29 August 2012

Tab Clearing

The Agitator | Radley Balko | Politicians Need To Be Needed
A politician like Hatch will always demand that powerful people kiss his ring. It’s why people like Hatch go into politics. The proper response is Gates’ initial reaction—to tell people like Hatch to pound dirt. The problems begin—and the corruption beings— when people like Hatch have the power to force people like Gates to respect them. So long as there’s hell to pay for not respecting Washington, no “get money out of politics” law is going to rid the city of corruption.
Read this post; this extract doesn't cover it.

I'm very interested in working on UAVs, but this is a big piece of why I don't want to ever work in the field. I don't want to start a company which the FAA could effortlessly squash because one stuffed-shirt Member makes a call.

Cafee Hayek | Don Boudreaux | On Joe Soptic’s Job-Loss

This is one of Boudreaux's best letters, and that's saying something.

What We Think and Why | Grant Davies | What Libertarians Do


The Thinker Blog | Jeffrey Ellis | Quote of the Day (for engineers)
To be a successful software engineer (or indeed, any engineer), one first needs to be utterly and completely broken by failure. One must be so humiliated by a complex system that they give up and realize that the only chance of moving forward comes from being a supplicant to the complexity, by approaching it with humility and caution, not with hubris. You have to listen to the system, coax it into behaving. Commanding it does not work. – Vivek Haldar
I really wish I had read this before I started my dissertation work. It wouldn't have made things easier, but it would have made dealing with everything easier.

Venomous Porridge | Dan Wineman | App.net isn’t just a country club
How many great ideas for socially-aware apps or services haven’t been built because there’s no common, open infrastructure to build them on?

Twitter could have become that infrastructure if the advertising people hadn’t won. Imagine if 140 characters of flat text were only one of the things that a tweet could be. What if when you added a photo to Flickr, say, your Flickr account “tweeted” (on your behalf) a block of data, tagged as a Flickr photo? People reading your stream from a Twitter client would never see this, because Twitter clients only know how to display text-based tweets. But a Flickr client? It would see just the Flickr data, allowing it to build an aggregated photo stream using Twitter as the plumbing. Now we have the equivalent of Instagram, and we didn’t have to build or scale or maintain any social networking infrastructure.
This is what I thought Twitter was going to be. It was the primary reason I was optimistic about it. I still like it, but I'm not so bullish on it lasting very long since they've turned away from becoming a way to pipe together different services.

ET Modern | Edward Tufte | All Possible Photons: The Conceptual and Cognitive Art of Feynman Diagrams
The resulting conceptual and cognitive art is both beautiful and true. Along with their art, the stainless steel elements of All Possible Photons actually represent something: the precise activities of Nature at her highest resolution.

Gathered together, as in the 120 diagrams showing all possible space-time paths of 6-photon scattering, the stainless steel lines (and their variable shadow, airspace, light, color, form) reveal the endless complexities that result from multiplying and varying fundamental elements.

Tufte & Feynman: two great tastes that taste great together.

Years ago I tried make sculptures of things like half-adders and multiplexers, but I had to use wire instead of round stock, so getting straight lines was next to impossible. One day I'll get around to this.

The Gormogons | Dr J | You have to pass the bill...Part 23

This needs no comment.

How GoogleLimo Punts

The Anti-Planner | Randal O'Toole | Toodling Around DC in the Google Car

As we threaded through downtown DC traffic, he noted that the car relies on GPS for only the most general purposes. Mainly it relies on the information it senses and its built-in knowledge of the area. For example, Google programs the location and height of every traffic signal the car might encounter so it knows where to look for the signals.
This is astounding to me. It goes against every bit of CS education I've received. It's audaciously clever in its very stupidity.
          JAN 2013
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          FEB 2013
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Let me rewind. Back when I first started learning to program, about age 12 or so, one of our class assignments was to write a program that would print an annual calendar given the day of the week of January 1st, like the one to the right. (The follow-on assignment was to figure out that day of the week yourself, which I think is a good interesting problem.)

