Saturday, November 30, 2013

Another scary paper gets retracted

This time it's rat tumors from GMO corn that has fallen by the wayside. A small study finding a link has been retracted for being too small to rule out the possibility that the increase in tumors happened by chance in a breed bred to create just such tumors. The researchers plan to sue which is a shame. I'd think that they'd just rerun the study with more rats.

HT: Instapundit

Friday, November 29, 2013

NY Times Classifieds

Seth Godin reads the NY Times so I don't have to. Their classified section is down to one page from the 20-30 that he remembers it being way back when. His description of the utter fail of their job market advertisements led me to ask how much are they asking for the things. It turns out their classifieds can be done through a self-serve ad portal and their rates vary from somewhere between $20-$30 per line (1 line = 1.83 inches = 22 to 25 characters depending on the width of the letters). That's some pretty expensive ad real estate.

I admit that I'm morbidly curious. There's a poignant sadness to any dying art form and classified job listings are an art form, one with its own conventions and peculiar requirements.

What's the last job advertised in the NY Times going to be for? And what were the last jobs advertised in papers that have already ceased publication?

Bacon Turkey cooties

My younger daughter just informed me that she hasn't had real bacon in forever and she wants to make some to eat. When I reminded her that we had bacon yesterday on the turkey, she said it didn't count because being on the turkey turned it into turkey bacon and she wanted real (pork) bacon.

"So the turkey has cooties?" I asked, not thinking she'd actually agree.

She agreed.

Turkey cooties. Sigh. I foresee a lot of trouble handling the leftovers this year.

Bitcoin deflation

Today, right this minute, we have a massive natural experiment in deflation going on. The demand for Bitcoin (BTC) is far outstripping any increase in supply. If this were a national currency, the central bankers would have been institutionalized for their nervous breakdowns quite some time ago. It would be front page news every day and panic would rule the airwaves.

None of this is happening with Bitcoin. BTC insiders, movers and shakers seem pleased with the increase in value for their currency and the worry is the appreciation of the currency will go away, not that it will continue. Bitcoin pessimists like Paul Krugman, not surprisingly, believe that deflation will lead to transaction collapse and hoarding. Reality, so far, disagrees with them.

I think that the problem is that nobody among the pessimists understands what BTC is for. It's never going to be the legally mandated monopoly currency in any significant economic zone. The ethic of the BTC community works against that. This means that BTC is not competing against the US dollar, the euro, or even the renminbi.

What bitcoin does very well is create a space for moving currency without the ability for it to be stopped. That challenges national currencies in crisis that want to impose currency controls to stop money leaving their borders. You can't stop BTC transactions without draconian controls on communications.

As a practical matter, you can't stop a coin key from crossing borders. It also creates an incredibly small unit of currency. The smallest unit in the BTC world is the satoshi, or 0.00000001BTC. Is there any currency in the world that equals one satoshi? Until bitcoin reaches the point where its smallest transactions (looking at ads and other microtransactions) can no longer be done with single satoshis, BTC will not suffer transaction reduction to to value increase.

Current pricing would seem to imply something of a damper on BTC transaction flow when BTC rises above $100,000 USD per coin. In other words, the cheapest, cheapskate ads are offering a hundred satoshis for a second of your attention in a world where 1BTC is approximately 1,000USD. We have a long way to go before those transactions cease to be denominated in BTC. And even then, there will be prestige associated with working in BTC which will keep interest in the currency relatively high and larger transactions flowing around the $100k level. Any reduction will bring back a number of the bottom feeders from other currencies.

There are several wannabe BTC competitors waiting in the wings for the day that people want to conduct microtransactions smaller than 1 satoshi. They have established exchanges with national currencies and with BTC itself. when BTC grows in value sufficiently to give up the low end of its microtransaction market, the marketers will move on to alternatives until one of them gains enough advantage to be the next BTC.

Ultimately, BTC is about mad money for a lot of people. As an experiment, I've mined BTC overnight and done micro-tasks using the thing in my spare time. Since April of this year, without any impact on my productivity, I've gotten the price of a fairly nice night out with my wife in BTC right now. It's a piece, but only a piece, of an emerging 21st century wallet which diversifies currency use and manages transactions both online and offline. That wallet probably won't fully emerge for a decade at the very least and more likely will take two to really standardize but it will be the death of the ability of national currencies to live on their past reputations. People will gain the ability to react to currency foolishness much more quickly. BTC will be an important part of that technology suite.

crossposted: Chicago Boyz

Will Republicans honor Obama's lawless suspensions of the law?

Charles Krauthammer's column today decries Obama's lawlessness. He understandably doesn't lay out the one sure cure for it, prosecution. I don't mean Obama. He's politically untouchable. I mean everybody else who goes along with it. I mean file suit, and seek civil damages of $1 from every private party who went along with President Obama's lawlessness. The principle that the President doesn't just get to make stuff up as the law of the land has to be enforced.

The political problem with this solution is obvious, fearing prosecution or persecution if they resist, private parties are reluctant to defy a sitting president. If they give in, they fear retribution from the other party so they support the party that coerced them into illegality, strengthening and lengthening its turn in power.

