Monday, July 30

Bach attack

From the west coast:

City authorities, fed up with gang activity in public places, are taking Bach their bus stop.

Transit workers are installing speakers this week to pump classical music from Seattle's KING-FM into the Tacoma Mall Transit Center. The tactic is designed to disperse young criminals who make drug deals at the bus stop or use public transportation to circulate between the mall and other trouble-prone places.

That's hilarious and quite a simple solution if it works.

Too bad people in general know little about classical music anymore. The author only mentions "Bach, Brahms and Beethoven" and "divertimentos, scherzos and polonaises". That's scraping the top of the iceberg. Sonatas, concertos, strum und drang anyone? How could they not mention Mozart? But the biggest faux pas has to be that Beethoven wasn't classical, he ushered in the romantic period.

But that's just splitting hairs of stuff that people find repulsive. If someone wanted to disperse me they'd have to play the opposite: either rap or country music. I think I'll put on a record of Eroica.

I think the great composers are more interesting than a lot of the musicians in the past century. They were all child genus people types working to make art whereas a lot of modern radio music seems to be variations of a 4 minute formula: three verses, a bridge/key change, and then wrap it up. Something all musicians have in common is being broke. The composers had to find patrons to sponsor them otherwise they had no income as people freely copied their sheet music without paying royalties. That happened to Mozart and then he dropped died at 35. Beethoven, on the other hand, went deaf; that's got to be the definition of irony.

Wednesday, July 25

In a groove


It's official, I'm spinnin' like a politician. That's right, I got an old turntable earlier this week! I've been rock and rolling these last few days.

It was strangely fun to go to the music store and crouch down to look through the boxes of records under the cd tables. I am now the proud owner of a start to a small record collection. I can truthfully say that I now have more Simon and Garfunkel records than anyone my age should know even know about (and I even know the words to most of their songs). I first heard about them from my mom, who said that one of the nuns played S&G and had then analyze songs like poetry. (She talks about other musicians, too.) I also bought some Beatles and other stuff.

Up until the past few days, the only place I had ever seen or heard a record being played was in the classroom of my grade school's music teacher, but that wasn't real music. We children could never figure out how she always knew exactly where to put the needle to play a certain song. My parents had cassette tapes. That's what I think of when I think of the 80's, my birth decade: cassette tapes, Reagan, bad taste in fashion and pop culture, the Berlin Wall, and gray generic offices.

The sound from vinyl record albums is definitely on par with cd's (and there's something hypnotic about watching the label in the center spin). To me music from a record sounds fuller and deeper than from a cd or computer. Ignoring the periodic pops from the occasional scratch, the infrequent random crackles give it some character. Teasing sound from a record is simple compared to what's involved with computer files.

It's been probably two decades since the decline of the record, at least. It doesn't help that cd's have three advantages over records: size, crackles, static, and no flipping. Also, the music companies got everyone to rebuy their favorite music on cds.

Records aren't dead; new music is still released on vinyl albums. At least half of the new albums in the store had stickers saying that they contain a code allowing the purchaser to go online and download the mp3's. Those albums are still competitive since they go for about $20 when a new cd is around $14-15 anyway.

Cd's are probably it as far as a physical medium for music. Perhaps they'll eventually be smaller, only a few inches big with better technology, but I don't think they'd ever sell music on microchips. If anything music would mostly move to downloading files on itunes and others, but I'd never buy files. I always want a hard copy when something involves money.

In the meantime, I'll start hoping for a record renaissance.

Bonus concerning the picture I took of a record playing (click it for a bigger image): Identify the band and album for a touchdown and the kick (one should lead to the other), and/or try for a field goal and name the record company.

Tuesday, July 24

The rise of minimum wage

Minimum wage has had the first of its three bumps to eventually reach $7.25 in two years. Today it went up 70¢ to $5.85. Some people are surely celebrating this triumph for the working masses who day after day toil away for a pittance. If only it were really that way.

When Congress mandates a minimum wage, as was first done in 1938 at 25¢ an hour, it makes it illegal to hire anyone for less than the minimum wage. If you were an employer and the minimum wage were $5.85, would you hire someone at $5.85 who's skills, or lack thereof, are only worth, say, $3/hour? Why would you? Businesses are not charities. Employers want the best employee they can get for what they can pay.

