Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Tuesday, February 28, 2006


    Honor Harrington, books 3 & 4

    The Short Victorious War and Field of Dishonor should almost be one book. Field picks up right where War leaves off, and it feels like you're still reading the same book. David Weber serves up plenty of action, though Field seems to get a little predictable. The predictability doesn't really detract from the story, as by this time I was so completely invested in the characters and events that it felt like I couldn't not read it. There's a sense of inevitability as the story winds to its ultimate climax, and I felt my heart pounding as the game played out.

    *possible spoiler*

    What I found especially compelling was the way Weber wrote the emotions of the characters, particularly Honor. She goes from the cool and efficient captain, to making the emotional risk of loving another person, to the grieving widow, to the murderous rage of vengeance, and Weber carries us along mercilessly in the flow of her emotions. Even as I empathized with her, I wanted her to "do the right thing" or "the smart thing". However, by this time I knew Weber's style, and could only follow along in horrified fascination as Honor destroys her enemies in ruthless, righteous fury. Even as the final satisfying scene plays out, we know what it will cost Honor, but must admit that there was truly no other way for Weber to stay true to the character.

    Weber has a way of making his bed, lying in it, then fighting his way out of the corner, that is deeply reassuring. This is no deus ex machina author; he doesn't break rules for the sake of his characters. I know that when I pick up the next 7 books, he will not be cheating on Honor's behalf, but delivering the same heart-pounding excitement and cold suspense that has become his trademark, in my mind anyway. I am completely revved up for the next book, Flag in Exile.

    Posted by Tom, 2/28/2006 9:29:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Greater than the Sum of its Parts

    Apple has an interesting article up about the University of Calgary's study of insects and swarm intelligence. It's interesting to me because of the obvious parallels between swarm behavior and libertarian ideals:

    In contrast to the top-down organization that characterizes many human endeavors, many social species achieve their communal goals using a purely bottom-up approach with no central command-and-control structure. A swarm of termites, for example, exhibits a collective intelligence that far exceeds the intelligence of any individual insect, which by itself has limited capabilities for processing and communicating information.

    Human beings operating in the free market exhibit a collective intelligence that far exceeds the intelligence of any individual human, which by itself has limited capabilities for processing and communicating information.

    The collective intelligence of the swarm emerges in a decentralized way from the actions of individual insects responding to local stimuli from the environment and, most importantly, from other members of the swarm. There is no “boss” in charge. No individual insect grasps the big picture. Yet in the aggregate, the local actions of each insect based on the local stimuli available to it can accomplish a collective goal that serves the interests of the whole community.

    “It turns out that what makes sense in the biological world often make sense in the computational world as well,” explains Jacob. “For some types of applications, a collection of small, simple agents with limited intelligence, local decision-making capability, and a communication path to nearby peers can outperform a large centralized processor. Moreover, a decentralized system has several important advantages over a centralized one, most notably robustness and flexibility.”


    This is such a perfect description of the market that it's hard to think of anything to add to it. Problems only arise when one or more of the ants/people decides that they know what's best for the rest, and start messing up the system. It is amazing to me that some people even grasp the inherent elegance and beauty of emergence, yet still continue to demand and defend central authority.

    Posted by Tom, 2/28/2006 7:28:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    How to get better TV

    The FCC is looking into the idea of unbundling cable channels. The television industry is of course opposed. Let's see, why might that be?

    The industry's argument goes like this: If consumers are free to drop less-viewed channels, many of them would go out of business, and others would have to sharply raise their per-customer rates to stay afloat. "Bundling" them together helps spread costs around and supports a variety of programming.

    Why is it always a travesty when a business goes out of business? The business is not serving its customers anymore, therefore it should either produce a better product or go out of business. If the business (in this case, a channel) is protected from customer feedback by practices like bundling (why am I thinking about Microsoft all the sudden?), the business has no reason to improve its crappy product.

    Oh hey, has anyone tried to figure out what the TV-watching public thinks?

    Consumers, not surprisingly, would love the chance to pick and choose their channels.

    When it comes to the business of doing business, this is the only statement that should matter.

