Friday, July 31, 2015

How to Publicly Embarrass Yourself

Rebecca Watson is the founder of The Skepchick Network. According to their website's About page, it is "a collection of smart and often sarcastic blogs focused on science and critical thinking."

I wish she'd focused a little harder before making this mistake:

It seems to me that Watson failed as soon as she wrote the title. Planned Parenthood is Not Selling Baby Parts, You Fucking Idiots isn't really a title that's crafted to help you win friends and influence people. And in the various titles and references and links, she can't quite decide where to put that word, "fucking", though it seems she's pretty sure it should be in there someplace.

But kudos to her for skipping all the difficult logic and getting straight to the ad hominem. If it weren't for the fact that people are actually on camera seriously discussing the sale of baby parts then whole "it's ridiculous, nothing to see here" thing might work. But that's really the only thing she's offering, other than "it's maliciously edited"

OK, fine... it is edited. This way you don't have to watch them walking down halls, standing behind white coats, riding elevators, discussing lunch, etc. It would seem very easy for her to take the full video (which actually are available... the latest one is over 2 hours long), find the out-of-context bits and show a couple of more minutes on each side to show how it's all very innocent.

But notably, she doesn't.
Instead she calls you names.

Look... of COURSE there are going to be investigations. Investigations are started when someone makes a credible charge to the authorities. That's how the world works. And the only fucking idiots are those who don't think that a credible charge is offered when you actually have people on camera saying they're doing the deed... oh, and you've got four of those videos.

The investigation may come to nothing. There may be nothing illegal going on. And if so... cool, nothing's going on, and that's that. But multiple people at Planned Parenthood said some very questionable things. And that face up there on that video... that's the Poster Child of the Go Look in the Fucking Mirror society if she thinks that calling people idiots will make an investigation go away, or should make anyone feel bad about calling for it.


Keep in mind that the question of whether anything illegal has been done is entirely separate from the question of whether you think it should be illegal.

Here's an example: illegal drugs are... you can say it... illegal. In my Libertarian heart, I don't think they should be. But they are... and that means, all personal wishes aside, if you do the drugs you're going to jail.

Similarly, in the case of Planned Parenthood, "BUT SCIENCE!!" doesn't offer a defense against tissue that's illegally obtained or transferred. That's not being pro-Science... it's being pro-Stupid, and you'd still go to jail. Separately, we can have a discussion about whether the law should be changed, and how.


Furthermore -- and this is a discussion to be expanded at a later date -- I'm getting more than fed up with vigilante justice and blatant disregard of due process, of which this video is an example.

Political Correctness has focused our society on feelings above logic.  It has resulted not only in Political Correctness, but the instant gratification of Internet Mob Justice that can ruin lives without proof, due process, or recourse of any kind. It has even skewed what it means to be skeptical to the point where Rebecca I-run-a-brain-trust Watson has chosen to leverage what critical thinking skills she has to publicly indulge in sophomoric name-calling.

In this video, Watson would attempt to convince you to skip all that due process, and investigation of substantiated claims, take her word for it that there's nothing untoward going on, and go straight to a dismissal.

Presumably, because you're a "fucking idiot", you won't see what she's doing there.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

There's Nothing New Under the Sun... Unless You're Backing Bernie posted an opinion piece July 29 with following title:

As it appears when shared on Facebook, there is beneath that the subtitle:

Bernie Sanders might have a chance if people started believing he has a chance. 

There's a chance if there's a chance!
Can I get a hallelujah?
You don't say! I initially didn't click through, and simply posted back the completely pedestrian (and completely factual) observation that both the headline and the tagline are tautologies (in the logical sense).

Now, what I didn't know at the time, and what makes this interesting now, is that the Facebook friend who posted the link is also the guy who wrote the article. And he doesn't take very well to having his opinion called "unnecessary", particularly when it's unread.

Now, my intent wasn't to personally insult him (remember, I had not read the piece when commenting on the headline), but I did. That's my failing. He's a nice guy, personally, and I like him. The by-line is way at the bottom of the piece, shoved below the prominently illustrated "promoted content" and just above the comments, so I didn't even know he wrote it. But in responding to the article as I would any opinion piece, I came off as something of a dick... which is something I just do. Case in point... I'm not done doing it.

You see, now that I've read it, and I know he wrote it... my observations are the same. I can't honestly change them simply because I stepped on the guy's feelings. And I happened to be right. But here's the stuff he doesn't want to think about. [1]


There are several meanings of the word "tautology". One of them is "redundant", but another is "self-defining": that is, true by its very construction, and this is the sense in which the title is tautological. You can put any name whatsoever on either statement, and it is true. Since it is 100% equally true that my neighbor Ned would have a chance at the Presidency if people started believing he has a chance, this observation carries no information.

Now, there are three levels to this piece, the first of which is the title, which by virtue of being tautological, is uninformative. Then there's the body of the piece; which, taken at face value, is slightly less uninformative, but in a different way. The gist of it is this:
  1. Bernie Sanders represents ideas that have broad support among Liberals.
  2. Liberals aren't supporting Bernie Sanders as much as they should because they don't think he can win.
  3. That's a shame.
Maybe so. I pointed out that this is true in every election. There is always some candidate who has really popular ideas and no serious chance of winning. It's terribly uninteresting to note that they could win if only people supported them. That's determined by the definition of an election.

