Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

End State Socialism

Marx was right, there is an arc to history. Unfortunately, it isn't what he thought it was:

Caracas, Venezuela — The decision on Thursday by several Venezuelan courts to annul the signatures gathered to activate a recall referendum casts into limbo the possibility of removing President Nicol├ís Maduro from office by constitutional, peaceful and electoral means. Unsurprisingly, the National Electoral Council used the decision to announce a few hours later that this week’s signature collection had been suspended, thus preventing the referendum from being carried out.

This judicial stratagem exudes an aura of illegality and cannot be explained without taking into account the ironclad concentration of powers wielded by the Chavista government in Venezuela since 2005.

Is there an example anywhere, anytime of a socialist country that didn't end up on those rocks?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Response to "Open Letter to Commenter Bret Wallach"

Hi Don,

You asked the following in your Open Letter to me:
Do you, in short, believe that you have an ethical right to grow your own tomatoes with your own resources if you choose – a right that trumps other tomato-growers’ insistence that you instead buy your tomatoes from them?
I've never had tomatoes thrown at me before in a debate, even figuratively, so this is a first. I'm sure it beats being hit with actual tomatoes. :-)

But I wonder if you've asked yourself that very question? And I wonder what your answer to yourself would be?

I wonder that because you seem to be a strong supporter of patents. If so, consider the following. I'm happily and honestly growing my tomatoes using only my own and all completely legal resources. As they're growing away, some tomato DNA from an adjacent field of tomatoes grown from Monsanto tomato seeds blows into my field and inadvertently contaminates the tomatoes that I've planted for next year's seed stock. Unfortunately for me, Monsanto's patent protection on the DNA disallows me from planting and selling tomatoes next year using my own seed stock. These Monsanto patent rights that prohibit me from growing my own tomatoes have been upheld by the Supreme Court:
The US Supreme Court upheld biotech giant Monsanto’s claims on genetically-engineered seed patents and the company’s ability to sue farmers whose fields are inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto materials.
Of course, other tomato-growers who use Monsanto's seeds will be quite happy that I'm stuck buying tomatoes grown by them instead of growing my own. I assume that as a supporter of patent rights that you side with the Supreme Court and Monsanto on this one and you, in short, do NOT believe that I have an ethical right to grow my own tomatoes with my own resources if I choose. At least not an inherent right - Monsanto's patent right trumps any rights I might have to grow my own tomatoes.

Or am I mistaken? Perhaps you're going to tell me that the DNA that trespasses onto my property is not my resource? Perhaps, but then neither is the sun that falls on my crops nor the CO2 that the tomatoes need to grow that blows through my fields nor the earthworms that migrated from adjacent fields nor the rain that falls from the sky, etc. If you follow that line of reasoning, I'm therefore not able to grow tomatoes with solely my own resources and so your question becomes meaningless. Or perhaps I could grow them in an airtight greenhouse with only artificial lights and sterilized topsoil purchased elsewhere rejuvenated by microbes I buy elsewhere, etc., but such tomatoes would have no chance to be commercially viable making your question still mostly meaningless.

Or perhaps you're a strong supporter of patents except in this case? And cases like it?

Do you support precluding an inventor from using a method he invented independently (and possibly before anybody else) with the sweat of his brow risking his own capital simply because he filed his patent application a nanosecond after someone else filed a patent application for more-or-less the same invention (also invented independently)? This happens quite frequently (though there's usually a bit more than a nanosecond between the applications) and is quite a severe restriction on the freedom and even life of the very slightly slower-to-file inventor.

But that's all well and good: them's the rules and them's the breaks. We've collectively, via the State, decided that patents benefit the collective in aggregate and if some folks are deprived of the fruits of their labors and possibly severely damaged because of that, tough luck - the freedom to use what you've developed is trumped by what benefits the collective. And you support that, right?