One student decided that since there were only 14 possibilities (because of leap years) he would just type all 14 calendars in himself, by hand, and have the program print the correct one.

He contended he deserved full credit, because it worked. But it went against the entire spirit of the exercise. Why have a computer program if you're going to do all the work yourself for it? Yes, it works. But it has no elegance. It's ugly. The point is to get a machine to calculate things for you, not to calculate things yourself and have the machine parrot them back to you.

The next fifteen years of programming & computer science has been no different for me: you don't just want a solution, you want an elegant solution. Maybe one time in a hundred the best decision is to step back and hack together an ugly, ad hoc solution. But even in those circumstances your're only putting yourself in the hole. Even in those 1% of cases, half the time that technical debt you incurred is going to have to be repaid in the future, with interest.

Let me illustrate with another story from my CS education. We once had an assignment to write a function which calculated the log of a number to five digits. One kid took a short cut and copied a table of logarithms into his program. It took him about 10 minutes to get this set up, while the rest of us worked considerably longer. That's all fine and well, until the prof saw his cheeky solution and assigned us the next problem: calculate the log to an arbitrary number of digits. Those of us who did things the right way the first time around needed about 20 seconds to modify our programs, while he had to start from scratch. You don't want elegant solutions for the sake of elegance: you want them because they pay off in the long run.

Google threw all that out the window here. Figuring out where the traffic light for your lane is on the fly using computer vision is hard. Very, very hard. (For one thing, computer vision is (almost universally) inherently probabilistic, and concluding that there's a 97% chance your lane's light is green does you absolutely no good at all.) But you know what Google is good at? You know what's an easy — indeed, already solved — problem for them? Driving all over hither and yon, recording data, and putting it in a giant look-up table. That's what Street View is, after all. So they took a look at this hard vision problem and said "screw it; let's just do it the ugly way."

I'm simultaneously scandalized that Google punted on the problem of determining where street lights are, and very impressed at the simplicity of their work-around. They're saying, "We'd rather have something that works the way it's not supposed to than something that doesn't work at all." That's a decision that goes against all my instincts, but it's also the right decision.

PS I have worries that this traffic light location database will be a devil to keep up-to-date, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the very vehicles that need it to be accurate can be leveraged to keep it accurate, so that may not be such a big problem in the long run.

28 August 2012

I can't listen to Zeppelin during take off because the FAA believes in witchcraft. Or something.

Books, Bikes, Boomsticks | Tam | About time...

Seriously, if a plane's electronics are so temperamental that they're in danger of going all divide-by-zero should somebody accidentally turn on their mp3 player at the wrong moment, are you sure that it deserves an airworthiness certificate?

You know how I know that electronics aren't dangerous for planes? If they were actually dangerous, there's no way they would be allowed in the cabin in the first place. If there was a real danger, then the procedure for eliminating that danger would not consist entirely of "have the bored flight attendants wander the aisle and do a cursory visual check for people wearing headphones."

New strategy for terrorists: stop trying to sneak bombs/guns/knives/letter openers/nail clippers onto planes, and just fly with a bag full of cell phones and laptops and mp3 players and GPS receivers. (And a Discman, but only for hipster terrorists who are into the whole retro thing.) Sooner or later your plane will fall out of the sky. I know this is true because the FAA tells me so.

22 August 2012

Potemkin Brewing

Liquidity Preference | Jacob Grier | A brewery in the White House

We are deep into that part of the election when it’s impossible to escape the flood of frivolous news articles about what the candidates ate, exaggerated gaffes, or pretty much anything except actual policy. This week’s example: the fervor about the homebrewed beer that Obama occasionally breaks out on the campaign trail. Crowds chant “four more beers,” reporters get to write punny headlines like “Obama plays up love of beer to ferment coalition of the swilling,” and beer lovers in my Twitter feed gush that the president makes and drinks beer just like them, so, like, who cares about all his Bush-esque civil liberties abuses?