As Ben clarified, "The article is a simple nod to the fact that Bernie is in an unusual position of having support without the faith of his own supporters."

Now, first of all, I think that Bernie has a very good chance at securing his party's nomination. It's far too early to say that he doesn't have the support he needs. Campaigns exist to gather and direct that support. It would be daunting indeed to count the number of candidates who have come from behind to win a nomination or general election.

However, imagining for the sake of argument that Ben is correct about Bernie's support, it is NOT an unusual position to be in. Not at all. Most Libertarians are intimately familiar with the phenomenon, as the vast majority of Americans respond in libertarian fashion when questioned as to their ideas, but still vote for Democrats or Republicans because they psychologically desire to back a winning candidate. Furthermore, while Ben's observation applies to candidates who are "properly labeled", it is a subset of  a problem that can be extended further, to include people who aren't even considered for their ideas due to party branding, such as John B. Anderson in 1980 or Gary Johnson more recently.

Let's provide some examples:
  • Ron Paul has in past elections had broad support among Libertarians, Republicans and Democrats, and many of those who liked his ideas voted for a candidate that "has a chance of winning".
  • Rand Paul has similar buzz around him today.
  • Ditto for Phil Gramm in the 1992 Republican primary. In his case the entirety of one commentator's (Bill Maher's?) rebuttal of Gramm's platform was "Look at him." There can be no bigger indictment of voter superficiality than this... but even this isn't new. Whether a candidate is "pretty" strongly influences the voter's assessment of their electability.

This is called strategic voting, and it's a feature of our electorate system and our psychology. I'll let Wikipedia explain it.

Now, upon first reading Ben's piece, I took it to be a sincere, albeit uninspired, observation of the phenomenon of strategic voting (without being identified as such), and if you read it, you would probably walk away with the same conclusion. So I responded with an identification of the phenomenon, and at least one way in which it can be eliminated:

Instant runoff voting allows voters to vote their conscience, knowing that if they're backing a loser, their vote will fail over to an acceptable alternate candidate. With this system, while many voters will not get the candidate their first preference, they will inevitably get the candidate that represents the largest possible consensus of the electorate. It is truly a solution to the problem of strategic voting. However, as I pointed out to Ben,
Whether you see this phenomenon [strategic voting] as tautological or a travesty often depends on the strength of your own support for the candidate. But quickly you realize that there is an aspect of gameplay to electioneering, and the rules are not structured to ensure the most representative candidate. Rather, there's a strong bias for a certain presentation, party backing, and the perception of electability. And those who actually make the election rules aren't terribly motivated to change them because they're not playing the same game you and I are.
Let's amend that to say they're not playing the same game I am. And we do have a Catch-22 here. In order to change the system in order to encourage voters to vote their actual preference, then you need lawmakers who are inclined to set up election rules that enable it. But all of those in office are beneficiaries of the existing tilted system. So it is definitely an uphill climb, and one in which minority influence will have to be brought to bear to effect change.

Now, keep in mind that IRV is a permanent solution to the problem that is the superficial message of Ben's piece. Now, I would not have expected Ben to come up with that solution. But I most certainly would have expected him to be open to discussion of it in a conversation about the problem. Nevertheless, this was the response:
And I really don't care about your runoff idea. It's not part of the article. I don't care if you think the article shows why it's important, that's not the point. The point is, the grassroots internet movement of this particular candidate (yes similar to Ron Paul, but not entirely) is bigger than it's ever been; but those supporters are still pragmatic. And that's a new thing. Because the internet is new. It is having a larger and larger affect over elections as the years go on, and it's bigger now than ever before.
First of all, to ignore history and declare that pragmatic supporters are a new thing just because we now have an Internet is historically inaccurate. This phenomenon didn't just pop into being when millennials were born. That the Internet has a larger impact due to social media is true, but it ignores that the likely effect is to ameliorate strategic voting because people, having a direct connection to larger groups, will feel more support for their outlying opinions. In other words, he still got it backwards: the evidence supports my contention that it's too early in the race to decry Bernie's imagined lack of support.

But the part that is astonishing here is the evident desire to completely ignore an idea that's not already expressed in the article. Conversation does not exist to re-state and express vapid agreement with whatever was just stated. It exists to carry ideas forward. The opinion expressed in the article occupies "heavily cultivated territory"; I'd like to carry it outside the fence, away from the manicured grounds.

Here a problem is presented; a potential solution is offered; and "I don't care" is the response. And although a pronouncement that something is redundant or uninteresting is clearly a personal opinion, to be taken as such in any conversation; and while saying something is redundant or old news is hell and gone from claiming that no one should talk about it; and although I plainly said "it's new to YOU, so enjoy"; and although we had just spent 70+ messages talking about it, Ben decided to repeatedly attack a straw man of his own construction and design.
And you still haven't explained why you think we shouldn't talk about it, even if it has happened before.
That's because I make it a point never to "explain" statements somebody else made up for me. As I had told Ben earlier, " commentary must be unnecessary, because all I have to do is wait for you to make up something on my behalf... which is far more entertaining for me, since it's nothing like I would have said for myself." Sadly, the sarcasm fell into the sar-chasm, and was lost, disturbing a small army of strawmen who sprang up from the abyss.

