Archive for the ‘Common Sense’ Category


Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Word of the Day:

kafkatrapping (n): fallacy: a form of argument that, reduced to essence, runs like this: “Your refusal to acknowledge that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…} confirms that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…}.”

see also: microaggressions

On E-Readers and the Future of the Baen Free Library

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

For years now there has existed a part of the Baen Books web site called the Baen Free Library. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a site where Baen books gives away many of their books for free in electronic format. No strings attached, no sign up, just download and enjoy. Created by author Eric Flint, it was, and is, a bold experiment in publishing, begun at the height of the use of DRM within the music industry.

Here is (part of) Eric’s story as to the founding of the Free Library:

This all started as a byproduct of an online “virtual brawl” I got into with a number of people, some of them professional SF authors, over the issue of online piracy of copyrighted works and what to do about it.

There was a school of thought, which seemed to be picking up steam, that the way to handle the problem was with handcuffs and brass knucks. Enforcement! Regulation! New regulations! Tighter regulations! All out for the campaign against piracy! No quarter! Build more prisons! Harsher sentences!

Alles in ordnung!

I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact. And I can be a vociferous and belligerent fellow. My own opinion, summarized briefly, is as follows:

1. Online piracy ? while it is definitely illegal and immoral ? is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We’re talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates.

2. Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender. Whatever the moral difference, which certainly exists, the practical effect of online piracy is no different from that of any existing method by which readers may obtain books for free or at reduced cost: public libraries, friends borrowing and loaning each other books, used book stores, promotional copies, etc.

3. Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market ? especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people ? is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The “regulation-enforcement-more regulation” strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.

In the course of this debate, I mentioned it to my publisher Jim Baen. He more or less virtually snorted and expressed the opinion that if one of his authors ? how about you, Eric? ? were willing to put up a book for free online that the resulting publicity would more than offset any losses the author might suffer.

The minute he made the proposal, I realized he was right. After all, Dave Weber’s On Basilisk Station has been available for free as a “loss leader” for Baen’s for-pay experiment “Webscriptions” for months now. And ? hey, whaddaya know? ? over that time it’s become Baen’s most popular backlist title in paper!

And so I volunteered my first novel, Mother of Demons, to prove the case. And the next day Mother of Demons went up online, offered to the public for free.

That was about ten years ago. Today, the book publishing landscape is changing rapidly, and I decided to write Eric a letter discussing the future of ebooks and the Free Library. As i think it’s an interesting topic, I present the letter, in full, below:

Hi Eric —

First off I want to say that I’ve been a big fan of the free library since the beginning. I discovered it fairly early on, and when I read your arguments regarding piracy and DRM and crackdowns, etc., I heard a voice that echoed my own quite closely. I thought it was a bold move to create the library, and am immensely gratified that it has been a success. Thank you!

I actually discovered David Webers HH books when Basilisk Station was in bookstores at a sale price — $3.99 I think when paperbacks were commonly $5.99. I bought it, loved it, and looked for later books. The twist is that that was right around the time I discovered the free library, (and I think that’s also when you started putting CDs in hardcovers). I had a Palm Pilot, so I downloaded some books, converted them to Doc format, and read them on the Palm.

So, of course, you didn’t get many direct sales from me, because I was getting them for free; BUT… I was also telling my friends what I was reading, and am pretty sure I turned at least three people on to the series, who probably bought paper copies. That was pretty much the intent though, wasn’t it? Seems to be working.

Jump forward ten years or so. It’s 2011 and I’m reading the Vorkosigan series on my Kindle, having gotten the books from one of the Baen CDs. (Incidentally, I didn’t use the mobi books, I converted the ePub versions, which had better cover images.) Back in the day the free library worked because I was unusual. The system as I understand it is basically predicated on the idea that people will prefer to read a paper copy, so the freebies will foster sales of the hard copies. Most people didn’t have Palms, nor were those who did all willing to read novels on the tiny dim screen. Today I go to the lunchroom at work, and there are four people (non-geeks) happily reading from Kindles or Nooks. Not a bit of paper in sight.

So here’s the big question:

With the rise in popularity of e-ink readers and iPhones, what do you see for the future of the Free Library? If I recommend books to friends, they’re today much more likely to just get the free copy and read it. The “people are honest” factor doesn’t enter into it because you’re giving the books out willingly.

Of course I read other books, both physical and electronic. Some ebooks I buy, some I get for free. But if a book people want to read is available for free in a format they commonly use anyway, where are the sales going to come from?

As a side note — I also fear that bookstores will go the way of music stores — and that would be a shame. Music stores aren’t a great loss to me, because in general you couldn’t listen to the stuff anyway — just look at the cover art. But bookstores are a different animal, and something will be lost when you can no longer browse shelves of books and discover something new that way.

