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
  • Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
Site Navigation
  • Current server time:
  • 1/16/2021 11:55:19 PM
  • Categories
    My Nerdly Hobbies
    The Daily Browse
    Reference Material
    Blogs of Note
    Non-blog Friend Pages

    Thursday, November 30, 2006

    Altruism, continued

    Sometimes a comment is such that I feel compelled to respond in detail, and in so doing I wind up writing something I'd like to have on the main page. The following comment, in response to my Altruism Does Not Exist post, is one such example.

    "Alighieri" wrote:

    I think this is a very important point to make, but, once it is made, I don't think the appropriate conclusion is that altruism does not exist. Instead, we should conclude that we have misunderstood the nature of altruism. It does not need to be sacrifice as Ms Rand defines it. Her definition makes it analytically true that altruism is an evil, for it is a conscious decision to make a bad decision.

    But I also think you have oversimplified the "good" of giving. It isn't merely a feeling-good-about-oneself. It isn't even a "feeling" precisely because the Gift is not *about* oneself. It is about something exterior to the self, and, insofar as it is gift, must always be directed other-ward. Nevermind that being oriented beyond my self is something *I* judge to be a good. That the judgment is mind is really beside the point. The simple fact remains that the object of judgment is most decidedly *not* me. It cannot be me, and here we can see a slight difference between two acts of giving: one, done because it has a consequence that *I* feel good; the other that is done because I *desire* to do what is good regardless of how it makes me feel.

    This distinction means everything, and it does not do to pretend desire is merely emotion in a different mode. Desire is quite different from emotion, and the desire to help another, even when it attends the good feeling of having helped, it not engulfed in that feeling.

    I believe that you have missed my point. The "good feeling" about oneself is not the only thing that one can gain; it is only one of many possible intangible rewards of giving. Another might be described as "a world where there is less want/poverty/suffering". Or it could be an increase in self-esteem, a solidification of personal integrity, or the sort of emotional gestalt that comes from living in accordance with one's values. But it is the removal of their own dissatisfaction which makes altruism nonexistent.

    Mises wrote that people act to alleviate dissatisfaction, to move from a state of relative dissatisfaction to a state of relative satisfaction. Further, people act to alleviate their most pressing form of dissatisfaction first (assuming they can envision an action which will alleviate it), and move to each other source in order of decreasing magnitude.

    The person who is the greatest giver has already addressed innumerable other sources of personal dissatisfaction before embarking on a philanthropic course of action. They have slept, eaten, gone to the bathroom, addressed whatever spiritual needs they have, and so forth, before they begin to care about others. That some apparently have a more pressing urgency with regard to the welfare of others relative to their own physical needs is irrelevant: all philanthropists must still eat, and in so doing they act selfishly.

    When a person has done all of the things he or she needs to do to reach the "philanthropic threshold", that is, the point at which their most urgent dissatisfaction is their concern for the welfare of others, they act to remove or alleviate or temporarily assuage that discomfort. The action benefits others, just as all other forms of voluntary trade benefit others. As Smith said, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." It is also not from the benevolence of the philanthropist that the beggar receives his dinner, but from his regard for his own interest.

    I recently supported a family member going through a rough time, by sending her significant amounts of money every month for several months. And while I do care about her very much, honestly I could not bear the dissatisfaction that would have arisen had I not helped her despite the fact that I have the means. It is that dissatisfaction that I primarily sought to ameliorate -- as a result of helping her, I do not have to suffer the knowledge that a loved one is starving or without shelter. I have, in effect, traded money for a world in which my loved one has made it through a tough time only a little worse for the wear, and have had the opportunity to help her educate herself in personal finance so that this kind of situation does not have to happen again. And like all voluntary trades, I benefitted another while benefitting myself -- had I not benefitted myself, I would not have acted. The same goes for all of the strangers I've ever endeavored to help -- I purchase something beneficial to me when I donate my time, energy, or money. I believe that it is only our vast cultural bias against self-interest that makes this point of view seem wrong.

    Posted by Tom, 11/30/2006 7:04:26 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Woot! Day Off

    Thank you for visiting the great state of Oklahoma. Due to the ice storm currently in progress, we're closed. Please come back another time.

    Posted by Tom, 11/30/2006 5:50:59 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006

    Why Altruism Does Not Exist

    I've spent considerable time praising the philanthropic works of others, so it might seem incongruous to see me claim that altruism doesn't exist. Rest assured, there is method to my madness. Let's start with the basics: altruism is supposedly a self-sacrificing concern for the welfare of others, especially as related to specific activities arising from that concern. My objection to the idea that it exists is entirely based on the nature of trade.

    Adam Smith defined trade as "give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want."

    Ludwig von Mises further expanded the notion of human action, especially with regards to trade, as purposeful behavior meant to alleviate some dissatisfaction.

    Mises and many others, including Gene Callahan and Thomas DiLorenzo, stipulate that voluntary, uncoerced trade is necessarily a positive-sum activity. Each party gets something he values more at the time of transaction in exchange for something he values less at the time of transaction. Thus, at the time of transaction, each party is better off than he was before the transaction. This must necessarily be so, otherwise the individual would simply walk away from the transaction and look for a better deal. Phenomena such as "buyer's remorse" don't really enter into the equation, since each person is solely responsible for evaluating his own potential for future happiness prior to the trade and must bear the burden of having made a bad evaluation.

    So what does this have to do with altruism and acts of philanthropy? Simple: even giving is an act of trade. If I give a person, say, a hundred bucks, the fact that they give me nothing material in return does not indicate that I haven't received something. People who give money away are purchasing something -- a good feeling, a better society, or in the words of Mises, an alleviation of dissatisfaction with "the way things are".

    Dave Ramsey says that giving is the most fun one can have with money, and in my opinion, he's right. But if I give money away and have fun doing it, the act of giving is an act of purchasing some quantity of fun. Where's the self-sacrifice in that?

    And for those who are Christians, Jesus tells us that giving is an investment, which is merely another form of trade:

    Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

    -- Luke 14:12-14

    "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
    "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    -- Mark 6:1-4

    What's more, Jesus Christ Himself was no altruist:

    Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

    -- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

    If the act of allowing oneself to be tortured, hung on a cross, and executed was in effect an act of purchase, how can any less dramatic action, no matter how charitable, be anything greater? Ayn Rand even touched on this point in The Virtue of Selfishness, when she wrote about a hypothetical individual who gives his life to save another -- that person is gaining something he values more (the other's life) in exchange for something he values less (his own life) at the time of transaction.

    I've read countless stories of giving, from the smallest pittance to the "ultimate sacrifice", and nowhere can I find a person who gave thinking that it was a horrible thing to do, or that they were not receiving something better in return for that which they gave up. I've challenged myself to try and feel bad after giving to someone else, and every time I just can't help but feel good about it. I therefore conclude that altruism does not exist, and what is misidentified as altruism is simply a trade in which some of the things being exchanged are not immediately obvious to the third-party observer.

