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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Facts of Life

I've been on the road for the last five weeks. Not work on the road, where I have lots of time in hotels, but rather vacation on the road, where I had to be all social and stuff. It was agony, but sometimes, a man has to do what a man has to do.

Among that doing was this.

(I'm the gray haired guy.)

Over the course of several hours, we went through about $300 of ammunition. Unlike my friend, I'm not particularly a gun guy. I owned a revolver when we lived in Alaska, and carried it when Rusty the Alaskan Wilderness Adventure Dog took me on walks, because up there predators were never very far away. Get crossways with a grizzly, there's no way the State will get there in time.*

Despite my relative lack of enthusiasm, I get it. Guys like mechanical stuff, especially when gadgets are involved. There is no female equivalent of the Sears Tool Center, or Project Binky. Many men like stuff that explodes, or hurtles into the sky while almost but not quite exploding. Hopefully.

Beyond the gadgetry and things that go bang, properly using a gun isn't nearly as easy as it looks. It takes a surprising amount of muscle control, hand eye coordination, and practice to be any good at it. It should come as no surprise that men can be just as enthusiastic about the skill aspect of shooting as they are about the mechanics and gadgets.

Then there is the mindset, practically inarguable, that self defense is an inalienable right that no legitimate government can ever take away. As I noted above, there are some situations where the only help that will arrive in time is that which you provide yourself. That much should be self evident, just as self evident as the existence of people who take that very, very seriously.

To me, it is interesting how these things cleave politically. Progressives are fond of citing self-fluffing studies; all the ones I've seen produce tendentious pre-ordained conclusions to show how wonderful they are, and how not wonderful everyone else is. Perhaps less naval-gazing would allow discovering something rather more fundamental going on. I work in a gadget intensive occupation that requires mechanical knowledge, as well as significant skill and practice. Almost all the guys I work with have hobbies that have the same characteristics. Almost all of them own guns. And almost all of them are anti-Progressive. And I'd bet that goes for every similar occupation. Pilots and mechanics are gun owning individualists. Progressives don't work with their hands, and are collectivists.

I have no idea why these seemingly disparate things should overlap, but in my experience, such as it is, their correlation is almost ironclad.

Which appears to be something confiscationists simply do not get. Even if their arguments have some validity at the margins -- and that is debatable -- their crusade is totalitarian at its heart. It doesn't matter how much other people enjoy their gun hobby, or how intrinsic they view gun ownership to be in a free society, confiscationists will have none of it. They, in their lack of awareness, and inability to leave well enough alone, send gun sales through the roof, and will have started a civil war should they attempt to impose what they cannot get voluntarily.

Last August, my across the street neighbor probably got between a sow and her cubs -- that was his best guess. Regardless, without the gun he was carrying, his family would have been without a husband and a father.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Why RWR is such a fun topic for me

The recent passing of Nancy Reagan was for me, an interesting reminder of the past.  I was at the time still what the late Andrew Breitbart would call a default liberal.  Left leaning, not the classical kind, but without being a true believer.  Some time during Reagan's second term, I started to think that he got many things right in comparison to his critics.  I had already been looking beyond conventional notions about many things for over ten years by then even though I wasn't yet 30 years old.  Even media and pop culture sources begrudgingly changed from portraying him as an amiable dunce to a bit of an over the top version the other way as in the SNL mastermind skit.

First, thinking of that time and how the media  treated her:
Mrs. Reagan was hated because President Reagan was hated. There wasn’t a great deal to hate about Nancy, and so such vices and foibles as she had — quaint, in retrospect — were exaggerated to unrecognizable proportions. Spend any time around politics, and you’ll quickly understand that the lie lives forever...
Yes, she was likely far more decent and intelligent...

In an interview with Larry Elder Nancy shared these thoughts:

Reagan: Well, I think his legacy was making the country feel good about itself again, making people feel good. There was a whole optimism that he exuded.

Elder: And is that the quality about Ron Reagan that you most admire -- his optimism?

Reagan: Well, that's one of the things that I admire. There are lots of things that I admire about him. That's one of them.

