Tuesday, December 31, 2013

And One More Thing ...

OK, not really. It's just that the idea of closing out 2013 one post short of 200 here at KN@PPSTER was really bugging me. So now that's taken care of.

Wrapping up the Year

... with my latest at C4SS.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

It's a green Christmas in Florida, naturally. Whether yours is green, white or whatever, I hope you enjoy it and offer my best wishes for the coming new year.

I saw Tamara and the kids off to the airport on Monday (to visit her mother in Illinois), after laying in a supply of ribeye steaks, etc. sufficient to survive the zombie apocalypse holiday alone. There may be some caroling at an old folks' home later today, but mostly I'm enjoying some rare solitude.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Brief Response to Glenn Jacobs

Finally, a sensible response to Bitcoin from the LewRockwell.com/Ludwig von Mises Institute community! Glenn Jacobs, aka Kane, puts his finger on two legitimate concerns about the digital currency instead of following Gary North down the path of (what should be embarrassing) ignorance. I'm going to respond as briefly as possible, with an eye toward shedding light on these concerns rather than just arguing.

Concern #1: Lack of commodity value -- Bitcoin is not something like gold or silver, nor is it backed by anything like gold or silver. While Jacobs, being an Austrian when it comes to economics, agrees that value is subjective, he's concerned that there doesn't seem to really be any "there" there with Bitcoin. It's just encrypted bits exchanged across a network.

My response: Jacobs is absolutely right, so far as I can tell. There's some noise from the Bitcoin community about Bitcoin's value deriving from the work of "mining" and maintaining the "block chain" of transactions, but I can't say I find that argument convincing.

Bitcoin's real value to people (apart from speculators who are just trying to grab fiat currency profits by "investing" in it while it lasts) seems to be responsive to Jacobs's question: "If the precious metals were actually allowed to compete in the market as money, would there even be a need for something like Bitcoin?"

Bitcoin is far from the first electronic currency. There were several metals-based transaction systems at one time. Some of them (e-gold and Liberty Dollar are two that come to mind) were prosecuted and had the assets backing their currencies stolen by the US government. Another, Goldmoney, apparently failed to catch on because its proprietors wasted too much time, money and effort attempting to jump through anti-competitive government regulatory hoops.

The reason there's a need for something like Bitcoin is that gold and silver aren't actually allowed to compete in the market as money. The value in Bitcoin is that it's able to function whether government wants it to or not. There's no overall system owner to prosecute. There are no physical assets to seize.

It's true that the only thing really backing Bitcoin is its users' belief in the soundness and security of the Bitcoin system itself. That's nowhere as good as gold bars in a vault, but it's better than the "full faith and credit" of governments who debase their currency offerings at will and at great cost to their unwilling customers.

My expectation is that once the state has been smashed (or at least brought to heel in some major way) such that currencies can compete in a free market, people will prefer digital currencies backed by real commodities (but maintaining some important characteristics of Bitcoin). Until then, Bitcoin and its kin are  reasonable kludges.

Concern #2: Jacobs's perception that "government and central bank officials have given Bitcoin lukewarm approval."

My response: I don't think Glenn is seeing this correctly, but I don't think he's seeing it unreasonably.

I've noted two different types of government response to Bitcoin.

In China, the regime is trying to crack down -- first banning bank involvement in Bitcoin, then banning payment processor acceptance of Bitcoin. The crackdown won't work, but they're trying it.

The US and other governments seem to be more aware of the fact that there's absolutely nothing they can do -- short of shutting down the Internet -- to stop Bitcoin. So they're trying to co-opt it in three ways:

  • Leveraging the desire of some of the big players (Mt.Gox, Coinbase) to become "part of the mainstream" by welcoming their willingness to e.g. require government-issued identification for large transactions.
  • Issuing edicts (e.g. "FINCEN Guidance") that they hope will cow other players and users into acting with Bitcoin like they do with fiat currency (pay their taxes, etc.).
  • Busting some of the other big players (e.g. Silk Road) in an attempt to prove that they can control Bitcoin (that isn't working, any more than China's crackdowns will).
The approval Glenn is seeing isn't "lukewarm" -- it's fake. Governments hate Bitcoin, because whatever else it might be, it's an economic phenomenon that is (or at least potentially can be) immune to their control, regulation and taxation schemes. Some of the smarter governments are ever so slightly playing along, looking for a weakness. But in reality none of them like it one little bit.

I can only see one real way in which governments could hope to compete with Bitcoin, and that is if they decided to give up on fiat paper and start issuing gold- and silver-backed currencies of their own. And I don't see that happening.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Xmas Shopping Bleg

I'm an affiliate of Powell's Books. If you're giving books as gifts this holiday season, you can throw some money at KN@PPSTER, at no extra cost to yourself, by clicking on the graphic below to do your literary shopping. Thanks in advance!

Visit Powells.com

The Only Tax I Willingly Pay, and Why

For a long time, I was kind of embarrassed to admit that Tamara and I occasionally buy lottery tickets. After all, Ambrose Bierce accurately described the lottery as "a tax on people who are bad at math." The odds of winning in one of the big drawings like Powerball or Mega Millions are infinitesimal. As an "investment" made with hope of monetary return it's pretty much throwing money down a hole.

But we do throw a buck or two at these kinds of drawings every now and again, when we happen to notice that the jackpots are huge (several hundred millions of dollars -- in the case of the next Mega Millions draw, more than half a billion). And I think we get our money's worth. Here's why:

We're buying entertainment. We get more than a dollar's worth of fun out of yakking about the things we'll buy in the incredibly unlikely event that we do win.

With half a billion bucks, even minus taxes, we can live anywhere we want. Heck, we can live in as many places as we want. Where will we live? What kind of houses will we buy or have built? (My calls: A nice home in Florida, a condo in St. Louis, a cabin in the Rockies or Sierras, a cottage in Ireland)

With half a billion bucks, we can have whatever kind of transport we deem fitting. Cars and drivers, or just cars? (Just cars is my guess) Will those houses need helicopter pads? (No -- I've spent enough time in helicopters to not trust them -- and I'm guessing even if we fly a lot, it will be commercial or charter, not "buy a plane and hire a pilot").

And yeah, we would travel quite a bit. We haven't seen most of the world, and there's a lot of it we'd like to see.

With half a billion bucks, we can support whatever causes we like. Better start buttering me up now, folks.

And so on and so forth.

We probably get 60-90 minutes of this kind of family round-robin entertainment out of a $1 or $2 ticket a couple of times a year. Four tickets to a 90-minute feature film run about $50 in our area. And the popcorn is cheaper at home too.

And hey, we might wi ... no, we won't win. But trying to persuade ourselves we might is part of the entertainment value, too.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Meanwhile and Elsewhere

In theory, whenever I write anything for publication elsewhere, I immediately excerpt it and link it up here at KN@PPSTER so those happy few, that band of brothers (and sisters) who keep an eye on this blog can easily find it.

In practice, I almost always forget. So here's a set of links to stuff by me published elsewhere so far this month.

At the Center for a Stateless Society:

At Come Home America:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dumbest Thing I've Read Today ...

... even dumber than Gary North's latest Bitcoin screed. Per PC Magazine:

[I]f you use Google's Gmail and it just isn't working for you anymore, Microsoft wants to simplify the process of moving to Outlook.com.

This is roughly the equivalent of saying "if that thought-controlled flying Lamborghini just isn't working for you any more, Farmer Bob wants to simplify the process of moving to a blind, lame, rabid mule."

Advice for Gary North: When You Find Yourself in a Hole, STOP DIGGING!

I confess that I'm not a Gary North fan. Usually I just ignore him. But since he started weighing in on Bitcoin and various libertarian writers have taken the time rebut his errors, I've sort of had to pay attention (here's a Google search that should bring up most of his diatribes and the responses thereto). I guess it's time to do my part and briefly fisk his latest compendium of ignorant assumption.