    And perhaps all this lends some insight as to why those who preach altruism have such a hard time getting others to engage in it: altruism is by definition self-sacrifice -- it conjures the same emotional response that pain does. Sacrifice is painful. It goes against the nature of every animal on earth to voluntarily submit to pain, and to keep doing so just because it's supposedly "right" or "good" or whatever. That must be why devotees of altruism seem to turn overwhelmingly to government, asking it to take money by force and give it away. After all, if people won't submit to pain voluntarily, but the pain is still "necessary" in the eyes of the advocate, it only makes sense to resort to force "for everyone's own good".

    On the other hand, if giving is seen as trading for something more valuable than money (or time, or whatever), people will want to try it. This explains why Dave Ramsey has so many followers who love to give to others -- he sells it not as pain and self-sacrifice, but as "the most fun you can have with money". Who wouldn't want a piece of that action?

    Posted by Tom, 11/29/2006 7:09:23 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Everybody Panic!!!

    Single .22 round discovered in U.K. Brits run screaming for the hills.

    The .22 calibre short round bullet was found at the entrance of the 99p Stores in Walthamstow High Street on Wednesday morning, November 1.


    "How can you feel safe when you are finding things like this on the street?"


    Police are treating the unattended ammunition as a crime. Mr Khan alerted them at 10.16am, and they arrived at his shop to pick up the bullet at 11.32am.

    Note to self: English people will apparently die of a stroke if allowed to visit my garage. How on Earth did they give us so much trouble in the Revolution?

    (Hat tip: Women & Guns)

    Posted by Tom, 11/29/2006 6:15:38 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 27, 2006


    Old and busted: Dell Inspiron XPS
    New hotness: Apple 17" MacBook Pro

    Posted by Tom, 11/27/2006 6:01:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Which Bond am I?

    Your results:
    You are Daniel Craig

    Daniel Craig
    Timothy Dalton
    Pierce Brosnan
    George Lazenby
    Sean Connery
    Roger Moore
    The sixth actor to play Bond in the movies promises to be a more realistic, down to earth and not so perfect James Bond, while still being a sexy womanizer.

    Click here to take the "Which James Bond are you?" quiz...

    Sweet! He's the best one anyhow.

    Posted by Tom, 11/27/2006 7:01:46 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    It started with guns

    Sometime in my early 20's, I met a guy who liked shooting guns. His favorite form of entertainment was to collect old plastic bottles, fill them with water, and shoot them with handguns loaded with hollowpoint ammunition. One day he took me out, and I was instantly hooked.

    Later, he and I made a trade wherein I received one of his handguns. With that trade, he gave me a little speech about the need to make sure people could always have guns, both for entertainment and for personal protection. At the time, I didn't think much of it. I hadn't even heard of the "Brady Bill" or the "Assault Weapons Ban", which had at that time already passed. I just thought I'd found a fun new way to entertain myself, as well as a handy thing to have around in case of a break-in.

    Fast-forward a couple of years, and I'm living in Michigan, and it occurs to me that my handy handgun isn't so handy when it's at home and I'm out and about. So I started wondering what it took to actually carry a gun. I discovered that in Michigan, it was pretty much at the whim of the local sheriff and prosecutor, and they pretty consistently denied people the ability to do so.

    I've always been pretty anti-authority; it's never made a bit of sense to me that someone can tell me what to do or not do based on their own desires, unless I have voluntarily agreed to the situation. And I have a special kind of hatred reserved, in most un-Christian fashion, for those who presume to order me around "for my own good". So I took no small offense to the fact that someone else had arbitrary authority over whether or not I was "good enough" to defend my own life against violent attack. It was with that that I joined a local gun-rights activist group and worked to overturn the law in Michigan, as well as rooting for the cause in other states.

    Somewhere along the way, I can't exactly say when, I came to a broader understanding of freedom and the nature of rights. I'm a firm believer in negative rights, and a firm opposer of the idea of positive rights. I decided that the only person I'm truly responsible for is me, and that everyone else was going to have to be responsible for themselves. I came to the conclusion that if the world was ever to come to peace, people would have to start letting go of their desire to control others. So I started with myself.

    I located those things inside me that desperately wanted to grab hold of this kind of person or that kind of person and pummel them into submission. I began looking at every ballot issue in terms of what I'd be forcing others to do or not do. Even if I thought the idea in question was a dandy one, I voted against it if it meant that someone else, who hadn't made a similar evaluation, would be forced or coerced into participating. Before I'd ever read it, I adopted Clint Eastwood's definition of libertarianism as the ideal for society: "everyone leaves everyone else alone."

    I've always read voraciously. I used to read in class, and my grades suffered, so my parents banned reading for a time -- amusing, considering how hard some parents try to get their kids to read. While in Detroit, I started spending gobs of money at the bookstore, looking for some explanation of "what's wrong with the world". As anyone who's ever been to the "pundits and polemics" section of the bookstore knows, there's no shortage of theories. I read stuff from the right and left... from Ann Coulter to Noam Chomsky to Starr Parker to Michael Moore, and a lot of things in between. A lot of it had a ring of truth to it, but some of it seemed a bit histrionic.

    I developed a vague notion that "unorganized" society was the way to go. All the attempts at organization throughout history, with no exceptions that I have yet encountered, have wound up with someone's boot on someone else's neck for nothing more than a difference of opinion. I thought, with my basis of personally wanting to be left alone, that if everyone could just leave everyone else alone, and each person took responsibility for himself and his own life, society might exhibit some emergent property that provided the wealth and production to benefit all. But I couldn't prove this notion -- I couldn't get from point A to point B.

    And that's when I discovered economics.

    Well, actually I discovered Ayn Rand, and she led me to economics. Ayn Rand has her problems, but self-esteem doesn't appear to be one of them. Throughout her books, she writes of holding oneself in the highest regard, and her characters heroically trample the desires and expectations of others in pursuit of their own glorification. Somewhere in this "virtue of selfishness", as she called it, she also trumpeted the praises of capitalism, and solidified somewhat this vague notion I had of "unorganized society". She shot herself in the foot, however, when she advocated gun control -- that the state should have a monopoly on force to keep rational men rational. That offended me so deeply, given my roots in libertarian thought vis-a-vis guns, that I took a good long time trying to figure out who was contradicting themselves -- her or me.

    I also had problems with her attitude. Ayn Rand was a humorless, nasty old grouch. A couple of the self-proclaimed libertarians I hung out with were disturbingly similar in character, but most were not. I knew some who would give anything to anyone who was truly in need, and who displayed a loyalty in their friendships that transcended the crass "I pay you to be my friend" kind of thing that Rand's vision seemed headed toward. I wondered if it were not possible to have the unorganized society and not have people treat each other like dog crap, to be scraped off their shoe.

