Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reservations about To Catch a Predator

Radley Balko brings up some thoughtful reservations about the NBC show, To Catch a Predator.

Homeopathic Cold-EEZE

I wanted to call attention to a thread I initiated on the boards associated with The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Remembering Carl Sagan

People are remembering Carl Sagan today. I thought of Penn Jillette's column on Contact.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Freedom of Speech and Drive-By Spoilers

A few friends and I were hanging out out at a bookstore on the night of the release of the final Harry Potter novel over the summer. I figured that it was the last book, so I had to take advantage of the last possible time where you would have masses of children and adults dressed as wizards and witches cramming bookstores across the country.

Anyway, the subject of spoilers came up, as it inevitably does when people are in anticipation of an enormous phenomenon of popular culture such as this the final installment of Harry Potter. The threat of a spoiler ruining someone's enjoyment for something like this is especially real when the media product is a book, where someone can quickly flip to the last chapter and obnoxiously shout out the ending. Of course, the victim has no way of verifying whether or not the work would be actually spoiled, or if the offender just made something up plausible enough to annoy the victim.

On the subject of spoilers, a friend remarked that it would be particularly low to conduct a drive-by spoiler, shouting out from a moving vehicle a real spoiler to people who have clearly just purchased the book. It's funny and immoral, comedic and evil, all at the same time.

Now, libertarians who concern themselves with deontological ethics argue against the initiation of force. This clearly includes fraud, of which the vehicle is language. Freedom of speech also doesn't cover the incitement of violence. You can't legally or morally yell "fire" in a crowded theater. What about a spoiler though, and it's harsher relative, the drive-by spoiler? Is this an initiation of force? One person is ruining a product for someone else, against their will. Now, I doubt if someone has ever actually tried to take this up in court. I would hope that this wouldn't ever get to a court. On the one hand, this hardly passes the "giggle test." On the other hand, it seems that there is a real victim here. Still, I'm not a fan of government intervention in anything really. It seems like this couldn't be solved through the government, and if an agent of the government even tried to fix this, it would be simply unenforceable. Furthermore, how could you determine the quantitative value of ruining someone's enjoyment of Harry Potter? It's clearly more than just the price of the book, and it's different for everyone. It would seem that no law could come close to delivering justice.

This whole puzzle seems like a interesting philosophical question for debate. Pass this tidbit along to your friends, and it's cool for you to say, "That awesome blogger Seth Goldin thought of this interesting situation. What do you think of this?"

By the way, a quick search on Google right now of "drive-by spoilers" returns 149,000 pages. I thought the idea of such a transgression as I've described here was a bit more original. I think I see some videos on YouTube for drive-by spoilers concerning Harry Potter. I will definitely have to go check those out.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Here's your fiscal conservatism

You owe $175,000 to the state. You can thank the Bush administration. I found this from Radley Balko.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Online repository of phone company recordings

Haven't you always wanted access to your favorite error messages? This is awesome. I found this on BoingBoing.

The Tea Party of 2007

So today's Tea Party is winding down, and it looks like Ron Paul has raised quite a bit of money. Is there hope for the libertarian candidate, the only one that makes any sense at all? It's difficult to tell, since the media have been so absurdly unfair to him. We'll find out soon. The primaries are coming up.

Soviets should smoke cigarettes.

A Soviet Poster A Day is a great blog that shows a different Soviet propaganda poster each day. I bookmarked this one from a while back to remember to post it to the blog. It's a pretty fascinating phenomenon in a centrally planned economy where the government has the duty of increasing demand for a product, especially and explicitly unhealthy one. I find especially amusing the contrast with the current war on smoking in public places in the United States today. See, the great thing about a free market is that those who don't want to smoke didn't pay for those cigarettes. In the Soviet economy, even nonsmokers had to pay for this good.

This kind of problem extends to all aspects of central planning. Take the BBC for example. Some hold the BBC as a great model of how the news can escape the profit motive by taxing their citizens, and deliver quality news that doesn't need to appeal to advertisers. Some of the Beeb's properties' may run ads, especially where the get involved in international markets, but I don't think it's their primary source of income, and I'm no expert on this subject.

Still, BBC is still just as guilty of deceptive practices, like any news network on television today, and furthermore, the BBC is not immune to bias, because all British taxpayers pay for it. So how is this fair? Someone who doesn't agree with the BBC's bias is still paying for it! This is compelled speech, and an immoral use of force.

Sure, CNN and Fox and MSNBC have increasingly bad soft news, but the great thing about having them in the context of a free market is that if you don't like it, you don't suffer. When the government does something wrong, or just something you might not agree with, the cost is on everyone, unfairly. In the free market, only those affected cover the cost.

I digress. It's funny that the Soviet government endorsed cigarettes because they couldn't anticipate what the demand was for them. The reason a market is so effective is because people themselves can decide what they want. Democrats, and to some extent, Republicans, rush to make government programs, forgetting that the government can't create services out of nowhere. Any program the government runs could be accomplished in the private sector, with less bureaucracy. If there's no profit motive, there's no incentive for the government program to be efficient. Remember, the government isn't a moneymaking body. Furthermore, a government program is funded an unjustified and immoral initiation of force. It's analogous to holding a gun to someone's head and taking their money to use in this program, but instead of a gun, the government is just using the threat of throwing you in jail if you fail to pay your taxes.

So the moral of this post is that the initiation of force is immoral. Also, if sufficient time has passed after a tragedy, like Soviet Russia's brief stint in existence, you can find humor in it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The solution to gun violence

Why haven't people thought of this before?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Freakonomics Quorum on Urbanization

On a related note, the Freakonomics blog has a quorum on urbanization in general.

Lagos la Vida Loca

Here's an interesting piece on Lagos, Nigeria, the fastest growing city in the world. It makes for a good case study concerning the movement of people, poverty, property rights, and crime.

Immanuel Kant: Wrong for America

Take note, voters!