    Posted by Tom, 2/28/2006 7:20:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, February 23, 2006


    True Feminism


















    Posted by Tom, 2/23/2006 8:21:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Women

    It never ceases to amaze me how so many self-proclaimed "feminists" are afraid of guns. This is the one tool that neutralizes the male's natural physical advantage. I'd think that true feminists would be all over them. And every time I run into one of the hoplophobic feminists (or a group of them), it just reinforces my personal belief that feminism is NOT about empowering women. Feminism is about celebrating victimhood. It's about trying to appear so pathetic and abused that the big strong men of the world will take pity on them, feel bad about the way women are treated by others of their gender, and become trained lapdogs in the fight against the abusers.

    The problem with guns, y'see, is that they place power AND responsibility squarely in the hands of the individual woman. And the fear is that, among other things, "woman shoots would-be rapist" is not as good a headline as "woman killed by rapist". The first sends the dangerous message that women can take care of themselves. The second sends the better message that they desperately need to be looked after and protected. Please join the cause. Send money now. Send money to NOW.

    I've got a better idea. Find a woman you love, and take her shooting. Teach her how to handle a gun, then help her buy one. You'll actually empower her, and you'll piss off the feminists. So it's win-win.

    Posted by Tom, 2/23/2006 7:26:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, February 20, 2006


    Animal Rights vs. Property Rights

    OK, now I'm embroiled in controversy on two different boards (one of them my own) over whether or not animals should have rights or be regarded as property. This post is rather self-indulgent, as I explore the issue, so feel free to skip it.

    The various arguments seem to boil down to this: in some cases, animals exhibit the same or near the same capacity for function as human children or the disabled, and we grant them rights and do not regard them as property. Therefore animals should be granted rights and we should not regard them as property.

    Further, we get into the Peter Singer definition of personhood, which is essentially "that which can suffer is a person". Then we generally get the Golden Rule trotted out (do unto others as you would have others do unto you), and the implication is that since we would not like to suffer, we should not cause suffering to others.

    I suppose it would be a cheap shot to toss in the obvious rebuttal of the masochist, so let's not.

    If we remove human beings from the equation and simply look at the way animals interact with one another, we see a couple of obvious trends. First, animals are unabashedly species-oriented. They are primarily concerned with the welfare of their own kind. Second, life has to fight for itself. Other individuals of a given species may render assistance as they are able, but ultimately, responsibility for survival rests squarely on the individual. Sometimes the odds are against that individual succeeding in his struggle, but it isn't "unfair" for it to be so, it just is. Fairness is an emotional term, and the interplay of species has nothing to do with it.

    Going back to humans, we see that despite our "specialness", we have not escaped this fundamental rule. A human baby born with a birth defect has a reduced chance of survival. Sure, modern medicine can do a lot of the fighting for it, but ultimately the individual must survive with whatever resources it has, be they physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional.

    This isn't just the Discovery Channel talking, either. My personal experiences have illustrated this to me in a most painful fashion. I had a female friend (not a romantic interest) in high school who was born with Cystic Fibrosis. She died as expected, at around the age of 20. Medicine did a lot for her, but ultimately it was she who had to survive. Another female friend was stricken out of the blue with brain cancer at the ripe old age of 13. Chemotherapy and surgery were applied as best they could be, but she ultimately could not survive. Eventually, something will afflict me that I will not be able to beat, and I will die. The same goes for you.

    This is the harsh reality of the world we live in. It seems to me that many of my opponents are desperate to avoid or deny this reality, but wishing won't make it so. The flower petals fall though we love them, the weeds grow though we hate them, that's just the way it is.

    So why do I bring this up? First, in being asked to compare animals with children and the disabled, we are being asked to accept a sneaky, unspoken proposition that flies in the face of the above. Brace yourself, because this is gonna be harsh: Children and the severely disabled do not have rights. Those who cannot support themselves -- fight for life -- are doomed to die. The only reason they live is because someone else has decided to saddle themselves with their care. They live at their guardian's mercy. They may be granted certain legal protections against abuse and neglect, but this is not the same as a true right. Incidentally, Peter Singer would seem at least sympathetically disposed towards this viewpoint: see here.

