Archive for November, 2014

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Manifest Destiny updated

November 30, 2014

Here’s a very nicely done clip quoting Carl Sagan about space exploration. If you watch, do so in full-screen mode.

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Net Neutrality? Follow the money.

November 15, 2014

The debate over Net Neutrality reminds me of the time 20 years back when voice-over-IP (VoIP) was just becoming A New Thing. What I remember most is the Pie-in-the-Sky attitude that many folks had about VoIP. It opened up a lot of alternatives for carrying voice calls and there was this attitude of "We’re free of the Phone Company now!"

But we weren’t free of reality. Somebody still had to finance the infrastructure no matter whether you were switching circuits on a T1 line or you were routing packets over a TCP/IP connection. Somebody had to pay for the copper, or for the fiber, or for the radio towers. The Follow-The-Money rule still applied.

I think something very similar is happening today in the debate over Net Neutrality. Subscribers want unlimited access to whatever source they choose for a flat fee. They’re thinking, "We’re free of the Phone company/Cable company now!" Meanwhile, ISPs want to be paid based on the traffic they have to carry since the Internet is no more an unlimited resource for video than it was for voice calls. Somebody still has to pay for the copper… etc.

Netflix and (Google’s) YouTube accounted for half of peak-time traffic at the end of last year. As of last May, Netflix accounted for over 1/3 of downstream bandwidth by itself. Maybe you’ve said good-bye to your cable company, but you’ll never say good-bye to the need to finance the infrastructure.


9 questions about network neutrality you were too embarrassed to ask.


So I liked Coyote’s post this week looking at the bottom line for Net Neutrality. If you’re interested in the topic, read the whole thing.

Net Neutrality is Not Neutrality, It is Actually the Opposite. It’s Corporate Welfare for Netflix and Google
November 12, 2014, 12:24 pm

Net Neutrality is one of those Orwellian words that mean exactly the opposite of what they sound like. There is a battle that goes on in the marketplace in virtually every communication medium between content creators and content deliverers. We can certainly see this in cable TV, as media companies and the cable companies that deliver their product occasionally have battles that break out in public. But one could argue similar things go on even in, say, shipping, where magazine publishers push for special postal rates and Amazon negotiates special bulk UPS rates. […]

What “net neutrality” actually means is that certain people, including apparently the President, want to tip the balance in this negotiation towards the content creators (no surprise given Hollywood’s support for Democrats). Netflix, for example, takes a huge amount of bandwidth that costs ISP’s a lot of money to provide. But Netflix doesn’t want the ISP’s to be be able to charge for this extra bandwidth Netflix uses – Netflix wants to get all the benefit of taking up the lion’s share of ISP bandwidth investments without having to pay for it. Net Neutrality is corporate welfare for content creators. […]

Don’t believe me? Well, AT&T and Verizon have halted their fiber rollout. Google has not, but Google is really increasingly on the content creation side. And that is one strategy for dealing with this problem of the government tilting the power balance in a vertical supply chain: vertical integration.

Postscript: There are folks out there who always feel better as a consumer if their services are heavily regulated by the Government. Well, the Internet is currently largely unregulated, but the cable TV industry is heavily regulated. Which one are you more satisfied with?

And I also ran across an interview with Mark Cuban this week. He had similar thoughts. (My emphasis below.)

Mark Cuban On Obama’s Plan For The Internet: ‘The Government Will F— The Internet Up’

Mark Cuban is not a fan of President Obama’s plan for the internet.

He’s been bashing plans to regulate the internet, and questioning other people who support it.

Over email we asked him about the potential for small companies to be stifled by internet providers.

His reponse: “I’m more concerned the government will f— it up.”

Obama thinks the internet should be reclassified to be considered a utility like telephone lines. This would allow it be regulated, and protect consumers and companies that rely on the internet. […]

The fear is that internet providers like Comcast are going to prioritize the traffic of certain companies over the traffic of other companies. In this scenario, it’s harder for a young company to take on older, more monied companies.

Cuban thinks this is an idiotic concern. We asked him if he was worried that internet providers would hurt startups.

“Hell no,” he said. “Since when have incumbent companies been the mainstays for multiple generations?”

He believes that startups blow up older companies despite an unregulated internet that allows internet providers to prioritize certain traffic streams.

