I shall repair shortly. But first, a nightcap!

Hemingway's Whiskey by Guy Clark on Grooveshark

Update: The "morning after" pic. It was actually a wonderful night. Slept like a log, warmly. Didn't even bother zipping up the mummy bag.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Rule of What?

Imagine, for a moment, that you are driving at 30 miles per hour through a town with a clearly posted speed limit of 35, and are pulled over for speeding. When you object that you were going well below the posted speed limit, the cop points to one of the signs, which now declares that the speed limit is 15 mph. A few seconds later, the sign changes to 20. Then 10.

Or scratch that -- imagine you've been pulled over for driving 40 miles per hour in that 35 mph zone. You're busted. Fair cop. And the town ordinances specify a fine of $50 for that offense. But when you schlep down to the courthouse to pay the fine, the clerk sees that you have red hair and decides she'd rather throw a dart at a board on the wall to determine your actual penalty, which may now range from "get out of jail free" to "death by lethal injection."

Setting aside the fact that Alyssa Bustamante's crime wasn't speeding but instead the brutal killing of a nine-year-old girl, the situation is very similar.

Bustamante was 15 years old at the time she committed the crime. She was clearly a "juvenile" under Missouri law, and that law specifies how juveniles are to be treated.

But Missouri law has hooks in it allowing (when it's politically advantageous) for "juveniles" to be miraculously re-classified as "adults" for purposes of criminal prosecution.

Arbitrary legal age classifications are stupid and evil enough on their own without throwing in capricious exceptions to those classifications for use by prosecutors and judges who may very well be thinking more about re-election or promotion than about the actual facts of the cases they try.

Keep in mind here that nobody came to Alyssa Bustamante the day before she murdered that little girl and said "I wave the magic wand of adulthood over you. You may now  drive, vote, buy alcohol and have sex. Oh, and by the way, if you commit a crime, you'll be held fully responsible for it."

No, the thing was ex post facto: "At the time you committed the crime, the potential penalties were X. But because the newspapers love a good 'tough on crime' story, we've decided to change the penalties in your case to Y. Have a nice day."

That idea, given its wide application, is at least as evil as stabbing and strangling a nine-year-old to death.

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Monday, February 06, 2012


Ron Paul, member of the United States House of...Image via WikipediaIt stands for "Oh God, Not Another Abortion Post!" Although a little Googling says that I've only mentioned abortion in passing here on KN@PPSTER. And the title acronym explains why. I friggin' hate arguing about abortion. Nobody ever convinces anyone of anything, and everyone goes away mad, and nothing really changes.

But, once more ... or at least once ... into the breach, due to my friend Nila Thompson pointing out this bit on Rachel Maddow's blog about ... you guessed it ... Ron Paul.

Short version: Paul makes an exception to his opposition to abortion for rape ... but only "honest rape."

"Honest," as ascertained by whom? Presumably Dr. Ron Paul, MD, OB/GYN. At least that's how it comes off, and I can't blame hordes of women for being insulted at the idea of it being their doctor's prerogative to decide whether or not what they say happened to them did, in fact, happen to them.

But what bugs the hell out of me is not that in particular, but what got Paul to the point of even being asked that particular question: The "rape or incest exception" argument. That is a complete dead-end street when it comes to the abortion debate. Here's why:

Most self-identified "pro-choicers" consider abortion a woman's medical decision to make, period, end of story. They either don't think that a fetus is a "person" with rights, or they believe that if the rights of mother and fetus come into conflict, the mother's rights trump the fetus's. So when they pose the question  "but what about in cases of rape or incest?" to self-identified "pro-lifers," they're being disingenuous.  It's not like they'd turn around and say "oh, well, okay then, I'm fine with banning abortion otherwise" if they got the answer they're fishing for, is it?

Most self-identified "pro-lifers" consider the fetus a "person" with rights, including the right to life. And I don't think there's any dispute that if that's the case, this "person" is an innocent who is in the position he or she is in (developing in the womb) through no fault of his or her own and entirely due to the actions of others. So making an exception for rape or incest is effectively saying "well, if a crime was committed against the mother, the mother gets a free pass to commit homicide -- not against the perpetrator of the crime, but against a second innocent victim." That's entirely inconsistent with the principle which motivates the "pro-life" position in the first place.

