Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two Observations:

First, on the Fugio Cent, the first American coin, supposedly designed by Benjamin Franklin. It occurs to me that "Mind Your Business" is a much more American motto than "In God We Trust" or "E Pluribus Unum". When I'm unanimously elected Transitional Dictator of the United States, the new Great Seal will be that on a scroll, clutched by a cranky-looking wild turkey.

From General interwebs

Second, on wikiwandering to the disambiguation page for "mind your own business... It's extraordinarily depressing to think that there's a generation of Americans who think TSR stands for "That's So Raven".

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You've started to believe the things they say of you...

So there was a brief tempest in a teapot in Oklahoma, when Federal Reserve examiners ordered a private bank to remove religious displays from their premises:

...the team from Kansas City deemed a Bible verse of the day, crosses on the teller’s counter and buttons that say "Merry Christmas, God With Us." were inappropriate. The Bible verse of the day on the bank's Internet site also had to be taken down...

Specifically, the feds believed, the symbols violated the discouragement clause of Regulation B of the bank regulations. According to the clause, "...the use of words, symbols, models and other forms of communication ... express, imply or suggest a discriminatory preference or policy of exclusion."

The feds interpret that to mean, for example, a Jew or Muslim or atheist may be offended and believe they may be discriminated against at this bank. It is an appearance of discrimination.

Two things:

- This is incredibly stupid. I'd be ranting about regulatory creep and the inevitable end result of attempts to legislate morality and social change if this particular story wasn't so staggeringly trivial and petty. The regulators were clearly just being holier-than-thou tin gods, the First Amendment clearly protects the business's right to display religious slogans, and the Fed seems to have already reversed its ruling in a weasely way obviously intended to avoid a challenge to its rules.

- All that said, when you're distributing buttons to your employees that say "Gott mit uns", you should probably take a really deep breath and consider that maybe you're taking all the Jesus stuff a bit too far.

But when he threatened your life...

So. In the US, 40 states out of 50 either issue permits to carry concealed handguns to all applicants with clean records, or don't require a permit at all. In several of the remaining ten, you can still get a permit with little trouble if you live in a jurisdiction with a gun-friendly chief of police. Our Supreme Court has recognized handgun ownership as a fundamental right, and has strongly signalled that it will rule similarly on the fundamental right to carry handguns. We are a gunned-up nation that's said unequivocally--outside the liberal bastions of tolerance and equality--that we trust every free person to have a semiautomatic .45 caliber handgun hidden on his person in public.

So why in the name of all that is holy do 35 states prohibit their citizens from carrying concealed switchblades? And another three have strict length limits, presumably intended to limit their usefulness as weapons.

The real reasons are clear, of course: pop culture painted them as "the weapons of juvenile delinquents" during a time of irrational moral panic. And edged weapons, being an order of magnitude cheaper than guns, tend to be favored by people who are easier to disenfranchise than gun owners. But come the hell on. In a nation where you have a fundamental right to concealable firearms, is there even a way to pretend that knife laws have any rational basis whatsoever?

Friday, December 17, 2010

...then have a night of efficient German sex.

One of the core Keynesian-style arguments for government control of business is an emphasis on efficiency. If government manages financial industries, the unanimity in decisionmaking--so goes the hypothesis--will benefit the people in the form of reducing inefficiencies created by self-interested individual businessmen and companies. It's the Wal Mart model writ large, essentially: prosperity through strict control of waste. And Wal Mart has definitely proven that the model can work spectacularly, at least in the short term.

I'm primarily concerned about this for philosophical reasons (freedom is more important than efficiency, in my opinion, and preoccupation with efficiency through regulation is inherently at odds with regard for the individual's autonomy), and because I think it's unrealistic to believe that government agencies won't gradually accumulate bureaucratic entropy that will eventually eat all those efficiencies and then some. But there's another concern that I think is often overlooked.

The more efficient a system, the less resilient it is in the face of unexpected complications. Less efficient systems have a margin of safety, while hyperefficient systems jam up with the slightest obstruction:

A split-second power disruption at a Toshiba Corp. factory in Japan could hurt shipments and raise prices for one of the world's most widely used computer chips, a mainstay of devices like smartphones, tablet PCs and digital music players.

Toshiba said the power outage could cause a 20% drop in its shipments over the next two months or so...

A power interruption overlapped with a failure of Toshiba's backup power system for seven one-hundredths of a second at one factory, and the consequences of that will be ongoing until February. For fuck's sake, what would happen to the global economy if a real crisis hit the computer industry? We saw just recently the spectacular cascade that can happen when banks similarly threw away their margins of safety in the name of maximizing efficiency--hell, since then we've had people screaming from the rooftops that governments need to step in and prevent them from doing business that way.

Believers in better living through government often rebuke libertarians with some flavor of "yeah, well if you want the benefits of the modern efficient integrated marketplace, you have to accept extreme government regulation!" I'm good, actually. I could deal with small business prices in the absence of the Wal Mart business model. The loss of the familiar race between businesses to be the leanest, cheapest, safety-netlessest shop on the street is not especially terrifying.

The combination of a population unable to cope with recessions and a competitive marketplace that knows elected governors are politically unable to let megacorporations fail means that, realistically, this kind of brinksmanship just won't stop being the norm until too much falls apart at once to be propped up, so the debate is honestly kind of pointless in practice. But man... Cautionary tales about how deregulation would mean we don't get to live in a Wal Mart world that falls apart at the slightest crisis are not the motivator collectivists seem to think they are. A Darwinian marketplace that slows progress and decreases efficiency by rewarding economically conservative behavior is pretty attractive, actually, when we see that the alternatives are the grinding sloth of socialism or the inherently unstable balancing act of government-administered economies.

I suggest spreading the meme that a libertarian utopia would be infested with sasquatchtopuses. That's freakin' scary.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So, to sum up my mother's experience over the last two years:

- Her dog spontaneously goes blind in the space of about a week.

- Her cat dies of kidney failure.

- Her blind dog goes deaf.

- Her husband is suddenly diagnosed with severe brain cancer, and loses a subsequent year-long battle with it.

- And in the space of about a week, her blind, deaf dog succumbs to kidney failure.

She had to put the poor mutt down last night.

Hokay, blind forces of chance, I think she's had enough now. Feel like easing up a bit?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weird Science

Just caught the Mythbusters episode in which President Obama asked them to revisit their test of the Archimedes mirror experiment.

They committed enormous resources to retrying an experiment that had failed miserably before, with only trivial variation. They set the threshold for success unrealistically low, but still managed to fail utterly in an embarrassing anticlimax.

Yup. It was an Obama episode.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tir na Nog? The Nog Hammadi library? W'gah Nog-gle fhtagn?

Another December, another batch of George Washington's eggnog. It takes a few days to a week to set up, so I'd better get ready early this time.