The underlying principle that lawlessness will not be tolerated has to be reestablished somehow. Impeachment has failed to be a barrier for Obama. If we're not to slide into an uglier, third world style of politics, we have to establish new barriers that actually will work.

HT: Instapundit

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I'm thankful I don't have William Wilkins' memory

The IRS has a total of two political appointees on purpose so as to minimize political influence. These appointees are the head of the organization and its general counsel. Apparently the general counsel has been imitating a hostile mafia witness in front of the government oversight committee. Saying that he didn't remember 80 times regarding conversations and actions covering the inappropriate targeting mostly conservative populist groups like the tea party, Wilkins' consiglieri act did not amuse majority Republicans who have sent a letter inviting him to revise his testimony after he refreshes his memory. “Your failure to recollect important aspects of the Committee’s investigation suggests either a deliberate attempt to obfuscate your involvement in this matter or gross incompetence on your part.” That's got to sting.

Undoing statist distortions of Francis

The false idea of Pope Francis, anti-capitalist, has grown with the release of his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Part of the problem is that everybody's quoting Francis on his condemnation of a "theology of prosperity" or "culture of prosperity" but nobody is bothering to transmit his definition. For a pope, this is a term of art, a technical term that does not necessarily match up with what someone on the street might guess at its meaning. The definition is right there in the same document so if the journalist actually read the thing, there really is no excuse.
In other parts of our society, we see the growing attraction to various forms of a “spirituality of well-being” divorced from any community life, or to a “theology of prosperity” detached from responsibility for our brothers and sisters, or to depersonalized experiences which are nothing more than a form of self-centredness.
Once you plug in this definition, Francis' condemnation of prosperity takes on an entirely different character. That definition, by any stretch of the imagination, is not the "ethic and ideology that underlie free-market economies" except in the fever dreams of socialists eager to paint a false picture. This culture of prosperity is a permissible choice under the free market because, properly speaking, the free market is not totalitarian. It is neutral in areas that are not in its competence (economics).

Pope Francis does not deal in specifics as to how the goods he recommends "dignified work, education and healthcare", be acquired or assured. In the US, for example, the government strictly limits the number of medical residency spots, residencies being mandatory for the practice of medicine in the US. Increase those spots or decrease the spots and you can crudely adjust the price of healthcare by adjusting the supply of doctors. Neither action has anything to do with the free market. It's an adjustment of a government allocation. If the allocation is broken, it's for the big government types to explain and justify. Similarly, there are pro-free market interpretations on improving dignified work and education. That doesn't mean that Francis is pro-capitalist. It just means that he's doing his job, leaving sufficient ambiguity that the laity so it members can legitimately take all reasonable sides in the debate while pointing to the theological and ethical goals that are appropriately Catholic.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving overdrive

Taking a break from prepping for Thanksgiving and it's my favorite kind, improvised, collaborational, and open ended. It's been a fun three and a half hours since this dropped in my lap.


A happy Thanksgiving to all and a wish that all the cooking chaos out there be resolved favorably.

Don't shut it down

One of a few self-inflicted things holding libertarianism back from being a serious governing party is a mistaken idea as to the magnitude of the differences between government and private solutions. The differences add up over a generation to huge improvements in civilizational progress but in the course of a year or two it's very often a real horse race. The impulse to close the EPA or other cabinet departments thus destroys a great deal of real value and turns non-ideological but frugal people away from libertarian solutions. That's a large enough demographic horrified by libertarian theoreticians to keep practical libertarians away from serious executive power.

Over time, the gains from shutting down government departments accumulate and overwhelm any transition losses but that tipping point is far beyond the horizon where prediction ends and vague guesswork takes over. This also makes non-ideological practical people uncertain and unhappy with such solutions.

This leaves the much more difficult road of competition and privatization of government functions. Rob and raid government meat inspectors and set up a private inspection regime. This is orders of magnitude more difficult than simply saying close the USDA. It also fundamentally shifts the terms of debate in a direction favorable to libertarian solutions. The existence of UPS and Fed-Ex daily demonstrate that the government is not the only organization that can deliver the mail. The libertarian solution for the post office focuses on getting rid of the government monopoly on first class mail and privatizing the post office, something that is well on its way in a piecemeal fashion. Nobody seriously advocates downing tools and just shutting the USPS down and that makes mail reform discussions much more practical.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving/Chanukkah trivia weirdness

The first full day of Chanukkah falls on Thanksgiving day this year, a real rarity. The last time this happened was in 1888. Thanksgiving was on November 29th that year, and on that day, far away in the Austro-Hungarian empire where they did not celebrate this most american of holidays, a little jewish boy was born, Joseph Karczag.

He was my grandfather. 

Voter fraud via Obamacare?

While the tone is a bit over the top, this PJMedia article on Motor Voter provisions in Obamacare raise some troubling questions. Under no circumstances should we ever bypass established fraud checks. It's especially troubling if the federal government instructs the state to bypass fraud checks.

If this is actually happening, this is a great big warning sign. Normally, you would just raise your eyebrow and move on, giving the administration the benefit of the doubt. President Obama already blew through that with his electoral campaign practice of bypassing donation fraud checks on foreign addresses. He already had his second chance and blew it. This is at least round three on the issue of election fraud.