To me, a patent is a GOLEM (Government Originated Legally Enforced Monopoly) and GOLEMs are a subset of GOLERTs (Government Originated Legally Enforced Restrictions on Trade). Your support of patents makes you perfectly okay with GOLEMs and therefore at least that type of GOLERT. To paraphrase an old joke, now that we've identified that you're perfectly happy and supportive of the collective placing some restrictions on trade, all that's left is to haggle over the details. :-)

Oh, I have no doubt you'll find some way to rationalize it. Perhaps you'll say "BUT IT'S PROPERTY!" Okay, but then why isn't it property for the other guy who invented it (perhaps he even invented it first, he was just slower to file)? Why isn't it property after 20 years? Or is it property but then it's okay for the State to take it away after 20 years? In which case why wouldn't it be okay for the State to take away any property if it benefits the collective? And if inventions are property, why were they not generally described as property prior to the 1960s, the decade when the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was founded (with the purpose of getting everybody to think of inventions as property)? Etc.

Applying this to growing tomatoes, perhaps the invention that I invented first using only my own resources but was slightly slower-to-file than someone else was a new-fangled super-duper tomato transplanting system (since I'm a roboticist who develops agricultural automation products, I actually bid on developing exactly such a system a few weeks ago). Assuming the other inventor got the patent, it would be illegal to use my invention to grow my own tomatoes. However, I could probably prevent anyone from proving that I was doing so (since I simply wouldn't allow them on my property) and could use my invention without fear of punishment. Would that be unethical? Immoral? Would it matter whether or not I sold the tomatoes?

In thinking about one small aspect (patent considerations) of your seemingly simple question of whether or not I should be able to grow stuff (tomatoes) on my own property using my own resources without any interference from the collective (the State) or subsets of the collective (other growers), more than a dozen questions have already come to mind. That's because your question is not simple. Everything that everybody does affects everybody else and nothing that involves large numbers of people is simple.

My answer to your seemingly simple question of whether or not I should be able to grow stuff on my own property without any interference from others is "it depends."

Sincerely,
Bret Wallach
President
Vision Robotics Corporation
San Diego, CA

P.S. If you excerpt any of the above, please also provide a link to this page (http://greatguys.blogspot.com/2016/10/response-to-open-letter-to-commenter.html) so readers can see the full context of what I've written.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Response to Don Boudreaux - Rough Draft

Hi Don,

You asked the following in your Open Letter to me:
Do you, in short, believe that you have an ethical right to grow your own tomatoes with your own resources if you choose – a right that trumps other tomato-growers’ insistence that you instead buy your tomatoes from them?
I've never had tomatoes thrown at me before in a debate, even figuratively, so this is a first. I'm sure it beats being hit with actual tomatoes. :-)

But I wonder if you've asked yourself that very question? And I wonder what your answer to yourself would be?

I wonder that because you seem to be a strong supporter of patents. If so, consider the following. I'm happily and honestly growing my tomatoes using only my own and all completely legal resources. As they're growing away, some tomato DNA from an adjacent field of tomatoes grown from Monsanto tomato seeds blows into my field and inadvertently contaminates the tomatoes that I've planted for next year's seed stock. Unfortunately for me, Monsanto's patent protection on the DNA disallows me from planting and selling tomatoes next year using my own seed stock. These Monsanto patent rights that prohibit me from growing my own tomatoes have been upheld by the Supreme Court:
The US Supreme Court upheld biotech giant Monsanto’s claims on genetically-engineered seed patents and the company’s ability to sue farmers whose fields are inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto materials.
Of course, other tomato-growers who use Monsanto's seeds will be quite happy that I'm stuck buying tomatoes grown by them instead of growing my own. I assume that as a supporter of patent rights that you side with the Supreme Court and Monsanto on this one and you, in short, do NOT believe that I have an ethical right to grow my own tomatoes with my own resources if I choose. At least not an inherent right - Monsanto's patent right trumps any rights I might have to grow my own tomatoes.

