Archive for November, 2013

Daily Glimpse November 30, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

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Daily Glimpse November 29, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • 17th Century London in 3D
    Courtesy of the Off The Map Challenge: Following the development of the environment on the team’s blog you can see some of the gaps between what data was deemed noteworthy or worth recording in the seventeenth century and the level of detail we now expect in maps and other infographics. For example, the team struggled to pinpoint […]
  • Old Movie Theaters
    Staten Island Paramount:
  • “Lassie, Come Home:” Thurber Responds
    On Thanksgiving, Turner Classic Movies plays a “Family Favorites” Marathon, which includes “Lassie, Come Home.” James Thurber expands on the theme, in his “Look Homeward, Jeannie:” The homing dog reached apotheosis a few years ago when “Lassie Come Home” portrayed a collie returning to its young master over miles of wild and unfamiliar terrain in […]
  • ESA to Make Raw Copernicus Data Available
    For free: The European Delegated Act on Copernicus data and information policy will enter into force in the coming days. This Act provides free, full and open access to users of environmental data from the Copernicus programme, including data from the Sentinel satellites. As always, the question is who the gatekeepers consider to be a […]
  • Programming for Kids
    Kids adapt, toys adapt to help kids adapt: All of Primo’s electronics are concealed inside wooden boxes, so from the child’s point of view they’re playing with blocks, a board and a cute little robot. But as they snap the coloured pieces (instruction blocks) into the board (the physical programming interface) they are building up […]

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Daily Glimpse November 28, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Where Are Tomorrow’s Science Fiction Grand Master Writers?
    Asks the Guardian: But let’s pause there for a moment. As worthy as all the past winners of the Grand Master award undoubtedly are … what of the next generation? Is it feasible to now cast the grand master net wider, perhaps consider those writers born in the 1950s, or the 1960s? Even someone born […]
  • Evolution of Logo Design
  • Play As Innovation
    Play as a mediating entity between too-much top-down and too much bottom-up innovation? Banal though it is, the Mars-Africa question does capture all the tensions of creative destruction: old money versus new money; expanding frontiers versus laggard rears; future prosperity versus present traumas; growth versus inequality; unknown adventures versus avoidable tragedies. But perhaps the central […]
  • And They’ll All Want Lifts to Brown’s Hotel
    Via Shorpy.  The Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe, 1943  
  • Things You’re Not Supposed to Do With Google Glasses
    Like OD on TV: Things start to spin out of control. How could they not? It’s my childhood dream come true, this ever-present TV. My wife approaches me in the kitchen. I can see her mouth moving. I tell her, “I’m watching a Richard Pryor clip about the first black president. If it’s important, let […]

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I love Thanksgiving.  And not just because it’s a Jewish Holiday.  (Yes, I find it astonishing that the Pilgrims knew about Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah. That alone should be enough to show that what was going on here was something different.

I love it because it’s kind of an American Sukkot.  I love the Macy’s Parade and the balloons.  I love the National Dog Show, even though the anti-Lab bigotry runs deep.  I love the Peanuts specials and the interlude before winter and the turkey and the football.

I love that the stores are closed.

One year, when I first moved out here, I went camping over the 4-day Thanksgiving weekend.  I blew a tire on I-70 and coasted into Silverthorne, and was stuck riding the doughnut until Friday when I could get a new tire in Grand Junction.  And that was OK, because it was Thanksgiving, and people get the day off on Thanksgiving.

Now, stores are opening Thanksgiving night, after the stuffing and the pumpkin pie, because apparently, there’s a huge sales boost to be had opening one day early.  I doubt this is true – almost all those purchases would happen anyway -, but even if it were, I’d be against it.  The fact that you have to go to work that night, even after the meal, can’t help but impinge on the meal itself.

I have seen all sorts of rationalizations of this creeping materialism on Facebook and elsewhere, and others who use it to bitterly denounce WalMart or capitalism in general.  I don’t find any of them persuasive.

Making money, in the true sense of making it, producing wealth, is a good thing.  Having a free market when people can become themselves by starting and owning their own businesses is something to be thankful for. But capitalism is, by it nature subversive.  It undermines existing social structures, forcing people to adapt to new wealth, and to the competition for wealth.  There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, in general.

But it’s something that too many libertarians ignore or resist or excuse.

