Archive for March, 2014



March 31, 2014

This is a bit long-winded but funny nonetheless.


You can never go home any more

March 30, 2014

‘Tom Paine’ is a British ex-pat who’s been writing at The Last Ditch. I ran across his post below when I found it quoted at Samizdata.

Goodbye and good luck

You cannot, as the man said, step in the same river twice. I was away from Britain for 20 years. The Britain I returned to was not the Britain I left. Even though I had visited often, kept in touch with friends and family and followed political developments assiduously while living abroad, it had changed in ways I had not grasped. Perhaps, to be fair, I had changed too.

To me, it now seems a strange, immoral place. For example, I read articles in The Guardian and The Times this week about the abolition of inherited wealth. The Economist also recently wrote about it. It did not even occur to any of these columnists that they were talking about the property of others. They did not create it. They did not inherit it. They have no just claim to it. Yet they have no moral concerns about proposing its seizure. […]

I have tried to make these points both here and face to face with people I meet in my everyday life. All I have achieved is an outward reputation for eccentricity and a powerful inward sense of alienation. As the next General Election approaches offering me no moral choices it is time, alas, to accept defeat.

Everything I might still want to say to you has been said better in this book and this one. I am wasting your time writing anything more than this heartfelt recommendation to read them.

Goodbye and good luck.

I wasn’t certain that this was intended to be Tom’s farewell post but he confirmed that it was in a comment at Samizdata.

Reading his post reminded me of my thoughts that maybe those of us who favor freedom and self-reliance have lost a culture war. Maybe we’ve allowed the debate to be framed in terms favorable to our opponents’ points of view. There are times when I wonder whether I’m becoming an eccentric (as Tom says) or the culture really has changed for the worse in the years since I was young. It can be a tough call.

It helps to recall some Happy Warriors of the recent past, even if I didn’t always agree with all the battles they fought. They re-framed the debates of their time: "There can be no liberty unless there is economic liberty."

And all that said, I certainly agree with Tom’s advice that you read Thomas Sowell’s books linked in his post.


Alarmism muted?

March 29, 2014

Matt Ridley (Mr. Rational Optimist) had an article in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal about a report soon to be released by the IPCC. (I wonder whether Professor Torcello has heard of this.)

Climate Forecast: Muting the Alarm
Even while it exaggerates the amount of warming, the IPCC is becoming more cautious about its effects.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will shortly publish the second part of its latest report, on the likely impact of climate change. Government representatives are meeting with scientists in Japan to sex up—sorry, rewrite—a summary of the scientists’ accounts of storms, droughts and diseases to come. But the actual report, known as AR5-WGII, is less frightening than its predecessor seven years ago.

The 2007 report was riddled with errors about Himalayan glaciers, the Amazon rain forest, African agriculture, water shortages and other matters, all of which erred in the direction of alarm. This led to a critical appraisal of the report-writing process from a council of national science academies, some of whose recommendations were simply ignored.

Others, however, hit home. According to leaks, this time the full report is much more cautious and vague about worsening cyclones, changes in rainfall, climate-change refugees, and the overall cost of global warming.

It puts the overall cost at less than 2% of GDP for a 2.5 degrees Centigrade (or 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature increase during this century. This is vastly less than the much heralded prediction of Lord Stern, who said climate change would cost 5%-20% of world GDP in his influential 2006 report for the British government. […]

Via CoyoteBlog’s We Are All Lukewarmers Now


Army of the State (3)

March 27, 2014

So much for cameras on cops… Read the whole thing.

He Cooperated with the Cops — and is Paying the Price: The Ordeal of Mark Byrge

When Mark Byrge had a minor traffic accident on a street in American Fork, Utah, he did the “responsible” thing by reporting the incident to the police. He has never stopped paying for that mistake.


A quick nod to epistemology

March 23, 2014

I saw an interesting post this week (thanks to Paul) that was basically about epistemology. The gist of it was that there are things we know that we know, things we know that we don’t know, and things that we don’t even realize that we don’t know.

All of which, of course, brings to mind Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s saying the same thing.

But it also reminded me of something that Thomas Sowell wrote:

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.

