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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    Wednesday, May 31, 2006


    A Convenient Lie

    The word is out... Al Gore says it's OK if he "over-represents" the facts (ie, lies about them) in his movie An Inconvenient Truth, because his heart's in the right place:

    I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.

    From the "alpha male" himself: lying's OK, folks. Especially when countless footsoldiers in the eco-nazi camp are breathlessly waiting to listen to your lies and presumably repeat them ad nauseam. Hey, the end justifies the means, right?

    (from Fark, who got it from here, who got it from here, original interview transcript here)

    Posted by Tom, 5/31/2006 6:51:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Today's "Holy Crap!" brought to you by Atlanta, Georgia

    Apparently a Marine was jumped by 5 teenagers with a shotgun and a .380. He had a knife. Marine kills one, seriously injures another, gets away with a cut on his hand.

    Yes, you read that right.

    Even more amazing is the fact that the dead perp's family isn't blaming the victim for a change.

    After reading the article and getting over the initial "holy crap" factor, the thing that touches me the most is the Marine's humility in all of this:

    Autry said he hopes the culprits can be rehabilitated and not just locked up.

    He was clearly troubled by the attack. Concerned about his safety and that of his girlfriend, Autry had his door locks changed Tuesday and he asked to not be photographed.

    Autry was honorably discharged in 1992 after serving in Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia. When told that many people consider him a hero for his actions, Autry disagreed.

    "The heroes are those guys out there fighting for us every day and not getting respect," he said, referring to military personnel fighting in Iraq and elsewhere. "That [killing the attacker] wasn't admirable, it was fight or flight — and I tried the flight."


    The pro-gun, pro-self-defense community could learn a thing or two from him. Too often, I see and hear comments that can only be described as "bloodthirsty". It may be appropriate to celebrate the fact that one has survived an attack, but I question the validity of celebrating the death of an attacker. Without question, it was what had to be done, but it is the end of a wasted life, and that is a sad thing. It seems to me that killing an attacker should probably feel more like shooting a rabid dog -- grim, but necessary -- than like some sort of heroic conquest. In other words, in sorrow, not in anger.

    (original heads-up: Grouchy Old Cripple)

    Posted by Tom, 5/31/2006 6:37:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 30, 2006


    In Sorrow, Not In Anger

    I spoke with a man this past weekend who talked of his troubles reconciling with those whose positions are radically opposed to his own. Like most of us, he has a sort of instinctive need to resolve the differences into mutual agreement, and this causes all sorts of internal strife. He told of one man in his church who wanted him to publicly condemn and cast out of fellowship a couple of homosexuals who had begun attending. But he believes that God loves everyone, no matter their sin, and could not bring himself to do such a thing. At the same time, he recognized that the other person wasn't likely to change his position either.

    My friend then spoke of his own internal struggle to resist the temptation to browbeat, scold, or antagonize this man for desiring such a hateful thing. And he spoke a phrase in reference to these moments of irreconcilable difference... he said that he struggled to approach the situation and his adversary "in sorrow, not in anger", and that has been ringing in my brain ever since. What if we approached all such disagreements that way? What if we were to humbly approach the other person and simply say, "I'm sorry, but I cannot do what you ask", or "I'm sorry, but I cannot accept what you propose". Then we have stated what is on our heart, avoided pouring gasoline on the fire, and remained clear in our conscience. And if we were to maintain that level of humility no matter the fiery barbs hurled at us by the other, would we not be "turning the other cheek" as we've been instructed?

    I have long had a problem with my short temper, and a seething cauldron of rage that lurks beneath my surface. In the past few years, it has been subsiding, and I've begun to experience this other idea in small doses. I know that anger for the most part poisons my soul, even though I indulge in it somewhat regularly here. But I have seen the other side of this equation. I've felt and expressed sorrow that there could be no reconciliation between myself and another, and at the times I've managed to do so, I have felt so much better about letting the matter drop than I ever have in the heat of battle, even when winning the argument. Anger says "I am right, and all must agree with me that I am!" Sorrow says "the dictates of my conscience do not allow me to capitulate, but I will allow others to follow the dictates of their own consciences." More to the point, sorrow doesn't seem to leave the poisonous lump in the pit of my stomach that anger does. Perhaps this alone is reason enough to pursue that approach.

    Posted by Tom, 5/30/2006 8:16:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Finally!

    Somebody's actually paying attention. Florida is laying the smackdown on eminent domain:

    Florida Governor Jeb Bush yesterday signed into law House Bill 1567, which provides home and business owners across the state with meaningful protection against eminent domain abuse. The bill, which passed the legislature with overwhelming support, prohibits localities from transferring land from one owner to another through the use of eminent domain for 10 years—effectively eliminating condemnations for private commercial development. HB 1567 also forbids the use of eminent domain to eliminate so-called “blight,” instead requiring municipalities to use their police powers to address properties that actually pose a danger to public health or safety.