Now, I know I'm painting with a fairly broad brush above, and that there are as many variations of opinion on abortion as there are people to hold said opinions. So let me be clear here: I have no ax to grind with you whether you call yourself "pro-choice" or "pro-life." I have my own opinions on the subject of abortion, but I gave up sharing them (apart from in personal situations where they are immediately relevant -- in which case I've emphasized being a supportive friend instead of trying to be "the judge") a long time ago for the reasons I mention in the first paragraph.

Or, to put it a different way,  I am not posting this because I want to argue about abortion. I'm posting it because I'm interested in where a particular aspect of arguments about abortion leads, politically.

Paul let himself get routed onto that "rape or incest exception" street, and then tried to get himself turned around in a pretty weird and creepy driveway. "Honest rape" doesn't cut any ice with anyone on any side of the question. It just makes you look unprincipled to pro-lifers, like a too-eager-to-please hair-splitter to pro-choicers, and like a misogynist to everyone. I can't imagine that Paul won a single new supporter, or a single vote, with that answer ... and he probably lost some.

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Ron Paul: Traveling Man

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 5:  Republican presid...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeAs someone who doesn't support Ron Paul's presidential campaign, I find myself coming to his defense far more often than I'd like.

One reason for that, aside from basic respect for fact -- if Paul's going to get slammed, I prefer that it be for things he deserves to get slammed on -- is that his supporters tend to "defend" him by pasting the word "smear" (with some random number of exclamation marks appended) into a blog post 50 times or so, then surrounding said word with other invective. Which, outside the most cultish precincts of Paul's following, isn't very effective.

So anyway, the latest, via Roll Call:

Rep. Ron Paul appears to have been paid twice for flights between Washington, D.C., and his Congressional district, receiving reimbursement from taxpayers and also from a network of political and nonprofit organizations he controlled, according to public records and documents obtained by Roll Call.

The story's pretty long, mostly by way of throwing in the kitchen sink to hide the fact that there's really no "there" there. Near the bottom, for those who bother to read that far, is the money quote:

Public records show hundreds of flight payments between 1999 and 2009 in which both the House and Paul's campaign paid for plane tickets of the same price and about the same date. Given the limitations of publicly reported data, in many of those cases it's not possible to conclude that the matching flight payments represent duplicate reimbursements, because the possibility of an alternate traveler cannot be disproved. Paul has not been accused of wrongdoing by any authorities.

Paul is notorious for -- or at least self-promotes on the basis of -- running a lean operation when it comes to billing taxpayers. He returns much of his permitted office budget to the US Treasury each year. So I don't find it at all surprising that when he flies back to Houston from DC, and takes a staffer (or his wife) with him, he might pick up the latter bill personally and have his campaign, rather than the taxpayers, reimburse him.

That's actually quite a good "ballpark" method of accounting for the fact that on any given trip, some of his business may be "official" (stuff he does as a congresscritter) and some of it may be "political" (stuff he does by way of campaigning to remain a congresscritter).

Another "ballpark" method at play here, along the lines of "per diem" allowances, may be a practice I've heard of, but can't attest to the pervasiveness of:

Someone is taking a trip, and there are different kinds of expenses to be reimbursed by one or more parties. Instead of having the person keep (and the reimbursing entity keep track of) receipts for hotel, cab fare, meals, Starbucks, whatever, the reimbursing entity just uses the cost of the plane ticket as the basis for a flat reimbursement, and it's your job to either keep those additional expenses to that amount, or pay the difference out of your pocket.

If the plane ticket costs $350, you get reimbursed $350 for all that other stuff as well. If you stay at Motel 6 and eat at McDonald's, you pocket some extra cash. If you book a room at the Ritz-Carlton and take your kid's Little League team out to dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House, it's on you.

I could see Paul letting the Treasury reimburse his flight costs, and then handing the same amount over to his campaign as a basis for his expense reimbursements.

I can think of other possibilities, too, but the one possibility that doesn't strike me as plausible is run-of-the-mill corruption. If Paul just wanted more money, he could easily find perfectly "legitimate" ways to milk his congressional position or his campaign committees, PACs, etc. for it. I just can't see him running some kind of complicated "double books" operation to embezzle a few hundred dollars here and there.