    I have a relative who is severely disabled. She's in a group home. The resources which go to her care and feeding come from somewhere -- they do not simply appear as if by magic simply because she needs them. Somebody has to work to produce those resources. And while I certainly would not want to see her die of neglect or starvation, the fact of the matter is that she would if she were left to her own devices for survival. She lives because others see value in helping her live, not because she's doing anything to earn that living. She is not, to be utterly truthful, accepting responsibility for her own survival.

    Shocking statement #2: given all of this, wouldn't it be fair to say that guardianship is simply a form of ownership? One of my other relatives was granted power-of-attorney to look after the affairs of this severely disabled relative. He makes all the decisions concerning her care, living conditions, future, and happiness. In every meaningful way, he owns her. It's possible that some may quibble over whether this is true ownership, but those objections are mere semantics.

    Second, this line of thought brings us to the inevitable conclusion that animals have to fend for themselves. It is a pathetic waste of time to argue that the fly's "rights" are being violated simply because the spider is very good at killing him. The universe itself is built on this dynamic. One dies so that another may live. Even if we take away the predator/prey relationship, the dynamic still exists. The nutritional value of a cow comes from the nutritional value of the grain it eats. If we eat the grain instead of the cow, the cow starves. It is no longer prey but competitor. Competitors get eliminated. If we do not eliminate the cow, perhaps by passing laws against harming it (both directly and by denying it food), we eliminate ourselves by default, on the cow's behalf.

    And now, we finally come to the question of rights. The cow does not have rights, but we could pass laws to give it something that resembles rights, but isn't actually. Rights are fundamentally reciprocal. My right to my property hangs in the balance of my recognition of and respect for the property rights of others. The others in question have the same dynamic. When one individual refuses to respect the rights of another, we are morally justified in abrogating their rights. This is that Golden Rule I've been hearing so much about.

    So why don't animals have rights? Because animals don't recognize, enforce, or respect rights. The grizzly bears that killed Timothy Treadwell were granted every right he could give them. He respected all of the rights he thought they should have. But they fundamentally didn't respect his. There is no evidence to suggest that they even understood his rights, understood that he had rights, or understood what a "right" is. The relationship HAS to be two-way, otherwise one party is ultimately committing suicide. And that's the way I see the Animal Rights movement -- it's a doomsday cult, much like Heaven's Gate. "Peaceful coexistence" is a utopian fantasy.

    Of course, someone may object that the animals in factory farms are not committing suicide, they're being "murdered". I refer you to my first point: life has to fight for itself. The AR types I know regularly indulge in fantasies about animal uprisings and the like. One of their favorites is the musical cartoon "Cows with Guns". If cows want to develop the opposable thumbs and technology to free themselves, they're certainly welcome to. The fact that they chose a different evolutionary track is not really my concern.

    Yes, I'm being flippant now.

    Anyway, I guess my answer to the question of "what should be property and what should not" is as follows: Whatever is capable of being an owner -- of exercising, defending, enforcing, recognizing, and respecting property rights in accordance with the Golden Rule -- cannot be property. Anything else can.

    Put another way, animals will have rights when they indicate an understanding of the nature of rights and demand them. It is irrational to attempt to relate to another being in a way that said being cannot reciprocate. Animals cannot respect our rights, therefore we cannot rationally relate to them on those grounds, and animals do not have rights. They are property. Show me an animal which has all the capacity to be an owner, and I'll show you an animal that has rights.

    And incidentally, even Peter Singer's Great Ape Project demonstrates by its methods that animals are property and exhibit the dangers I've referred to above. The animals which are currently in the possession of one person or group of people ("exploiters"), the organization proposes to hand over to another person or group of people ("sanctuaries"). If we accept that apes are "people", fully deserving of their rights to freedom, why must we put them on reservations and repeat the mistakes we committed with the Native Americans? Let the apes walk out of their captivity to wander the streets. After all, the organization itself states in its manifesto:

    Members of the community of equals are not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty; if they should be imprisoned without due legal process, they have the right to immediate release.

    [emphasis mine]


    Obviously, there's no need to relocate them. Open the doors and let them go -- that's immediate release. They're essentially children, according to the argument, so let them run around at the local school playground. It's perfectly safe, because they're people, right?