    I can't recall the first economics book I sought out, but among them was Mary Ruwart's Healing Our World in an Age of Aggression, and that answered what I thought of as the "a**hole question". I went through a series of "pure" economics books, like Hazlitt and Callahan, and tried on numerous occasions to sink my teeth into Ludwig von Mises' masterpiece, Human Action, but have had to admit defeat and look for something more within my grasp (someday I'll be ready for it). But my understanding of how the market works has been expanded and clarified with every page I read of others. More importantly, economics as a science helps me understand what is going on in the "unorganized" portion of society, what natural rules are in place, and what happens when artificial rules are superimposed on them. It is the study of that emergent property or behavior that I'd been looking for and dreaming about all this time.

    As a person who debates with others for fun, I am of course challenged regularly in my assertion that unorganized society is superior to organized society, many times with historical events alleged to "prove" that government intervention is necessary and desirable. Most of the time, with a little research, I've found that government intervention was deemed "necessary" because government had previously screwed things up. But there were huge gaps in my knowledge of history -- especially economic history -- and I wondered how long it would be until I was tripped up. Enter Thomas DiLorenzo, and his book How Capitalism Saved America.

    It's an audacious title, to be sure, but what the book contains is essentially a brief economic history of the United States. It is not comprehensive, and leaves out enough detail to make me want to research further for my own edification -- not to mention some fact-checking, as it never hurts to have confirmation of the arguments presented. What most impressed me, however, was the way he connected the mercantilism that sparked the American Revolution to the mercantilists in our new government to the "internal improvement" arguments of the late 19th century, to the glorification of socialism in the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations, to the environmentalist/anticapitalist movements of today.

    Better than any other author I've read, he illustrates in detail what Mises meant when he said "The issue is always the same: the government or the market. There is no third solution." And better than any other author I've read, he makes it possible to practice Hazlitt's One Lesson and see what does not exist as a result of interventionism. For that, I find this book an extremely worthwhile additon to my economics library, and I find myself energized to find out more about economics and economic history.

    And to think, it all started with guns.

    Posted by Tom, 11/26/2006 6:23:35 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, November 17, 2006


    Illness unmasks generous ‘Secret Santa’

    A man who has given away millions of dollars and become known as Secret Santa for handing out Christmas cash to the needy is allowing his name to be publicized after 26 years.

    Some people don't care about the poor. Some people want government to steal money from the rich to help the poor. And some people roll up their sleeves and get to work.

    I salute you, sir.

    Posted by Tom, 11/17/2006 5:43:47 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tom's Practical Dictionary, Pt. 3

    Social justice: The notion that covetousness is a virtue

    Progressive: Against progress

    Conservative: Favoring subsidy of business and crackdown on immorality

    Liberal: Favoring subsidy of immorality and crackdown on business

    Taxation: Theft

    Election: Legitimization of tyranny

    War: Government expressed honestly

    (Carried forward from part 2.5)
    Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as feminists do

    Previous editions here and here.

    Posted by Tom, 11/17/2006 7:19:34 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    More Hardyville

    Claire Wolfe's Hardyville tales continue, with some wonderful tales of civil disobedience and a moment of chagrin when attitude gets in the way of friendship. Libertarians are still only human, after all.

    The Coup: First Target
    The Coup: Arms and Arguments

    Still gets me all wound up about city folks.

    Posted by Tom, 11/17/2006 7:18:05 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Smith & Wesson Shotguns?

    Apparently S&W has decided to enter the long-gun market.

    Smith & Wesson is entering the shotgun market, announcing that it will unveil two new shotgun lines at a January trade show. Shares jumped nearly 8% in Thursday afternoon trading.

    In September, the company had said that it was investigating whether to start manufacturing tactical rifles, hunting rifles and shotguns. The $1 billion long gun market is about 60% larger than the revolver and pistol market in which the legendary gun-maker specializes, according to the company.

    I would have thought that with Mossberg, Remington, Browning, and Beretta, the production-level shotgun market is pretty much sewn up. I'm all for competition, of course, but this is rather late in the game. Between the bargain-basement rivalry of the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870, the mid-level competition of Browning Gold, Remington 1100, and Beretta A390, and the high-level double barrel competition of Browning Citori and Beretta's offerings, not to mention offerings from a half-dozen other makers, I don't see a place to shoehorn a S&W in anywhere.


    I guess we'll see what happens.

    Posted by Tom, 11/17/2006 6:34:33 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Well, yeah...

    A new study shows that seeing cash will change human behavior. That's funny, it's the same thing Dave Ramsey's been saying in his seminars for years, as a result of his study of sales techniques. Thank God we've got a professor being paid with tax dollars who can now back that up.

    Posted by Tom, 11/17/2006 6:08:36 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    The blessings of government

    Here's a nice little clip -- somewhat hard to follow, but you get the idea -- of a handcuffed student being dragged out of the UCLA library by cops, who use a taser repeatedly on him, and threaten bystanders with tasering because said bystanders are demanding names and badge numbers. At least 2 bystanders were recording the incident on cellphone cameras... makes me think I gotta get me one of those.

    YouTube video

    There is some dispute over the circumstances which preceded the incident, with student witnesses offering a vastly different account from the po-po.

    LA Times Article

    After repeated requests, the officer left and returned with campus police, who asked Tabatabainejad to leave "multiple times," according to a statement by the UCLA Police Department.

    "He continued to refuse," the statement said. "As the officers attempted to escort him out, he went limp and continued to refuse to cooperate with officers or leave the building."

    Witnesses disputed that account, saying that when campus police arrived, Tabatabainejad had begun to walk toward the door with his backpack. When an officer approached him and grabbed his arm, the witnesses said, Tabatabainejad told the officer to let go, yelling "Get off me" several times.

    Even if we accept the official version of events, the number of officers on scene and their attitudes toward both the person in custody and the onlookers is unconscionable. Taser once, maybe -- they had more than enough officers to pick him up and carry him bodily from the scene. The repeated tasering really amounts to nothing more than sadism.

    Campus officials said the long-standing policy was adopted to ensure students' safety.

    I feel safer, how about you?

    Posted by Tom, 11/16/2006 7:02:49 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    This is getting ridiculous

    Multiple times in the past several months, I have gotten myself involved in arguments with people who think they have the perfect example of how "the market failed". These examples are of course put forward as proof that we need government to intervene on our behalf and rescue us from the evil capitalists.

    However, every time one of these "killer examples" comes up, I'm able to find, usually with depressing ease, evidence that government interference in the market caused the problem in the first place. Every time. We've wandered all over the map, from the 17th century to the present, on issues as diverse as land purchases to stock prices to health care. Government creates problems that only government can fix, but I haven't seen government fix problems that government didn't create.

    The most recent was an exchange over automobile insurance, in which my opponent stated:

    Case in point: Boston car insurance. It is so sky-high, (not by government regulation!), and more car insurance companies do not want to come here to increase the competition. Geiko the gecko will not come here, neither will Progressive, for example. And so car insurance goes up every year, and the real wages stay low because it is not part of their equation. And guess what: I don't live in Boston. But even outside of town, we are in the "Boston area" and my car insurance is the same as those in downtown Boston.