It was this disproportionate outburst that led me to the third level to the piece, which I had initially ignored, but which underlies everything else. It was disguised as an analysis with a headline so boring as to put me off from reading it until cajoled into it. And it's possible that Ben's not even consciously aware of this level. Certainly my conversation with him leads me to entertain that possibility. The real underlying message, which having been ignored, caused so much pain, is this:

"Vote for Bernie".


Election reform isn't interesting and doesn't address the 'problem' because the 'problem' is that people don't plan to vote for Bernie. So the "real" solution is to vote for Bernie.

That's even less interesting than the superficial message. It almost makes me glad I hurt his feelings. Told you I was a dick.

Photo of Bernie Sanders by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Used with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license. 

[1] Portions of the conversation are reproduced here by virtue of the fact that the conversation in which they appeared was shared with the Public.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vote for Donald!

In my last post I endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic primary (although I'm not a Democrat). I figure I should endorse someone on the Republican side, if only out of a sense of fairness (although I'm not a Republican either).

So this time, after a careful examination of all of the candidates, I'm backing Donald Trump for the Republican primary. Why? For the same reasons I'm endorsing Bernie, of course! He's unelectable.

The Ric Flair of politics. WOOOO! WOOOO!

Yes, a bunch of folks are all excited about plain talk and in-your-face-attitude, but now happens to be the time of day when that stopped clock Lindsey Graham is right: Trump is a jackass. Even the people who like and support what he's saying know that he's a boorish, un-Presidential, un-statesmanlike jerk. That's why they like and support what he's saying... it needs to be said, unfiltered. But it's entertainment, not politics. That's why at the end of the day, over 60% of people responding to polls have indicated that they would not vote for Trump for President under any circumstances whatsoever.

The Democrats have no viable candidate. On the other hand, the Republicans have too many candidates; anyone reasonable will most likely be drowned out by the noise. Given that both parties are doing their damnedest to completely shred their chances at winning the presidency in 2016; and given that the American people may very well be offered a choice between the loud drunk guy at the bowling alley bar and the Second Coming of der F├╝hrer, enough may very well choose to quit the game altogether and vote for a sane choice.

In a year when any Democrat who wasn't a complete liar or idiot could ride Obama's coat-tails into the Oval Office -- and failing that, the Republicans could have walked into the White House virtually unopposed --who could have imagined that the best hope for a Libertarian president would be those same two parties?

Here's hoping they keep up the good work.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vote for Bernie!

Kevin D. Williamson wrote a piece about Bernie Sanders for the National Review:

Apparently, Williamson doesn't like him much. If he had "checked his Intellectual Privilege" he might be more enamored with the fellow.

Me personally, I wouldn't complain if Bernie were to trounce everyone else in the Democratic party... at least all the folks they have running now. In fact, I fully endorse him as the Democratic candidate. And it's not because I checked my Intellectual Privilege either.

It's because he's unelectable. The nomination of Bernie Sanders would all but guarantee a Democratic loss. I don't much like anybody they're fielding, and Bernie stands a good chance of winning the battle and losing the war. The reason is that the last time we put "Nationalism" and "Socialism" together, we got this:

Sieg Heil!
(not the real Hitler: just an amazing facimile)

All he's missing is a red flag with a black-and-white hakenkreuz. Yes, I know of Bernie's background. Sonuvabitch should be ashamed of himself. Don't think so? Read the piece. Then go watch a speech or two of his and see for yourself. Make sure to bring your Intellectual Privilege; you'll find it handy.

UPDATE: Bernie's candidacy WOULD have guaranteed a Democratic loss were it not for something that happened just after I first posted this: Donald Trump formally announced his candidacy. Now we're back to two parties arguing over which toilet to put the country in.

Picture from Zach Gibson/The New York Times, modified for (obvious) parody, criticism, and political commentary in accordance with 17 U.S.C. § 107. By the way, there is a boatload of pictures on the web depicting Sanders with his open right hand in the air. Are the photojournalists trying to show us something, or is this all just an amazing coincidence? 

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Oy, veh.  This is one of those posts that's going to be like a chore. The thing is that I was recently "called out" by name to explain how this is not basically true:

The request came from someone I personally like, and I'm responding here to preserve at least some of his anonymity. Here in Ruminations, I am the only one who is a personal target, unless someone chooses to respond without anonymity (see Ground Rules). Also, he didn't write the above [1], so he's not responsible for its misinformation.