Comments welcome, and if Eric responds I’ll let y’all know.

Pretty Soon You’re Talking Real Money

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

A million. A billion. A trillion. Once upon a time, when politicians talked about spending millions of dollars on something, peoples’ ears perked up — that was a lot of money. When the word “billion” started cropping up, it was a bit of a sticker shock, but people basically got used to it. It wasn’t their money, after all.

In recent years, we’re suddenly hearing about spending in the trillions of dollars, and though again it’s a sort of sticker shock to hear this word bandied about, many politicians are hoping that, as with “billions”, we’ll simply adjust and not get too upset. It’s just numbers, right?

All of this has been helped along by a little-known fact: the human brain is simply not capable of envisioning the meaning of numbers beyond a certain level. Try this experiment: Think about ten people. They don’t have to be real people; just imagine you’re standing in a field, and there are ten people standing in front of you. See their faces in your mind. Okay, now make it a hundred people. We’re getting a pretty good crowd here, but it’s a large field. You can probably, if you think about it, come up with a hundred actual people that you know personally.

Now make it a thousand. What just happened? Most likely, the image in your mind suddenly turned into a rather faceless mass of people. I’m guessing you’re no longer seeing faces really. You’re figuring out the size of the overall crowd, but you’ve stopped seeing individuals. It’s just a crowd. We’re only at a thousand, and already you’re reaching (or have passed) your mind’s ability to truly hold on to the concept of that many… somethings. Now make it a million. You probably just lost track of how big the crowd even is. I know I did. “Million” isn’t a solid concept — it’s just a word meaning “a lot”. Billion? That’s “a lot” too. “Trillion”? Sure sounds big, but again your brain is basically hearing “a lot” and stopping there. We grasp the concept that a trillion is bigger than a million — a lot bigger even — but it’s hard to grasp just how much bigger.

So, I’d like to try framing it a bit differently. Perhaps we can see it better if we relate it to time. People are pretty good at grasping time.

Think about what happened ten seconds ago. Probably you were sitting right where you are now, reading a paragraph or two above this one. Easy. A thousand seconds ago? That’s about seventeen minutes. Again, well within the range of memory. A million seconds ago? Sounds like a lot! It’s a lot to count, but really, one million seconds ago was only about twelve days ago.

Okay. Let’s pause for just a moment and fix that idea in our minds. One million seconds ago is still pretty much within ready memory. Twelve days. Not quite two weeks. Specifically, one million seconds ago is eleven days, thirteen hours, forty-six minutes, and forty seconds in the past.

Now. One trillion seconds? One trillion seconds ago was before you were born. It was before your grandparents were born. It was before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Before Columbus first set foot in the New World. Before the printing press was invented. Before the Jews fled Egypt with Moses into the desert. Before the rise of the first emperor of Japan.

One trillion seconds ago was thirty-one thousand six hundred eighty-nine1 years ago. Before mankind invented the wheel.

The entire known history of mankind is within the last one trillion seconds. That’s a lot more than merely “a lot”. Now stop a moment and consider, again, that the federal government is spending trillions (plural!) of dollars per year more than it takes in. It’s not merely a trick of accounting, and it is not merely a large number. It is insanity. It is unsustainable. It must stop. And make no mistake — this debt was not caused by tax cuts. It was not caused by fighting a war. It was caused by close to a century of ever increasing “rights” in the form of monetary entitlements, corporate and individual welfare, and just plain corruption. It was caused by the simple fact that power corrupts, and a powerful government will grow as much as it is allowed to. After a century of runaway expansion, it is time for the people of this country to seize the reins and pull hard.

As I write this, it’s 62 days (that’s 5,356,800 seconds for those keeping score) until the November 2 elections. Where will you be?

1: This calculation is based on a year that is precisely 365.242199 days long

“You have my disgust and disdain forever….”

Monday, December 21st, 2009

An open letter from Dr. Becky Hollibaugh of Friend, Nebraska to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.):

Dear Senator Nelson:

I send this message under ?Tort Reform? because the current monstrosity you have pledged your support to says nothing whatsoever about Tort Reform. You have sold the physicians of Nebraska for zilch (zilch for us, but beaucoup federal bucks for you and the liberal partisans in this state). As a family practice physician in Small Town, Nebraska, I was counting on you to be the lone voice of Democratic sanity on this issue, but you sold me out. I will dedicate every spare minute of my time and every spare dollar I have to defeating you, should you run for re-election. The long hours I spent on my medical education and the long hours I spend treating my patients are nothing but chump change to you and your Democrat colleagues in Washington. I especially can?t wait for your equivocation and milquetoast evasion when your ?compromises? on the abortion language in the bill are silently erased or quietly (on-little-legislative-cat?s-feet) eviscerated in the House/Senate give-and-take. Go on: Bet me that you won?t wuss-out on this issue!