    And here's where Google is a godsend. I typed in "car insurance Boston", and after digging past all the places wanting to sell me insurance, found this article from a few weeks ago (stupid registration required):

    Election becomes battleground in car insurance war


    Commerce [Insurance] wants to keep the existing system, in which state regulators set auto insurance rates...


    James MacPhee , senior vice president at Liberty, said the national insurer supports Healey's efforts to open the market up to competition. "I would contrast that with Deval Patrick and say I don't think we know his position," he said.

    In a brief interview last week, Patrick indicated he wouldn't support wholesale changes in the state's auto insurance system. "This isn't easy," he said. "We could do with more competition, in the framework we have now."

    Patrick said he supported socializing some of the risk associated with automobile insurance, particularly subsidies that flow from suburban to urban drivers...

    Well, there's the reason your car insurance is the same as people who live in downtown Boston: government regulation. There's the reason you can't get quotes from Progressive and Geiko: government regulation. There's the reason your world sucks in terms of car insurance: government regulation.

    But wait a minute... he said this was a market failure, and that government regulation had nothing to do with it. So who do I believe, him, or the insurance companies who poured thousands of dollars into the Massachusetts gubernatorial race over the issue of government regulating their industry?

    Some days it just makes me want to cry.

    Posted by Tom, 11/15/2006 5:32:49 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The downside of the election

    Having painted a rosy picture of the election as regards gun rights, let's turn to the portion of the picture that is not so rosy: economics. The new Democrat majority is already beating the same old socialist drum with the same tired (and wrong) economic arguments. As Virginia's senator-elect Jim Webb's recent editorial -- pricelessly titled Class Struggle -- demonstrates, the blue party hasn't really learned anything when it comes to the economy.

    The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years.

    First, I think he needs to look up the definition of "infinite". Last I checked, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet (among others) still had net worth that can be counted in rational numbers. And both of them (among others) are giving monstrous piles of it away -- though of course we won't see any mention of this in Mr. Webb's column.

    Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars.

    People tend to love their children. I know it's hard for Democrats to believe, but they do. And once they have achieved a certain level of financial security, they tend to send their children to the best schools available, which are rarely if ever public schools. They also tend to prepare their children for vocations which do not require military service. My parents have in no way broken the "blue-collar" standard of living, but they actively encouraged my brother and I to go to college and get good jobs, rather than signing up for military service. People tend to choose their best available option, and if they have an option that is more appealing than military service, with its somewhat enhanced probability of serious injury or death, it should shock no one that they avoid the military and encourage their kids to do the same.

    When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much.

    This is a meaningless statistic. It tells us nothing other than the fact that the heights to which we may aspire have grown even higher. How is that a bad thing?

    Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth.

    Maybe that's because wages and salaries are not wealth per se, but the means to build wealth. Investments and savings are wealth, and once that ball gets rolling, it can quickly outstrip one's wages. One wonders if the good Senator has ever heard of compound interest.

    At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

    About a year ago, I ranted about this very subject, and I'll refrain from repeating myself. Follow the link if you're really interested. Long story short: Mr. Webb is shooting in the wrong direction.

    Manufacturing jobs are disappearing.

    Look within your own party for the cause of that one. Look at how the unions are strangling the life out of the largest manufacturers, like the "Big 3" automakers. Look at how every policy your party proposes is anti-business, anti-profit, anti-capitalism. What exactly is the incentive to stick around? What exactly is the indication that you're going to make it any better for the business world?

    It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life. Workers already understand this, as they see stagnant wages and disappearing jobs.

    The implied assumptions of these sentences, backed up by the rest of the text, are thus:

    1) Differences in incomes are inherently bad.
    2) "Fairness", by which is meant "equality of results", is a "good thing" that can be brought about by government action.
    3) Wages should be expected to rise.
    4) A particular job or type of job should be expected to exist in a particular locale in perpetuity.

    Each of these assumptions is fallacious.

    First, differences in income are a measure of the value consumers place on various types of labor. It makes no more sense for a man to complain that a neurosurgeon makes so much more than he is paid at Taco Bell. The skills and training required are different, and the quality of work required by the consumer is different. The same goes for executives -- they are expected to produce a profit for the owners of the business (stockholders). Their policies and strategies in running the business are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the business. The guy pushing a mop on the night shift is not expected to do anything more than push a mop. The training, skills, and quality of work required of each of them is more than sufficient to explain the disparity in income.

    Second, the issue of "fairness" has two parts. Is "equality of results" even possible, and can it be brought about by government action? In both cases the answer is no. Equality of results is not possible because this implies equality of skill, opportunity, motivation, dedication, quality, ambition, and of course price. You may be willing to work 50 hours a week to bring home the bacon, but I guarantee there's a guy willing to work 60. You may be able to do a wonderful job at whatever you do, but there will always be someone who is willing to do it faster, cheaper, better, or at a higher quality. The "fairness" doctrine is just another way of saying that nobody should be allowed to do a better job than anyone else.

    If Jimmy mows your lawn, but does a merely adequate job, it is now illegal for Timmy to come along and offer to do it better. So Timmy either remains unemployed, he lowers the standards of his own work to match Jimmy's, or some sort of "quota" system is implemented to make sure he can never have more customers than Jimmy. The ultimate result of such a policy, carried to its logical conclusion, is a catastrophic loss in the quality of life for all as all goods and services revert to the lowest common denominator.

    Third, there's this idea that wages should be expected to rise. There's no real indication of whether Mr. Webb means money wages or real wages, and his article uses them interchangeably, which in itself is an economic error that makes discussing his ideas very difficult. We must assume that he means wages paid for a particular type of labor, but then there is the fact that in some cases, experience necessarily commands a higher wage, while in others, experience does relatively little. It might be said that the experience/wage curve is unique for every given type of labor in every given market. After all, it doesn't take much experience to push a mop as well as the next guy.

    But let's assume for a moment that we can hold all that constant, and that the experience/wage curve is relatively flat. Economically speaking, the real price of all goods and services tends to fall, and that includes labor. Money prices may tend to rise, but generally only as a result of some form of government intervention, such as an artificial price limit or inflation of the money supply. I suspect that Mr. Webb really wants to focus on money wages, and really wants them to rise, which necessarily means that Mr. Webb is pro-inflation and thus against the normal tendency of real prices to fall, which is what improves the quality of life for all. This is reason for concern that Mr. Webb is joining the ranks of government, because it demonstrates that Mr. Webb is going to be aiming at something government cannot possibly hit.

    Finally I come to the argued ideal of job stasis -- that a particular job or type of job should exist in a locality in perpetuity at a given price. The problem with trying to force this result is once again that it lowers the quality of life for all who purchase the goods or services produced by such labor relative to what they'd have if capital goods were permitted to move freely. The added benefit of allowing such freedom is that it increases the quality of life for people in two places -- the place gaining the jobs, and the place whose labor is now freed up to do other things, not to mention the people of all places buying the products and services being sold.