So... first, there are some factual things to get out of the way before the meat of the discussion, and I guess we'll do it by panel and by the overarching caption:
  1. It's "rare earth metals", not "raw earth". Ninety percent (90%) of the world's production is in China, not Africa. A great deal is in the United States. Since this graphic specifically targets the iPhone, let's look at those sources [link to CNet]. Note the differences in practices between Communist China and Molycorp in the US.
  2. Energy from the Middle East is acquired through cash. How do you think the Saudis got rich? The countries at which we are at war have comparatively miniscule oil deposits. Only about 13% of the total oil used by the US comes from anywhere in the Middle East. We get more than that from Canada or Latin America individually; and produce the plurality of it ourselves [link to NPR].
  3. The term "sweatshop labor" is somewhat debatable [2], but when the labor is forced it is the product of authoritarianism, which does not describe a free market economy. Here, once again, we're talking about China. Perhaps the meme writer is virulently opposed to communism? If so, I'm with him. I'll discuss below how this ties to the US economy. By the way, the suicide rate among Foxconn employees is lower than that of the general population [link to Wikipedia].
  4. The phone is designed to work. It's made of glass because it depends on capacitive touchscreen technology and to make it easier to clean and more scratch- and light-resistant than plastic. In Liberal-speak, "Because SCIENCE" [link to Wikipedia]. It's therefore fragile, though the designers do their best to make it as rugged as the physics allow. "Gorilla glass" is tempered, but there will always be some idiot who purchases a phone made of glass and then drops it on concrete or puts it in his back pocket. The failure isn't with the design of the product, but that it's used outside of its design parameters. Why does it break? Because it's designed for smart, careful people and stupid careless ones buy it.
  5. "The efficiency..." The graphic invokes scant criticism of capitalism except to those who use sloganeering as a substitute for facts; and quite a lot of criticism of the communist and totalitarian practices pictured in three of the four panels. The use of the word "efficiency" is curious; it evokes logical non-sequiturs such as this gem from Carlos Blanco: "Capitalism consecrates efficiency as the highest form of life [3]. Basically... no. Even if this were a tenet of capitalism you'd have to explain the obsession with it in the Soviet five-year plans. But it's not, as we'll discuss below.  
Basically, every single panel AND the caption all have factual problems. As a result, it's so fucked-up bat-shit stupid that it's "not even wrong".

Now, I'm not going to spend a shit-ton of time on this because it's just not that difficult, and because I've discussed a lot of the core of it before when discussing the previous fact-challenged "Occupy" movement.

Capitalism is about the freedom to trade your goods and services, whatever they might be, however they may be produced, with customers who pay in capital... money... tokens of value. Capitalism as an economic system makes no demands on the efficiency of production or anything else. In fact, there is no economy on Earth that is not capitalist, China included. They all use capital; every single one. Rather, what we mean when we say "capitalism" is "free market capitalism", of which there is precious little as well.

As an example... contrary to the captioned claim, "efficiency" isn't the overriding goal of Capitalism. There are plenty of companies, run by capitalists all, that are run on social, charitable -- or even moral -- principles [4]. A good many of these are privately held simply because the misinterpretation of capitalism has led to the passage of fucked-up laws that penalize corporations for acting in any fashion that does not put profit first unless it is specifically structured to be non-profit or not-for-profit. The board of a corporation can be sued for failure to put profit over principle... that is, a failure to discharge their fiduciary duty to the shareholders. This is measured solely in dollars by the courts.

These laws were put in place (ironically) to prevent abuse. Instead, what happens is that the legal interference in the free market forces a corporation to maximize profit and thus discharge their legal obligation. Labor is then exported to where it is cheapest, and the capitol trickles out of the economy into that of another nation, such as China. China has no incentive to pass the capital to the workers (it is the low cost of labor that got them the capital in the first place), and it is the central (nominally communist) government that reaps the reward. The capital doesn't get spent back in the US economy because we are dealing with a market that is less free, and those who caused the rupture then gasp at the "failure" that they themselves created.

This isn't a failure of capitalism, it's a failure to understand it. This isn't unusual. Most liberals and conservatives alike are unaware that capitalism is not inherently tied to a form of government, even when they otherwise understand economics. Voting a socialist into office will not rid you of capitalism; neither will voting in a despot. Wikipedia's Free Market entry has a nice summary of free market capitalism under various systems, but you should follow the references to the source (which, if you're the person for whom this post is written... you won't).

Free markets work so long as everyone in it is fully engaged in the free market. It's why we outlaw most monopolies. But our legislators have gone beyond that reasonable protection of a free market to bi-partisan regulatory stupidity that raised the operating costs of maintaining a publicly-held company, discouraged registration on the stock exchanges, and required the quest for "efficiency" that this fact-challenged graphic presumes of "capitalism".

As for this graphic, those things that it decries are the products of non-free market conditions of the very sort resulting from the policies of interventionist populists who promise the world because they think you're dumb enough to believe they'll deliver, even as the Chinese system continues to be abusive and the Soviet system failed entirely through isolationism.

So no... it is NOT "basically true".

[1] It possibly originated at

[2] How can "sweatshop labor" be a debatable term? Well, freely chosen as an alternative to other employment working in rice paddies or cane fields, it is certainly a step up, and represents the meeting of the skills you have to offer with the employment available. Even in the US it's so commonly done voluntarily that we have a term for it: "workaholic". When forced, it is certainly deplorable; and in worst cases it's barely a step removed from slavery. In Korea, at least during my parents' last visit, roadside grass was cut by hand, even though machines could do it. This isn't to exploit the people... rather, it is explicitly so that people can take what they reap home and feed their livestock. The argument against hard labor and/or long hours across the board is a culturally insensitive one made from a position of First World privilege

[3] Blanco, Carlos: Philosophy and Salvation: An Essay on Wisdom, Beauty, and Love as the Goal of Life, p. 150.

