Minor Thoughts from me to you

Congrats San Diego, you win by losing Chargers →

The people of San Diego won by losing. Chargers owner Dean Spanos did the corporate equivalent of taking his ball and going home Thursday, bolting for Los Angeles because San Diego residents had balked at building his team a fancy new stadium. Imagine the nerve of those people! Refusing to spend millions for a stadium that, studies have shown, would likely end up costing taxpayers more than what is originally estimated while providing less in return.

For a team owned by a family whose net worth was $2.4 billion as of Thursday, according to Forbes, no less. Yes, billion. With a B.

Emphatically seconded. Sports owners need to fund their own opulent stadiums. And if they don't think it's a good investment, why should taxpayers be expected to pay?

Reading Idea: The Red Sphinx

The Red Sphinx

The Red Sphinx
by Alexandre Dumas
$12.99 on Kindle

Newly translated, a sequel to ‘The Three Musketeers’ is as fresh as ever

Originally called “The Comte de Moret,” “The Red Sphinx” first appeared during 1865 in Les Nouvelles, but it was never quite completed after the magazine folded. For this handsome new edition — the work’s first translator since a wretched 19th-century version — Lawrence Ellsworth appends a related novella titled “The Dove,” which brings the adventures of the Comte de Moret and his beloved Isabelle de Lautrec to a dramatic, nick-of-time close.

Yet the Red Sphinx himself, as the historian Michelet dubbed Cardinal Richelieu, wholly dominates the book’s 800-plus pages. The action begins in December 1628, shortly after the French victory at La Rochelle chronicled in “The Three Musketeers.”

From the start, Dumas presents Richelieu as a man of cool analytic intelligence, who is nonetheless devoted to France and beloved by those who serve him, including his next-door neighbor, the courtesan Marion Delorme. Like a modern spy master, the cardinal seeks data about everything happening in Europe. In some of Dumas’ best chapters, Richelieu even acts as a detective, trying to crack a cold case: Who actually planned the assassination of Henri IV? The search for information gradually leads him to the dark secret of the Convent of Repentant Daughters.

Since so much of the pleasure of this novel involves its slowly unfolding plot, I won’t say too much more. But there are scenes of farcical comedy (usually involving the cardinal’s servants), France nearly topples because of a peevish boy-favorite of the king, two old enemies sword-fight while seated in sedan chairs, and young love blossoms.

In the final third of this continually enjoyable novel, the action moves to the battlefield, as the armies of France enter Italy. Here several guerrilla operations behind the lines should thrill even fans of Bernard Cornwell. Here, too, Richelieu encounters a young papal officer named Mazarino Mazarini, who will eventually become a French citizen and ultimately Richelieu’s successor, Cardinal Mazarin.

So, en garde! In Lawrence Ellsworth’s excellent, compulsively readable translation, “The Red Sphinx” is just the book to see you through the January doldrums. And maybe those of February, too.

​I love The Three Musketeers. There's no way I can avoid checking this out.

Reading Idea: All the Shah's Men

All the Shah's Men

All the Shah's Men
by Stephen Kinzer
$8.28 on Kindle

I discovered this book after David Henderson wrote about it.

Kinzer tells the story, in great detail, of how Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of TR and an employee of the CIA, set in motion the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran in the early 1950s. It's fascinating and disturbing: I found Roosevelt even more evil than I had expected.

I remember that when the Iran radicals had taken over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, they chanted and had signs about the CIA. Shortly after November 1979, I learned the connection with the 1953 events, but I had just assumed that they were angry about the CIA's role in 1953. Kinzer suggests an even more direct connection. He writes:

The hostage-takers remembered that when the Shah fled into exile in 1953, CIA agents working at the American embassy had returned him to his throne. Iranians feared that history was about to repeat itself.

In the back of everybody's mind hung the suspicion that, with the admission of the Shah to the United States, the countdown for another coup d-etat had begun," one of the hostage-takers explained years later. "Such was to be our fate again, we were convinced, and it would be irreversible. We now had to reverse the irreversible."

The whole story is tragic. Iran was a fledgling democracy stopped in its tracks by the U.S. government at the behest of the British government. When the Iranians finally overthrew the Shah, they got, not another liberal democracy, but a vicious theocracy.