Overall, he thinks the current debate is too narrow and short sighted.

“There will be so much competition from all the enhancements to wireless that incumbent ISPs will have to spent their time fighting cord cutting,” he said. […]

As Coyote and Cuban point out, what it comes down to is how this industry grows and who should be trusted to regulate it.

It’s an easy call in my opinion. No matter how limited my choices for ISPs, I can find a better ISP easier than I can find a better FCC. I remember the days before telephone deregulation.

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Smoke ’em if you got ’em

November 15, 2014

I’ve been smoking for 45 years (nearly as long as I’ve been paying FICA, now that I think about it). And I get the externalities of smoking, so I don’t feel aggrieved when people or organizations prohibit smoking on their property. No problem: I’ll respect their air and grounds.

I’ve got tenants who are heavy smokers and, yep, that house has a definite stink to it. We’ll need a few gallons of KILZ when they move out. Again, no problem. It’s their home and we knew they smoked when they signed the lease. The clean-up is a very minor cost, all things considered.

What I do have a problem with, though, is when the Nicotine Nazis get their hands on the levers of power and start proposing regulations like the one described below. Banning tobacco sales is just another form of Prohibition, after all, and we know how well prohibitions work.

What we learn from history is that we never learn from history (said whomever you want to credit with that adage).

Raucous hearing on tobacco sales in Westminster halted

WESTMINSTER — An unruly public hearing on a proposal to prohibit the sale of tobacco products came to a sudden and rowdy halt Wednesday evening after shouting and clapping opponents of the ban repeatedly refused the chairwoman’s request to come to order.

The ban, proposed by the Board of Health in this Central Massachusetts town, would be the first of its kind in the state. It has led to angry reactions from residents who worry that it will hurt the local economy and allow government too much discretion in controlling private conduct.

“This is about freedom; it’s my body and it’s my choice to smoke,” said Nate Johnson, 32, a Westminster farmer and auto body worker. He was puffing on a cigarette at a rally before the hearing where opponents held signs saying “It’s not about tobacco — it’s about control” and “Smoke ’em if you got them.” […]

The ban would cover sales of products containing tobacco or nicotine, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and electronic cigarettes, which use batteries to heat nicotine-laced liquid, producing a vapor that is inhaled.

The proposal, made public Oct. 27, touched off an intense reaction from opponents. More than 1,000 of the town’s 7,400 residents signed a petition against the ban.

I was tickled to read about the residents of Westminster raising hell about this proposal. Evidently there were even non-smokers upset about the proposal — as they should have been since it’s the kind of idea that reminds you of Mark Twain’s comment about school board members.

whats-next-in-westminster-massCJ GUNTHER/EPA

“What’s next?” is a very good question. It’s one we ought to be asking ourselves about practically everything the government plans or does.

And just as a matter of curiosity, doesn’t it strike anyone else as curious that several states are now allowing the sale of marijuana to be smoked – Massachusetts itself may allow it – and this Board of Health wants to ban the sale of tobacco?


Here’s some commentary about a topic related to my question above. It’s from Kevin Williamson at National Review (1/28/15).

A Lifestyle So Good, It’s Mandatory

California has effectively decriminalized marijuana (possession of less than an ounce is a civil matter roughly equivalent to a speeding ticket — a rarely written speeding ticket), and the state has a medical (ahem) marijuana program that is, for the moment, largely unregulated. At the same time, the state is launching a progressive jihad against “vaping,” the use of so-called e-cigarettes that deliver nicotine in the form of vapor. The state public-health department says that this is justified by the presence of certain carcinogens — benzene, formaldehyde, nickel, and lead—in e-cigarette vapor. But by California’s own account, all of those chemicals are present in marijuana smoke, too, along with 29 other carcinogens.

If that seems inconsistent to you, you are thinking about it the wrong way: For all of its scientific pretensions and empirical posturing, progressivism is not about evidence, and at its heart it is not even about public policy at all: It is about aesthetics.

The goal of progressivism is not to make the world rational; it’s to make the world Portland.

Vaping is, from the point of view of your average organic-quinoa and hot-yoga enthusiast, a lowlife thing. It is not the same thing as smoking, but it looks too much like smoking for their tastes. Indeed, California cites the possibility of vaping’s “re-normalizing smoking behavior” as a principal cause of concern. Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, says that vaping should be treated like “other important outbreaks or epidemics.”