An example would be the student approved (yet status unknown) "living wage" referendum here on campus. It would have required the student Unions to pay a "living wage" of, I believe, at least $10.23 an hour. For that price and taking into consideration that any college campus is labor saturated, whom would the Union hire? Would they hire an undergrad? At those prices they could likely attract grad students and real adults, pushing out students who could use any job. They mean well, but haven't fully considered the consequences.

Minimum wage shuts people out of the workforce by making them illegal to hire and increases unemployment. Price floors, or a minimum price for something, create surpluses. Employers who have to pay more in salary than they would otherwise, then hire less workers.

Big companies, like national big-box retain chains who often find themselves on the other side of the table from labor groups, like minimum wage increases. They can absorb the cost of slightly more expensive labor whereas a mom-and-pop store with whom they're competing can't perhaps forcing them to close, further consolidating the big corporations' hold on the market.

Since the government wants to make it illegal for certain people to work, it then has to provide some kind of welfare to them. For simplicity, let's say minimum wage is $1 an hour, or $40 a week, then how much welfare should be given out? If the government gives anything less than the minimum wage amount to the unemployed, they're being ripped off. If welfare gives $40 a week to unemployed people, then why would someone actually do something just to get the same $40 an hour? With it still at $40, why would someone work for $50 a week? All their labor would really only be worth $10 more than they could get by doing nothing?

It's easy for politicians to promise higher wages. The positive consequences of higher wages and more money is short-term and very visible, but the negative consequences are often hidden and result over the long term: fewer people employed, more expensive products, inflation, and businesses losing their competitiveness eventually closing.

Monday, July 23

the Tragic Tragedy of the Commons

There's a bit of a debate about the tragedy of the commons going on over at Letters in Bottles and Dorshorst's.

The tragedy of the commons was a parable used to illustrate how free access to a resource dooms it through over-exploitation. Imagine a community field on which the town's farmers are able to graze their animals. Any farmer acting in self-interest would realize that he could get more money with additional animals. Moreover, he will keep the full profit of each animal and only have to absorb a fraction of the wear it has put on the field. Ergo, each farmer will cram as many animals as he can into the pasture, maximizing his profit while ruining the field that everyone else uses.

There are a few remedies:

  1. Free Market: The field could be privatized so that one farmer could decide how it should be grazed. His interest is making a profit from grazing animals while keeping the field in as good a condition as possible for future years.
  2. Mixed Economy: The government could start regulating the field. It could sell grazing licenses or set up quotas to prevent the overuse of the field. The bad side: we all know how great committees are, then the mayor would have to start sucking up to the farmers' lobby to get reelected and make promises he didn't really have any intention of keeping, and the government then has to decide who gets to graze--farmers who weren't allowed to graze (perhaps one of the farmers doesn't like the other farmers and is friends with the mayor or committee) will then go complaining about a lack of fairness and justice.
  3. Socialism/Communism: The farmers could divide up all their proceeds evenly to spread around the profit as they had to spread around the costs. It will likely be enforced by the government.

(On a side note, trying plan 2 would probably create even bigger problems, perceived as having come from plan 1, which would requiring the condemnation of plan 1 and the implementation of plan 3.)

Dorshorst applies this parable to the real world issue of global warming and air pollution--each of us gets the full profit from whatever we do that makes pollution while getting 1/6.5 billionth of the cost.

I think another example of the tragedy of the commons is city garbage collection. No matter how much trash any individual makes, it all goes on the curb to be collected. The cost from the collection service and landfill expense is then divided amongst the town, so any large trash producer doesn't experience any incentive to not make huge amounts of trash--he pays the same as the grandma who puts out one bag. It would be more fair for the townspeople for the trash to be weighed or volumed and then divided up by amount contributed that way. In that way, people would have an incentive to make less trash.

Or how about considering Wisconsin's plan for state-wide health insurance. Is this not a Commons being set up for a giant Tragedy? People who go to the doctors will spend money on unnecessary extra procedures, devices, and care because they get the full benefit and pay only a tiny fraction of the additional cost. This kind of stuff already goes on with medicare, medicade, social security, or any kind of insurance driving up the costs for all. They're not intentionally evil, the system is just set up so that it's in their interest to do so.

Another example is the way transportation works in the U.S. The government has spent countless billions building highways and airports--the cost is divided somewhat equally amongst all taxpayers--yet some people fly and drive like crazy, using their share much more than others, creating polluting all over the place. If the government did not subsidize and give out corporate welfare then people would pay for the price of the airport in their airfare, gasoline costs, highway tolls reflecting the true cost of transport which would discourage them from doing so. In fact, with the subsidies removed, $558.7 billion to $1.69 trillion per year, the true price of gas is somewhere between $5.60 and $15.16 per gallon, for example.

