Friday, August 31, 2012

Why "Aggregation/Curation By Hand" is Still Relevant

Over the last 15 or 16 years, I've transitioned from full-time factory work / part-time political work to full-time political work. Now I'm transitioning in a different direction, trying to replace some of the political stuff with work in "Internet Marketing."

Oddly enough, though, I'm finding myself drawn to the same mechanical process -- aggregation and curation of material by hand -- as a way of fulfilling perceived demand in the niches I'm working in.

Back in the mid-1990s, I started working with (now-defunct) Free-Market.Net, hand-aggregating news stories and commentaries for their publication, Freedom News Daily (which, after going away and coming back under the auspices of the International Society for Individual Liberty, is now a re-brand of the publication I founded with some other FND veterans in 2002, Rational Review News Digest).

One of the things I'm doing now (for the last month or so) is called TE Juicebox. It's an online calendar (and daily email newsletter, etc.) of events called "surf promos" at marketing sites called "traffic exchanges."

What do these two things have in common? They require a human being to locate, summarize and link up -- in other words, aggregate and curate -- a bunch of material from different sites so that the end user gets "one-stop shopping" for a variety of products in a specific niche.

Could this be automated? Yes, but it would be difficult, because so many different sites use so many different formats to convey their information. And it wouldn't be as good, because that variety of formats (among other things) would likely cause almost any automation scheme to include material that doesn't belong and miss material that does belong.

Some of the bigger players in aggregation/curation do automate. Some of them do it quite well. But honestly, I haven't seen any that do it as well as a human or team of humans can do it, especially within highly targeted niches.

The problem, of course, is that aggregation/curation by hand is more labor-intensive on an ongoing basis and makes for lower profit margins. You get less content for more work, and monetization of web content is often a function of "throw as much crap at the wall as possible; hope that some of it sticks and moves ad impressions or results in affiliate program sales."

But, in my opinion, human aggregation/curation is still necessary, still results in a better product, and will be necessary and result in a better product for the foreseeable future. I think the market actually agrees with me on that, at least to an extent. People are more likely to get word of a development via Facebook or Twitter (where it has been hand-curated by their friends) than at an automated news site. The immediate adoption of Pinterest by so many people wasn't an accident, either.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ad Hoc Symposium #3

The first two of these ad hoc symposia quoted Proudhon and Paine respectively, so I'm a little scared to throw something by little old me out beside those two luminaries. But a snippet from recent (private) correspondence kept dragging me back for re-thinking, and I'd like to see what others think, too.

So, apropos of Allison at Cato, the departure of Tucker from Mises to Laissez Faire Books, the departure of Richman from FEE to ??? ...

The "mainstream libertarian" tanks are moving from merely "mainstream" to "establishment." I think that's from a combination of hubris ("we've got a SEAT AT THE TABLE!!!") and addiction to "major donor" money that comes with implicit strings attached (don't go overboard criticizing corporate welfare, thou shalt not touch our intellectual property foundations, etc.). The question there is whether or not we let them take the label "libertarian" with them.
The anti-war right continues to be drawn into the black hole of paleo-conservatism.  The question there is whether the "anti-war" part can be rescued before that "movement" disappears inside its own event horizon.
And the "libertarian movement" proper is, for all intents and purposes, becoming identical with the libertarian left. The question there is how much of the existing "libertarian movement" can we peel off with us, rather than losing to the establishment and paleocon splinters?


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ad Hoc Symposium #2

From Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man:

Whatever is the cause of taxes to a Nation, becomes also the means of revenue to a Government. Every war terminates with an addition of taxes, and consequently with an addition of revenue; and in any even of war, in the manner they are now commenced and concluded the power and interest of Government are increased. War, therefore, from its productiveness, as it easily furnishes the pretence of necessity for taxes and appointments to places and offices, becomes a principal part of the system of old Governments; and to establish any mode to abolish war, however advantageous it might be to Nations, would be to take from such Government the most lucrative of its branches. The frivolous matters upon which war is made shew the disposition and avidity of Governments to uphold the system of war, and betray the motives upon which they act.

After which he goes off the rails by assuming that "republics" are different. But anyway ... discuss!

I Really Dig Being an Investment Banker

So far, I've made eight Kiva loans. Four of them have been repaid in full, and the other four are in various stages of repayment but all more than half-way there.

I've participated in financing two retail food outlets in Mexico and one in Nicaragua, and a food and soap outlet in Senegal. All of those loans are fully repaid. The loans still in repayment are a bee-keeping enterprise in Armenia, a carpentry/construction business in Iraq, a bakery in Mongolia and a food market in Sierra Leone.

I don't consider it "charity" or "altruism," even though the loans are interest-free. I get my money back, and the world's a slightly nicer place to live in.

