Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I just got my tax return, and I must say that I enjoy getting back some taxes far more than I enjoy paying them. I can’t imagine how militant I will be against coercive governmental action when I actually make a sizeable income, given my present response to the relatively small taxes taken from my graduate student stipend.

For those of you who haven’t read Capitalism and Freedom or Free To Choose or a myriad of other quality books on the topic, let me explain. The action of a government should be to do that which would not or could not happen in a free market. The basic idea is that “neighborhood conditions” exist such that, for example, I don’t need to pay for the police if my neighbor pays for them, or that I can’t easily or fairly pay those whose air I pollute when my factory spews noxious chemicals. So the government forces uniformity through mandated taxation with the threat of jail and funds programs like police departments to enforce laws and military programs to protect us from threats, foreign and domestic. Also, it will force corporations to take certain actions without compensation for lost opportunities, and such oversight bureaucracies must be funded, again by tax dollars.

What most people fail to recognize is the inherently conformist nature of government, and the non-conformist nature of a market. The government forces people to take certain actions, despite the views of the inevitable minority who do not agree. A market tailors to the desires of every individual perfectly, in that all exchanges are voluntary, so that no one will choose something that they don’t want.

The situation we have now is that of an imperfect market. Government has taken action into so many aspects of my life, most people don’t even give it a second thought. You will note that the media, which primarily reports on the action of government in a feedback loop, and your public education, whose administrators and union leaders benefit from expanded governmental action, will often report on “market failures”, where exceptional circumstances warrant governmental action. Neither respected sources of information will often report on “governmental failures” where the solution is worse than the problem.

In our health care system, regulation makes rapid change and market enforced efficient decisions virtually impossible.

In hopes to not let anyone “slip through the cracks” with Social Security and Welfare, the government spends hundreds of billions of dollars to provide low quality services and eliminate the need for individual responsibility. Call me old fashioned, but nothing but bad character and poor decisions result from an individual who no longer will be harmed from his or her bad character and poor decisions.

Next time you hear about anything the government does, ask yourself if those involved are framing the debate in terms of cost-benefit analysis. It isn’t just that a problem exists. It is that a problem exists that currently without government intervention is not being dealt with, and that through governmental intervention would be made better beyond the cost of that intervention.

The police department, fire department, public education in certain customer-centered forms, the military, regulation of blatant pollution, the creation of a stable supply of currency, and mechanisms to create and enforce laws are a few of the things that are justified. Currently the “federal register”, which records all federal law, is approximately 60,000 pages long. I’m certain more than a few of those pages are unnecessary.

I doubt that if cost-benefit analysis were the frame of the debate, the federal government would be the $2,500,000,000,000 enterprise it is today.

Here is to my few hundred dollars which I’m not giving to the bloated system!

(0) comments

Monday, May 24, 2004

Transcript From Bush Speech on American Strategy in Iraq:: You can read it there or listen to it here. At least listen to the last few minutes (skip ahead to 29:45) to hear an excellent conclusion and a synopsis for our effors in Iraq. Here it is below:
In the last 32 months history has placed great demands on our country and events have come quickly. Americans have seen the flames of Sept. 11, followed battles in the mountains of Afghanistan and learned new terms like orange alert and ricin and dirty bomb. We've seen killers at work on trains in Madrid, in a bank in Istanbul, in a synagogue in Tunis and a nightclub in Bali. And now the families of our soldiers and civilian workers pray for their sons and daughter in Mosul and Karbala and Baghdad.

We did not seek this war on terror. But this is the world as we find it. We must keep our focus. We must do our duty. History is moving and it will tend toward hope or tend toward tragedy.

Our terrorist enemies have a vision that guides and explains all their varied acts of murder. They seek to impose Taliban-like rule country by country across the greater Middle East. They seek the total control of every person and mind and soul. A harsh society in which women are voiceless and brutalized. They seek bases of operation to train more killers and export more violence. They commit dramatic acts of murder to shock, frighten and demoralize civilized nations, hoping we will retreat from the world and give them free reign. They seek weapons of mass destruction to impose their will through blackmail and catastrophic attacks. None of this is the expression of a religion. It is a totalitarian political ideology pursued with consuming zeal and without conscience.

