06 February 2013

Links: 6 Feb 2013

Ideas | David Friedman | Overcharging: The Aaron Swartz Case

An interesting idea here for dealing with a big problem. Lots of governmental abuses are checked in theory, some in practice. I'm not sure prosecutorial over-reach is checked even in theory.

I especially like the part at the end dealing with Socrates. (Incidentally, I had never heard that part of the story. His initial offer took epic balls.)

I wish Friedman would write a book based on his Legal Systems Very Different from our Own courses.

KPC | Munger | An Insult to "Corrupt"

Asset forfeiture is one of the most batshit insane policies in America. (Not the most wrong or most damaging, the most WTF are they thinking?.) It is balls-to-the-wall bonkers that our society, and both major parties, accept such a farcical system. On the list of hang-my-head-in-shame, "how did America ever consider this as a good idea?" policies this is somewhere between Indian Reservations and the horse shit way we run immigration.

Smithsonian | Mike Dash | For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II

As sad as this family's state of affairs is they were still better off than the people who stayed under Stalin's thumb. I'd gladly take their meager "edge of starvation" life to the actual — and intentional — starvation suffered by millions in the USSR.

Armded & Dangerous | Eric S Raymond | Coding Freedom: a review
I still want the book this should have been.
Me too.

io9 | Robert T Gonzalez | NFL fans by U.S. county, according to Facebook
I find it interesting that some fandoms strictly follow political boundaries (Packers, Patriots) while others don't at all (Steelers, Seahawks).

The World Champion Ravens also appear to have the smallest geographic territory of any team.

askblog | Arnold Kling | A Correct Prediction

If I was on the Left I would look at these figures and then begin to think long and hard about whether knee-jerk opposition to things like Medicare block grants or defined-contribution public pensions is such a good idea. The biggest threat to redistribution to the poor is existing redistribution to the old.

(And the biggest threat to anyone my age is also redistribution to the old, but that's a whole other ball of wax. Let's just try and keep that in mind a little tiny bit, okay 18-to-35s?)

Cafe Hayek | Russ Roberts | Look at the data (and make sure it’s the right data). Then put it in perspective

On the one hand, at least Kristof is using data. Better that than anecdotes and hand-waving.

On the other hand, it's categorically the wrong data. It's only serving to add a veneer of respectability to falsehood.

Conclusion: I prefer arguments with numbers to those without, but I prefer lies without numbers to those with.

The Reference Frame | Lumo | Steven Chu quits, misunderstands the end of Stone Age

Often enough I think "you know, we need more scientists in charge of things." Then I remember that the scientists we get are Steven Chu and I think "yeah, maybe not so much."

Then I think about all the abominable committee meetings and discussion sessions I've been in with scientists and I think "perhaps best not to put scientists in charge."

Then I look over at my bookshelf, notice my copy of The Machinery of Freedom, and think "why are we putting anybody in charge at all?"

Restricted Data | Alex Wellerstein | Trinity test press releases (May 1945)

The FBI photo at the top of the post has a really misleading Google LIFE caption, which makes it sound like it’s just another fileroom. It’s not. It’s an overflow facility that the FBI’s Identification Division started using during World War II for the purposes of clearance needs of the armed services. The building is the DC Armory, a multi-use arena facility — and sometimes ice rink! — which is still in existence. By 1942 the FBI was adding 400,000 file cards a month to its archives, and were receiving 110,000 requests for “name checks” per month. By 1944 the agency contained some 23 million card records, as well as 10 million fingerprint records.
File under: bureaucracy, frightening images of.

Popehat | Charles | Did someone mention consistency?
On that thought, as the resident liberal around here and a generally pro-Obama guy as these things go, I am outraged and disgusted by the legal analysis in the Justice Department white paper that is believed to be close to, if not the actual analysis, the Obama administration uses to justify extrajudicial killing of American citizens believed to be enemy combatants [pdf]. ...

One ambiguous phrase is stacked on top of another until the inescapable conclusion is that extrajudicial killing is justified whenever the United States wants to use it. The threat matrix is basically an Excel spreadsheet where every cell says "Well, what do you WANT to do?"
I have a feeling that when our esteemed President and former lecturer in Con Law reads Article Two, all he sees are the words "Well, what you WANT to do?"

Newsweek | David Mamet | Gun Laws and the Fools of Chelm

Healthy government, as that based upon our Constitution, is strife. It awakens anxiety, passion, fervor, and, indeed, hatred and chicanery, both in pursuit of private gain and of public good. Those who promise to relieve us of the burden through their personal or ideological excellence, those who claim to hold the Magic Beans, are simply confidence men. Their emergence is inevitable, and our individual opposition to and rejection of them, as they emerge, must be blunt and sure; if they are arrogant, willful, duplicitous, or simply wrong, they must be replaced, else they will consolidate power, and use the treasury to buy votes, and deprive us of our liberties. It was to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government.
The Left adduces arguments against armed presence in the school but not in the wristwatch stores. Q. How many accidental shootings occurred last year in jewelry stores, or on any premises with armed security guards? [...]

President Obama seems to understand the Constitution as a “set of suggestions.”
"Well Mr. President, what do you want to do?"

Asymmetric Information | Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | Is Obama Turning America Into France?

Executive summary: there's no reason to believe that the vector is pointing away from France. You can argue the magnitude is small, but the direction is certainly Francophilic.


  1. "bureaucracy, frightening images of"

    You see a bureaucracy; I see a well-managed and smoothly functioning data center. Google or Rackspace for the 1940s.

    1. Yeah, that picture did remind me of The Difference Engine more than a little. But it also reminds me of Hangar 51, except for people.

      As for smoothly functioning: I'll admit it looks a million times more well-ordered than any DMV I've ever been in. Average BMI, hygiene and style of the workers appears far better as well.