Addendum: I'm not big on "good government reform" type stuff, but here's one I could get behind: The US Treasury will reimburse a congresscritter for one plane ticket from back home to Washington at the beginning of each Congress, and one plane ticket from Washington to back home at the end of each Congress. If he wants to go home during that two-year period, he does so at his own expense.
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Sunday, February 05, 2012

It Practically Writes Itself

The unschooling curriculum, that is.

I've been worried that Liam might be falling behind in math and science. He dislikes the former on principle, because when it's taught formally it tends to be in terms that don't convince him of any real need; and the latter usually takes a technical problem of his own invention to get him going

But when he does get obsessed with such a practical problem and starts throwing associated math and science problems at me, I make him learn the stuff and solve those problems himself.

This weekend, those problems took a sudden ramp upward when he decided he wants to start a home UHF television station and broadcast programs he produces (I wouldn't call him an Internet sensation, exactly, but he's had at least one video popular enough that YouTube contacted him about monetizing it) to his friends on the block.

Anyway, mean old dad wouldn't buy the ($30) transmitter until he did his own figgerin' on things like ranges to his friends' houses and the associated power and antenna requirements and came up with the required answers.

I think he learned more math this weekend, for what will end up costing $40, give or take, than he would have on a $40 investment in private school or the sundry expenses associated with shipping him off to a government indoctrination center.

I do expect it to get more expensive, though. I prophesy amateur radio equipment in his not-too-distant future (fortunately, there's a pre-existing ham antenna already poking out of the garage roof, courtesy of the home's previous owner).
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A Difference in Narrative ...

Their version:

Los Angeles Times: "Romney is on a roll after big win in Nevada" ... "commanding victory" ... "a strong marker" ... "The only question was whether Romney on Saturday would top the 51% he received four years ago" ...

Wall Street Journal: "Romney handily won" ... 

New York Times: "Romney handily won" (same opening clause, different article, different authors, different paper) ... "solidifying his status as the front-runner and increasing his momentum" ...

My version:

So far as I know, nobody (with the possible exception of an over-enthusiastic Ron Paul supporter or three) has ever predicted anything but a Mitt Romney win in Nevada.

And so far as I know, nobody (with the same exception) predicted what an anemic win it would be. What I don't understand is why the media is shying away from discussing what an anemic win it is.

Four years ago, Romney won Nevada with 51%, despite not being the "inevitable front-runner" (he'd won Michigan, which went earlier then than this year, but had lost Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida), and carried every county in the state except Nye (which Ron Paul took).

This year, as "inevitable front-runner," he only managed 42%, and lost three counties (Nye again, to Paul again; Esmeralda to Paul; and Mineral to Newt Gingrich).

In three primary/caucus wins of five contests so far, Romney has yet to break 50%. More than half of -- usually closer to, and sometimes more than, six out of 10 -- Republicans are still saying "no, not Mitt."

This thing isn't over by a damn sight.

Update: The final vote counts took awhile, but it looks like Romney managed 50% after all.

Saturday, February 04, 2012


My Mac's seemed a little sluggish lately, so tonight I purchased MacPaw's CleanMyMac (not an affiliate link, and this is not a sponsored post!) and ran it through its paces. Sudden and dramatic performance improvement, and a bonus:

After running CleanMyMac's normal 'cleaning" routine, I also used it to uninstall some applications, and I thought "hey, why not see if uninstalling and reinstalling Chrome fixes it?"

It did. Apparently I had missed a preferences file or library file or something in my manual uninstall/reinstall attempts, and this got it.

I've got my NewsSquares (among other things) back!

So: I definitely recommend CleanMyMac. Even absent the miraculous restoration of my preferred browser, it was well worth the eminently reasonable price (use coupon code "mwe12" for a 25% discount, while it lasts). Some annoying pauses have completely disappeared.
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Every once in awhile I get a burr up my butt (usually because there's an application I want but that doesn't seem to exist), and decide it's time to learn to some very basic programming (actually, scripting usually these days) again, using one of those newfangled languages that's very different from Commodore BASIC.

