Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Oil Dilemma

The Skeptical Optimist:
"here’s a helpful quote from the recent past by Saudi Arabia’s Sheik Yamani, when asked how the oil age might end:

The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones."
Everyone is talking about how expensive gas is nowadays -- and I don't like it anymore than you. However, lets all remember that gas is a commidity whose price is determined by world-wide supply and demand; just like the price of sugar, gold, wheat, steal, ... So moderate your impulse to run to our government asking for a solution. We don't really want to live in a country where the feds control the price of commodities, do we? They kinda already tried that in the USSR and it didn't work too well.

Also, as the skeptical Optimist points out in his post, high gas prices are the best way of transitioning to other energy sources (solar, hydrogen, ethanol, etc.), because lets face it, we're not going to drive hydrogen powered cars untill its cheaper to do so. High gas prices spur the technology that will end the oil age.

Republican Crisis

Via Instapundit:
"Okay, real conservatives, Republicans, and libertarians, stay home. Just...stay home in 2006. Or - what the hell - vote for a Democrat. We have to wake up the Stupid Party, before it completely merges itself into the Republicrat Statist Party."
This is pretty much how I feel ... Republican in power act just like the dems did for all the years they were in power ... where is the reduction in govt spending? where are the school voucher programs? where is the balanced budget? where is the transparent and accountable governance?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sharing = Stealing ?
"Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan: 'Fans who share music are not thieves or pirates ... sharing music has been happening for decades.'"
I couldn't have said it better myself. Of course, nothing will convince the die-hard information-nazis who can't stand the fact that people might want to share media with their friends. Just remember, sharing an mp3 is not much different than sharing a dvd or sharing a book or taping a song off the radio or TIVOing a tv show or ...

Fight the Power!

EFF: RIAA Petition
We condemn the RIAA's choice to force the family of a 12 year-old girl to forfeit $2,000 - money that could have gone to feed, clothe and educate this honor student. We stand with the retirees, parents, children and others who have been caught in the RIAA's line of fire.

We respect reasonable copyright law, but we strongly oppose copyright enforcement that comes at the expense of privacy, due process and fair application of the law.

We urge you, as our representatives in Congress, to stop this madness.

We oppose the recording industry's decision to attack the public, bankrupt its customers and offer false amnesty to those who would impugn themselves. We call instead for a real amnesty: the development of a legal alternative that preserves file-sharing technology while ensuring that artists are fairly compensated.
OK guys, plz go sign this petition and let congress know where you stand.

Stealth Campaign of Uber-Rich to Repeal Estate Tax

Public Citizen | Press Room - Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy:
"18 families worth a total of $185.5 billion have financed and coordinated a 10-year effort to repeal the estate tax, a move that would collectively net them a windfall of $71.6 billion.

The report profiles the families and their businesses, which include the families behind Wal-Mart, Gallo wine, Campbell’s soup, and Mars Inc., maker of M&Ms...

The report details the groups they have hidden behind – the trade associations they have used, the lobbyists they have hired, and the anti-estate tax political action committees, 527s and organizations to which they have donated heavily.

In a massive public relations campaign, the families have also misled the country by giving the mistaken impression that the estate tax affects most Americans. In particular, they have used small businesses and family farms as poster children for repeal ... But just more than one-fourth of one percent of all estates will owe any estate taxes in 2006. And the American Farm Bureau, a member of the anti-estate tax coalition, was unable when asked by The New York Times to cite a single example of a family being forced to sell its farm because of estate tax liability."
I'm usually against high taxes, for sound economic reasons. However, money has to come from somewhere to fund the military, courts, roads, etc. and I find the current estate tax to be imminently fair. All the hogwash about farmers and small-businesses isn't supported by the facts. The real need for estate-tax reform is at the state level, where many states are much more aggressive than the feds in soaking even the middle class types who die.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Office

Ok so my wife and I just discovered a great tv show ... if you're interested in laughing your buns off, run -- don't walk -- to the nearest computer and download season 1 of NBC's "The Office". I promise you won't regret it.

some speech isn't so free anymore

The Volokh Conspiracy:
"Tyler Harper wore an anti-homosexuality T-shirt to school, apparently responding to a pro-gay-rights event put on at the school by the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school. On the front, the T-shirt said, 'Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned,' and on the back, it said 'Homosexuality is Shameful.' The principal insisted that Harper take off the T-shirt. Harper sued, claiming this violated his First Amendment rights.