The motivation for the coup was to get back the oil company that Mossadegh had nationalized. I don't defend nationalization, but overthrowing a government to reverse it is too extreme. I think Americans would be justly upset if, in response to the U.S. government's nationalization of an Iranian firm, Iran's government fomented a coup against the U.S. government. Moreover, as British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, of the Labour government, had said at the time: "What argument can I advance against anyone claiming the right to nationalize the resources of their country? We are doing the same thing here with our power in the shape of coal, electricity, railways, transport and steel."

This would pair well with reading The Fall of Heaven.

Reading Idea: The Death of Caesar

The Death of Caesar

The Death of Caesar
by Barry S. Strauss
$12.99 on Kindle

I've had this book written down for a while now. I think Goodreads recommended it to me, based on my reading history. I've always been interested in Roman history, so this intrigued me right away.

Goodreads

The exciting, dramatic story of one of history’s most famous events—the death of Julius Caesar—now placed in full context of Rome’s civil wars by eminent historian Barry Strauss.

Thanks to William Shakespeare, the death of Julius Caesar is the most famous assassination in history. But what actually happened on March 15, 44 BC is even more gripping than Shakespeare’s play. In this thrilling new book, Barry Strauss tells the real story.

Shakespeare shows Caesar’s assassination to be an amateur and idealistic affair. The real killing, however, was a carefully planned paramilitary operation, a generals’ plot, put together by Caesar’s disaffected officers and designed with precision. There were even gladiators on hand to protect the assassins from vengeance by Caesar’s friends. Brutus and Cassius were indeed key players, as Shakespeare has it, but they had the help of a third man—Decimus. He was the mole in Caesar’s entourage, one of Caesar’s leading generals, and a lifelong friend. It was he, not Brutus, who truly betrayed Caesar.

Caesar’s assassins saw him as a military dictator who wanted to be king. He threatened a permanent change in the Roman way of life and in the power of senators. The assassins rallied support among the common people, but they underestimated Caesar’s soldiers, who flooded Rome. The assassins were vanquished; their beloved Republic became the Roman Empire.

GOP Congress Has a Detailed Agenda →

Dave Weigel, writing at the Washington Post.

For six years, since they took back the House of Representatives, Republicans have added to a pile of legislation that moldered outside the White House. In their thwarted agenda, financial regulations were to be unspooled. Business taxes were to be slashed. Planned Parenthood would be stripped of federal funds. The ­Affordable Care Act was teed up for repeal — dozens of times.

When the 115th Congress begins this week, with Republicans firmly in charge of the House and Senate, much of that legislation will form the basis of the most ambitious conservative policy agenda since the 1920s. And rather than a Democratic president standing in the way, a soon-to-be-inaugurated Donald Trump seems ready to sign much of it into law.

The dynamic reflects just how ready Congress is to push through a conservative makeover of government, and how little Trump’s unpredictable, attention-grabbing style matters to the Republican game plan.

That plan was long in the making.

Almost the entire agenda has already been vetted, promoted and worked over by Republicans and think tanks that look at the White House less for leadership and more for signing ceremonies.

In 2012, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist described the ideal president as “a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen” and “sign the legislation that has already been prepared.” In 2015, when Senate Republicans used procedural maneuvers to undermine a potential Democratic filibuster and vote to repeal the health-care law, it did not matter that President Obama’s White House stopped them: As the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action put it, the process was “a trial run for 2017, when we will hopefully have a President willing to sign a full repeal bill.”

“What I told our committees a year ago was: Assume you get the White House and Congress,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told CNBC in a post-election interview last month. “Come 2018, what do you want to have accomplished?” Negotiations with the incoming Trump administration, he said, were mostly “on timeline, on an execution strategy.”

​That's funny. I've been hearing for the last 6 years that the Republican Congress just liked thwarting President Obama and didn't know how to govern or have any plans of its own. I wonder if that's an example of the fake news that I've suddenly been hearing so much about.

This entry was tagged. Government News

New York City's Expensive New Subway →

Progressives are fond of pointing out the excellent quality of life in Europe. America, they say, could enjoy the same quality of life if only we were willing to tax each other and spend the way Europe's democracies do. The problem, of course, as conservatives and libertarians are fond of pointing out, is that there are vast differences between Europe and America. Matt Yglesias, at Vox, explains.

According to transit blogger Alon Levy’s compendium of international subway projects, Berlin’s U55 line cost $250 million per kilometer, Paris’ Metro Line 14 cost $230 million per kilometer, and Copenhagen’s Circle Line cost $260 million per kilometer.