    The fact that the GAP does not engage in these methods, but essentially wishes to transfer ownership of the captive apes, indicates a tacit agreement that apes are property. A cage is still a cage, no matter how beautiful the bars.

    Posted by Tom, 2/20/2006 7:28:00 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, February 19, 2006


    The Honor of the Queen

    I've just finished this, the second book of David Weber's Honor Harrington series. Holy crap, this guy is good! I don't know if he can sustain this throughout the next 9 books, but I'm dying to find out. Tomorrow is a trip to the local bookstore for book 3, The Short Victorious War.

    Honor is the captain we never saw on any version of Star Trek: fearless, dedicated, utterly committed to her duty, brilliant in tactics, and tenacious in battle. She has not done so in either of the books I've read, but in each I am fully expecting to see her go to ramming speed when her last weapon is spent. I've also discovered a hidden danger in each of these books: when I hit about the 75% mark, they are impossible to put down. I have finished both in the wee hours of the morning. Once that final engagement starts, my eyes are glued to the page. And I even found myself ordering up a copy of Homeworld 2 just so I could experience some cap-ship combat of my own.

    Posted by Tom, 2/19/2006 10:42:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, February 17, 2006


    Nerfworld

    Every once in a while I read an article that I almost don't post anything about, because when I get started quoting bits and pieces of it, I wind up wanting to quote the whole thing. But the article still has a profound meaning for me, and I want to comment on it anyway. Reason recently had just such an article, Culture of Fear, by Ronald Bailey.

    Go read it, I'll wait.

    ...

    Done? Good.

    I've spent a fair amount of time griping about how just 2 short decades ago, I used to ride my bicycle down the road *gasp* without a helmet *gasp* and usually in "no hands" fashion. I almost got hit by a car once. I crashed and burned and got horrible road rash once. I never stopped. Nowadays I see kids putting on enough protective equipment to play tackle football, but all they're doing is riding their bikes on the lawn.

    *sigh*

    The really valuable point that Bailey makes is that so-called "progressives" are anti-progress. In every contact I have with these people, I get argument after argument of why progress, research, and new products should be stifled. They live their lives and form their personal philosophies around the precautionary principle. It is a damn scary world they live in, and they wonder why I don't want to join them.

    I want nothing more than to see an end to this culture of fear. Shut down the FDA. Make seat belts and airbags optional equipment. Get real jobs for the people at the CPSC -- they can deliver pizza for Domino's or something. But please, oh please, STOP asking me to panic. STOP telling me that risk is inherently bad.

    All I want is to realize the promise of that wonderful legal phrase: "At your own risk". If I'm really concerned, I'll buy insurance (aka transferring the risk). I don't need the rest. You shouldn't either. If you don't like risks, don't take any. Just don't force me to give up my right to risk.

    Posted by Tom, 2/17/2006 6:44:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, February 16, 2006


    Muslims have no sense of humor

    I mean, just look at them, all the time screaming about something. And unless this is a very over-the-top stab (pun intended) at exaggerational humor, the following quote (from here) says it all:

    “Unfortunately, people in the Muslim world feel that this is a new 9/11 against themselves. In Europe unfortunately Muslims have taken the place of Jews during World War II." [-- Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu]

    Flying planes into buildings, killing thousands = six million people exterminated like rats = cartoons mocking a religious figure

    You've GOT to be kidding me.

    Posted by Tom, 2/16/2006 7:27:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006


    Headline/Punchline

    Three Killed in Massive Cartoon Protests

    Words fail me.

    Posted by Tom, 2/15/2006 7:19:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006


    Ten Reasons to Buy a Mac

    Here's a nice article about the features in Microsoft's latest version of the Windows series of operating systems, Windows Vista. Unfortunately, as you'll see, the article makes a better case for buying a Mac.

    1. Security, security, security: Windows XP Service Pack 2 patched a lot of holes, but Vista takes security to the next level. There are literally too many changes to list here, from the bidirectional software firewall that monitors inbound and outbound traffic to Windows Services Hardening, which prevents obscure background processes from being hijacked and changing your system. There's also full-disk encryption, which prevents thieves from accessing your data, even if they steal the PC out from under your nose.