First, a brief note on where I don't necessarily disagree with North:

He doesn't believe that Bitcoin is "real money" as defined in Austrian economic doctrine. He may be right about that. It's not backed by any physical commodity. It is not, at least at the moment, a reliable "store of value" (its value relative to various currencies and commodities has tended to fluctuate wildly; while I think we've seen the worst of that, I could be wrong).

But even if Bitcoin is not "real money," it's already proven its worth in one of the functions that money serves: As a "medium of exchange." The aforementioned fluctuations do make that a somewhat dicey proposition (I recently bought a television with Bitcoin that, had I saved it for two more weeks would have been worth four times as much in US Federal Reserve Notes, for which I could have bought a much nicer TV and maybe a new guitar!), but so far it's the best kludge I've seen for taking electronic (as opposed to physical "cash") economic exchanges off the government regulation grid.

Now to the problems with the piece I link above.

North asserts that US government paper money is superior to Bitcoin in terms of privacy because:

[A]nyone with a bank account in the United States can obtain greenbacks. ... As soon as an individual has paper money, he has total privacy. He also has total control over his money. He knows where the money is. He decides where the money will go. He decides how long he will keep the money. He can of course be robbed, but this is relatively rare."

Pause for effect. OK, spit-take break over.

"Anyone with a bank account?" Really? Let's see: In order to get a bank account, you have to present government ID and undergo a credit check. Once you have a bank account, the bank monitors all of your transactions on behalf of, and reports anything "suspicious" (including all transactions greater than $5k) to, the federal government.

But even setting that part aside, on every other count above Bitcoin is at least as good as paper money. Once you have Bitcoin, you have total control over it. You know where it is. You decide where it will go. You decide how long you will keep it. And if you're careful, your chances of getting robbed of Bitcoin are considerably lower than your chances of getting robbed of paper money.

Just as an example of that last claim, let's take the case of Ross Ulbricht, allegedly "Dread Pirate Roberts" of Silk Road fame. The US government stole his web site, and while they were at it they were able to steal a fraction of Bitcoin that was stored in transit/commerce accounts on its server. But even though they have physical possession of a copy of an account with 144,000 Bitcoins (as I write this, about $140 million USD worth) in it, that money is safe as houses. It's encrypted. Well-encrypted. They can't get to it without its owner's consent. And if he has another copy stored somewhere, it will be waiting for him when he escapes the regime's clutches. Assuming it's his, which we can't safely assume. Do you think he'd have been able to keep $140 million green pieces of paper, or a $140 million bank balance, out of their clutches? [Addendum Note: My numbers here may be off as there are various versions of the story floating around that seem to make contradictory claims; see the comments below this post for a different set of numbers - TLK]

And as far as privacy per se is concerned, yes, as I've said again and again, Bitcoin is not inherently anonymous. But it can be made so fairly easily.

North's next line of argument:

Almost nobody knows how to buy Bitcoins. The person must buy them through a Bitcoins currency exchange company. He has no idea which ones are reliable. He risks getting into an exchange like the Silk Road, which the government shut down. He risks getting into an exchange like the one that replaced it, Sheep Marketplace, which was hit by a $100 million heist, and which shut down, leaving its users with a 100% loss. ... He has to know how to use computers to get access to this kind of money. Not many people know how to do this online. In other words, there is a huge learning curve involved in gaining access to this privacy money.

Hmm, where to begin?

No, you don't have to buy Bitcoins through a currency exchange company. In fact, I have never done so. There's no problem at all with coming to a personal arrangement of any variety you like with someone who has Bitcoins to get them. You might sell them something. You might hand them those green pieces of paper that North seems to like so much. You might set up a "donate Bitcoin" button on your web site.

Secondly, neither Silk Road nor Sheep Marketplace were "Bitcoins currency exchange companies." They were marketplaces in which goods and services were traded using Bitcoin as a medium of exchange. North doesn't know what he's talking about here.

Thirdly, complaining that people have to know how to use computers to get access to this kind of money is pretty weak. People have to know how to use computers to get access to Gary North's articles at LewRockwell.com, too. People have to know how to use computers to get access to books at Amazon.com. Whoop de freaking do.

Yes, you need a little more than average computer knowledge and better equipment to "mine" Bitcoin out of the aether efficiently -- or you can do it inefficiently right in your browser at bitcoinplus.com, or you can buy shares in mining operations, or you can earn Bitcoin at a number of those "pay per click" sites for viewing ads -- but using Bitcoin in commerce is no more knowledge-intensive than using a credit card or Paypal in commerce.


There is no way to prosecute. There is no way for a depositor to get his digital money back. He bought secrecy with respect to any police agency, so nobody can find out where his money went, and he has no legal claim against anybody.

There are two ways to look at these claims.

The first way is from the perspective of someone who actually believes the state is there to "protect" us from these problems. I'd ask that person how he plans to prosecute someone who didn't hand over the gram of cocaine in return for greenbacks, or whether he'd expect the police to roll out and turn on the sirens because he got ripped off for ten bucks on something "legitimate." And I'd point out that some "mainstream" Bitcoin outfits are integrating themselves into the state system. I expect that within a year or so you'll see protection systems similar to PayPal's "buyer protection plan" operating in some Bitcoin markets. Of course, to take advantage of those protections, you'll have to do the same things that take the privacy out of dollar exchanges -- produce government ID or link a government-ID-backed bank account, etc.

The second way is to look at it from a libertarian or anarchist standpoint. Yes, one disadvantage of abandoning state "protection" is that you either have to do without it or develop new systems to replace it. At present, some people would rather do without it than pay the price for it, and I don't see why North would object to their preferences in that regard. And I suspect that over time the "off-grid" Bitcoin users will also develop systems that make it easier to guarantee delivery of goods or services for payment -- especially, but not only, after the state is no longer part of the picture.

Next, North moves on to "marketability":

You cannot use Bitcoins to buy anything in approximately 99.9% of American retail establishments. This is probably too low an estimate. You cannot buy what you want, when you want, where you want with Bitcoins. There are search costs involved in locating anybody who will sell you anything with Bitcoins.

You can't use gold bullion to buy anything in approximately 99.9% of American retail establishments. I'm trying to think of the last time I read Gary North complaining that gold is an awful, awful idea.

But my guess is that you can use Bitcoins to buy anything in far more than 0.1% of Internet retail establishments, either directly or indirectly, and that that percentage is growing. Here's a VERY partial list of well-known establishments whose Internet storefronts I can buy gift cards for using Bitcoin through only one provider:

Barnes and Noble, CVS Pharmacy, GameStop, The Gap, Land's End, Sephora, TGI Fridays, Home Depot, 1-800-Flowers, Belk, Brookstone, FTD, Groupon, JC Penney, K-Mart, Overstock.com, 1-800-Pet-Supplies, Sears, Wal-Mart, Applebee's, Chili's, Domino's, IHOP, Maggiano's Little Italy, Morton's The Steakhouse, Papa John's, Red Robin, Steak'n'Shake, Tony Roma's, Banana Republic, Babies R Us, Foot Locker, Hot Topic, Old Navy, Sports Authority, Stein Mart, Zales, Dell, Staples, Toys R Us, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's, Bath and Body Works, Nutri-System, Lowe's, American Airlines, Carnival and Celebrity cruises, Hyatt and Marriott hotels ...

By the way, I had never noticed that outlet before I started writing this post. It took me about 30 seconds to find it once I started looking. So I think we can write North's notions of "marketability" off with relative ease.

The nut of North's final bewildering argument is this gem:

The Bitcoins market operates only at the discretion of the central banks. The central banks allow Bitcoins for the moment, and only because of this toleration by the central banks does any market for Bitcoins exist.

In actuality, the truth is something close to the reverse of this claim. The central banks have precisely zero control over Bitcoin, and to the extent that they threaten regular banks with sanctions for accepting/dealing in it, they're harming themselves and those banks, not Bitcoin.