Our actions too are guided by a vision. We believe that freedom can advance and change lives in the greater Middle East as it has advanced and changed lives in Asia and Latin American and Eastern Europe and Africa. We believe it is a tragedy of history that in the Middle East, which gave the world great gifts of law and science and faith, so many have been held back by lawless tyranny and fanaticism.

We believe that when all Middle Eastern peoples are finally allowed to live and think and work and worship as free men and women they will reclaim the greatness of their own heritage. And when that day comes the bitterness and burning hatreds that feed terrorism will fade and die away. America and all the world will be safer when hope has returned to the Middle East.

These two visions, one of tyranny and murder the other of liberty and life clashed in Afghanistan. And thanks to brave U.S. and coalition forces and to Afghan patriots, the nightmare of the Taliban is over. And that nation is coming to life again.

These two visions have now met in Iraq and are contending for the future of that country. The failure of freedom would only mark the beginning of peril and violence. But my fellow Americans, we will not fail. We will persevere and defeat this enemy and hold this hard won ground for the realm of liberty.

The New York Times link above left off his final remark: "may God bless our country."

(0) comments

Thursday, May 20, 2004

A network called 'Internet' - Computer Invasion: A History of Automation in Canada - CBC Archives: Old school news report about the amazing powers of Internet.

(0) comments
U.S. Troops, Iraqi Police Raid Chalabi's Home and HQ
:: The candidate that tells America to leave on schedule most convincingly will be the ideal leader for the future of Iraq. He will be stressing what Americans, Iraqis, but not terrorists, want: America to pull out right when everyone is ready -- no sooner or later.

I can easily imagine planners in Iraq want to distance themselves from Chalabi, who is seen as an outsider because of his previous close ties to the Pentagon and exile status. Now he is free of that and should run on a "Pull out on June 30th" campaign and accelerate elections.

Also, I saw it here first, but have been thinking it for a while, that the amount of bad news coming from Iraq has been growing. I choose my words with purpose, as there is, I think, a fairly constant, slowly progressing situation on the ground. But now the news is shifting to more and more doom and gloom.

What we are going to see is the following: as the US begins pulls out after a successful transition of power on June 30th, talk of American defeat and "cut-and-run" response to terrorism will grow.

So before the war, the argument was Saddam's weapons were contained. Clearly that was wrong with his support of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Palestinian bombers. These terrorists are not contained by borders; they only know martyrs and infidels.

Then in the run-up to Iraq, the argument was that civil war was inevitable. That clearly has not happened.

Then at the start of the war, there was talk of tens of thousands of American casualties. That hasn't happened. The press and the left try really, really hard to make it sound like less than 1000 of 130000 is a lot. It isn't.

Then with looting and lack of electricity, the talk was of no real plan and criticism of the disbanding of the Iraqi army. Now that power is back on, the looting has been stopped, Iraqi police and army units are being rapidly trained, and none of Saddam's old soldiers have started a significant civil war, that talk has stopped.

There are problems, but they are only temporary stand offs where laser like use of force and diplomatic means prevent large civilian casualties and bleed the insurgents dry through slow attrition. Note that talk of Bush using diplomacy and avoiding force are not mentioned at all to counter quacking about his war-like nature.

And now finally, after Iraq has not fallen apart, after services are up and running, after Saddam's support of terrorists and weapons programs are certainly over, as we approach an inflection point in US involvement, talk about pulling out in response to terror will grow.

This type of journalism helps no one. Please ignore it and read multiple blogs to get an impression of the truth on the ground. You certainly won't get it with the template agenda seen coming from major news sources.

UPDATE::Wow, After months of blogging I doubled my total page views in an hour. Thanks Instapundit! Scroll down and read as much as you like :). I'd love feedback too.