    It's difficult to say what new abuses will spring up in their wake, but at least the eminent domain thing is going down.

    Posted by Tom, 5/30/2006 7:21:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    From the Big Boss

    Our "big boss" is headed off on vacation. Here's her email announcing it, with names changed for confidentiality purposes:

    I will be gone from June 1 to 13th. During my absence, Matt will be in charge. Matt is gone June 1 and 2, so while he's gone Ted is in charge. Ted's gone those days too, so while he's gone, Chuck is in charge. But Chuck is with Matt, so while he's gone, Linda's in charge. Be very afraid.

    ...

    I'll think of you while sipping some foofy drink with an umbrella on a secluded beach in Hawaii. Or perhaps not.


    This is such a great place to work.

    Posted by Tom, 5/30/2006 6:18:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Honor Harrington, Book 10

    War of Honor is not so much the story of any battles as it is the story of how the war between Manticore and Haven, in a cease-fire at the end of the last book, overcomes various obstacles and gets people shooting at each other once again. It's become clear that Weber has no respect for socialists (which of course raises my respect for him), though he does fall a bit more into the conservative camp than I'd like. The High Ridge government in Manticore behaves with terminal stupidity in their negotiations with Haven, and the situation is exacerbated by the Machiavellian machinations of Haven's Secretary of State. As with all of Weber's books, you feel the sense of creeping doom very near the beginning, and can only watch in horrified fascination as everything goes to crap. Weber manages to reintroduce tension and suspense in a rather dramatic way, and you're left biting your fingernails off in anticipation of the next book.

    Speaking of the next book, At All Costs is not yet out in paperback, but the hardback version is the single best deal I have ever gotten from a publisher. It includes a CD with -- get this -- all 10 of the previous novels in digital format, plus the short story anthologies to date. Holy freakin' crap! Sure, it costs $26, but the research value alone is worth it. Can't remember who so-and-so was? Do a text search. I'm completely stoked that I've got this on my computer now.

    Posted by Tom, 5/30/2006 6:42:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Three Quick Ones

    John Silveira has a great response to the question persistently asked of us vocal libertarians, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you move to another country?

    And the Mises Institute has 2 good articles about the eco-nazi movement and their parting of ways with things like reason and economic reality.

    The Rhetoric of the Environmental Movement
    "Sustainable Development" Privileges the Few

    Posted by Tom, 5/30/2006 6:36:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, May 29, 2006


    Why I'm a Blizzard Fan

    Atari halts NWN1 support, [once again] in financial ruin

    This doesn't sound good for the publisher formerly known as Infogrames, and while they may deserve credit for supporting NWN for nearly four years, that's not nearly as long as the decade of support Blizzard has given Diablo.

    Atari's day is done. It was done a while ago, before the company made a comeback, but now we see that the comeback was all smoke & mirrors, based on a business model of borrowing money instead of making (and supporting) great games. NeverWinter Nights was cool, I'll grant, but it wasn't finished. The DM client sucked, the network code was buggy at best, and the scripting language was obtuse and poorly documented.

    By contrast, I started playing Blizzard games at WarCraft: Orcs & Humans (aka WarCraft I). It was a solid game, with solid code, fun to play, and well supported. I bought WarCraft II on a whim. Awesome game, made even better by the addition of the third-party creation of Kali, a network traffic translator that allowed it to be played via TCP/IP. Then came Diablo, which single-handedly resurrected the RPG genre that all the magazines were saying was dead. It was right about that point that I decided, no matter what Blizzard makes, I'm going to buy it. And I have. And I've NEVER been disappointed. The only other company that even comes close is LucasArts, and they've been on a downhill slide lately.

    Now if Blizzard would just turn out a first-person shooter and an RTS kinda like Homeworld, I'd be in heaven.

    Posted by Tom, 5/29/2006 9:25:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, May 25, 2006


    Quite possibly the coolest game EVER

    I've been aware of Spore for a while, and apparently the development team made a good showing at E3 this year. Here's a link to a huge video of one of their presentations, with a surprise cameo by Robin Williams, who is a huge gamer-geek, at least according to Wikipedia.

    All I've got to say is, as a programmer, Spore makes my head spin. Procedural animation (watch the video and you might get it) is a huge undertaking, and my hat's off (and my jaw's on the floor) to the development team. As a gamer, Spore is right now the only game that has a really good chance of getting me off World of Warcraft any time soon. I can pretty much guarantee I'll be buying it.