But epidemics of what? Prole tastes?

In addition to regularly writing incisive opinion pieces, Mr. Williamson was also a cell phone vigilante a couple of years ago.

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"Don’t be evil" my aching back

November 11, 2014

I’m taking this report at face value. Assuming it’s correct, this is an amazing show of chutzpah. What do you think that solar plant is, Google, a sports stadium maybe? (My emphasis below.)

World’s largest solar plant applying for federal grant to pay off federal loan

Struggling solar thermal plant seeks huge taxpayer bailout

After already receiving a controversial $1.6 billion construction loan from U.S. taxpayers, the wealthy investors of a California solar power plant now want a $539 million federal grant to pay off their federal loan.

“This is an attempt by very large cash generating companies that have billions on their balance sheet to get a federal bailout, i.e. a bailout from us – the taxpayer for their pet project,” said Reason Foundation VP of Research Julian Morris. “It’s actually rather obscene.”

The Ivanpah solar electric generating plant is owned by Google and renewable energy giant NRG, which are responsible for paying off their federal loan. If approved by the U.S. Treasury, the two corporations will not use their own money, but taxpayer cash to pay off 30 percent of the cost of their plant, but taxpayers will receive none of the millions in revenues the plant will generate over the next 30 years.

Can we get the government out of the habit of picking "winners" and let the market decide what projects get financed? It’s time for some of that Separation of Market and State that I go on about.

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He’s all about political advantage

November 10, 2014

On the one hand, I have to admire Mr. Gruber’s candor. And I agree with his analysis of the games that were played to pass PPACA.

If Mr. Gruber chooses to attribute the PPACA’s passage to the ‘the stupidity of the American voter’ rather than attributing it to intentional obfuscation by Congress — as he should — well, that’s his choice I suppose.

A lot of sharp folks were calling BS on the proposed law but its sponsors refused to speak straight to its faults: they were all working the politically expedient angles. Thanks, Pelosi.


On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of "enlightened despotism" that we need to guard against. When a government gets to the point that some parts of it start to bend its own rules to fool other parts — gaming the CBO score in this particular case — then it’s too messed up to trust.

What particularly galls me about this clip is Gruber’s saying that PPACA was designed so that it could not be regarded as a tax. But when the Supreme Court ruled on it, the Chief Justice based his argument supporting PPACA on calling it a tax and on Congress’ authority to levy taxes.

So we’re damned if they do call it a tax – and we’re damned if they don’t. What a deal.

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Hear, hear! (2)

November 8, 2014

Here’s a Reason TV interview with Jason Brennan, a professor of philosophy at Georgetown, about his new book Why Not Capitalism?

It’s an interesting interview. Maybe I’ll buy his book.

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An interesting view from the other side

November 8, 2014

This is a Google translation of an article at a Russian site. (I don’t vouch for the quality of the translation though I think the meaning’s pretty clear.)

In Moscow, an exhibition of cartoons about Putin patriotic

The exhibition “No filter”, where more than 100 author’s drawings in the format of graphic cartoons dedicated to Russian President Vladimir Putin and opened in Moscow today. Organizers of the exhibition – “Young Guard” United Russia “, together with the patriotic artists and well-known graphic designers. The exhibition takes place at the design factory “Bottle”.

Putin-Obama

As you can see, President Obama isn’t treated with much consideration – and that’s true of many of the cartoons in the site’s slideshow.

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When wolves returned to Yellowstone

November 6, 2014

This article’s about a year old; I just came across it a couple of weeks ago. It sounds to me like the root problem was failing to keep the deer population under control. (I’m guessing they didn’t allow humans to hunt the deer in Yellowstone, so the wolves may now be doing something no one was doing earlier.)

But it’s a nicely done clip and makes a good point about nature’s balance.

When They Brought These Wolves Into The Park, They Had No Idea This Would Happen

In 1995, wolves were re-introduced into the Yellowstone National Park, after being wolf-free for 70 years. What naturalists and biologist never imagined, was that the most remarkable thing would take place. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing if we just leave her alone.

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All your phone are belong to us

November 2, 2014

Paul sends links to two stories about a judge in Virginia who rules that fingerprint locks on phones aren’t protected by the Fifth Amendment but password locks are. He adds, "This is why NOT to use a fingerprint lock on your phone."