​Okay.

Today, New York City is celebrating the opening of the first phase of the Second Avenue subway, a project that’s been anticipated for nearly a century, and that’s sorely needed to relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue lines and to extend access to some very densely populated neighborhoods. But exciting as the opening is, phase one is also a very modest-sized project encompassing just three stations. The plan is, eventually, to extend it up into East Harlem, and potentially then either go further south or else swing west to provide crosstown subway service across 125th Street.

Any of this would be extremely useful to the city, but it’s far from clear that any of it will ever happen. That’s because even with $1 billion currently allocated in the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s capital budget for phase two of the Second Avenue subway, they’re still badly short of the $6 billion that’s going to be needed.

That's a lot of money.​

The $6 billion price tag for phase two works out to $2.2 billion per kilometer. That would make it the world’s most expensive subway project on a per kilometer basis, narrowly surpassing phase one of the Second Avenue subway, which clocked in at “only” $1.7 billion per kilometer.

And there's your difference. NYC is spending 10x more per kilometer than Berlin, Paris, or Copenhagen is.​ And it's not that NYC is unwilling to spend money. It's just not it's not getting much for the money that it's spending.

But this kind of discussion too often elides the real practical difficulties in implementing big domestic policies like those, and the ways in which the US system is uniquely bad and inefficient about doing so. Between the Second Avenue subway, the $10.2 billion East Side Access tunnel for the LIRR, and the $4 billion World Trade Center PATH station, the New York City region is in fact spending a lot of money on upgrading its mass transit system. The money is simply not going to generate as much transit service as a comparable amount of spending would in Paris or Copenhagen, because New York’s institutions don’t seem up to the task of spending it as effectively. Improving is both possible and desirable, but it would take actual time and skill and effort.

...

Until places like New York and California — the bluest jurisdictions that are most open to the idea of taxing and spending to improve public services — get better at actually delivering those services in a cost-effective way, it’s going to be difficult to persuade residents of more skeptical jurisdictions that it makes sense to take the same agenda national.

​American governments are good at spending money but bad at spending money well. I think it's perfectly reasonable for American citizens to look at the poor management of their governments and then ask why they should be giving those governments even more resources to mismanage.

I don't even think it's fair to claim that this problem would be fixed if only Republicans stopped obstructing good government and worked together with Democrats in a bipartisan alliance. ​​Taking a long view of the patronage machines that have dominated city governments throughout America's history, it's easy to conclude that American government is best at looting the private sector and handing it out to the ruling party's friends. This is a bipartisan problem and one that argues against giving American governments, of either party, too many resources.

Reading Idea: The Last Lion

The Last Lion

The Last Lion
by William Manchester
$50 on [Kindle][kindle]

I discovered this biography while listening to Russ Roberts talk to Ryan Holiday, on the July 18 episode of EconTalk.

So, let's take the flip side of that character trait, and let's look at Winston Churchill. And Winston Churchill, you talk about in the book. But he had, it appears, an enormous ego that sustained him through all kinds of failure. He was blamed politically in the first World War. And in the run-up to WWII, he's considered a crazy lunatic who is worried about Nazi Germany. And ultimately his reputation is redeemed and he's considered one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, like top five. So, his ego--and by the way, you quote, I think, the Manchester biography, Volume 2, Alone. Well, in Volume 1, one of the moments that's legendary in my household because my kids loved it so much--you know, he escapes from a prison in the Boer War, walks a huge distance, I forget how far, and presents himself in the middle of the night at the British Embassy and pounds on the door and someone opens a window upstairs and says, 'What's going on?' And he yells up something like, 'It's Winston Bloody Churchill. Open this door.' And so, here's a man who is totally full of himself, as far as I can tell. And he's a great success. So, why is ego the enemy?

Guest: I'm fascinated that you would ask this, because — and for our listeners, we did not plan this — I am actually in, I have like 10 pages left, in Volume 2. And I read Volume 1 in the last couple of weeks. So, I've been reading about Churchill, and he's fascinating. And the Manchester biography is so great, because he looks at that ego; and he says over and over again, basically Hitler and Churchill were opposite sides of the same coin. And he says — it's interesting, maybe the only reason that Churchill saw through Hitler was that he saw a bit of that megalomania in himself.

That sounded interesting enough to check out. The full biography is three volumes, all available on Kindle.