I know you won?t give two-seconds to this letter, but I had to write it. I?m a primary care doctor in YOUR state, and you sold me out. I didn?t slog through 4 years of college and 4 years of medical school and 3 years of residency just to have you hand my career and my patient/doctor relationships over to government lifers. Your gutless acquiescence to Obama and Harry Reid and ?Nanny? Pelosi will NOT be forgotten.

Thank you, Ben, for forcing doctors like me to earn less than the repairmen who fix our appliances. Case in point: We recently had our dishwasher fixed. The repairman who came to our house charged $65 just to come and ?diagnose? the problem, then charged another $180 to ?fix? the problem. You and your fellow lawmakers have fixed MY going rate (Medicare) at $35 per-visit. Thank you for securing such a ?lucrative? rate for me! Thank you so much for making me?someone with 8 years of education!?make less than a mechanic or appliance repair technichian. And thanks especially for falling in line with Obama and the rest of the Democrats to make such a socialist system permanent.

You have my disgust and disdain forever, you socialist-coddling coward.

Becky F. Hollibaugh, D.O.
Warren Memorial Hospital
Ziimmerman Clinic
Friend, NE 68359

Good on you Doc!

Dr. Hollibaugh follows up with:

?To those who would accuse me of greed: I don?t make as much as you think I do. I give every one of my patients the very best care I can offer, regardless of their ability to pay. And I do NOT begrudge my mechanic or my appliance repairmen their salaries. Not one bit. I gladly pay them what I owe them. What you leftist idiots don?t understand is this: I am forced to accept $35 for an office visit by a medicaid or medicare patient. I. Can?t. Afford. It. On that enforced wage, I can?t pay my nurses. I can?t pay my billing secretaries. I can?t pay my receptionist. I. Can?t. Survive. On. Obamacare. Get it?! I. Can?t. Pay. My. Nurses. On. Ben. Nelson. Wages. Get it? I hope so. You think I?m greedy? I went to medical school as a former nurse at age 36. I have over $180,000 dollars in student loans. I. Can?t. Survive. On. Obamacare. I hope this helps. I don?t make as much as you might think. And most of what I earn goes to repaying my student loans. I love my little family medicine clinic in Friend. I love being a doctor in rural Nebraska. I love my patients and I love rural family medicine. But Ben Nelson sold me out. Thanks again for letting me vent. I?m not greedy. I don?t envy the wages of my blue-collar friends. But I can?t survive or pay my employees on Uncle Sam?s reimbursement rate for my services.

Personally I don’t care if the dictated price is enough for her to make a living. The government, flat out, has no place dictating how much money a citizen should be permitted to charge for their services. The government, flat out, has no right to dictate what products or services a citizen is required to purchase. Either of these is the illegal seizure of private property (money) by government fiat.

Obamacare doesn’t really kick in until 2013 or so. I personally will support and vote for any candidate who vows to repeal this monstrosity before then; and it appears to be about 60% of the populace who agrees with me. Goodbye, Democrats — you have dug your graves with this legislation.

Found at Michelle Malkin, via Matteo.

7 (or more) reasons to be (scientifically) skeptical of Anthropogenic Global Warming

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Bore Patch blog has an excellent post up: Should You Be a Global Warming Skeptic?. He details the problems with the AGW theory, much of it known even before the revelations of the “Climategate” leak.

Read the whole thing, really, but I especially want to point out this paragraph, which is a pointed response to any argument that “the science is settled”:

I thought there was a consensus that Global Warming is occurring? The “science is settled”, isn’t it?

Actually, there’s never been a consensus. We’ll come back to this later, but the most interesting thing about this argument is that it’s not a scientific argument. Science simply doesn’t care about consensus, it cares about data and reproduceability of results. If your data is solid, and other people can get the same results, it simply doesn’t matter if you run with the crowd or not.

Simply put, if science depended on consensus, we would never get anywhere — as any fundamentally new theory pretty much depends on throwing an old theory out. Reputable scientists in modern times never argue that something is “settled”. I mean gravity isn’t “settled” science for Chrissakes — do you really think that the climate is settled science, when we can’t even predict next week’s weather?

