Yearly Archives: 2018

The Jaws of Victory

The Democrats seem to be becoming more and more adept at snagging defeat from the jaws of victory. Ever since the “what happened?” upset defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016 the Democratic party’s strategists couldn’t find the pulse of the American electorate if you handed them a stethoscope. Not that the Republicans are much better – but the Republicans currently hold the reigns of power – so all they need to do is sit back and keep their mouth shut while the left engages in hyperbolic ranting’s about male-heteronormative-rape-culture-privilege or whatever the latest SJW trending outrage is focused on. They don’t understand the “common” American, so they turn to their intellectual muses – the ivory tower elites who currently occupy basically 99% of all US universities. These elites struggle on with their never ending quest to unearth the most arcane and esoteric slight to some ever shrinking slice of cultural Marxism. Turning to these people for advice on strategy is like asking Siri for dating tips.

The Democrats latest fiasco was the Judge Kavanaghs confirmation hearings. The hubris of naked Democrat partisanship knows no bounds. Somehow they thought no one would notice that they knew about potential serious allegations again Kavanagh back in July but chose to sit on those allegations until literally the 11thhour of his confirmation hearings. Obviously they hoped that these last minute allegations would sow uncertainty in a handful of Senators, just enough to turn the tide against him. What they didn’t count on was how absurd the charges would look under public scrutiny by the “common” American (seriously, something that happened nearly 40 years ago in HIGH SCHOOL!). If he did what he was accused of doing it is naturally condemnable behavior – but it’s not rape. Guys being pigs isn’t rape. Who hasn’t done something stupid in their youth that they then NEVER DID AGAIN? I’m sure if they had found a shoplifting charge when he was 12 they would have used that instead.

Kavanagh was a terrible pick for the Supreme Court. He is absolutely atrocious on the 4thamendment (he time and again confirmed the government’s right to spy on its own citizens with impunity). That is what the Democrats should have hammered him on. They would have shown the American people that there are some in power that do care about their rights and their privacy. But no, they can’t do that, because the Democrats are just as much a bunch of Neocon’s warmongers as are the Republicans. Both sides are more than happy to keep the perpetual war state going.

So, for the past several months polling has shown the Democrats were likely to take both the House and the Senate in the midterm elections. But then the Kavanagh fiasco occurred. And guess what now? The tide has turned. Polling shows that it is very likely the Republican swill keep BOTH the House and Senate. As Hillary would say, “what happened?” My take on this turn of events is that the atrocious naked partisanship games of the Democrats has genuinely angered lukewarm center-right folk into supporting Republicans this fall and has also fired up the Republican base to go to the polls and show the Democrats just what they think of their games.

If you thought the 2016 left-meltdown was something, it’s about to go full nuclear this November when the Republicans keep the House and Senate. Now time to sit back and warm up the popcorn…

Are teachers underpaid?

Are teachers underpaid? No. That’s not to say there aren’t individual teachers that should be paid more, just as there are assuredly individual teachers that should be paid less (or fired). But the “national conversation” that is being continually pushed (from the left mostly, e.g. see recent Time Magazine spread on “underpaid” teachers) is not so much about worthy star teachers being passed over for raises but rather how the collective known as “teachers” is “underpaid”; identity politics now driven by profession. With credulous acceptance the public will always answer in the affirmative if asked should teachers be paid more because what we have been conditioned to hear instead is, “do these benighted souls deserve more for their selfless work?” With “more” being the unmoored comparative there is no upper bound for “worth.” Their salaries could double every year and every year if asked, “should they earn more” we would nod our heads in bobble-head synchrony.