    Posted by Tom, 5/25/2006 11:26:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A Conversation in Quotes

    It's almost inevitable. I get into a conversation with some supporter of the status quo, and eventually the question always comes up: "just what do you hope to accomplish, anyway? The world is never going to change to what you want."

    "...the case for principled intellectual activism does not depend on having realistic hopes for victory in our lifetimes."
    -- Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., Speaking of Liberty

    "I cannot believe that the purpose of life is (merely) to be "happy." I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter: to have it make some difference that you have lived at all."
    -- Leo Rosten

    "
    Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito. [Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it.]"
    -- Virgil


    My response, though usually not as eloquent as these, is pretty much the same message.

    Posted by Tom, 5/25/2006 6:37:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Holy crap Brits are stupid

    First gun control, now knife control.

    Morons.

    Posted by Tom, 5/25/2006 6:00:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006


    New York elected this wench?

    Hillary Clinton is now pushing for a return to the 55 mph speed limit. Yet another argument for secession. You folks on the east and west coasts have crap for brains.

    Posted by Tom, 5/24/2006 6:25:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006


    Cutting out both middlemen

    Ars Technica has an interesting article about a website named Prosper.com, which connects people who want to borrow money with those who want to lend it to them. Banks are not in the picture, and neither is there any obvious sign of government interference (ie, insurance, minimum interest rates, etc.).

    Borrowers give their story, telling why they want to borrow money and how much. Lenders decide which stories/persons they like, and what kind of interest rate they'd like to earn, and bid into the loan. And it's not even necessary to lend the full amount. If a person needs $1000, and you've got $100 to spare, your money goes into a pot that, when fully funded, gets turned over to the lender, using the website as a servicing department. You then get a portion of his monthly payment as he pays back the loan. The site also has some very interesting social aspects, in terms of the social pressure brought to bear to encourage borrowers to make their payments on time.

    I have mixed feelings about this site. On the good side, it is an extremely innovative way to end-run around the large, inertia-laden bureaucracies that infest banks and government. It allows the "little guy" lender to invest money and get a much better return than he would putting his money into a savings account, with perhaps less risk (or at least perceived risk) than the stock market. And it does eliminate, for the borrower, the sort of stomach-knotting interviews with loan officers that have become part and parcel of the process.

    The armchair economist in me notes with amusement that the site has a lower default rate than the banking industry, and idly wonders if the interest rates that will eventually be reached by this site will be necessarily more reflective of the "true rate of interest". That's the rate of interest that would ordinarily be offered by the market if government were not involved. Of course, it can never be fully accurate while the funds being lent are expressed in fiat dollars. Anyhoo...

    On the bad side, I have some concerns. First, the website's name, "Prosper.com", is a misnomer. People do not prosper with debt. I find it difficult to reconcile the idea that by lending to someone on that site, I would be helping them in any way. And as the old saying goes, "neither a borrower nor a lender be". A lot of the people asking for loans are wanting to use them to "pay off" other debt. Others are wanting to start small businesses, and wise men like Dave Ramsey continually harp about not starting a business with debt.

    At the same time, it must be recognized that the rate of interest one earns in savings is created through the debt of someone else. There are other means to grow one's fortune, like through the profit mechanism, but it would seem that the mechanism of interest is almost inevitable. It is certainly the case in America, where debt is unfortunately a way of life. If people are going to borrow anyway, is it better or worse that the interest payments they make go directly to the people whose savings fund their loan, as opposed to enriching some corporate entity like Chase or Capital One? Is it morally any different to lend directly as opposed to putting your money into a savings account, or even purchasing stocks?

    I've long believed in the idea that if you're going to lend someone money, just give it to them instead. If you don't expect repayment, there's no hard feelings if you don't get it. I wonder if it might be an interesting experiment to participate in this website's system on those terms, lending say, a hundred bucks at a time, and recycling any returns back into the system to the next person who needs it. Clearly I need to ponder this some more.

    Posted by Tom, 5/23/2006 8:01:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, May 22, 2006


    Veg*n

    Last year about this time, I decided to try a more-or-less vegan diet. I'm the last guy you'd find campaigning for animal rights, and I've spent considerable time arguing with those who do. My version of veganism was simple: no obvious meat, dairy, or egg products. I didn't care or stress out if something was made with chicken broth, or if somewhere in a recipe there was an egg or two. Mostly I avoided obvious, recognizable versions of these three categories, and I think my "casual vegan" approach helped me avoid the nutritional deficits that seem to give other, stricter vegans problems.

    I stuck with the diet for about 5 or 6 months. I lost 20 pounds or so. Then I had some things to do that would make keeping to the diet really difficult on those around me, so I stopped for a while and haven't yet gone back. Unfortunately, I've gained most of the weight back, though I suspect that's largely due to increased Dr. Pepper consumption as a result of stress. All that sugar has a way of sticking with you.