Or am I mistaken? Perhaps you're going to tell me that the DNA that trespasses onto my property is not my resource? Perhaps, but then neither is the sun that falls on my crops nor the CO2 that the tomatoes need to grow that blows onto my fields nor the earthworms that migrated from adjacent fields nor the rain that falls from the sky, etc. If you follow that line of reasoning, I'm therefore not able to grow tomatoes with solely my own resources and so your question becomes meaningless. Or perhaps I could grow them in an airtight greenhouse with only artificial lights and sterilized topsoil purchased elsewhere rejuvenated by microbes I buy elsewhere, etc., but such tomatoes would have no chance to be commercially viable making your question still mostly meaningless.

Or perhaps you're a strong supporter of patents except in this case? And cases like it?

Do you support precluding an inventor from using a method he invented independently (and possibly before anybody else) with the sweat of his brow risking his own capital simply because he filed his patent application a nanosecond after someone else filed a patent application for more-or-less the same invention (also invented independently)? This happens quite frequently (though there's usually a bit more than a nanosecond between the applications) and is quite a severe restriction on the freedom and even life of the very slightly slower-to-file inventor.

But that's all well and good: them's the rules and them's the breaks. We've collectively, via the State, decided that patents benefit the collective in aggregate and if some folks are deprived of the fruits of their labors and possibly severely damaged because of that, tough luck - the freedom to use what you've developed is trumped by what benefits the collective. And you support that, right?

To me, a patent is a GOLEM (Government Originated Legally Enforced Monopoly) and GOLEMs are a subset of GOLERTs (Government Originated Legally Enforced Restrictions on Trade). Your support of patents makes you perfectly okay with GOLEMs and therefore at least that type of GOLERT. To paraphrase an old joke, now that we've identified that you're perfectly happy and supportive of the collective placing some restrictions on trade, all that's left is to haggle over the details. :-)

Oh, I have no doubt you'll find some way to rationalize it. Perhaps you'll say "BUT IT'S PROPERTY!" Okay, but then why isn't it property for the other guy who invented it (perhaps he even invented it first, he was just slower to file)? Why isn't it property after 20 years? Or is it property but then it's okay for the State to take it away after 20 years? In which case why wouldn't it be okay for the State to take away any property if it benefits the collective? And if inventions are property, why were they not generally described as property prior to the 1960s, the decade when the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was founded (with the purpose of getting everybody to think of inventions as property)? Etc.

Applying this to growing tomatoes, perhaps the invention that I invented first using only my own resources but was slightly slower-to-file than someone else was a new-fangled super-duper tomato transplanting system (since I'm a roboticist who develops agricultural automation products, I actually bid on exactly such a system recently). Assuming the other inventor got the patent, it would be illegal to use my invention to grow my own tomatoes. However, I could probably prevent anyone from proving that I was doing so (since I simply wouldn't allow them on my property) and could use my invention without fear of punishment. Would that be unethical? Immoral? Would it matter whether or not I sold the tomatoes?

In thinking about one small aspect (patent considerations) of your seemingly simple question of whether or not I should be able to grow stuff (tomatoes) on my own property using my own resources without any interference from the collective (the State) or subsets of the collective (other growers), more than a dozen questions have already come to mind. That's because your question is not simple. Everything that everybody does affects everybody else and nothing that involves large numbers of people is simple.

My answer to your seemingly simple question of whether or not I should be able to grow stuff on my own property without any interference from others is "it depends."

Sincerely,
Bret

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Don Throws Tomatoes at Me

Here's a post from today at Cafe Hayek (I assume that since it's an "Open Letter" to me that I have every right to reprint it verbatim):

=======================================================================

Open Letter to Commenter Bret Wallach
by DON BOUDREAUX on OCTOBER 19, 2016


Bret Wallach

Mr. Wallach:

I close my recent “Elemental Case for Free Trade” with the following ethical argument: “if you work and earn income honestly, that income is yours to use as you choose.  You may use it to buy tomatoes from your neighbor or to buy tomatoes from a farmer in Mexico.  It’s your money.  It belongs neither to the state nor to any domestic producer.  Yet protectionist arguments rest on the premise that your tomato-growing neighbor has some positive claim on your income.  If you are prohibited from buying tomatoes from Mexico, or – more commonly today – penalized with a tariff for doing so, the state is insisting that domestic tomato growers have an ethical claim on part of your income.”