So how do you address the issue and figure out if it is real? The web sites will eventually get fixed and create a flood of records. The clock is ticking. The first step is probably to call your state's Secretary of State office and sort out if the article has its facts straight.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Western Canon

I pulled Harold Bloom's Western Canon list this morning and started matching the entries to the Project Gutenberg library. It's amazing how many of the core ancient greek texts aren't available there yet (though many of the missing are available elsewhere). A surprising number of the missing are due to copyright. An embarrassing number are books I have yet to read.

Give the gift of culture and knowledge this Christmas. None of these books will cost you a penny.

Title - Gilgamesh
Title - Egyptian Book of the Dead
Title - Sayings of the Fathers (Pirke Aboth)
Title - Mahabharata
Title - Bhagavad-Gita
Title - Ramayana
Title - Iliad - Homer
Title - Odyssey - Homer
Title - Works and Days - Hesiod
Title - Theogony - Hesiod
Title - The Poetry of Sappho
Title - Odes - Pindar
Title - Oresteia - Aeschylus
Title - Seven Against Thebes - Aeschylus
Title - Prometheus Bound - Aeschylus
Title - Persians - Aeschylus
Title - Suppliant Women - Aeschylus
Title - Oedipus the King - Sophocles
Title - Oedipus at Colonus - Sophocles
Title - Antigone - Sophocles
Title - Electra - Sophocles
Title - Ajax - Aeschylus
Title - Women of Trachis - Sophocles
Title - Philoctetes - Sophocles
Title - Cyclops - Euripides
Title - Alcestis - Euripides
Title - Hecuba - Euripides
Title - Bacchae - Euripides
Title - Orestes - Euripides
Title - Medea - Euripides
Title - Hippolytus - Euripides
Title - Iphigenia at Aulis - Euripides
Title - The Birds - Aristophanes
Title - The Clouds - Aristophanes
Title - The Frogs - Aristophanes
Title - Lysistrata - Aristophanes
Title - The Knights - Aristophanes
Title - The Wasps - Aristophanes
Title - The Assemblywomen - Aristophanes
Title - The Histories - Herodotus
Title - The Peloponnesian Wars - Thucydides
Title - Poetics - Aristotle
Title - Ethics - Arostotle
Title - On the Sublime - Longinus
Title - Idylls - Theocritus
Title - Lives - Plutarch
Title - Moralia - Plutarch
Title - Fables - Aesop
Title - Satires - Lucian
Title - Amphitryon - Plautus
Title - The Eunuch - Terence
Title - The Mother-in-Law - Terence

Chipotle makes genocide look so pretty and attractive

My younger daughter found Chipotle's Scarecrow IOS propaganda game. It's a short freebie and you get a buy one, get one coupon if you complete all the levels and give out your personal information. Alongside the somewhat amusing gameplay comes a load of locavore/free range farming propaganda.

For reasons unexplained in the video and game, the countryside has been emptied by Crow Foods, Inc and food is exclusively grown in cartoonish, factory conditions with lots of pointless discomfort. But the only local farmer left decides to grow his own food, cook, and serve it in his own restaurant all to the music soundtrack of Fiona Apple covering Pure Imagination, in a subtly twisted and dark fashion.

Of course the real nightmare would be the reality of us all following Chipotle's ideas. We'd do ok in the US because we're rich enough to outbid the 3rd world for food, but once again famine would be more than a political problem in significant chunks of the globe.

We can feed the world if we work hard at it and use the best techniques we have for delivering food from field to plate. We can do it without factory farming but only after a fairly massive human die off. Smiley faced genocide as a restaurant ad campaign. What will they think of next?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A good cure for hypotension

Guaranteed to cure your low blood pressure problem, I give you the Checkpoint USA Youtube channel. A collection of border stop videos miles away from the border, interspersed with occasional beatings when regular people get too assertive in defending their rights.

Our current immigration policy is so far from right it's not even wrong.

HT: Instapundit

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Google is annoying today

Google is usually good about not annoying people on their search engine. They present a neat, uncluttered, simple interface that doesn't distract. Not today.
Today they have jumping and jiggling Dr Who sprites doing a continual annoying dance that is reminiscent of those old "you're the 10,000th visitor" banner ads that used to drive me nuts. The experience has not improved with time. Behind it all is an ok mini flash game celebrating the 50th anniversary of the series. The compromise of Google's core value proposition on search is not worth it though. For the first time, I'm seriously considering Bing. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wikistrat report

I just logged in to Wikistrat and found that a new report is available and is ok for public distribution (much of the product generated there is not ok to distribute). Here's a fairly recent crowdsourced report on the idea of resource wars. It covers most of the bases fairly well and provides a few insights I haven't seen elsewhere. I like where we ended up on this, a fair, even-handed, thought provoker. It won't answer whether the techno-optimists will continue to win over the malthusians but it does help you argue your chosen side on that debate on a higher level.

Spell Bowl

My daughters participated in the local spell bowl last night. This is the first year that they've done it and the first time that I've seen such a competition. Out of 16 teams theirs was third overall and first in group. They scored eighth overall in Indiana in their school's class.

I am very proud of their effort but they clearly thought that they could do better. There were many tears.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Is Obamacare bad for minorities?

Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the ACA, (whatever your favorite label) has racial implications according to NY Times "Contributing Op-Ed Writer" Thomas B. Edsall.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act can be construed as a transfer of benefits from Medicare, which serves an overwhelmingly white population of the elderly – 77 percent of recipients are white — to Obamacare, which will serve a population that is 54.7 percent minority. Over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act cuts $455 billion from the Medicare budget in order to help pay for Obamacare.
Those who think that a critical mass of white voters has moved past its resistance to programs shifting tax dollars and other resources from the middle class to poorer minorities merely need to look at the election of 2010, which demonstrated how readily this resistance can be used politically. The passage of the A.C.A. that year forced such issues to the fore, and Republicans swept the House and state houses across the country. The program’s current difficulties have the clear potential to replay events of 2010 in 2014 and possibly 2016.
I don't have any doubt that Mr. Edsall is basically correct about the racial makeup of the two programs' beneficiaries. But there's a curious assumption made that Obamacare actually makes things better. This is an assumption that is unburdened by any pedestrian things like evidence or proof.

What if the policy critics are right and that it makes things worse? Under those circumstances, wouldn't Obamacare's beneficiary racial makeup make it a favorite of the KKK/Nazi set (however big that demographic remains these days)?

So who's catering to Illinois Nazi these days?

HT: Instapundit
HT: Best of the Web

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

As little as 60% of Obamacare's software is complete

The Obamacare software development death march continues as it becomes clearer and clearer that even the early pessimists had no idea how bad things really were. This reduces confidence we know how bad things are right now. We've been fooled multiple rounds.

You see, to make the Affordable Care Act work, you need a fully functioning "federally facilitated marketplace" as Deputy CIO for CMS, Henry Cho says, and there is lots of software involved, much of it will never be seen by the public except indirectly when the public facing portions fail to give the right data because the back end systems are either not working right or not even built at all.

HT: Mediaite

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Shocking secret about horny teenagers on the Internet

The most surprising takeaway on this article on social media statistics is that it's finally happened. Porn has now been dethroned as the number one activity on the Internet. Horny teenagers are socializing more than fantasizing.

Who would have thought it? We seem to be growing up.

HT: Mark Hultgren

Monday, November 18, 2013

Another BTC bubble?

Bitcoin just quoted on at $510.20. I'm beating the rush and calling it a bubble. I'm a market participant but a very inconsequential one. My entire bitcoin stash is worth slightly more than $20 at this point.

China has apparently discovered bitcoins and trading volumes are exploding from a very low level only two months ago. That's fine as I don't have anything priced in BTC but it's likely to be a very wild ride until the coin finds a new stable level.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Boehnor should not honor Obama's lawlessness

President Obama's veto threat of the Upton bill to legally do what he is trying to do by illegal means, delay the individual mandate, has firmly established a sad fact. The United States has a lawless president. Impeachment would be a three ring circus and unlikely to be worth the effort. President Obama has indeed not let a crisis go to waste and is trying to legitimize presidential lawlessness by picking a test case where the he is doing lawlessly what the Congress wishes to do lawfully. It's a threat of precedent, not a present threat to the lives and health of anyone today.

A more appropriate response than impeachment would be to wake up America that there is an important and symbolic issue at stake. Speaker Boehner can do this simply by denying the President an honor. He can deny President Obama the use of the House chamber for the State of the Union address. A currently substanceless threat to our legal tradition is responded to by a substanceless slap of rebuke. Let the President write his address and let it be read from the well by a clerk.

The idea that the President has so dishonored his office that he no longer can enter the House is a powerful image that alerts the people to a problem but does not stop us from carrying on with the serious task of government. Impeachment should not be our first resort. Who wants President Biden? This measure also has the advantage that it plays to Boehner's strengths and requires no approval from anyone else. He can take this decision unilaterally. He should.

Cross posted: Chicago Boyz

Saturday, November 16, 2013

My luck continues its odd split of very good and very bad

On the bright side, nobody is dead in a ditch. On the not-so-good side, figuring that out last night meant I had to bail on startup weekend Lafayette. T-Mobile needs better coverage in that town.

I will definitely be attending the next one that I possibly can.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Just got a new phone

I've just entered my two week bliss period where I've gotten a new phone or other piece of tech and am enjoying the increased productivity but my internal scheduler hasn't upgraded my expectations on what I can do in a day yet so... productivity bliss.

This time it's the iPhone 5s so I expect to take this personal blog a bit more multimedia in future.

What's that party? Obamacare Insurance Mod Rejection Edition

On Drudge right now is an early rejection of President Obama's plan to permit insurance companies to retain their noncompliant plans for a year. The State of Washington's Insurance Commissioner took two hours to release a statement rejecting the idea. Nowhere in the piece is a mention of the man's party so for most readers it would be a surprise that he's an Obamacare supporting Democrat. His Wikipedia page notes he had previously served 16 years in the Washington legislature and one term in Congress as a Democrat.

This man took to the pages of the Seattle Times on November 12th to defend insurance cancellations. President Obama made this man look like a fool, just as he's done for a great deal of the rest of the Democratic party. But don't count on the press to highlight the party source of much of the return fire.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

89,000 governments: What is a government

In the United States, there is no one, universally accepted definition of what is a government. You would think that there would be. There isn't.

