Monday, December 5, 2016

Über hiring criminals

It should come as no surprise that the world's leading incarcerator would make it more difficult for companies to find people with spotless police records.

So Über, which according to Wikipedia is an "American worldwide online transportation network company," is changing its policy.  It has opened its doors to applicants who have certain nonviolent and non-sexual criminal records.

It actually initiated this policy earlier in 2016 in California.  Beginning in 2017 it will extend it to Connecticut and Rhode Island:
Uber's change in policy, which goes into effect early next year, will allow people with convictions for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses such as passing a bad check, resisting arrest, petty theft, prostitution, harassment and causing minor property damage to drive for the company. 
Previously, applicants with such records were automatically rejected if the offense occurred within the past seven years. Uber said it will continue to reject applicants who have felony convictions within the past seven years, as well as applicants with convictions for misdemeanor offenses that involve violence, sex crimes and serious motor vehicle violations.
Ryan McMaken reports that Connecticut and the rest of the US has been working hard to get more people behind bars or subject to extraordinary fines.
The War on Drugs brought longer prison terms and stiffer fines than had been the case in earlier decades. But drugs aren't the activity that have been leading to increasingly outsized punishments. In the United States today, we continue to witness what can perhaps be called "punishment inflation" in which fines and jail time for certain crimes have been increased above what punishments those same crimes brought in the past. 
He cites a 2015 report form the [Connecticut] legislature's Office of Legislative Research that lists numerous examples of punishment inflation. As the report states,
Based on our research, the legislature increased the penalty for at least 49 crimes from a misdemeanor to a felony from 1995 to 2015.
With so many regulations expanding the federal register each year, virtually the entire U.S. population has become criminalized.  As The Daily Caller noted in 2013:
The Federal Register is a daily digest published by the federal government since 1936. It contains proposed regulations from agencies, finalized rules, notices, corrections, and presidential documents. The 1936 Federal Register was 2,620 pages long. It has grown steadily since then, with the 2012 edition weighing in at 78,961 pages (it has topped 60,000 pages every year for the last 20 years). 
The Federal Register’s page count is by no means a perfect proxy for measuring regulatory burdens. A particularly onerous regulation might take up only a page or two, while one that costs relatively little could ramble on for dozens of pages. Despite this important shortcoming, it is still one of the more useful yardsticks we have, as it indicates a large and active federal government.
 Still think government works for you?



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Uncounted chickens come home to roost - again

Gary North's Tea Party Economist posted these pictures.  Madam President and her cronies miscalculated.  We were spared the Hillary Horror Show and went for an unknown quantity instead.





"Near-great" Harry S. Truman was already a nightmare:
- atomic bombing of Japan*
- creation of the national security state
- Orwellian renaming of War Department to Defense Department
- forced repatriation of former Soviet subjects and non-subjects (Operation Keelhaul)
- Marshall Plan
- Inauguration of the Cold War against a war-devastated Soviet Union
- Employment Act of 1946

The 1948 election continued the Truman Horror Show
- NATO
- "police action" in Korea
- sinkholes such as the foreign aid program and promoting Zionist cause
- seizing nation's steel mills in response to a strike

* Twelve Navy fliers who were incarcerated in a Hiroshima jail were also killed in the attack















Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Keynes on destroying capitalism through inflation

Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become "profiteers,", who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.
Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.

-- The Economic Consequences of the Peace, by John Maynard Keynes, 1919

Monday, October 24, 2016

Playoff at twilight

Saturday night Collins Hill 11u lost a tough playoff game to North Gwinnett, 6-0.  

The boys played hard and came out pumped, nor did they quit even when the situation looked hopeless.  We're proud of them.















Sunday, October 2, 2016

Train wrecks and handsprings

From yesterday's 11u football game in Dacula, GA.  

Sometimes a great chase ends in a train wreck.





Okay, you tackle him . . .


 . . . and I'll do a handspring.


Don't touch it!  You never know where it's been!


What happens when demand exceeds supply.  


A hard left, coming up!


Hey, man, isn't flying illegal?


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Stockman: "Trump peeled the bark off the Fed’s phony recovery narrative"


Most of the 90 minutes last night was a waste—with both candidates lobbing well-worn clichés, slogans and sound bites at the audience and each other.