    If Jimmy the rough carpenter makes a living framing houses, and then a pre-fab business begins shipping in pre-assembled frames, Jimmy might be out of a job as a rough carpenter. But now he's freed up to move into cabinetmaking, which is ultimately more lucrative for him, and because the people buying houses now pay less to have them built, they have more money to spend on custom cabinets. Thus Jimmy, his customers, and the employees of the pre-fab business have all had their quality of life increased. Jim Webb and those like him focus only on the fact that Jimmy is losing his rough carpentry work, to the exclusion of all else. He is eager to condemn all to a lower standard of living just to keep Jimmy from having to stretch himself and grow.

    In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration...


    America's elites need to understand this reality in terms of their own self-interest. A recent survey in the Economist warned that globalization was affecting the U.S. differently than other "First World" nations, and that white-collar jobs were in as much danger as the blue-collar positions which have thus far been ravaged by outsourcing and illegal immigration. That survey then warned that "unless a solution is found to sluggish real wages and rising inequality, there is a serious risk of a protectionist backlash" in America that would take us away from what they view to be the "biggest economic stimulus in world history."

    First he raises the rallying cry of protectionists everywhere, then he approvingly quotes an article that warns of "protectionist backlash". What exactly is our friend selling here? And while that same quote makes mention of real wages, I have a sneaking suspicion that Jim Webb has no idea what real wages are, what money wages are, or why the gross disparity is largely the fault of government intervention.

    The main reason that America has financial worries for the future is government intervention. We've got a government that promises the moon to everyone and his brother, especially if they're retiring. It over-regulates industries (banks, airlines), and when companies start to crumble under the weight of that regulation, it props them up with subsidies because they're "too important to fail". It inflates our currency, making each individual's cash worth less every year than it was the year before. It pumps up financial bubbles and plays cheerleader for the bulls, and pulls out all the stops to keep the bears from coming as they inevitably must, which in turn makes each crash worse than it would have been if the market had been left alone. It guarantees people the "right" to buy things that they cannot afford (houses), while limiting the ability of sellers to recoup losses. It restricts the supply of certain necessary goods and services (medicine), and when prices go up as they inevitably must, it tries brute force to push them back down. And the list just goes on.

    For business, what we need is not one of the major parties playing their traditional roles of regulation (Democrat) followed by subsidy (Republican). For individuals, what we need is not one of the major parties playing their traditional roles of regulation (Republican) followed by subsidy (Democrat). What we need all around is a fresh approach to government -- someone who is willing to say "this doesn't work, let's get rid of it" rather than "this doesn't work, but I have a band-aid that will". We need a party dedicated to dismantling government at every turn, rationally evaluating the effects of every policy, and undoing -- not patching -- every policy with negative repercussions.

    We need a party that understands economics.

    Posted by Tom, 11/15/2006 6:50:07 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    Quote of the day

    Wear a gun to someone's house, you're saying "I'll defend this home as if it were my own."

    When your guests see you carry a weapon, you're saying "I'll defend you as if you were my own family."

    Anyone who objects levels the deadliest insult possible: "I won't trust you until you render yourself harmless."

    -- L Neil Smith,
    The Probability Broach

    Why can't I live in that world?

    Posted by Tom, 11/14/2006 6:11:07 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Sweatshops and the poor

    Thomas DiLorenzo has a great piece about the incessant sweatshop hubbub:

    In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Labor Research Ben Powell and David Skarbek present the results of a survey of "sweatshops" in eleven Third World countries. In nine of the eleven countries, "sweatshop" wages in foreign factories located there were higher than the average. In Honduras, where almost half the working population lives on $2/day, "sweatshops" pay $13.10/day. "Sweatshop" wages are more than double the national average in Cambodia, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras. The implication of this for all those naďve college students (and faculty) who have been duped into becoming anti-sweatshop protesters is that they should support and encourage more direct foreign investment in the Third World if they are at all concerned about the economic wellbeing of the people there.

    Would I want to work in a so-called "sweatshop"? Of course not. But that's only because all of my alternatives are already better. The people in these countries work in sweatshops because their next best alternative is so much worse. It's simple: if you're making $2 a day in the coffee bean fields (or whatever), with no other, better alternatives, and a factory opens offering $13/day, you're going to jump at the opportunity. Compared to agricultural work, it's probably an easier job to boot.

    But if your "next best" alternative is to make $50k a year in an air-conditioned office, it's easy to claim that such factory work is "cruel" or "unfair". You wouldn't choose it for yourself, and understanding why others would choose it for themselves requires the ability to shift your perspective. I've worked in a field, and I've worked in a factory, and neither appealed to me. However, if the air-conditioned office were not available (as it is not available to the vast majority of workers in the countries in question), I'd pick the job that paid 6.5 times the other one. Now is that so hard to understand?

    Posted by Tom, 11/13/2006 9:42:14 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    File under obvious

    Zune arrives. iPod has little to fear

    The amazing part is that it’s Microsoft’s second attempt to kill the iPod. The first was PlaysForSure -- a gigantic multiyear operation involving dozens of manufacturers and online music stores. Microsoft went with its trusted Windows strategy: If you code it, the hardware makers will come (and pay licensing fees).

    And sure enough, companies like Dell, Samsung and Creative made the players; companies like Yahoo, Rhapsody, Napster and MTV built the music stores.

    But PlaysForSure bombed. All of them put together stole only market-share crumbs from Apple. The interaction among player, software and store was balky and complex —something of a drawback when the system is called PlaysForSure.

    ...which is the reason iPod rules. It has an easy, nearly idiot-proof, elegant interface that even the most inept user can figure out. Microsoft just doesn't "get" that. They think as long as there's an options window and enough commands hanging off the menu bar, it'll be enough. It isn't.

    Then there's this little gem:

    What’s really nuts is that the [DRM] restrictions even stomp on your own musical creations. Microsoft’s literature suggests that if you have a struggling rock band, you could ‘put your demo recordings on your Zune’ and ‘when you’re out in public, you can send the songs to your friends.’ What it doesn’t say: “And then three days later, just when buzz about your band is beginning to build, your songs disappear from everyone’s Zunes, making you look like an idiot.”


    How did this get past the first person in the product testing department?

    Posted by Tom, 11/12/2006 8:42:03 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, November 9, 2006

    The election and gun rights

    And now we turn to the subject of whether the Democrat takeover is an inherent threat to our right to protect ourselves. On the side of "nah, not really":

    Gun Owners of America: Election 2006

    If anything, gun control was notable as a non-issue in this election. In compiling the GOA rating, researchers could hardly find a congressional candidate with any stated position on gun control on campaign websites.

    That's not to say many of the newly elected will not support the anti-gun agenda; just that they recognize open support for gun control will cost them at the polls.

    Dave Kopel:

    The Second Amendment has emerged from the biggest Democratic victory since 1974 with relatively little damage. One reason is that in races all over the country, Democrats returned to their Jefferson-Jackson roots by running candidates who trust the people to bear arms.