North's premise is that merchants will only accept a currency that they can deposit in the traditional banking system. He may be right about some merchants, but even if he is, see that list above: The major merchants don't have to accept Bitcoin in order for customers to buy from them using Bitcoin. Intermediaries who don't give a tinker's damn about government approval or access to the existing bank system will be glad to act as market makers for a cut of the action.

And if the two systems -- government regulated banks and decentralized, encrypted, peer-to-peer currencies -- separate completely, I know which one I'll bet on myself (hint: I haven't had a bank account in 13 years).

As I've said over and over, I don't know if Bitcoin will be the state-killer currency app, but I do know such an app is coming and that it will require several of Bitcoin's essential features.

North is all wet in every major area he addresses here.

Guitar God Agonistes

With two exceptions (playing "I'll Fly Away" with a group outside the Soulard Farmers Market in St. Louis, after I admired the Johnson resonator guitar one guy was playing and he handed it over; singing "Foggy Dew" at an Irish jam at Satchel's, at the invitation of Chris Maden) I haven't played out in decades -- and even back then that was generally as stand-in rhythm guitarist on simple songs ("Gloria," "Empty Heart," "Hey Bo Diddley") at drunken bar gigs with a band I followed around back in the '80s (that was a lot of fun; in one instance most of the band was replaced for a couple of songs and I suddenly realized that I was onstage jamming with two members of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils). For years now I've been thinking about doing some solo stuff at open mic nights and so forth, and the last couple of months I've started getting serious about it. Some things I'm figuring out:

Playing solo is very different from playing with a band: I've been a marginally competent rhythm guitarist since shortly after I started playing oh, 35 years or so ago. Aside from the bare basics, about all I've ever gotten around to learning is how to put a few bass licks/runs around those chords, for transitions.

If it's just going to be me on a bar stool with my guitar and voice, I've got to develop some additional fill skills to keep it interesting.  There's no rhythm section. There's no lead guitarist to enliven the spaces between vocal parts.

One way to address that need would be to add an instrument -- probably harmonica. I've seen "one man band" guys with pretty elaborate rigs, e.g. a kick drum and a programmable keyboard and so forth. But I suspect I'll have plenty to do just juggling guitar and voice without adding more elements to keep track of and keep in rhythm.

So I've been making some moves toward learning new licks, "banjo rolls" and stuff (I got a cheap Groupon for video lessons from Dangerous Guitar, which are proving quite useful). For the first time in years, I feel like I'm becoming a better guitarist. But I've got a ways to go in terms of incorporating some lead elements into the rhythm guitar scenario so that it's not just drone strumming between vocal parts.

I'm constantly drawn to my roots: I was brought up on country music. By the time I was in my teens I had pulled the usual rebellion stuff and got into everything from garage to punk to 60s/70s blues-influenced rock, and I still love all that stuff. But I first learned to play country and country gospel (I think the first song I played in public was Hank Williams's "I Saw the Light"), and it's what I'm most comfortable playing. In trying to work up a 20-minute open mic set, I keep coming back to country standards. I'll probably include at least two of these three: "Your Cheatin' Heart" by Hank Williams, "Always Late (With Your Kisses)" by Lefty Frizzell and "Cup of Loneliness" by George Jones. I'll want to drop at least one thing that makes people go "Huh? That's a definite change of direction!" into the mix; I've been practicing a version of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You." And I'm working something of my own, in eight-bar blues format.

I've gotta get a new guitar: My Epiphone PR-100 dreadnought acoustic has been a great instrument, but it's getting along in years (12 or 13, I think) and ever since the move to Florida (when it spent a week in a U-Haul tote traveling across multiple climate bands) there's something just a little sour going on up above the 8th fret or so. I can't detect any visible warping in the neck, but something ain't right. That $10 garage sale electric Stratocaster clone I bought a few weeks ago is, well, a $10 garage sale guitar.  Among other problems, it doesn't want to stay in tune for very long.

I'm wanting to move away from a full dreadnought acoustic and into a cutaway acoustic-electric, a hollowbody "arch top" electric, or a resonator guitar. The last two are a little rich for my blood, as I'm trying to keep it in the sub-$200 range. Rogue makes a $200 resonator guitar, but after a previous experience with their instruments I don't think I want to risk it. The only hollowbody electric I've found really satisfactory (and then some!) is a Gretsch I played awhile back at Guitar Center. But even on sale it's close to $900.

So I'm guessing that unless I find an incredible deal on something used (I'll be looking at local shops, Craigslist, etc.) I'm headed back to Epiphone -- the PR4-E -- and I have no problem with that. They're a Gibson subsidiary and they make a good instrument. Ten years or more ago, I paid $150 for an acoustic Epiphone dreadnought with gig bag, tuner, etc. $200 seems reasonable for an acoustic-electric with gig bag and amp. But I'll have to go down to a local store and actually play one first. Some things I'll buy sight unseen, but guitars aren't one of those things.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: eGo Clearomizer Electronic Cigarette

I've been "vaping" -- with occasional backslides into "real tobacco" -- for more than three years now. Over that time period, I've tried several types (and varieties within types) of electronic cigarettes.

In the beginning, there was the KR808D-1, sent to me by my friend Morey Straus to try out. That model is pretty much the grand-daddy of the e-cigarettes you see in convenience stores these days. It's a battery with a "cartomizer" (a combined atomizer and holder for the "e-juice") attached. Some of them have removable cartomizers that can be refilled; some are designed to be disposed of once the battery or "juice" runs out.

Nothing against that type of e-cig, but over time I've decided I don't like them that much. The cartomizers soak up the juice in a sort of wadding or batting that releases it when the atomizer heats things up. They're kind of a pain to clean and refill, and after awhile the vapor seems to taste more like the wadding/batting than like whatever flavor of juice I'm using.

Earlier this year, I bought an atomizer/"tank" model, the Super 510-T. In this type of e-cig, the battery, the atomizer and the plastic tank that the juice goes into are separate units. I liked the flavor coming out of the Super 510-T a lot better than the wadding/batting types; there's nothing soaking the liquid up. When you vape, a little teat poking up from the atomizer heats the juice directly. BUT: The plastic tanks tend to start leaking after a few uses, the atomizers don't seem to last very long, etc.

I've been looking around and thinking about trying out a new e-cig setup. And last weekend, Tamara and I were driving past a store (Let It Roll) where we've bought e-juice and "roll your own" tobacco/paper/filter setups before, and noticed a "free e-cigarette starter kit" sign. The details: Buy three 10ml bottles of juice, get the eGo-T Clearomizer starter kit free. So we did (six bottles of juice, two kits).

eGo-T Battery
w/ CE4 Clearomizer
The kits seem to be of the type that retail in the $20 range. They include one battery (branded with the Let It Roll logo, unlike the example pic to the right), one "clearomizer" (I'll get to that in a minute) and one USB charger. I've been vaping the Ego-T for four days now -- one recharge and I'm into my second clearomizer of juice, so pretty much enough to tell whether or not I like it.

I like it.

When the whole mess is assembled, it's larger than a "real cigarette." More the size of a medium cigar, really. But it's comfortable to hold, and I'm not personally invested in having something that "looks like a cigarette."

One feature I really like is that the battery can be turned on and off. Hit the little button five times in quick succession, it turns on. Hit the little button five more times, it turns off. So you don't have to worry about seeing vapor rise out of your shirt pocket where you stuck your e-cigarette and body motion pressed the button (yes, I have had this happen) or burning up all your juice because you sat the thing down and the button engaged (haven't had that happen, but it seems theoretically possible).

The "clearomizer" is sort of a cross between those batting/wadding things and the "tank" idea. It's an atomizer and tank in one unit, with little wicks hanging down from the atomizer to soak up juice from the tank. The wicks don't seem to affect the flavor in the way that the wadding/batting does, although I guess time will tell. The liquid (up to 1.6 ml) is free inside the tank until you press the button on the battery and inhale.