I reacted to the story with my usual political cynicism, but on further reflection having a sitting president publicly boast of his homemade beer represents a real advance in freedom. Though it’s hard to believe as I sit here typing in Portland, Oregon, where making a batch of homebrew with friends is a wholesome afternoon activity, brewing beer at home continued to be against the law in the United States long after Prohibition.

I have to disagree with Grier's optimism. If Obama was using this homebrew as a way of symbolically representing his willingness to bring some more freedom and rationality and respect to America's horseshit alcohol and food laws, then I would be all for it.

I suppose it's nice he's at least paying lip service to the benefits of being free to brew, but that's small beer (*heh*) compared to actually doing something. Check Grier's excellent post for run-down of all the numerous ways DC is still hanging on to Prohibition.

I feel about the same way as if the POTUS was walking around talking about how much he loved Brokeback Mountain and The Birdcage and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It's a step in the right direction, in that I can't even conceive of any President prior to now publicly doing that. But compared to actually taking action and doing things to help gay people, it's worthless. No, it's less than worthless, because if I can't have substance I don't want style that pretends to substance either.

PS Let's also get one thing straight: this is "homebrew" that Obama had made for him by his taxpayer-funded private chefs. This is homebrewing the way rich white jackasses on safari in the 20's would have done it.

"Oh look, I'm a regular guy like you. I work on my car on the weekends too! Except by 'work on my car' I mean 'fly in a mechanic from Mercedes-AMG to tune-up my SL65 for me."

20 August 2012

Welfare Cliffs

Jamul Blog | Welfare Cliffs...

The example on the chart below starts with a single mom earning (through a job) $29,000 a year. She also qualifies for several kinds of welfare payments, which (added to her wages) brings her net income and benefits to over $57,000 a year. Now consider what happens if she gets a raise to $32,000 a year in wages: the welfare payments she qualifies for drop steeply (the “welfare cliff”), and her total income and benefits drop to about $50,000 a year. So...she gets a raise of $3,000 a year, but gets a total income cut of over $7,000 a year. If you were in that single mom's place, would you ask for a raise?

The example in the chart below illustrates a slightly different point. That same single mom would have to get a raise from $29,000 to over $69,000 before she saw higher net income and benefits.

(0) This is a great chart format for this data. These should be used more widely. I'd like to see similar charts for different types of people (single mother; married with two children; etc.). That would be a good way of helping to cut through the bogus descriptions politicians give for their tax/welfare policies.

(1) I still think a lot of the "cliffs" — marginal tax rates of >100% — could be eliminated if legislators stopped using heaviside step functions. Such thresholding makes systems, from image processing to credit monitoring to tax law, more susceptible to noise. Linear — or better yet sigmoidal — phase outs should be used.

Yes, this makes things more mathematically complicated, but the tax or benefits systems are already hellishly Byzantine, so I count this as only a small incremental complication. Either design a worksheet to guide people through the calculations, or compile tables of pre-calculated values, or *gasp* get with the 21st century and put up a web app to do it for people.

(2) In the following, I'm implicitly referring to the withdrawal of a benefit as the equivalent to a tax. Philosophically I don't like doing this, but I don't know of other nomenclature which will make this easy to discuss and I'm in a hurry, so I'm going to lump together actual taxes and withdrawal of benefits under the heading "taxes." (See postscript for more.)

(3) Even with more gradual phase-outs and strong coordination between programs, I've concluded there's just no way to avoid very high marginal tax rates on low income people without reducing benefits.

Note that a horizontal line implies a 100% tax rate. Lowering marginal rates is equivalent to increasing the slope of the curve in this chart. Geometrically, there's only two ways to do that: lower the curve on the left side or raise it on the right side. The first means lower benefits for the poor, the latter means higher benefits for the middle class, which sure as hell better be DOA. It's a non-starter fiscally before you even get into moral considerations.