Please do not misunderstand dear reader, teachers do indeed provide an important service to their fellow man – just as does every other working person. How do we know this? Well, if you earn a salary or income, then that demonstrates how much value you produced. Work in and of itself is not valuable – just ask the guy making mud pies all day – no one is going to pay him a dime (sorry Marx, labor theory of value was laid to rest long ago). The “hardness” of your work is irrelevant – only the result counts. Work is only valuable when subjectively judged to have value by fellow human beings, that is, an offer to trade parts of your work for theirs is made. Value is subjective and not absolute. When people say “teachers should earn more” I always wonder, “ok, what is the mathematical formula that is used to solve for pay of a teacher?” You may believe that teachers serve a more valued role in society than say the movie star or the lawyer, but the distribution of talent in society says otherwise. Labor, like any other economic good, is subject to the laws of supply and demand. The issue with teacher’s pay is summed up nicely in the following quote from the Time article,

“Hutchison’s siblings—an attorney, engineer and physical therapist—all earned graduate degrees, but now she makes half of what they do.” 

Hutchinson (the teacher) makes half of what her siblings make because her siblings all chose careers that are in much greater demand than that of the public school teacher. The path to becoming an attorney or engineer is long and arduous and very few have the skillset to complete it. The supply is thus low and it so follows that demand (and thus pay) will be high. On the flip side is the path of teacher; most people possess the skillsets needed to teach (after getting a 2 year teaching degree). It is an “easy” career (relative to other more highly paid careers), and so that low barrier to entry means many will take up that profession – supply is thus high and so demand (pay) will (all things equal) be lower when compared to professions with limited supply.

Because we are mainly focused on public school teachers this introduces either unions or the regimentation of a public sector workforce structure into the wage equation. In these systems wages are based primarily on seniority rules and have little to do with how effectively one performs their job. Being government run, raises will typically trail inflationary trends (inflation being 100% caused by the government mind you!) due to slow to act legislatures.

A more market-based approach (where teachers could be rewarded directly without concern for the “seniority” of others) would realize the top teachers earning top salaries, thus incentivizing those in other high paid professions to switch careers (if their preference had been for teaching). The end result of this process would be highly paid teachers dominating the profession and driving out the weak or ineffective teachers. If two teachers making $125k each can “out-teach” the same number of students as five teachers making $60k each, then it would be a win for the students, the teachers, and the taxpayer. If we want teachers to make more then let’s unshackle the profession’s public sector regimentation and union demands that maintain a status quo of oversupply driven by the politics of envy.

Amazon welfare?

Tucker Carlson, the sometimes libertarian leaning Fox News pundit, is either a masterful troll or eminently confused about what the word “free” in the phrase “free markets” means. Last week he started pinch-hitting for Team Bernie when he joined Bernard in lamenting the “indefensible scam” of Amazon “offloading” payroll costs onto the taxpayer.

According to Carlson “many” Amazon employees are on welfare. This is the modus operandi of all who entreat the state to take action against some perceived societal ill. This unqualified, uncorroborated assertion is all the pretext needed to initiate action. How many is “many”? Well even according to Snopes this assertion is on flimsy ground. It is based on a mere estimate of the number of Amazon workers in just one state (Ohio) and indeed that number hardly qualifies as many – 11.8%. I suppose 600 or so workers in one auditorium would look like “many,” but within the context of the entire workforce (even assuming it extrapolates to all states) 1 in 10 is hardly “many”.

Carlson doesn’t really suggest a solution to the problem, leaving the mechanics of that process up to Bernie (100% tax on Amazon for any welfare used by employees – I guess the $15 billion in taxes Amazon paid last year isn’t quite enough to cover their “fair share” of welfare). One is left with the assumption that Carlson, like Sanders, would like to see some sort of government action to fix this “problem.” Carlson claims although conservatives are all for free markets, this market is not at all free. According to Carlson it is a monopoly (and we all know monopolies are bad – except when that monopoly is the government itself) that achieved its status via government regulation. That may be true, however that is a pretty bold claim given that Carlson provided no evidence for it. I’m unaware of any government regulations that Amazon or Walmart could have used to their benefit, although I would not be at all surprised if that were true to some extent. Retail just doesn’t happen to be one of those more highly regulated and monopolized industries such as pharmaceuticals, banking, or healthcare (where government regulations create artificial barriers to entry thereby diminishing competition and thus reducing supply which in turn drives prices skyward).