Hey, why don't you join me in this thing? We can make good things happen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Comin' Atcha from the New Digs

I had a nice, long, boring post mostly written up on the new place, but an errant keystroke disappeared it somehow. So, shorter version:

After a month of involuntary wandering, we're in a new place -- a two-floor "town home." Nothing wildly upscale; built in the 1960s and reasonable well-maintained, etc. Somewhat more expensive than the previous house payments, but some utilities are included, maintenance is their job rather than ours,  it should be cheaper to heat and cool (being smaller and less drafty), and there are some nice amenities (including a cement pond, as opposed to the 3-foot vinyl pool that the old area's building inspector condemned as illegal because there was no "permit" and apparently to set up a kiddie pool you're required to have in-ground wiring installed for the filter pump -- yes, that is the kind of nonsense we've been putting up with in our previous town, which I personally have re-named "Pyongyang"). Here's an aerial:

The expenses aren't over, of course. We're still not completely moved (truck rental coming up for washer, dryer and other heavy/large stuff). Some of our old furniture is going to the curb and being replaced by less old furniture (we do the frugal thrift store thing; but we did splurge on new mattresses, since it was about time anyway and the hassle of moving them indicated "why not just go ahead with that?"). We're renting a storage unit for awhile so that we can more leisurely sort through "keep and move vs. throw away vs. donate" issues (a lot of books are going to be going, but heck, we were in transition to digital anyway). So, thanks to those who've been financially supportive of my various endeavors!

In theory, the cable guys can't come install stuff until Wednesday. But when I plugged the modem into the wall jack on a hunch, it worked. Don't know if that means our service has been "moved" or whether we're using a previous tenant's connection, but hey, it's the same company and we're paying for it, so ...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ad Hoc Symposium #1

From Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's What is Property?, as translated from the French by Benjamin R. Tucker:

Finally, a book appeared, summing up the whole matter in these two propositions: What is the Third Estate? -- Nothing. What ought it to be? -- Everything. Some added by way of comment: What is the king? -- the servant of the people.

This was a sudden revelation: the veil was torn aside, a thick bandage fell from all eyes. The people commenced to reason thus: --

If the king is our servant, he ought to report to us;
If he ought to report to us, he is subject to control;
If he can be controlled, he is responsible;
if he is responsible, he is punishable;
If he is punishable, he ought to be punished according to his merits;
If he ought to be punished according to his merits, he can be punished with death.

Discuss ...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Akin's Idiotic Remark Obscures the Libertarian Point He Made Right After It

, member of the United States House of Represe...
Stupid? Oh, yeah: US Representative Todd Akin (R-MO), the GOP's US Senate nominee in Missouri, claimed on television that pregnancy from rape is "really rare" and that the female body has some biological process for detecting rape and preventing pregnancy from it.

It's a shame he said that, because right after he said it, he went right to the main argument that pro-life libertarians make about abortion: "[T]he punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."

No, I'm not going to try to settle the abortion debate in a blog post. But it's important to remember that among libertarians, that debate does not turn on conflicting claims of what constitutes libertarian principle.

Rather it turns on as yet unsettled questions regarding when and how a human being becomes a "person" with "rights." Libertarians agree that aggression is wrong. What they disagree on vis a vis abortion is whether or not abortion is aggression based on their own answers to those unsettled questions.

Akin believes that an embryonic or fetal human being is a "person" with "rights" that ought not to be violated. And he stands by that belief even in cases of rape by noting that while the mother may be the victim, it is not the embryonic or fetal human being which is the aggressor.

In other words, on the subject of abortion, Akin's reasoning is libertarian.

Mitt Romney Steve Pearce event 019
The response of the statist center-left to his remarks is exactly what one would expect. It's the response of the statist center-right which is interesting -- they are (or at least Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are) running as far and as fast from a libertarian position as they can get by announcing that they don't oppose abortion in case of rape:

"Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape," Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement.

And this, in turn, establishes that all that "sanctity of life, blah, blah, blah" guff is just that -- guff. They're trying to have it both ways. If they were really against abortion because they think the embryo/fetus has rights, they'd be against it in cases of rape or incest, too. That they aren't indicates that it's all about controlling women, or some other similarly irrational/authoritarian thing.

Disclaimer: No, I am not a Todd Akin fan. In point of fact, I was his Libertarian Party opponent for election to the US House of Representatives in 2008. And while I am not an expert on biology, I suspect his take on the biology of rape/pregnancy is waaaaaaay off and fully understand why people find it offensive (it reminds me of his predecessor in both the US House and the US Senate, Jim Talent, who said in a public debate that he opposed cloning because he didn't want to be walking down the street and run into himself). But in this one specific area, he's taking a libertarian ideological approach to a question, and that is noteworthy.