While making money is good, both in the personal and general sense, we sanctify it by pulling back from it, from time to time, not only to appreciate it, but to appreciate what we have around us.  That’s a large part of what taking Thanksgiving off means.

So yes, while there can’t really be any laws forbidding those post-dinner Thanksgiving sales, I really do hope people stay home.

The stuff will still be there tomorrow.

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Daily Glimpse November 27, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Google Interiors
    Google is adding the interiors of some foreign train stations and airports to its StreetView. The article says that that makes it aimed at overseas travelers, but I think it’s still aimed at Americans.  I’ve rarely had a problem figuring out an American airport, and I can see where a foreign airport might be laid […]
  • Doctor, Have You Washed Your Hands
    Via IDEO. Resembling an Apple computer mouse, the SwipeSense device clips easily onto hospital scrubs, recording every time users disinfect their hands. Together with wall-mounted proximity sensors, the system wirelessly tracks hand-washing practices, allowing doctors and nurses to see and download daily, weekly, or monthly reports, much like a FitBit, Nike Fuel Band, or other […]
  • Blurring the Lines
    Aaron Renn of the relentlessly engaging Urbanophile posts on the need for our legal structure to change to accommodate peer-to-peer, where people more efficiently share resources rather than owning a lot of unused or idle capacity: But beyond the sheer efficiency gains, I think it’s under appreciated in developed countries how economic informality can create […]
  • Hot Stove League
    Yes, the game does change. I’ve heard some fans comment that pitchers from the ’60s did not seem to throw with as much exertion as today’s hurlers, and therefore did not throw as hard. That may have been true of some pitchers in 1965, but certainly not Maloney. Although no radar gun was in evidence […]
  • The Missiles of November
    Ana Palacio provides a Cold War nuke analysis redux: That Iran’s push to acquire the capacity to produce nuclear weapons is partly motivated by security concerns cannot be denied. Nationalism, however, is a more important factor. It is not just that all the great powers have nuclear weapons; the problem, from Iran’s perspective, is that […]
  • Richard Samuelson on Immigration and Group Rights
    A conversation with Richard Samuelson about Constitutional principles, American exceptionalism, and immigration. It’s based on his article in last summer’s Claremont Review of Books on the subject.  In it, he makes an argument I’ve long favored, that Jews are only secure in a country where civil rights are individual, rather than group: The more elements […]
  • The Iran Nuclear Agreement As a Modus Vivendi
    At Lawfare, a refresher course in the various level of international commitment: It is true that most non-proliferation agreements are concluded as Article II treaties, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  But the Iran agreement lacks some indicia of formality, is short term, does not appear to affect state law, and apparently can be implementedwithout legislation […]

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Daily Glimpse November 26, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • vs. Censorship
    Going to bat for its users against DMCA abuse: The DMCA system gives copyright holders a powerful and easy-to-use weapon: the unilateral right to issue a takedown notice that a website operator (like Automattic) must honor or risk legal liability. The system works so long as copyright owners use this power in good faith. But […]
  • Reprise: How AIPAC became Obama’s Syria Scapegoat
    From a few months ago: It’s an odd assertion, especially as it’s quite clear that the arrow pointed in the other direction: it was the White House that asked AIPAC to put its resources at Obama’s disposal and “do the president a solid,” as one official at a Washington-based Jewish organization told Alana Goodman at the Washington […]
  • Arresting Spanish Tower
    Yes, that would have meant something different a little while ago.  Unfortunately, they forgot to include a picture of the view from the tower.  Via FeelGuide.
  • Narrow Networks Suddenly a Bug, Not a Feature
    Last week, the Washington Post ran a story blaming insurers for limiting choices as a result of Obamacare.  Count on this to be a major part of the administration’s demonization efforts against insurance companies. Funny, I’m old enough to remember when this was a selling point.
  • Tackling Cosmological Fine-Tuning
    Why does the universe appear fine-tuned for life?  This has been a question in science for as long as I can remember.  It’s a normal question – why do physical constants that appear to have nothing to do with one another nevertheless seem to be fine-tuned to one another?  Fine-tuning is a problem for scientists, […]
  • Hunger Games: Catching Fire
    It’s a fine review, pointing out some of the flaws in the first film that we didn’t get because we haven’t read the books.  But then, I had to be talked into seeing the first movie, and perhaps rated it more highly because 1) the political analogy to today is unmistakable, and 2) I have […]