I think Mr. Sowell makes many good points but this is one of the best he’s made. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to be learned.

And as I thought about it a bit more, it occurred to me that ‘unknown unknowns’ are what F. A. Hayek was describing in The Fatal Conceit (PDF).


Dangerous drones

March 22, 2014

A few weeks ago, Jeff sent a link to this video about a quadrotor drone equipped with a 100-round machine gun. It can also self-destruct, as you’ll see in the clip.

The video comes from FPSRussia, who’s been making videos about small arms for a few years now. (And has 5,000,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel.)

Jeff’s comment was, "Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out get you."

Then today I ran across this hexarotor drone called CUPID via Gizmag.

That guy acting as the crash test dummy has an amazing confidence in technology, doesn’t he?

The comments for CUPID describe it this way.

Chaotic Moon built CUPID to raise awareness of technology that’s outpacing everything from regulatory agencies to social norms.

So now I’m wondering when I’ll see one of these or read about one of them being used here in the U.S.


The Kidney Sellers

March 22, 2014

Here’s an interesting video from

And here are details about Ms Fry-Revere’s book.


It must be nice

March 18, 2014

It must be nice to believe, as Lawrence Torcello appears to, that clarity in scientific results is as simple as clarity in communication.

Or to believe that there’s no funding bias in climate studies.

Or to believe that there’s no confirmation bias in the studies themselves.

Or to believe that all reputable climate scientists agree with the idea of catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming.

Or to believe that a professor of philosophy can reliably identify misinformation about global climate science.

And there’s the rub with his entire essay below: Who will be making these judgments about what is or is not ‘misinformation’?

Agreeing that the world climate has warmed in the recent past doesn’t imply agreement with any of these statements:

(a) That we’ve definitely identified the warming’s cause(s).
(b) That we can confidently predict future global climate by modeling.
(c) That we can prescribe methods for preventing warming.

Mr. Torcello’s example of the Italian earthquake case seems to say more about the Italian legal system than it does about clear communication of scientific opinion.

With any luck, no one in the United States will face legal prosecution for disagreeing with a scientific consensus; or for failing to gainsay a government official when he or she speaks in a misinformed manner.

Is misinformation about the climate criminally negligent?

The importance of clearly communicating science to the public should not be underestimated. Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death…

The importance of clearly communicating science to the public should not be underestimated. Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death. When it comes to global warming, much of the public remains in denial about a set of facts that the majority of scientists clearly agree on. With such high stakes, an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent.

The earthquake that rocked L’Aquila Italy in 2009 provides an interesting case study of botched communication. This natural disaster left more than 300 people dead and nearly 66,000 people homeless. In a strange turn of events six Italian scientists and a local defence minister were subsequently sentenced to six years in prison.

The ruling is popularly thought to have convicted scientists for failing to predict an earthquake. On the contrary, as risk assessment expert David Ropeik pointed out, the trial was actually about the failure of scientists to clearly communicate risks to the public. The convicted parties were accused of providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information”. […]

Crucially, the scientists, when consulted about ongoing tremors in the region, did not conclude that a devastating earthquake was impossible in L’Aquila. But, when the Defence Minister held a press conference saying there was no danger, they made no attempt to correct him. I don’t believe poor scientific communication should be criminalised because doing so will likely discourage scientists from engaging with the public at all.


Nice council seat you have there

March 13, 2014

It’d be a real shame if anything happened to it.

Taxi Publication Threatens To Expose ‘Secretly Gay’ Aldermen If City Doesn’t Ban Ride-Sharing

CHICAGO (CBS) – A trade newspaper for the city’s taxi industry has threatened to out five aldermen who it claims are “secretly gay,” unless the City Council bans ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and SideCar.

In an editorial in The Chicago Dispatcher, publisher George Lutfallah said the trade publication “has learned that five of the city’s 50 aldermen are closeted homosexuals. In the next issue of this newspaper, set to be published early next month, we will disclose their names unless our demands are met.”

Among a list of 10 demands, Lutfallah said he wants the city to ban ride-sharing services, and to “actively enforce” the current regulations for taxis.