What both Sanders and Carlson miss in their missives is that the solution is not more government regulations to fix the consequences of prior government regulations. The solution is to remove government from the equation. If companies are benefiting from government regulations or subsidies, then eliminate them. If companies are able to pay lower wages to some employees because said employees are also being paid a wage by government (through welfare) then eliminate the welfare. You can’t hand out a bunch of free money to people and then expect that to not factor at all into their determination of the wage they will be wiling to accept. If you need $20/hour to get by and the government is paying you the equivalent of $10/hour in food, healthcare and housing welfare, then all things equal you are going to be much more willing to accept a $10/hour job.

As an employer myself I’ll let you in on a little secret. Employers don’t set wages. You do. Or rather groups of you do. Maybe you want $30/hour but if everyone in your working-skillset-peer group will work for $20 then why pay you $30/hour if there are hundreds of others more than happy to work for $20/hour with the same skillset as you. I’m sorry if you are a single mom raising 3 kids and working an entry level job but that is not your employer’s fault and your employer has no obligation to pay you more because you need it when there is a long line of single teenagers with the same skillset as you willing to work for a lot less. It is extremely disingenuous to lambaste a company for not paying its workers enough merely because you found one example of an unlucky individual who can’t get by on a salary that is more that enough for thousands of others.

Being mad at Amazon or Walmart for hiring people in a welfare-backed society is like being mad at them for using roads to deliver products or the postal service to send mail. Here’s a novel concept: if you want to eliminate free-riding effects for services stop paying for things with taxes (which socialize costs in a way that will always benefit some to the detriment of others) and bill only when services are actually used.

 

Private Critic

One of the central tenants of leftist-progressive ideology is that private concentrations of power are to be feared whereas similar public concentrations (the state) is of relatively minor concern. This indifference is the result of the mistaken belief that “we” can control the state because democracy. But, private actors might do something we don’t like, and without a formal (legal) framework to force them to bend to our will there’s no limit to their potential diabolic deeds. The obvious leftist solution to this quandary then is to unleash the power of that entity we believe we control (the state) so that it may exert its monopoly on the use of violence in order to achieve those ends we find desirable. Just because one can train a lion, tiger, or shark to do their bidding does not mean one is in control of the beast; like the state, they will tolerate you as long as you are useful, and when you are not, well, it’s dinnertime.

Those of us adhering to the tenants of individual freedom and free markets, however, believe the opposite. We fear the state exerting control precisely because we recognize its monolithic power. We can control the state as much as we can push back a tidal wave. Private “power” is not a concern, as private entities can’t use violence to force you to buy their services. If they do something people don’t, like then the market will correct the situation – given enough time (and a lack of state imposed barriers preventing such corrections).

So what is the point of this prologue? Well in the past few weeks we’ve seen the narrative flip somewhat. There has been a widespread move to “deplatform” a variety of right leaning (comedian Gavin McGinnes, The Proud Boys, Stefan Molyneux, etc) and other malcontents (Alex Jones/InfoWars) among the social media giants (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc). So what is this? This is private actors using their power to silence voices. This is private actors refusing to serve certain customers. This is private actors discriminating on the basis of thoughts and words.

This is perfectly fine from a rights perspective.

Those (the left) who are normally up in arms over private actors “abusing” their power (e.g. cake bakers) are conspicuously silent. Apparently refusing service to those you disagree with (e.g. Sarah Huckabee Sanders) adheres to the core leftist belief of it should only be legal if I agree with it.

It is now instead the free market libertarians having the loud and vocal conversation about private actors engaging in socially undesirable (censorship) behavior. Yes, these are private companies and they can include or exclude anyone from their platform. No one (libertarians anyway) is calling for some kind of regulation to force them to include everyone. But, just because some one or some group has the right to do something (that is, they should not be thrown in a cage for doing so) doesn’t mean someone who respects that right has to agree with how that right is exercised. One may still rightly criticize how or why some action was taken. Criticizing actions and saying there should be a law against such actions are a universe apart. Criticism is that murmur that can start an avalanche of (non-coerced, voluntary) change.