(0) comments
TCS: Tech Central Station - The Top One Percent Includes You:: While I don't think Kerry means to include all humans ever in his bashing the “top one percent”, it is very true that the vast majority of people in America live at a higher standard than the rest of the human race throughout time.
Count yourself as one of the luckiest and most successful humans ever. Celebrate your wealth and ignore politicians who preach the gospel of the haves and the have nots. They try to divide us when in fact what we have in common exceeds our differences. While you're counting your blessings, take a minute to honor the system that created it: the system of property rights, free markets, low taxes, and the rule of law. And if you want to help people who are in the bottom, then urge your politicians to stop blocking imports from India, Kenya, Peru, Cuba, Bulgaria, and other poor countries around the world. While charity has its place, few of the wealthiest one percent got rich from charity, and neither will today's poor. We moved from poverty to wealth through economic growth. Let's allow the rest of the world's poor to do so also.

(0) comments

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

BBC NEWS | Amateur rocket fired into space::Talk of space is common in my office at the Robotics Institute, part of Carnegie Mellon. The environment is so hostile that “use robots” is our answer to almost any question.

My office mate and I agree step 1 (before Mars, before the Moon, before the Hubble) is more research on cheaper methods to get something into space.

The plausibility of any other mission is too much based on the whims of politics, as the cost is so high; there is little or no short-term bottom line benefit to anyone. It is PR.

This X-prize competition is amazing for this reason. Having a prize large enough to get many people working on the problem, but small enough to make sure aero-space giants don’t attempt it, is the key. Currently it costs around $50K/Kg. This is unacceptable.

After that, the next prize should be one of the following:
1) Bring back a rock of a sufficient mass from the asteroid field between Jupiter & Mars,
2) From space, laser X MWs from a solar cell array to earth.

Allowing for $100M each would easily spawn multi-billion dollar cumulative efforts, solve real world problems, and cost less than half of either Opportunity or Spirit. In addition, solving the world's energy problems and gaining immensely from mining in space, are both very good things.

While #2 assumes certain efficiency levels in solar cells, alternative methods exist such a fusion made possible by pristine manufacturing conditions in zero-G.

In general, prizes seem to do a much better job at accomplishing a number of tasks:
- The money is only spent if someone wins.
- Numerous agents spend resources to achieve the same prize, so it acts as a value multiplier.
- Coercion and bureaucratic waste usually associated with governmental action don’t really apply, unless the task to be accomplished is not important enough or would already be achieved in a given time span by private resources. Looking at the X-prize, the DARPA Grand Challenge, and others, this is probably the case.

In short, this is all exciting, and I look forward to more of it in the future.

(0) comments

Monday, May 17, 2004

TCS: Tech Central Station -Arnold Kling- A Proposal to Fight Cultural Segregation:: Interesting article. Here is my response:

I find his views rather surprising.

Isn't it rather elitist, if not patronizing, to claim a problem with the social make-up of society, and propose a mandated solution, without presenting the negative effects such a social make up create?

“We have lost sight of this notion that all occupations were inherently worthy, and instead we have become accustomed to an aristocracy of talent and education."

Firstly, occupations which require skill and talent contribute more to a society, in the flexibility and stability that come from such positions. People might attack unskilled labor, but they will refuse to do away with it, highlighting the inherent, if smaller, value. This will eventually change with the rise of automation, but that is another story.

Secondly, valuing talent and education is the best way to get more people motivated to be better educated and more talented. Rather than using government programs to solve a problem, our society is self adjusting with norms which optimize individual achievement. Note that an understanding of different social groups comes hand-in-hand with more education, unless the education is biased and elitist, which is also another story.

"We should try to come up with ideas to help citizens become more familiar with other Americans who differ in their outlook."

Really? Who is 'we'? Why should we? To what end? Is there a problem with what people think about other groups? If so, forcing them to fraternize is going to be positive?

I think my basic complaint is two-fold:

1) It is not bad to be elitist based upon performance in society. We should shame those who do not get an education, a useful job, or a stable family.
2) #1 is an emergent property of the interaction of independent agents, under the influence of social morays and mass media. Any attempt to sway culture, either by government action or agenda-based journalism, will probably fail. The basic respect for the dignity of an individual requires a freedom of thought and expression.

So, I will freely judge people around me, and never coerce them to change. Individual social interaction allows for communication and maybe the changing of minds, rather than coercion, but by construction mustn't be mandated.