I wish there was another option, but there's no way to reconcile giving someone with no market income $40,000+ of benefits with them having low marginal tax rates. If you give someone that much money, they're going to have to experience high marginal taxes (and lowered incentives to work) until their market income is well north of $40k.

(4) This is not a normative argument against large redistributive programs, it's simply a description of what must follow from having such programs.

PS Greg Mankiw gives some figures on federal taxes as a percentage of income:
Because transfer payments are, in effect, the opposite of taxes, it makes sense to look not just at taxes paid, but at taxes paid minus transfers received. For 2009, the most recent year available, here are taxes less transfers as a percentage of market income (income that households earned from their work and savings):
Bottom quintile: -301 percent
Second quintile: -42 percent
Middle quintile: -5 percent
Fourth quintile: 10 percent
Highest quintile: 22 percent
Top one percent: 28 percent
The negative 301 percent means that a typical family in the bottom quintile receives about $3 in transfer payments for every dollar earned.

The most surprising fact to me was that the effective tax rate is negative for the middle quintile. According to the CBO data, this number was +14 percent in 1979 (when the data begin) and remained positive through 2007.
This, by the way, is why moving the slope of the curve in the first chart up on the right is not an option.

Here's a chart of similar data from Steven Landsburg for Obama's tax plans (blue) and Romney's (Red):

I bring this up because I have seen Blue Team partisans argue that Obama wants to make those three blue bars on the left lower, and that means he's cutting taxes. That's bullshit prevarication, and they have to know it. It's only cutting taxes to lower one of those bars if it's already positive. Otherwise you're increasing spending, not cutting taxes. The fact that we can't even get people to agree on what's a tax and what's spending is a Very Bad Sign.

15 August 2012

"We're spending a lot of money; let's do some cost/benefit analysis." "No way! What do a bunch of accountants know?"

EconLog | Arnold Kling | Atul Gawande on Health Care Administration

He writes,

The theory the country is about to test is that chains will make us better and more efficient. The question is how. To most of us who work in health care, throwing a bunch of administrators and accountants into the mix seems unlikely to help. Good medicine can't be reduced to a recipe.
Gawande might very well be right. But note that this argument might very well have been right about any industry at any point in history.

"Sure, maybe standardization and management and oversight and numerical analysis will help improve making cars/refining steel/baking bread/writing software/quarrying stone/brewing beer/filing taxes/selling books but I don't see how more administration will help. It's not just following a recipe, after all!"

Yes, many industries have too much bureaucracy, and yes, I am skeptical of bureaucracy as a solution for US health care problems. But I'm also skeptical of an argument that applies this broadly. It might be right, but it's also a generic counter argument to all reform, reorganization, and re-factoring.

14 August 2012

Kapoor's Orbit

How did we get through a fortnight of Olympics and never once hear about Anish Kapoor's "Orbit"?

Based purely on the number of times I heard the words "Birds Nest" and "Water Cube" last time around, I thought NBC would be mentioning Orbit at least every other day. Since they didn't, can we take a moment and appreciate how cool it is? Can we just stop and appreciate the fact that the organizing committee told a sculptor (not an architect (!)) to make a giant thorn-shaped tower in the middle of the park?

Can we also stop and watch these renderings they made? Because these animations are even cooler than the structure itself. Look at that blend of organic and geometric industrial.

[I was going to embed what I thought was a really cool animated concept drawing, but it's blocked by the creators from embedding on other domains and private on Vimeo, so I can't even link to it. It's the first video on this page. Shame they don't want other people to enjoy their work. Not like it's costing Kapoor et al. revenue to let people watch it. What's the logic behind putting it online but not letting people share it?]

I would pay good money to see a Duncan Jones movie with Anish Kapoor as the art director

Okay. Back to work.