If you’re hearing “the science is settled”, what you’re hearing is politics, not science. It’s smoke and mirrors. It a different way of saying “We have a vested interest in people believing us, so everyone who doesn’t agree with us should just shut their mouths.” Specifically, it’s an Appeal to Popularity fallacy — an attempt to shame critics into silence — and it is shameful coming from people who claim to be scientists. Don’t let them get away with it.

Red Handed

Friday, December 4th, 2009

A lot has been written about the revelations found within the documents leaked from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, which are the scientists behind virtually all of the core Global Warming theory; but I think a “Climategate” article by Christopher Booker at the London Telegraph sums it up the best:

There are three threads in particular in the leaked documents which have sent a shock wave through informed observers across the world. Perhaps the most obvious… is the highly disturbing series of emails which show how Dr Jones and his colleagues have for years been discussing the devious tactics whereby they could avoid releasing their data to outsiders under freedom of information laws.

They have come up with every possible excuse for concealing the background data on which their findings and temperature records were based.

This in itself has become a major scandal, not least Dr Jones’s refusal to release the basic data from which the CRU derives its hugely influential temperature record, which culminated last summer in his startling claim that much of the data from all over the world had simply got “lost”. Most incriminating of all are the emails in which scientists are advised to delete large chunks of data, which, when this is done after receipt of a freedom of information request, is a criminal offence.

…The second and most shocking revelation of the leaked documents is how they show the scientists trying to manipulate data through their tortuous computer programmes, always to point in only the one desired direction ? to lower past temperatures and to “adjust” recent temperatures upwards, in order to convey the impression of an accelerated warming….

What is tragically evident from the Harry Read Me file is the picture it gives of the CRU scientists hopelessly at sea with the complex computer programmes they had devised to contort their data in the approved direction, more than once expressing their own desperation at how difficult it was to get the desired results.

The third shocking revelation of these documents is the ruthless way in which these academics have been determined to silence any expert questioning of the findings they have arrived at by such dubious methods ? not just by refusing to disclose their basic data but by discrediting and freezing out any scientific journal which dares to publish their critics’ work. It seems they are prepared to stop at nothing to stifle scientific debate in this way, not least by ensuring that no dissenting research should find its way into the pages of IPCC reports.

(That’s an excerpt — you can read the whole thing here:

This all goes hand in hand with the political drumbeat that “the science is settled”. In other words, “Shut up!” — the first and last resort of liars everywhere.

Booker calls this “the worst scientific scandal of our generation”, but to me it goes further than that. When you look at the trillions of dollars that countries all over the world are preparing to spend to combat something that these scientists invented from whole cloth, this is the single biggest fraud in history. Forget losing their jobs — these men should be in prison.

Righteous Anger

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

A very nice teardown of the health insurance legislation now going through the senate (Mike Rogers — R Mich. speaking):

Marred on slightly by the fact that the quote at the beginning was actually spoken by William Boetcker in 1916; though it is commonly, as here, mis-attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

The nice point he makes in this is just how much power over individuals’ lives this bill grants to government. It’s amazing to me that leftists will go on and on about the greed and corruption of big business, and at times also acknowledge that government is also corrupt, but then turn around and claim that the only group that can fix it is government.

Here’s the trick, folks: Government and business are, at times, both corrupt. It’s people. It’s powerful people, and power corrupts. Business is in it to make money, and government is in it to “make” votes. The difference is that I can turn down big business. Microsoft may be a massive company and control most of the world’s computers, but they can do *nothing* to force me to buy a Windows machine. If I don’t like the product I don’t have to buy it. But imagine if everyone had to use whatever operating system was most popular? Goodbye Mac, goodbye Linux. (Oh, and goodbye iPods, iPhones, and so forth, which wouldn’t exist because Apple would have been forced out of business years before they were invented.)

Government is like a business that can force you to buy their product — no matter how crappy it is, no matter how wasteful, no matter how poorly implemented. We’ve known for years that Social Security is going bankrupt. Virtually nobody my age believes that they’re every going to see a penny of what they’ve paid in to it, yet we have no choice but to continue paying in to this government “product”.

A common “straw man” argument against conservatives is that they claim that “government can’t do anything right”. That’s not the case, and not the claim. However, history has proven that government frequently gets it wrong — sometimes drastically, and tragically so — yet because it’s government we can’t choose not to buy that bad product.

(Note that despite the comparison, Microsoft products aren’t in the same league with the sheer crappitude that is Social Security, because any company that puts out product that bad ceases to exist in the private market. For a better comparison, imagine if Bernie Madoff could have forced anybody he wanted to invest in his scam: that’s Social Security in a nutshell.)