“The city is moving forward and will steamroll our industry if we don’t act in earnest. They did it to my grandfather more than a hundred years ago when they destroyed his horse-drawn-carriage business by allowing horseless machines to carry people around the city,” he wrote.

It’s unclear if the editorial was meant as satire, especially since Lutfallah also demanded the City Council ban the Internet and require people to buy newspapers; and change the name of the Willis Tower back to the Sears Tower. Those are two demands the City Council hardly has the power to meet or enforce.


Privacy today (3)

March 12, 2014

Kevin Kelly writes an interesting article at Wired that counters the common reaction to continuous surveillance. The last sentence of the second paragraph below makes a good point, though he doesn’t seem to give much time to the idea of being able to choose whether you’re a subject of surveillance.

But read and decide for yourself.

Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, Not Fight It

I once worked with Steven Spielberg on the development of Minority Report, derived from the short story by Philip K. Dick featuring a future society that uses surveillance to arrest criminals before they commit a crime. I have to admit I thought Dick’s idea of “pre-crime” to be unrealistic back then. I don’t anymore.

Most likely, 50 years from now ubiquitous monitoring and surveillance will be the norm. The internet is a tracking machine. It is engineered to track. We will ceaselessly self-track and be tracked by the greater network, corporations, and governments. Everything that can be measured is already tracked, and all that was previously unmeasureable is becoming quantified, digitized, and trackable.
If today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species it is that the human impulse to share trumps the human impulse for privacy.

We’re expanding the data sphere to sci-fi levels and there’s no stopping it. Too many of the benefits we covet derive from it. So our central choice now is whether this surveillance is a secret, one-way panopticon — or a mutual, transparent kind of “coveillance” that involves watching the watchers. The first option is hell, the second redeemable.


Should people wait for bread?

March 12, 2014

Or should bread wait for people?

Roberto Rodríguez M. ‏@esosiquetetengo

People is marked like this in #Venezuela to be able to buy food


From Business Insider, a report about lines at some Venezuelan grocery stores. When the columnist writes ‘long’, she means long.

Venezuelans Are Marked With Numbers To Stand In Line At Government Supermarkets

It’s hard to get a sense of what a food shortage is like unless you’ve lived through one, but this tidbit from Venezuela serves as a chilling illustration.

The lines to get into government supermarkets are so long that people mark their arms with their place in line. It’s not a permanent tattoo — just a pen — but the point is to make sure that the long lines stay as orderly as possible. […]

According to a source familiar with what’s going on, this number-scribbling takes place outside large cities like Caracas, and it doesn’t happen in private supermarkets. However, private supermarkets can set a limit to the number of items a person can buy. For example: You can only pick up 4 liters of milk, 2 liters of oil, 2 kilos of sugar etc.

And that’s if the market even has those items.

People also have numbers on their ID cards, which decide which days they can even get in line to shop at supermarkets like San Cristobal’s Bicentenario, according to AFP.

A picture’s worth a thousand words.



If you want it done right, do it yourself

March 11, 2014

Glenn Reynolds (Mr. Instapundit) writes an interesting editorial column at USA Today. Here’s the opening:

No militia means more intrusive law enforcement

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

For a while, some argued that the so-called “prefatory clause” — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” — somehow limited the “right of the people” to something having to do with a militia. In its recent opinions of District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, the Supreme Court has made clear that the Second Amendment does recognize a right of individuals to own guns, and that that right is in no way dependent upon membership in a militia. That seems to me to be entirely correct.

But there is still that language. If a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, then where is ours? Because if a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, it follows that a state lacking such a militia is either insecure, or unfree, or possibly both.

In the time of the Framers, the militia was an armed body consisting of essentially the entire military-age male citizenry. Professional police not having been invented, the militia was the primary tool for enforcing the law in circumstances that went beyond the reach of the town constable, and it was also the primary source of defense against invasions and insurrection.


Fighting fire with fire

March 9, 2014

Dr. Roy Spencer went on a rant recently. RTWT and check out the interesting image in his post.

Time to push back against the global warming Nazis
Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Yeah, somebody pushed my button.

When politicians and scientists started calling people like me “deniers”, they crossed the line. They are still doing it.