You disagree with my argument.  That is, you apparently believe that the state acts ethically if, in its efforts to increase sales made by existing domestic tomato growers, it penalizes you for using your own income to buy foreign-grown tomatoes.  Do you, then, also believe that the state would be acting ethically if, in its efforts to increase sales made by those same domestic tomato growers, it penalized you for using your own income to buy potting soil, fertilizer, and tomato seeds that you use to grow your own tomatoes?

If you believe that there’s nothing ethically objectionable about Uncle Sam penalizing you for spending your income in ways that cause the sales of some domestic producers to be lower than otherwise, surely you then have no objection to Uncle Sam penalizing you for growing your own tomatoes.  Nor must you object if Uncle Sam were to penalize you and other Americans for buying used rather than new cars (or, indeed, for putting off buying new cars by keeping your existing cars in good repair) – or for buying previously owned rather than newly build homes – or for growing beards rather than shaving daily (think of all the sales that Gillette loses because more men today wear facial hair!) – or for recycling aluminum cans and plastic cartons – or, indeed, for doing anything with your own resources that Uncle Sam judges to wrongfully reduce sales made by its favored domestic producers.

Do you, in short, believe that you have an ethical right to grow your own tomatoes with your own resources if you choose – a right that trumps other tomato-growers’ insistence that you instead buy your tomatoes from them?  If so, how do you square this belief with your insistence that it is ethically acceptable for the state to penalize you and others for spending parts your incomes on the purchase of imports?

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

=======================================================================

I'll (most likely) respond to Don in the next few days.

The gross simplification of Don's philosophy is "BUT FREEDOM!" where freedom to do as you see fit, as long as it's peaceful and voluntary for all parties, trumps (nearly) all other considerations. The gross simplification of my philosophy is "WHEN IN DOUBT, CHOOSE FREEDOM!" and that means that I basically believe that some ends can sometimes justify some means that might restrict peaceful, voluntary freedom, but the case for doing so has to be really strong. I think there's a lot of overlap, but I think that the hairs we split are important to some degree.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Exceptionally Exceptional

In Deploracism, Clovis made the comment below. It raises enough questions that I figured it deserves a post all its own.

Well, [Americans don't actually enjoy equality before the law], I don't think the word "exceptional" [wrt American Exceptionalism] means what you think it means.

Also, ideals which you are supposed to never live up to aren't "ideals", they are only ink over dead trees. After all, living by one ideals is what is supposed to be exceptional.

As an Air Officer, you took an oath to abide by the Constitution. Why the heck did you pledge your life to something you don't believe in??

"Exceptionalism" is exactly the right word. The US is exceptional in the sense that being American is all about a set of ideals, not ethnicity, religion, place of birth, etc. Compared to Japan, Europe, or anywhere else I've been, that is very much the exception.

Moreover, the US is exceptional in another dimension, perhaps less apparent at first glance: the imposition of constraints on government. The Constitution says nothing about what government must do, but goes into some detail what it may not do: impose religious tests for office; limit the ability to write, speak, read and hear; restrict meaningful self defense, usw. In other words, Americans have rights through negation -- natural law, expressed in the Declaration, implemented in the Constitution, strictly limits what a legitimate government may do.

Of course, there are numerous, often wide, gaps between "ought" and "is".

The Declaration and many parts of the Constitution express "ought". Everyone ought to be equal before the law, be completely free to speak, own a gun, not be subject to religious tests for office, etc.

So, in essence, the Declaration and Constitution amount to a governmental moral code, without which it would be far more difficult, if not impossible, ascertain illegitimate governance. Moreover, the gap between is and ought provides a basis for a moral arc to history.