But there was one brief moment that made it all worthwhile. That was when Donald Trump peeled the bark off the Fed’s phony recovery narrative and warned that the stupendous stock market bubble it has created will come crashing down the minute it stops pegging rates to the zero bound.
“……Typical politician. All talk, no action. Sounds good, doesn’t work. Never going to happen. Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions in terms of our jobs and in terms of what’s going on. 
Now, look, we have the worst revival of an economy since the Great Depression. And believe me: We’re in a bubble right now. And the only thing that looks good is the stock market, but if you raise interest rates even a little bit, that’s going to come crashing down. 
We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble. And we better be awfully careful. And we have a Fed that’s doing political things. This Janet Yellen of the Fed. The Fed is doing political — by keeping the interest rates at this level. And believe me: The day Obama goes off, and he leaves, and goes out to the golf course for the rest of his life to play golf, when they raise interest rates, you’re going to see some very bad things happen, because the Fed is not doing their job. The Fed is being more political than Secretary Clinton.
Trump thereby landed a direct hit on the false Wall Street/Washington postulate that the Fed has been the nation’s economic savior. And he also elicited an almost instant defense of its destructive, anti-capitalist regime of Bubble Finance—-albeit in the guise of a “fact check” by the New York Times’ Fed reporter, Benyamin Appelbaum.

To be sure, there were actually no “facts” to check in Trump’ statement. It was simply an entirely correct judgment that the utterly unnatural interest rates engineered by the Fed have fueled an egregious inflation of financial asset prices and that “some very bad things” are going to happen when the Fed’s market rigging operation is finally halted.

Still, and opinion or not, Appelbaum emitted a barrage of harrumphing and scolding, implying that Trump is some kind of yokel who does not understand the sacred independence of the Fed:
In attacking the Fed, Mr. Trump is plowing across a line that presidential candidates and presidents have observed for the past several decades. There has been a bipartisan consensus that central banks operate most effectively when they are shielded from short-term political pressures. Indeed, President Richard M. Nixon’s insistence that the Fed should not raise rates in the early 1970s played a role in unleashing a long era of inflation — and in convincing his successors that it was better to leave the Fed to its technocratic devices.
Technocratic devices? Now that is downright balderdash because what the Fed is doing is profoundly and resoundingly political.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Happy 67th birthday, Human Action!

Amazon sells the Kindle version of Human Action: Scholar's Edition for $3.82.  But why should anyone read this lengthy treatise?  I've dug up some reasons for doing so.
The publication of Human Action in September 1949 produced a quantum leap in [Ludwig von Mises's] prominence and impact. Overnight, Mises turned into the central intellectual figure of the entire American Right, an event that was paralleled during the next decade only in the case of Atlas Shrugged, the novel that catapulted Ayn Rand to even greater fame, at least among the general public. Mises now appeared to the public not merely as a scholar of the old school, but as one of the great minds of western civilization, a creative genius who had not only mastered all aspects of his science, but had completely transformed this science to offer a new way of looking at social processes and relationships. 
Human Action was a success without precedent. His 1922 treatise on socialism had been a sensation too, but only because of the general recognition that theoretical socialism offered no help with the problems of postwar reconstruction. The socialist avant-garde had seized power in Germany and Austria, but then had no idea what to do. And this crisis quickly turned from a theoretical one to a political one when socialist governments drastically aggravated conditions rather than improving them. Mises's comprehensive analysis in Gemeinwirtschaft (Social Economy) delivered a breathtakingly lucid explanation of this mess. But while the book provoked outrage and fury in the socialist camp and initiated a paradigm shift in the thinking of an entire generation, it had not become the rallying banner of a movement. Its author had been a relatively junior economist and no institutions were in place to concentrate and organize the readers the book had convinced.  
American ground was more fertile. It had been prepared by a long tradition of individual liberty and a recent reorientation toward that tradition. There were, in effect, the makings of a movement just waiting for Human Action to form its intellectual nucleus. . . . 
Neither Mises nor his friends expected the success the book would have. After his return from Mexico [where he had been lecturing], Mises left for a two-week vacation in the Berkshire Mountains. The book was released to the bookshops while he was away, on September 14, 1949. In his weekly Newsweek column, Henry Hazlitt announced and praised it, anticipating the role it would play in subsequent events: 
Human Action is, in short, at once the most uncompromising and the most rigorously reasoned statement of the case for capitalism that has yet appeared. If any single book can turn the ideological tide that has been running in recent years so heavily toward statism, socialism, and totalitarianism, Human Action is that book. 
This was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not three months later, by December 6, more than 4,000 copies had been sold and the book was in its third printing. With the reports of ever more sales, Mises's euphoria lasted for months.   
-- Hülsmann, Jörg Guido (2007-09-04). Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism (LvMI) (pp. 885-886). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition. 