If a government is considered a sovereign or subsidiary agent of a sovereign state organized separately from other governments, the numbers of governments out there can get quite large and even include organizations that are sometimes private and sometimes, when they are acting for other governments, put on the mantle of a government temporarily. I first ran across this on a random google search where it was pointed out that in some jurisdictions humane societies sometimes receive sovereign immunity from prosecution for their acts. The law isn't entirely settled. So do humane societies get included in the citizen intelligence database? They will be. I'm less sure whether to include them in my government directory books. If they do go in, such organizations will go under their own heading.

In the state of Indiana, governments are prohibited by the state constitution from taking on an excessive amount of debt defined as 2% of the property value of the property within its jurisdiction. For library construction, this is a hard limit to live under. While ordinary operations allow library districts to stay well below this level of debt, it would take a great deal of time to accumulate the money necessary to build a modern library without running over the 2% debt limit.

To build out a proper toolkit to manage all of these organizations requires adopting the broadest, not the narrowest definitions of government that apply. Citizen Intelligence as a project will be researching and using the definition in each state and monitor governments that qualify either under a state definition or under the federal definition used by the Census Bureau or both.

State Definitions

New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One of the things wrong with Wikipedia

I've been editing Wikipedia for some time using the account TMLutas. I recently participated in an AfD (Article for Deletion) discussion about a particular California school district, Loma Prieta Joint Union Elementary School District. This time wasn't too bad, with everybody quickly noting that governments are notable and that for a variety of reasons even a fairly non-descript school district should have a page. It hasn't always been that way and the attempts to delete these pages keep coming.

As part of Citizen Intelligence, I'm looking to improve wikipedia by creating an automated export of the school government data I collect and including it in the encyclopedia. I'm holding off on actually doing it because, frankly the explosion of AfD debates would swamp me. I'm not that altruistic. I think I'm not the only one holding back a bit by low quality attempts to delete articles. Its a shame. Wikipedia is ripe for an upgrade but its officious user base is holding it back.

89k Governments Document project

Just put up the first draft of an index to a writing project that has been bouncing around in my head for some time, the 89k Governments page. The purpose of the project is to write and refine what it is I'm trying to get done with Citizen Intelligence. It's time to organize and structure these thoughts as I start to seek people to come on board and turn Citizen Intelligence from a one man effort to something that has enough manpower to have a real impact on US governance and the relationship between the people and their public servants.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Something admirable from the Obama Admin

As a very small government advocate, it's pretty predictable that I'm not going to be happy with the present administration most days. It's nice, however, when I can occasionally break trend.

Executive Order 13462, signed this spring, sets the standard for federal government data to default to public and machine readable. That's a pretty good step towards 21st century government.

Both liberals and conservatives believe that reality favors their ideology but up to now, nobody's let loose enough data to get unambiguous comparisons. That's only going to happen when you have enough experiments, enough trials to pick out a clear trend. Here's to figuring out what's really going on.

David Brin's halfway house

David Brin pens a sort of halfway house out of current liberal economic insanity by recommending that today's liberals reclaim Adam Smith as one of their own. It's not a bad point and I certainly applaud it. It would have been a better point if he hadn't studded the post with false accusations that the right doesn't study Smith and that it's entirely ignorant of his other major work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He's recycling old accusations about what the right is and what it's about that simply aren't true. But perhaps he has to in order to inoculate himself from ejection from the tribe.

I think if he's going to be serious about this, he's in for a big surprise. In doing a bit of googling on the subject of false accusations of the right disproportionately favoring crony capitalism, I came up with the following by me over at Obsidian Wings. Over two years later, I can't improve on it so might as well quote it.
It always astonishes me the superficial level of analysis on the left about how the big bad capitalists tilt the system to nefariously aid their interests. Of course they do, but how? Dig deep into the details and you will find, time after time, the use of big government to pass rules and regulations that hinder their upstart competitors (direct and indirect) and leave themselves largely free to continue making disproportionate profits.

The solution seems obvious, to enumerate all the regulations, sift through them, get rid of the ones who give the rich an unfair advantage, and maintain the structure as a regular counter to the inevitable attempts the well off will sponsor to put in a new crop in future.

But looking at the mechanics of getting rid of the unfair privileges of the upper classes and you find yourself looking at a process that is a lot more like a tea party Republican's platform than a progressive Democrat's. So put your shoulder to the grindstone and enumerate all the governments, enumerate all their laws, rules, and regulations. Identify in each what is upholding unfair privilege for the rich and you'll find a large cadre of tea party people right there supporting the repeal.

I don't believe for a minute that the left will actually do this because their anti-corporatism is a sham, a shakedown, an appeal for a check written to shut the leadership up. I would be pleasantly surprised to be wrong and more than happy to collaborate on freeing up our economy from welfare for the rich which is another thing that is choking this country.
 So I'm hoping and praying that +David Brin is sincere and his initiative prospers. It would make for a better country, even with all the false accusations regarding the right.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tell me more about that

Seth Godin's very reliable for a daily dose of win. This time it's dealing with skeptics. He identifies a species that I hadn't twigged to, the generous skeptic who knows the field and has an insight into your new idea that you might not have seen yet.

