Monday, December 31, 2007

Good Econ Student, Terrible Granddaughter?

Another Christmas has come and gone, and with it, another round of returns, exchanges, re-gifting, or in some cases, simply tossing our unwanted gifts on the trash heap. Although retailers in recent years have made things easier with the advent of the gift receipt, there still exists a large economic loss after every holiday season.

This crossed my mind the other day as I was wrapping presents. For my grandmother, I had gotten a $10 frame to hang on her wall, with a decorative engraving inside that read "Family Faith Friends" or something like that. Admittedly, it wasn't the most thoughtful gift I'd ever purchased for Grandma, and to be safe, I opted for a gift receipt. When I was wrapping the gift, I was about to get up to find the receipt, but then remembered every unwanted gift I'd ever received, and how many of those came with no option to return or exchange. I sat back down and thought to myself: screw it, let Grandma feel the dead-weight loss of Chrismas this year.

Terrible, I know.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

2 years have passed since my mother, Nancy, died of cancer. We had our differences, and we had a lot of distance between us for most of my life, but her death marked a profound change in my life that I've never really mentioned. My brother and I were there at her bedside many nights in the last few months of her life, talking, or reading, or watching TV together. Slowly, she lost her energy. She eventually would barely wake up, and when she did she couldn't make sense of what was going on around her anymore. People who haven't witnessed slow degenerative death seem to have a misconception that death from illness is peaceful and quiet and quick. It rarely is. Being 21 years old and caring for a parent while they slowly slip away is one of those things that just changes you. It forces you to grow up. Here I am, two short years later, living and working in Washington D.C., breaking out of my former shyness. My life has changed drastically from where I was. I kind of feel like the growing up experience was my mom's "final gift."

Thanks, mom.

Check out my eulogy, here.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

I Won!

Last week, there was an op-ed writing contest for the Cato interns. Long story short, I won! Here's my editorial:


Twenty years ago, the internet was still called the Information Super Highway, satellite dishes were humongous backyard-eyesores, and cable television only had 36 channels. My, how times have changed.

This week, the FCC will hold a meeting to discuss a recent report that could lead to expanded regulation of cable television. A federal law passed in 1984 determined that if the cable industry ever grew "too dominant" and passed the 70/70 rule - that is, if cable services reached 70% of people and 70% of those people became subscribers - then the FCC would be given new powers to regulate the industry.

The FCC's recent figure of 71.4% cable-subscription rate has been contested by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Their estimates place that number at just below 60%. Also, cable providers have been losing subscribers over the years to satellite and phone companies that provide video services, and the industry as a whole has seen stock prices flat-line or decline in recent months.

The aim of the FCC's expanded regulatory powers, should the 71.4% figure be deemed accurate, would be to promote a competitive environment and "diverse information sources." This is roughly translates to ensuring that enough women and minorities get to own or lease cable channels, and requiring cable providers to carry those channels. Let's entertain this idea for a moment: if currently successful cable channels are dropped by broadcasters in order to carry channels that, diversity-friendly or not, previously had no market for them, what exactly is the benefit to the cable TV customers? Additionally, how will this increase competition for the "too-dominant" cable TV industry?

Competition for cable television providers already exists. Direct TV, Dish Network, and Verizon FIOS are the first three competitors that come to mind. The internet is quickly becoming a fierce competitor, too, with peer-to-peer video sites like Joost, and music and video marketplaces like iTunes providing everything that cable companies do, either for free in the case of Joost, or for a small per-download fee. The internet represents an unregulated gold mine for diverse information sources – Google news provides news from over 4,500 sources daily, and Youtube has become a cauldron for user-generated video entertainment.

It's unclear just exactly what cable regulation would accomplish – aside from more red tape. Television media is currently in a transitional stage, as video-on-demand and digital video recorders are giving consumers greater choices about what, when, and how they watch television. The freedom to choose what we watch and how we watch it will not be stopped by bureaucrats who purport to know what we ought to have access to. As consumers, we can be certain of one thing: as technology continues to evolve, our choices will continue to expand.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

If Cars Weren't Required to Have Seatbelts...

Wouldn't somebody go into business selling 3rd-party seatbelts to install in our cars?

