Monday, June 23, 2008
Over the weekend, I updated the list of favorite posts and updated the blogroll. You may need to refresh your browser to see the changes to the list of favorite posts. This was a much larger edit than normal because various things over the past few months have kept me from performing my usual periodic edits. Things piled up.
I pruned from the blogroll something on the order of fifteen blogs whose links were stale or which had ceased publication for six months or more. These now appear on the list of retired or inactive blogs.
With the large number of edits I had to make in Blogger's cumbersome template editor -- I use the old one. -- the possibility of human error is higher than normal. So if you were on the blogroll and now you're not, even though you're blogging actively, drop me a line and I'll fix it.
Also, several new blogs appear: Andrew Bostom; Edelweiss; Philosophy, Law, and Life; and Priced in Gold. Look for other additions in the near future. I always mark the last ten additions as "new".
Another Way of Breaking Windows
I first saw this idea -- of the government offering cash prizes for scientific research -- floated by Glenn Reynolds in his An Army of Davids:
Sen. John McCain hopes to solve the country's energy crisis with cold hard cash.Recall for a moment the nature of government -- the sole social institution that can legally wield force against you and me -- and then re-read the above.
The Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting thinks the government should offer a $300 million prize to the person who can develop an automobile battery that leapfrogs existing technology.
The prize would equate to $1 for every man, woman and child in the country.
In a speech being delivered Monday at Fresno State University in California, McCain is also proposing stiffer fines for automakers who skirt existing fuel-efficiency standards and incentives to increase use of domestic and foreign ethanol. [bold added]
First of all, would you rather (a) be free to donate your loose change to a charity of your choice (if at all) or (b) have a pickpocket take it and donate it to a charity of his choice? The smallness of the (government-inflated) dollar stolen from your wallet in no way changes the fact that that dollar was stolen.
Second, look at how free McCain feels to bully around businessmen, whom voters are more accustomed to seeing nudged around at the point of a gun. McCain will demand more of us later on based on this indication and he will have precedent and inertia on his side.
Third, consider the fact that we don't already have McCain's battery in light of the myriad technological advances its scientists and businessmen have produced and gotten into our hands with "only" personal profit as a motive. Hell, Bill Gates has been worth anywhere from two to three orders of magnitude more than this prize! The fact that this battery does not exist may be an indication that it is not valuable enough to warrant development.
McCain's proposal is immoral because it violates our property rights. It is dishonest because it pretends that the pecuniary smallness of such a violation by our own government changes things and that a government prize is the same as that offered freely by private individuals. And it is impractical because it promises to steer confiscated funds, scientific talent, and industrial effort away from more valuable avenues of research clearly indicated by the free market.
It is only the last point that most economists will say anything about -- if they aren't suckered by the "small-government" trappings. Despite it arguably requiring a lower government outlay than normal kinds of research funding, this proposal remains an example of Frederic Bastiat's "Fallacy of the Broken Window".
Another Reason the Death Penalty is Dangerous
Although Ayn Rand did not weigh in on one side or the other regarding capital punishment, she held the view that it was, "morally just, but legally dangerous -- because of the possibility of jury errors which could not be rectified after the death of the innocent man."
I recalled this problem when I noticed that the Supreme Court is due to rule on a Louisiana law that provides for the execution of child rapists. If a crime could be even worse than murder, this would be such a crime. On the other hand, if there is a kind of crime for which there could be a huge amount of pressure to get a conviction and execute, this would also be it.
So what's the problem here? The notion of the government finding even more reasons to execute people. Ayn Rand more than touched on this matter in the postscript to a letter to Rose Wilder Lane, who had asked whether "[T]hose [politically] almost with us do more harm than 100% enemies?"
I had just finished this letter to you, when, strangely enough, I received an appalling answer to the question you asked me -- a final proof that our "almost" friends are our worst enemies. It was the worst shock in all my experience with political reading. I received the Economic Council Letter of August 15th. (Incidentally, I subscribed to that Letter mainly in order to get your book reviews.) And I read that Merwin K. Hart, a defender of freedom and Americanism, is advocating a death penalty for a political offense.It is hair-raising to hear that what I regarded as a somewhat remote, down-the-road possibility has already been proposed by an allegedly pro-capitalist American!
I am actually too numb at the moment to know what to say. I don't have to explain to you that once such a principle is accepted, it would mean the literal, physical end of Americans; nor to ask you to guess who would be the first people executed under such a law; nor to remind you that the crucial steps on the road to dictatorship, the laws giving government totalitarian powers, were initiated by Republicans -- such as the draft bill, or the attempt to pass a national serfdom act for compulsory labor. [link and bold added] (The Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 309)
Here's a question: Does anyone out there know what, exactly, Hart had in mind?
(Or: Run the Ayn Rand Research CD on Linux!)
Regulars will know something of my recent computer woes: In March, while I was preparing for a scientific conference and working on a major writing project, my desktop died. It was the motherboard.
After weighing my needs and options, and taking into consideration that I'll soon be moving across the country, I decided to purchase an ASUS Eee PC as a laptop, and cobble together the remnants of my old desktop and my wife's old desktop -- both of whose disks are all IDE as opposed to the newer SATA. (She has the laptop in Boston.)
The former takes care of my mobile computing (and blogging) needs. The latter was dual boot, so I could use Windows when I needed to for work. I could wait until I was in Boston to buy a new desktop.
Well, you guessed it. The hard drive drive with the Windows installation crashed within a week of my building the new desktop! While it was possible to repartition the Linux hard drive and install Windows there, this would be time-consuming. Also, all I really needed Windows for was to run Word and a proprietary image browser/editor for my work.
Normally, I would use VMWare to run a virtual Windows computer on Linux for such needs, but it is impossible to upgrade the desktop to more than 750 MB of RAM and I would be able to budget only half of that for the virtual machine. This is bad enough, but we're talking about images that require at least 512 MB RAM for me to work comfortably with them.
So decided to try Crossover Office from Codeweavers. This application, which was only $40.00 and was downloadable the moment I bought it, involves less computational overhead than VMWare. It is a compatibility layer rather than a virtual machine, meaning that I could skip repartitioning my hard drive as well as installing Windows.
This, if it worked, would allow me to run Word and the image browser as if they were native Linux applications, making them run faster and, incidentally, saving me from having to reboot my computer (if I took the dual boot option) or booting a virtual Windows machine (as with VMWare). Fortunately, it did work, and more. (Note that with VMWare, which runs Windows, you can run nearly any Windows program you want without fear.)
Your mileage with other software may vary -- as the Codeweavers site explains clearly enough -- but MS Office 2000 runs almost perfectly for me as does the image browser (which Codeweavers does not officially support) and -- pure gravy here! -- I'm running my copy of Oliver Computing's Ayn Rand Research CD under Linux now. Quite convenient!
So I was able to just change the temporary desktop to a Linux-only machine and still use the software I need to be able to work at home again!
Today: (1) Corrected typos. (2) Added parenthetical comment on VMWare.