The problem is identifying the generous skeptics from those status quo defenders who are more interested in keeping their world from changing than in the constructive criticism that actually helps you to succeed, if perhaps with a few new twists on a more sophisticated business plan.

Virtually all skeptics will claim to be generous skeptics. They're doing it to help you, you know. But not all skeptics are generous. How to separate the gold of the generous ones from the dross of the rest is something to think about and, I hope, the subject of a post in future from Seth.

In the meantime, I need to be careful in my own conversations to not pass by the generous skeptics that I may find crossing my own path. Nobody ever died by responding "tell me more about that".

Shifting Schedule

Going to be working more on the business of Citizen Intelligence this week and prepping things for startup weekend in Lafayette. Blogging will likely be affected, though I'm not quite sure which way.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Healthcare basics II

There are a lot of areas that I see us lacking consensus or basic factual understanding but nowhere is it worse than in the area of healthcare. This series is a number of short examinations of what healthcare is and how it is currently paid for in the US. Some of the lessons are specific to the US while others are universal.

Healthcare consists of two basic things, figuring out what (if anything is wrong with you) and doing procedures to treat (and possibly cure) what ails you. Procedures, along with medicines and equipment, are what you pay for, and procedure codes are the functional equivalent of UPC codes for consumer goods.

Conceptually, there are two kinds of codes. Codes that are incurred to figure out what is wrong with you, or diagnostic codes, and codes that are incurred to actually treat what is wrong with you, or treatment codes. Both these types of codes are laid out in a procedure code book.

In the US the procedure code book until recently has solely been the Current Procedure Terminology (CPT) which is written and maintained by the American Medical Association (AMA). The author of the code book in this case is highly relevant because, as a private American organization organized as a 501(c)6 tax exempt business league, the AMA may maintain copyright, which it does in this case. The royalty scheme used by the AMA is $14.50 per user, per electronic product and $14.50 per distributed product. No guidance, other than look it up is given by the AMA as to what it considers fair use.

Were the American Petroleum Institute to copyright the terms, unleaded, plus, and super, gasoline pricing would be profoundly affected. The effect on medical pricing is no less profound, or pernicious. Doctors simply do not advertise prices with attached CPT codes so that people can do the ordinary consumer activity of price shopping.

In 2012 the AMA received approximately $80M in CPT royalty payments (royalties and credentialing products were $83.1M). It receives less than half that in dues ($38.7M) out of a total of approximately $273.9M in revenues. Its royalties are 30% of income while dues are less than 15%. Without its CPT royalties, its 2012 positive results of $16.6M would likely be wiped out and replaced by a significant deficit.

Series Index

Healthcare basics I

There are a lot of areas that I see us lacking consensus or basic factual understanding but nowhere is it worse than in the area of healthcare. This series is a number of short examinations of what healthcare is and how it is currently paid for in the US. Some of the lessons are specific to the US while others are universal.

Healthcare consists of two basic things, figuring out what (if anything is wrong with you) and doing procedures to treat (and possibly cure) what ails you. In the US, what is wrong with you is laid out in a code book written by the World Health Organization (WHO) who author the ICD codes. In the US, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has been licensed by WHO to create a variant with greater detail for clinical use that is identified by a trailing CM on those products.

Currently, the US is transitioning from using the ICD-9-CM code book to the latest update, the ICD-10-CM code book. The ICD-9-CM was frozen as of October 1, 2013 and will no longer be updated. ICD-10-CM is in limited update mode during this transition until October 1, 2015 when it will start regular yearly updates once again. At this point in time your medical provider in the US should either be fully transitioned, or at least transitioning to ICD-10-CM to describe any medical conditions you may have. If they aren't, they are going to start running into payment reductions and refusal of payment issues which may jeopardize their ability to keep their doors open.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Capitalism is a profit and loss sytem

When fools run businesses (and they assuredly do in every economic system imaginable), the task of the economic system is to get rid of the fools and their mismanagement as quickly as possible. The totalitarians in China do this by watching for spectacular failures, seizing the manager least capable of covering their tracks and killing them. Capitalists, for all their reputation for supporting a system that is veritably "red in tooth and claw"is kinder and gentler. Poor management leads to poor profits and eventual job destruction at the foolish manager's firm while new entrants create new jobs at different firms to take on the necessary tasks that would otherwise be left undone. This is done in a loosely coupled way with creation generally preceding destruction.

Job creation actually generally precedes job destruction because there could be a need for increased workers handling a task. The same system handles both circumstances, doing double duty. But non-economic preferences and circumstance lead to a general accumulation of fools. At some point the system tips over and you have a recession. Job destruction peaks, job creation dips, and we all learn who are the prudent and who are the fools. But there are worrying secular trends.

In a world which is supposedly changing faster and faster and requiring more nimble shifts of economic production, you would expect both creation and destruction to rise. They are clearly falling. In a world that was expanding its use of resources to accommodate the multi-billion person rise of the global middle class, you would expect the gap between job creation and job destruction to be widening. Instead the gap narrows.