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Daily Glimpse November 25, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • What’s Farsi for “Danegeld?”
    That’s the assessment of Michael Doran of the Brookings Institution: …On the nuclear question specifically, I don’t see this as stage one. In my view, there will never be a final agreement. What the administration just initiated was, rather, a long and expensive process by which the West pays Iran to refrain from going nuclear. […]
  • Transport Boondoggles
    They’re not just for light rail and high-speed rail. And let me put this one in a separate paragraph so you don’t miss it: building the Intercounty Connector caused the state to have to raise the gas tax. I repeat from the article: “increasing the gasoline tax.” The Washington area is famous for extreme traffic […]
  • Gettysburg and the New “Proposition” of American Politics
    From The Witherspoon Institute: In Lincoln’s mind, the view of America “under God” hardly translated into a sweeping set of easily identifiable and zealously enforced public policies. His Second Inaugural makes it abundantly clear that “the Almighty has his own purposes” that may or may not comport with the popular religious assumptions of even the […]
  • Minimalist Moscow Cabin
    Yeah, it’s probably the get-away for some well-connected plutocrat who slips Putin useful information every now and then.  Still.
  • Eat Your Heart Out, Macy’s
  • Brady v. Manning XIV
    Have they traded places? In thinking about Manning-Brady XIV, I started rereading some of those old debates and got thinking about the arguments that justified picking one over the other. After all, Brady-Manning wasn’t really about the players; it was a referendum on how you valued numbers versus winning and how much the rest of […]
  • Gorgeous Linearity
    Indeed.  The whole post has 66 photos.

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Blurring the Lines

Aaron Renn of the relentlessly engaging Urbanophile posts on the need for our legal structure to change to accommodate peer-to-peer, where people more efficiently share resources rather than owning a lot of unused or idle capacity:

But beyond the sheer efficiency gains, I think it’s under appreciated in developed countries how economic informality can create economic dynamism. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto noted that lack of property titles and difficulties of the formal economy perpetuated poverty because people in developing countries couldn’t access the system for credit to fuel business, etc. In the developed world we’ve got a similar problem brewing. Our economy has been largely entirely formalized to the point where we are choking in red tape that has produced an economic system that has failed too many of its residents and leading to the creation of these informal economies as a safety valve. And our societies are very ill equipped to deal with that as we’ve become excessively formalized.

We don’t need to establish property titles as we already have them, but we do need regulatory systems that enable entrepreneurship and new business models like peer to peer to thrive. What’s more, I think enabling some level of an informal sector to flourish is actually a good thing, as it’s a de facto “incubator” for new ideas that can later be developed into a more officialized system. Without a toleration of informality, these would never get off the ground.

These innovations are getting stifled by incumbents, and it’s tying up a lot of the economy’s capital.  You can’t rent a room in your house through AirBnB because that supposedly turns you into a hotel, and you’re avoiding the hotel tax.  Uber can’t schedule limos because that somehow is unfair to Yellow Cab or Metro Cab.  The car-sharing stuff seems to have found favor, though, for some reason.  Lyft began service in Denver a couple of months ago.

I agree with some of the commenters that there’s a qualitative difference between creating new value – like nanotech and 3D printing – and wringing the most out of existing resources.  Living standards really rise because of the former, not so much the latter.  The big improvements in quality of life happen when productivity jumps, and that’s not going to happen through renting out that spare room on a regular basis, or sharing cars.

Bear in mind that not all restrictions are just naked rent-seeking.  There are externalities associated with many businesses, and making sure that infrastructure gets paid for, and that you’re not taking up your whole block’s available parking with your in-home B & B are perfectly reasonable concerns.  I think most of that is already recaptured by excise taxes and gas taxes and incorporation fees and oh, income taxes.   So tying up capital in inventory is something most US companies have been avoiding since the 1980s, and no fair keeping us from joining in on the fun.  But unless you’re turning that money into productive ideas, someone else is going to end up capturing the benefit of your thrift.

The wrong model will end up raising the cost of owning-your-own outright to the point where it becomes a luxury.  I’m not entirely sure that’s healthy, and given the way these things tend to work, it could end up reinforcing a socialist model where ownership itself becomes a blurry concept.