Say My Name

Say My Name

This past week CNN’s Jim Acosta got into a somewhat heated (for a press conference) exchange with Sarah Sanders (Trump’s press secretary). This brouhaha centered on President Trump’s recent comments on Twitter (where else?) that cast the press (“Fake News Media”) as the “real enemy of the people.”

Apparently this assertion is something poor Jim Acosta could not abide. He all but demanded that Ms. Sanders retract the claim by proxy by passive-aggressively asking her if that too was her stance. Since those who adhere to “goodthink” would never agree to such a sentiment then Ms. Sanders would have no choice but to contravene her boss. But, if she does what the job requires, that is to only promulgate the President’s position, then she is backed into a corner and can’t contradict the claim, even if personally she does not adhere to it. It’s the classic damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.

After Mr. Acosta’s extended monologue-cum-question she did eventually answer the question as best she could within the constraints of her position. This was not to Jim’s liking. Again he persisted – he simply would not relent until he heard the words “the press is not the enemy of the people” come out of her mouth. But they never did.

Whether Trump’s remarks are a valid or invalid point of view is not the point of this article however. What I found far more interesting was the left’s reaction (in this case embodied by CNN) to Ms. Sander’s refusal to disavow the enemy-of-the-people notion. Later in the day Mr. Acosta had an “interview” with a CNN anchor concerning the events earlier at the press conference. He was approaching apoplexy as the sympathetic anchor nodded in unison to his bewilderment and then anger about such remarks. You see, she just refused to say “radical Islamic terrorism”, oh whoops, sorry, that is, “the press is not the enemy of the people.”

Yes the left too can rival the right in the exercise of elevating inane phrases as the “good American” litmus test. The “Thinkpol” have been alerted, watch out! And of course both sides only ever have the interests of Americans at heart. Trump insisted Obama was putting this country at risk by refusing to say “radical Islamic terrorism” as it failed to address the terrorism problem where it originated. Today the press insists Trump is putting the country at risk by refusing to disavow, “the press is the enemy of the people” because apparently somehow Joe citizen will interpret that phrase as permission to start The Purge™ on all journalists.

Both are patently absurd positions. Those who yearn to create such “loyalty oaths” that must be uttered in order to prove oneself to be a good upstanding American are engaged in a performative contradiction. The very act of expecting or demanding or requiring such utterances annihilates any connection you may be claiming to the putative ideals of America: freedom and liberty. Those words mean the following: I don’t owe you a thing and you don’t owe me a thing, but if we want to mind our business and stop worrying about what other people are doing or thinking or saying then maybe we can all just get down to the business of living together and treating each other with the same level of respect we desire in return.

 

Peace Over Politics Ignites TDS WMDs

I was reminded of the joke “How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving” this week vis a vis the widespread, bipartisan outrage (also known as TDS, Trump Derangement Syndrome) over President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki this past week. The aphoristic version of this sentiment would then be “How do you know when Donald Trump is doing the right thing? When the left and the right are equally outraged.”

The source of the left’s displeasure is, as usual, any action of Trump’s that can be somehow shoehorned into their Trump-Russia-collusion narrative. This Trump-Russia conspiracy theory truly is the “birther” equivalent for the left. Yet somehow they can’t fathom that they look as absurd as right-wing birthers did. Anything Trump does that can in any way be construed as being positive for Russia is for them simply further kindling to be heaped upon the bonfire they hope will one day consume the Trump presidency. Of course they conveniently ignore Trump’s belligerent actions toward Russia (various sanctions, expelling diplomats, firing on Russian troops in Syria, etc).

The right’s consternation over Trump stems from their reflexive, blind patriotism. How dare he not take the word of US intelligence agencies as being absolutely sacrosanct! Why these brave men and women are Americans! You must always believe your own countrymen! Anything else is treason! O ye of very short term memory. I guess they have quickly forgotten about that little “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” fiasco a few years back. You know, that thing where the US “intelligence community” were all 100% sure Saddam had WMD’s. But hey, no big deal, it only resulted in a multi-decade war and occupation of the Middle East that led to millions dead or displaced and a few trillion added to the US national debt. Somehow “my bad” from the CIA doesn’t quite rectify things. Color me skeptical if I don’t think it’s a good idea to risk WWIII over their assurances that Putin interfered in US elections. Even if  true it’s not worth people’s lives.