    Perhaps most crucial (and least sexy) is the long-overdue User Account Protection, which invokes administrator privileges as needed, such as during driver updates or software installations. UAP makes it much more convenient for users to operate Vista with limited rights (meaning the system won't let them do certain things, like load software, without clearance from an administrator). This in turn limits the ability of malware to hose your system.


    ...all stuff that Mac OS X already does.

    2. Internet Explorer 7: IE gets a much-needed, Firefox-inspired makeover, complete with tabbed pages and better privacy management.

    Oh, you mean like Safari?

    3. Righteous eye candy: For the first time, Microsoft is building high-end graphics effects into Windows. The touted Aero Glass interface features visually engaging 3D rendering, animation, and transparencies. Translucent icons, program windows, and other elements not only look cool, they add depth and context to the interface. For example, hover your cursor over minimized programs that rest on the taskbar and you'll be able to see real-time previews of what's running in each window without opening them full-screen.

    Kinda like the OS X Dock, only the Dock doesn't make you hover your cursor.

    4. Desktop search: Microsoft has been getting its lunch handed to it by Google and Yahoo on the desktop, but Vista could change all that. The new OS tightly integrates instant desktop search, doing away with the glacially slow and inadequate search function in XP. Powerful indexing and user-assignable metadata make searching for all kinds of data--including files, e-mails, and Web content--a lot easier.

    Apple's Spotlight technology already does this.

    5. Better updates: Vista does away with using Internet Explorer to access Windows Update, instead utilizing a new application to handle the chore of keeping your system patched and up-to-date. The result is quicker response and a more tightly streamlined process. The update-tracking mechanism, for instance, is much quicker to display information about your installation.

    Hmmm... Software Update, maybe?

    6. More media: Over the years, one of the key reasons to upgrade versions of Windows has been the free stuff Gates and Company toss into the new OS, and Vista is no exception. Windows Media Player (perhaps my least favorite application of all time) gets a welcome update that turns the once-bloated player into an effective MP3 library.

    iTunes.

    The Windows Photo Gallery finally adds competent photo-library-management functionality to Windows, so you can organize photos; apply metatags, titles, and ratings; and do things like light editing and printing.

    iPhoto.

    The DVD Maker application, which was still very rough when I looked at it, promises to add moviemaking capabilities--along the lines of Movie Maker--to the operating system.

    iDVD, iMovie.

    There are even some nice new games tucked into the bundle.

    If you've got World of WarCraft, you don't need any other games.

    7. Parental controls: Families, schools, and libraries will appreciate the tuned-up parental controls, which let you limit access in a variety of ways. Web filtering can block specific sites, screen out objectionable content by selected type, and lock out file downloads.

    Yep.

    8. Better backups: When Windows 95 first came out, the typical hard disk was, maybe, 300MB in size. Today, desktops routinely ship with 300GB or 400GB hard drives. And yet, the built-in data-backup software in Windows has changed little in the past decade. Windows Vista boasts a much-improved backup program that should help users avoid wholesale digital meltdowns.

    If Microsoft's history is anything to go on, you'll be needing this feature. I typically reinstall my Windows machines about twice a year because something farks it up. My Mac has not needed this for 2 years and running.

    9. Peer-to-peer collaboration: The Windows Collaboration module uses peer-to-peer technology to let Vista users work together in a shared workspace. You can form ad hoc workgroups and then jointly work on documents, present applications, and pass messages. You can even post "handouts" for others to review.

    Apples make individuals so much more productive that teamwork is rarely necessary.

    OK, ya got me. I'm just making stuff up for this one. Seriously, good job on this one idea.

    10. Quick setup: Beta code alert: There are some Vista features I hope dearly for even though they haven't been built yet. This is one of them. Jim Allchin, Microsoft's co-president, says that Windows Vista boasts a re-engineered install routine, which will slash setup times from about an hour to as little as 15 minutes. Hurray! The new code wasn't in the beta version of Vista that Microsoft sent to me--my aging rig took well over an hour to set up--so I'll believe it when I see it. Still, any improvement in this area is welcome.

    Once again, if you don't need to reinstall regularly, it's not a problem. And while I don't have metrics to confirm, it has always seemed to me as though OS X sets up a lot faster than Windows, so I'll put this one down as a "got it already" as well.