They indirectly equate (1) the skeptics’ view that global warming is not necessarily all manmade nor a serious problem, with (2) the denial that the Nazi’s extermination of millions of Jews ever happened.

Too many of us for too long have ignored the repulsive, extremist nature of the comparison. It’s time to push back.

I’m now going to start calling these people “global warming Nazis”. […]

They are just as guilty as the person who cries “fire!” in a crowded theater when no fire exists. Except they threaten the lives of millions of people in the process.


I love the smell of the Streisand Effect in the morning

March 8, 2014

And this could be a very amusing instance of it. This article appeared at TechDirt.

Houston Issues ‘Cease-And-Desist’ To Uber To Stop Houston Residents From Communicating With Their Government

We’ve covered for a while now how Uber — the mobile phone-enabled car/taxi ordering service — has run up against a bunch of obsolete laws in various cities, often leading to bizarre rebuttals from municipal officials. Uber quickly realized that each ridiculous response from a city government was something of a marketing opportunity to introduce itself to new cities. You would think, by now, city officials would learn that the proper thing to do is figure out how to work with Uber to provide better transportation for their citizenry, rather than immediately bowing to demands from taxi/limo companies who fear potential competition.

However, the response from Houston may be the most bizarre of all. Uber had set up a petition for Houston residents, emailing city officials of their support for allowing Uber in that city. In response to this, the city of Houston issued a cease-and-desist, effectively telling Uber to stop asking Houston residents to contact their own elected government about this issues any more.

[Letter from Houston’s City Attorney, David Feldman, omitted.]

It’s ridiculous for Feldman to argue that citizens contacting their own elected officials is a form of harassment and somehow illegal. And, of course, the end result of this is that it just drives that much more attention to the issue (and probably even more emails).

And here’s the response Uber itself has posted.


Over the past three days, nearly 10,000 Houston residents and visitors have signed a petition demanding that Mayor Parker and the City Council make way for modern transportation options like Uber.

And how has the city responded? The City Attorney has issued a cease and desist order against its own constituents. That’s right, the City of Houston has demanded that Houstonians stop emailing the Mayor and the City Council.

Your emails of support for legislative efforts to modernize the city’s transportation system – and the city’s reaction – call a very important question: Are Houston’s elected leaders beholden to their constituents, or to incumbent industry?


Understanding Ukraine

March 8, 2014

I don’t know a lot about Ukraine and its history, so I can’t vouch for all the content of this video. But that caveat given, the content agrees with the things I’ve read so it looks correct to me. Kudos to John Green for a good summary.

Here’s the BBC’s continually-updated page about Ukraine.


Pegging the irony meter

March 7, 2014

Sometimes it seems there’s a little black humor in every situation, doesn’t it? (My emphasis below.) Here’s another revelation from the Snowden documents at The Intercept.

The NSA Has An Advice Columnist. Seriously.

What if the National Security Agency had its own advice columnist? What would the eavesdroppers ask about?

You don’t need to guess. An NSA official, writing under the pen name “Zelda,” has actually served at the agency as a Dear Abby for spies. Her “Ask Zelda!” columns, distributed on the agency’s intranet and accessible only to those with the proper security clearance, are among the documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The columns are often amusing – topics include co-workers falling asleep on the job, sodas being stolen from shared fridges, supervisors not responding to emails, and office-mates who smell bad. But one of the most intriguing involves a letter from an NSA staffer who complains that his (or her) boss is spying on employees.


A little Bitcoin humor

March 7, 2014

Here’s a pair of funny videos about the things Bitcoin fanatics say.


I’m a parent who thinks marijuana should be legal

March 6, 2014

What kind of person are you, Thomas Harrigan, who expects to get away with spouting such nonsense? And why in the world are we paying for you to make such patently foolish remarks?

When you advise Congress to keep the current policy on marijuana, here’s what you’re advocating:

Here’s a suggestion, Mr. Harrigan: Talk with the families of the Mexicans who’ve been killed in drug-gang-related violence while Mexico enforces its prohibition laws – with your agency’s help.

America was once the Land of the Free, but the War on Drugs, forfeiture laws, and national security policy are turning the United States into a police state. That’s what you’re advocating, Mr. Harrigan.