    So here I am, about a year later, and you know what I've found in the last 6 months? I really don't like meat anymore. I can't explain it. It's not that I'm doing any of the stupid things the "true vegans" do, like go watch some disgusting slaughterhouse video just because I've got a hankerin' for some pork chops. Far from it. Some days, a burger just sounds mighty tasty. Until about the second bite, when it just doesn't taste as good as I thought it would. Chicken and steak are uninspiring. What I seem to be wanting most is cold fresh fruit, various veggies, and rice. I'm not wild about eggs or meat or most dairy, but I will admit that I digs me some cheese, and not the soy variety either.

    I also remember just feeling better while I was doing the casual vegan thing. I think there is something to it. I'm not saying it's a cure for cancer or anything (and I administer strong sniff tests to those who do), but I think it definitely seems to be a healthier way to eat and live. I'd recommend it to others, especially others needing to make a positive upgrade in their dietary habits. It's not as hard or as bad as you think, unless you turn into one of the nutcases given to fits of apoplexy just because their bean sprouts are served on a plate that may have once held a steak.

    At the moment, I'm meandering my way back to it, just because I'd rather feel better than worse. But if you're looking for me at an animal rights protest, you'll find me on the side defending the idea of animals as property. That much hasn't changed.

    Posted by Tom, 5/22/2006 7:36:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, May 19, 2006


    Molon Labe!!!

    The greatest military story ever told is coming to the big screen. I've got goosebumps just from writing that sentence. There's no official trailer yet, but there are some production videojournals.

    Posted by Tom, 5/19/2006 6:13:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, May 18, 2006


    Allard needs a real job

    Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard said he hopes this is the year the U.S. Senate will vote for his proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage, which cleared a key committee Thursday and is headed to the full Senate in June.

    "Now is the time to send to the states a constitutional amendment that protects traditional marriage and prevents judges from rewriting traditional marriage laws," said Allard, a Republican.


    Allard Bill To Ban Same-Sex Marriage To Get Senate Vote

    Want to truly protect marriage, you oxygen-wasting nitwit? Pass a Constitutional amendment getting government the hell away from it. No more marriage licenses, no more special rights, no more privileges, no more additional taxes, no more anything. Pass a Constitutional amendment that bans all government at all levels from taking any official notice of any domestic arrangements between adults. And when you're done with that, find something useful to do, like flipping burgers or plunging toilets, because making policy obviously isn't your thing.

    Posted by Tom, 5/18/2006 10:26:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, May 17, 2006


    Once again, the market provides...

    ... where the government can't. Or won't.

    Tiny Houses Find a Friend on the Gulf Coast

    Along the Gulf Coast, where fierce winds and massive storm surges from Hurricane Katrina flattened thousands of homes, the idea of small homes is attractive. Mississippi has developed a prototype for housing hurricane victims called the Katrina Cottage. But Julie Martin, who lived on a government-supplied ship in Pascagoula for four months, isn't waiting for the state.

    After finding out about the Tumbleweed company, she called Shaefer and worked with him to develop what Martin calls a Gulf Coast model.

    ...

    Her tiny home has also put Martin back in business. After working out a licensing agreement with Jay Shaefer, she's selling three versions of the Gulf Coast model home to others waiting to rebuild. She's calling her new company House-to-Go.


    A house and a job, for a person willing to roll up their sleeves, get off their butt, and answer the door when Opportunity knocks. THAT is what individualism and "having a future time orientation" is all about.

    Posted by Tom, 5/17/2006 7:17:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Racism is WHAT?

    (hat tip, Brain Terminal)

    According to the Seattle Public Schools, racism can only be practiced by whites:

    The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). The subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.

    And just what sort of norms and values support racism?

    Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.

    *boggle*

    Individual achievement has literally lifted mankind out of the mud. Everywhere there has been collectivism, to the degree that there has been collectivism, there has been tyranny, poverty, and death. It takes the work of singular individuals, deviating from the herd mentality, straining for the brass ring, trying something that's never been tried before, to free us from the prisons of poverty, disease, violence, filth, ignorance, and so forth. Individuals like Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus Christ, Jonas Salk, Martin Luther, Ludwig von Mises, John Moses Browning, Paul Eisler, and yes, even Bill Gates.

    But never mind all that, because individualism is racist. What. The. Hell.

    Worse, we see in this last quote the poverty trap being sprung on the youth of Seattle by dipshit teachers and administrators who gleefully preach their anti-capitalist tripe even through school policy. "Having a future time orientation" is another way of saying "thinking about the future". People who have such an orientation tend to build wealth. People who have a "now" orientation tend to squander it.