Sure, if you ask Putin “did you try to interfere in the elections” he’s going to say “no”. It’s a stupid question, why ask it? Nobody who has gotten away with something is going to freely admit their guilt if asked. But for anyone to sit here and say, “you must never question US intelligence agencies conclusions” after the fiasco of WMD’s needs to have their head examined. For Trump to equivocate on answering that direct question doesn’t mean he’s a traitor or any other such nonsensebut rather that (despite all evidence to the contrary) he does have a few functional brain cells in that head of his. The only sane response is to question ANY intelligence agency from any country. All countries are equally culpable in this regard. The CIA has a long and sordid history of sowing misinformation and internal disruptions in other countries (see Iran, 1953) as well as our own (see Operations Northwoods, 1962) in order to manipulate people and alter the outcome of (gasp!) elections.

If “our” democracy is so fragile that a few ads on Facebook can “destroy” it then it’s really not worth saving, is it? Or maybe, just maybe, that is hyperbole and we should instead thank the Russians for saving our democracy, that is, helping to reveal the shady dealings of Hillary Clinton.  But I digress.

Those who wanted Trump to “talk tough” with Russia would rather risk war than sacrifice an opportunity to engage in useless testosterone fueled bravado designed solely to stroke the American ego. Considering Russia still has several thousand nuclear weapons prudence suggests both sides approach each other with a polite and conciliatory demeanor. Poking a bear in the eye with a stick will not result in anything good. President Trump summed it up best in what is perhaps his most thoughtful and eloquent statement of his presidency; “I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.” Pretty wise sentiment, wouldn’t you think?

Domestic Enemies

It is with not without an enormous amount of irony that mere days after this country celebrated Memorial Day – the day upon which we honor the fallen soldiers who selflessly gave their lives to protect our freedom – that we learn of yet another way their sacrifice was for nothing. The enemies of freedom are no longer foreign – they are domestic. To wit, a Georgia couple recently lost custody of their son after it was discovered they had been giving him marijuana to treat his seizures. Stated differently: armed men forced their way into someone’s home and kidnapped a child because a roomful of (mostly) men hundreds of miles away think it is bad to inhale smoke from a burning plant. The marijuana had kept him seizure free for 71 days, but since having been “saved” by the state his daily seizures (up to 10 a day) have returned. But hey, what’s the suffering of a child when compared to the public good of knowing someone somewhere is not inhaling microscopic particulate matter. But it gets even better. Not only was their son kidnapped by the state, but they are also now facing criminal charges (reckless conduct), for you guessed it, a victimless crime. Indeed the state action has created victims where there were none previously. The arresting officer in Twiggs County defended his actions, saying, “It is my duty to enforce state law.” Yes – “I was just following orders” – music to the ears of every totalitarian regime that craves an army of mindless automatons that can’t figure out right and wrong for themselves.

 

The arresting officer in Twiggs County defended his actions, saying, “It is my duty to enforce state law.” Yes – “I was just following orders” – music to the ears of every totalitarian regime that craves an army of mindless automatons that can’t figure out right and wrong for themselves.

 

The sad reality here is that the parents would not have had to obtain “illegal” marijuana if the state of Georgia allowed them access to the legal THC oil they needed. It is actually legal in Georgia to possess and use low THC oil – but only if you have a state-issued medical card…which has a six-year waiting list (naturally). But even if you somehow manage to get one of these Willy Wonka golden ticket of a medical card, there is nowhere to obtain said oil in the state of Georgia. Its sale is illegal. Its importation is illegal. But if the stork magically drops it from the sky onto your front porch then you’re golden.This is what snarky good ol’boy lawmakers do when they think they’re being oh so clever – they can satisfy two sets of constituents simultaneously. They can claim to be looking out for those in pain who need help while simultaneously claiming to be “tough on drugs”. As the parent of a child who suffered through a period of epileptic seizures when young all I can say is these folks did what any decent parent would do – whatever it takes to alleviate the suffering of their child. They should be commended, not vilified. To the lawmakers in this state who continue to obstruct access to ANY substance that will alleviate suffering, all I can say is that you are vile and despicable monsters. Anyone who would consign their fellow man to unyielding pain in order that their own peculiar notion of propriety is satiated is a callous barbarian unworthy of being permitted any engagement in civil society let alone the respect they so openly crave.