(0) comments
Yahoo! News - U.S. Army Says It Finds Shell with Sarin Agent in Iraq:: This isn't that big news. Who knows if the people who used the shell even knew it had the nerve toxin in it.

What I would like to comment on is in the last paragraph:
The United States launched its invasion of Iraq last year, accusing then-president Saddam Hussein of developing chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. Failure to find such weapons has stirred criticism in the United States and Britain, Washington's closest ally in the war.

"president Saddam Hussein"? This is a pet peeve of mine. I was unaware of a democratic process in Iraq before we invaded. I had thought that he was a murderous dictator, actively seeking to attack America & Israel while torturing his citizens, killing them en mass, bribing UN officials to ignore his laundering of humanitarian aid money and goods, and posing for playing cards.

But I suppose the press would like to focus on his leadership skills, point out his title as president, and ignore the rest. It is almost like they have an agenda...
(0) comments

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Amazon.com: Kitchen & Housewares: Electrolux EL520A Trilobite Robotic Vacuum:: This costs $1800 vs. Roomba's $200. How do they expect to compete? People that can afford this can afford the $100/mo. cost of a maid, who will do a much better job for now.

If it were a robotics platform upon which I can expect other services to be built, it would start to get interesting. For instance, a robo-installation that costs ~$2-5K -- but which allows you to use 10+ $200 robots -- would make a lot more sense. Some robots that could be made now: vacuums, security sentinels, entertainment bots with advanced perception capabilities, specialized cleaners - like for a tub or tile floor, mobile air purifiers, mobile routers/repeaters to optimize a reconfigurable wireless home/corporate office LAN, any ubiquitous computing application you can think of...

I can't believe I'm not seeing more of a unified approach. Clearly the company to get on the ground floor of this (if it is viable and marketable) would be in an excellent position because no one would need to buy a _second_ robotics platform.

(0) comments
DRUDGE REPORT FLASH 2004:: "French TV to show images of US helicopter killing Iraqis". Ohh, the French, first the government, and now the media, actively working to make America look evil in Iraq. They opportunistically release this potentially infuriating video right in the middle of the controversy about 20 or so (of 200000!) soldiers and criminal activities by them. Hopefully people will note the difference between 'us' & 'them'. We accuse, try, convict, and punish criminals like this. In France and Germany, they've gotten billions in kickbacks to ignore despots; these despots torture and kill political dissidents without trial. The people in government are the criminals.

But this might just be a video I've seen on Ebaum's world, of all places. Warning: exteme video.

(0) comments

Monday, May 03, 2004

Kerry rolls out biographical ad campaign: "Democrat John Kerry on Monday rolled out a pair of new television ads as part of a $25 million, 19-state advertising buy that campaign officials say is unprecedented in size and scope for a presidential challenger."

But the best part:
"wholly positive ad campaign based upon his record -- something President Bush cannot do," Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said in a news conference.
Is it just me, or isn't it a negative attack to say there is nothing positive about my opponent? Thank god I don't have a television.

Also, in case you were also confused about the "Bush team attack-dog smear machine" accusations, look here for clarification.
(0) comments
The New York Times: U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences:: This is a problem. We need to import engineers and scientists to be teachers for the next generation. We need to reform schools to be more efficient with progress based funding, vouchers to induce competition, and free firing of wasteful administrators and even tenured teachers. Most of all, we need to somehow change the values in society so more people appreciate the important role of the science and engineering, rather than the bogus notion of taking a cocktail party topic of conversation, adding "-studies" to the end, and calling it academic.
(0) comments

Sunday, May 02, 2004

CNN.com - Arabs repulsed, furious over prison photos - May 1, 2004:: Indeed this is horrible for our efforts, and those responsible should be immediately punished with extreme prejudice.

BUT, how often are Arabs furious over their own government's failings and crimes. Why don't I hear about folks in Iran complaining about Arafat's corrupt tactics. How about some Syrians complaining about suppression of democratic student movements in Iran. Any takers? Will this be reported on satellite TV? Probably not.

Will excuses for the region's problems, stemming inevitably from the Jews, the Americans, or the Infidels, be reported? Probably.

(0) comments

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?