    American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene:

    Democratic candidates didn't articulate much in the way of a concrete agenda, but they did make promises to those whose votes they sought. Many of them promised they won't raise our taxes, demanded fiscal responsibility and attacked their GOP opponents for their participation in the spending binge that has characterized Washington in recent years. Many also disclaimed any intention of abridging traditional second amendment rights and declared themselves pro-life.

    George Will:

    But although Republicans had more money, its effectiveness was blunted because Democrats at last practiced what they incessantly preach to others -- diversity. Diversity of thought, no less: Some of their winners even respect the Second Amendment.

    And on the side of "the 2nd Amendment is going DOWN!"...

    Paul Helmke:

    In races where the Brady Campaign endorsed candidates went head-to-head with competing candidates endorsed by the NRA, Brady won 5 of 5 Governorships (Patrick in MA, O'Malley in MD, Rendell in PA, Doyle in WI, and Blagojevich in IL) and 4 of 4 U.S. Senate seats (Cardin in MD, Cantwell in WA, Stabenow in MI, and Nelson in FL). Candidates endorsed by the Brady Campaign won over 95% of their races. It appears that candidates endorsed as "A" rated by the NRA lost in 109 U.S. House races and 18 U.S. Senate Races.

    This is an interesting bit of misdirection. Note the qualifier: "In races where the Brady Campaign endorsed candidates went head-to-head with competing candidates endorsed by the NRA". It turns out that most races could not be described as such. In many of the areas where the big takeover happened, it was a case of an NRA-endorsed incumbent with an A+ rating going up against a challenger with an A rating. (Does Helmke count it as an NRA loss when this happens? I think he does.) This was the case in Pennsylvania, Montana, and Virginia. In Rhode Island, it was an F-rated incumbent against someone who apparently didn't fill out their questionnaire. In Ohio, Mike DeWine (F-rated) was thrown out in favor of Sherrod Brown, who is a marginally better D+.

    In fact, out of 6 turnovers in the Senate, only Missouri could possibly be said to fit the description Helmke uses (A vs. F, F won), but Helmke doesn't mention it. This means essentially that the Brady Campaign managed to hold ground in the Senate, and not much more. I don't have time to go through all 435 House races, but I'm willing to bet the story is same over there. So in other words, Helmke makes his organization look much more successful by carefully limiting the sample of races he's willing to talk about. I'm willing to bet that Jon Tester isn't going to be dancing to the Brady tune. Just go to his website and look at the guy, for God's sake. He's practically got "gun-toter" tattooed on his forehead.

    The problem that the Brady Campaign (and others in the issue, including the NRA) seems to have is that they believe the world revolves around their issue. I'm sorry to break it to them, but from the viewpoint of "just another voter", guns never even came up. The election was focused on scandal, corruption, and the war. I've read half a dozen interviews with Nancy Pelosi, the new top dawg on the Democrat side and a rabid anti-gunner, and she says absolutely nothing about guns in any of them. She's focused on ethics, the war, and idiotic crap like the minimum wage. I'm willing to bet that she's gotten the message about conservative, rural values. Democrats didn't gain power by sucking up to urbanites. They appealed to rural people, and they got some rural seats. Those seats are gone if they start rocking the boat.

    Finally, look at the states. State after state after state has been liberalizing its concealed weapons laws, and the Brady's seem powerless to do anything about it. Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico, and so forth have done so in the last 5 or 6 years. The decade began with 7 states outright banning concealed weapons, and now we're down to 4. Wisconsin is only lagging due to procedural blocks and maneuvering. They'll probably be next. Nebraska and Kansas are gaining momentum. Illinois will likely be a holdout for some time, but I think they'll eventually turn around as well. Concealed carry is a success, and anyone who pays attention knows it.

    So I think gun control is off the table for at least another... I'll call it 6 years. This is not to say that gun rights will make any progress at the national level with leadership like Pelosi, as in a national reciprocity bill or rollback of NFA, but I don't think we'll suffer any real damage like the Assault Weapons Sham either. I might be wrong, but that's the way I see it.

    Posted by Tom, 11/9/2006 7:14:26 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, November 8, 2006

    Big Day for Libertarians

    Missouri's Senate race was thrown to the Democrats with at least some help from the libertarian candidate. The margin for the Democrat was about 42,000 votes, with the libertarian pulling in 46,000. I don't think it's reasonable to assume that the libertarian can take all the credit, but he/she certainly had an effect.

    But the big story is in Montana, where the libertarian candidate almost certainly controlled the gap. With margin of about 1750 (update: it now looks to be about 3,000) votes between the major party candidates, the libertarian pulled in 10,000 votes, 3% of the overall total. It's almost impossible to believe that he isn't holding all the cards the Republican dropped on the floor.

    Wonder if the Republicans wish they'd lived up to their small government rhetoric now...

    Thanks to Mike for the heads-up.

    In other libertarian election news:

    The city of Seattle firmly rejected plans to drive all the strip clubs out of business.

    In Oklahoma, it will now be legal to buy booze on election day, and two of three counties voting on "liquor by the drink" passed it (background: Oklahoma has a lot of strange liquor laws, one permutation being that if you go to a bar in certain areas, you have to buy an entire bottle from the bar, rather than just a drink mixed from that bottle). Unfortunately, this is a mixed bag, with property tax exemptions being limited and the rainy day fund getting raided. But at least we're not paying convicted legislators while they're in prison.

    Steubenville, Ohio voters smacked down speed-trap cameras and are making the city give the money collected from tickets back to the speeders.

    In Missouri, there's a mixed bag. Freedom gets preserved as voters fail to pass a tobacco tax, and also stops paying imprisoned legislators, but the voters also appear hell-bent on socialism and Luddite-ism (is that a word?) with their increases of the local minimum wage and regulation of stem-cell research. *sigh*

    Michigan did much better, failing on one issue (dove hunting) but doing the libertarians right on all the others:

    Race and gender can no longer be considered in college admissions, public hiring and contracting, under a hotly contested constitutional amendment that voters approved by a wide margin.


    On other ballot issues, voters said no to dove hunting and to giving public schools and colleges annual funding increases. They said yes to limiting government's use of eminent domain and to restricting how conservation funds can be used.

    Sounds like the "Mitten State" is improving, even though they retained Granholm as governor... to be fair, it was a case of Tweedle-Dee vs Tweedle-Dum in that race.

    Know of other libertarian election day goodness? Let me know in the comments.

    Posted by Tom, 11/8/2006 7:24:23 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, November 7, 2006

    Election Day Adventures

    So last night, I get a call from President Bush. Yeah, no kidding. I thought my number was unlisted. He tells me to vote, support the Republicans, etc., then hangs up before I can get a word in edgewise. I don't know about you, Mr. President, but where I come from that's bad manners. Bad President! No cookie! And no vote, either.

    I went to the polls. Good ballot design this year: "Throw out the judges" section (my favorite!) and ballot question section on one side, "Buttmonkey 1 (D) vs. Buttmonkey 2 (R)" on the other. Made it much easier than usual to ignore the latter section.