Over time, the circle of moral regard has widened. People take a very different view of what constitutes moral behavior to those qualified to be within their group, as opposed to those outside it. So long as black Americans were considered an inferior version of humanity, they were outside circle of moral regard: it was perfectly fine to treat them in ways that would never be remotely acceptable for white Americans. But as reality intruded, it became progressively more difficult to maintain the notion that blacks aren't just as human as the rest of us, and just as increasingly difficult to continue excluding them from the circle of moral regard. This, in turn, created a gap, not new in reality, but newly perceived, between ought and is. And, therefore, the organic, and exceptional, imperative to close that gap.

Imperfectly, yes. Slowly, yes. Undoubtedly the knock-on effects will burden us for generations to come. But the imperative meant that black Americans, over the last 40 or so years, have gained complete legal parity with white Americans, while avoiding, to an astonishing extent, the violence oppressed groups have had to engage in elsewhere in order to lift their oppression (e.g., South Africa).

This is exactly why these ideals aren't ink smeared on dead trees.

So long, of course, as people understand and appreciate the timeless enlightenment principles embodied in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, that is far from the case. Hillary!, Trump, and the New York Times have all advocated "No Fly, No Buy". That is, if someone's name appears on the No Fly list, they may not purchase a gun. Only those who either don't believe in natural rights, or believe in unfettered government power, can possibly push such a thing. Our very existence entails the right to meaningful self defense, just as it entails the right to think, believe, speak, and hear freely. Advocating abridging such a right outside the due process of law is manifest proof that whoever does such a thing either doesn't understand, or is happy to willfully disregard, the very basis for our society.

Hillary!, Trump, the New York Times, and Harry all believe the political class is entitled to control political speech and, therefore, political thought. Unfortunately for them, since the US Constitution is based upon the concept of government that is legitimate only to the extent that it defends natural law, it is easy to see all of them for the tyrants they hope to be.

Hillary! is a pathological, ironically inept, given all her practice, liar. She clearly is a pandering sexist, and, as if that wasn't enough, a rapist enabler. Her house should have been raided, and she should be in jail. Trumpster is the distillation of ADD and Asperger's, leaving out all the good parts: whenever he gets bored, he sets himself on fire. At any given moment, it is almost impossible to tell whether his prodigious gift for arrogance is more, or ever so slightly less, appalling than his irremediable ignorance. He wouldn't know the Constitution if it smacked him upside the head, and is no more inclined to protect and defend it than a cat is a mouse.

Yet, despite all that, I'm confident the Republic will soldier on. Why? Because of that other source of American exceptionalism: the balance of powers. The differing sources of political power, tenure, and authority just about guarantee that no matter which of these complete knuckleheads wins the election, the other two branches will frustrate their manifest stupidities.

So there you have it: is and ought; the very real difficulty of having a moral code without some objective basis; and, the unique ability of Constitution to frustrate the fever dreams of arrogant, ignorant, idiotic, perverted, stupid, boneheaded, should have been strangled at birth politicians.

Which is to say, damn near all of them.

Those are reasons enough to pledge my life to defend something I believe in very much. No matter the gap between aspiration and reality.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Singing for Mom

My sister and I went back to upstate New York for our Mom's 80th birthday. My mom seems to have pretty much everything she wants so it's hard to figure out what to get her. So, my sister and I recorded, A Cappella, a song of love for her which we delivered on an MP3 player and small speaker so she can hear us sing it whenever she wants.

Since I wrote about A Cappella singing the other day, I thought I'd share the recording with y'all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Conjecture Explaining Downward Pitch Drift of A Cappella Singing Groups

I've been doing some barbershop singing lately, both in a chorus of about 30 men and also a quartet. I'm still learning the ropes so (fortunately) there are no recordings of me (yet) doing this particular form of music. But if you're curious about the sorts of things we sing, the following video shows Ringmasters, a really excellent quartet, performing one of the songs we're working on (both the chorus and the quartet I sing with) and is a good example of "modern" barbershop music.