    In economics this is called "time preference". If you have a high time preference, you spend money as soon as you get it, go into debt when emergencies (or the desire for that new big screen TV) come along, and are probably counting on Social Security or some other collectivized system (seeing a pattern yet?) to bail you out when you're too old to work. If you have a low time preference, you're content to save your money for emergencies, large purchases, and retirement. Guess which one is associated with poverty, and which is associated with wealth. So in other words, not only is this policy stigmatizing success, it's glamorizing failure as being "just another misunderstood cultural trait of chronically abused minorities".

    IT IS NOT! Poverty is stupidity. These so-called "educators" are in fact criminals preying on the impressionable minds of youth, appealing to their egos and actively discouraging any desire they might have to make something of themselves rather than wallow in the cesspool of collective poverty. These administrators are destroying an entire generation's ability to think and act for themselves, replacing it with herd mentality and a desire to sit on their butts and be fed like veal calves. This isn't education, or a "safe, discrimination-free environment". This is child abuse. Why aren't these people being arrested?

    Posted by Tom, 5/17/2006 7:08:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006


    Apparently they've never read Peter Singer...

    ... because if they had, maybe these bears wouldn't have killed and eaten a monkey in front of spectators at the zoo. Then again, maybe they would have. Bears don't seem to respect anyone's rights, even those who might legitimately claim to have them, unlike the fantasies of some concerning the monkey.

    Posted by Tom, 5/16/2006 6:16:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, May 15, 2006


    The must-have tool

    If there is any tool that everyone -- and I mean everyone -- should have, it is something along the lines of the Leatherman series of products. My darling wife bought me one for Christmas, which I have carried daily since. I had a desperate need for it one time (disconnecting/reconnecting an automobile battery cable), and have found it extremely handy at others.

    Recently, the belt pouch wore out, and after trying fruitlessly to find a suitable replacement, I bought a new tool with its new pouch and gave the other one to her to carry in her purse. In the last 2 days, I've had more uses for this thing than I ever imagined possible.

    It doesn't matter the brand... I'm sure they're all good. Find features that you want/need, and by all means shop around, but get one and carry it everywhere you go.

    Posted by Tom, 5/15/2006 7:17:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I can see clearly now...



    Posted by Tom, 5/15/2006 7:14:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, May 11, 2006


    The cost of government

    As previously discussed, almost 50 cents of the price of every gallon of gas goes directly to the government.

    As anyone who works for a living knows, a sizable chunk of one's paycheck goes to government. Of course, every time I complain about it, I get the inevitable "but it's such a small price to pay" blather.

    OK statists, you wanna play it like that? Fine. I'm going to embark on a quixotic crusade to tally up the cost of government in my every day life. Let's take the immoral income tax and its brethren off the table for the moment and look at the rest.

    Today we'll discuss my phone bill. Total for April/May: $36.08

    So what's in those charges? First, the wonderful "surcharges and other fees" section:

    1-04 Federal Subscriber Line Charge5.25
    1-05 911 Service Fee.39
    1-06 Federal Universal Service Fee.57
    1-07 Other Surcharges and Fees.20
    1-08 OK Universal Service Fee.14
    Total Surcharges and Other Fees6.55

    I don't know who the "Other Surcharges and Fees" goes to, so I'll take it off the tab. That leaves $6.35. Up next, outright taxes:

    1-09 Federal (Local Charges).72
    1-10 Federal (Non-regulated & Toll Charges).03
    1-11 State and Local (Local Charges)2.02
    1-12 State and Local (Non-regulated & Toll Charges).08
    Total Taxes2.85

    We're done, right? Wrong! There's additional surcharges, fees, and taxes on long distance calls:

    Surcharges and Other Fees
    2-12 Fed Universal Service Fund.47
    2-13 Federal Regulatory Fee.03
    2-14 OK HCF Recovery Charge.51
    Total Surcharges and Other Fees1.01
     
    Taxes
    2-15 Federal Tax.21
    2-16 State and Local Taxes.54
    Total Taxes.75

    So that gives me $10.96 total cost of government for a $36.08 phone bill. I have a wire run to my house, and 30% of the freakin' cost is government. And it's not like it's a pseudo-respectable one-time tax at install time. The phone company handles all the costs of wire maintenance and connections and so forth, so what exactly is the government's interest in the fact that I have phone service (other than the chance to bleed me for some more money)?

    Hey, all you defenders of the income tax: if it's so important to pay our income taxes so that government can operate, why is government further taxing my phone (and my gas)? Why does the federal beast need over 5 bucks a month just to let me have a line to my house? After the government robs me of my income tax, Socialist Insecurity tax, and so forth, the money I have left is mine unless I decide to spend it, because when I do I lose 30% of the purchasing power to government all over again. What the hell?

    Please, it's a rhetorical question. Spare me the BS.