For that reason, among others, I tend to prefer the Lyft model to the Car2Go model, although I hasten to add that that shouldn’t be enforced through regulation.  (Neither, of course, should Car2Go get the benefit of a parking subsidy as they do now.)  I think it’s healthier when the individuals own their own cars, rather than surrender ownership of a large part of the available fleet to what will end up being a small number of owners.  Private ownership also ends up making it more likely that individuals will recognize an individual payment, rather than just avoiding an expense.  Not only is that likely more satisfying, it’s also likely to result in more of the experimentation that we’re trying to encourage.

The other reason that a company going into business as a clearinghouse might prefer the Lyft model to the Car2Go model is the capital expense.  Car2Go has to spend a lot of money to buy a fleet large enough to make the service worth using, to make sure that there will be cars available.  And right now, it seems to be all tiny SmartCars.  I suspect that the existing vehicle inventory out there on the road (or in the garage, as it were) pretty closely mirrors the overall composition of what people actually want to be driving.  Why try to guess at a fleet composition, when the country has already done that math for you?

As always, read the whole thing.


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Volunteering For Our Own Victimization

Michael Doran of the Brookings Institution argues that the Iran deal is this days well-known version of the danegeld, in this case, making substantive concessions just for the purpose of keeping talks going:

…In my view, there will never be a final agreement. What the administration just initiated was, rather, a long and expensive process by which the West pays Iran to refrain from going nuclear. We are, in essence, paying Ayatollah Khamenei to negotiate with us. We just bought six months. What was the price?

We shredded the six United Nations Security Council resolutions that ordered the Islamic Republic to abandon all enrichment and reprocessing activities. We exposed fractures in the coalition against Iran. And we started building a global economic lobby that is dedicated to eroding the sanctions that we have generated through a decade of hard, very hard, diplomatic work.

It’s a dynamic that Washington has repeatedly foisted on Israel in its dealings with the Palestinians.  For all that, it’s hard to argue with any of Doran’s conclusions, and the incoherence with which Obama and Kerry are defending the agreement is the hallmark of an agreement with its own internal incoherence.  Smart, sensible dealings rarely need intellectual gymnastics in their defense.

Doran also suggests another parallel with the worst of the Israel-Palestinian dynamic, the attempt to build goodwill with our enemy through gestures:

In my view, that free hand was already visible in the chemical weapons deal that Obama cut with Syria’s Bashar al-Asad. I have long suspected that Obama’s retreat from Syria was prompted, in part, by his desire to generate Iranian goodwill in the nuclear negotiations. The evidence for that case is growing by the day. We now learn, for example, that the administration had opened a bilateral backchannel to Tehran well before the Syria crisis. I can only assume that the president backed away from the use of force against Assad because, in part, he saw the Syria challenge as a subset of the Iranian nuclear negotiation.

I’ve been working my way through Witness, Whittaker Chambers’s remarkable tour through the authoritarian mind.  In it, he tells this story in passing:

He [Sam Krieger] explained that he had once been a Wobbly (a member of the International Workers of the World).  He had been arrested somewhere in the West for some radical activity.  The Civil Liberties Union had come to his rescue, and Krieger had at last gone free.  For Roger Baldwin, the head of the Civil Liberties Union, he had a respect quite unusual among Communists.  For while Communists make full use of liberals and their solicitudes, and sometimes flatter them to their faces, in private they treat them with that sneering contempt that the strong and predatory almost invariably feel for victims who volunteer to help in their own victimization.

I’m quite certain that’s how the mullahs think of us.  The figures in Witness are all long dead, and many are kept alive in memory only through their inclusion in this book.  But the authoritarian mind goes on and on.

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Daily Glimpse November 23, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Macy’s, Eat Your Heart Out
    Via Colossal:
  • A Conflict of Visions on Colorado Education
    Tuesday night, the defeated Dems gathered to lick their wounds and survey the wreckage of Amendment 66.  Almost universally, they were unwilling to discard the grand vision of universal day care preschool and all-day kindergarten that Amendment 66 had promised, if not sold as. Yesterday, Joyce Rankin, wife of State Rep. Bob Rankin and a […]
  • Villa Overby
    Sweden.  Lots of gorgeous pictures.  Two of my favorites: I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that, peaceful and calming as skillful modern architecture can be, it requires clean surfaces and long sightlines to work well.
  • Retro Future Backsplash
    With Star Wars Death Star tiles: But at the same time, ILM needed whatever design they came up with to be practical, something they could build quickly and film from many different angles without obviously betraying that the so-called Death Star was just a model built on a warehouse floor. ILM’s solution was genius: they […]

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