The unit produces sufficient vapor to satisfy me, a "real smoker" of 30 years. Flavor is dependent on juice quality, of course -- I've tried the "fruit stripe gum" and "menthol" flavors and like them both. So far I've had no leakage problems with the CE4 clearomizer. I understand there are other varieties of clearomizer, of various materials, in various colors, atomizer coil resistances, etc. The CE4 is plastic; I'll have to get a glass clearomizer if I want to vape the red hot cinnamon flavor of juice, because that juice eats plastic ... which gives me pause. I really love that flavor, but if it eats plastic I'm not sure I want it in my lungs.

So anyway, after four days I'm very pleased with the eGo-T w/ CE4 clearomizer. I'll update this review if any issues arise, but the price was right (I'd have bought juice for the old Super 510-T in any case; I got a free rig out of the deal for buying in larger than usual volume, and I know I'll use it), the battery holds a charge, the clearomizer doesn't leak, and the vapor production and flavor are outstanding.

Given the store branding, I suspect that there's an eGo-T campaign going on nationwide, with stores buying branded batteries in volume and offering the "free kits" to build their customer bases If you're just getting around to trying e-cigs, you may want to grab one of those $5 disposable convenience store rigs first just to make sure this is your kind of thing. But if you're really going to make the change to e-cigs, the eGo-T or some other tank/atomizer or clearomizer setup are cheaper in the long run and frankly offer a more pleasant vaping experience.
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Monday, December 09, 2013

If You Con Yourself, Don't Get Mad at Anyone Else

OK, I've seen stuff like this before: Someone puts up an eBay listing for, say, "PS3 Box," and yes, they really mean they're selling the box the PS3 came in, not the PS3 itself. And I can understand how someone might fall for it because they didn't read the listing carefully. I don't sympathize a whole lot, because if you're spending hundreds of dollars it only makes sense to pay close attention to what you're buying. But I can see how it happens.

And then there's this guy:

Despite the listing stating it was a photo of an XBox One Day One edition console, Mr Clatworthy said he'd expected to receive the console as it was listed in the video games and consoles category on eBay.

He said: "It said 'photo' and I was in two minds, but I looked at the description and the fact it was in the right category made me think it was genuine.

"I looked at the seller's feedback and there was nothing negative. I bought it there and then because I thought it was a good deal.

"It's obvious now I've been conned out of my money."

Pay attention: He NOTICED that the eBay listing was for a photo of an XBox One, not an actual XBox One, but managed to talk himself into believing -- and betting about US $750 -- that it was actually the thing he wanted instead of the thing the listing said it was. And he's mad at ... who?

Of course, anyone who pays $750 for a game console seems to me to be coming up a little short in the IQ department anyway, but that's another story, isn't it?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Running Some Numbers for My Family

In Marshfield, Missouri, where my parents live, it is 17 degrees.

In Springfield, Missouri, where my brother Rick lives, it is also 17 degrees.

In Racine, Wisconsin, where my brother Mike lives, it is 15 degrees.

In Gainesville, Florida, where I live, it is 81 degrees.

Do the math, folks. And consult U-Haul for their best moving packages and rates.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Dammit, Healy, You Ignorant Slut

In his latest foreign policy piece ("Negotiating with Iran Is Better than War"), the Cato Institute's Gene Healy tells us that:

[T]here aren't a lot of great choices when it comes to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. The Washington Post's Max Fisher runs through the unappealing menu of "four bad options": Bomb Iran, invade it, take covert action to topple the regime, or continue the status quo in the hopes that Iran will finally cry "uncle." There's "one okay option": Try to negotiate a deal. These choices essentially reduce to two: war or diplomacy.

Both Fisher and Healy leave out the sixth, best option:

  • Take notice of the fact that both the US and Israeli intelligence communities don't think that Iran has taken any steps to develop nuclear weapons in more than a decade;
  • Take notice of Iranian "supreme leader" Ayatollah Khamenei's 2006 fatwah declaring the development and use of nuclear weapons a sin against Islam and forbidding his regime to engage in said development or use;
  • Take notice of Iran's clear entitlement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to develop nuclear power and the obligation of other NNPT signatory nations to assist them in doing so rather than trying to prevent them from doing so; and
  • Sit down, shut up, mind our own business, stop giving the Israeli government veto power over US foreign policy, and end the regime of sanctions, terrorism and saber-rattling that has been the single biggest guarantor of the mullahs' power in Iran for 30 years now.
Strike that "best option" above and replace with "only option that isn't pure stump stupidity."

Review: Escape from the Village

The usual up-front info and disclaimers: I received a free review copy (in electronic format) of Escape from the Village from its author, Chris Baker. No conditions were placed/requested on receipt of that review copy, although Chris obviously hoped, and said he hoped, that I'd let others know about the novel. In this review, I'm keeping to my usual practice of "if you don't have something nice to say about a free book, say nothing at all." Since I'm reviewing it, you can assume from the git-go that I recommend it. - TLK

Let's start with the obvious influences: Ayn Rand's novella Anthem; Rush's album 2112 (in an obvious nod, the "Monitors" in Escape from the Village wear red stars on their uniforms) and the claim, popularized by Hillary Rodham Clinton, that "it takes a village to raise a child." Less obvious, but possible: Yevgeny Zamyatin's We and Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman's RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone.

If you're already cringing at the Rand provenance, don't: Escape from the Village brings some new perspectives to the plot it recycles. The protagonists are children, not adults; as the novel opens, the boy and girl have already discovered each other and are well into the process of rebellion (although they don't understand it as such yet); the edges of what is permitted/forbidden aren't quite so rough (the word "I" hasn't been eliminated from the English language, for example; nor is the death penalty for deviation on the table, except perhaps indirectly); and so forth. It's also more realistic with respect to surveillance technology and such, although it does rely on a somewhat unlikely enabling plot device.

I admit that I spent the first chapter thinking "Oh, God, not another re-hash of Anthem," but Escape from the Village quickly finds its author's own voice and becomes an interesting read. It's a (short -- 65,000 words) novel. Its theme, as I understand it, is the possibility of rediscovering (perhaps with outside help) individual goals and personal relationships even in an environment specifically engineered to eliminate them.

And that's all you're going to get out of me as far as details are concerned. Because it's a pretty short book, it doesn't take much detail in a review to get into "spoiler" territory.

I found it an enjoyable and edifying read. The characters and their problems were easy to empathize with. And if the solution strained my ability to suspend disbelief a little, hey, that usually kind of goes with the future dystopia territory, doesn't it? I think Chris Baker has a fine first outing here, and hope to see more from him in the future.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Recommendation: InoReader

Back in the old days (e.g. 1995 to some time earlier in this millennium), I bookmarked lots and lots of web sites and visited each one each day to find content for Freedom News Daily and, later, Rational Review News Digest (of which FND is now an ISIL "co-brand").

Then came RSS, and I put off using it for several years because most of the readers didn't seem ready for prime time.

Finally, NewsSquares, which was a fine service when it served essentially as a nice-looking front end for Google Reader but which has gone downhill since Google Reader died.

So I've been looking for a replacement, and I think I've found it: InoReader.

It has a nice front end GUI, and on the back end it doesn't seem to suffer much from problems I've had with other readers (e.g. frequent re-sets such that articles I've marked read suddenly pop up again as "new" for no apparent reason -- that's been one of my big NewsSquares gripes lately). I've only been using for a few days, but I'm following more than 60 feeds and haven't had a single problem with it so far.

So if you're not happy with your current RSS reader and are looking for a replacement, check it out.
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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: Micro Touch One Safety Razor versus Dollar Shave Club 4x

The usual up-front info and disclaimers: I received a Micro Touch One razor, with case and blade pack, for review purposes (the offer came via Fuel My Blog) -- MSRP $19.99. I also receive extra months of service for referring customers to Dollar Shave Club, which I have previously reviewed. The mission, from the Micro Touch One people's point of view, was to get a review of their razor, not necessarily a competitive review with any other. The head-to-head comparison is my idea; since I've previously and positively reviewed DSC, it makes sense to put the new razor up against the one I've been using for a year.