Elder: Tell us what some of the others are, his qualities.

Reagan: Oh, his kindness, his ability to be a great communicator, to communicate with people -- all kinds of people, all different ages, it didn't make any difference. He just connected with them. He was a very romantic man, as those letters he wrote show. A wise man. I could go on and on. How long have we got? (Laughter)

Elder: The thing that people most misunderstand about Ron Reagan.

Reagan: Well, I don't think it's true any more, since they've published the speeches that he wrote, the letters that he wrote, but it used to be that people thought, well, he didn't know anything -- they just handed him things -- but he didn't know anything. Now, with the publication of all the speeches that he wrote, I mean, it shows that way, way back, he had his philosophy firmly in place. He knew what he was doing.
If you doubt the he knew much, I would simply direct you to read  Reagan, In His Own Hand.
He clearly demonstrates a solid understanding of important ideas about the world:
Scrupulously edited and presented, this book assembles and excerpts scores of his handwritten works, mostly from radio commentaries Reagan wrote in the late 1970s. The collection recovers the most powerful elements of Reagan and Reaganism, such as the depth and clarity of Reagan's principles and his fundamental optimism.
More than 50 years from the time of choosing speech, it is still quite a solid exposition of principles of liberty. (transcript)

A source for some of the material that Reagan studied in refining the explanations of what he believed was FEE, The Foundation for Economic Education:
Another person who got hooked on FEE’s materials was a middle-aged actor named Ronald Reagan. The story is fascinating, as detailed in the 2006 book The Education of Ronald Reagan, by Thomas Evans.

From 1954 to 1962, Reagan worked as the host of CBS’s top-rated General Electric Theater and served as General Electric’s official spokesman. For weeks at a time he would tour GE’s 139 plants, eventually meeting most of the 250,000 employees in them. Reagan himself estimated that he spent 4,000 hours before GE microphones giving talks that started out with Hollywood patter but ended up as full-throated warnings about Big Government. “GE tours became almost a post-graduate course in political science for me,” he later wrote. “By 1960, I had completed the process of self-conversion.”
Aside from having formulated his views with real diligence, Reagan was a successful two term governor of California.  Yet, far more often than not the media referred to him as a B level actor.

The blind partisanship demonstrated by demonizing opponents as well as forgetfulness of admirers in not remembering how hard he battled the establishment in getting elected and pursuing his agenda also come to mind.  The U.S. with leadership and vision provided by RWR liberalized economic policy and led the way amongst developed economies in the economic resurgence of the 1980s.  If you want an appreciation for what that was like:
...the presidency that was by far the most analogous to Barack Obama's in terms of the miserable economic conditions inherited was that of Ronald Reagan. And comparing the Gipper's 1986 address to Obama's 2014 was a startling exercise in contrast, illustrating the wide gulf between their competing economic recoveries.

Beyond being open minded enough to appreciate what I was observing, I took the opportunity to read the works of several authors who were instrumental to providing ideas relevant to this great resurgence.  Jude WanniskiArt Laffer, Robert Mundell, George Gilder and John Rutledge all had valuable insights to contribute.  Anyone can learn a tremendous amount by reading their papers and books.

As a reminder, the four pillars of Reaganomics that were so effective in revitalizing the economy were: sound money, reduced taxation, limited regulation and freer trade.  Yes, it really did work.

(As an aside, David Goldman who worked with the late Jude Wanniski at his firm Polyconomics  has an interesting observation:  Ted Cruz is intellectually arrogant, like Ronald Reagan)

I think you can see why Ronald Wilson Reagan is a fun topic for me.  But Reagan being Reagan with a terrific sense of humor, I think the best way to end this post is with a joke:


Just to make clear - I did not vote for him.  Although far from perfect, he got a lot right.

Jonah Goldberg has some thoughts:
In terms of personal character and ideological seriousness, Trump and Reagan could not be more different. Reagan was one of the most dignified politicians of the 20th century, one who turned his cheek to vicious attacks, refused to use profanity, and rarely showed an angry side. Meanwhile, Trump’s crude and vengeful streaks virtually define the man.