A lot of commotion is made by statists about the government's responsibility to ensure our safety through regulations, consumer protections, etc. I consider myself a fairly death-averse person, at least as much as the next guy. I'm pretty sure that if my car didn't come with pre-installed seat belts, I would purchase them separately, even though seatbelts haven't yet saved my life in the nearly 24 years I've been driving or riding in cars.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The borderline Anarchist.

The more I learn, the more of an anarchist I become. And I don't think I need to qualify that with "-capitalist" or "-socialist," as I think only one is representative of true back-to-nature anarchy.

Anyway, I've been thinking that in the future (post-singularity, when we're all either software entities on an information network or entirely comprised of nanoswarms) government as we know it won't exist. A new form of "market-government" (shout-out to Zhzi for the term) will emerge, where governments/constituencies will not be defined by their physical borders, but by their members. I haven't worked out many of the details, but I would think that being a "citizen" of a country would be much like being a member of a union, or any other club that charges fees in exchange for perks.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Formative Years

Taking a break from more serious(ish) topics, here's a list of things that I remember from my formative years (age 10 - 15)

-The State on MTV
-Green Day
-Chuck Taylors
-Beavis and Butthead
-Discovering Nirvana, then learning that Kurt Cobain was dead.
-Alicia Silverstone (my hero back then)
-Kate Libby from Hackers (my other hero)
-Wearing flannel long after it had become uncool
-Ripped, no, SHREDDED jeans
-Gavin Rossdale
-Marilyn Manson
-Trent Reznor
-The Maxx, an animated series on MTV
-The Head, same.
-Ace of Base
-Riding my bike through the muddy backwaters of the MN river
-Rolling Stone magazine
-Hit Parader magazine
-quoting The Simpsons line-for-line
-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
-GX jeans
-Who sucked more: Backstreet Boys or N'Sync
-The Spice Girls, signaling the beginning of the end for popular music
-Fred Durst is a no-talent hack.
-Categorizing other teenagers by the kind of music they listened to
-WalMart was the best store ever.
-Using christmas lights as year-round bedroom decor
-Loveline w/Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew
-Incense, inflatable furniture
-Late summer nights spent writing poetry and playing the same five songs on guitar
-Hormones, gloominess, and teenaged angst.
-Truth or Dare
-Battling frizzy hair
-8th grade history report on Spartacus.
-Believe it or not, I still remember watching a movie in my 8th grade human heritage class about ancient human societies in the middle east, and learning about the story of the Tower of Babel. It moved me almost to the point of tears, I remember, thinking that something so mysterious and magnificent-if it ever existed in the first place-would have been destroyed. I remember that story affected me, it stayed with me for years afterward. Thinking about it again now...I consider it one of the most tragic stories I've ever heard.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Categorizing Atheists

I had an idea the other day about atheism, and after some thought, I've come up with 4 types of atheists. (This is speculation only; pure mental masturbation).

1. Scientific Atheists - uphold science as the only method of obtaining truths about the world. Believe that the lack of empirical (non-testimonial) evidence is reason enough to not grant assent to the God-claim. Because their disbelief is largely based on the scientific method and statistical reasoning (God isn't impossible, just infinitesimally improbable), their rationale is very difficult to communicate to the religious layman. Richard Dawkins falls into this category.

2. Philosophical Atheists - reason and logic tells them that god is a logical impossibility. Additionally, philosopher-atheists tend to be better at using language than their scientific counterparts. These philosphers can usually make a good case against the religious layman, but when you get them in a room with a philosophical religionist (or apologetic), the conversation quickly spirals into a word game. I consider Bertrand Russell to be a philosophical atheist (although his extensive work in mathematics could place him in the previous category, his ability to use language makes this category more appropriate).

3. Formerly Religious Atheists - strict religious upbringing (Missouri Senate, many Catholics, strong anti-gay churches, etc.), often coupled with antagonistic relations with parents/family causes them to rebel in their adulthood, which takes the form of turning against God. Because their disbelief is just a tool of their angry revolt against their perceived victimizer (God or God through their parents), many of these atheists still feel an internal need for religion, and seem to be the most likely to return to religious belief later in life (as Universal Unitarians). Think Brian Warner (a.k.a. Marilyn Manson), activists, shock-value atheists.