    As a popular leftist phrase has it, if you're not mad, you're not paying attention.

    Posted by Tom, 5/11/2006 5:36:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006


    Microsoft

    The idiocy continues.

    Posted by Tom, 5/10/2006 7:57:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, May 8, 2006


    3 Good Ones

    Lew Rockwell has a great article (which turns out to be an extended call for support) about the way government operates. I particularly liked the footrace analogy:

    Think of the contest between power and market (in Rothbard's phrase) as two parallel foot races on a track that never ends. One group of runners have worked out rules for how closely they can run to others, which lanes they can stay in, how often they stop for breaks, agreements on what constitutes good behavior and what to do with offenders, and all the rest. Let's call them market runners.

    But none of these rules apply to the motley crew of runners one lane over. These runners represent the state — the power runners. They see their job as productive interference. They run alongside the others — though they are far less fleet of foot — and their activity consists in throwing tacks, banana peels, monkey wrenches, or anything else to hobble the runners. They help some runners and hurt others. They set up barriers in their lanes, require detours and random stops, fiddle with the clock — anything to make their presence known and felt. Of course they desire ever more tools and power, and of course they always claim that they are doing all this for the good of all runners.


    In other news, the Reason Foundation has a good argument against this idea of "energy independence", which boils down to this:

    The mutual dependence that trade breeds fosters peace because it gives hostile trading partners an incentive to refrain from acting on their hostility. Energy independence would weaken that incentive.

    And finally, Reason magazine online has an article about a particularly egregious example of government dropping the ball when opportunity knocks. This one's a must-read.

    Posted by Tom, 5/8/2006 9:47:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, May 7, 2006


    Associative machines

    This forum post, about drop rates of special items in World of Warcraft, gave me the idea for this entry. Beyond all the game-speak, the author makes this important point:

    Humans really and truly suck at recognizing randomness. Countless studies have proven this. A researcher will show people two series of numbers: one randomly generated, and one not, and then ask the subject to guess which is which. And as it turns out, people are absolutely *terrible* at getting it right. They see patterns in the randomness and assume it's not random--but really it is.

    There are a bunch of different theories on how exactly consciousness works, and what exactly is the relationship between Mind (personality, consciousness, etc.) and Brain (the physical organ). I'll tell you kind of what's my theory on the subject, and offer apologies in advance to whatever psychologist/psychiatrist probably thought of it before me.

    The brain is an associative machine. It takes 2 or more pieces of data, and attempts to sort/organize/relate them to one another. It does this largely without us needing to think about it. The stimulus-action-feedback mechanism of simply learning how to bring one's hand in front of one's face, as a baby does, is the result of a continually operating associative process: "I tell this muscle to contract, this other muscle to relax, and my hand appears in front of my eyes."

    This process operates scalably, from the most basic motor skills all the way up to the most intense conscious thought. Every piece of data is related in some way to many other pieces of data, which are related to still other pieces of data. We learn by gaining new data and relating it to something we already have. And when someone says "I don't understand", what they're indicating is that they're having trouble relating the new data to anything they already know.

    So why do I bring this up? Because I think it does a whole lot to explain why people get suckered by so many scams, and why rigorous scientific thought can be so elusive. We're built to look for patterns. We naturally assume that there is one, and in some cases will fight tooth and nail to defend the idea that patterns exist even where they don't. We start by asking "what is the pattern?" when we should be asking "does a pattern exist?" A perfect example is my blog entry about the supposed Big Oil election conspiracy.

    A quick glance at the two maps, and it's almost obvious. One is tempted to declare the existence of a pattern, invent a causal relationship, and accept the result as fact. But even if there were a correlation between the two (and I believe I've shown there isn't), the fallacy of correlation equaling causation is just another manifestation of our brain's desperate work to relate pieces of data in meaningful ways.

    We see this at work in the gun control debate. People kill each other with guns. Guns must cause it. Without deeper probing, the "facts" seem to speak for themselves. "Man has gun, man shoots victim. Man without gun shoots no victim. Gun must cause shooting." The brain happily stores away this data, content that it's done its job, and moves on.

    I read once that a sure way to identify a conspiracy theory is when everything fits and there are no loose ends. Everything had a purpose, every person had a plan, and this is how the events went down and satisfied every last item on the conspiracy's agenda. Such things make us WANT to believe. There's a video out nowadays that discusses a theory that the entirety of 9/11 was a government plot. Everything fits perfectly, and the video is so persuasive and so seductive that it's hard to get to the end and not think, "wow, that's really scary, they must be on to something." But there are no loose ends. There's no chaos. Every last detail of the events are accounted for by the conspiracy theory, and that's what makes it so enticing.