Ironically this came up to slap some liberals in the face when the Health Care bill was altered before the vote to prohibit funding for abortion. Pro-choice advocates were screaming that this was going to infringe on a woman’s right to an abortion… but why? Haven’t we been told repeatedly that everyone will be able to keep their current coverage? This bill will only help the uninsured? Their protests put the lie to the claim, and though I don’t agree with the specific problem they have (I’m pro-life), the principle of their problem is significant, and valid: if government controls it, then you are completely subject to the whims of government and politics. You no longer have control, and you no longer have freedom.

As goofy as health insurance sometimes is in this country, the companies still have to appeal to their customers. When government is in control, they are not accountable to you. You’re not a customer buying a product; you’re a subject, and they’re doing you a favor because it’s “free” — so quit complaining. It’s not like you have any other options.

And once you’ve handed over that power, good luck getting it back.

Video via Smallest Minority

Does “Free” Health Care Empower the Poor?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

A Canadian writes at the Heritage Foundation:

Everything I want to say about this is summed up in a story that happened to my partner Shelley. Shelley and I are partners in a restaurant, and she actually runs it. She was given an appointment at the hospital for a procedure, and she duly showed up at the appointed time. Two hours later she was still sitting there waiting to be called. Now she was only able to get a two-hour parking meter, and so she approached the desk and asked if she could go and put money in the meter. She was curtly told that she was free to go and put the money in, but that if her name were called while she was away, that her name would fall back to the bottom of the queue. So she just decided that she would take the parking ticket as part of the price of getting the medical service she needed. Another two hours passed, and still she was not called, so she again approached the counter, and very patiently and politely explained (as only Shelley can, because she is the soul of graciousness) that she actually had a small business to run; that she was there at the appointed time for her appointment; that she had waited four hours, which is far longer than she had been led to expect the whole thing would take; that she had other commitments because of the business; and could they possibly at least give her some idea of how much longer she might have to wait?

Well, the woman behind the counter got on her dignity, drew herself up to her full height, glared at Shelley and said, “You’re talking as if you’re some kind of customer!”

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the essence of the problem: When the government supplies you with “free” health care, you are not a powerful customer who must be satisfied. They are doing you a favor and you owe the state gratitude and servility in return for this awesome generosity. They can give you the worst service in the world, but because it is free, you are totally disempowered. One of the most important lessons I have learned from my contact with the Canadian Medicare system is that payment makes you powerful. And its absence makes you risible if not invisible.

Now the articulate and the middle class do not let little things like that get them down. Even though they do not pay, they still get in the faces of the people providing service and make their wishes known. But often the vulnerable, the poor, the ill-educated, and the inarticulate are the ones who suffer the most because no one’s well-being within the health care system depends on patients/consumers being well looked after. And by depriving them of the power of payment within the health care system, Medicare disempowers them. And the poor see this, because while they may be poor, they are not stupid.

“Sky is Blue”

Monday, November 16th, 2009

As you look at this, just recall the China is *exempted* from the Kyoto Treaty.

h/t Brian

Don’t Mess With Texas

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

First Idaho, now Texas. Perhaps with a little luck (and several million angry citizens), this will become a trend….

State of Texas
H.C.R. No. 50
By: Creighton
Filed: 02/17/2009


WHEREAS, The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”; and

WHEREAS, The Tenth Amendment defines the total scope of federal power as being that specifically granted by the Constitution of the United States and no more; and

WHEREAS, The scope of power defined by the Tenth Amendment means that the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states; and

WHEREAS, Today, in 2009, the states are demonstrably treated as agents of the federal government; and

WHEREAS, Many federal laws are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; and

WHEREAS, The Tenth Amendment assures that we, the people of the United States of America and each sovereign state in the Union of States, now have, and have always had, rights the federal government may not usurp; and

WHEREAS, Section 4, Article IV, of the Constitution says, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,” and the Ninth Amendment states that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”; and

WHEREAS, The United States Supreme Court has ruled in New York v. United States, 112 S. Ct. 2408 (1992), that congress may not simply commandeer the legislative and regulatory processes of the states; and

WHEREAS, A number of proposals from previous administrations and some now pending from the present administration and from congress may further violate the Constitution of the United States; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas hereby claim sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That this serve as notice and demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That all compulsory federal legislation that directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or that requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding be prohibited or repealed; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That the Texas secretary of state forward official copies of this resolution to the president of the United States, to the speaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate of the United States Congress, and to all the members of the Texas delegation to the congress with the request that this resolution be officially entered in the Congressional Record as a memorial to the Congress of the United States of America.

As a side note: someone else pointed out recently that Texas entered the Union by way of a treaty with the U. S. Federal Government, and as such, Texas has the legal authority to secede from the Union simply by ending the treaty.

(Hat Tip: Cold Fury)