  1. Visions of Glory, 1874 – 1932, $14.99
  2. Alone, 1932 – 1940, $14.99
  3. Defender of the Realm, 1940 – 1965, $19.99

The first two volumes were written by William Manchester alone. The third volume was written by Paul Reid, whom Manchester brought in after Manchester developed writer's block. Paul Reid was supposed to actually co-write the last volume with Manchester, but Manchester died before the project got fully off of the ground. Reid ended up having to mostly research and write the last book himself.

Reading Idea: The Fall of Heaven

The Fall of Heaven

The Fall of Heaven
by Andrew Scott Cooper
$19.99 on Kindle

While expensive, this book comes with a strong endorsement from Tyler Cowen. I've been reading a lot about the 60's and 70's over the past couple of years. This would fit right into that pattern.

The Fall of Heaven - Marginal REVOLUTION

I loved this book, the author is Andrew Scott Cooper, and the subtitle is The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.  It is the best book I know for understanding the Iranian revolution, and it is compulsively readable throughout.  Did you know for instance that the Ayatollahs were deeply disturbed by the presence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and also Rhoda on Iranian TV?

I would describe this book as relatively sympathetic to the Shah, and also arguing that the oppressions and tortures of Savak are sometimes overstated.

This one makes my best non-fiction of the year list, and it will be in the top tier of that list.

Reading Idea: Northlanders

Northlanders

Northlanders
by Brian Woods
$40 on ComiXology

I heard about this series on a 4-year old episode of The Incomparable podcast. I'm not going to try to transcribe Lisa Schmeiser's comments, but you can visit this link to listen to them: The Incomparable #126: A Dark, Dark Narnia. (Her comments start at 42:33 and the link should jump you to right to them.)

The idea of a comic that tells interrelated stories about the historical Viking culture was a fascinating one. I read quite a bit about the Vikings (and Norse mythology) growing up. I'd love to read more about them and the visual storytelling aspect of comics should be valuable as well.

Hacking Democratic Rules Isn’t Good Government →

Megan McCardle makes a good point about people's increasing desire to "win" at politics, by any means, at any cost.

What’s most worrying, however, is that intelligent people are discussing this stuff. Over the last decade, we’ve spent more and more time on these sorts of procedural hacks. Filibusters to prevent judicial nominations -- and parliamentary maneuvers to weaken the filibuster. Debt ceiling brinkmanship -- and whether Obama could mint trillion-dollar platinum coins to get around it. We have become less and less interested in either policy or politics, and more interested in finding some loophole in the rules that will allow one party or the other to impose its will on the country without the messy business of gathering votes and building public support. It started with the courts, but it certainly has not ended there.

Each procedural hack slightly undermines the legitimacy of the system as a whole, and makes the next hack more likely, as parties give up on the pretense that winning an election confers the right to govern, and justify their incremental power grabs by whatever the other party did last.

​> ...

What matters is not who started it, or the last outrage committed by the other side. What matters is who ends it. Unfortunately, while both sides quite agree that it needs to end, they also agree that it should end only after they themselves are allowed last licks. As long as both sides cheer their own violations while crying foul on the other side, the escalation will continue -- until we no longer have a political system worth controlling.

​I've long believed that the most important thing isn't whether you win or lose in politics. The most important thing is to have a system of rules and to strictly abide by those rules, whether or not it gives us the win we want. Increasingly, at all levels of politics, we're choosing to throw out the rule book in favor of winning. In the short term, it appears to give us what we want. In the long term, it's going to destroy the entire concept of American government, with results that no one will like.

Reading Idea: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly
$10.99 on Kindle

I was interested in this story when I first saw it as a movie trailer. Then I found out that it was based on a book and now I'm interested in reading the book.

Publisher's description

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

What I Read in 2016

Last year was a good year for reading. I made progress in all of my reading goals and discovered a number of memorable books.

I lowered my Goodreads goal from 70 books down to 40 books in order to "give me the space to read more on the web, read longer books, and read slower books than I ordinarily would". That was a success, as I felt more freedom to spend time on the reading that I don't normally do. I finished my 40th book before the end of July. It felt weird to finish my Goodreads goal so early.

As I look back on the last year, several things stand out. I read some great non-fiction books. I still think about Mr. Lincoln's Army, Hillbilly Elegy, and Embers of War. After discovering that the Horatio Hornblower series was available on Kindle, I bought and read the entire thing. I've been wanting to do that for years and enjoyed finally doing so.