Harper's speech is constitutionally unprotected, the Ninth Circuit just ruled today."
Disgusting ... read Eugene's article if you're interested in free speech in America.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Parable of the broken window

"The parable of the broken window was created by Frédéric Bastiat in his 1850 essay That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen to illuminate the notion of hidden costs (a.k.a. opportunity costs).

Bastiat uses this story to introduce a concept he calls the broken window fallacy, which is related to the law of unintended consequences, in that both involve an incomplete accounting for the consequences of an action."
Here's an interesting article on a little gem from economics, aka opportunity cost. I find my economic though experiments (such as this parable) to be highly educational and valuable tools for understanding "how things work".

Why HDCP (HiDef video copy-protection) sucks.

Freedom to Tinker: "The bottom line is clear. In HDCP, “security” technologies serve not to disable pirates but to enable lawsuits. When you buy an HDCP-enabled TV or player, you are paying for this — your device will cost more and do less."

The RIAA vs. the EFF

Ars Technica:
"To recap briefly, the EFF has caught the RIAA and their allies (the MPAA and the US Attorney General's Office) trying sneak through the courts a complete overhaul of existing copyright legislation. The change in the definition of a copyright owner's exclusive right of distribution that the RIAA seeks to have the court acknowledge is at once troubling and fascinating—troubling because, hey, it's the RIAA that's pushing this, and we all know they're Pure Evil(TM), and fascinating because in its own odd way the attempted alteration would 'update' copyright law to take account of the reality of digital distribution in a manner that it currently does not."
Here's a nice article summarizing some current issues in the copyright wars. Some have questioned why I blog about intellectual property issues so much, so I think some explanation is in order. First, I feel like this is issue will be decided in the next couple of years but the nature of how it gets done will affect our culture for decades. The reason getting copyright done correctly is so important is that, fundamentally, the digital age is about the free flow of information. Intellectual property is nothing more and nothing less than information. We, as a society, are collectively learning this as we rip cd's and dvd's into files on our computers. Any patent, book, movie, song, or communicable idea really can be digitized -- turned into pure information.

Now here's the rub: what ownership rights will we assign to information? This is vexing because ... a) enforcing ownership in today's technological landscape is impossible without draconian governmental oversight of each and every bit flowing into and out of our computers; and b) freedome of speech is fundamentally freedom to send and recieve information === any abridgement of our ability to transmit information automatically restricts our speech.

So why would anyone want to restrict information flow? Copyright holders feel like they won't be able to make any money if their "intellectual property" is copied, stored, and transmitted freely.

I predict this issue will hit the mainstream in the next couple of years, so I feel like I'm doing my readers a service by getting you guys up to speed early in the debate.

Friday, April 14, 2006

More on Global Warming

Political Dogs: The Real Kyoto Debate Is Heating Up:
"Almost a week ago, 60 world renowned scientists wrote an open letter to the Canadian Prime Minister requesting a rational examination of the science of global warming."
In the words of Instapundit, read the whole thing. Note, that I'm not a global warming doubter; rather, I'm a somewhat experienced scientist who knows that we shouldn't trust the computer models used to support fringe environmentalist beliefs about imminent catastrophe unless those models have been verified (which of course they haven't been). Relatedly, Even if the (flawed and incorrect) computer models are right, they predict only a moderate rise temperatures for the next century -- and noone has made a convincing case why a modest increase in earth's temperatures are a bad thing. Here's a clue for the environmental nut-jobs among my faithful readers: the only thing constant in the billion+ year history of earth's climate is change.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wall-street journal piece on global warming