[4] As an example, Chick-fil-A is privately held and does not open on Sunday, unlike all publicly held corporations in the same economic niche. It is closed on Sunday because the founder felt, "I was not so committed to financial success that I was willing to abandon my principles and priorities. One of the most visible examples of this is our decision to close on Sunday. Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business." And yet... capitalist.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Smell the Irony, Redux

Without these, what will we use to line our birdcages?!?
I don't like to let an opportunity go missed. I received a comment for my last post, (Smell the Irony) that was delicious. However, apparently the commenter thought better of it, because when I went to approve it, I found that it had apparently been deleted. Since it *was* deleted, I'll withhold the name of the commenter, but the comment itself was too pithy not to respond. Yes, I realize that, since it was withdrawn by the commenter, even he must have found something wrong with it, which makes it a bit of a straw man; but honestly I don't care.  As straw men go, this one is a living, breathing example of what someone in the journalism business thinks. I'm not going to reproduce it in its entirety (it was longer than my original piece; hence this is also), but you'll get the gist well enough from context.

The commenter (to whom I will hereafter refer with the Slashdot convention of "Anonymous Coward", or "A.C.") lead with, "Maybe you should learn a bit more about the journalism business before you slam them for wanting to make a living doing the job. " And took me to task from there. A.C. works in a support role in the field of Journalism.


Full disclosure on my part for your benefit, A.C. ... I did learn a bit more about the Journalism business before I opined. I was raised in a newspaper household from the time I was 6 years old until I was 21. My stepfather was the foreman of the engraving department at The State/Columbia Record newspapers. We spent every summer vacation at editorial cartoonist Jak Smyrl's beach house at Holden Beach. It was my dream to become a reporter, and I worked hard for it. I was editor-in-chief of my high school paper, steeped myself in All Things Journalism, and became a Journalism major in college.

I decided to switch careers once I discovered that I was in a distinct minority when it comes to valuing facts over spin in news reporting. One day I had a professor ask us why we wanted to become reporters. In a classroom of about 30 people I was the only one who didn't want to shape opinion and change the world. My 'naive' goal was to report the facts so people could make informed decisions for themselves. Of course, this wasn't the only factor in my decision, but this one poll pretty well perfectly summarized the problem for me. We had gone from Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite to newspeak, and only a few years shy of the actual year 1984. I left that very classroom that very day, walked about two blocks to a military recruiter's office, and joined the United States Air Force so I could continue to eat while I reassessed my priorities. The one thing I knew was that I didn't want to work with those asses for the rest of my life.

On the op/ed page, opinions quite rightly rule; but you will rarely, if ever, find neutral reporting in a US newspaper. When you do learn about the journalism business, you can't help but know that the facts presented (or withheld), the tone of the reporting, the lede, the headline... everything is colored by the editorial position that the paper would like to take, and that color is increasingly yellow. It's not terribly noticeable if your opinion and the paper's happen to align. But if you are truly of independent thought, then it is glaringly obvious.

It is true that newspapers are under stress. They are under stress because many of them don't understand the new economic ecology. There was a day when almost the entirety of the news was controlled by the local paper and three broadcast networks. Those decision-makers in the industry who operated in a climate with severely limited competition (and thus continue to overestimate their own importance in a new climate where competition is fierce) are exactly those to whom I refer when I say "dinosaurs of the Press".

Mo' Freedom, Mo' Choice

You speak derisively of people who expect music and movies to be free; but this derision is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of their expectation. Specifically, it's not just the misunderstanding of freedom vs. price: it's a misunderstanding of the way that the economy has always worked.

For instance, music sales have always been driven by people who have heard songs "for free". To pretend it is otherwise is pure historical revisionism. Even prior to "free" radio play, songs were played "for free" by Tin Pan Alley piano players to entice people to buy the sheet music. Now, new channels now exist for monetization. Just because you prefer one over another doesn't mean I have to prefer the same one. The market will determine the winner, and if you bet wrong, then it's not my job to mourn your passing.

Within those new channels, people are more than willing to pay artists, even as they are less than willing to support the system that continues to exploit them. For instance, I pay in advance for indie movies (like this one!) on Kickstarter because I don't expect them for free. Likewise, I preferentially purchase music from indie artists whose work I discovered through free distribution. I've funded more than a few first albums on Kickstarter as well. Furthermore, I provide payments through Patreon to artists directly in order to encourage them to produce more.

So don't bitch about the economic climate. That's what dinosaurs do when they don't want to adapt.


Speaking of that climate, actual newspaper sales are going down. Ad revenue is going down. Duh. Advertisers are still paying for eyeballs, and their customers aren't reading print anymore. This was obvious and foreseeable twenty years ago. And it's true that website traffic is not anywhere near what the original newsprint revenue was, just as it's true that production costs for a website are a mere fraction of the production costs of an ink-and-paper issue. Revenue is not profit, and focus on revenue detracts from an informed discussion of the actual viability of news sources.

Business as usual (to those who weren't asleep)

You berate others for scraping and stealing stories without revenue for the generators, ignoring the fact that the same has always been true of print publications. When someone breaks a story, everyone else will inevitably report on it. You complain as if this is something new rather than the way it has always been, even though you damned well know that to be the case. The only difference here is in the scope of it. Scraping and stealing in toto is certainly actionable plagiarism; however, as you very well know, exceptions have always existed under Title 17 for editorial comment, education, and parody... Fair Use. And attribution isn't plagiarism. When a competitor reports on a story and credits The Times for the information, then it not only increases the reputation of The Times, but readers will want a copy of the first-hand report. There are financial benefits to attribution. Perhaps you don't believe that, or think they're over-rated. Fine. If you want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, then paywall your sites and get them off of the bloody Internet and off of the search engines.