Last time around it was PHP, so that I could make some fairly major alterations to a Wordpress theme. That was a week of sheer terror, and I'm not sure I retained anything I learned, but by golly the job got done.

This time it's Javascript, which I'm trying to use to write a Firefox add-on.  And I'm all thumbs.

The sample code provided by Mozilla for add-on development newbies serendipitously enables the two general tasks I want my add-on to accomplish -- it puts a favicon in the status bar, and when you click on that favicon, it opens a URL.

Modifying the favicon from a Firefox logo to a graphic representing my cool idea was easy. I went to, designed the graphic (actually, I just extensively modified someone else's), released it under a public license, got it hosted at IconJ, (if you want a logo of lips with a mole, called "Marylin," help yourself!) and changed the URL in the sample code.

The next two steps are:

  1. Modifying the sample code to have the URL open in a pop-up window (of a given size, in a given screen location) rather than in a new tab; and
  2. Tapping into a publicly available API to construct that URL dynamically based on the page the user is on when he clicks the favicon.
It's the first of those next two steps that has me flummoxed (the API might bumfuzzle me too, but from what I've read so far, probably not).

It's probably the simplest thing in the world to onclick, etc., but I seem to be messing up the use of brackets, quotes, parentheses and semi-colons and commas in the coding. No matter what I do, the new result when I test the add-on is that now nothing happens. Nothing.

This, too, shall pass.

Or not.

28 years ago, if you threw a BASIC term at me in my sleep, I could give you the syntax, the required and optional arguments, etc., and show you how to use it to do something. Hell, I could tell you how much to add or subtract from X to move a character on the screen in any of eight directions, based on the VIC-20's use of RAM locations as screen memory.

These days the simplest things of that nature are much harder for me to learn and nearly impossible for me to keep straight without frequent recourse to references.

Update: I have no idea why it didn't occur to me to just show the code snippet I'm talking about, so that smart people can advise me. Here's what it looks like (just a modification of the sample code to show my favicon and open a URL -- not the URL the add-on will eventually open, btw):

    id: "whwomyt",
    label: "We Have Ways of Making You Talk",
    contentURL: "",
    onClick: function(event) {

All I'm trying to do right now is make a URL open in a pop-up window, 400 pixels wide and 300 pixels tall, with scrollbars, in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, optionally with the window title "We Have Ways of Making You Talk" (that's the name of the add-on).

But no matter which changes I make (from various web searches on the subject I try), I end up with an add-on that doesn't do anything. It doesn't even show the icon. Which seems to me means that I'm not just getting the command syntax wrong, but that I'm also hooking it into the nested sequences incorrectly such that it prangs even the first part of the code.

Yes, I know that this is pretty lame. Believe me, I wouldn't have tried to crowdsource the solution if I hadn't already tried 14 different ideas of my own about where all those brackets, etc. go.

After I get that part figured out, I dive into Disqus's API and try to figure out how to make that newly opening window be a) the existing Disqus comment thread for the URL of the page the user is on, if there is such a thread (thus preserving the site owner's moderation authority, etc.), or b) a new Disqus comment thread, if the site in question doesn't use Disqus.

If I can figure out how to do that, then I will have implemented my harebrained "universal commenting" scheme as a Firefox add-on. After which I'll be back here asking a bunch of stupid questions about how to code Chrome extensions.

Initial Thoughts on Anonymous's Hack of "American Third Position"

This is the de-facto flag of the organization ...Image via Wikipedia
Background: Persons purporting to represent Anonymous claim to have hacked the web site of the American Third Position Party, a "white separatist" group, and have published a dump of forum messages, emails, etc. For the details, see Independent Political Report's report.

The primary area of interest in all this to libertarians is the following, from the Anonymous communique on the operation:

In addition to finding the usual racist rants and interactions with other white power groups, we also found a disturbingly high amount of members who are also involved in campaigning for Ron Paul. According to these messages, Ron Paul has regularly met with many A3P members, even engaging in conference calls with their board of directors.