Anyone who would consign their fellow man to unyielding pain in order that their own peculiar notion of propriety is satiated is a callous barbarian unworthy of being permitted any engagement in civil society let alone the respect they so openly crave.

In a country that purports to be the shining city of freedom on a hill there sure is a colossal lack of freedom here. How does the state despoil freedom? Let me count the ways: civil asset forfeiture, criminalization of all manner of victimless “crimes”, conversion of liberties into licenses necessitating bureaucratic permission to regain what was stolen, formerly forced disassociations, now forced associations, forced labor (jury duty), theft of income and assets (taxation) at levels vastly above that which would be paid to fund basic services in a voluntary model, a quagmire of rules that citizens must follow to simply reenter their own country, the 100 mile “liberty free zone” around the US border where not even citizens are immune to the potential 4thamendment abusing CPB agents.Events like this should open all of our eyes to the reality that we are not free. Constraining your actions to fall within the scope of rules established by those with no authority to establish them does not make you free. Even slaves are “free” by that standard. Rules are only legitimate when there is consent. Voting is not consent. Just because the mafia lets me vote for the new mob boss doesn’t mean I consent to their purported authority over me. If slaves got to vote for the nice slave master or the mean slave master it does not somehow legitimize their condition of servitude. If the exercise of a freedom impacts another then as long as there is consent there can be no legitimate boundaries.

GDPR: End of the World

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

This sentiment from the well known R.E.M song encapsulates most succinctly the state of affairs with the E.U.’s “General Data Protection Regulation” (or GDPR). Like you, I too received an onslaught of (promptly deleted) “updated privacy policy notice” emails last week. We all scratched our heads at the oddly timed confluence of these emails but soon went back about the business of life. In short, we felt fine, nothing to see here, move right along. In reality these email notices were the harbinger of the end of human civilization as we have enjoyed it (that is, relatively free liberal western democracies with some semblance of local autonomous governance). GDPR is the first step on the road back to serfdom, albeit a rather different path then the one foreseen by F.A. Hayek. This path follows the same instinct toward fascism (fascism=state control of otherwise putatively private interests, in short a fascism is the façade of socialism dressed up in a cloak of capitalism).

“Oh, c’mon now, I think you’re overstating things here just a bit!” you’re probably thinking by now. Sadly, I’m not. This is the first time that any law or regulation has had GLOBAL reach.

“There is nowhere to run to, no where to hide.”

It does not merely pertain to companies operating in Europe, no, it governs any company anywhere in the world that may at any time count an EU citizen as a customer or even merely a website visitor. That might be all well and good if it were merely a recitation of privacy best practices. But no, this regulation has teeth – velociraptor sharp and deep. The fines for violation of this regulation are specifically designed to put all small to midsize businesses into bankruptcy overnight. The fines range from 10 – 20 million Euro (12 – 24 million dollars) at a minimum! And that is for a single offence! To put that into perspective, according to IRS figures (2013 latest year available) 99.685% of all US business make less than 12 million a year in profit. Or stated differently only about 18,000 US businesses out of approximately 6 million could conceivably withstand such a fine. That is the recipe for serfdom. That is the recipe for what all regulations do to some extent (favor large businesses at the expense of the small) but at a scale that would all but ensure no one could ever again rise above the station they were born into by starting their own business. The least little misstep in following every little dot and tittle of this (and most assuredly future) regulation would leave the nascent entrepreneur crushed like a bug under the heel of Paul Bunyan. “But I’m in the US, they can’t touch us!” you say. Unfortunately our government will be all too willing to help out their EU cronies just in the same way that the EU has been complicit in enforcing the absurd US tax law known as FACTA (which basically treats any US citizen with an overseas bank account like a criminal). GDPR fines are the equivalent of the death penalty for jay walking.