    Zip zap zoop, I'm done. Turn in the ballot, get halfway out the door, and the nice poll lady stops me.

    "Did you get your 'I voted' sticker?"

    I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying "do you have one that says 'I participated in a process that legitimizes oppression and war and keeps Congressmen from contributing something to society by getting real jobs'? Because that's the one I want." But it wouldn't be fair to take out my personal angst on the nice lady who's just trying to do her job. Instead, I just smiled and said "no thanks, don't need one." She asked if I was sure, and I said "yep", and was on my way.

    Think about getting a six-pack of Killian's on the way home, then remember that stupid ballot question hasn't been resolved yet just because I've voted on it. Guess I'll have to make do with the current stash.

    Posted by Tom, 11/7/2006 7:19:15 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 6, 2006

    Conscientious Objector

    When people ask me how I vote, I tend nowadays to tell them I'm a conscientious objector to the democratic process. The main exception is when I have an opportunity to vote to expand or preserve individual liberty, which does not include putting my mark next to a Democrat or Republican.

    In Oklahoma, such opportunities are rare. Our ballot access laws are heavily stacked in favor of the entrenched major parties, and libertarians are generally shut out. We do get a vote every election season to retain judges, and I have a blast voting to throw every one of them out. Let 'em earn their keep for a change. ("Hi, welcome to Bennigan's. I'm Judge Smith, and I'll be taking care of you today. Can I take your drink order? Would you like to start off with some fried cheese sticks or buffalo wings?")

    The only other pro-freedom opportunities that usually come my way are in the form of state ballot initiatives. With that in mind, I turn to this year's crop (PDF):

    This measure amends Article V, Section 21 of the State Constitution. That Section deals with State pay to legislators. The amendment restricts State pay to some legislators. The pay restriction would apply to some legislators while in jail or prison. The pay restriction would apply to legislators found guilty of a crime. It would also apply to legislators who plead either guilty or no contest. Affected legislators must return any State pay received for time while in jail or prison.

    Since I'm generally opposed to paying legislators in the first place, I see this as a good first step. YES. (Wait, we've been paying legislators while they were in prison?)

    This measure amends the State Constitution. It amends Section 23 of Article 10. The measure deals with the Constitutional Reserve Fund also known as the Rainy Day Fund. The measure allows money to be spent from the Rainy Day Fund. The purpose of the authorized spending is to retain employment for state residents by helping at-risk manufacturers. Payments from the Fund would be used to encourage such manufacturers to make investments in Oklahoma. All such payments from the Fund must be unanimously approved by three State officers. Those officers are the Governor and the head of the Senate and House of Representatives. Those officers could only approve payments recommended by an independent committee. Such spending is allowed in years when there is Eighty Million Dollars or more in the Fund and other conditions are met. Such spending is limited to Ten Million Dollars a year. The help given to a manufacturer is limited to ten percent of its in-State capital investments. The Legislature could make laws to carry out the amendment.

    Make it easier to give handouts to favored businesses? NO. Not just no, but hell no. If some legislator wants to grow Oklahoma's economy by way of his favorite strip club, let him fork over his own money.

    This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It amends Article 28. This Article deals with sales of alcoholic beverages. Section 6 of Article 28 bans the sale of alcoholic beverages by package stores on certain days. Package store sales of these beverages are prohibited on election days while the polls are open. This measure would remove the ban on sales on election days. If this measure passes, package stores could sell alcoholic beverages on election days.

    If ever there were a day when a man needs a good stiff drink to wash a foul taste out of his mouth, it's election day. HELL YES. Where's the proposal to make bootin' black tar heroin legal on election day too? Cuz I wanna vote for that as well. Anything to help me forget would be good.

    This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It amends Section 6A of Article 10. This section provides an exemption from property tax. The exemption applies to goods that are shipped into the state, but which do not remain in the state for more than ninety days. This is sometimes known as the freeport exemption. This measure would allow laws to be enacted. The laws could provide for an application process to claim this exemption. The laws could require the application to be filed by a certain date. The laws could require certain information to be included with the application. The application would be filed with the county assessor.

    Sounds like an invasion of privacy and a way to keep people from claiming constitutionally justified exemptions. "Applications" = loss of freedom. I want to pay as little tax as possible, and I want my fellow taxpayers to do the same. HELL NO.

    I guess I'll need to swing by the polls on the way to work in the morning, and take care of this crap.

    Posted by Tom, 11/6/2006 7:11:03 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Geekily goodness

    The multi-core era has arrived. Valve Software, known for their incredible Half-Life games, is turning their attention to multi-threading in preparation for the next generation of CPU's, which have multiple processor cores on the same die. What's this mean to gamers?

    In addition, extra cores could be used for dramatically better AI, or to apply artificial intelligence techniques (like pathfinding) to huge numbers of enemies. Imagine, for example, a Lord of the Rings-type battle, with all the enemies acting independently and intelligently. With enough cores, this sort of thing could be put into a game and take place in real-time.

    These features haven't been implemented in Valve's games yet, but they did demonstrate some sample applications that showed off the system's true power. In one demo, over 500 tiny critters maneuvered around fire and complex obstacles, even tipping over a crate with their combined weight (physics calculations can also be multithreaded). The demo was run on a 2.6GHz Kentsfield CPU with four cores and 2GB of RAM. On a single-core 3.2 GHz Pentium 4, fewer than 100 critters could run around at the same frame rate, which looked much less impressive.

    Given that Apple is already shipping multi-core systems, and that Apple's development tools are 1) free and 2) already set up to do things like multiple thread tracking and tight-to-the-code performance tuning, it's a pity that Valve makes no mention of turning their attention to cross-platform development as well. My own software is developed on a Mac, and it's better software because of it.

    Posted by Tom, 11/6/2006 6:17:11 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Mellow Music

    November and December are always depressing months for me. Unlike a lot of people apparently, I like my music to match my mood rather than change it. So here's my mellow music playlist:

    Something to Believe In, Poison
    Blowin' In the Wind, Crazy Horse
    If You Want Me To, Ginny Owens
    Everybody Knows, Leonard Cohen
    A Long December, Counting Crows
    Held, Natalie Grant
    Wake Me Up When September Ends, Green Day
    Turn the Page, Metallica
    My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen
    Silent Lucidity, Queensryche
    Disarm, Smashing Pumpkins
    Kiss from a Rose, Seal
    Save Me, Remy Zero
    Pepper, Butthole Surfers
    Mothers of the Disappeared, U2
    Runaway Train, Soul Asylum
    Iris, Goo Goo Dolls
    Lullaby, Shawn Mullins
    Save Tonight, Eagle-Eye Cherry
    November Rain, Guns N' Roses

    Posted by Tom, 11/6/2006 6:13:27 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    That goes double for me

    This guy says what's on my mind.