What's so special about colleges?

Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | Company to offer its own degrees

A leading business publisher is to become the first FTSE 100 company to award its own degrees.

Pearson, which owns the Edexcel exam board as well as Penguin and the Financial Times, will recruit up to 100 undergraduates from September 2013 for a business and enterprise degree course.

David Willetts, the Universities minister, is trying to encourage private providers to set up their own degree courses.

Pearson will charge £6,500 a year for a basic three-year university course. Students are expected to be eligible for government loans to cover the fees and Pearson will also be offering “performance scholarships” to help its brightest recruits pay their fees.

That is probably not a big deal, just fyi, and here is a bit more.
I would not call this "not a big deal." I think it makes a tremendous amount of sense.

A degree is, essentially, a very impersonal letter of recommendation that takes the specific form "We believe the person with their name on this sheepskin certificate has learned about enough stuff well enough to be given the degree of [whatever]." What that stuff is and how well they learn it is very different if the letter (diploma) comes from the regents of Stanford, ASU, Amherst or Salisbury State, even if the degree, major and grades are the same.

Why would you trust that endorsement from those faculties but not, say, a "degree" in advertising signed by Omnicom or in operations management by RAND Corp? You don't really know what the degree holder learned. You maybe know the general reputation of that school's faculty (and perhaps more importantly, admissions office). That's also what you know about some corporation that begins handing out degrees.

I think this makes even more sense for grad degrees. At its core, a PhD is simply a thumbs-up from a few (less than half a dozen) other people who already have PhDs. Why can't a half dozen doctorates from MSR give their imprimatur to a new doctorate?

Amazon has started paying for their employees (even warehouse workers) to get degrees in things like IT and logistics. How long before they decide they don't want to spend money for their people to sit through 45 hours of dubious quality lectures at the local community college and decide to offer courses themselves?

If two people came up to you with degrees in information systems, one from LSU and one from Amazon, which would you put more faith in? On the one hand, LSU is an actual school — I should make a crack about them being a football program with a school attached — whose core competency is educating people. On the other hand, Amazon knows a metric ton more about IS than the random assortment of over-worked grad students, itinerant lecturers, and professors distracted by their upcoming grant applications that are teaching at most schools. Do you know anything about the quality of education in IS from LSU? I don't. Maybe it's good? Do you know anything about Amazon and IS? Yeah, you know that they know it backwards and forwards, left, right and center.

08 August 2012

NBC Olympics Pt 2

"But SB7! You're a capitalist, how can you second guess NBC's decisions? Are you suggesting you could do a better job running their business than they can? They're maximizing profits, and doing a good job of it too. How can you be critical?"

Let me also head off these complaints right now.

(1) I couldn't direct a movie better than James Cameron does, but that doesn't stop me (or anyone else) from offering criticism of his movies. Similarly, they make a lot of money, but we still offer analysis and criticism of them.

(2) Yes, NBC has made a surprising profit. But maximizing profit does not imply they have actually acheived the maximum profit. Who knows how much more money they could have made if they didn't have Tom Hammond and his chalky face paint blubbering through each race?

(3) A big part of the point of this for NBC is to build NBC Sports as a brand. That's why they're willing to do it even with the expectation of losing money. They can surprise themselves and come out in the black, but that doesn't mean they succeed with the alternate (and important) goal of building good associations between us and the NBC Sports brand.

(4) NBC has exclusive rights to Olympics coverage in America. That gives me no right of exit. All I've got to either express myself -- and pass information to NBC -- is right of voice. Exit is more powerful, and available to customers in most markets, but is not available in this case, so more voice expression should be expected and welcomed into the marketplace.

