Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Some Things Are Soooooo Stupid ...

... that only a monopolist could say them with a straight face. Things like:

Our power sales have been on a downward slide .... The last time we experienced kWh usage at last year's level was before 1998. We've seen a nearly 15 percent decline in the average monthly household usage in just the past two years. ... In response to these conditions, we find ourselves in a position of having to implement a rate increase on October 1 of this year. We are also increasing our customer charge by $3. Our customer charge is currently $14. -- Kilowatt: The newsletter for members of Clay Electric Cooperative, Inc., July 2013

So your sales are flagging, your customer base growth is slow ... and you think the answer is to not only charge more for your product, but to bump up the toll for the "privilege" of buying that product from you by more than 20%?

Because surely those same customers who have been using progressively less and less electricity already won't find more household lights to switch to CFL, turn the thermostat up a couple of degrees, and maybe go ahead and buy that energy-efficient LED TV to replace the old juice-sucking CRT model. Nah, they'll just throw an extra $54 a year (on average) at you. Right.

In the non-monopoly world, businesses respond to poor sales and a flat customer base with lower prices and aggressive recruitment of new customers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Dumbest Thing I've Read This Week ...

... isn't something I read. It was something I was told. Paraphrased:

I'm calling to confirm your MRI appointment. The MRI has been approved by your insuror. Your co-pay is 5%, so your estimated co-pay is $98.77.

I don't object to paying $100 for a medically useful picture of my shoulder.

What I object to is the idea that the total cost of getting that picture taken, using 40-year-old technology, is about $2,000.

That's just stupid.

The MRI was invented in the early 1970s and in general use by the 1980s.

$2000 for an MRI is like charging me $50 an hour to use an original Mac. I ought to be able to buy the machine for that much money.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"At war with the concept of secrecy itself"

The Atlantic's Mark Bowden says that like it's a bad thing.

It's not.

There are three ways of looking at this. Being an anarchist, I look at it the third way, but let's start with the first two ways.

The first way of looking at it: Governments are not entitled to keep secrets, period. If they expect their subjects to fund government operations, on the dubious claim that "the people are the government, and government officials are public servants," then the people / the public are the bosses. The idea that an employee has a right to keep the details of his or her work secret from the employer is absurd. Any citizen should be able to walk into any government office at any time, look at anything he or she wants to see, and demand and get truthful answers to any question he or she cares to ask. If that's not the case, then the aforementioned claim goes from "dubious" to "complete bullshit."

The second way of looking at it -- a way to which I do not personally subscribe, but which is the only other possibility in any way compatible with the whole "government of, by and for the people" fairy tale  -- goes something like this:

Sure, government has a legitimate need to keep secrets in order to pursue certain important public safety objectives such as -- to quote Bowden again -- "the need to preserve the element of surprise in military operations or criminal investigations, to permit leaders and diplomats to bargain candidly, and to protect the identities of those we ask to perform dangerous and difficult missions."

Keeping such secrets, however, is a privilege which can and should be taken away when it's abused. And the public disclosures of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden establish, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the US government has abused that privilege routinely and on a massive scale, mostly for the purpose of hiding its other criminal activities. So, it's time to yank that privilege.

The third way of looking at it, of course, is the anarchist way, which means it's the correct way:

Governments are nothing more or less than gigantic criminal conspiracies, overgrown street gangs with no claims whatsoever to legitimacy. They are funded by theft and the basis of all their operations is aggression. They're no more entitled to keep their activities secret than any other gaggle of murderers, rapists and thieves is.

Any way you cut it, this government is not and never was entitled to keep those secrets.

The good news is that it's getting increasingly difficult for governments to keep secrets at all, and that trend is not going to reverse.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cage Match: Captain Obvious vs. Major Premise

Q: Why would a conservative blogger pen no fewer than 52 posts in three months on the Kaitlyn Hunt case?

A: Because phrases like "teen lesbian" attract traffic to his blog; words like "pedophile" keep the visitors, and their pitchforks, engaged; and traffic + engagement + monetization = how that blogger makes his living.

Pointing that out, rather than expressing any particular opinion on the case, seems to be what got me kicked out of a comment thread at The Other McCain by an eager young intern (or something like that) who seems to have taken it as his mission to monitor commenters and make sure they color within strict "yeah! Charles Johnso ... er, Stacy McCain ... is right! Yeah! YEAH! YEAH BABY!" lines.

I suppose it's possible that the real reason I got kicked was for making a $5 donation to Hunt's defense fund in honor of some idiot whose Internet identity centers around the rotting corpse of Richard M. Nixon and who asserted that only a pedophile or supporter of pedophiles would question the use of a key term of art in the prosecution's case and McCain's coverage of same.

But I really think it was probably the act of pointing out something that McCain himself sings from the rooftops: Hell, yes, he sensationalizes. And it works.