From The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog:

Judge Rules Suspect Can Be Required To Unlock Phone With Fingerprint

A Virginia Circuit Court judge ruled Tuesday that police officers cannot force criminal suspects to divulge cellphone passwords, but they can force them to unlock the phone with a fingerprint scanner.

If applied by other courts, the ruling could become important as more device makers incorporate fingerprint readers that can be used as alternatives to passwords. Apple introduced the technology last year in its iPhone 5S and Samsung included it in its Galaxy S5.

When those phones arrived, lawyers said users might be required to unlock the phones with their fingerprints. More recently, Apple and Google said they had changed the encryption scheme on the newest phones using their operating systems so that law enforcement can’t retrieve the data. FBI Director James Comey criticized the companies, saying were allowing users to “place themselves above the law.”

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives people the right to avoid self-incrimination. That includes divulging secret passwords, Judge Steven C. Frucci ruled. But providing fingerprints and other biometric information is considered outside the protection of the Fifth Amendment, the judge said.

And from MacRumors:

Court Rules Police Can Force Users to Unlock iPhones With Fingerprints, But Not Passcodes

A Circuit Court judge in Virginia has ruled that fingerprints are not protected by the Fifth Amendment, a decision that has clear privacy implications for fingerprint-protected devices like newer iPhones and iPads.

According to Judge Steven C. Fucci, while a criminal defendant can’t be compelled to hand over a passcode to police officers for the purpose of unlocking a cellular device, law enforcement officials can compel a defendant to give up a fingerprint.

The Fifth Amendment states that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” which protects memorized information like passwords and passcodes, but it does not extend to fingerprints in the eyes of the law, as speculated by Wired last year.

Judge Steven C. Frucci ruled this week that giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits. A pass code, though, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against, according to Frucci’s written opinion. […]

If Baust’s phone is an iPhone that’s equipped with Touch ID, it’s very likely that it will be passcode locked at this point and thus protected by law. Touch ID requires a passcode after 48 hours of disuse, a restart, or three failed fingerprint entry attempts, and the device has probably been in police custody for quite some time. It is unclear if the judge’s ruling will have an impact on future cases involving cellular devices protected with fingerprint sensors, as it could be overturned by an appeal or a higher court.

If you’re worried about your phone being searched, you should encrypt it.

How to Encrypt Your Android Phone and Why You Might Want To

Some recent legal rulings have suggested that encryption can protect against warantless searches. The California Supreme Court has ruled that police officers can lawfully search your cell phone without a warrant if it’s taken from you during arrest – but they would require a warrant if it was encrypted. A Canadian court has also ruled that phones can be searched without a warrant as long as they’re unencrypted.

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What are they thinking? (2)

November 1, 2014

What are those silly oil producers and speculators thinking? They’re driving the price down again.

Yes, Virginia, there is a global market in oil. And since oil is about as fungible as any good can be, its price isn’t controlled by the US President, or the US Congress, or even the big US oil companies.

I don’t know the cause of the decrease in oil prices recently but I strongly suspect the increase in US oil production, which is at a 30+ year high, has something to do with it.

In fact, if the global price of oil drops very much more, it’ll be so low that some fracking operations may be operating at a loss.

And removing those fracking sources may cause an upward price adjustment as supply contracts. You can look it up.

Someone said once about US stock market prices, "I believe they will fluctuate." And so will the price of oil, no matter what the politicians may say or do in their misguided attempts to control it — or to demonize the people producing and selling it.

Video via Carpe Diem


Update (1/25/15):

Here’s some follow-up on my original remark (3 months ago) about fracking operations shutting down due to falling oil prices. This article at Business Insider appeared last Friday, Jan. 23rd.

The Number Of US Oil Rigs Has Dropped Almost 20% From Its October High

The Baker Hughes US oil and gas rig count is out, and it shows yet another weekly decline.

In the wake of tumbling oil prices, Baker Hughes, the $25 billion oil services company that publishes out the weekly rig count, announced Tuesday that they would be laying off 7,000 employees over the next few months.

BHP, an Australian mining giant, also said this week that they would shut down 40% of their US shale drilling rigs by the end of their fiscal year.

the-number-of-us-oil-rigs

I expect oil & gasoline prices to rise again in the coming year, perhaps in a few months.

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