A couple of disclaimers:
  •  I don't think anyone is going to mistake me for a Ron Paul apologist. I've been critical of Paul for various reasons, including but not limited to the issues raised by "the newsletter controversy." Believe this: If I find anything credible anywhere directly connecting Paul to A3P and organizations of its type, I'll shout it from the rooftops.
  • I've only spent a few hours researching the dump, running searches on strings I would expect to shed light on the claims above.  There's a lot of data to sift through, so what I've found so far may very well not be the final word on the subject.
Those two things said, I've found nothing really substantiating the two claims in the communique quote above. To wit:

  1. A "disturbingly high amount of members" of A3P "are also involved in campaigning for Ron Paul."

    This is a pretty fuzzy claim in the first place, insofar as "disturbingly high" is a subjective evaluation and "involved in campaigning for" can mean a lot of things.

    What I found were several references to A3P members attending Paul campaign events; a couple of references to A3P members talking with low-level Paul volunteers whom the A3P people perceived as "with us" or "pro-White;" and one suggestion that a film/video guy who had done work for the Paul campaign be approached about doing the same kind of work for A3P.

    None of the campaign events mentioned were portrayed as Paul intentionally addressing A3P-type audiences -- it was stuff like "we went to see Paul speak at CPAC" and "we went to Paul's GOP convention rally in Minneapolis" and so on.

  2. "Ron Paul has regularly met with many A3P members, even engaging in conference calls with their board of directors."

    The closest thing I found to Paul "meeting" with A3P members were references like "managed to get my picture taken with Paul when I attended the Minneapolis convention rally."

    I found references to A3P's board of directors, and I found references to conference calls, but I found no references to Paul or his campaign being involved in said conference calls.
Does this mean those two claims are false? NO, it doesn't. I may have missed something. Like I said, it's a lot of stuff and I've only spent a little time sifting through it.

But those claims are strong enough that the burden of proving them falls on those making them. If the material to substantiate the claims is there, someone who can find it needs to highlight it and point it out instead of just leaving it buried down in the pile of garbage it's embedded in.

Here's the picture I get from my limited swim through the A3P sewer:

The A3P types consider the Paul movement, and the wider “paleo” movement (other referenced people, pubs and groups in the dump included Pat Buchanan, Thomas diLorenzo, The American Conservative magazine, the John Birch Society, et. al), to be “implicitly pro-White” (their terminology) and are attempting to build a “bridge” (their terminology) between those movements and “explicitly pro-White” (their terminology) groups including (named in the dump) A3P, White News Network, Stormfront, et. al.

I don’t think that belief on the part of A3P types is entirely unreasonable, given that the Rothbard/Rockwell “paleo strategy” which Paul used to raise money in the 80s and 90s was intended to specifically cater to such tendencies.

On the other hand, I think the A3P types are probably:

  1. Under-estimating the extent to which Rothbard, Rockwell and Paul were using the “paleo strategy” to cynically exploit them — suckering them for political “seed money” and so forth — as opposed to genuinely make common cause with them; and
  2. Seriously over-estimating the extent to which the now-existing Paul movement, which is not, for the most part,  a product of the “paleo strategy,” is composed of people likely to be sympathetic to the A3P-type fringe.
So far, I'm not seeing anything that constitutes a serious indictment of Paul, his campaign, or the movement surrounding his campaign -- or at least nothing above and beyond other long-known plausible indictments of any or all of the three.

But, once again, this is just my initial impression, based on limited time and limited skills for digging through the dump. If anyone else is finding or seeing anything I'm missing or mis-interpreting, by all means let me know in comments, via contact form, etc.

As a side note, while I consider myself a member of Anonymous (expect us!) and while I'm happy to see A3P exposed, I was not involved in this operation nor did I have any foreknowledge of it.

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Friday, February 03, 2012

I'll Take "Idiot Pols" for $1,000, Alex ...

"Don't forget to phrase your response in the form of a question, Tom."

"Sure, Alex ... are America's idiot pols really stupid enough to start yet a third Asian land war, after losing two in the last decade, and this time with a country that counts Russia, China and India as allies, and that's three times as populous and more militarily advanced than the other two countries that have recently made the US their bitch?"

Despite the near-constant drumbeat and the wars and rumors of wars over the last few years, I've tended to discount the proposition that anyone could be that stupid. But I'm beginning to wonder. So:

I haven't found an organized event in St. Louis to attend, but I aim to misbehave for peace tomorrow, one way or another, even if it's all by my lonesome. Pray goest thou and do likewise.