"The core of any system of economic theory is the explanation of how prices are determined," economist Joseph T. Salerno tells us.  
As Mises (1998, p. 235) himself put it, “Economics is mainly concerned with the analysis of the determination of money prices of goods and services exchanged on the market.” Thus, the core of Human Action is parts three and four (pp. 201–684), entitled, respectively, “Economic Calculation” and “Catallactics or Economics of the Market Society.” In these two parts, comprising 484 pages, there is presented for the first time a complete and systematic theory of how actual market prices are determined. Of course, Mises did not create this theory out of whole cloth. In fact, the theory of price elaborated in Human Action represents the crowning achievement of the Austrian School of economics. It is the culmination of the approach to price theory originated by Carl Menger in 1871 and developed further by a handful of brilliant economists of the generation intervening between Menger and Mises. These latter included especially Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, J.B. Clark, Phillip H. Wicksteed, Frank A. Fetter, and Herbert J. Davenport. Unfortunately, for reasons to be explained below, the entire Mengerian approach went into decline after World War I and had lapsed into nearly complete dormancy by the mid-1930s. Mises’s outstanding contribution in Human Action was to singlehandedly revive this approach and elaborate it into a coherent and systematic theory of price determination. (my emphasis)
This article is divided into sections, section 1 describes the development of the Mengerian approach to price theory up until World War I, by which time it had reached the zenith of its international influence. Section 2 describes its amazingly rapid decline and suggests four reasons for it, including two fundamental theoretical problems that had not been solved by the first two generations of Mengerians. Mises’s solitary struggle to revive the approach, beginning in the mid-1930s and culminating with the publication of Human Action in 1949 is the topic of Section 3. A revisionist thesis is also proposed in this section that disputes the conventional view that Austrian economics was riding high in the mid-1930s when it was suddenly and tragically buried by the “Keynesian avalanche.”
Read the rest of the article:

The Place of Human Action in the Development of Modern Economic Thought


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Warlords problem

In my previous post I tried to bring a refreshing breeze to the otherwise dismal state of world affairs by posting links to YouTube concerts.  It's psychologically damaging to spend too much time in hell.  Music can provide the spiritual release we need.

Today, I'm turning the music off and returning to the trenches.  I'm posting an article by Robert P. Murphy he wrote for Mises.org in 2005 that addresses the warlords problem of anarchy.  Specifically, those who believe anarchy is fundamentally flawed argue that in the absence of a government, society would break down into constant battles between warlords.

I turn the rest of this post over to Dr. Murphy for a reply:

But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?

by Robert P. Murphy

On two separate occasions in the last couple of weeks, people have asked me a familiar question:  “In a system of ‘anarcho-capitalism’ or the free-market order, wouldn’t society degenerate into constant battles between private warlords?”  Unfortunately I didn’t give adequate answers at the times, but I hope in this article to prove the adage that later is better than never.

APPLES AND ORANGES

When dealing with the warlord objection, we need to keep our comparisons fair. It won’t do to compare society A, which is filled with evil, ignorant savages who live under anarchy, with society B, which is populated by enlightened, law-abiding citizens who live under limited government.  The anarchist doesn’t deny that life might be better in society B.  What the anarchist does claim is that, for any given population, the imposition of a coercive government will make things worse.  The absence of a State is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to achieve the free society.

To put the matter differently:  It is not enough to demonstrate that a state of private-property anarchy could degenerate into ceaseless war, where no single group is strong enough to subjugate all challengers, and hence no one can establish “order.”  After all, communities living under a State degenerate into civil war all the time.  We should remember that the frequently cited cases of Colombia and now Iraq are not demonstrations of anarchy-turned-into-chaos, but rather examples of government-turned-into-chaos.

For the warlord objection to work, the statist would need to argue that a given community would remain lawful under a government, but that the same community would break down into continuous warfare if all legal and military services were privatized.  The popular case of Somalia, therefore, helps neither side.1  It is true that Rothbardians should be somewhat disturbed that the respect for non-aggression is apparently too rare in Somalia to foster the spontaneous emergence of a totally free market community.  But by the same token, the respect for “the law” was also too weak to allow the original Somali government to maintain order.