After watching Jurassic Park with my daughters, I reread the book to see how it held up. Similarly, after rewatching The Hunt for Red October, I read that book to see how it held up. I'm happy to report that both books are still as good as I originally thought they were. I also reread Starship Troopers and found it to still be intellectually stimulating.

Finally, you can spend your time in a far worse way than reading Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others. As a friend put it, "each story reads like it came out of a possibly drunken conversation and a 'what if'". Given that the book includes a short background for each story, that seems especially apt.

And now, here's the full list of what I read last year, broken down by reading goal.

More Literary Fiction

I didn't do so well in this category, as I never got around to reading a second (let alone third or fourth) literary novel.

Non-Fiction

Fix the Oops

I had fully intended to read more of Jack Vance's novels. But I really didn't enjoy the first one and decided that I didn't care to read more than that.

Enjoy Comics

I never did read more of Saga or The Sandman, but I'm happy to have read Locke & Key. It was well worth the time.

Hard Science Fiction

Maybe I just don't enjoy this the way that I used to. It's hard plowing. Greg Egan invented his own physics for The Clockwork Rocket. While I'm sure that it's 100% consistent, it made my head hurt. I like science, but I'm not enough of a scientist to enjoy that sort of thing.

Finish the 2014 and 2015 Goals

I finished reading The Wheel of Time and I very nearly finished reading the Culture series.

Reread Old Favorites

I nailed this goal, especially considering that the Hornblower series wasn't even on my initial reading list.

Other Diversions

Special mention goes to Children of Earth and Sky. I've yet to read something by Guy Gavriel Kay that wasn't excellent.

This entry was tagged. Reading List

Thoughts on *Dr. Strange*

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." — Arthur C. Clarke

Doctor Strange used this quote in reverse. The movie eases the viewer into magic by smuggling in magic as just advanced technology. The Ancient One and Dr. Strange talk about cellular regeneration as Strange gets his first introduction to magic. By the time that the story moves into astral projection and the weirder forms of mysticism, we've already been lulled into accepting magic through our acceptance of the miracles of advanced technology.

The movie's weakest point is that the magical school is both too large and too small. During a couple of scenes, Stephen Strange is shown practicing magic with 15–20 other students. But when the time comes to throw down with evil, the fighting force is limited to the Ancient One, Mordo, Wong, and Strange.

It's strange that Strange gets thrown into battle so quickly, even as he's constantly told that he's nowhere near ready. Certainly the plot would dictate that Strange be the hero of his own movie, but it seems like an odd choice to show other students but not actually use them.

The surprise character of the movie is Strange's cloak. It shows a surprising amount of personality for a normally inanimate object. As a non-living side kick, it rivals BB-8 in expressiveness. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the cloak in future movies.

This may be one of Benedict Cumberbatch's best movies. He's one of those quirky actors that usually ends up portraying a variant of himself on screen. In this movie, he became Stephen Strange to an impressive degree. I spent the entire movie watching Strange, without ever once thinking of Sherlock or Khan.

Election Thoughts

Bad News

  • Trump won the Presidential election.
    • We had a choice between Nixon and Smoot-Agnew for the Presidency. We elected Smoot-Agnew. This is not likely to end well.
    • As President-elect, Trump is now the head of the Republican Party. The Republican Party is now anti-free trade and anti-immigration.
    • I am no longer a Republican.
    • Conservatives have spent the past year creating an imaginary version of Donald Trump. This imaginary person is a savvy businessman and a strong leader who will rely on the wisdom of others as he governs. They'll now have four years to learn the truth. I wish them joy of it.
    • Searching for a silver lining: maybe Trump will accidentally nominate an engaged jurist for the Supreme Court.
    • Who honestly thought that Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin would all go for Trump? I'm gob smacked. Wisconsin in particular is a surprise. I thought that people in this state were too fundamentally nice to stomach Trump's brand of meanness.

Good News

  • The Senate stays in Republican hands. This was the outcome I was hoping for.
    • I hoped the Senate would stay Republican, to block the worst of President Clinton's Supreme Court picks.
    • Given that Senators are less populist, I'm hoping the Senate will block the worst of President Trump's policies.
  • Maine is adopting ranked choice voting for federal and state elections. This will be an interesting experiment to watch.
  • Marijuana was legalized in four more states and medical marijuana was legalized in four. Thirty-six states have now legalized marijuana in some form: 8 have legalized recreational marijuana and 28 have legalized medical marijuana.