My Simplistic Tech-Blogging Rationale

English: PROJECT MERCURY - LITTLE JOE TEST - S...Image via Wikipedia
I am not a tech expert.

The last real programming I did was in the 1980s, in Commodore BASIC. My HTML/web design skills (other than tweaking out-of-the-box stuff like Wordpress themes here and there, with reference materials and redundant backups close at hand) are circa the late 1990s.

The *nix command line doesn't terrify me per se, and I've installed, configured and used more distros than I can easily remember, but I'm not the guy you'd call if you needed someone to help you grok grep. Ditto for networking. I've set up and fixed Ethernet and wireless home networks, but you could probably set up or troubleshoot your own as well as I could, assuming you are at least as smart as e.g. a mildly retarded rhesus monkey.

And yet I frequently find myself blogging on "tech stuff," and at some point I figure I owe my readers an explanation (or maybe not -- y'all seem to comment favorably on that as much as on the political material).

Why the simplistic tech-blogging? Three reasons:

  1. As little as I know about any particular thing, I almost certainly know a little more than someone, and therefore may be of assistance.
  2. As little or as much as I know about any particular thing, someone out there almost certainly knows more, and may be willing to share it with me, if I ask (and blogging about it is asking about it, unless comments are turned off and the contact form gets deleted).
  3. Traffic. I keep an eye on entry pages, search engine referrals, etc., and a significant percentage of my hits comes from people searching for the tech items I blog about (the third biggest search referral to KN@PPSTER over the last month, after "not provided" and "knappster," has been "free android apps for tablets") . Which, in addition to constituting a reason itself, tends to confirm the first two reasons.
So anyway, now you know what that's all about. I hopefully get to teach some little things, I definitely get to learn a lot, and it feeds my obsession with traffic numbers. So thanks for putting up with it.
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Thursday, February 02, 2012


I haven't watched Person of Interest yet, but my latest Klout Perk (a logoed microfiber "digi clean pad" for maintaining my cell phone's screen ... pretty cool!) got me interested enough to have a look. Which I guess means the "perk" program is doing its job, huh?

Yes, I guess I'll have to give the show a try. I mean, how can you go wrong with Ben Linus AND Jesus?
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OK, Yes, I'm a Gold Bug

More of a silver bug, actually. But a metal bug. I like having the real stuff, and I particularly like having it already broken down into known increments that are reasonably spendable (or will be, as more and more people decide that precious metals make more sense than paper backed only by "the full faith and credit of" a bunch of politicians).

If you've seen gold and silver prices lately, you know that a one-ounce silver or even a 1/10th-ounce gold coin is a little much for normal exchange. So, I'm a big fan of Ron Helwig's Shire Silver -- laminated cards with small quantities of metal in them (0.5. 1 or 5 grams of silver; 0.05, 0.1 or 0.5 grams of gold):

Perfect even now for buying and selling stuff at freedom movement events. As fiat currency continues its unstable, decaying orbit around the black hole of politics, I expect it to come into use for more routine transactions.

You should probably get some yourself. If you're interested in doing business with it on a regular basis, you might consider becoming a Shire Silver merchant (Disclosure: I've been one -- through Rational Review News Digest -- for more than a year).

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Why Hasn't Universal Commenting/Discussion Caught On?

It really does seem like the next leap in social networking: Instead of (or in addition to) each site maintaining its own comment or forum setup, you could comment at or on any URL, and have your comments aggregated and threaded with everyone else's, all through the same service.

But no: We've got competing commenting systems (IntenseDebate, Disqus, et. al), in-house systems for WordPress and Blogger and so forth, all fighting for market share from the site operator side instead of the user side, and "universal commenting/discussion" doesn't seem to catch on.

A couple of years ago, I came across a site called Buzzbot. It appears to be defunct now -- not surprising since it was set up as a multi-level-marketing opportunity. It was one of those "operating system in your browser" projects, among other things.  The only thing special about it was its "browser within your browser." You could point that browser at any URL, and there would be a sidebar tab for discussion and commenting.

