Monthly Archives: August 2008

Internet Comments ain’t what they used to be

Elvis Presley

I was one of the first people to use a public service to access the Internet. Way back in 1992, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Elvis had yet to build the pyramids, a little company called Delphi offered service to this newfangled gizmo called The Internet. Only I’m not sure that’s what they called it then. As I remember, there wasn’t a huge amount of hype.

Living in the sticks, I realized that this internet was my ticket into connecting with the rest of the world. I’d sit in the woods in my cabin, listening to the winter wind howling, hunching over my Five-thousand-dollar 286 computer, mainlining the world’s network at 9600 baud. I clearly remember the first time during a snowstorm that I ftp’ed a nighttime infrared image of cloud cover over the East Coast of the U.S. I ran out into the night, looking up in the sky. Somewhere way up there a satellite just took a picture 10 minutes ago. Incredible! I guess I’ve really been on the internet ever since there _was_ an internet.

Which allows me to say — comments and the commenting system in use today is killing civil discourse.

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Okay Punk, I like Dirty Harry

With the weekend coming up and my being out of town, I decided to buy a couple of movies to watch in my corporate apartment. As I went through the aisles at Best Buy, there was one movie collection that I just knew I had to have.

Dirty Harry

It was the complete collection of Dirty Harry on BluRay.

What else could a guy want?

I watched a little last night, and I’ve been trying to think just why I like the movie series so much. its obviously corny, cliched, tired, overdone, etc. Clint Eastwood is too much of a pretty boy to ever be the real Inspector Callahan. The bad guys are cardboard cutouts — gee, the list of faults goes on and on.

I think I like the Dirty Harry series because it is really about how, while the world is getting very complex, we should never forget simple, earthy realities. Like murderers are bad guys. People who commit crimes against their neighbors deserve to pay — and if the legal system doesn’t handle it, there’s something wrong with the legal system. We have a right to be outraged. An easy-to-understand legal system is better than a byzantine-like complexity of a monster we have now, simply because it garners more moral support from the people. (The “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine was mentioned several times, if I remember correctly)

There is a bit of sophistry and slick willie about taking complex things and over-simplifying them. I have no doubts that many of the people involved with the Dirty Harry movies probably snickered at the yokels they were dishing this stuff out to. But at the same time, there are heuristics and general truisms that we avoid at our peril. Let’s face it: O.J. Simpson was guilty. And he got away with murder because he had a lot of money and good attorneys — things that the average murderer doesn’t have.

It’s not right, and Dirty Harry reminds us that we have the right to be outraged, the right to protest and tell people to go to hell if we feel like it. An understandable legal system is inherently more moral than a non-understandable legal system that allows criminals to go free at the expense of a small number of false positives.

Plus — who can forget the whole scene that starts with “I know what you’re thinking….

It’s cinema gold.

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Okay, I hate the Manifesto

I’m an Agile Coach. And as a coach, I’m supposed to be, well, agile. And coach-like.

So I get a whistle and say things like “one more remark like that, Jones, and you’ll be running laps this afternoon”

For some reason, this tactic is not effective coaching, at least for software developers. Most software developers would be lucky if they could run one lap, and while they did, they would be plotting to cripple the system with a virus when they got back.

Not exactly the desired behavior.

But the agile part is a little easier. Basically its common sense, but what with all the marketing and hero worship and all, people tend to get it all mixed up.

Take for instance the Agile Manifesto.

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Libertarian Reading

Is stealing ever right? If by “steal” you mean “the use of force to transfer wealth against somebody’s will” then we do it all the time — it’s called taxes. (If you have another definition of stealing I’d be interested in hearing it)

The topic came up today while I was reading this interesting article about using taxes to try to help the poor. the article is titled “A Nation of Thieves” and it’s by Walter Williams, who teaches economics at George Mason university.

I’ve got to admit I agree with Dr. Williams, as wacky as he first sounds. I am not an active participant in deciding how much I should be taxed or where that money goes — all of those decisions were mostly made in social legislation since the 1930s. Most of it happened long before I could vote, and there’s zero chance of any of it going away. So from where I sit, I’m being taxed without my permission or participation (although with some sort of pitiful excuse at representation — who knew politicians could screw up one of the simplest ideas we have?)

Do we need taxes? Absolutely. The founding fathers found out quickly that you can’t raise an army, provide for the common defense, or even pay the Sargent at Arms without some kind of money coming in from the people. But that’s a long and far distant cry from today, where we work a huge chunk of the year to finally pay the government for all the “goodness” it does for us.

I was just finishing that article when I turned to Steven Malanga’s article, Anti-Business States Awash in Red Ink. Malanga does an excellent job of describing how states with “progressive” and many times anti-business policies are spending way more than they can pay for. In a time where the national debt is through the roof (and most of it is because of social spending, not the Iraq war, no matter what you’ve heard), there are some similarities.

Malanga starts with:
Shortly after he was confirmed as governor of New York earlier this year, David Paterson told a group of business executives that when he received congratulations from old friends he hadn’t heard from in years, he was surprised how many no longer lived in New York. “All of them basically said the same thing,” Paterson told the group. “‘Good luck in New York state, but we can’t pay the taxes. The opportunities aren’t there.’”

But certainly all of this taxation has come to some good. For instance, out of the current $9.6 Trillion we are in debt, over half of it went directly to programs to help the poor. A great majority of the rest went to other social programs, like Social Security, that directly impact the poor but are not poverty programs.

Williams makes the point in his “thieves” article:

Much of the justification for the welfare state is to reduce income inequality by making income transfers to the poor. Browning provides some statistics that might help us to evaluate the sincerity and truthfulness of this claim. In 2005, total federal, state and local government expenditures on 85 welfare programs were $620 billion. That’s larger than national defense ($495 billion) or public education ($472 billion). The 2005 official poverty count was 37 million persons. That means welfare expenditures per poor person were $16,750, or $67,000 for a poor family of four.

Note those numbers don’t include Social Security, Medicare, private charity, etc.

If you’re poor and living in a family, are you getting your 50 thousand bucks or more? Ever wonder why the government employees all have a powerful union? Think you’re ever going to get rid of all of those employees standing between you and “your” money? Or do you think we’ll just get more employees, more “feel good” laws, and more taxes?

I’m not trying to be cynical. I simply ask the reader to look at history and facts and make a reasoned prediction.

States that are running out of money? They’re going to the Feds, claiming they were denied their “fair share” of all the federal tax goodies. The Feds? They’re simply borrowing more and more, having learned that printing money doesn’t work, now we’re simply running it all up on the national credit card.

In my opinion, that’s an honest appraisal of our economic situation. I doubt you’ll hear much of this from the candidates, though. They’re too interested in new programs, new promises, and new voters. The old programs, promises, and voters have made the decision to stick us with the bill — and those guys are long gone.

Wonder how our kids will feel about us?

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Books over the weekend

I took the weekend off from coding and thought I would get caught up on some business-related reading.

This is a really good idea because I’m currently about 40 books behind. My stack is getting as tall as I am. When your to-read stack is as tall as you are, it’s time to buck up and read. : )

Plus it’s a good break from 4 weeks of heavy coding after work.

So here are the three books I tackled over the weekend and what I thought of them. (And no, I don’t get any sort of payment for reviewing or linking to the books.)

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