It certainly worked on me. I first heard of the Hunt case at The Other McCain, and I've heard very little about it anywhere else, all while Stacy courts carpal tunnel syndrome writing an average of one article every 1.75 days for 90 days on the topic. He's worked very hard to corner the teen lesbian and pedophile blog niche this summer.

As to the case itself, I don't really have a strong opinion on Hunt's innocence or guilt. The only strong opinion I have is that instead of legislatures drawing numbers out of hats ("age of consent" laws) to magically create crimes, prosecutors should be required to prove that someone was victimized.

That strong opinion translates into an objection to referring to Hunt's girlfriend as "the victim" -- the term of art I mention above -- until and unless it's been proven that she is, in fact, a victim.

These cases being what they are, it's difficult to get full information, but the information that is available seems to indicate that the girlfriend (who was 14 at the time of initial "crime" and is 15 now), does formally consent and always has formally consented to the relationship, and has in fact actively pursued that relationship even since the filing of the charges.

Now, here's the thing: I'm certainly open to the possibility that the girlfriend's formal consent is void because she is, for some reason, incompetent to truly consent. Perhaps she has an IQ of 50 or some major mental health issues.

BUT! If that's the case, the prosecutor should be able to prove it. And the prosecutor should be required to prove it, not just dance around screaming "but the legislature drew a number out of a hat and that number is higher than 14!" and get an automatic conviction.

And let's not sidestep this:

If that 14-15 year old goes out tomorrow and kills three people while robbing a liquor store, the prosecutor will be in front of a judge asking to try her "as an adult" tout suite.

If that 14-15 year old is a child actor and mommy and daddy are blowing all the millions she's earned on cocaine and Maseratis, a judge will respectfully hear her petition for emancipation.

I'd bet money not one of the "pitchforks for Kaitlyn" crowd over at ToM would bat an eye at either of those two things. But suggest that the 14-15 year old just might not be a victim when it comes to sex, and all of a sudden you're a pederast. Nonsense.

As far as "which part of IT'S THE LAW do you not understand?" is concerned, well, bad laws should be condemned and if legislatures can't be persuaded to repeal them, juries should nullify them.

And that's all I have to say about that.

My Immediate Reaction the Manning Sentence ...

... is to let someone else speak for me.

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood. I had as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed, it might be done.

Depressing, yes, and I wish it weren't so. But at times like this a peaceful end to the US government's war on its subjects just doesn't seem very likely.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

About "Law Enforcement Priorities"

All around the United States over the last few years, local initiatives have appeared on various city/county ballots, or come up in front of government councils and commissions, to make marijuana possession "the lowest law enforcement priority." Last month, the subject came up in the area where I now live, and I briefly commented on it.

While I've pretty much given up on electoral politics and "reform" measures, this happens to be one that's been close to my heart for a long time and for a particular reason, and it just seems worth creating a permanent blog post about.

I'll work backward:

In 1997, I ran for city council in Springfield, Missouri. For a partisan Libertarian, I didn't do too badly -- 20% of the vote in a three-way race, carrying 24 of 77 precincts. I focused on several local bread-and-butter issues (privatizing the local utility and getting rid of a pretty poor local bus service that had to be subsidized at levels that would have paid for a decent, insured used car or daily taxi vouchers for every rider were my "top two").

Naturally, of course, the local newspaper focused entirely on my third "big issue," which, as it happens, was "make marijuana local law enforcement's lowest priority." I don't know whether that focus hurt or helped me. I doubt that I was the first candidate in America to bring up the idea, but I do suspect I was fairly early among candidates to do so. In speaking to the idea, I took note of three particular incidents:

  • On April 8th, 1995, a little girl disappeared in Springfield. Her body was not found until April 14th. In the intervening period, the Springfield Police Department insisted, multiple times, that "every available officer" was on the case (which you can read about here). But during that same period, the newspaper reported more than 20 arrests for marijuana possession, and a gambling bust at the area university involved nearly 60 "local, state and federal officers." A whole lot officers weren't "available" to search for that little girl because they were busy rounding up pot smokers and football bettors.
  • Around the same time, a lady I knew was attacked by a stalker. She had a restraining order against him, but one night she came home, got out of her car, and was hit on the head with a shovel and knocked unconscious. When she woke up, she crawled into her house, dialed 911 ... and waited 45 minutes for police (followed by ambulance) to respond. But I'd bet money there were police officers out making pot busts that night.
  • Before either of these two incidents, there was another: A Greene County sheriff's deputy bought a quarter ounce of marijuana from some teenagers in a local Springfield park, then attempted to arrest them. They fled -- and several people were killed when they ran a red light during the chase.
No matter how big and expensive "law enforcement" gets -- and it's way too big and expensive in my opinion -- it will always have finite resources at its disposal ... and that means it's going to have to set priorities on the disposal of those resources.

To put a finer point on it, more money and man-hours spent busting marijuana smokers means less money and man-hours spent busting murderers, rapists, assailants, robbers, burglars.