Because there are no instruments to anchor the pitch, even a top notch group like Ringmasters will end the song at a slightly different pitch level than they start with. In this case, my "pitch pipe" tells me they end very slightly sharper than they started. They're so close that my ear couldn't tell and I needed an electronic tuner to discern that.

While a group can end either sharp or flat, the vast majority of a cappella groups end flat a majority of the time. This is especially true for bigger groups and often I can easily tell that with just my ear and without any sort of electronic help.

The question is why flat and not sharp? I've not found any of the answers to be compelling. Therefore, I've crafted my own conjecture, but I'm pretty confident that it's at least part of the explanation since it matches my experience recording music. On the other hand, it's so simple and obvious that I would've thought that it would be a common explanation, but I haven't seen it.

When we speak and sing, we usually mostly hear ourselves via internal pathways. In other words, our vocal cords flap about and the vibrations from that flapping are transmitted via our flesh and blood and bone up to our hearing apparatus. There's also reflected sound from the vibrations coming out our mouths (and noses to some extent) and then bouncing off of surfaces around us back to our ears. However, most of what we hear under typical conditions is received by our ears via the internal pathways.

Many of us who are past the half-century mark may have never heard ourselves speak or sing until we were teenagers or older. There simply wasn't all that much access to recording equipment and the early consumer recording devices had dismal accuracy when playing back a recording. I remember being SHOCKED when I first heard what I sounded like. It sounded nothing like I sound to me via my internal pathways.

In particular, I sound slightly sharper to myself via the internal pathways than I do via the external pathways. When singing along with instruments, I always sound very slightly flatter during playback than I expect given what it sounds like to me during recording.

It's very slight. So slight that it's hardly out of tune. The perception is more a matter of the other definition of "flat": dull; lifeless; low-energy. Whereas being very slightly sharp is perceived as alive, brilliant, and exciting! A somewhat related fact is that classical instrumental groups were tuned to ever higher pitch levels over the centuries:
During historical periods when instrumental music rose in prominence (relative to the voice), there was a continuous tendency for pitch levels to rise. This "pitch inflation" seemed largely a product of instrumentalists competing with each other, each attempting to produce a brighter, more "brilliant", sound than that of their rivals.
Another experiment that confirmed that I sound sharper internally than externally is what I call the "wall trick." To hear myself better from external reflections, instead of singing into a room, I'll stand facing a wall, about a foot away. It looks kinda silly, but instead of hearing myself mainly internally, I'm also able to hear the external reflections and it gives me an idea of what my pitch and tone sound like to the rest of the world. Recently, I sang a single note into a tuner while walking towards the wall. I maintained the same pitch the whole time. As I got closer to the wall, I sounded progressively flatter even though the tuner said I was singing the same pitch the whole time.

So both record/playback and external reflections confirm that I sound a tiny bit flatter externally than internally. I suspect, but haven't yet proven, that's true for most people. After all, people are similar physiologically, and I think the effect is due to our internal transmission filters being slightly more high-pass than the external transmission filters which probably are more affected by the resonating cavities that form our vowel sounds. Well, that's my conjecture anyway. I really don't know why. All I know is that internally I sound sharper than externally.

When we start a song in an a cappella group, someone blows the root of the key on a pitch pipe or electronic equivalent. If I sing my note and it sounds right to me internally, it will sound very slightly flat to those around me. Everybody around me will also do the same thing and sing very slightly flat. I'm going to sound flat to everyone else and everyone else will sound flat to me. But we want to align so we'll all adjust incrementally downwards a little tiny bit. And then we all sound flatter to each other so we adjust downward again. And again. And again. They're all tiny adjustments, minuscule really. But over the course of a whole song, all those increments add up and the group might end up noticeably flat, maybe even a half-step. Maybe even more. Even for very accomplished groups.