Tell us whether your revenue goes up... or tanks. It doesn't matter which. The point here is you get to make your choices about your business strategy. If you don't like the way the Internet works, don't stand there and bitch about it. Do it another way.

Journalism is most certainly about “prestige and royalties for re-prints and moneymoneymoney.” Yet you say it's not, immediately after having raked others over the coals that very thing. Prestige is what preferentially drives people to your "trusted" publication rather than others and keeps your circulation high. Re-print rights are exactly what's discussed when you're complaining about "scraping and stealing". Profitability keeps you in business. And you have the chutzpah to claim that *I* don't know what I'm talking about. Pot, meet kettle.

Yes, it takes time and effort and cost to put together a story. It's up to you to monetize it, in a way that works in the economy in which you find yourselves. No one is here to change the economy on your behalf simply because you find it to be inconvenient or difficult. And nobody is here to legislate the inclusion of a buggy whip with each motorcar, just because you happen to make the whips.

And none of the economic factors have anything whatsoever to do with the central fact of my commentary. We are still talking about government-held information that has no business being withheld from the public. Our elected officials are not your errand boys and bouncers, keeping the public away from information while providing it to you alone. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law in 1966. Nineteen hundred and sixty-bloody-six. There was no Internet. It was expensive and time-consuming to copy massive amounts of information, so it was reasonable to require a fee and to limit the dissemination to those who asked for it. But 1966 is half a century gone, and you are basing your complaints on a model of investigation and economics that's just as obsolete.

Talk to the hand. I have no sympathy for you.

Frankly, it takes astonishing hubris to imply that the public needs your "rational and reasonable narrative". The first implication is that it is "rational and reasonable", which is debatable. The second implication is that it wouldn't be there without you. The FOIA wasn't put there for you, it was put there for the public. You just happen to be included in that group, and you happen to have benefited for a time from archaic technological limitations. But the FOIA is bigger than you, and facts alone inform the public just fine.

You ask who will make those requests if it isn't for you. Who do you think? Watchdog groups, individual citizens, attorneys for class-action litigation, independent journalists and news organizations that have actually figured out the economy... the list is pretty much endless. Just because you haven't figure it out doesn't mean everybody else is clueless. Ideally at some point we will no longer need the requests at all because the information will be directly searchable, but I am quite serious when I say that incremental improvement is still improvement, and I'll take it.


Finally, you ask whether I give my time and expertise away. Yes, I do, often.

I've not only done it with the little bit of music I create, providing it not only via the web, but also for the occasional community play; I've done it with a number of open source projects that anybody anywhere could duplicate without a contract to guarantee my payment for time and effort.

Here's how it works: I create what I want. It not only acts as something of a portfolio; but also provides me with tailored software that would otherwise be expensive, or often simply wouldn't exist at all. Thus, the effort is of value to me personally even if no one else pays me a dime. I do it when I feel like it, and I provide it for free, because I see no reason not to. Just because I can horde my skills doesn't mean I have to. But it is my work, so I leverage existing copyright law to license my work under Creative Commons so that you can't come along and sequester what I have freely chosen to share them with others.

Now, even though I don't generally advertise it any more, occasionally other people have stumbled upon and used some of my software and asked me if it can be modified for some feature of their choosing. I tell them it certainly can... they have the source code. But I'm nobody's slave. I do what I want for free, but I'll happily do what they want for a fee. And although they could make the change themselves, they have freely chosen to pay for my time and expertise to make the changes for them[1].

It's not just me. Thousands of developers do this, on GitHub, on SourceForge, on OpenNTF and other sites. You're in a tech supporting role, Anonymous. Surely you know that people actually get paid for this stuff. But like the news, the real currency that drives the monetization of skills is reputation.

It's hilarious to me that you would attempt to use my everyday reality as an illustration of your problem, suggesting that if only I understood it, I'd have a better idea of what you're going through.

Smell the fucking irony. 

Image via Flicker by Jon S.  Creative Commons, bay-bee!

[1] But here's what I don't do... I don't put thoughts in other people's heads and then pretend as though I have the right or might to claim exclusive ownership of the thoughts now housed in their brains. What you think of as "intellectual property" is the artificial privilege of limited-time monopoly granted to you by the People through the agency of the State in order to encourage productivity. That is the complete and total extent of its resemblance to "property". Read the Constitution. The delusional mindset that insists on the "right" of "intellectual property" is distilled idiocy. You own your thoughts; but you don't own mine. So if you want exclusive "ownership" of an idea, then the very best way secure it is to keep your mouth shut. Seriously. Otherwise you can expect no more "ownership" than the strict letter of the law allows.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Smell the Irony

This just in from the Washington Post:

Journalists don't want the results of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to be posted on-line. They want the info, but they want it for themselves only, so they can control the public release of the the information that they received under the FOIA.

Anybody see the irony?

The journalists say that it will "suppress" requests. Well, no... not really. Not if you're interested in releasing the information. But if you want exclusive access to the information, it could be a problem.

The journalists say as much. Their problem is that they lose exclusivity over investigations that are built on multiple FOIA requests. They don't lose the ability to perform the investigations, nor do they lose the ability to report on them. But, as the information is now public, they lose the ability to withhold it themselves until they feel like publishing.