NBC Olympics Critique

The Sports Economist | Brian Goff | Olympic Stew

The nightly prime time coverage is hard to figure. It’s part “Today Show” with extensive “special interest” segments and interviews. In fact, the last few nights, the first hour has been dominated by this. Ok, I get the idea that they aren’t directing the coverage toward sports junkies. They show a ton of gymnastics and swimming — I get that also in terms of demographic targets. The focus tends to be on U.S. athletes and select others (especially British athletes). Obvious enough. Lots of women’s beach volleyball — more than obvious. However, they show only the final lap of the 10,000 meters (and a few seconds afterward) of an exciting last few laps of the race in which a highly popular Brit (Mo Farrah) wins gold and Galen Rupp (who trains with him) wins the first US men’s medal in the event since 1964. They show about 10 throws from the men’s shot put with Bronze medalist Reese Hoffa from the U.S. Alright, these decisions seem to fit with the whole “Today” show vibe, but, in contrast, NBC airs practically every prelim heat for the 100, 400, 400 hurdles, 1500 along with almost every prelim heat in swimming with a U.S. swimmer.
Agreed, 100%.

The tape-delay thing I don't mind. In fact, I'm surprised that's still a complaint. That's the way it's been in every Olympics I can remember (except Atlanta, for obvious reasons).

Here are my complaints:

∞ NBC does a poor job of telling me what event is going on, especially in Track and Swimming. Is it that hard to put up "400m quarter final" or "100m Butterfly Prelim" on the screen, especially before they start? Swimmers getting ready for each race look the same; how am I supposed to know what they're getting ready for?

"Oh look, fencing. Saber, épée, or foil?" "I don't know." "Oh, boxing is on. What weight class?" "I don't know." "Are they lining up for the 100 or the 110 hurdles?" "I don't know."

∞ I don't care for Tom Hammond. There is no larger point here; I simply wanted to mention that.

∞ When you watch Sports Center they manage to make a complete narrative out of everything they cover. Even if it's 45 seconds of coverage of a baseball game, they give you story. For the events NBC barely covers, they don't bother to give you narrative. It's just one woman (the American, always) doing one long jump, and then they tell you how she finished, and that's it.

If that event happened eight hours ago you can have someone edit it into something worth watching, even if it is just for 90 seconds. Tape delay gives them so much freedom to craft stories out of these events, and they don't seem to be bothering. Ennis winning the Heptathlon seemed like a fascinating story. Why did I only get to see the final event of the seven?

∞ Also, if you're delaying things anyway, why are you showing the highest profile events (*ahem* the men's 100m sprint *ahem*) at 11:30pm? If you're taking the liberty of putting whatever on whenever, why are you saving so much good stuff for midnight? Yes, yes, I know they're trying to keep me on the hook all night, but come on...

∞ Delayed coverage is fine, but you need to get everyone on board with that. You can't run promos for tomorrow's Today Show interview with gold medalist Smith if you aren't showing Smith competing for another two hours. You can't have cycling commentators talking about who won medals in rowing earlier that morning if rowing isn't going to be televised until after cycling.

∞ I've decided I have far less interest in team sports in the Olympics. For one thing, they emphasize the Nationalism aspect rather than the mano-a-mano aspect,*
I'm less interested in "Our Best vs Their Best" than I am in "The Best vs The Best."
but mainly they just take too damn long to televise. I'm not interested in seeing two hours of a single preliminary water polo match, followed by 5 minutes of kayaking finals, followed by 30 seconds of triple jump recap.

∞ If you're going to soak up hours of your primetime coverage doing "Today Show" type stuff, like recapping gymnastics from 16 years ago instead of showing current events, then can you at least put some sports coverage on your other channels? Do your Bela Karolyi interview on NBC, but put some Tae Kwon Do on Bravo instead of back-to-back-to-back showings of Starship Troopers.