Review Protocol: I received the Micro Touch One about two weeks ago, and immediately shaved with it. And I mean shaved. I trimmed my beard and dome down to stubble and shaved my entire face and head with the razor. For a week after that, I shaved my face daily with the Micro Touch One (once I have my head shaved, I normally just run an electric foil shaver over it each morning -- until I decide to let it grow out for awhile), using different facilitators (shaving cream, shaving gel, mug-and-brush shaving soap, and my preferred, thanks to Jeffrey Tucker, baby oil). For the second week, I allowed my goatee to grow back in (having established whether or not that particular beard area would be a problem area), and switched back and forth between the Micro Touch One and Dollar Shave Club 4x on a day-to-day basis. This morning, I conducted "the head-to-head review shave" -- new blades on both handles, shaved one side of my face (randomly determined with a coin toss) with each razor.

Short Version of the Review: I absolutely love the Micro Touch One. It's a classy and classic piece of gear, it's a money-saver over time (if, as their ads claim, 24 blades is enough for a year of shaving, then four years worth of blades will set you back $10-20), and in terms of shave performance it was well beyond satisfactory.

Long Version of the Review:

The Micro Touch One comes with a nice hard-shell, velour-lined plastic travel case with in-lid mirror, as well as 24 double-edge safety razor blades (advertised as a one-year supply), for $19.99. Why is this price point important? Because I'm comparing the Micro Touch One to the Dollar Shave Club 4x. From DSC, I get four blades (or, rather, four four-blade "cartridges") per shipment, at $6 per shipment. The normal shipment frequency is monthly, but based on my own needs I stepped that down to bi-monthly. Six shipments per year, $6 per shipment ... $36 a year. That's nearly twice the cost of the Micro Touch One with a one-year supply of blades (and it looks like 100 double-edge safety razor blades -- a four-year supply -- run $10-$20 depending on brand). So if the razors are comparable, you're saving money from the get-go with the Micro Touch One.

Are the razors comparable?

The Micro Touch One is made of solid brass and chrome-plated. It has a nice heft to it and feels comfortable in hand. It's a simple piece of gear -- the only moving part is the twist-handle that raises the safety bar up for blade insertion, removal and cleaning. And the blades are just the same old blades that King Gillette introduced in 1901. They have a groove that fits over a post. Not much to go wrong there. I've had no problems with it so far, and don't foresee any likelihood of it malfunctioning under normal conditions.

The Dollar Shave Club 4x handle is also very nice -- a metal and plastic razor handle with a presumably ergonomically sound shape, a rubberized grip and a button for releasing the used cartridge. On the other hand, my first handle fell apart after six months. DSC replaced it free, of course, but still ... I've also had blade cartridges come apart at the interface point (the mechanism isn't insanely complicated, but we're talking about tiny plastic tabs) long before I considered the blade surfaces "used up."

For ruggedness/reliability, definite advantage Micro Touch One.

So it really comes down to the shave, and this is where I was surprised.

It's just intuitive that a modern 4-blade razor will deliver a smoother, more comfortable shave than the old-fashioned safety razor and that a modern handle with a pivot on it will do a better job of handling the curve of jaw and chin, etc.

But to be honest, I can't tell the difference between the two razors on shave closeness. Both sides of my face are smooth. The handling is a little different, but different is not the same thing as difficult. I had no problem getting those little places near the nose, shaving around the chin curve, etc. with the Micro Touch One. The differences, once again, redound to the advantage of the Micro Touch One: It's easier to clean the whiskers out of than the Dollar Shave Club 4x, and to the extent that I feel "razor burn" (which is hardly ever very much), the four-blade cartridge seems to be a little more irritating than the single safety blade.

The bottom line, of course, is what works for you. You may have your own reasons for preferring multi-blade cartridges, ergonomic handles and so forth, and if you do I still highly recommend Dollar Shave Club. But if you don't have such reasons, the Micro Touch One is a classy and classic piece of gear, a money-saver and, in terms of shave performance, well beyond satisfactory.

If my recommendation isn't enough for you, maybe you'd rather hear the opinion of Rick Harrison (of Pawn Stars fame). Click here to check that out.

[Update: Click Here for my 1-year follow-up review of the Micro Touch One]
[Update 2: Well, the Micro Touch One bit the dust at 17 months -- click here to learn more!]

Friday, November 08, 2013

Yes, I am a Shield Mutual Customer

Speaking of things you might want to spend Bitcoin on: Shield Mutal is "the Agora's first defense agency."

I can't really review the service, since I've had no reason to invoke its protections yet, but I did join not long ago, and paid with Bitcoin.

As far as prospective reviews are concerned:

One reason I took the step is that if I had to draw up a list of activists I'd like to have working for my release and publicizing my situation were I detained by state gangsters, Shield Mutual proprietor George Donnelly would show up somewhere near the top of that list.

Do I expect to be detained by state gangsters? I'd be surprised if it doesn't happen at some point, but for any particular time cycle it's more of a hedged bet, aka "insurance" (I see elsewhere that George himself doesn't think of it in precisely those terms). While it's unlikely on any particular day that I'll find myself in the grip of the state for non-force-initiating activities, the amount I'm paying to Shield Mutual to spring into action if that does happen is quite small. I think it's a good deal.

Another reason I joined Shield Mutual is that I'm very interested in "building the new society in the shell of the old," and projects like this one seem to be a very good first step.

And the third reason is that they accept Bitcoin, and I like Bitcoin (largely for the same reasons as indicated in the preceding paragraph).

I guess a fourth, minor and un-premeditated, reason is that if you sign up with Shield Mutal and put my name in the "who sent you" box, I get a commission.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Review: BitcoinShop.US

The usual up-front info and disclaimers: I received no payments, perqs or (so far as I know) special considerations from BitcoinShop.US for writing this review, nor is this an "affiliate link"/commission type review. I always let you know when that kind of stuff is involved; in this case it is not and I am writing the review completely on my own initiative, to recommend or warn against) a product or service.

The short and sweet: I highly recommend BitcoinShop.US, primarily on the basis of exceptionally courteous and accommodating customer service.

The longer version:

When shopping online, I'm less worried about always having a problem-free experience than I am about dealing with people who solve the problems with the experience. Because no matter how good you are at what you do, there will occasionally be problems. I can have 99 problem-free experiences with a product or service. It's that 100th experience -- whether it gets resolved, how it gets resolved, and how quickly it gets resolved -- that tells me how good you are.

In the case of BitcoinShop.US, two problems arose during my first transaction with them, and both problems were resolved with elan, with aplomb, and in my (and other users' -- you'll see) favor.

As the web site name implies, BitcoinShop.US is a place to buy stuff using Bitcoin. What kind of stuff? All kinds of stuff, but the emphasis seems to be on electronics and computers, which is what I was looking for when I went there.

To be specific, I decided to buy my family an early Christmas present, one of those new-fangled flat-screen high-definition television sets (I don't watch a whole lot of TV, but the family as a whole watches some, and we watch movies, and the kids game, and all of our reasonably sized TVs have been old-style CRT monsters).

I found what looked like a really good deal on a fairly large (42") 1080p TV. I checked my Bitcoin balance, saw that I had enough, added it to my shopping cart, and headed for checkout.

PROBLEM #1: BitcoinShop.US prominently advertises "free shipping." I knew there might be a sales tax requirement at checkout, but that was the only difficulty I anticipated. As it happened, there was no sales tax component ... but there was a 10% "BitcoinShop.US surcharge." Er ...

I wrote a nastygram to the site's support, noting that I had just about enough Bitcoin to pay the purchase price, not enough to pay 10% extra, and that it struck me as dishonest to advertise one price and then jack it up by 10% with a "surcharge" rather than honest shipping fees or government-imposed taxes.

SOLUTION #1: I received a prompt and courteous reply, not only giving me a 10% discount coupon code to bring the price down to the advertised price, but agreeing with my contention and saying that they would change their price advertising system ASAP so that what you see is what you get. And they did -- now when you shop at BitcoinShop.US, the advertised price is the shopping cart price. How cool is that?