    On the bad side of things, the author notes:

    Watch that hourglass: Vista is a power hog. Unless you have a top-end PC with high-end graphics hardware, for instance, you won't see one of the coolest parts of the new OS--the Aero Glass interface. Microsoft did the smart thing by offering Aero Basic and Windows Classic looks as well, which will let older and slower PCs run Vista. It just won't look as pretty.

    Hmmm... Any Mac bought in the last 5 years will run OS X tolerably well, WITH all the eye candy turned on. Guess Microsoft just writes sloppy code.

    So which do you want? Version 1.0 of all these new features, written by a company with a long history of buggy, poorly supported code, or a computer with an operating system that's already got them implemented, tested, revised, bug-checked, and so forth?

    Save yourself the pain and aggravation. Buy a Mac. I am.

    Posted by Tom, 2/14/2006 5:26:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Cheney's got a gun

    Yeah, it's been done. And I'm not going to harp about it. All I want to say is that I have ZERO respect for unsafe gun handling. Dick Cheney is a moron.

    Posted by Tom, 2/14/2006 7:25:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Um...



    ...yeah.

    Posted by Tom, 2/14/2006 7:23:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, February 10, 2006


    Intensely Satisfying

    That's how I would describe On Basilisk Station. The politics, the intrigue, the ship-to-ship combat, all of it builds to a resounding climax that makes you want to shout out loud when the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end. Of course you won't do any shouting if you, like me, wind up in the final third of the novel, are unable to put it down, and finish that final battle scene at 1:20 in the morning. People are trying to sleep, y'know.

    I certainly am glad that David Weber has more books about Honor Harrington, because he spent the entire first novel generating villain after villain for her to fight in the future. Her steadfast attention to duty where her predecessors slacked off horribly ruffles more feathers than a chicken-plucking machine. And this chick's no Captain Janeway... she kicks butt, then takes names in preparation for more butt-kicking. I don't know if David Weber "writes women" very well, but I do like the woman he writes.

    I hear there's at least 10 more of these books... sign me up.

    Posted by Tom, 2/10/2006 7:28:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, February 9, 2006


    Morality Play

    At a particular message board, someone posted the following as their method of evaluating what is moral and what is not:

    And logically speaking, what is moral is what is most beneficial or what causes the great amount of good towards each other. What causes suffering is logically undesirable, therefore it is immoral, if it is caused by people of course. Its as simple as the Golden Rule. We treat others the way we would want to be treated. And certainly the criteria for what determining desirability, whether it be happiness, justice, equality, and so on certainly can change depending on the situation. Ultimately, actions that are beneficial are moral. Actions that are harmful are immoral.

    A simple mental exercise should demonstrate why I disagree with this method of evaluation:

    Let's say I'm walking along, minding my own business, and I happen upon a rape in progress. At first glance most people would agree that it is moral for me to attack the rapist and stop the rape in progress. However, if we apply the above, we see that I could not possibly do so. If I injure the rapist in attacking him, I have committed a harmful, and thus immoral action. If he injures me in the altercation (which would not have started had I not attacked him), I have caused harm to come to two people, making my action even more immoral than allowing the rape to continue, which only harms one person. Yes, I have created a benefit to the person being raped by intervening, but I have at best traded harm to one for benefit to one and come up morally neutral, or at worst traded harm to two for benefit to one, and come up morally lacking.

    Let us not forget that the rapist is benefitted by the act of rape, in that it gives him some sort of satisfaction. Not only will my physical attack harm him in an obvious way, but it will also harm him by taking away his satisfaction. I am therefore causing two forms of harm to one person, in exchange for relieving the harm to one person.

    Consider another scenario: I have the choice to buy either peas or corn. If I buy peas, I benefit the pea grower but harm the corn grower. If I buy corn, I do the opposite. Of course, I am benefitted in that I get to eat, but I am not certain this relieves me of the moral responsibility to avoid harming the merchant with whom I do not transact business. It might be said that I should buy both peas AND corn. But what if I'm allergic to corn? Now I'm causing harm to myself, and that can't be moral, because actions which are harmful are immoral.