This is the sophisticated sort of thing that we should be going on about in our cable TV shows on a regular basis. Instead we have a duller, slower, more foolish politics to go with our more dull and foolish economics.

HT: Instapundit

Friday, November 8, 2013

3D printed screwdriver

Apple decided that they were going to create a pain point discouraging its customers from changing their own batteries by using five pointed screws that require a special pentalobe screwdriver for its macbook air and iphones. This isn't their first 'security screw' try. They vastly enlarged the market for torx drivers in previous product cycles and now that too many have those drivers in their toolkit, they've moved on.

Only one thing is going to stop this annoyance, I believe. A simple process that will take a photo of a screw with whatever head on one end and spit out a screwdriver to open up that screw on the other. Once 3D printers routinely, quickly, and easily defeat these screws, maybe we can get beyond the idea of sealed units that manufacturers make hard to open on purpose.

Obama's America: part timer nation

James Pethoukis puts his thumb on how lousy Obama has been on unemployment but doesn't explain sufficiently.

Right around Obama's election, the two lines diverge and stay that way. The extra distance equals all the people who used to be full time workers and are now part time workers. These are not unemployed. They are just american dream deferred.

They are reduced from a dignified life to scrambling on the economic edge of society. In a Republican administration it is the top line that would be trumpeted as the real rate of unemployment. In this administration it's the bottom line that's touted, when unemployment is mentioned at all.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

And now for something completely different

This is one that I like. That's a rarity for me and hip-hop. Not unusually for hip-hop, NSFW.

Obamacare Pain is Just Beginning

The individual mandate that is causing so much alarm in more present oriented conservative circles right now is just a small prelude to the magnitude of changes lining up for us all with the employer mandate, which has been delayed to 2014. As usual, the conservative alarms came too early, until they were too late.

Jed Graham's spreadsheet of workers suffering from ACA hour reduction has 39 states are currently represented with 363 instances documented. Number one on the state parade is Indiana with 67 items, almost twice the number of the second list, Virginia with 34 documented items. The recent 10th amendment lawsuit filed by Indiana accounts for 13 of those instances so we may be looking at a great deal of cutting hours going on without a lot of fanfare. It takes a special type to sue the IRS, both fearless and very meticulous about their paperwork.

It's pretty obvious that a lot of this sort of activity is trying to be undertaken without public announcement. Given what happened to John Schnatter of Papa Johns, this is a reasonable concern. Who wants to volunteer that they're cutting hours. In most cases it's not required of them. So why put a target on their back and their company's back? There is no real benefit for them and a great deal of risk potential if someone powerful decides to make an example out of them.

Hat tips:
Amercan Spectator
Investors Business Daily

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bill Gates' Malaria Mistake

Bill Gates is working very hard to directly eradicate malaria. It is a high involvement, risky strategy and he knows it. "Zero is a magic number. You either do what it takes to get to zero and you’re glad you did it; or you get close, give up and it goes back to where it was before, in which case you wasted all that credibility, activity, money that could have been applied to other things." Gates has designed his charitable efforts to wind up 20 years after his death. If the malaria vaccine is discovered outside that time frame and the predicted backsliding happens, Gates' direct effort on malaria will be a failure.

That may, or may not be, a mistake. It's a high stakes roll of the dice and Gates is betting that the money won't run out before the crash program he's initiated pays off with that magic zero. I wish him the best of luck with that. The world would be significantly and demonstrably better off without malaria. On the issue of malaria, like Gates, I'm pro genocide.

Every single country that currently has malaria could be without it given peace and a good enough economy to fund the efforts that keep countries like the US and Taiwan, which have the climate to support malaria ridden mosquitos but little malaria, free of the disease.

Gates' malaria mistake is to denigrate other tech titans' efforts to indirectly improve lives in the poorest nations by creating the infrastructure to build the necessary economy so that they'll pay for their own malaria eradication. This indirect effort, unlike Gates', is both sustainable and builds on itself. There is no utterly predictable backsliding to what it was like before if only partial progress is made during a specific timeframe. It is a completely different approach to helping the world's poorest that allows their own priorities to inform where the money goes and which lack gets remedied first.

It is a dice throw as to which approach will do more good for the world in the end. I actually wish both sides of this philosophical difference luck on their efforts. The sniping is not helpful though. It is a mistake.

HT: Business Insider

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How is Obama's 'A' team tech surge working?

A lot of things are not going to be visible in the fix of the web site.

Some things are arguable when you write a web page. Do you adopt international standards or do you go for de facto standards. Other things, there isn't a lot of argument over. They are just plain errors that never should have passed even the most basic testing before taking the site live.

I noticed yesterday that the ACA exchange website has a number of both types of errors when validated by the World Wide Web Consortium HTML validator. So today, a few details of the 46 errors on the home page. You can see the report in its entirety here.

Here's an example of an error that is just a browser specific bit of web markup.

    <meta content='IE=IE7; IE=IE8; IE=IE9; IE=IE10; IE=edge; chrome=1' http-equiv='X-UA-Compatible'/>
This is put together a little funny. I would expect the http-equiv part to come before the content but that's not a big deal. It's just an Internet Explorer specific tag that doesn't exist in the actual HTML 5 specification so the keepers of the international spec mark that as an error.