The government started meddling with the economy to expedite the development of certain industries. The booms in the '20's and '50's could partly be explained as having come from the auto industry and then the nation's development of a road system, respectively. The government spends money and creates jobs and everyone's happy, but the actual costs get displaced onto the taxpayers and consumer's prices decrease spurring more demand.

There is one main problem with a mixed and/or centrally planed economy, besides its lack of flexibility and speed. In a free market, if someone makes a bad decision, he or his company, which may involve a group of stockholders, may lose their investment and go bankrupt while everyone else barely notices a blip. When the government makes a plan, if it makes a bad decision, everyone (who is involuntarily involved) pays the cost. (You can make up your own scenario about involving the farmers, the common field, the mayor & committee, and the town's taxpayers involving, say, a drought.)

And I can reasonably conclude that the government should not interfere with the economy as much as possible.

Dorshorst even brings up prisoners' dilemma, another example of cooperation versus self-interest. In a nut shell, if both parties agree to cooperate, the total benefit is greater than if one cooperates and the other self-interests or if they both self-interest. In my opinion, the prisoners' dilemma makes the case for voluntary exchange i.e. capitalism, over simple stealing or taking by force by means of the government. Given the commons and farmers, I think the best solution would be for the farmers to get together and figure it out themselves. I think the ideal solution would be to privatize the field, why is the government in the field business?

Finally, he concludes that government is formed as "a behavioral instinct to form rules and laws to limit our individual self interest". I disagree, government is formed to protect our property. What is property without a government? People realized that cooperation is in their best interest, and so we form and maintain a government to enforce what is mine and what is yours. If I want your property, I attempt to cooperate with you by involving the voluntary exchange of money. I don't run up and beat you and steal it, and I don't go whine to the government about "justice".

Thursday, July 19

This just in

I was sitting in my dining room reading. Out of nowhere I heard screeching brakes.

The collision sounded like a soda can being crumpled underfoot, though on a much larger scale, and just as quick. As soon as I made it to the window on that side of my place, the neighborhood folk were gathering with cell phones out dialing.

I walked and crossed the street to see the top side of the minivan. All of the side windows were smashed out and I was grateful to find that the driver had escaped, unharmed. He was fine and removing his wares within minutes. The other car was one of those big old low cars and it was damaged, but I didn't see its front.


At this intersection on Brooks Street, the minivan had the right-of-way and the cross street has stop signs. Apparently, the young man in red shorts completely blew through the stop sign and into the side of the van. It was a Plymouth minivan.

The emergency people quickly arrived and the firemen poured sand on leaking fluid and swept up the glass. No one was hurt and as of now the van is on the back of a truck. Though the neighborhood turned out gawking and I got to meet the neighbors, I still felt too much like a voyeur taking this picture.

Don't be envious

I came across an interesting article that argues that envy is the motivation behind collectivism, and not jealousy.

In 1966, the German sociologist Helmut Schoeck wrote a classic book, A Theory of Social Behavior. He argued that envy is the root cause of socialism and other forms of compulsory wealth redistribution.

Most people think the cause is jealousy. The jealous person says: "You’ve got something I want. I’m going to take it away from you." Schoeck said this explanation misses the more intransigent underlying outlook: envy. "You’ve got something I want. I can never possess it. So, I’m going to destroy what you have. I don’t want anyone to have it until everyone can have it."

Schoeck said that a jealous person can be bought off. He is willing to settle for a piece of the other person’s action. The envious person can’t be bought off. The fact that someone else is in a position to buy him off enrages him. His sin therefore is self-reinforcing.

Envy undergirds socialism, he argued. He therefore concluded that it is impossible to buy off hard-core socialists by offering to share a larger percentage of national wealth with them. They will not go away. They will demand all: complete equality. Will this undermine economic production? They don’t care. They are not jealous. They are envious.

It's on the long side, but a good read.

Wednesday, July 18

Music Video Mittwoch

Today's music video is Feist's My Moon My Man:


This song, which I believe was part of a recent cell phone commercial, is from her recently released album, The Reminder. Overall, it is pretty good, I'd give it a 'B'. She's got a few rather catchy songs (check out this and this) on it, but the album, in my opinion, is weighed down by a couple of slow songs. Normally, the songs I immediately don't like on an album end up growing on me, but they haven't so far. Regardless, she's on the rise so she ought to be putting out more good music in the future.