    Speaking of which, exercise must be immoral under this code of ethics. Exercise harms the body by tearing down muscles. It causes pain and suffering, and "what causes suffering is logically undesirable, and therefore immoral".

    Let's dig a little deeper. Currently, the medical community is caught in the stranglehold of an ethos much like this one, summarized as "first, do no harm". This makes them fundamentally incapable of doing things like assisting a person who wishes to die to end their suffering, hence the whole Jack Kevorkian mess. Suffering often happens without human agency, and death is an end to suffering, but death is itself a form of harm. If the person suffering wishes death, but cannot achieve it themselves, this ethos and the one described above gets into a Catch-22 problem, and winds up prescribing something useless and insensitive like the current standard we call "palliative care". We can stop trying to cure you, but we can't help you die, even though you're going to no matter what we do.

    So... all in all, it may work for its proponent, but this system of ethics just doesn't seem to be working for me.

    Posted by Tom, 2/9/2006 8:53:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    WoW Rant

    OK, all you twits who have been grouping with me lately in World of WarCraft, LISTEN UP.

    There is a very simple group strategy that prevents 99% of the party wipes I've been experiencing lately, and if you people would just do your jobs, we wouldn't be having all this trouble. It goes like this: The Warrior and the Priest are the backbone of the team. The Warrior gets the monsters to attack him, the Priest heals the Warrior, and the rest of the party picks ONE MONSTER AT A FREAKING TIME, and kills it off while it attacks the Warrior.

    This makes the most efficient use of all involved. The Priest isn't having to drop healing spells on everybody. The Warrior isn't concerned with anything but keeping the monsters attacking him (using things like Sunder Armor and Revenge, which generate high threat), the Warrior is taking all the damage (which is good because he's got the best armor), and the rest are just piling on the damage, killing monsters as efficiently as possible.

    Why kill one monster at a time, rather than split up and everybody attack a different one? Because a monster with 10% health does just as much damage as a monster with 100% health. The faster you kill that first monster, the less damage the Warrior is going to take, and the better off the group as a whole will be.

    Sometimes, the Priest may have to heal the Warrior before he's got a good lock on all the monsters. This will cause a monster to peel off and attack the Priest. If the Warrior doesn't see it, somebody else needs to pull it off the Priest. Hunters, this is a good job for you, since you have Distracting Shot. Yes, I know that Hunters have leather armor and are thus crunchy. Guess what? I don't care! I'd rather lose a Hunter than a Priest (who's only wearing cloth), because the Priest can resurrect the Hunter, but not vice versa.

    Mages: Stop being so trigger-happy! Slow down! You'll still get your licks in. Give the Warrior a break, he's trying to save your butt. How about casting Polymorph at the beginning of the fight and doing some crowd control, rather than jumping straight to the Fireballs?

    Hunters: Turn Growl off on your pet. And put them on Passive mode.

    Everybody: Learn to /assist. Pick one person as the target selector (Hunters are good for this, with Hunter's Mark), and ALWAYS use them to select your next target with /assist. It's been said before that you should /assist the Warrior, but I've had it go wrong doing that, because the Warrior is constantly changing targets to slap on a new Sunder Armor.

    OK, Rant mode off.

    One more thing: If you're wondering why you haven't gotten laid lately, you might check out this instructional video about WoW's application as a birth-control method.

    Posted by Tom, 2/9/2006 7:16:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, February 8, 2006


    Brokeback to the Future

    This is a marvelous bit of video editing, and it will have you believing that the well-known time-travel trilogy from the 80's is actually a daring gay love story starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Absolutely HILARIOUS.

    Posted by Tom, 2/8/2006 7:26:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Fiat Money's Natural End

    ...and in Zimbabwe these days, we have the perfect example of what happens when you take fiat money to its extreme. Note that the difference between Zimbabwe and the United States is not one of different kinds of fiat money and its inflation, just different degrees of that particular evil. This should cause some concern when we remember that the new chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, is a big fan of inflation.

    Posted by Tom, 2/8/2006 7:20:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, February 7, 2006


    New Hotness

    Well, I've about run out of books by Heinlein to read. I love the man's work, and always will, but I can't change the fact that he's dead, and short of another surprise like For Us, The Living, I need to find me a new author to read. Michael Z. Williamson seems to be taking his good sweet time with developing stories about Grainne a la Freehold, and Orson Scott Card was getting way too weird with the Ender's Game sequels, so I've cast my net a little wider in search of some good sci-fi. And I think I've found it.