Now that we’ve focused the issue, I think there are strong reasons to suppose that civil war would be much less likely in a region dominated by private defense and judicial agencies, rather than by a monopoly State.  Private agencies own the assets at their disposal, whereas politicians (especially in democracies) merely exercise temporary control over the State’s military equipment.  Bill Clinton was perfectly willing to fire off dozens of cruise missiles when the Lewinsky scandal was picking up steam.  Now regardless of one’s beliefs about Clinton’s motivations, clearly Slick Willie would have been less likely to launch such an attack if he had been the CEO of a private defense agency that could have sold the missiles on the open market for $569,000 each .2

We can see this principle in the case of the United States.  In the 1860s, would large scale combat have broken out on anywhere near the same scale if, instead of the two factions controlling hundreds of thousands of conscripts, all military commanders had to hire voluntary mercenaries and pay them a market wage for their services?

CONTRACT THEORY OF GOVERNMENT

I can imagine a reader generally endorsing the above analysis, yet still resisting my conclusion.  He or she might say something like this:  “In a state of nature, people initially have different views of justice.  Under market anarchy, different consumers would patronize dozens of defense agencies, each of which attempts to use its forces to implement incompatible codes of law.  Now it’s true that these professional gangs might generally avoid conflict out of prudence, but the equilibrium would still be precarious.”

“To avoid this outcome,” my critic could elaborate, “citizens put aside their petty differences and agree to support a single, monopoly agency, which then has the power to crush all challengers to its authority.  This admittedly raises the new problem of controlling the Leviathan, but at least it solves the problem of ceaseless domestic warfare.”

There are several problems with this possible approach.  First, it assumes that the danger of private warlords is worse than the threat posed by a tyrannical central government.  Second, there is the inconvenient fact that no such voluntary formation of a State ever occurred.  Even those citizens who, say, supported the ratification of the U.S. Constitution were never given the option of living in market anarchy; instead they had to choose between government under the Articles of Confederation or government under the Constitution.

But for our purposes, the most interesting problem with this objection is that, were it an accurate description, it would be unnecessary for such a people to form a government.  If, by hypothesis, the vast majority of people—although they have different conceptions of justice—can all agree that it is wrong to use violence to settle their honest disputes, then market forces would lead to peace among the private police agencies.

Yes, it is perfectly true that people have vastly different opinions concerning particular legal issues.  Some people favor capital punishment, some consider abortion to be murder, and there would be no consensus on how many guilty people should go free to avoid the false conviction of one innocent defendant.  Nonetheless, if the contract theory of government is correct, the vast majority of individuals can agree that they should settle these issues not through force, but rather through an orderly procedure (such as is provided by periodic elections).

But if this does indeed describe a particular population, why would we expect such virtuous people, as consumers, to patronize defense agencies that routinely used force against weak opponents?  Why wouldn’t the vast bulk of reasonable customers patronize defense agencies that had interlocking arbitration agreements, and submitted their legitimate disputes to reputable, disinterested arbitrators?  Why wouldn’t the private, voluntary legal framework function as an orderly mechanism to settle matters of “public policy”?

Again, the above description would not apply to every society in history.  But by the same token, such warlike people would also fail to maintain the rule of law in a limited State.

FREE RIDERS?

A sophisticated apologist for the State—especially one versed in mainstream economics—might come back with yet another justification:  “The reason a limited government is necessary is that we can’t trust the market to adequately fund legitimate police forces.  It may be true that 95 percent of a population would have similar enough views with respect to justice such that peace would obtain if they all contributed substantially to defense agencies dedicated to enforcing their views.”

“However,” the apologist could continue, “if these police agencies have no right to extract contributions from everyone who endorses their actions, then they will be able to field a much smaller force.  The market fails specifically because of the free rider problem:  When a legitimate firm cracks down on a rogue agency, all law abiding people benefit, but in a free market they would not be obliged to pay for this ‘public good.’  Consequently, rogue agencies, funded by malevolent outlaws, will have a much wider scope of operation under anarchy.”

Again, there are several possible replies to such a position.  First, let us reflect that a large standing army, ready to crush minority dissenters, is not an unambiguously desirable feature of government.

Second, the alleged problem of free riders would not be nearly as disastrous as many economists believe.  For example, insurance companies would “internalize the externalities” to a large degree.  It may be true that an “inefficient” number of serial killers would be apprehended if the relevant detective and police agencies had to solicit contributions from individual households.  (Sure, everyone gets a slight benefit from knowing a serial killer has been caught, but whether or not one person contributes probably won’t make the difference between capture or escape.)

Yet insurance companies that each held policies for thousands of people in a major city would be willing to contribute hefty amounts to eliminate the menace of a serial killer.  (After all, if he kills again, one of these companies will have to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to the estate of the victim.)  The same reasoning demonstrates that the free market could adequately fund programs to “contain” rogue agencies.