The premise behind this regulation is itself flawed as well. When even someone’s name is considered “private” information I think we can say that privacy regulations have “jumped the shark” and entered full on SJW territory of head spinning absurdity. In short, there is no right to privacy. You do not have the right to walk through the public park and then insist that everyone who saw you must be beat over the head until they have no memory of you walking through the park. That is what this regulation does. It substitutes state violence for personal responsibility. If you don’t want some website to have your information, then don’t use the website, it’s that simple. If you don’t want some company to know where you live because they had to ship product to your house, then don’t buy from them. Don’t ruin society and the internet for the other 99% of us who don’t give a crap if some website stored a cookie in the web cache about the last visit there.

Privacy is a negative right  – it is up to you protect it. Using the state to point guns at people to make them do what you want doesn’t count as you doing something – unless you think violence is the best way to solve problems.

Cultural Appreciation

A dress is once again in the news (prior ones being Monica’s blue dress and the “what color is this dress” internet meme). In this case it is a red dress, or more precisely a red cheongsam or traditional Chinese qipao, worn by an 18-year-old (Keziah Daum) to her prom. Daum set off a Twitter-storm after posting photos of herself in it. Why the fuss? Well, she’s not Chinese so obviously has no right to wear Chinese clothing (at least according to someone going by the name of “Jeremy Lam” who tweeted at her “For it simply to be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience is parallel to colonial ideology.” Fortunately some sanity was injected into the brouhaha wherein other self-identified Asian-Americans thought his criticism was silly. Likewise many in China and Taiwan proper saw nothing wrong with it whatsoever and saw it as a sign of cultural appreciation.

Sadly, opinion’s like Lam are not isolated. This politically correct ideology of so-called “cultural appropriation” has been around for a few years, most notably rearing its ugly head each Halloween wherein little children are made to feel guilty for wanting to dress up as Indians (take your pick) or Eskimos. But even big kids can’t play; last year at Princeton University a Cinco de Mayo party was shut down over concerns about cultural appropriation (can’t have white people wearing sombreros you know!).

Proponents of this concept will deploy terms like “imbalance of power” or “form of colonialism” in their rhetoric to provide a veneer of intellectualism. But this is all just nonsense; this fact being underscored by their claim of it being a violation of “collective intellectual property rights.” Collective intellectual property rights can’t exist because intellectual property is a fallacious concept. You can’t own an idea any more than you can own another human being. Sure one can “legally” do these things; slavery used to be legal and was enforced by the state just as today intellectual property (trademark, copyright, patents) are made legal and enforced by the state – but that doesn’t make them real rights or forms of property. The state could make it legal to own a star. That’s right, you sir can own Betelgeuse! Here’s a piece of paper that gives you title to it. So the law can say one thing but logic dictates the true reality of things.

So it is with intellectual property. The only reason property rights exist is to eliminate (or at least minimize) conflict over (1) scarce, (2) rivalrous, and (3) alienable resources. There are only two options when two people are in conflict over the same object: agree on a set of uniformly applied rules that clarify who owns what, or, bash each other’s heads in until one person is dead and the other takes control of the item in dispute. Even though thieves and the state practice the latter, most sane people prefer the former.

All attributes must be true for something to be categorized as property. The air we breathe satisfies 2 and 3, but not 1 (air is basically super-abundant), therefore we don’t own air, what would be the point? A physical object, say a car, is scarce (they aren’t falling out of the sky), it is rivalrous because if I’m using it you can’t use it at the same time and alienable (if I give it to you then I no longer have control over it). This is why ownership of another is not a real property right: a person may be scarce and rivalrous, but they are not alienable in the sense that you, the slave, can choose to do something other than what the “master” wishes (so that is why we don’t own our children or pets per se, we provide custodial care, but they own themselves).