Limited Government Limits Corruption

Alberto Mingardi, writing at EconLog:

We are back to the original argument: "liberalising" policies, that go in the direction of decreasing government powers, are in a sense the best competition policy. The less the government can give away, the least a private business could ask from it.

Most people seem to think that there's a way to limit government corruption while continually expanding the areas of our lives that the government controls or affects. This is a false. As long as governmental policies can have a large impact on the economy, people will find a way to make sure that the impact is positive for them (or at least negative for their competitors).

The only effective way to reduce corruption is to reduce the government's ability to make some groups winners and some groups losers.

One of My Reasons for Voting Third Party →

A lot of people (most people?) think that voting for a third-party candidate is wrong. It's either throwing your vote away or it's enabling the "wrong" candidate to win. Roderick Long, at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, gives one of my reasons for voting for a third-party candidate.

And once one considers what other results one might be contributing to besides someone’s simply getting elected, the case for voting third-party looks even stronger. After all, the larger the margin by which a candidate wins, the more that candidate can get away with claiming a mandate, thus putting him or her in a stronger political position to get favoured policies enacted. So if one thinks that both of the major candidates would do more harm than good if elected (even if one is worse than the other), then making the winning candidate’s totals smaller becomes a public good to which one might choose to contribute – perhaps by voting for a third-party candidate (though also, perhaps, by voting for whichever of the major candidates one thinks is most likely to lose).

If you think both Trump and Clinton are unfit to be president, which I do, than this is a way to decrease the vote share for both of them.

I'm voting for Gary Johnson. I'm not delusional — I'm well aware that he won't win tomorrow. But my vote against both Trump and Clinton ensures that whoever wins, wins with a smaller majority than would otherwise be the case and wins with a smaller mandate than would otherwise be the case. It's an infinitesimally small contribution to the vote pool, but it's all I can do.

Trade Is a Labor-Saving Device →

Sheldon Richman, writing at Reason.com, shares some wisdom about trade.

think about the saving of labor. Normally we see this as a good thing. We buy electric toothbrushes, power lawnmowers, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, and self-cleaning ovens, among many other things, precisely to save labor. Why? Obviously because labor is work—exertion. Most of what we think of as work we would not do if we could have the expected fruits without it. (Of course we sometimes are paid to do things we'd do anyway, but then it is something more than mere work.) Saving labor through technology not only relieves us of particular exertion; it also frees us to obtain other things we want but would otherwise have to do without—including leisure. Thus labor-saving enables us to have more stuff for less exertion. Time and energy are scarce, but our ends are infinite. That's why no one in private life fails to see labor-saving as good.

Trade is a labor-saving "device." We each have two legitimate ways to acquire any good: produce it ourselves or acquire it through trade (after producing something else). For most goods, trade will be the lower cost method. (See why "comparative advantage" is "The Most Elusive Proposition.") The day is simply too short to make everything we want. Thus trade makes us wealthy. When government interferes with trade, it makes us poorer.

Bastiat believed that people found the destruction of cross-border trade ("protectionism") attractive "because, as free trade enables them to attain the same result with less labor, this apparent diminution of labor terrifies them." (Read about the bias against saving labor in Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter.) Why do people who try to save labor every day believe this? Because they think a society's principles of well-being are different from those of an individual's. As long as they do, political candidates will feed the bias.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may or may not know that trade unfettered at political boundaries makes people wealthier. We need not waste time (which of course could be put to better use) wondering if they are demagogues or just ignoramuses. Rather, we should devote our scarce energy to showing people that what is good for them individually—saving labor—is just as good when observed from a bird's-eye view.

Reading Idea: Into The Lion’s Mouth

Into the Lion's Mouth

Into The Lion’s Mouth
by Larry Loftis
$13.99 on Kindle

I've been a long-time fan of the Bond movie franchise. I've even read a book or two. I've always thought that Bond was obviously fictionalized, that no real spy would come anywhere close to what Bond routinely does. According to Loftis, one man did. I first heard about his book on an episode of The Art of Manliness Podcast.

The Real Life James Bond

Bond is so damn manly, it’d be easy to think that he was purely the creation of author Ian Fleming’s imagination. But in fact, Bond was inspired by a real-life WWII spy, and his life and career was even more Bond-like than James Bond himself.