Third, people need to really picture the nightmare scenario to see how absurd it is.  Imagine a bustling city, such as New York, that is initially a free market paradise.  Is it really plausible that over time rival gangs would constantly grow, and eventually terrorize the general public?3  Remember, these would be admittedly criminal organizations; unlike the city government of New York, there would be no ideological support for these gangs.

We must consider that in such an environment, the law-abiding majority would have all sorts of mechanisms at their disposal, beyond physical confrontation.  Once private judges had ruled against a particular rogue agency, the private banks could freeze its assets (up to the amount of fines levied by the arbitrators).  In addition, the private utility companies could shut down electricity and water to the agency’s headquarters, in accordance with standard provisions in their contracts.

Of course, it is theoretically possible that a rogue agency could overcome these obstacles, either through intimidation or division of the spoils, and take over enough banks, power companies, grocery stores, etc. that only full-scale military assault would conquer it.  But the point is, from an initial position of market anarchy, these would-be rulers would have to start from scratch.  In contrast, under even a limited government, the machinery of mass subjugation is ready and waiting to be seized.

CONCLUSION

The standard objection that anarchy would lead to battling warlords is unfounded.  In those communities where such an outcome would occur, the addition of a State wouldn’t help.  Indeed, the precise opposite is true:  The voluntary arrangements of a private property society would be far more conducive to peace and the rule of law, than the coercive setup of a parasitical monopoly government.

1. Having made this concession, I should point out that anarcho-capitalists can see their theories borne out in Somalia to some extent.
2. It’s true that this figure would be lower for a private defense firm, since it would control costs much better than the Pentagon.  Nonetheless it is still true that a private firm would husband its stockpile of weapons better than State officials.
3. Let us also keep in mind that currently, mob groups (1) do not extract anywhere near as much money, nor kill as many people, as any government in a typical day’s work, and (2) they derive their current strength from government prohibitions (on gambling, drugs, prostitution, loan-sharking, etc.) and hence are not representative at all of an anarchist world.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The 5 Browns Play Gershwin

The 5 Browns are 5 siblings who've been around for years unnoticed by me until recently. As you'll see they play Steinway grands together with the tops off, giving a rich, lusty feeling to their performances.

With the political and economic news so dismal, I thought some inspiration was in order.

From their website:
THE 5 BROWNS are delivering on their dream to wake up classical music by introducing it to the widest, largest and most excited audience they can find. Whether performing individually or together in various combinations from duo to complex five-piano arrangements, The 5 Browns reveal a deep connection to the intent of their material while bringing a fresh energy and dynamic character to the color and tonal spectrum of their sound. 
The 5 Browns – Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae – all attended New York’s Juilliard School. In fact, they became the first family of five siblings ever accepted simultaneously. The quintet enjoyed their first wave of critical attention in February 2002 when People magazine dubbed them the “Fab Five” at about the same time they were featured on Oprah and 60 Minutes. 
First up is an abbreviated version of Rhapsody in Blue:


As part of Steinway's "Live from the Factory Floor" concert series in Astoria NY, the Browns perform an extended version of Rhapsody in Blue:


Finally, An American in Paris featuring Chris Botti:




Monday, July 25, 2016

Had all you can stands?

With the political class?  Then boycott Election Day.  Deny them the legitimacy they need.  Don't play the state's game.  

Make them return the freedom they've taken from you over the years.

You won't get it back by voting.

If enough people demand freedom from the candidates, they'll listen.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

How politics works

Domestic policy: The Distinguished Gentleman.



Foreign Policy: Wag the Dog








Thursday, July 7, 2016

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A one-minute video explaining U.S. JUST-US

You know how it is.  Bill speaks to Loretta, and the FBI suddenly realizes they don't have an indictable case against Hillary after all.   Any peon would get the same treatment.


Friday, May 13, 2016

1993 All-Star Game: Randy Johnson vs. John Kruk

Here's something light for a change.

One of the most memorable scenes in major league baseball history took place during the 1993 all-star game in Baltimore.  Fastball virtuoso Randy Johnson was facing John Kruk, and Kruk in this instance decided life was too precious to dig in against Johnson.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Can a robot outperform surgeons?

Yes.


"Putting surgery one step closer into the realm of self-driving cars and intelligent machines, researchers show for the first time that a supervised autonomous robot can successfully perform soft tissue surgery. The robot outperformed expert surgeons and current robot-assisted surgical techniques in open bowel surgery in pigs."