    But it's just our brain tricking us, continually doing what it does best: sort, categorize, and correlate data. Reality isn't perfect. Chaos enters into even the best laid plans and the most perfect execution of those plans. Some data just coincidentally looks like some other data. Some causal relationships are simply invisible and cannot be deduced from readily available data. In part, this is why the scientific method exists. But even the scientific method can fall prey to the nature of our brains -- some data may fit all the rigors science requires, but still indicate a false conclusion. Usually this is because the data sample is insufficiently large, as I believe is the case with global warming.

    Of course, it doesn't help (much) to know this when arguing an issue with someone who has made all the correlations in their head. They KNOW they're right. Their brain tells them so, doggone it, and you're just being pigheaded when you show them their error. Part of this may be ego. But I think part of it is the brain once again. Have you ever noticed that it's almost impossible to force yourself to forget something? Or that changing your viewpoint on a weighty issue takes nearly monumental effort? I think the brain is wired in such a way as to hinder or prevent the conscious destruction of its associations. It's probably a safeguard to keep us from telling ourselves to forget how to breathe, or how to make our hearts beat. I think that's what dreams are for... to loosen the bonds on associations that aren't required anymore, without hurting the individual. A radical shift in perspective is probably a traumatic experience for the brain. All of its work lies in tatters, scattered all over the floor like a carefully sorted marble collection that's been dumped by an overly exuberant 5-year-old.

    It might say interesting things about intelligence if this is all there is to it. If the brain is simply a huge, "mindless" associative machine, maybe intelligence isn't so much a "something special" as it is an aberrant side effect of a particularly efficient (or inefficient?) sorting machine.

    Of course, I should heed my own warning. This theory explains too much, and is too neat. So maybe it's just my brain doing what it does best, ordering data so I can make sense of it.

    Posted by Tom, 5/7/2006 10:11:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, May 5, 2006


    Ya think?

    Hollywood ponders its failure to market movies to Christians.

    "On Sunday, 43 percent of America was in church," Jonathan Bock, head of a movie marketing company that specializes in religious audiences, said at a panel discussion on "What Would Jesus Direct?" at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

    "For studios to not recognize that's an audience is like them saying, 'We're not marketing movies to men,"' Bock said.


    It has the usual chatter about Gibson's Passion of the Christ, before discussing the possible future of religious movies, citing Chronicles of Narnia as well. There is apparently some interest in making movies of religious novels. I for one would love to see movies made of Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, not because I believe they are theologically sound (I don't), but because I think they would make damn good movies. So if any producers are reading my blog, get on it!

    Posted by Tom, 5/5/2006 6:05:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, May 4, 2006


    The silence is over

    Those who've played WoW for the last year or so have generally been frustrated by the user forums and Blizzard's apparent unconcern for the multitude of technical problems. Desperate attempts to get some reassurance that Blizzard even gives a damn have often been met by glib responses such as "we are aware of the problem and are working to resolve it". Which is fine in the heat of the bug-battle, but eventually we'd like a little more meat to chew on. Y'know, something that indicates clearly that Blizzard is actually concerned about the problems its paying customers experience.

    Well, the wait is over. After a year and a half, Blizzard has finally given itself a good round of thoughtful criticism, with their latest battle plan. Blizzard's battle plans have in the past been dedicated to talking about new features, exciting content additions, and all the neato-keen stuff they're going to put in the game for us to enjoy. But they've apparently clued in to the fact that none of that content means anything to those of us experiencing horrendous technical difficulties as a result of their various software and infrastructure bugs and bottlenecks. So this latest battle plan says absolutely nothing substantive about new content, and instead speaks entirely to the technical issues. Among the comments:

    ...

    World of Warcraft currently has 156 realms in North America, and were definitely not happy with the performance that some of these realms have experienced. If any overarching good has come from the extensive troubleshooting we've done for our realms over the past few months, it's that it has enabled us to identify numerous bottlenecks that we've then worked toward eliminating through both software optimizations and upgrades to the realm hardware. We feel it's unacceptable when even one player can't enter the game, gets unexpectedly disconnected at a key moment, or experiences any other interruptions while playing, and we will continue to spend time, money, and manpower to address any such issues that arises

    ...


    I've been a fan of Blizzard for a long time, but I had begun losing faith in them. I think this latest shows they haven't abandoned their root philosophy from over a decade ago, of "building games we [the developers] want to play". WarCraft 1, 2, and 3, StarCraft, and Diablo 1 and 2 were all shining examples of that philosophy. World of WarCraft has had a rough start, but I think the record will eventually show that it is too.

    Posted by Tom, 5/4/2006 9:35:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A quick rebuttal

    From here:

    Peter Singer: To be a utilitarian means that you judge actions as right or wrong in accordance with whether they have good consequences.

    Translation: The end justifies the means.