My guest today has written a biography of the real-life inspiration for James Bond. His name is Larry Loftis and he’s the author of the book Into The Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov: World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration for James Bond. Today on the show we talk about Dusko Popov and his career as a double agent during WWII. Larry and I discuss how Dusko got involved with spying, the insanely dangerous missions he went on, and the real-life encounter between him and Ian Fleming that inspired one of popular culture’s most iconic characters.

If Voter ID Laws Don't Make a Difference, Why Are They So Horrible? →

David French, blogging at National Review,

So Democrats stand for the fictional mass of no-ID eligible voters, while Republicans stand against the fictional mass of no-ID ineligible voters. And all the while they convince themselves of the other side’s worst motives. But since both ballot integrity and ballot access are important, why not require the showing of an ID while making ID’s free and easy to obtain? There’s no meaningful barrier to voting, and the fraud that does exist is made more difficult. I’m no populist, but count me in the 80 percent — voter identification is a good idea.

I'm with French on this one.

This entry was tagged. Voting Elections

Jim Dalrymple's AirPods Review →

Jim Dalrymple wrote a hands-on review of Apple's new wireless headphones, over at Loop Insight. I just love how he opens his review.

I have seen all kinds crazy things written since the keynote about the AirPods. Some people say they will drop out of their ears when they walk or run, others say we will lose them because they are so small.

Most of these things have been written by people that have never touched the AirPods. I have been using them for almost a week now and I can tell you that those concerns are not warranted at all.

I am not a child, so I think I can keep track of my AirPods—I have for a week with no problem at all. If you don’t think it’s within your ability to keep track of a pair of headphones, then clearly these are not the right accessory for you.

People in the tech industry seem to have a real problem with critiquing anything new, before they've even tried it or talked to anyone who has. It's a weird obsession — this idea that everything new is stupid — especially for an industry built around new and untried ideas.

Now let's let Jim talk about what intrigues me the most: how the AirPods solve the massive problem that Bluetooth headphones have pairing (and re-pairing) to different devices.

The AirPods will respond to whatever device invokes them. For instances, when you put them in your ears, you will hear a tone telling you they are ready. Press play in Apple Music on your iPhone and music will start playing. If you then press play on your Apple Watch playlist, the AirPods will automatically switch to that device for playback.

I was playing a song from my Apple Watch, activated Siri on my iPhone 7, the AirPods switched and activated the mic, I asked Siri a question, and when I was finished they automatically connected back to the watch to finish the song.

That’s pretty cool.

The AirPods also know when they are in your ears. If you are listening to music and someone comes up to speak with you or you’re in line ordering a coffee, you can just take one out and the music will automatically pause. When you put the AirPod back in your ear, the music will start playing again automatically.

And how's battery life?

I will say this: the only time I ran out of battery on the AirPods is when I meant to run the dry. It took 15-20 minutes to get them charged to 100% using the charging case.

On making phone calls and using Siri:

The AirPods will also seamlessly switch when a phone calls in as well. I’ve made and received phone calls using both headphones, in which case you can hear out of both headphones; taken out the left headphone, which then turns off; did the same with the right headphone; and then put them both back in.

The mics on the AirPods seem to be very good, although its hard to do a meaningful test when you can’t tell people why you want to test the microphone. I had one person comment, unsolicited, that I sounded really good while using the AirPods, but he didn’t know why. I didn’t tell him.

Using a double-tap on the side of the AirPods will invoke Siri when using the iPhone. It will pause the music, and then bring up Siri—ask your question, Siri will give you the answer and then return to playing the music in 5 seconds. A completely hands-free operation.

You can change this to have the double-tap do play/pause instead on the iPhone if you like. This is what happens when you use double-tap on AirPods using the Apple Watch.

These are the details that we expect to get right and they certainly did with the AirPods and how they work with the different devices we use.

At $160, I really don't want to like the AirPods. That's a lot of money to spend on headphones. But the magic ability to switch audio from one source to another, to another is seductive. No other headphone on the market can do this. And switching devices is such a pain that $160 starts to seem like a reasonable price to pay to make the pain go away.

If I used a Mac at the office, I think I'd be a lot more likely to buy AirPods. But since my Windows desktop will be unable to use them (it doesn't have built-in Bluetooth), I'm not sure it's worth it to buy headphones that I can only use at home or with iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

Remind of these doubts when you see me wearing AirPods next summer.

This entry was tagged. Apple