Read more here.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sci-Fi writers predicted today's reality

10 Sci-Fi Dystopias That Are Everyday Realities Today

by Mark Oliver 
Ray Bradbury once said, “I wasn’t trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it.” Really, that’s the whole point of science fiction. The genre has never been about predicting new technologies. Instead, its purpose is to warn us about the dark future to come, if we don’t change our path. 

Occasionally, we listen and learn, and then society improves. But other times, we don’t. And while the present day seems quite ordinary to us, the reality is that our modern era was once a horrible, terrifying nightmare that sci-fi writers desperately tried to stop.


10 ‘Number 12 Looks Just Like You’ Warned Us About South Korea’s Plastic Surgery Obsession

When The Twilight Zone first aired on TV, cosmetic surgery barely existed. It was only used for the absolute worst medical cases. The idea of someone getting their face restructured just for the sake of looking pretty still seemed outlandish to most people.

But not to the writers of The Twilight Zone. As it turns out, they knew exactly what was coming.

In the episode “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” we’re taken to a future where every person is expected to go through a “transformation” at age 18. This surgery completely changes their face to resemble one of a small number of gorgeous models. It’s such a big change that teenagers are appointed therapists to deal with the stress of waiting to become beautiful.

When they wrote it, the Twilight Zone writers were just worried about girls using too much make-up. But in South Korea, the world is more like “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” than even the writers could have predicted.

A shocking one in three girls in South Korea have had plastic surgery, and just like in the story, the results are drastic. So much so that plastic surgeons now have to hand out certificates proving that the attractive girl in question is really the same drab-looking person on her ID.

Just like in the story, plastic surgery is a common graduation gift for girls after high school. It really seems like they’re living in the Twilight Zone. Girls suffering through high school, unable to live up to the unreal standards that adults have created, and then conforming to one of a few faces as soon as they turn 18.


9 ‘The Veldt’ Warned Us About Video Game Violence

When Ray Bradbury wrote his short story, “The Veldt,” televisions were just coming into homes for the first time, and these inventions changed everything, especially parenting. It’s kind of hard to imagine how parents did it before Dora the Explorerwas around to help out. Raising a child was a much different thing back in the day . . . and Bradbury was terrified about how it might change. 

In “The Veldt,” Bradbury writes about a family that uses a “nursery”—basically, an interactive TV—to keep their kids entertained. The children end up being raised more by the nursery than by the parents, and that’s when the kids start going savage. It gets so bad that, when the worried parents finally shut the nursery down, the kids murder them.

Perhaps Bradbury’s story sounds kind of far-fetched. How could TV make a kid murder his parents? Well, the thing is, it actually happened. The exact events of the story played out in real life.

A 14-year-old boy named Noah Crooks was obsessed with video games, and just like in the story, his mother began to worry about how it was affecting him. His grades were going down, and he was becoming more and more prone to violence. And just like in the story, his mother decided to shut the video games down. 
Noah didn’t take this well. He erupted in a fit of rage and murdered his own mother.

Sure, Noah isn’t exactly normal, but neither are the kids in the story. They’re portrayed as an extreme symptom of a larger problem. Ray Bradbury wasn’t saying everyone would murder their parents. Instead, he argued that children would lose enough parental guidance that it could possibly happen. And maybe Bradbury was right. Maybe TV and video games have really messed us up, but we’re just so used to them that we don’t even realize it.


8 ‘The Machine Stops’ Warned Us About Facebook Friendships

When it came out in 1909, “The Machine Stops” seemed like a bit of an overreaction. The telephone had just started to enter into people’s homes, and E.M. Forster was already worried that society was somehow ruined. He imagined a ridiculous future where people would spend all their time indoors, sitting at machines, while sending short, pithy thoughts to thousands of “friends” they’d never met, and “liking” things as their main source of human interaction.

Sure, this probably sounded paranoid in 1909. After all, it was just a telephone. But today, our reality is almost exactly like the world in “The Machine Stops.” The story’s depiction of long-distance interactions is eerily similar to social media. The idea of having thousands of online friends you’ve never met is a terrifyingly dead-on prediction of Facebook. And the way people in the story send out short, one-sentence thoughts is basically an old-timey Twitter.

But it’s more than just the inventions, though. The whole culture Forster predicted in 1909 is just like ours. For example, Forster portrayed social media as a form of distraction. When the protagonist of the story starts to feel sadness for her son, she’s immediately pulled out of her thoughts by the ability to “like” things. And according to some people, that’s exactly what happens in real life. Some claim that social media really does distract us from our families and emotions by giving us hard-to-ignore jolts of stimulation.

