Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ugh. The Heavy Weather Bruce Sterling is back. This is why I read more and more non-fiction and comic books: SF writers as a class are turning into psychotic infants. See also: John Scalzi & Charles Stross.

On the plus side.. Vega wasn't a trilogy? The good thing about post-Singularity novels? No contemporary politics to let the author inflict his crazy on you. And I'm starting to think they're all crazy...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Had a bunch of fun at the Monroes' trap shoot last weekend. The Monroes and Craig Rusch brought out their spring-load clay trap throwers to a target range in the gamelands northwest of Allentown, and about twenty of use went out & had a ball on the shotgun range. I put a bunch of shells through that old pump-action shotgun I bought off a co-worker last fall, and shot pretty well. It's still got that double-load problem with the magazine clip, but all that means is that it basically is limited to a single shell in the magazine, which works for the only thing I'm going to do with the weapon, which is trap-shooting.

Jon Acheson brought his semi-automatic Kalashnikov shotgun with the clip-feed magazine. He does well enough with it, but I saw it jam a couple times with other shooters trying it out, when they used el-cheapo Winchester shells. Shotgun shells just aren't made to be clip-fed, the mechanism likes to chew on the plastic. I've decided to avoid the Winchester brand anyways, on general principles. I tried Jon's gun out, but I just can't get used to semi-automatic on a shotgun - it throws off my rhythm to not have to rack the next shell into the chamber.

The Monroes invited us all over to their place afterwards for gaming & munchies. I was feeling pretty under the weather by then, and I just hope that I didn't give anybody my cold. Most everybody was pretty sunburned by then - most of us had forgone sunscreen, which was probably a mistake.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ha ha ha ha!

I love stories like this: great white anthropologist - or at least, a science writer *posing* as such - goes off into the hinterlands, and brings back a racy story of primitives waging reprisal wars over blood-feuds. They've been doing this crap for a century or more, safely wrapped in their assumptions of civilized New York & distant, ignorant New Guinean hillbillies, never shall the twain meet.

Except this is 2009, and somebody in Papua New Guinea apparently has DSL, and read the article. Now two "tribesmen" are suing that hack Jared Diamond for defamation.

This is one of those stories "too good to fact-check". Which is exactly how Diamond got himself into this mess. Ha!

h/t Instapundit, the one-man newspaper.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I've been reading Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations this last week. I'd only read the usual assigned excerpts - on division of labor in pins manufacture, of course - back in school. Aside from the strange archaic usages - he uses the term "police" in a fashion utterly alien to modern usage, for instance, almost synonymous with "statute", really - it's quite engaging.

I find that it helps to read period works of analysis like this in an aggressive, argumentative mind-set. Even Smith can argue fallacies, and the free-market commonplaces of economic theory did not spring full-grown from this book, after all. With some effort, you can follow his developing argument against mercantilism, but if you don't pay attention, it can disappear under modern economic assumptions. He's much more hostile to entrepreneurs and labour-centric than his reputation would lead one to assume. You can see why intellectuals & academics as a class would *hate* Smith - he's quite uncompromising in judging them as a class as "unproductive", along with lawyers, courtiers, the military and the clerical order. He's also quite conservative on banking matters, endorsing maximum rates of interest to suppress speculative investment & opposing paper currency likely to gain circulation among consumers, judging paper to be a pure replacement for specie & not at all a supplement.

This passage has never been more apt:
It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

One thing I was thinking about at the rally, was "you poor suckers haven't seen anything yet." This isn't going to be a bad year for taxes. The bill hasn't come due yet - the President and his merry band have been partying and scheduling for further parties on our credit, not our cash. For almost half of the country, the federal government doesn't tax us at all except for the entitlement payroll taxes. For now, they're concentrating on the capitalized classes.

Obviously, as Lady Thatcher once said, you eventually run out of other people's money. They can only float so much debt with foreign investment money until they'll have to start funding all of that debt. That means taxing the hell out of the rich. The rich will respond to incentives as the rich do, and will do their best to no long meet the official definition of "rich", which to coffer-minded taxmen, looks like taxable income streams. Y'all will recognize that particular situation under its suddenly-fashionable alias, Depression. Also, the taxmen will discover that there ain't enough rich to fund the new debt now that "the rich" has become a moving target. They're gonna have to re-define "rich" to include enough targets to make the game worth the hunt. Ten Years After had it wrong - it's "tax the rich, feed the poor, till we're all 'rich' e'er more".

The Great Re-Definition is coming. When it does, some people will want to know what happened, and how "we're" going to get out of this trap. The rest of us will already know what happened.

You eventually run out of other people's money.
So I stopped by the Tea Party on Frazier Street yesterday & dropped my local tax return in the mail while I was there. Signed the petition, although I have to admit that I only read the blasted thing *after* signing. Good thing it wasn't anything sketchy, right? Your basic petition of grievances, remarkably well-put-together for something that mentioned the recent outrageous DHS "study" classifying fervent opposition politics & federalist opinions as markers of "domestic terrorism". With something like that, it had to have been composed on the fly the weekend before the event.

There was maybe two hundred people there when I was by. I didn't pay much attention to the speakers; somebody asked me if I wanted to hold a sign, and I told him I hadn't made it, it wasn't *my* sign. I'm not much for signs, anyways. I'm not really sure what good these things do, either. We're stuck with the current administration for the next three and three-quarters years, and the current congress for the next two years. There just isn't that much leverage in Centre County. About all we could do is make the leftist university twits in State College who voted for the current disaster miserable, and there isn't much point in that. Stupid goes right to the bone, it's not as if they make a cream for it.

Oh, well.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Can anyone explain to this dim liberal-arts major why credit default swaps aren't simply institutional, marketized, commodified moral hazard?

Say I'm pondering doing something madly risky, bordering on daft: like, for instance, radically expanding my trucking fleet in the face of a possible oil shock. I hedge against the chance of fuel costs wrecking my expansion by buying fancy financial instruments which promise to cover my losses in the event of a cost bump. My competitors, not wanting to get edged out, all do the same thing, resulting in a short-term profitable event for the financial industry as we all dump significant change into their hands. But we're all betting on a certainty, and the oil costs hit all of us at once, and we all cash in our swaps. Not only have we distorted the market in oil and shipping by producing an excess of road traffic & trucking and a shortage of fuel, we've also smashed up the bottom lines of the various firms which let us buy insurance on a self-fulfilling prophesy. It's even possible that the hedging helped *produce* the oil shock by distorting the market in the first place!

The only difference between this credit-default-swap business and a legislature interfering in the market by subsidizing fuel prices is that the newfangled method removes government entirely from the business of moral hazard: haven't they privatized hazard? Instead of buying a congressman to get a chance at cheap gas, I've bought a financial instrument from Wall Street! Either way, I'm socializing risk, and privatizing profit. I'm buying the opportunity to make *somebody else* catch the flack for my consequences, right?