There was also a service call coComment -- also defunct, but from what I can tell it appeared to be a similar idea, implemented as a Firefox extension.

I think the idea is sound. In fact, I think it could be the next Twitter in terms of adoption.  If I were rolling it out (and no, I won't -- I've got neither the capital nor the technical ability), it would look something like this:

  • A web site, a Firefox add-on, a Chrome extension, etc.
  • Multiple account setup/login options ("connect with Facebook," "log in with Twitter," "use your Google account," "set up an account with us").
  • When you go to a web page -- any web page -- with the add-on or extension running, or in an iframe or whatever from the service's site, you have a little tab on the side of your browser (for extra credit, let the user decide where the tab appears, maybe make it on of those that pops up when you move your mouse to the lower right of the screen, etc.).
  • Click on the tab, a comment window opens. Bam, threaded discussion, and it's not dependent on, or controlled by, the site you're commenting on ... or is it?
That last question leaves open the possibility of a "premium" service that site operators can buy, which lets them exercise various sorts of moderation and control over the service as it's used vis a vis their sites. Or maybe not even premium. Maybe there's a default service, but any site creator can create a file along the lines of robots.txt that specifies certain parameters like excluded words, bans, moderation, etc.

Ad revenue seems like the obvious profit center.

What's the fly in the ointment? What am I missing? Too much overhead required to moderate from the commenting provider's side or something?

To me, this seems like exactly the direction I'd take Disqus if I ran that service. Why compete for site owners to implement your service when you could just offer it directly to users?
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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Tent Living Update

Unidentified group of men camping, Muskoka Lak...Image via Wikipedia
I started 2012 with the goal of "camping out" every night for the entire year.

I've already had to modify that goal: Last weekend's trip entailed a family hotel stay, and I doubted the innkeepers would tolerate a tent in their backyard (Tamara rejected the idea of everyone staying at a rental tent camp site; can't say I blame her).

So in January, I went 30 for 31 days.

I'm thinking that I should probably allow myself one day a month for such things, sort of in the spirit of people trying to set world records for pole-sitting or roller-coaster-riding or whatever getting five minutes off per day or hour to use the bathroom and whatnot.

Other than that, nothing of note to report, really; just asides:

  • I've definitely become acclimated to lower temperatures -- these days, I don't bother zipping up the sleeping bag unless it's below freezing.
  • The cheap Ozark Trail tent has been a real champ in terms of weather resistance, especially since I sheltered its north face with a tarp lean-to. Any tent will admit a little moisture if there's stuff pressing against its inside walls, and there's some condensation on cold days, but apart from that the thing has been nicely dry, and surprisingly un-drafty.
  • Consequently, I'm kind of planning to just stick with this tent all year (or until disaster of some kind falls upon it) rather than buy or build something else come spring. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I must admit that the FieldCandy outfits look pretty cool, but they also appear to start at something like 25 times the cost of what I'm using now.
  • Based on past summer sleepouts, though, I think I'll try to figure out a reasonable way to mount a fan in front of one of the mesh windows once the temperature creeps up above 80 or so.

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Adventures in Browser Organization: Symbaloo

Since my forcible repatriation from Chrome to Firefox (I've tried everything, including multiple nukings/reinstallations, and Chrome just won't run correctly any more), I've been looking for a replacement for NewsSquares, the one Chrome extension which had most revolutionized my daily browsing routine.

I haven't found anything quite as useful yet, but this LifeHacker article on useful start pages by Whitson Gordon turned me on to Symbaloo.

No, Symbaloo doesn't do everything that NewsSquares does (integrate with Google Reader, let me preview articles and keep track of read/unread stuff, etc.). Not even close. But it does at least let me organize my "daily routine" URLs into pretty clickable squares that open in new tabs. It also has some nice built-in news tracking features. Both of those things are big time-savers in my 100+ site daily grind.

Symbaloo is also web-based and browser-independent, so I don't lose it if I switch to Safari, Camino, Opera, or even eventually back to Chrome. That's obviously a major plus.

Here's hoping that Symbaloo steps up its game and adds NewsSquares-like features, or that Rocket-in-Bottle or some eager beaver clones NewsSquares as a Firefox add-on, or better yet a web-based, browser-independent hangamajigger.
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