    If you look in the book store, David Weber fills a goodly portion of the sci-fi section, with his space-based military novels. I'd always been a little skittish about trying him out, but I finally saw an opening in a cut-rate edition of his first book about a character named Honor Harrington, called On Basilisk Station. At $3.99, I couldn't pass it up, so I'm checking it out, and whaddya know, so far it's pretty engaging. Here's to a new author in my sci-fi bookshelf.

    Posted by Tom, 2/7/2006 5:49:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, February 6, 2006


    The Creeping Doom

    Government continually ratchets up the pressure. Driven on by wild-eyed zealots and unopposed by an apathetic public, police are becoming ever-more-militarized. Any time the harshness of SWAT-team intervention is questioned, we invariably get the desperate justification response from law enforcement supporters and anti-drug fanatics and the like. Even when the increased aggression leads invariably to "accidental" deaths, we as a society seem unable to question the wisdom of our approach. After all, they're the police. They're here to help.

    The latest is brought to us by the Cato Institute: Overkill: The Latest Trend in Policing

    On Jan. 24, a SWAT team in Fairfax shot and killed Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., an optometrist who was under investigation for gambling. According to a Jan. 26 front-page story in The Post, Culosi had emerged from his home to meet an undercover officer when a police tactical unit swarmed around him. An officer's gun discharged, killing the suspect. Culosi, police said, was unarmed and had displayed no threatening behavior.

    It's unlikely that the officer who shot Culosi did so intentionally. But it's also unlikely that the investigation into this shooting will address why police sent a military-style unit to arrest an optometrist under investigation for a nonviolent crime and why the officers had their guns drawn when approaching a man with no history of violence.


    Killed for gambling. That's what our country has come to, when some moralizing pusbag gets to push laws on the rest of us, criminalizing behavior that's really nobody else's business. And it's not like it's consistent or anything. It's not gambling we're after, but specific kinds of gambling -- the kinds that the government doesn't get to be a part of:

    These gambling crackdowns carry a whiff of hypocrisy. Even as it sends SWAT teams to protect citizens from the scourge of gambling, Virginia spends $20 million a year promoting its state lottery. As police in Ohio knock over private poker games, the Ohio Lottery pulled in $2.15 billion in 2005. And while Maryland police have been busting charity tournaments, the state's lottery cashes in on the poker craze with scratch-off games such as Royal Flush, Aces & 8s and Poker Showdown.

    Why are there laws against drugs, murder, and gambling? Forget the moral arguments and all the crap about "doing it for the children". The reason is simple: the government hates competition.

    Posted by Tom, 2/6/2006 7:02:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, February 3, 2006


    Political Orphans

    Check this out, from the Cato Institute:

    The Gallup Poll's annual survey on government found that 27% of Americans are conservative; 24% are liberal, up sharply because the poll was taken after Katrina, which boosted support for the proposition that "government should do more to solve our country's problems." Gallup also found -- this year as in others -- that 20% are neither liberal nor conservative but libertarian, opposing the use of government either to "promote traditional values" or to "do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses."

    Libertarians and other disillusioned types really need to get on the ball in their respective states and promote the "none of the above" plan. Basically, this is a simple change to the ballot: in every race at every level, make sure there is a spot to check labelled "none of the above". It doesn't have to be any more than that. No changes to access for political parties, no changes to petition requirements, or anything, just a simple spot for us to indicate that we don't like the choices we've been given. Get that one thing added, and the news media will do the rest.

    Here's the most compelling argument I can think of, to make this change: In the last election, I voted for neither Bush nor Kerry. They were the only two presidential candidates on our ballot. How am I able to know WITH CERTAINTY, that my ballot was not tampered with after I turned it in? I can't. Because there was no place to indicate that yes, I saw the presidential race, but no, I have no interest in either candidate. I just had to leave the ballot blank for any prankster with one of the little marker thingies to fill in the vote of his or her choice.

    Posted by Tom, 2/3/2006 7:25:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...