PROBLEM #2: Shortly after my order went in, I got another email from support: So sorry, but that item is out of stock, and they'll be happy to refund my Bitcoin (that kind of thing probably can't be automated very well, since it's not obvious that the wallet address Bitcoin came from is the one the customer will want it refunded to).

SOLUTION #2: I decided to throw out a counter-offer. While there weren't any other 42" 1080p televisions in anything like the same price range, there were several smaller models (of more reputable brands) in that price range. I picked a Samsung 32" model priced at about $10 USD worth of Bitcoin more than my original choice and asked by reply email if I could substitute. The reply was almost immediate: Of course, and they would match the price of my previous order instead of asking for more Bitcoin.

That was the middle of last week; the folks at BitcoinShop.US had to handle everything manually, and told me they'd send me a tracking number when they had one and that I could expect the TV by the middle of this week. This morning, I sent a note asking about that tracking number ... and about 10 minutes later, before they had a chance to reply, the TV arrived. Just finished setting it up.

Very, very cool. The BitcoinShop.US folks quickly, courteously and effectively fixed every problem I ran into and got me the goods quickly and at a reasonable price despite those problems.

Some additional thoughts:

I really, really, really like Bitcoin, but the obvious problem with it so far has been "how do I use it in normal, everyday transactions like doing my Christmas shopping?"

Yes, I know a few outlier merchants will let you order pizza, domain names and whatnot with Bitcoin, and that a number of worthy causes accept donations in Bitcoin format, but in order for it to "arrive" as a full-blown alternative to politically-approved, state-issued fiat currencies, you need to be able to use it in "everyday commerce."

In my opinion, BitcoinShop.US fills a big hole in that need. I doubt that its available inventory is as large and diverse as, say, Amazon.com's, but it looks pretty large and diverse.

And even if they are drop-shipping via other vendors in the background, as I suspect they are, they're letting you shop in Bitcoin denomination instead of having to go through a "middleman" process where you price something in fiat currency, transfer Bitcoin in exchange for a gift card and so forth. I think that's an important step.

So, to reprise my short and sweet version, I highly recommend BitcoinShop.US.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Two Things

For some reason I've been really bad the last year or so about forgetting to flog my op-eds at C4SS. Here are two from the last four days.

Thing one:

There are very few exceptions to these legal restrictions on what Philip Chism may do and what others may do with him. These restrictions are, their supporters claim, based on the notion that at 14, Chism is not mature or competent enough to do those things. He doesn't understand the implications and consequences. He’s a child, not an adult. He needs to be, in a word, protected.

But the instant he's accused of a crime, all that goes out the window. For the convenience of the state and the pacification of the mob, he is magically and retroactively transformed into an "adult."

There’s a word for that kind of thing, but I can't use that word in a family-friend publication (it has to do with what comes out the rear ends of male cattle).

If Philip Chism is a child when it comes to school attendance, contracts, sexual encounters, driving, voting, enlisting, drinking, etc., he's a child when he's thought to have killed someone.

If Philip Chism is not a child when he's thought to have killed someone, he's not a child with respect to any of those other matters, either.

Philip Chism is either a child, or he's not.

Read the rest of "Justice? Just Kidding!"

Thing two:

The strongest argument in favor of the fiction of "intellectual property" is consequential rather than moral: Creators of good things -- novels, songs, drugs, what have you -- we are told, will essentially go on strike if government doesn't guarantee their profits by vesting them with monopoly "rights" to ideas. Instead of writing that next blockbuster or producing a cure for cancer, they'll content themselves with flipping burgers or digging ditches for a living, and we'll all be worse off.

I’m not big on consequential arguments. Absent moral foundations, they're equivalent to noting that I can'’t make money as a bank robber unless the banks are required to leave their vaults unlocked. That may be true, but it's not a good reason to give me what I want, is it?

As it happens, though, even this "trump card" argument for "intellectual property" monopolies falls flat on its face when we stand it up against both history and current events.

Read the rest of "Market vs. Monopoly: Beating the 'Intellectual Property' Racket."

Patent Improvement Suggestion

Dear Google,

I hear rumors that you're finally implementing your patent on "floating data centers." That sounds really cool, for a number of reasons.

Unfortunately, one of those reasons may not be that plausible. As the Adam Smith Institute's Tim Worstall points out in the Chicago Tribune, barges in ports don't really get your stuff out of range of the NSA and other bad actors.

The obvious solution is to buy real seagoing ships, instead of barges, for your floating data centers. But I'd like to suggest a better way of going about it:

Stick with the barges. They're waaaaaaay cheaper.

But do buy one ship, or maybe a few. I'm thinking Typhoon or Delta class Russian ballistic missile submarines ... and this part is very important, so pay attention ... with the ballistic missiles. I bet you could pick up a couple fairly cheap (as such things go).

Once you've got those afloat, let the folks in Washington, DC know that unless they want a bunch of shiny new radioactive craters in their town, they should keep their greasy little paws off your data centers.

That's my patent improvement suggestion. No charge.

Best regards,
Tom Knapp

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Here We Go Again

A new study says that paying organ donors would save money (and presumably result in more patients getting transplants) instead of dying on the waiting list) versus the existing system.

And here come the alleged moralists and the people who support them ...

"Sometimes these things have unintended consequences," said Dr. Stephen Pastan, a board member for the National Kidney Foundation and a transplant surgeon at Emory University in Atlanta. "If we paid $10,000, a lot of altruistic donors would say that it’s just a cash transaction. Donations could go down."

I wonder if Dr. Stephen Pastan gets paid to perform transplants. Somehow I suspect he does. And I doubt he does fewer transplants because he gets paid for doing transplants.

The surgeons get paid. The nurses get paid. The anesthetists get paid. The "medical ethicists" get paid. The janitors get paid.

Everyone except the organ donor gets paid.

And they wonder why there are shortages of organs.


Monday, October 14, 2013

When the Media Helps the Government Lie ...

... it kinda sucks.

In this case I am thinking of the theater revolving around the politicians' "debt ceiling."

The media is assisting the politicians in their Big Lie that not raising that "ceiling" will force a "default" on their debt (which, of course, they also try to tell us is our debt).

As Brad points out over at WendyMcElroy.com, that's just flat false.

In reality, if the debt ceiling is reached and not raised, the politicians can avoid default by using their current streams of stolen revenue to make debt service payments, while cutting any future spending that there's not enough additional revenue to cover.

What the politicians are demanding is that they be allowed to continue borrowing and spending ever more money than they actually take in. And what they're promising in return is that at some unspecified future point they'll start stealing even more money from us to pay down the accrued debt. And if this doesn't sound like a good deal at either end to you, they say you must be some kind of damn anarchist or something.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Semi-Live-Vlogging-Thingie ...

I'm at the Students for Liberty regional conference in Gainesville, Florida this morning.  Didn't even know it was happening until yesterday when I learned that Charles Johnson, aka Rad Geek, would be speaking and running a left-market-anarchist book table. So I came out to help with the table and maybe do some video blogging, like this:

That's the first video. It may be the last -- don't know yet. Too loud in here for me to know how it came out just yet.

Update: OK, I see the first 20 seconds or so of the video got cut off -- probably my fault for not watching a timer, etc. Anyway, more later. Maybe.

Update, 10:30ish am: Currently speaking is keynoter  Justin Pearson, Florida director of the Institute for Justice, giving a fascinating presentation on what IJ does to protect entrepreneurs against overbearing government.

Update, 11:30ish am: Yeah, the video thing just isn't going to happen. I'm not in a good position to video the presentations, and on breaks it's just too loud to really have a talk or whatever. But it's great fun. I'm listening to a student panel on group-building right now ... and about noon I have to leave to see a man about a horse a family about a dog. So this will probably be the final update. If you can make it down to the UF campus this afternoon, Charles will be giving a talk and continuing to run the ALL Distro table. Have a great weekend!