There’s also our attitude toward the outdoors. In the story, going outside for pleasure is considered weird. Now, most people won’t say that out loud, but it does seem to be our view today. According to one study, only about 1 percent of Americans actually participate in nature-based activities

The final message of the story is that our connection to nature and our families is what brings us happiness, not social media. Similarly, a study of college students showed that heavy Facebook users are more likely to be depressed, so maybe that message hits home for us, too.

For a story written in 1909, the overlaps are incredible. The only thing Forster got wrong was that he thought some robotic dictator would force us into this scenario. In reality, we were happy to do it ourselves.

Continue reading here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Playboy talks to Kurzweil

Reinvent Yourself: The Playboy Interview with Ray Kurzweil
by David Hochman at Playboy.com
Many think author, inventor and data scientist Ray Kurzweil is a prophet for our digital age. A few say he’s completely nuts. Kurzweil, who heads a team of more than 40 as a director of engineering at Google, believes advances in technology and medicine are pushing us toward what he calls the Singularity, a period of profound cultural and evolutionary change in which computers will outthink the brain and allow people—you, me, the guy with the man-bun ahead of you at Starbucks—to live forever. He dates this development at 2045.
Raymond Kurzweil was born February 12, 1948, and he still carries the plain, nasal inflection of his native Queens, New York. His Jewish parents escaped Hitler’s Austria, but Kurzweil grew up attending a Unitarian church. He worshipped knowledge above all, and computers in particular. His grandmother was one of the first women in Europe to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. His uncle, who worked at Bell Labs, taught Ray computer science in the 1950s, and by the age of 15, Kurzweil was designing programs to help do homework. Two years later, he wrote code to analyze and create music in the style of various famous composers. The program won him the prestigious Westinghouse Science Talent Search, a prize that got the 17-year-old an invitation to the White House. That year, on the game show I’ve Got a Secret, Kurzweil pressed some buttons on a data processor the size of a small car. It coughed out original sheet music that could have been written by Brahms. 
After earning degrees in computer science and creative writing at MIT, he began to sell his inventions, including the first optical character recognition system that could read text in any normal font. Kurzweil knew a “reading machine” could help the blind, but to make it work, he first had to invent a text-to-speech synthesizer, as well as a flatbed scanner; both are still in wide use. In the 1980s Kurzweil created the first electronic music keyboard to replicate the sound of a grand piano and many other instruments. If you’ve ever been to a rock concert, you’ve likely seen the name Kurzweil on the back of a synthesizer. 
These days, Kurzweil plays the role of tech oracle to the Silicon Valley elite. His best-selling titles The Age of Intelligent Machines and The Singularity Is Near offer eerily specific forecasts on artificial intelligence, biotechnology and human evolution. Much of his work sounds like science fiction, but Kurzweil rationally lays out his vision at symposia, college lectures and confabs such as SXSW and TED. 
At 68, Kurzweil has his fingers in many pots. He co-founded Singularity University, a research institute and think tank that focuses on how science can solve humanity’s challenges involving water scarcity, overpopulation and energy shortfalls. His Google team is developing tools for machine intelligence and natural language understanding, including a series of “chatbots” that can converse with you and have different personalities. In his spare time, Kurzweil started a hedge fund and just finished his first novel. He is a husband, father and grandfather. 
Contributing Editor David Hochman, who last interviewed Rachel Maddow for Playboy, spent extended time in San Francisco with Kurzweil. “Talking to Ray is a little like chatting with Einstein, Mr. Spock and the Google guys all at once,” Hochman says. “His intelligence is off the charts. He knows everything about everything, and it’s all filtered through the lens of whatever’s at the forefront of the wired world.” Kurzweil, who wore a Google watch on one wrist and a Mickey Mouse watch on the other, spoke for hours with his gaze fixed on the middle distance, as if he were in a kind of trance, Hochman says. The biggest surprise? “We were together for two days, and Ray didn’t check his e-mail or text messages once.”