Friday, July 13

Like pulling teeth

These were my left side wisdom teeth. My spring break trip was to the dentist. After a few months of oral asymmetry, the planned exit strategy for the righties will commence tomorrow. I'll be down and out this weekend.

Why soccer won't overtake football

I was just watching the news on the cable news channels. Today is evidently the unveiling of David Beckham and a great day for American soccer, I guess. Fox had a British guy in L.A. reporting, among other things he said that Britain was happy to be getting rid of them as celebrities. Then CNN covered it and I think the business channel was interviewing a team business man.

I think that in America in the near future, soccer won't overtake football here. Between the US and the rest of the world, football and soccer are like water and oil. The division is a lot more deeper than a nation's attention span. Football is a pretty good demonstration of American success in comparison to soccer, which is a socialist success model.

Football is very American. Though it's a team sport, it's individualistic in that every player has a special set of skills and job to do: big people play on the line, fast people are receivers and runners, quarterbacks are smart, kickers kick. Yet everyone is willing to work together, at least enough, to achieve a bigger goal.

War imagery is used a lot in football. Offense and defense, attack the opponents, blitz, etc. Everything is measured out and every movement is defined by strict rules. Both teams line up in neat little formations and take turns, "downs" as they say, attacking each other with plays. It's not unlike Napoleonic Warfare which was the style of fighting in use from the War of Independence through the Civil War.

Just like war and traditional adult life, it's the males doing battle and the women are on the sidelines cheering them on. Consider the uniforms. Sure they make playing safer, but they accentuate certain areas like the shoulders and other spots to make the players look bigger and stronger, more manly. It's the same for the cheerleaders. Their uniforms highlight their femininity and they're assigned to doing what they do best: making noise and looking pretty.

In football, like capitalism and war, the point is to win. Both teams may score dozens of points, but there's a definite winner. In soccer the scores are often less than 5 points total and there's often no winner, just a tie.

Soccer, like socialism, is more team oriented. In soccer there are ten players on the field and a goalie. With the exception of the goalie, there's no exceptionally special skill to soccer other than running around and kicking. For the most part the players are all interchangeable and virtually the same, striving for the glory of the team. Players are much more equal on the soccer field than they would be on a football field.

Soccer is the main sport of the Europeans. I think it fits well. For example, the French are upset that their new president jogs every morning. They hate jogging so much that they call it "le jogging"--they haven't even made up a French word for it, which they do for everything because they hate using foreign words. Whereas we'd see jogging as maintaining one's health, they see it as "Sarkozy [fueling] a French suspicion that running is for self-centered individualists like Americans." Talk about cutting the tall flowers.

Though, I suppose, it's not completely black and white. Touchdowns are often made after a team working down the field and soccer goals can only be kicked in by one foot.

Wednesday, July 11

An engineer attemps political analysis

I think things are on the rise for Ron Paul, especially after last week when it was revealed that after a Q2 donation boom, he's got more money on hand than John McCain. Furthermore it seems that McCain is on his way out as yesterday, four of McCains top campaign people quit.

I had a little fun putting together a table about the candidates:

Candidate

Asset

Liability

Hillary Clinton

already been president

she’s a Clinton

Barack Obama

youngish/hipness?

no experience

Al Gore

seasoned and well-known

sound of voice/one issue

John Edwards

dashing good looks induce the vapors in voters

all style; average people don’t care for rich guy who says he’s a poor guy

Bill Richardson

got the credentials and executive experience

he's quite Fred Flintstonesque

Candidate

Asset

Liability

Rudy Giuliani

America’s mayor

going to get swiftboated with 9/11 response mistakes and personal life

Fred Thompson

an actor, therefore very Reagany

Watergate, not very smart “but he’s friendly” said Nixon

John McCain

War experience

bet on success of failed immigration bill and Iraq, compromises too much

Mitt Romney

was a governor

GOP’s John Edwards

Ron Paul

fiscal policy

anti-war

Tommy Thompson

several term governor, cabinet secretary

“generic older white man” campaign has failed to excite voters


Like I listed, I think for Paul his 20 year record of low taxes and small government make him stand out. As I recall, Republicans are always talking about making the taxes low and the government small. He dominates in cyberspace, but he/they/us need to figure out how to turn that into name recognition in meatspace.