Richard Lindzen:
"It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming."
It amazes me how much faith certain groups have in the scientific community. I can say this, because I'm a member of said community. If people think that scientists studying climate change and editors of the top-tier journals don't have an agenda, then they need to wake-up and smell the napalm. Funding is everything, and as this essay accurately portrays, even scientists (yes, otherwise saintly and virtuous seekers of truth) adapt their product under market-type forces: i.e. their research and publications must be of such a character as to attract funding. And let me tell you, alarming climate change scenarios that play to a powerful lobby and political party and that play extremely well in our lovely media, are a sure ticket to funding, advancement, and tenure.

France is Economically Illiterate

Marginal Revolution:
"In a 22-country survey published in January, France was the only nation disagreeing with the premise that the best system is 'the free-market economy.' In the poll, conducted by the University of Maryland, only 36 percent of French respondents agreed, compared with 65 percent in Germany, 66 percent in Britain, 71 percent in the United States and 74 percent in China (!, AT)...."
That a majority of a modern Western nation could be ignorant of free-market capitalism's supremacy suggests one thing: mass delusion fed by a ruling class that controls education and media to perpetrate nation-wide propaganda. I weep for La France.

Mass Delusion on Health Care, Arnold Kling: Library of Economics and Liberty

EconLog comment by Brad Hutcvhings :
"Sadly, what any plan will have to do is convince healthy young people with healthy life habits to pay way more than they can expect to recover from the system in order to support older, less healthy, and less health conscious people. The only way to convince them is through force. Funny how that works."
Nice. I'm not following the details of Mass's new health care plan very closely, but I'll reiterate what should be obvious -- the more government deregulates health-care and removes distorting tax incentives, the more it will be able to operate under competitive, free-market forces. A healthy free-market for health care is a sure-fire way to provide better health care for everyone more cheaply.

The welfare side of this problem is best addressed seperately, IMHO: if the people of Massachusetts feel like the elderly or poor or otherwise infirm have a "right" to some level of health care, it would be better to simply give them vouchers to purchase that directly from a free market. (And add an appropriate tax to fund the give-away). This approach would avoid our present (crappy) situation where medical welfare is conflated with regulation ... preventing competitive pressures from working their magic.

Given the powerful interest groups snuggling up to congress (the insurance, HMOs, doctors, hospitals, AARP), the chance of a free-market in health care is small. There's simply too much money to be made in rent-seeking by these groups.

Monday, April 10, 2006

government corruption: lobbies and campaign finance reform

The Becker-Posner Blog:
"Another way to make my point that there is excessive attention in the US to lobbying and campaign spending is to compare political outcomes here with those in Europe or Japan. All the data indicate that much more is spent on campaigning and lobbying in the US than in either of these other places. Yet it is not obvious that either Europe or Japan has better political outcomes, measured either by the quality of legislation, or by the response to public opinion. Indeed, I believe their outcomes are worse, or at least no better."
Here is an interesing set of essays basically saying that the whole campaign finance reform hubbub is a tempest in a teapot. I'm not sure I'm totally convinced, but they make a good case. Certainly, having lived many years overseas in France and the Middle-East, our government is much less corrupt than it could be.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Michael Barone on media bias

The Washington Times:
"Let's say you were part of a group designing the news media from scratch. Someone says that it would be a good idea to have competing news media -- daily newspapers and weekly magazines, radio and television news programs. Sounds like a good start.
Someone else says that it would be a good idea to staff these news media with people who are literate and well-educated. Check. Then someone says let's have 90 percent of the people who work for these organizations be from one of the nation's two competitive political parties and 10 percent from the other.
Uh, you might find yourself saying, especially if you weren't sure that your party would get the 90 percent, maybe that's not such a good idea. But that's the news media we have today. "
Not that it really matters to me ... I get 90% of my news and information from blogs and the internet where I can control the variety and bias of my sources.