Reagan’s ideological principles were derived from decades of reading, speaking, and debating. Trump, meanwhile, is winging it.

“I don’t think he has an ideology,” Pat Buchanan told the Washington Post. “He very much is responding to the realities that he has encountered and his natural reactions to them. It’s not some intellectual construct.”

Here lies both the irony and farce of the cult-like effort to anoint Trump as the second coming of Reagan. The one meaningful similarity between the two men is that they can both be seen as authentic responses to their times. The difference? Reagan was the right response.
A book review titled: The Gipper Wins Another One 
Remarkably, Weisberg dispenses with the ideological bias that has afflicted the authors in this series, and presidency scholars in general, for he has produced a genuinely fair and somewhat admiring book about Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

This is a nuanced account, detailing Reagan’s hatred of nuclear weapons and his somewhat unique assessment that the Soviet Union was doomed.
Weisberg’s assessment of Reagan’s effort to trim the size and reach of the welfare state is also quite balanced. He argues, contrary to the hysterical rhetoric of Reagan’s critics then and now, that “Reagan didn’t succeed in eliminating a single major program, which illustrates the truth of his adage about eternal life and government bureaus.” He does note that Reagan’s deregulatory drive “halved the thickness of the Federal Register, which complies new regulations.”
And speaking of evil, American liberals hated Ronald Reagan when he was President, although it has become gospel among some of them that Reagan was liked on both sides of the aisle. He wasn’t. Tip O’Neill, arguably the most partisan House Speaker of the 20th century, declared that Reagan, not the Soviet Union, was the focus of evil in the modern world.
Weisberg rejects this vicious and vacuous assessment, for Reagan was one of the few public figures to embody “the idealized national character,” with his elements of “simplicity, innocence, and personal modesty.” These qualities are, as Weisberg rightly notes, rare in public life and hard to fake. This book is a rarity as well, and one that hopefully portends more balance in the future from the American Presidents Series.

Like I said, a fun topic for me.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Patent is the Property

Being a roboticist, a song writer, and someone interested in economics and politics means that I almost never go a week without running into the term "Intellectual Property" at least once. The first thing that's interesting about that is that it's a relatively new term that was coined in the 1960s, the decade when the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was founded, and even then wasn't in widespread use for another couple of decades.

Before that, it seems, it was commonly agreed that one could own a patent, and therefore a patent was a type of property. On the other hand, it wasn't generally thought that the intellectual creation that formed the knowledge on which the patent was based was property. Nowadays, the phrase Intellectual Property has distorted the language sufficiently such that many people believe that intellectual creations are indeed property and are double-plus good.

My belief is that intellectual creations and knowledge are not usually property without completely distorting the meaning of the word 'property.' In order to argue this point, I'm going to focus on just one aspect of intellectual creations as an example: the creation of knowledge that forms the "meat" of method patents. I'm also going to focus on a single attribute of property: that it can be stolen. If something cannot be stolen, as defined by law, then it's not property.

Let's say Joe invents a method. Let's say it's only in his brain and notes and that he hasn't disclosed it to anyone else. Does he, at that moment, own the invention? Not really, I would say. First, Jack, John, Jill and June might have already also invented the method independently or will soon. Indeed, most inventions are not patentable because they fail the non-obviousness criterion. Even the ones that are deemed adequately non-obvious still are, or would be, invented independently by multiple people or entities.

If the invention is ever property, it is at that moment when it is a trade secret, and if and only if nobody else has also come up with the same invention and disclosed it. At the moment, the undisclosed knowledge can be stolen and therefore it can potentially be thought of as property. Someone could torture Joe until he discloses the invention (very unlikely); someone could break into his office and steal his notes and learn of the invention that way (pretty unlikely - have you ever tried to read an inventor's notes?); or someone could bug his office and eavesdrop on him discussing the invention with someone else (rather unlikely). However, trade secrets are typically lost when a rogue employee distributes them without permission and that does happen once in a while. At the moment, if Joe is really the only one to have come up with the invention and if Joe has not disclosed it publicly, then it can potentially be stolen and I'll concede that it is, at that moment, plausibly a type of property. Even so, a trade secret is just a type of secret, and I'm not sure that secrets, while perhaps quite dear to the originator, are really property.