4. Apathetic Atheists - people with no apparent reason for or against disbelief. Atheists of this type seem to have either grown up in atheistic or otherwise non-religious families, or religious belief simply was never able to take root in their minds. Similar to the religious layman, this is the atheistic layman. Frank Zappa is a good example.

Where does your humble author fall in this categorization scheme? I'd say a mix of 1 and 4.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Guilt and Vegetarianism

There is an inherent guilt that comes along with being a vegetarian. If you visit relatives, they will often either feel awful because they forgot you were a herbivore, or they will make some special, god-awful vegetarian mess and force it upon everybody else in an attempt to please you. Catering is no option, either, as most of the time, the caterer will enforce a minimum number of vegetarian sandwiches to be ordered, even if it's just one non-meateater in the group.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Mom was right, television rots your mind.

It's interesting that America's health care system wasn't in a state of crisis until Michael Moore said it was.

Eat that, Stephen Colbert.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Al Gore wins the Nobel Prize


Are they serious?? The Nobel Peace Prize just lost a lot of respect.

Honestly, I don't mean to come off as an ideological hack, but "Global Warming" is about as over-hyped as Britney Spears. Does nobody listen to the leagues of environmental and natural resource economists when they say that there are costs and benefits to be considered before we agree to any UN pacts that will set us back billions and billions of dollars?? (Not to mention years and years in terms of economic and technological progress?)

An example of the "environati's" unwillingness to listen to (or defend against) reasonable arguments: Bjorn Lomborg has admitted on several occasions that global warming is, in fact, happening, although you wouldn't know it by reading any randomly-chosen environmentalist blog.

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Thoughts about DC

I've been living here for about a month, and I have a few observations about Washington DC:

  • The weather. It's terribly swampy here. The air feels thick, heavy, almost like your swimming through it. Forget about hair and makeup - it must be a quite a site, actually, to see a city's entire female population arrive at work in the morning with their hair mussed, dampened and pressed against their sweaty, make-up smeared faces. DC's fever finally broke this week, though, and we went from 95F on Monday to about 55F last night.

  • The skyline. There aren't too many tall buildings here. It's actually quite nice, to walk to work in the morning and have a clear view of the Washington monument. It's a large city, but unlike New York or Chicago, you can see the sky from downtown. The tallest buildings are Marriotts.

  • The traffic. Who in the world thought that traffic circles would be an efficient way to direct traffic?! Without a doubt, traffic circles are the worst conception in the entire history of city planning.

  • The kids. Or the complete lack of them. There are a few small children, but I've only seen one teenager in my four weeks here. I think young people are rare enough in the middle of the city that I haven't been carded anywhere I've gone. If you've always wanted to live in a place without punk-teenagers, DC is the place for you.

  • The local economy. Like a good little economist-in-training, I've thought a lot about this. I can't figure out how it works. I have a suspicion that DC's infrastructure - the Metro, the city workers, the free museums - is financed by federal (not local) tax dollars, though I haven't asked anybody. I just can't see how this city could sustain itself. The sales tax rate is lower than in Minnesota.

    Additionally, I can't determine what the big industry is here, aside from government, of course. A lecturer I saw my first week here warned that the only thing DC manufactures is power, and that people who are drawn to power tend to flock to this city like moths to a lamp (rather, two lamps - a blue light and a red one). I tend to agree with that. Not often in Minnesota have I overheard a group of people discussing politics in public, but you can't escape it here. I saw a sign in the window of one of the congressional office buildings. It was a stop sign that read "Stop Privatization." Vague, but I'll assume the person meant "-of social security and medicare," although they could have meant "-entirely" for all I know. Is there really a philosophical war going on between the social-engineering paternalistic left and the behavior-policing theocratic right? I miss the real world, the world where people do productive work.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Profitability of cable networks

In their 2000 book The Satanic Gases, Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling state that the cable tv channel "Weather Channel" is profitable. Which raises a very important question:

How is "The Weather Channel" profitable, and "TechTV" only operated for four years - entirely in the red - before getting bought out (by an inferior company at that)?