This is a problem for them because of the economics of journalism. Exclusives and scoops bring prestige and royalties for re-prints and moneymoneymoney. These are the same journalists who have neither an understanding of, nor a sympathy for, the economics of any other profession, bar none.

And frankly, I no longer have sympathy for the economics of their profession. The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to increase transparency. This is overwhelmingly information that should have been accessible in the first place. The one thing I have a problem with is that filing a request incurs a cost. It would be better if it didn't. But transparency is better than opacity; access is better than exclusion; and I am perfectly fine with taking this as an incremental improvement over the current state of affairs, leaving the price issue for a later date.

Frankly, the dinosaurs of the Press can learn to deal with their new environment, or they can move to Seattle and ask if you want fries with that. I hear they can make $15 an hour.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The First Thing I Remember

I'm taking this break from... well, everything else to jot down a recollection here or there.

The earliest memory I have is from quite early. My brother is exactly two years and three days younger than me, and he wasn't born yet. I know, because I remember his coming, and at this time I was still in the crib I would have to vacate prior to his arrival. I don't think my mother was very far along in her pregnancy, either; so I must have been about a year and a half old at the very oldest.

The crib (which was in my parent's bedroom) was wooden and painted white, with solid head and foot boards. On the headboard was a pastel applique of teddy bears.The vertical bars on the sides of the crib were flat and quite plain. They were slats, really. I would post a picture of a crib like it for you, but I can't find any that are close enough. I'm pretty sure that this sort of design has long been out of use. I have no doubt as to why. Over the crib there was a wind up musical mobile of plastic birds with transparent, painted wings. I would post a picture of this as well, if it hadn't been replaced in all modern designs by things that are vastly more safe and vastly less interesting.


It was the crib's slats that intrigued me. It seemed to me that I should be able to squeeze through and see what was going on outside the door. So I tried. I put my head against a gap and pushed. Sure enough, my head went through... barely.

That was when I discovered that I couldn't fit the rest of my body through the gap, so I gave up and tried to pull my head back. At that point, I made a second discovery.

I had ears.

I sort of knew I had ears anyway. They were the things that got scraped up as I was pushing my head through in the first place, and they were the things that my mother always cleaned behind. But having ears and being aware of them are two different things.

The problem was, my ears folded backwards, and like the barbs on a fishing hook or arrow, they prevented me from pulling my head back through the bars. I remember trying several different ways, and then coming to the conclusion that this was going to be difficult.


I don't know how long I stayed like that. I didn't cry or call for help. Even then it would have been embarrassing; and anyway, I hadn't quite given up. I was just trying to figure it out. I had gotten in there; surely I could get out again. However long it was, that's how my mother found me... head sticking through the bars like a cow in a livestock crush.

She walked into the room and quietly walked up to the crib. She didn't laugh. She didn't shout. She didn't get upset or even look surprised. She just stood there looking at me. After a moment she spoke to me.  She didn't bend down to talk to me; rather she stayed in a position of superiority. She simply said, "Do you need some help?"  I indicated I did. She then asked, "If I help you now, will you try that again?" I indicated that I would not. And then she helped me maneuver my head higher up the bars, where they were more flexible, and separated them enough that I could pull my head back through. Then she took me out of the crib and I got to see what was going on outside the door.

And that's the first thing I remember.

Postscript: For what it's worth, the second thing I remember has to do with my Uncle Vic. We had either just met or it was the first time that I was old enough to talk with him. He said something; I said something, then he turned to my mother and said, "He's one of us." It puzzled me at the time.


Saturday, July 04, 2015

An Official Visit to Niceland

Two months ago I posted an explanation of money called "A Visit to Niceland" in which I described money as a form of IOU between people who are too polite to notice that they'll never actually be redeemed. I was going to revisit Niceland to make the connection between this network of IOUs and our actual monetary system, but I've found it to be unnecessary.

Last night I came across a couple of quarterly bulletins from the Bank of England explaining money in almost precisely the same way as I did. The difference is that rather than being a metaphor for the monetary system, they simply state outright that money is an IOU.

There are two publications, and I'm providing the links to the PDFs here, accompanied by videos thoughtfully produced by the Bank of England. Now, although the Bank of England is more forthcoming with this information than the Federal Reserve, the actual structure of these two banking systems is practically identical.

The first is "Money in the modern economy: an introduction" [PDF]. Make sure you click on and read the PDF, because it's far more informational than the video:

The second is called "Money Creation in the Modern Economy" [PDF]. Again, the PDF is vastly more informative than the video.

Now, here's a video explaining the way that Quantitative Easing works (in case you find the PDF to be tl;dr):

You'll note that there is an inflation rate. Prices rise because they're intended to. And here's a reminder of how inflation works, in case you have some fantasy that supply and demand are now out of the picture.

Now, all of the above is basically a re-statement, from official channels, of everything I said in "A Visit to Niceland". I post it both for the additional information, but as background for what I really want to say, which is continued in the my next post.

Friday, July 03, 2015

After Six Tries, You Still Can't Force Abortion on Religious People reports:

Well, yeah. While the case is pending, the Court has prevented HHS from stepping on the rights of the applicants. Here's a refresher on why:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That's the First Amendment. Now, there are people who, though they project an air of intelligence and education, prove this facade to be illusory by failing to comprehend the very plain, very understandable phrase, "Congress shall make no law...".