    Quick rebuttal: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

    Posted by Tom, 5/4/2006 7:21:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, May 3, 2006


    Test your geopolitical knowledge

    National Geographic has a quiz up that tests one's knowledge of the geography, politics, and demographics of the world around them. I'm just a dumb Oklahoma redneck, and I got 20 out of 20, so how hard can it be?

    Posted by Tom, 5/3/2006 7:11:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Two good articles on gas

    From Reason:

    Peak Oil Panic: Is the planet running out of gas? If it is, what should the Bush administration do about it?

    (answers: 1) Yes, but not as fast as you think, and 2) Stop trying to do anything about it)

    Republicans and Gas Prices: Look in the Mirror

    This article has an excellent description of what all these "environmentally friendly" fuel rules are doing to prices.

    Posted by Tom, 5/3/2006 6:31:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 2, 2006


    WoW Interface

    I've added Titan Panel to my list of good AddOns. It gives you a bunch of handy "heads-up" info, but the clock and world coordinates are probably my favorites.

    Posted by Tom, 5/2/2006 11:38:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    New Mac Ads

    For those who haven't already seen them, Apple has posted all six videos from their new ad campaign for the Mac. I especially like the "Restarting" and "Network" ads.

    I still think the old "Switcher" campaign was much better. Someone has finally posted all those ads, since Apple took them down a long time ago. Among my favorites are Andy Skowronski (the dude is intense -- check out that posture and facial expression), Gautam Godse, Mark Gibson, and Yo Yo Ma, who gets extra points for using the word "noodle" as a verb.

    There are also three funny videos of Will Ferrell doing his thing. Oddly enough, something about the editing and delivery in Will Ferrell's videos puts me in mind of the Ask A Ninja guy.

    But my absolute favorite, bar none, hands down, is Janie Porche (and apparently I'm not alone). She's just so stinkin' CUTE! She's almost a Pixar character. Nobody should be allowed to be that cute.

    Posted by Tom, 5/2/2006 9:59:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, May 1, 2006


    Take that, anti-sweat shop activists!

    The laws of economics, vindicated again.

    What began two years ago as a temporary blip in the steady supply of migrants to China's export hub, where low wages and long hours are the norm, has become a constant problem for factory bosses.

    Some are responding with perks to attract job applicants as "Help Wanted" ads go unanswered. Others are subcontracting work to inland cities, chasing the young, single workers that once came knocking on their factory gates but are now in shorter supply.

    ...

    Those workers that remain in coastal cities like Dongguan, whose sprawl of tile-roof factories belch into a jaundiced sky, are demanding higher wages — and getting their voices heard. Minimum wages are on the rise as authorities respond to the labor shortage, setting a new floor for private employers. This pressure on factory payrolls, coupled with rising cost of materials and energy, is starting to bite. Retail buyers warn that textile factories in Bangladesh and India are undercutting China and blame double-digit wage hikes here for inflating costs.

    ...

    Around 1.7 million migrant workers in the region who took annual leave in January during the Chinese New Year holiday didn't return afterward, preferring to look for jobs closer to home or in other coastal cities says Liu Kaiming, who runs a labor-rights group in Shenzhen.

    In an effort to retain workers at her small shoe factory, Maria Ma raised salaries last year by 10 percent and added more vacation time, but she still worries about losing out to rivals elsewhere in China offering better wages.

    ...

    "Girls are asking, 'Do we get overtime? What are the benefits?'" says Kathy Deng, who owns a recruitment company in Guangzhou. "Guangdong needs workers. Zhejiang and Shanghai need workers. They have more choices. So it's difficult to find workers."

    [and so on]


    So much for the theory that wages will be frozen in perpetuity, as the Anti-Sweat Shop (A.S.S.) Activists would have us believe. It also gives lie to the general leftist myth that workers are powerless. I don't have time to rant about this right now, so here's a representative article from the Mises Institute. I'll give you the high points:

    A few days after the [Kathy Lee] Gifford story broke, the unions took advantage of the attention and stepped up their campaign. They said that basketball shoes bearing the name of Michael Jordan were made by overseas children making even less than Kathie Lee's kids.

    But the story did not take off like Gifford's. The reason: Nike fought back. It pointed out that the workers in Pakistan who make Nike products earn five times the pay of other workers in that country. Far from exploiting children, Nike is actually doing the workers of Pakistan a great service by importing shoes.

    Basic economic logic explains why. If young people and their families in the third world would be better off idle, they would stop working. If they could get higher wages for the same work, they would change jobs. If they could make a better investment in their future in some other way, they would do so. As it stands, however, these supposed "sweat shops" are the best thing that's happened to the third world in decades.


    Losers say what?

    Posted by Tom, 5/1/2006 6:03:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...