Likewise ideas can’t be owned because they satisfy neither 1,2 or 3 above. If I have an idea and I tell you, now you have the idea, but I still have it; it is not rivalrous or alienable because we can both have it at the same time. So in the same way when someone “appropriates” the trappings of another cultural (fashion, food, language, music) they are not taking from that cultural, rather they are augmenting it by spreading those ideas to a further audience. Although it is not a rights violation, there is still good and bad cultural “appropriation”, so Keziah Daum = good, but Justin Trudeau = bad (google images of him in India recently, dude, please just stop).

P.S. To head off the obvious objections borne out of the pragmatic “but how would X work without IP…?” please see this page.

Facebook Unfriended by Congress

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the latest in a long line of corporate leaders called to the principal’s office err, that is, before Congress. So apparently this entity known as the United States Government (which has been spying and monitoring its own citizenry at a level that would make a former Stasi agent blush) has called Mr. Zuckerberg to task for apparent “privacy” breaches on the Facebook platform. Let that sink in for a minute: the US government monitors, records, and intercepts all of your web traffic and phone conversations but it is they, of all people, who are concerned about your privacy. Right.

So what exactly is Facebook accused of doing wrong? Apparently they allowed an outside company (Cambridge Analytica) to purchase PUBLIC information about Facebook users from an intermediary. In other words Facebook normally sells this information to advertisers (that is of course their entire business model), but instead someone else got the info for free and sold it. So it seems like Facebook is the wronged party here, not its users or the US Government. It’s the equivalent of the stock boy tossing loaves of bread in the trash and then selling them in the alley after his shift is over. And don’t even get me started on the whole “they allowed Russian trolls to buy ads and influence the 2016 election” nothing burger. Please, everyone who was going to vote for Clinton but then saw a Facebook ad disparaging Hillary and thus changed your vote, please raise your hand. Anyone, anyone? Bueller? Bueller? That’s what I thought.

You’d think Facebook got caught disclosing social security numbers and other sensitive information, oh, wait, that was the IRS. Come on people – what did you expect would eventually happen with all that personal info you’ve been happily typing away into their platform? This is a FREE service. Nothing in life is truly free. As they say, if the service is free, then you’re the product. Or more precisely your metadata is the product: your age, your gender, your likes, your dislikes, your hobbies and on and on. Now I may be showing my age but I do recall a time when television was “free” (and as an aside it is humorous to read about millennials just now discovering this “secret” method to get free TV! Over the air! Who knew?) Why was it free? Because advertisers paid for the entertainment you received just to have the opportunity to try and sell you something. Yes ads are annoying, but that is the price you pay (your time) for that “free” service. Facebook is no different. If you don’t want Facebook to use your private info then don’t use the service or limit what you expose of your life on that platform. This isn’t rocket science.

But, with respect to the Federal government’s snooping into our lives, there is no way to opt out of that short of never using any digital device ever. No phone, no computer, no internet. The men in black are plugged into all of these by virtue of their ability to threaten companies into submission in order to use their products as a backdoor into our private lives. That is the difference between private and public spheres of influence. Private ones are voluntary and can be left if desired. If I don’t want Amazon’s Alexa listening to me then I just turn it off and put it in the drawer. If I don’t want Uncle Sam listening to me then my only choice is to send a physical letter or go meet the other party in person. Also the worst outcome of a private company using your info is an attempt to sell you something you have no interest in. The worst outcome of the state doing so is throwing you in a cage for a myriad of its victimless “crimes.”

The fact that Congress believes they have the authority to call private citizens before their court betrays the reality of the world today. We are not a free people. We have masters. And when the master calls, you come. This is not the same as the employer/employee relationship. That is a voluntary interaction. Our interactions with the state are involuntary (assumed “consent” to their authority via voting notwithstanding). Tolerating bullies (the state) does not equate to voluntary acquiescence to their perceived “right” to order you about; it is simply tolerance of a bully, nothing more, nothing less.