Something for Everyone

Here’s a big batch of Amy stuff, starting with some pictures.

Amy's first snow Face time with daddy
Amy with Uncle Jeff Amy opening a present
Merry Christmas!

For those with the interest, software and bandwidth, here are some videos.

Property, Federalism, Fiscal Restraint

The issue of property rights – where they come from, how far they extend, etc. – often seems to appear as an underlying but under-addressed theme in many of my political/ideological conversations nowadays. One of these days I’ll have to compose my own thoughts on the subject; the results, if not the intermediate steps, will undoubtedly appear here. For now, though, I’ll just point people to a discussion of the same issue at Left2Right. Yes, the title says “Equality of Opportunity” but property rights pretty much turn out to be the crux of the issue. As usual there are many good comments, but one in particular by “Bret” stood out for me (even though it had little to do with either equal opportunity or property rights).

When the Republicans were the minority party, they sure seemed to like the idea of federalism a lot. Now that they’re the majority party, they seem to have cooled off on the concept. Democrats didn’t seem all that hot on federalism when they were the majority party. Now that they’re not, I suspect they’ll embrace it.

I’ve always had a soft spot for federalism for many of the reasons Herzog mentions, such as keeping the sources and exercise of money/power closer and allowing for experimentation. For the record, that attitude has not changed because of any election, but it does seem like many other people could not say the same.

Fiscal responsibility is similar. The minority party is usually all for fiscal restraint. After all, the money won’t be spent on their favorite projects. The majority party usually likes big government. We’ve seen this switch from the Republicans being the party of fiscal restraint to the Democrats being the party of fiscal restraint as the Republicans gained control of the federal government.

I’m not sure how this fits in with anything either, but I suspect that somewhere within that observation there’s a way to understand Republican actions that might otherwise seem hypocritical. Misrepresented motives (especially venal self-interest) aren’t pretty either, but they’re not the same as hypocrisy.

BitTorrent

The geek sites have been full recently of news about various BitTorrent sites being shut down by the MPAA, so I figure I’ll just add my two bits. I think the MPAA and similar organizations like the RIAA are just shooting themselves in the foot with such actions. Abstract concepts of property and ethics aside, it’s just bad business to alienate your customer base like this. It’s only a matter of time before “not a member of the the MPAA” becomes a marketing bonus for some independent movie house…then two, then ten, then sooner or later the MPAA becomes utterly irrelevant. Reality says that people want movie studios to concentrate on producing more and better fresh content, not on trying to wring every last penny of profit out of the content that’s already out there. If the movie industry doesn’t pay attention to reality, it’s to their own detriment. Markets abhor a vacuum. If a combination of ridiculous prices and legal threats makes obtaining content from MPAA members too unappealing, consumers will get their content somewhere else.

Icky Food

Via Boing Boing, I found a hilarious series of articles called Steve, Don’t Eat It!. I should warn people that it contains some foul language, but the subject matter is even fouler. The second piece (pickled pork rinds) should have gone first, because it’s by far the funniest. Don’t forget to check out chocolate breast milk, either.

Actually this site is my best find of the month. Check out the best of page. I’ve written about fungus on trees myself, but Steve’s version is much funnier, and breast milk makes a second appearance in Brother’s Milk.

TryToFake

At TryToBreak there’s a little five-stage cryptogram-style puzzle that you can supposedly play to win cash. Since the page neither mentions nor attempts to enforce any restrictions on how you figure out the answer, I immediately wrote a little script that matched the lexical pattern in a word list and presented me with a list of five options. The first one I tried led me to a page that said to send email to a particular email address etc. so I could get the link for step two. After a long delay, I got a message back saying “solution is based on particular encryption method not on/or brute force” – no link. Why, I thought to myself, would the site’s author(s) decline to hold up their side of a bargain when given a correct answer, regardless of how it’s derived but especially when its derivation is in no way precluded by any prior instruction? Don’t they want people to play? Well, actually, no they don’t, and the reason is at the bottom of the page:

Can’t break the code on this page? Buy the solution to Step 1 for US$5

That’s right: they’re selling solutions to an obviously trivial puzzle. Given that it is obviously trivial, it’s not in their interest to have anyone apply efficient means to finding a solution, and the easiest way to accomplish that is to prevent any such people from even seeing the later stages. I’ll bet nobody, anywhere, got a link to the second stage no matter what method they used to find the first solution other than by paying for it. Accordingly, here’s my reply email:

It could be a hundred different methods, which cannot be distinguished with a
single nine-character sample. Take your scam elsewhere.

It’s amazing the ways people will try to make money on the internet nowadays.

Brief Thought

Pursuant to a “discussion” with Steve Burton at Left2Right: anyone who gets more upset about an accusation of racism than they seem capable of getting about racism itself needs to have their ethics adjusted.

Coercion

There’s an interesting post at Left2Right about market fundamentalism, containing many interesting points. One that it makes incidentally seemed most interesting.

Notice the right-wing complaint that crazed political correctness is silencing people on campuses and elsewhere, even costing them their jobs. True or false, it sure does depend on the view that you can find coercion outside the state. Your action isn’t voluntary if you had no reasonable alternatives, and it doesn’t take a law to deprive you of such alternatives.

Hmmm, yeah. Universities can act coercively, but no other kind of business can? Get real. Those who think “free” markets (“free” as in constructed and maintained by the government in a way that maximizes their freedom even if it’s at the expense of others) are perfect ways to distribute all kinds of goods, then turn around to criticize universities as bastions of bias and coercion, have a bit of explaining to do.

Another First

Amy has been a little fussy lately, and we just figured out why. It looks like she’s getting her first tooth – the lower left incisor, to be precise.

Asset Allocation

Just a random thought. In retirement planning, asset allocation is an issue because investments that perform well will, over time, come to represent a greater percentage of their assets than investments that perform poorly. This can throw their portfolio out of whack, so periodic rebalancing becomes necessary. It’s pretty obvious stuff when you think about it, but it’s amazing how many people don’t think about it and end up with a retirement fund full of high-risk growth funds.

The thought that just occurred to me (not that I’m the first to think of it) is that the same principle must apply to the balance between the public and private sectors. Imagine for a moment that there is some ideal balance between the two, and that at some point in time we’re at that point of balance. As I describe in Baumol’s Cost Disease, the private sector is certain to grow faster than the public. Therefore, there will be a natural tendency to drift away from that ideal balance. Therefore again, it is also necessary – just as it is in one’s retirement account – to rebalance periodically, not just doing “more of the same” but proactively shifting resources from the faster-growing private sector to the slower-growing but just as essential public sector.

That’s it. I’m not going any further with that though for now, but it seemed worth sharing.

Running the Same Race

This time the thread is from Whistle Stopper, where the turn the conversation took afforded me an opportunity to combine many previously-disparate thoughts about what I think when I mean when I talk about people running the same race in a capitalist system (or a “competitionist” one, to use my own previously-coined term). Here’s what I was responding to:

Sounds good, but how do you make sure individuals are equal at the start of the race? Is it as simple as the education system? The massive number of potentially productive people that do not get to participate in the “race” for whatever reason is very sad.

I think access to education is a large part of it, but not all of it. Access to financing and markets are also part of it, and worth discussing for a while.