This one is the second type. An outright error. The funny thing is that anybody can add a new meta name listing here. The people writing the website just didn't bother doing it. It's not entirely clear what they're trying to do here.
    <meta name='search-title' content="Health Insurance Marketplace" />
Some of the errors are just quickie fixes that should have been fixed the first time somebody did a validation run, like this one which specifies alt-text, twice
    <img alt='' class='print-only logo' src='/images/logo.png' alt=''/>
This sort of error leads me to believe that after spending literally hundreds of millions of dollars, nobody has ever done a validation run on's home page even when the thing was falling over all the time and there were obvious problems with the site.

A month into the launch of this, obvious and easy to fix bugs should have been fixed by now. Clearly even the most visible part of this technology project has not had the simple fixes completed.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Obamacare blew it before the Republicans took the House

The CYA memos are coming out of the woodwork to demonstrate how early the implementation process went wrong. The personnel implementing the program lacked startup or even business experience but had to meet tight deadlines in the law that could only be met by essentially creating a startup environment. The experts needed to handle the technology and regulatory complexity also were lacking according to the memo. Right now, the struggle is on to create a potemkin village of a site that at least fixes the front end mistakes so that the problems aren't so obvious. The back end problems can be hidden with threats to the insurance companies and too curious journalists mixed with campaigns to discredit. You don't have to be technical to know that something's wrong on the front end. You can just click on a link to the World Wide Web consortium's HTML validator. At time of writing the front page to has 46 errors in coding and 2 warnings that they're doing something dubious. They can't hide that and they can't attack the W3C. The validation computer doesn't care about anything but the reality of conformance to standard. And that's something that even a low information voter can understand. They had three years to write this to spec and right now, there are still coding errors so bad that the front page won't pass basic validation. For just a bit of money, they can get the whole site validated instead of doing a page at a time for free. $280 gets you 20k page validations which is anywhere from one page 20k times to 20k pages one time. Thats $0.0014 per page. After spending hundreds of millions on this site, I hope they have the budget to run validation. I wonder how many validation errors on the front page there will be on December 1st? HT: Instapundit

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Niven's law, as applied to government

Government is Magic says Sultan Knish. Wretchard chimes in that we are seeing the Return of the Sorceror. They are both right but neither goes far enough. The deeper problem is that Government has advanced so beyond our understanding that Clarke's Third Law applies, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". We do not seriously have a grasp of what it is, what it does, how it does it, and where money is being wasted in dead weight losses, fraud, and abuse. Government is a series of nested black boxes that we examine the inputs and the outputs of, sometimes unpacking the top layer or two, but never going down all the way to the last black box and across the entire enterprise. Unless you unpack it all, government is mysterious, unknown, and unexplainable in any rigorous fashion. It is effectively magic. But not only Clarke's law applies but a near converse does as well, "Any sufficiently explained magic is indistinguishable from technology." That's almost Niven's law. At present we occasionally manage to pull the curtain back to see the man behind it, demystifying the process. This should be the normal state of affairs. We should always know what the man behind the curtain is doing, if only in the form of inputs into our intelligent agents creating our business intelligence dashboards so we can keep an eye on things without devoting every waking hour to do so. Government is a technology for getting things done. Some things it does better than the free market. Other things it does worse. The libertarian's list of what it does better is very short, just like the socialist's list of what government does worse. Defining what government does, and how well it does it, is within our technical capability. It is not done because we do not demand that the government supply the information necessary for it to be done. We can and we should.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Even non-dummies like the dummies people

It really impresses me how often I will search for the solution to a topic and find that the clearest, simplest solution is coming from . They really do a first rate job for me, including about 3 minutes ago when I was looking to get my personal blog posts up on facebook and twitter. The instructions on using hootsuite to do this were easy, simple, and clear and quicker than me running through the hootsuite menus.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Nearly nothing is yours says Jonathan Chait

Did you know that if you have employer provided health insurance, you get your coverage through the government? Jonathan Chain drops this clunker in his sub-par article in New York magazine, Why Letting Everyone Keep Their Health-Care Plan Is a Terrible Idea. The logic seems to be that if the government provides a tax break on anything, then you're getting it via the government. A little thought should make clear how wrongheaded and offensive this is. You get tax breaks for your kids. You get a tax break for being blind. In a lot of jurisdictions you get a tax break for your home. The list of tax breaks is huge and growing as liberals use these breaks to "nudge" us in the direction they want. Those nudges are bad enough, but to go further and say that if you're nudged, this is no longer yours, it comes from the government is just offensive.

Premise, a business preemie

Reading Wired Magazine's treatment of Premise I was impressed by the company but it's clear to me that they're a preemie, a company that is running ahead of its moment. Having a few hundred workers in a couple of dozen cities snap pictures on store shelves to measure prices is a mere trickle of data compared to upcoming alternatives. Body camera systems processing every item/shelf tag in the store are going to end up being created. The engineering could probably be worked out today for an outrageous price, in five years, that price might end up being reasonable, a low enough price for somebody to get free groceries after they submit their data. We're on the cusp of a data acquisition revolution but we're not quite there yet. When we arrive, look for Premise to become vastly more useful.