You describe a near future in which nanobots inhabit our bloodstreams, our brains upload to the cloud and people never die. It sounds terrifying.
When people talk about the future of technology, especially artificial intelligence, they very often have the common dystopian Hollywood-movie model of us versus the machines. My view is that we will use these tools as we’ve used all other tools—to broaden our reach. And in this case, we’ll be extending the most important attribute we have, which is our intelligence. 
The capability of information technology doubles each year. At the same time, the price of the same functionality comes down by half every year. These are all features of what I call the law of accelerating returns. It’s why you can buy an iPhone or an Android phone that’s twice as good as the one two years ago for half the price. My smartphone is several thousand times more powerful and millions of times less expensive than the $11 million IBM 7094 computer I used when I was an undergraduate at MIT in 1965. But that’s not the most interesting thing about my phone. If I want to multiply computational and communication power by 10,000—that is to say, if I need to access 10,000 computers—I can do that in the cloud, and that happens all the time. We’re not even aware of it. Do a complex language translation, a complex search or many other types of transactions, and you’re accessing thousands of computers while you sit quietly in a park somewhere. Over the next couple of decades we’re going to make ourselves smarter by integrating with these tools.
Continue reading at Playboy.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Shooting the moon with Nikon

Here's a short video demonstrating the amazing zoom power of the Nikon Coolpix P610 camera.

Nikon Coolpix P610, $335 on Amazon with free shipping.
- 60x optical zoom super telephoto lens and a low-light 16.0 MP CMOS image sensor
- Swiveling Vari-angle display and high-resolution eye-level viewfinder
- Artistic shooting modes, effects and filters
- Built-in Wi-Fi and near field communication technology for instant sharing
- Built-in GPS and Points of Interest (POI)

 

But the P610 is not the top of the Nikon zoom camera line.  Check out the Coolpix P900, which has an 83x zoom, $596 on Amazon.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cheese-stuffed pizza pretzels


Cheese-Stuffed Pizza Pretzels
Posted by Tasty on Thursday, January 14, 2016

I saw this on Facebook when I was hungry and wanted to share it here.  Not only does it look like a tasty treat, the video showing how to make it is nothing short of brilliant.

Honoring Young Wyatt Pope, Cancer Fighter

After taking second-place in a qualifier wrestling tournament in Douglasville, Georgia yesterday my grandson purchased a T-shirt in honor of fellow wrestler, 7-year-old Wyatt Pope, who's doing battle with cancer.  I had not heard about Wyatt until my grandson acquired the T-shirt and formed a "W" with his hands and showed me the #wywystrong hashtag on his sleeve.


Wyatt "the Incredible Hulk" Pope #wywystrong
Wyatt is a second-year wrestler at Level Up wrestling center in Marietta, Georgia.  The son of Chuck and Carrie Pope, Wyatt has three brothers who also wrestle at Level Up: Gavin, Kaden, and twin brother Colton.  See this page to support Wyatt in his battle against cancer.

The "W" shows his support, as does the #wywystrong on his sleeve













Video: Will this Atlas someday shrug?


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Apple vs. FBI




JOHN MCAFEE: I'll decrypt the San Bernardino iPhone

"So here is my offer to the FBI. I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks. If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.


"If you doubt my credentials, Google cybersecurity legend and see whose name is the only name that appears in the first 10 results out of more than a quarter of a million."
The insane life of former fugitive and eccentric cybersecurity legend John McAfee



CNBC interviewed McAfee.   He makes a critical point: The FBI is not asking for a way to get the information on a locked and encrypted iPhone.  It is asking specifically for a back door to the iPhone as a way to get it.  McAfee is offering the FBI a way to get it without a back door.  

Video of the Day – John McAfee Proclaims “An Apple Backdoor is the End of America”



"Apple could have recovered information from the phone had the Apple ID passcode not been changed under orders from the FBI, Apple said. If the phone was taken to a location where it recognized the Wi-Fi network, such as the San Bernardino shooters’ home, it could have easily been backed up to the cloud. The FBI then lied about whose incompetence lead to the mistake.

"In other words, while the FBI is demanding massive changes in how Apple protects your privacy, none of those change would even be necessary if anyone on the government side understood how iCloud works. And these guys want us to believe we can trust them with our data, and indeed, our freedom."

San Bernardino Shooter’s Apple Password Changed While in Government Possession
Peter Van Buren, February 22, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Where customers are called patients

Welcome to Chandler, AZ, home of the Heart Attack Grill, which caters to people not afraid to indulge.





Monday, January 18, 2016

Sy Perlis and the Fountain of Youth

On June 8, 2013, 91-year-old Sy Perlis broke the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters record of 135 pounds with a bench press of 187.2 pounds.  The previous record for the 90-and-over category was set in 2005.

Please note: In the competition video he is wearing a Titan Katana bench shirt, a supportive device that can increase bench press performance significantly.  Nevertheless, Sy, who wears a pacemaker, is an amazing man and should inspire us all, young or old.




Here's an interview with Sy: