Competition is better than government fiat.

Lance Ulanoff, writing in PC Magazine, explains why he was wrong on who would win the Blu-ray/HD-DVD battle.

I finally figured out why I was so dead wrong about the HD DVD versus Blu-ray format war. I should have analyzed the sides—Sony and Toshiba—not as two countries going to war, but as opponents in a close-quarters boxing match. Had I done so, I would have properly assessed each of the technology’s assets and deficits.

Mr. Ulanoff was wrong in prognosticating consumer technology for a magazine. No harm, no foul. We all make judgments, whether we commit them to print or not, that turn out wrong. We’re all human.

Remember that every time a central planner comes along and tells us confidently why we should choose X (with money taken from taxpayers) and outlaw Y.

The topic is serious. The process is sport.

Kip was wrong. Until now, I was the last person in the blogosphere who hadn’t posted this comic from Xkcd:

This is quite true for me. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve told Danielle to hang on, I just need to finish a comment. But, while the accuracy of the comic is spot-on, the tone is missing completely. The reader must insert a contextual judgment. For that, I refer you to John Scalzi’s Whatever:

Krissy used to worry that I got too wrapped up in absolutley [sic] pointless Internet slugfests until the day she realized that the reason I did it was because I was having fun, not because I was massively emotionally invested. I might stay up to thump on someone online, but once I step away from the monitor, it’s done. Letting people you don’t even know get you all wound up is no way to go through life.

The slugfests I get involved in concern exactly what you think they concern. Still, Mr. Scalzi is correct. On my chosen subject, I know I’m right. I do not engage in an attempt to fix someone’s thinking. I seek to refine my thinking and debate skills against common irrationality and misunderstanding. It’s self-improvement, not fighting.

The central planner’s impulse is the parental decision-making crutch.

Most of this article from a Portland, Maine television station is boilerplate stupidity. The parents’ opinion matters exclusively. It’s no big deal. The potential for benefits overcomes the absence of medical need. Every one of those incorrect excuses is the brain output of a narcissist. But this is a different, less-common expression of that:

In the past, pain relief was not commonly used on babies during the procedure. [Obstetrician-Gynecologist] Dr. [Anne] Rainville says she always uses a local anesthetic.

“When I do a circumcision on a baby, they cry less than the baby next door who is getting their blood drawn. The way we do it is very humane and it is not a terrible barbaric procedure as some people might be led to believe,” she said.

The use of pain relief is not the primary determinant for whether or not a surgical procedure is humane. Humane intervention requires science. Humane intervention requires medical need. Humane intervention respects individual human rights. Medically unnecessary genital cutting forced on an individual fails every test of humanity.

A doctor can cut off a child’s healthy arm without forcing the child to feel it. Only a fool would argue that such a procedure is humane and not terrible or barbaric. Cultural blindness based on tradition and peer pressure does not excuse violating a healthy individuals bodily integrity.

From the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1995, the discriminatory federal prohibition on medically unnecessary genital surgery on female minors:

In applying subsection (b)(1), no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that or any other person that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.

Any other person includes parents. And doctors. And God. And Jimmy next door who will (allegedly) tease Billy in the middle school locker room if Billy’s parents leave his healthy, normal foreskin intact.

Subsection (b)(1) states:

(b) A surgical operation is not a violation of this section if the operation is —

“(1) necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed, and is performed by a person licensed in the place of its performance as a medical practitioners; …

That is humane. Where that exact interpretation is not also applied to males, any pretense that the use of pain relief makes the surgery acceptable is willful denial. It is a shameful ignorance of humanity. It is the permanent subjugation of a part of an individual to another’s control.

Post Script: Note Dr. Rainville’s statement that boys under local anesthetic cry less. She did not say they don’t cry.

I’m offended. So are you.

The FCC creates an interesting concept [emphasis mine]:

The Federal Communications Commission erased nearly all of a proposed $1.2 million indecency fine against a number of Fox television stations yesterday, saying the Rupert Murdoch-owned network should be fined for airing an offensive television show only in markets where viewers complained about it.

Instead of ordering all 169 stations that aired it to pay the larger fine, the FCC ordered 13 Fox-owned and -affiliated stations to pay a total of $91,000 in indecency fines for broadcasting an episode of the long-canceled reality show “Married by America” nearly five years ago.

This action attempts to apply the (illegitimate) majoritarian “community standards” as the FCC’s guide. In reality, it now permits only the minoritarian requirement of one offended viewer in a community, with viewer defined quite loosely. This is not progress. The First Amendment still says what it says.

Sic Semper Medius Consilium¹

Megan McArdle on individuals who claim to want the government to tax them more:

No, I simply cannot grant that people really believe that they pay too little in taxes. It seems more like they think the government has a better use for everyone else’s money, and should therefore take it. They believe this so strongly that if they have to pay some of their own money to rectify the situation, they will do so. In other words, they don’t so much want higher taxes on themselves, as to purchase the good “State coercion of other affluent people”. That is not the same moral intuition as “I have too much money, and the government should take it away”, however much nicer it would be if that were true.

That is correct. And it’s a given that said individuals always know better how that good should be used by government.

Ms. McArdle’s “tax me more” thread continues here and here.

¹ Even with four years of Latin in school, I’m sure I’ve messed up the translation. Aside from simple grammar, maybe cogito should replace consilium?

Indifference does not prevent difficulty.

From the New York Times Magazine:

I wondered how [26-year-old Capt. Dan] Kearney was going to win back his own guys, let alone win over the Korengalis. Just before I left, Kearney told me his biggest struggle would be holding his guys in check. “I’ve got too many geeking out, wanting to go off the deep end and kill people,” he said. One of his lieutenants wanted to shoot every Afghan in the face. Kearney shook his head. He wished he could buy 20 goats and let the boys beat and burn them and let loose their rage. He tried to tell them the restraints were a product of their success — that there was an Afghan government with its own rules. “I’m balancing plates on my goddamn nose is what I’m doing,” he said. “All it’s gonna take is for one of these guys to snap.”

My initial reaction to this is disgust, given the indifference to the idea of inflicting suffering and death on goats. I understand (and agree with) the desire to save people before animals, but that’s not the call here. The either/or scenario here is self-imposed. Yes, the soldiers are a victim of circumstance. No, that doesn’t matter. They’re professional soldiers.

After that thought passed, this quote indicates the problem with our military strategy. Take an invading force and turn it into an peace-keeping force and this sort of challenge seems inevitable. Afghanistan was a legitimate war. From the moment the Taliban’s involvement in permitting attacks on the United States was clear, it was always reasonable to plan to oust it from Afghanistan. But we also needed to prepare for the rebuilding aftermath of invasion, both in infrastructure and government. Capt. Kearney’s concern reveals a flaw somewhere in the chain of command if a problem can fester long enough to create this type of rage. How badly has the transition been managed? How prevalent is this in Iraq? How significant will this be when these soldiers return to civilian life in the U.S.?

War is chaotic. Outcomes are unpredictable. I accept that, and some uncomfortable level of challenge in multiple areas is not a sign of extraordinary behavior. But this is ridiculous. The manner in which the Bush administration drove us into two simultaneous wars with seemingly little concern for these long-term outcomes and consequences displays a mind-boggling level of incompetence.

Link via Slate, via Ben Casnocha.

Two Voluntary Participants

On an interesting concept among plastic surgeons:

“No, Judith. Just … no.”

Lee A. Gibstein, M.D., a plastic surgeon with offices in New York City and Miami, crumpled up the photo of the shiny, preternaturally line-free celebrity I’d brought with me and tossed it over his shoulder. “Oh, c’mon. Why not?” I whined.

“Because you’re a walking advertisement for me, and I don’t want my patients looking as if they belong in Madame Tussauds,” Dr. Gibstein said, setting down his syringe.

Doctors can reject a patient’s request for cosmetic surgery? Who knew? (Me.) If only other doctors might consider other examples of cosmetic surgery that demand a “no” in 100% of cases. And wouldn’t it be nice if they rejected such requests for ethical concerns rather than (the appropriate for the linked example) marketing concerns?

Link via Kevin, M.D.

I’m free!

It’s time for one last update (for now) on jury duty.

I have no idea how I would’ve done under examination for either side’s attorneys during voir dire. I didn’t get that far. Within an hour I managed to get myself excused from involuntary servitude service. I even managed it with the truth. (Some of you know the easy claim I had.) I didn’t have to get into any bizarre scenarios of shouting down The Man, bolting for the door and outrunning the bailiff to live strong in my principles. I talk a good game, and I’m willing to walk it, but I’m not stupid. Lose the battle but win the war is a common refrain. I’m inclined to win both, when possible. Yesterday, the winning the former was easy.

That said, the case would’ve been interesting, I think. I don’t know of any restrictions on saying what I know of the case for which I was considered, but I’ll just say that it was a criminal case involving wire and mail fraud. I would be intellectually inclined to explore that as a juror, but under mutually-agreed terms. My complaint is not about being a juror or the burden imposed by that possible occupation. It’s only the terms.


In thinking about the case as the judge explained it, I tried to imagine a libertarian argument against my ability to be impartial in this particular case. I could think of none. And pondering the general topic of mail and wire fraud, I had a minor insight.

I tend to the libertarian view against hate crime legislation. It’s easy to think of it as thought crime. Although the general concept is still important to remember, I’ve learned that such a view is far too simplistic. Intent can (and probably must) matter.

With what little I know about wire and mail fraud, I can think of two basic scenarios. The defendant is either a crook or a bad business person. Beyond being immoral to prosecute the latter, it would also be complete folly given the prevalence of that in the marketplace. If a transaction was built on trust in everyone involved, from customer to business to suppliers to […], it’s possible for the chain to be broken for unexpected reasons.

But it’s also possible to realize that the same result can occur from different intentions. If a business person fails to deliver because his supplies never arrived, we expect the customer to seek restitution in civil court. If the business person never intended to deliver because he never purchased supplies, we consider that fraud, which we prosecute as a crime. Same result, different response.

As Kip argued in this chain, I’m inclined to accept the idea that an assault may be punished differently based on the offender’s intent.

Another benefit from forced duty.

My pregnant sister-in-law’s water broke last night, so I’m going to miss the family gathering surrounding the birth of my niece today by approximately 12 hours. If she’s lucky, my niece can have the same opportunity should she dare to exercise her constitutional right to vote in 2026.

Have I mentioned that I’m in favor of professional jurors, individuals who would be competent and paid a market wage to voluntarily work?

Who wants to post bail for me? The $40 won’t be enough.

To review:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

That’s the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Tomorrow, my government intends to violate that amendment by requiring me to report for jury duty under threat of fine and/or imprisonment. It has charged me with no crime. It has convicted me of no crime. Yet I am being forced into involuntary servitude. I must accept the revocation of one liberty to avoid the revocation of another liberty. This is supposedly my duty in exchange for exercising my Constitutional right to vote. That is immoral.

I love the United States Constitution. Tomorrow appears to be the day I finally grasp that my country does not.