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Friday, August 17, 2012


Quick update: We're still looking at housing options. It's tempting to get buffaloed into grasping at the first thing that comes along, but frankly the deals we've seen haven't been that great, except for one we won't know about until Tuesday.

So, we've procured lodging at one of those "extended stay" hotels. Cheaper than the regular sort, with a kitchenette, etc. so we can cook instead of eating out.

But yes, the whole thing is a bit of strain on the pocketbook.

I'm always up for a little extra work (see the "services" link), but especially so at the moment. If anyone's got any writing, editing, etc. they need done, gimme a yell and you'll get my best price.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Not Exactly a Prediction

More like an "I hope this is what's happening."

The government of Ecuador has granted political asylum to Julian Assange, who took refuge at their UK embassy awhile back after the UK's government announced its intention to hand him over to Sweden (pursuant not to an actual arrest warrant based on criminal charges, but because "authorities" want to "talk to him" about some "sexual misconduct" -- mischaracterized in the media as rape, but on the facts not even close -- allegations), which would almost certainly hand him over to the US so that he can be punished for embarrassing Hillary Clinton.

In response, the UK's government has threatened to invade Ecuador. Yes, really: They've threatened to "raid" Ecuador's embassy -- which is sovereign Ecuadoran territory under international law -- to abduct Assange. That's an act of war, period, end of story.

But what if Assange isn't at the embassy? What if he was smuggled out some time ago -- perhaps in a sealed diplomatic mail or records box -- and is maybe even now safely ensconced in an apartment in Quito?

Hopefully that's exactly what has transpired, and Assange and the Ecuadoran government are either awaiting his arrival in Quito to hold a press conference, or waiting to see if the UK embarrasses itself by following through on its threats only to find no Assange.

UPDATE, AUGUST 19: Well, no dice: Assange makes a short speech from a balcony at Ecuador's UK embassy. I suspect part of the problem with getting him out is that with balls as big as his, he must have trouble walking.

Feeling a Wee Bit Cynical

In the classical sense, that is.

To wit, my personal situation is on a bit of a knife's edge. The next 72 hours will probably resolve things somewhat, but it's too early to tell whether that means "settled in a new domicile with e.g. food, water and Internet access" or "attempting, like Diogenes, to live in a tub on the square (hopefully near an open wifi network) and hope someone throws me a scrap of food in exchange for purported wisdom now and again."

I can't really bring myself to bellyache about the situation from a personal standpoint. I've been down for a long time with the whole "possess nothing and be possessed by nothing" idea (which I mistakenly attributed to the Sufis until I came across Antisthenes and the Cynics; ah, the influence of Hellas is pervasive to this day!). Apart from some clothing, my main possessions are books and computers (and the former are now increasingly accessible via the latter, so losing my physical library wouldn't be as big a blow as it would have been 20 years ago).

The problem with the "become a wandering mendicant philosopher" scenario, though, is that if Diogenes tried to live in a tub in downtown St. Louis, he wouldn't be left alone by the authoritahs, let alone lauded as the founder of a wonderful new school of philosophy. He'd get dragged off to jail and/or a "mental health care" institution and his tub would be hauled to the landfill.

So anyway, developing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

If There's a Case Against the Efficacy of Jury Nullification ...

... this is it.

Adam Mueller, a/k/a Ademo Freeman, taped the comments of "public officials" in response to questions about their performance of their "public duties."

For this, he was charged with "wiretapping."

The charges were so transparently bullshit, he was so clearly in the right and those accusing him of a crime were so clearly in the wrong, that there was just no way to reasonably expect anything less than a hung jury, with outright acquittal a strong possibility, even absent any "fully informed jury" activities -- and I'm under the impression that such activities did take place.

Nonetheless he was convicted, and after less than an hour of jury deliberation to boot.

I have a great deal of respect for Adam. I've met him (at a blogger conference a few years back when he was wrapping up the "Motorhome Diaries" project). I think he's a swell guy and a hell of an activist.  I wish I knew him well enough to call him "friend" without devaluing the word. I'm glad that he will be caged for "only" three months versus the 21-year potential maximum, and I suspect that the authoritahs will come to regret turning him loose in an inmate population which will likely get a strong dose of moral truth from their interactions with him.

I also have a healthy respect for the Fully Informed Jury Association and their work. They've done their damnedest to reclaim American notions of liberty and justice at the dispositive level of "convict or acquit."

But this whole thing makes me skeptical of the efficacy of that approach. It's sort of like the biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. If not one honest person out of 12 people can be found -- if 12 Americans will unanimously vote to convict a citizen of "wiretapping" for taping "public officials" in the conduct of their "public duties" -- I must conclude that the whole idea of "America" is dead as a doornail.

Fuck this noise. Queue fire, brimstone and pillars of salt.