Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Links Roundup for 9/28/2011

More links!  (Many of these owe credit to SB7, who you should be reading anyway.)

1) Pet peeves about the language of environmentalism.  I especially like the thoughts on "green" stuff (the label):
The bigger problem actually is that they are bypassing the actual argument to be had: the argument over what is “green” (meaning, good for the environment). Just because you call something “green” doesn’t mean it’s actually good for the environment. You have to make an actual argument.... But because [items] have the “green” label, thought is bypassed. This label serves as a substitute for actual rational thought; in a sense, labeling things “green” makes people stupid.
2) If you can hijack an airliner with nothing more than a set of fingernail clippers...

3) Mike Rowe just became my new hero.  Why "safety first" is, and always has been, BS:
Is [safety] important? Of course. But is it more important than getting the job done? No. Not even close. Making money is more important than safety – always – and it’s very dangerous in my opinion to ignore that. When we start to believe that someone else is more concerned about our own safety than we are, we become complacent, and then, we get careless. When a business tells you that they are more concerned with your safety than anything else, beware. They are not being honest. They are hedging their own bets, and following the advice of lawyers hired to protect them from lawsuits arising from accidents.
I've always maintained that anyone who actually believed in "safety first" wouldn't get out of bed in the morning.

4) Quote of the Day.

5) A mini-Manhattan carved out of a marble slab.  So cool.

6) A graphic illustrating why I reflexively distrust governments.

7) Dogs on a surfboard!  (via)

8) Another reason to distrust government spending-cut numbers.

9) SB7 on censorship, browncoats, and most importantly, context.  See also: I Swear By My Pretty Floral Bonnet, I Will Censor You.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Links Roundup for 9/23/2011

More links!  Though mostly more serious this time.

1) Adam Savage demonstrates the effects of non-air gases on his voice.  Hilarious!

2) Why US poverty statistics aren't very useful.

3) For the "Why I'm not excited to be moving to California" files: the city of San Juan Capistrano is fining a group of people for holding “a regular gathering of more than three people.”  What is this gathering?  A bible study.  Not exactly public nuisance material.

4(a) An interesting response to those who argue that because government protects property rights, it has unlimited claim on one's property.  My Dog Owns My House?
4(b) A more detailed (and analytical) response.

5) Speed limits aren't always about safety.

6) Somebody's building the Babbage analytical engine.  So cool...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Capital Punishment

Since all of the internet seems to be aflame with discussion of the Troy Davis execution, I figure I can weigh in on where I stand with respect to capital punishment.  I do not believe that the death penalty is, in principle, immoral.  I believe that there are crimes which should merit death as punishment.

I do not, however, trust the state and the criminal justice system to either correctly discern which crimes merit such punishment, or appropriately determine the guilt of people accused of such crimes.  Death is permanent, and mistakes happen in this fallen world.  Therefore, I come down against the death penalty with one exception: the guilty should be executed only if (a) they are clearly - to everyone - guilty of the crimes of which they are accused (is there a higher standard than "beyond a reasonable doubt"?) and (b) the very fact of their continued existence poses a threat to the welfare of the citizenry (e.g. a revolutionary leader who has been captured, but whose army/mob/etc will likely try to break them out of prison and continue a war).

As this is an exceedingly rare combination, I think it's safe to say that I am (in general) against the death penalty.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Links Roundup for 9/16/2011

Here's another roundup of notable or amusing things on the internet:

1) Oscar Wilde was hilarious.
2) I have no idea how a map could have made it through editing this messed up.
3) Tax theory is complicated, or Why Warren Buffet's Real Tax Rate is over 90%.
4) This is a compelling case for reforms in how Hollywood performs movie accounting
The actor who played Darth Vader still has not received residuals from the 1983 film "Return of the Jedi" because the movie, which ranks 15th in U.S. box office history, still has no technical profits to distribute. 
It's clearly a sham as it's done now.

5) This really shouldn't be allowed to happen, and I think it should be a pretty bipartisan issue:
Imagine that President Obama could order the arrest of anyone who broke a promise on the Internet. So you could be jailed for lying about your age or weight on an Internet dating site. Or you could be sent to federal prison if your boss told you to work but you used the company's computer to check sports scores online. Imagine that Eric Holder's Justice Department urged Congress to raise penalties for violations, making them felonies allowing three years in jail for each broken promise. Fanciful, right?  
Think again. Congress is now poised to grant the Obama administration's wishes in the name of "cybersecurity."  
The little-known law at issue is called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It was enacted in 1986 to punish computer hacking. But Congress has broadened the law every few years, and today it extends far beyond hacking. The law now criminalizes computer use that "exceeds authorized access" to any computer. Today that violation is a misdemeanor, but the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to meet this morning to vote on making it a felony.  
The problem is that a lot of routine computer use can exceed "authorized access." Courts are still struggling to interpret this language. But the Justice Department believes that it applies incredibly broadly to include "terms of use" violations and breaches of workplace computer-use policies. Breaching an agreement or ignoring your boss might be bad. But should it be a federal crime just because it involves a computer?
6) What HPV and smoking have in common:
I am told that some people are of the opinion that vaccines against STDs "encourage promiscuity" by lowering the costs of sexual activity. 
This seems to be an opinion held by socially conservative Christians. [Many] Smart Liberals seem to think this is absurd.* But I want to point out that our very own FDA, as well as liberal anti-smoking groups, apply the exact same thinking to electronic cigarettes. (See here, here and here.) Just last year the FDA attempted to ban them because they reduced the harm from tobacco use.
7) And today's award for unintentional hilarity goes to... We’d Like You To Anonymously Donate to Our Efforts To Expose Anonymous Donations.

8) This looks like a pretty genius idea for busy international airports:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Food Deserts: Your Data Needs Work

While perusing twitter, I discovered this tweet on the topic of food deserts:

So, I decided to take a look at where the food deserts are in my adopted town of Lafayette, IN. Before we go any further, let's see how the USDA is defining food deserts:
The HFFI working group defines a food desert as a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store:
  • To qualify as a “low-income community,” a census tract must have either: 1) a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, OR 2) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area's median family income;
  • To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).
So, back to Lafayette: according to the food desert locator, apparently there is a "food desert" that begins less than half a mile from the grocery store I personally shop at. This suggests that they need additional granularity in their data - defining the deserts by census tracts presents the problem as much larger (geographically) than it is, and prevents us from seeing where the true problem areas lie. Because I know the area, I know that at least 1/3 of that "desert" is less than a mile from a supermarket, and one block past the north edge is the location of a truly fine farmer's market. This makes me distrust people on the subject of the magnitude of the food desert problem. Get me better data, then we'll talk.