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.