    I'm allergic to almost everything. Cats, grass, pollen, cedar, you name it. In order to not be miserable and not spread that misery to everyone with whom I come into contact, I have to take allergy medication every day, particularly in the spring and fall. Claritin-D is about the only over-the-counter med I've found that actually works for any period of time; I particularly like it because the "D" is for "decongestant," and I like to be able to breathe as well as not sneeze and rub my eyes crimson and generally resemble a slobbery dog with a cold who's just peeled an onion.

    Now I have to go to a Wal-Mart or CVS or whatever every 10 days, as opposed to buying a bottle of 50 or 100 tablets at one time and at a reduced price. I have to wait in line to explain to a pharmacy worker or checkout clerk that I'd like their generic version of Claritin-D; the checkout clerks generally have to bring four or five different boxes over, one at a time, before they hit upon what I'm talking about. Then, I have to take my drivers license out of my wallet, hand it over and watch them take down all my information in the logbook -- the logbook I must sign and that undoubtedly goes to some FDA or DEA office where all the names, including mine, are entered into some Anti-Methamphetamine Crackdown Watch List.

    So am I saying that I hate crystal meth, a drug that's caused and is still causing untold damage to American families, courts, properties and individuals, because every 10 days I am inconvenienced to the tune of about 10 minutes?

    Yes, I am.

    I choose not to do meth, much less make it. I'm not a f*cking criminal. I'm a guy with allergies, and I'd rather not have to write my name down on a piece of paper whose only purpose for existence is to attempt to catch people who will never, ever write their names down on it.

    If your kids are using meth, it's your fault. Stop making my life hell and try some parenting for a change.

    Posted by Tom, 11/6/2006 6:06:06 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, November 3, 2006

    Blood in the water

    The Democrats are already counting their winnings. They may be correct in their assessment, but I recall 4 years ago they confidently predicted the same thing, and not only didn't gain seats, but lost bunches of them, giving control of 2 branches of government to the Republicans. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, which of course didn't endear them to me any more.

    I'd like to think that the country has woken up to see that the Republicans are all talk and no action (hello? what happened to eliminating federal agencies wholesale, and all that "Contract with America" business?). I just wish the country would also wake up and realize the the Democrats are not the only other choice.

    Maybe the Democrats will win out. Meh. But there's a part of me that wants to see their confident predictions blown to hell just like 4 years ago. I just really, really, really don't like people who believe that they're entitled to office, no matter which of the two major parties they represent.

    Posted by Tom, 11/3/2006 9:41:44 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Enemy mine

    It rears its ugly head again... the legislative abomination that started me firmly on the road to full-fledged libertarianism: the Child Online Protection Act. Ostensibly an anti-porn measure, it exemplifies all that is wrong with the spectacle of legislators attempting to regulate what they truly don't understand. As Kerry Howley explains:

    COPA is a less than impressive piece of legislation, but as pure symbolism, it is masterful, a perfect summation of the vast wasteland that is the intellect of the typical U.S. congressman. Part sex-panic, part tech illiteracy, it's as if former Rep. Mark Foley and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) came together to create a kid-safe series of tubes. The law assumes that internet-savvy minors will be baffled by credit cards, that kids determined to see smut will be routed by a registration page, and that the internet is a centralized network waiting for marching orders from the Department of Justice. But COPA's most crucial flawed assumption is that the United States is the only country on earth.

    In the 8 years since its passage, the COPA has not prevented a single kid from accessing porn who really wanted to. And it is utterly ridiculous to think that legislation, which is made at a snail's pace, can keep up with technology, which adapts at blinding speeds. And while filtering programs are necessarily reactive, constantly playing catch-up with the various ways that adult materials are peddled on the internet, filtering programs are the only thing that is preventing any children from accessing what they shouldn't. And where do such programs come from? Say it with me, folks: the Market.

    Mises said: "The issue is always the same: the government or the market. There is no third solution."

    It should be clear to anyone who's paying attention, which works and which doesn't.

    Posted by Tom, 11/3/2006 9:12:50 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Election season points to ponder

    From the Mises Institute:

    Hardly a day goes by when I don't receive emails from advocates of war explaining why the wars of the Bush administration are actually wonderful and just and great for us. They all have a different tenor. Some are about security. Some emphasize the need to overthrow foreign dictators. Some are religious in nature and express great fear about the old religion of Islam, with which the West has had peaceful and productive relations provided we have not been working to overthrow their governments and invade their lands.

    But a theme that emerges from all these emails is the one that we need to be most on guard against: raw enthusiasm for the state as the appointed representative of American interests. In fact, I would say that this attitude is un-American in the most profound sense.

    What must a person forget in order to believe in the unity of interest between US foreign policy and the American people? They must forget that the United States was born in revolt against not only the British Empire but also the very idea of empire itself. They must forget that the only way the US Constitution was adopted was the promise that it would not act imperialistically at home or abroad. They must forget the warnings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many other leaders of the 18th and 19th centuries. They must forget about the history of failure of our own imperial wars in the 20th century, in which guerilla armies have consistently beat back our regular troops.

    Every American is right to be mighty angry at the Bush administration. Bush originally campaigned against the big government of Clinton and called for humility in foreign policy. And what did the Republicans do with their political capital? They squandered every last bit of it on an imperial adventure. In so doing, they further discredited other causes with which the Republicans are linked in the public mind, including the cause of free markets. War is all they have to show for themselves, and it's a disgrace.

    -- Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

    What he said.

    And for those who haven't been paying attention, no, this doesn't mean you should vote Democrat.

    Posted by Tom, 11/3/2006 9:01:25 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    New eyes

    I love it when I see something old from a new perspective. This morning on the way to work, the station I listen to, Jack FM, played "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows. So with that firmly stuck in my head, I had to look up the lyrics and read through them. And it struck me... "Mr. Jones" is a drunken ramble.

    Ever had a friend who, when they get a little too much to drink, just starts rambling? Talking on and on about nothing particularly important? That's "Mr. Jones". He starts off in party mode, checking out the chicks with his friend, then the poetic urge comes upon him, and he waxes philosophic about the color gray, then it's back to the chicks, then he feels lonely and gets all melancholy for a bit, then it's back to the chicks again, then he starts talking about his hopes and dreams, and then he passes out. There's the repetition of things he likes the sound of ("Mr. Jones and me..."), followed by random bits as his attention wanders. The singer's voice is even slurred throughout the entire song.

    All in all, it's a hilariously accurate representation of hanging out with a rambling, talkative drunk. Makes me love the song even more than I already did. Of course, there are some for whom this is old news. Shut up and let me have my moment.

    Posted by Tom, 11/3/2006 6:28:49 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, November 2, 2006

    RSS fixed!

    I finally decided to figure out what's wrong with my RSS script (which I wrote), and after much screwing around, discovered Feed Validator . Org. These folks are a godsend. I just tossed my feed URL into their bucket, clicked the button, and boom -- got a full report on why Apple's Safari browser was choking on it. So if anyone out there is into the RSS feeds, now you can get mine. It's primitive, but it works, and I'm no longer calling it "experimental".

    Posted by Tom, 11/2/2006 7:15:52 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...