∞ I thought the coverage of Reese Hoffa was particularly weird. I had seen a big chunk of the shot put live online. In the evening (several hours later) they covered less than a minute of it, then did a little "we'll get back to the shot put action later to see the conclusion," then an hour later showed the medalists' final throws. They covered it as if it was something happening in progress when it's no secret it's already done. NBC isn't fooling anybody into thinking that it was live. The whole rest of the coverage, even the announcer's verb tenses, made it clear it was in the past. Just show me two consecutive minutes of coverage rather than doing a little song-and-dance as if this is breaking news.

(Hoffa's shot put wasn't the only event they did this to. I remember high jump got the same treatment.)

∞ Again, this is a small complaint. I've come to peace with the fact that I will not get to see nearly as much coverage of Field events as I would like. I'll accept the air time scraps they give to throwing and jumping. Fine. I just wish they wouldn't half-ass the few seconds I do actually get.

∞ No, scratch that. I do not yet accept their scanty Track & Field coverage. Not as long as ping-pong is getting air time. Not some ping-pong either. Entire matches. Whole hours of ping-pong coverage. Do you see this over to the right? Do you see Discobolus? That's THE GOD-DAMNED OLYMPICS right there. Why isn't that shit on TV?

∞ I do not understand NBC's coverage (non-coverage, really) of women's soccer. I'm not missing it much, but Mrs SB7 sure is. So many of their other decisions seemed to be aimed at female viewership, so I don't understand them not even showing games in the knock-out round.

Every game, including the finals, is relegated to NBC Sports. Again, I can guess at the potential thinking behind this, but I don't think it's the right call.

∞ The way NBC is treating Twitter and Facebook is so laughable. I can just picture some executive saying "That social media stuff is big these days! The kids love it! We need to compete with that!" and the response they come up with is "Let's read off people's tweets on air!" It is the most superficial way possible to incorporate social media into your business. You're not going to get people to put down their smart phones because you talk about one picture LeBron James put on his Facebook wall.

04 August 2012

Economic Rights Are Civil Rights

I've been away at the shore, sans internet, for the last week. I was surprised to get back and see that The Chick-Fil-A Thing is still A Thing.

On the one side we've got some rich citizen expressing a view I disagree with, but one that's not uncommon. I know a lot of reasonable people that hold the same view. It's not one I agree with, but it's not singularly monstrous. It's not like he said he wanted to throw autistic babies under the wheels of monster trucks for his own amusement.

On the other side we've got various mayors, aldermen, functionaries and poobahs who claim the power to exclude businesses from their territory if executives express contrary political views. Jesus Wept! does that worry me more. Abrogating the rule of law screws with everyone's rights including gay people who might want to open businesses.

Being able to make money even if you're unpopular protects everyone — especially people in minorities. You can not screw with people's right to trade because you disagree with them. Down that road lies despotism. No, scratch that: that's already despotism.

There's no structural difference between saying "you can't open up shop in our town if you don't support gay marriage" and saying "you can't open up shop in our town if you do support interracial marriage." If you think it's okay for Menino to say the former then you have to accept a mayor of 50 years ago, or even a mayor of today in some backwards town, saying the latter.

As few people as possible should be able to veto your decisions. That includes decisions about who to marry, but also about where to open chicken restaurants.

Corollary: Your freedom should not be a function of your popularity.

PS According to this, a single Chick-Fill-A location will generate about $2.7M of revenue, resulting in sales taxes alone of $170,000 at Massachusetts' 6.25% rate. If you were a benevolent ruler, which would be more important to you: making sure no one you disagree with is allowed to do business, or hiring a couple of extra teachers?

PPS Some people in this debate think it is less important that they benefit from a trade than it is to ensure that their counter-party not benefit. And who knows? Maybe they're right. If the North Koreans ever managed to make something worth having, I'd feel uncomfortable buying it. But keep the ideological distribution in mind the next time someone brings up game theory and experimental results regarding altruism, because the pattern I'm seeing now is contrary to the analysis I usually see when that happens. (That is, it's the progressive, supposedly "community-oriented" Left that is expressing preference for lose-lose outcomes to win-win ones.)