Now, with respect to religion it means in part that Congress cannot establish a religion. So far, so good: everyone agrees. But it equally means that Congress cannot prohibit the exercise of a religion that was established by the People themselves independently of their government. And specifically here, it means that Congress can't tell you how to run your religion, particularly when the laws (and regulations established under the authority of law) are at odds with that religion.

For us... the People... it means a few things, too; such as:
  • We must be tolerant of others' religion, as we expect them to be tolerant of ours. This is because the Congress lacks the authority to make people ditch their religious practices to do our bidding. Stated plainly, this means we don't always get what we want from pious people. For instance, it may mean that we can't get the pork chops we love from the Jewish butcher. So buy the veal (it's delicious) and go elsewhere for the pork.
  • If we want something that's prohibited by our religion, we make hard personal choices. For one, we might want to consider whether it is our religion. Seriously. If you don't believe in the tenets of a religion, what are you doing there? 
  • If we are employed by a religious organization, and want secular benefits that they don't offer because of their doctrine, then it's time to look for secular employment. This holds true whether we're disillusioned with the monastic life or we're just the ones who tidy up the sanctuary and vacuum the carpet. Not all of us should work for the church.
  • If we want to kill babies in the womb, and our church cannot abide aiding and abetting such activity -- even if they would forgive us afterward -- then we'll have to do our baby-killing on our own dime. Or, we could get secular employment at a firm that either has no problem with, or cannot avoid, paying for our baby-killing.
  • If we don't think killing babies in the womb is killing babies in the womb, and prefer to assuage our guilt by pretending to ourselves that it is something it's not, then once again we may be fundamentally disconnected from the doctrine of our church, and we should consider whether it actually is our religion. If you can't agree on something like that... probably not.
Yes, I defaced Lincoln's watch.
license: cc-by-sa
Our Supreme Court may resemble a stopped watch at times; but even so, it must be right twice a day. And the fact that Congress has no authority to pass a law governing religion is so blatantly cut and dry that it cannot be ignored or circumvented lightly.

Now, there are limitations on the separation of church and State, yes. For instance, as a nation we won't stand idly by and allow a church to perform human sacrifice, for example. And ironically, the church looks upon this HHS mandate in exactly the same way. If human sacrifice in the name of religion is bad, imagine how much more heinous it is to destroy life for no damned reason at all other than your own convenience. Remember, these are not contraceptives under discussion, but abortifacients.

“This is the sixth time the HHS mandate has been before the Supreme Court, and the sixth time it has lost. Doesn’t our government have something better to do than fight charities serving the poor?”
-- Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel 
Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

image of Supreme Court facade via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain
image of Supreme Court stopped watch copyright by Dave Leigh for this post.Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Nice Try, But Bigamy Isn't Equality reports the following:

But when shared on Facebook, the link looks like this:

Note the clickbait caption... oh, this poor, poor young couple... their heads held low in shame... beat down by "da Man"... so oppressed, so downtrodden. No first wife in sight in the picture. Oh, and of course we're told of their "outrage", because we live in a society where children are trained that throwing a tantrum will get you whatever you want.

What the story doesn't mention, of course, is that the aforementioned first wife is as equally protected by marriage laws prohibiting bigamy as anyone. Thus it IS about "marriage equality", and how these folks are wanting to avoid it.

What they want is legitimacy, and they see the recent Supreme Court ruling as a way to get it. However, they shoot down their own argument with the following:

“It's two distinct marriages, it's two distinct unions..."

They're not arguing for a multiple marriage, but for multiple marriages. And since this is presented as a "distinct union", the rights of the first wife are not under consideration. And thus Nathan Collier and his mistress Christine lose before they start. The courthouse officials were completely right to reject the application outright, and they should have stuck to their guns. The Attorney General's office should reply likewise. Let them take it to court if they want. That won't make it past the court... not even this court, because what they want is the plain language description of bigamy.

Bigamy laws are applied to everyone equally, and aren't affected in the slightest by the recent SCOTUS decision. If two people get married and one of the people marries a third person without divorcing the first one, then guess what...? Bigamist. It doesn't matter whether they're male, female, trans, partial, or whatever might be dreamed up.

These people want exemption from that, and that's not equality; it's special treatment.

So no.


Now, all that said... IF they had argued that they were all joining the same marriage, and the new spouse would be spouse to all existing partners, then we'd be having a completely different discussion. Then we'd be talking about a different kind of marriage... a single marriage of multiple partners, all of whom freely consented. In such a case, bigamy would still be illegal if one of the partners were to enter another marriage outside of his or her current one. And though it might lead to the same result (as it has in every single Western country), the discussion would be far more intellectually stimulating.

Heinlein discussed such things in some detail in his novel The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. One arrangement that he described is a "line marriage", which is basically unending, surviving any individual partner.

Likewise, they could have argued that the government has no compelling interest in limiting a couple to a single marriage. That would have had a harder time, I think, since the government will readily counter with the numerous reasons why the laws against bigamy were passed in the first place. The couple would have to show that these interests are now moot, separately from the SCOTUS ruling.

Such arguments would require quite a bit of discussion in court. And, it's even money whether such a thing would get past the SCOTUS. With this court, I honestly could not bet one way or the other. But that's not the argument this group makes. Instead, by phrasing it in terms of "equality" when it's not, they chose a stupid one that fails with an effortless rebuttal.