Friday, October 11, 2013

GOP Snatches Defeat from Jaws of Victory, Episode #1017

As of the other day, Obama was willing to "negotiate," but only if the Republicans gave him everything he demanded first. He keeps using that word, "negotiate." I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

It shouldn't have worked. But apparently it's working.

I don't mind these temporary faux "shutdowns" at all -- my only problem with them is that they're way too short and don't go nearly far enough -- but I have to wonder why the Republicans bother if they're going to cave every damn time.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

A New Project, in Beta

I'm a big fan of negative social preferencing as a way to penalize force initiators -- especially, but not exclusively, bad actors who perceive themselves as enjoying a high degree of immunity/impunity because they work for the world's larger and more powerful criminal gangs, aka "governments."

When it comes to negative social preferencing, the more the merrier: It should be crowd-sourced. If I refuse to have anything to do with you, no biggie. But if you can't get a sandwich at your favorite deli, receive communion at your church of choice, etc. because everyone thinks you're an asshole and doesn't want to have anything to do with you, you've got a real incentive to stop initiating force against others, apologize for initiating force against others, and make restitution to those you've harmed.

And of course a pre-condition of effective negative social preferencing is "doxing" -- amassing/aggregating publicly available information on evildoers such that their social weak spots are identifiable. If our target lives in Tacoma, Washington and doesn't travel much, being banned from a nightclub in Santa Fe, New Mexico probably won't make a big difference to hir quality of life; if, on the other hand, our target is an observant Muslim and suddenly can't find any place to sell hir halal food, that smarts. In addition to shunning bad people, it's important to help identify those bad people and their weak spots.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you ... Dox & Shun, beta version.

I've begun identifying the first group of targets -- the Silk Road perps -- there.

If it strikes you as a worthy project, well, start doxing (legally, please!).

If the project takes off, I'll start looking at moving it off of free Wordpress hosting and onto a better framework on an offshore host.

If not, well, it won't be my first failed project.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Bleggity Bleggity Bleg

My friend and comrade Mike Gogulski -- whom you may remember as one of the early people helping put together the Bradley Chelsea Pvt. Manning Support Network -- is already hard at work setting up the same initial infrastructure (web site, legal defense fund, etc.) for Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts.

I've made a small, but hopefully non-trivial, donation. Now I'm asking you to go, and do thou likewise.

As with Manning, I expect an uphill battle. But we have to fight the bastards every chance we get.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

What a Shutdown, Huh?

Apparently Internet piracy, restraint of trade, etc. are "essential" government functions.

As Usual: Boehner Attempts to Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

I vividly remember when I finally and forever gave up on the notion that the Republican Party could ever be a reliable force for "smaller government."

The year was 1996 and I had already begun self-identifying as a libertarian ... but in the face of evidence that ran completely to the contrary, I still embraced the notion that the GOP was something like "half right" on economic issues and could occasionally be counted on to oppose the growth of government.

Then came the 28-day "shutdown," beginning in December of 1995 and ending in January of 1996.

I really dug it. The Republicans were standing up to out-of-control spending! They were shutting the government down rather than acquiescing to runaway debt! Huzzah!

Then "my" Congressman (Mel Hancock, R-MO) came home for a meet and greet and in response to an audience question (it may have even come from me) explained that Republicans weren't really trying to cut Medicare spending ... they were just trying to slow its growth.

And when I looked at the situation more closely, I realized he was right. The fight was over whether Medicare spending would be increased by X% or by X+.000X%, with the difference being represented by a small increase in user premiums. Actually cutting government spending wasn't even on the table, and neither side wanted it there.

And after that, Newt Gingrich threw a public whine-fest about being treated shabbily during a trip on Air Force One. And it just went downhill from there.

The whole "shutdown" thing quickly became a matter of each side trying to set itself up as the "victim," with the other side as "bully."

At the time, I wrote -- I don't remember where, it may have been a local independent paper I was doing a column for around that time -- that if the Republicans wanted to win this thing, what they needed to do was OWN the "shutdown." Instead of trying to  transfer blame, they should claim credit. "You're damn right we shut the government down, and shut down it shall stay until we get what we want."

Because frankly, playing the victim is a game that always works to the advantage of the Democrats. They are built on "identity politics," constituencies --  the identification and recruitment of "victim" classes which can be put in political harness (and, not coincidentally, kept perpetually in their alleged victimhood for continued political exploitation).

John Boehner just stepped in that smelly pile of stuff once again.

The only difference this time is that I'm not surprised.

A Brief Note on the Varieties of Government Activity

The state only really does two kinds of things:

  • Things that nobody should ever do (and which are rightly considered crimes when anyone else does them); and
  • Things that get done badly because government is doing them instead of leaving them to be done by the "voluntary sector."
The state's defenders are the equivalent of those who say that al Qaeda isn't all bad because it builds some of the hospitals that it then fills up with bombing victims.

Criminal  gangs are criminal gangs -- no matter how big they get, no matter what side charities they engage in, and no matter whether they are called "the Bloods," "the Crips" and "MS13" or "the Legislature," "the Executive" and "the Judiciary."

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Katrina vanden Heuvel is a Coupk

Over at The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel is trying to resurrect a 1996 theme: "Government Shutdown as Coup d'Etat."

It was stupid when Sheldon Wolin pulled it out of his hat back then, and it's stupid now.

But my inbox says it's starting to catch on: I've got significant quantities of political spam rolling in -- "Stop the 1% GOP CRUZ COUP" and such-like.

It is not a "coup d'etat."

What it is is bad dinner theater. Or a commercial break during an interminable soap opera. Or the trash talk interval in "professional wrestling."

To the extent that it is a real issue at all, that issue is the continuing expansion of executive power.

It's supposed to be "Congress legislates, the president executes."

It's supposed to be "Congress appropriates the money, the president spends the money per Congress's instructions."

The exceptions to that were clearly intended by the framers of the Constitution to be rare and non-catastrophic. A veto now and again, and it either gets over-ridden or it doesn't, and life goes on.

But over the last hundred years or so it has more and more become "the president tells Congress what he wants them to legislate and how much money he wants to spend on stuff (that actually became a legal requirement in 1920), and either they rubber-stamp his demands or he throws himself on the floor and beats it with his fists and feet while they stand in the corner and hold their breath until they turn blue while both of them scream 'MOOOOOOO-OM! It's HIS fault!'"

And of course as I have already pointed out, it's not a "shutdown" either.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Shut Up, I Explain

The US government "shutdown" hasn't even started yet, and I'm already tired of hearing about it. If they're going to conduct a fake shutdown, they should be required to conduct a simultaneous real shut up.

Fake shutdown? Yes, fake. If you read the fine print, in these "shutdowns" the only things that actually shut down are "non-essential services." When the politicians threaten a "shutdown," what they are threatening is to -- temporarily and for only as long as absolutely necessary, with back pay when things crank up again -- stop acting like this ...

... and if you asked John Boehner and Harry Reid to assess that video, they'd almost certainly agree that the foam cowboy hat and pinwheels are, in fact, "essential."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Frozen Treat

Finally got a diagnosis on the shoulder. While I do have a rotator cuff tear, and while that may be related to the problem (or not), the problem is adhesive capsulitis, aka "frozen shoulder."

The orthopedist doesn't think that surgery is in my future. He gave me an injection of corticosteroid and sent me downstairs to physical therapy, which I'll be doing twice a week for six weeks or so.

Charleen, my therapist, took measurements (the ones I remember are that in one area where I should have a movement range of 90 degrees I have more like 10; in one where 180 degrees is normal I'm at just over 90; and running my hand up my back, there's a difference of about two feet in range between right and left), gave me exercises to do between sessions, etc.

So anyway, making progress. And now that I have something of a handle on what all is wrong, I can get back to exercising without fear of making things worse (before I started falling apart, I had brought my weight down from ~250 pounds to ~215; I'm back up to 228; I want to be at less than 180; at about 165, I'm more or less a hardbody).