Anti-prohibitionists like myself don’t claim that drugs are good for people. Nor do we say there are no problems resulting from legal drug use. But there are problems with many activities that are currently legal: eating, drinking alcohol, gambling, smoking tobacco, owning weapons – it’s a long list. We only point out that the problems caused by drug prohibition are worse than the problems caused by the prohibited drugs.

The last three presidents of the United States admit that they’ve smoked marijuana. I think my children have as much right to decide whether to smoke dope as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have.

Your testimony shows an amazing lack of sense. So I conclude that its purpose was to defend the DEA’s budget and your job in particular. Are you just another self-serving bureaucrat? Is that the deal, Mr. Harrigan?

Get a clue, brother. You could get one from your boss, you know.

DEA Official: ‘Every Single Parent’ Opposes Marijuana Legalization

WASHINGTON — A top Drug Enforcement Administration official said Tuesday that legalizing marijuana “insults our common values” and insisted that “every single parent out there” opposed legalization.

“We also know that marijuana destroys lives and families, undermines our economy, and insults our common values. There are no sound scientific, economic or social reasons to change our nation’s marijuana policies,” Thomas M. Harrigan, the agency’s deputy administrator, told the House Oversight Committee in prepared testimony on Tuesday. “We must send a clear message to the American people and ensure our public safety by not abandoning science and fact in favor of public opinion.”

Later, pressed by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Harrigan said that “every single parent out there” opposed marijuana legalization.

“Your statement that all parents are against this is ludicrous,” said Cohen. “What do you think, that people who are in favor of decriminalization or changing policy don’t procreate?”


Privacy today (2)

March 4, 2014

Radley Balko’s writing for The Washington Post these days. This is the opening of a piece he published yeterday about ‘stingray’ use in Florida. (My emphasis.)

The surveillance state: bigger, broader, and less accountable

Not only are local, state, and federal authorities finding more innovative, efficient, and comprehensive ways to spy on us, they’re doing it in ways that are less transparent and less accountable. From the ACLU:

It appears that at least one police department in Florida has failed to tell judges about its use of a cell phone tracking device because the department got the device on loan and promised the manufacturer to keep it all under wraps. But when police use invasive surveillance equipment to surreptitiously sweep up information about the locations and communications of large numbers of people, court oversight and public debate are essential. The devices, likely made by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, are called “stingrays,” and unfortunately this is not the first time the government has tried to hide their use.

So the ACLU and ACLU of Florida have teamed up to break through the veil of secrecy surrounding stingray use by law enforcement in the Sunshine State, last week filing a motion for public access to sealed records in state court, and submitting public records requests to nearly 30 police and sheriffs’ departments across Florida seeking information about their acquisition and use of stingrays (examples here and here).

Also known as “cell site simulators,” stingrays impersonate cell phone towers, prompting phones within range to reveal their precise locations and information about all of the calls and text messages they send and receive. When in use, stingrays sweep up information about innocent people and criminal suspects alike.

And here’s an article he linked recently. It’s about surveillance in southern California and appeared in the LA Weekly News.

Forget the NSA, the LAPD Spies on Millions of Innocent Folks 

Edward Snowden ripped the blinds off the surveillance state last summer with his leak of top-secret National Security Agency documents, forcing a national conversation about spying in the post-9/11 era. However, there’s still no concrete proof that America’s elite intelligence units are analyzing most Americans’ computer and telephone activity — even though they can.

Los Angeles and Southern California police, by contrast, are expanding their use of surveillance technology such as intelligent video analytics, digital biometric identification and military-pedigree software for analyzing and predicting crime. Information on the identity and movements of millions of Southern California residents is being collected and tracked.

In fact, Los Angeles is emerging as a major laboratory for testing and scaling up new police surveillance technologies. The use of military-grade surveillance tools is migrating from places like Fallujah to neighborhoods including Watts and even low-crime areas of the San Fernando Valley, where surveillance cameras are proliferating like California poppies in spring. […]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California are suing LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department, demanding to see a sample week’s worth of that data in order to get some idea of what cops are storing in a vast and growing, regionally shared database. (See our story “License Plate Recognition Logs Our Lives Long Before We Sin,” June 21, 2012.)

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