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Friday, October 5, 2007

On Music and the Last Temptation

So I got my hands on Peter Gabriel's Passion album today, the soundtrack to the Scorcese film The Last Temptation of Christ. It's got to be the most amazing music I've ever heard. I've got my headphones on and I'm listening to it in the middle of the intern room, and I'm just about moved to tears. From just listening. Peter Gabriel is a master at his craft.

Which led me to wonder why the film was so offensive to people's sensibilities in the first place. I consider it one of the best films/stories I've ever seen. I wonder if Christianity had been taught to me (or the world) from that paradigm, as the idea of sacrificing your own desires for a greater cause, (rather than the "magic man," miracle-worker crap I learned in sunday school), if I wouldn't be an atheist today. Kazantzakis' story speaks in a way that disarms your auto-skepticism and really drives home the overall theme, so much so that you can disregard the mystical threads in the larger philosophical tapestry.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On Rights

I've been thinking a lot about rights lately, and how misconstrued the idea of rights seems to be these days.

Rights are not dispensed by the government. Government does not create rights, rights exist independent of any legislative body. Failure to understand that is failure to understand liberty.

Rights include: the right to life; right to property; right to be free; right to pursue happiness; among others.

Rights do not extend to "the right to not be offended." Rights do not include anything that takes from somebody else. Health care is a great example of a misunderstood non-right. Resources for producing health care services are finite, and desire for health care is infinite. Giving some health care to Roy leaves less for Bob. Prices remedy this conundrum.

This post is probably a little unclear because I've got "Bones" on in the background. I didn't know this show was a CSI clone.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Waxing philosophical on Political affiliations.

Democrats: Self-proclaimed would-be "philosopher-kings." Champions of the underprivileged, their conviction that power lies within the people doesn't keep them from believing that they can make better choices for you than you can for yourself.

Republicans: Ivy league-educated wealthy men who supposedly represent the interests of a large number of under-educated poor rednecks. Actually represent the interests of the corporations that own them. Have claimed proprietary ownership of the words "patriot," "freedom," and "freedom fries."

Socialists: When not using martial law to command fearful obedience from the population, are often well-intentioned, but do not understand the effects of "fairness" on economic activity. If day-care providers and early elementary educators ran the government, socialism would be the result.

Libertarians: Can be religious zealots, staunch atheists, or anywhere in between. Would often be willing to go to jail rather than pay taxes. Many are skilled "survivalists," able to live in wooded areas without running water or electricity for months or years at a time. Typically owns guns. Lots of guns.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What to look for in Michael Moore's upcoming "SiCKO"

1. Anecdotal Evidence in place of empirical research.

Scientific evidence is obtained through the scientific method: hypothesis, gather data, observe, draw conclusions. Anecdotal evidence is not based on facts or rigorous empirical study. Often, it is used to promote one's own agenda, particularly when the scientific evidence (and many other testimonials) supports the opposite claim. When anecdotal evidence is used in this way, it constitutes a logical fallacy.

2. Moore's inability to effectively use rhetoric.

MOORE: So you, Mr. Canadian, believe that all Canadian citizens should pay tax dollars to support each others' health?
MOORE: Are you a socialist?
CANADIAN: No, I'm a conservative.
MOORE, TO AUDIENCE: Ha! Bet you didn't see that coming! I'm so clever.

Smooth like *water.*

3. Michael Moore smugly pointing out many elected officials who have accepted money from health care lobbyists.

Though he'll fail to realize that it was the increasing government intervention in the private sector, exactly like what he's advocating now, that initially set the stage for the increasing corporate intervention in government that we see today.

You can't inject the government into the corporation without injecting the corporation into the government.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I've finally arrived on the blogosphere.

Though the title of my blog sounds like that of a conspiracy theorist, that is far from my intent here. (Actually, the name is taken from a Nine Inch Nails song, though that doesn't relate to the content of this blog, either.)

This blog is a place for me to wax philosophical on politics, economic policy, and liberty. It's also a place for me to talk about the everyday stuff that bloggers talk about (that's what they do, right? I'm new to all this).

Thank you for tuning in. Enjoy the show.