For Republicans that have heard his stand, I think the anti-war thing turns people off. Excluding him, it's black and white between the GOP and Dem candidates on Iraq. I'm not for any kind of immediate withdraw but Paul makes the case that for the past 50 years, when something over there goes wrong, we stick our hand in deeper, intervening, and then when they get upset and do something, we wonder why it happened. That's what he was saying when Giuliani confronted him during one of the debates.

From among the other candidates, Rudy is hanging by a thread--all of the positive feelings from 9/11--while people have overlooked his personal life. On MSNBC they were starting on him by talking about how they put the command center in the bottom of the World Trade Center, they sent in people to help without worrying about air quality, etc.

There's no love here. He's said some pretty discomfort-inspiring things:

We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.

"Freedom" says wikipedia, in case you're curious, "is the right, or the capacity and ability, of self-determination as an expression of the individual will." I guess at least he's against socialized healthcare, though if we're going to go totalitarian, what's the point of holding out, I'd rather have it with a side of socialized medicine anyway.

John McCain tied his campaign to supporting the president. It's obvious that the support the president had is eroding considerably and sinking with it is his candidacy. I can't tell what the main support driving Romney is exactly. Isn't he the 'double Guantanamo' guy? Besides going on vacation with his dog in a cage tied to the roof, belonging to a, how to say without offending anyone, non-mainstream religion, and a little flip flopping, there really isn't anything too big holding him down.

I think Fred Thompson's still got the glow since he hasn't announced yet so he hasn't had to take a stance or answer questions. Also being an actor, he's likely somewhat good at telling people what they want to hear in a way they want to hear it. His skeletons are from Watergate and apparently Nixon said that he wasn't very smart. Perhaps people like him because he seems like a nice, simple guy who couldn't do too much harm. That really hasn't panned out with the current administration.

It's been floating around the past few days, especially on Drudge, that the White House is floating around how to get out of Iraq. Once we're on the way out of there, the war wouldn't be much of an issue. (That's why the democrats are so pushy about it. They want it lost by the election, so it doesn't impair them.) If it happens soon, I think it would benefit Paul because then his major barrier for a typical republican would have evaporated.

So then, the only thing is that Ron Paul needs to get his name out there somehow, so far it seems like most of his support growth is coming from word of mouth and not just hearing his name like the other candidates. It's a little disappointing that the media ignors all but the main few candidates. They don't talk about them because they're fringe candidates yet they wouldn't be fringe candidates if they reported on them more. But, this'd be the perfect time to talk about all the candidates.

On the bright side, Ron Paul stands out and his support seems to be solid. I think the differences between the McCains, Rudies, and Romneys are small and for the most part superficial.

I hope I don't sound like I've been sipping kool-aid. Like Ron Paul says, "Freedom is popular."

Saturday, July 7

A massive, hypocritical fraud

Today Al Gore had a giant Earth concert thing, which I only managed to watch for about a minute before changing the channel. (What can I say? Dave Matthews was playing.) The Mail points out how it's "a massive, hypocritical fraud" that a bunch of celebrities, who live in giant houses with lots of cars, are jetting around the world playing concerts to crowds promoting the environment while using enormous amounts of energy.

I had an environmental studies class this spring and it was very clear that the environmental people take it to religious levels. The temperature of the Earth is always rising or decreasing and the effect humans have on it is a drop in the ocean compared to the role the sun plays.

This spring I saw Al Gore's film and in honor of his concerts, today I watched the Great Global Warming Swindle. It's online in eight 10 minute clips. Ignoring my feelings on their content, the Swindle is a better film than Gore's.

It does an excellent job laying out the facts and de-bunking all the stuff that the environmentalists say. Turns out carbon dioxide levels, the basis of Gore's film, run 800 years behind temperature change, in contrast to Gore who says CO2 causes temperature changes. Rather solar activity, both in brightness and atmospheric cloud formation, more directly correlate as the cause of temperature changes.

I want to remain brief, but the film also covers the government funding monster that propagates global warming, it exposes the abuse of science and scientists, and shows how environmentalists want a return to and have romanticized peasant life (which works well with their communistic agenda).

Wednesday, July 4

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

. . .

Monday, July 2

Liberty is good




I came across this awesome old video of Milton Friedman explaining why limited government is a good thing. In it he explains many things: social security, freedom, classic liberalism, collectivism, and why minimum wage is bad. It's kind of long, 28 minutes, but it's definitely worth it.