They say Necessity is Mother of Invention. I say Progress is the Father of Necessity in that as new knowledge and products are created so are new needs (part of the process of Creative Destruction). Supporting Technology is the Father of Invention. Engineers and Scientists (and others) are the Siblings of Invention and we all live in the same great big happy and competitive family and are nearly simultaneously exposed to the same Necessity, state of Progress, and Supporting Technology. In other words, many of us are driven to invent more or less the same thing more or less at the same time. I've never seen an invention that nobody else would have ever invented if the particular inventor who first figured it out had not. Of course, I haven't looked through all of the many millions of patents worldwide or considered the far larger body of non-patented inventions, but I've seen quite a few and that's my impression.

Most of the time, it makes no sense to patent an invention. For example, I've invented hundreds of methods in the realm of robotics but have only patented between ten and twenty of them. Perhaps the invention is too obvious so you can't get a patent; perhaps it's so non-obvious that disclosing it in a patent is counterproductive because the disclosure would give the competition a step up that it wouldn't otherwise have; perhaps the value of the invention is less than the cost to file, maintain, and enforce the patent; perhaps the inventor or company just doesn't have enough money or other resources to pursue a patent even if it would be well worth the cost; and so forth.

Are these non-patented inventions property and if so, whose property is it? If Joe's non-patented invention is disclosed, either because he uses it in a commercially available product and the invention is readily deduced from looking at the product or he otherwise causes its disclosure, then everyone learns about it and can use it for any purpose. We don't consider this dissemination and use to be theft or to be illegal, unethical, or immoral in any sense, so I find it hard to consider Joe's invention to be property of any kind. Again, the principle is: if you can't steal it, it isn't property.

Let's say Joe's invention is sufficiently non-obvious and novel to qualify for a patent and he writes the patent and files it and he is the first of the inventors to file (even though the others may have invented it first). Is the invention property now? No. It's the same deal. Until the patent issues (and it might never issue for a variety of reasons), anyone can use the disclosed invention for any purpose. In addition, it's likely that the patent will publish and disclose the invention well before the patent is issued. Again, anybody can use the disclosed invention for any purpose until the patent issues. Again, it's not stealing, therefore it's not property.

Let's say Joe's patent finally issues today. Yesterday, the invention wasn't property. Is it property now that the patent has issued? No. The patent is the property. The patent is a type of Government Originated Legally Enforced Monopoly (GOLEM) (and a GOLEM, in turn, is a type of Government Originated Legally Enforced Restriction on Trade (GOLERT)). The patent is what's sold, licensed, or bartered. The invention is still disclosed and known by many people. They can still build on the knowledge or work to circumvent the knowledge. They can still even use the knowledge for certain non-commercial purposes. The thing of value is the GOLEM and that was created by the government out of thin air. You still can't steal the invention since it's been freely disclosed, therefore the invention is still not property. It's the GOLEM that's property and that property restricts others from using the publicly disclosed invention.

Eventually Joe's patent expires. One day Joe has the right, via the GOLEM, to control most uses of the invention. The next day he doesn't. The invention, which wasn't property one day is definitely not property the day after the patent/GOLEM expired. Now it definitely can't be stolen.

In summary, the only time the invention is plausibly property is prior to when the first inventor discloses it (either intentionally or accidentally). After that, the invention, the intellectual creation, the method, is not property.

The patent is the property.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

It's not the differences that concern me the most

Last summer when Trump started to rise in the polls I gave it very little thought.  Because electoral politics and especially primaries can be so volatile, I usually don't try to make sense of things until a number of states have voted.  Having grownup in New York, Trump's exploits and style are easily ignored.  Now the matter deserves some attention:

Many Americans shook their heads in 2008 wondering how in the world President Obama was elected when he had told us plainly that he wanted to “fundamentally transform” our country. Then, the perplexity increased when he was reelected in 2012 long after his radical policies and disdain for the Constitution were abundantly evident. Unbelievably, after suffering through the effrontery of the Obama Administration’s arrogance and his flaunting of executive actions instead of bipartisanship, the nation is now enthralled with Donald Trump’s bombastic, flamboyant, but empty promises – based solely on his ability to capitalize on the public’s anger and to manipulate people’s fears, rather than specific policy proposals or potential for effective constitutional governance -- to come in and liberate us from the overweening government bureaucrats with their endless thirst for control and restore America’s greatness. The Washington Post summarized the situation by claiming that Donald Trump is giving the establishment (on both Capitol Hill and K Street) the “middle finger” and “his supporters love it.” One analyst likened Trump to a parasite eating up the host; another called him America’s “Fatal Attraction.”
So how did we get to the point that it was possible for Obama to be elected and for Trump to be a serious contender for the presidency?
Obviously, things are complicated, but generally root causes are fairly simple and foundational. I can think of three things that are fundamental problems that are endemic in our society.

Nebulous Faith: Despite President Obama’s claims to the contrary, America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It was founded to allow freedom of religion (as the saying goes, it was not founded to be free from religion).

PC Education:  Emotions and feelings are important and hard thinking is rarely taught or experienced. Politically Correct language is the norm; nothing can be allowed that offends the proliferating collection of victims on the Left.

Cultural Disintegration: There is no way to overstate the influence of the media and entertainment industries in shaping attitudes and values. In many respects both Obama and Trump are products of the media. President and Mrs. Obama have been media darlings since their earliest days on the national scene. With his ability to play to the crowd, Trump is always good for headlines. Neither man sees a distinction between politics and entertainment.
Ed Driscoll had some thoughts over at Instapundit:

The rise of Trump and the fall of free speech in academia are equal signs that we are losing the intellectual sturdiness and honesty without which a republic cannot thrive.

As with Obama in 2008, whatever his many transgressions, it’s tough to complain about Trump intuitively understanding that today’s pop culture was built for him to exploit to the fullest. “Years from now they’ll say: the center didn’t hold. The tree was hollow. All it took was one hard push from a virtuoso demagogue,” Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal writes on Twitter. Ah, but which one?


Angelo Codevilla is concerned that Trump would be another Obama:
Obama has been our first emperor. A Donald Trump presidency, far from reversing the ruling class’s unaccountable hold over American life, would seal it. Because Trump would act as our second emperor, he would render well-nigh impossible our return to republicanism.
 For two centuries, the government’s main decisions have happened through open congressional proceedings and recorded votes. That’s the republic we used to have.
Neither Obama nor Trump seem to know or care that cycles of reciprocal resentment, of insults and injuries paid back with ever more interest and ever less concern for consequences, are the natural fuel of revolutions—easy to start and soon impossible to stop. America’s founders, steeped in history as few of our contemporaries are, were acutely aware of how easily factional enmities deliver free peoples into the hands of emperors. America is already advanced in this vicious cycle. The only possible chance of returning it to republicanism lies in not taking the next turn, and in not following one imperial ruler with another.

Contrary to that perspective, this author explains that Trump has experienced healthy humiliations  which have had beneficial effect:
My guess is that Trump was a badly spoiled brat, a kind of would-be narcissist. His father sent him to a military academy, where every cadet is humiliated over and over again, and then built up by earning respect for meeting tough challenges every day, like Marine Corps training. 
The only thing that can cure NPD is a long diet of bloody noses. They don’t respond to talking therapy, but let them run into the same brick wall over and over again, and they can learn to grow up. Trump entered the military academy as a snot-nosed troublemaker, and four years later emerged as the head of the cadet corps. It took a lot of bloody noses to get there. 
The difference from Obama is that long history of painful setbacks and comebacks. Obama has always been surrounded by adoring fans, and still has genuine trouble dealing with setbacks. What Freud called the Reality Principle is the key to responsible adulthood. 
Hard to know for sure, but certainly interesting.  It's also interesting to watch foreigners  ignoring the obvious:
“Europeans are trying to wrap their heads around Trump’s popularity…with little success.”

Other than their version of the MSM completely failing them (which is always a possibility when dealing with old media), I don’t understand why not.