So the real question for law enforcement decision makers, be they police chiefs, political officials or voters, is whether you want more marijuana smoking and less murder, rape, assault, robbery and burglary, or whether you want less marijuana smoking and more murder, rape, assault, robbery and burglary.

Yes, the issue really is that simple.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Apropos of the Medical Situation

Medication changes tend to be fairly jarring for me, probably because I resist visiting a doctor until I feel like I'm probably going to die if I don't.

So anyway, after a recent round of imaging and blood work and such -- the (new, because we moved halfway across the country recently) doctor didn't say it, but the look in her eyes came to something like "wow, you're pretty f--ked up all over, aren't you?" -- I've ended up with two new prescriptions and a quadrupling of the dose of an old one.

Which brings a song to mind. Please note that the song is not closely descriptive of my true personal situation or anything like that. Just a song that I like, about pills.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Three Posts You Should Read ...

... from the folks at Downsize DC:

I'm not interested in offering a detailed critique of the proposal. My quick rating of where they're going here is "good start."

If I have a quibble with it at all, it's that I don't think most people need to "withdraw allegiance" from the US government, because most people have never voluntarily and explicitly rendered "allegiance" in the first place. As the Downsize DC  folks point out elsewhere in their evolving campaigns, silence does not constitute consent, let alone "allegiance."

As for myself, I did in fact explicitly offer/render allegiance to the US government at one time (oath of enlistment, US Marine Corps). That contract expired a long time ago, and I explicitly withdrew any allegiance to any government some time after that, somewhat more extensively than called for in this campaign (apropos of which, check out my latest at the Center for a Stateless Society). But that's just me. Your mileage may vary.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

PSA: Free E-Book by Sean Gabb

Recently (very recently) Sean Gabb of the UK's Libertarian Alliance sent me an advance copy of his new e-book.

If you know Sean, you know that he's a published author many times over (not always under that same name) who can usually get his stuff into print -- and you also know that he's a contrarian who doesn't pull any punches in defending even (or maybe especially) the people we love to hate. He seemed to be of the opinion that this book was maybe just a little too hot in that respect for the usual print suspects to want to handle.

On a quick reading, I can see why he might think that. In this book he makes the case for free speech rights for racists, child pornographers, holocaust deniers ... everyone. That's a lot of heavy lifting that needed doing. Thanks to Sean for doing it.

He's decided to issue Freedom of Speech in England: Its Present State and Likely Prospects as a FREE DOWNLOAD ... with the request that if you like it, you go ahead and buy a copy of the self-published (via Lulu) dead tree edition. Instead of pointing you straight at the download, I'm going to point you at his blog post with the download and sales links.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Market Niche Wide Open -- Countries Needed

Lavabit, the private/secure email service used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, shut down yesterday rather than expose its users to scrutiny by the US government the world's most active and overgrown extortion racket. Apparently similar services are following suit.

Some, like ZDNet's David Gewirtz, are under (and continue to spread) the mistaken impression that there's such a thing as a legitimate government spy operation (or, for that matter, a legitimate government), and that "ISPs and email hosting providers need to be willing to and plan for the need to work with government officials."

Well, no.

What email hosting providers need to be willing to do is find friendly host countries whose governments will neither pry into users' emails nor assist rogue states like the US in doing so.

Ideally, more than one country.

Ideally, multiple countries that are widely geographically dispersed, and that aren't all part of the same alliances or blocs, such that the email hosting can be distributed so as to provide for continued service even if the servers in one country have to be shut down and their drives catastrophically wiped because that country's government gives in to the rogue states.

Just as an example, perhaps a service with servers in Iceland, Iran, Venezuela, Somalia and Gaza.

Email privacy/security is too important to leave at the mercy of governments at all, but especially at the mercy of the US government.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Rouhani Makes His First Big Mistake ...

He's indicating a willingness to "resume talks" about Iran's nuclear program.

That's a mistake. It gives false credibility to the US government's claim -- in the face of a complete absence of evidence that Iran's government is pursuing nuclear weapons, and despite its "supreme leader's" long-standing fatwah declaring their development and possession a sin -- that there's some kind of legitimate "controversy" here.

On the other hand, maybe it's not a mistake. Maybe it's one hand washing the other. After all, the US government has done a bang-up job of keeping the mullahs in power in Iran for more than 30 years now with this kind of thing.

[Cross-Posted at Come Home America]

Oh When Will They Ever Learn?

Carl Drega.

Marvin Heemeyer.

Cookie Thornton.

And now, Rockne Newell.

Sometimes the victims fight back.

That doesn't excuse Newell for any harm he may have inflicted on innocents -- "collateral damage" is a bullshit excuse no matter who invokes it -- but let's be very, very clear on cause and effect here:

If the politicians of Ross Township hadn't stolen Newell's home, this wouldn't have happened.

"We call our street gang 'the government'" is a bullshit excuse, too.