As someone who really, really, really hates having to consult physicians, get treatments, etc., I have to say that my experience down here in Florida has just been fantastic. Almost without exception, the medical professionals I've run into have been genuinely friendly and seem to know what they're doing without being arrogant about it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Doubling Down on the Cloud

Yes, I'm still happy with the Chromebox.

So happy, in fact, that when I started thinking about a new backup/travel rig earlier this year, I quickly settled on a Chromebook. Specifically, this one:

For those of you who aren't familiar with how I acquire my computer equipment, it's often a case of "a client wants something new from me and I'll do it for a new machine" and/or "it's been awhile and negotiating a raise is certainly doable, but why not just ask for a hardware one-off instead?" This time around was sort of a combination of those two things.

It arrived today.

It's sweet.

It just so happens it's the 3G model, with 100Mb of free data per month from Verizon. I've never used 3G before, but it seems like the kind of thing to have around if I should travel -- for checking email and so forth, not for streaming all five seasons of Breaking Bad en route.

It weighs something like 2 1/2 pounds and claims to get 6 1/2 hours out of its battery. I suspect it may get more than that -- while putting it through its paces I played half an album on Grooveshark, streamed the pilot episode of the Battlestar Galactica reboot on Netflix (yes, I'm just now getting around to that) and other intensive stuff and the battery level is still at ~70%.

I know some people don't like/trust the cloud, but I'm very happy in it. I turned the thing on the first time, hooked to a network, logged into my Google account, let Chrome update, rebooted and BAM, all my stuff was there. Bookmarks. Apps. Etc.

Security/privacy? OK, not so much. But as the Snowden revelations continue to roll out I expect we're going to find that's largely the case whether you're in the cloud or not. And I've got other machines and other methods where those things are what I'm concerned about.

N.B. For those considering a Chromebook, I can't stress this enough: Go with Samsung, or maybe HP. I've never had an Acer machine that I was happy with, and several friends of mine say the same thing.

Victory Update #2 (Final)

One of the principles upon which I operate this blog is "thou shalt not erase history." As of this morning, I have good reason for violating that policy. I'll explain why below.

The short version of this thing is: We won.

The long version:

The C4SS and S4SS sites are back up.

The DMCA takedown notice has been formally withdrawn.

We've proven (to ourselves especially!) that we can fight and win a battle of this sort using just "the power of the pen" (we made no resort to the state or its laws).

We've taken steps to make it less likely that we'll have to fight such battles in the future, and to make it more likely that we'll win them quickly and convincingly if we do.

And the man who was initially our tormentor? He appears to not only have surrendered, but to have realized the error of several of his ways (certainly the un-wisdom of trying to suppress speech and maybe a little bit about the attitudes that set the whole incident in motion in the first place as well) and to have reversed himself in a monumental manner.

To wit, he has made a substantial (and that is an understatement) financial donation to C4SS. To the best of my knowledge that donation was not solicited, and it certainly wasn't demanded or made a condition of any kind with reference to C4SS's conduct. It seems to be entirely a gesture of good will on his part. At one point earlier in the situation, he referenced "nearly unlimited funds" for legal action against us. Apparently he wasn't bluffing on that.

Even before I found out about the donation, I had been toying with the idea of working to reduce the negative consequences for him if he did indeed withdraw the DMCA takedown notice, etc. My understanding is that he's a young guy, a student, etc. I was young and impulsive/impetuous myself once. He made some mistakes, but if he's willing to correct them, I'm not hell-bent on making him pay for them for the rest of his life.

And of course I am always grateful to those who support the Center.

So, I'm going to be removing his name from my previous KN@PPSTER posts on this subject. It's a small thing, but will presumably mitigate at least some of the "Streisand Effect" in terms of his name being associated with this incident in search engine results and so forth.

I'm looking forward to getting back to normal operations at C4SS. Thanks to everyone who supported the Center -- morally, financially or otherwise -- through this incident!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Victory Update #1

As I write this, the Center for a Stateless Society's web content has yet to be restored -- we've redirected the domain to a page with an account of the recent DMCA takedown nonsense. Lest this bring about the appearance of stalemate, or even defeat, I'll be issuing "victory updates" via KN@PPSTER as called for ... and this is the first one.

The first thing you need to know is: We are back in control of our data and are moving with deliberation rather than with speed to

  1. Transfer the site to a new host with a reputation for supporting its customers, in a country where the acronym "DMCA" doesn't panic web hosts into squatting, peeing on the floor and doing whatever they're told; and
  2. Set up mirroring, etc. so that we are never, ever, not even for a minute, not in control of our data again.
And now, an update on events and our opposition:

We initially found ourselves arrayed against three opponents: A Belgian Islamaphobe, whom I will no longer name for reasons I'll explain in a moment; an Illinois attorney by the name of JD Obenberger; and Bluehost, the web hosting provider where, until Monday, the C4SS site resided.

The first of those opponents now privately assures us that he unconditionally surrenders, which is why I won't be naming him any more (unless the surrender proves to be a ruse). He initiated the series of events resulting in the takedown of the C4SS site because he feared the consequences of his political statements appearing in a public venue. Our response to the takedown was to ensure that those political statements received an exponentially increasing amount of the attention he didn't want them to get. He got schooled, in other words, on the Streisand Effect. And now he is cutting his losses, and says he'll be instructing his attorney to withdraw the frivolous, meritless, malicious and abusive DMCA takedown notice that resulted in our site outage. Can't say I blame him.

The attorney, in my opinion, is another case entirely. To put it as bluntly as I know how to put it, Mr. Obenberger is a penny-ante barrater who hides behind an alleged commitment to free speech while abusing copyright law to take down a political web site on grounds that he knew damn well were false. This isn't a departure from form for him -- he brags about his methods. He knew that he could send Bluehost a frivolous, meritless, malicious and abusive DMCA takedown notice and get the results he wanted, and that's what he did. To quote Obenberger himself:

If you write the request for a takedown on a leaf of stale cabbage in magic marker, without stating any reason or offering any proof or affidavit pursuant to the DMCA, and transmit it by a casual, friendly courier, who works a garbage truck route running past their office and offers to drop it off for you, most of them will take it down fairly immediately, within hours, because they are more afraid of you and your attorneys than they are of the posters.

He wrote the DMCA takedown notice knowing (hell, admitting in the text of the notice itself) that it was frivolous, meritless, malicious and abusive -- because he knew it would work, and because he got paid to do it. And merely getting the takedown reversed will neither deprive him of the financial gain he enjoyed from filing it nor discourage him from engaging in similar abuses in the future.

I am strongly of the opinion that Obenberger needs to be handled much as Rome dealt with Carthage in the Third Punic War. The Internet community -- not just anarchists, but anyone concerned with free speech and freedom of information -- needs to come together to strip him of his current client base and deprive him of his undeserved credibility in the eyes of prospective future clients. If he's still practicing law a year from now, he should be reduced to begging for cases of the classified-ad-style quickie bankruptcy, divorce or DUI defense variety.

Think it can't be done? It can be done. Remember Righthaven?

I'm of two minds about Bluehost. The farthest I'm willing to go against them right now is a strong negative recommendation.

They shut down a customer of several years' standing in the face of a clearly illegitimate takedown notice.

I understand why they did it ... it's easier to just mass-comply with this stuff than to research each notice.

Well, just because it's easier, that doesn't make it right. While C4SS was reasonably sure that we were on firm fair use ground in the piece at issue, it took about five minutes to research that and confirm it beyond reasonable doubt once we were forced to. It would have taken Bluehost the same five minutes. If several years of hosting payments aren't worth five minutes of research before shutting the customer down, they don't value their customers very much.

Since we're going to be moving anyway, as mentioned above we are going to move in a way that makes us more secure against attacks of the type we just weathered.

That will take some time. Not a long time, but some time.

It will also take some money. Not a lot of money, but some money, apropos of which:

Bitcoin: 129pipr12a5UUZ447bLYjx1paRnCXqG5vi
WePay: https://www.wepay.com/donations/73427
PayPal: iradical@praxeology.net