Sunday, September 30, 2012

Patents as Tribbles

Via Slashdot, I hear that some economists at the St. Louis Fed are making an argument that a patent system will inevitably grow beyond it's original intent, such that it becomes destructive. I haven't had a chance to read this yet, but it sounds like the basic libertarian critique of the state. As a PR tool, it will be nice to have a solid written critique from an establishment source. Maybe this can get people to start thinking about this phenomenon more generally.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oh the irony; open source hardware

Joshua Pearce at Michigan Technical University wrote an encouraging article about the progress in Open Source Hardware development. Unfortunately, it's published in Science, which is not an open-access publication, so probably all you can see is the summary.

At least his website lists several open access publications, though I can't tell if any would give the same information as his article is Science.

One item of interest: we are supposedly 50% of the way towards making a general purpose manufacturing machine that can produce its own components for hand-assembly.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flag desecration; Mohammad defamation

As we hear (once again) of lunatic riots in Muslim communities being sparked by the defamation of Mohammad, we are treated to another installment of election campaign lunacy, as candidates use every opportunity to criticize and vilify their opposition. In this case, Republicans (getting their talking points directly from Romney, I think) are up in arms over the Obama administration's supposed apology to rioters. While the conciliatory statements never indicated that the US government should have done anything to limit the distribution of "The Innocence of Muslims", but Obama's critics are bemoaning his refusal to defend free speech.

Funny thing... I seem to remember this same crowd calling for the prohibition of desecration of the American flag.

If blasphemy laws come to the US, they will not come from Islamists, but from our homegrown state-worshipers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Printing a gun at home?

While I don't expect 3-D printers to supplant mass-production, they could provide people with a lot of flexibility that is unavailable on the mass market. One aspect of this flexibility is the ability to circumvent various restrictions on the production and sale of assorted goods. Could guns be one such item? Slashdot discusses...

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Find me a real "state's rights" Republican

I read a trite little essay over at "American Thinker" about whether it is best to refer to the USA as singular or plural. The author seemed to think that it was meaningful (and good) that Romney and Rubio had referred to "these" united states rather than "the" United States.

As the author writes:
There is nothing in either the Declaration or the Constitution to suggest that our forefathers fought to free themselves from the bonds of one central government merely to surrender their newly won sovereignty to another.
The late historian Shelby Foote noted that before the Civil War, Americans used to say, "The United States are...," and after the War, the phrase transmogrified to "The United States is..."  In the past, I thought of that as a good thing, but today, I have to wonder -- for in the years since, and especially since the rise of liberalism that began in the early twentieth century, the transition in phrasing, from "are" to "is" and from "these" to "the," has come increasingly to transform, in Americans' minds, a transforming of the nation, from a federation of fifty independent states, into a collective -- and, increasingly, collectivist -- single state, with the formerly independent states reduced to the status of mere satraps.
And that, I would submit, and with all due respect to Paul Ryan, is the real debate the nation needs to have, and the one that conservatives need to win.  Whether America is to return to its roots and experience a rebirth as an individualistic nation or succumb to slow decline as a European-style collectivist welfare state is infinitely more important to our future than how we deal with this or that government program.
Without saying as much, the author seems to be a proponent of state's rights, and is projecting these opinions onto Rubio and Ryan based on their use of old-fashioned vocabulary. As readers here are probably aware, there are some major problems with the concept of state's rights, and it should not be thought of as a synonym for localism or decentralization. However, for those in high office who claim to support the idea, there are a number of unambiguous policies that they could enact to clearly demonstrate what they think about the relationship between the state and federal governments:

1) Don't treat state flags as subordinate to the federal flag. Fly them alongside or above the federal flag. Congressmen should propose to eliminate federal supremacy from the Flag Code.

2) Abolish or radically rewrite the Pledge of Allegiance. At least, eliminate the clause "One nation... indivisible", though the entire notion of the pledge implies supremacy of the USA over the states.

3) Revoke the "Freedom to Display the American Flag Act ", since the Federal government has no place in regulating the agreements between landlords and tenants (right?)

As described in the essay, the supremacy of the USA over the states was solidified after the Civil War. The above laws were established in the 1920's, 1940's and 2005, respectively.

Will "state's rights" republicans repudiate these assertions of federal supremacy? I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Why I don't discuss my atheism

I generally don't discuss religion on this blog because I don't consider it to be intrinsically political, despite the frequent interaction of religion and politics. Furthermore, I rarely discuss religious beliefs in face-to-face conversations; but there are different reasons for my silence in those situations. Part of the reason that I don't engage in personal religious conversations is that I don't know what to say, so I'm going to use this blog as a format for getting my thoughts straight, even though this topic is tangential to the focus of this blog.

The first reason that I don't engage in discussions of religious beliefs is that I don't see any benefit in it. I don't expect to learn anything, and I don't expect my opinions to be persuasive to my conversation partner (more on that later), so I just don't have any motivation to participate. To make it worse, I doubt that it matters whether I believe in God or not.

The second reason that I avoid these conversations is that there is always a risk that the other person will be upset by what I say, either getting insulted, or defensive, or possibly even having their faith shaken. It's hard to politely tell someone that they appear to have built their life on wishful thinking, and that I have no interest in joining them in their delusions.

Still, this is one of those topics that is often worth broaching just as a "get to know you" type of thing, so I should figure out how to talk about it... and I'm gonna have to review how I got to where I am.

I used to be interested in religion. I grew up nominally Christian, though mainly I was a fairly passive theist. Really, all I wanted from God was some signs as to what I should do with my life. When I realized that I wasn't going to get these signs (around age 16) I had my major break with theism. I continued to explore theism for several years, with books and friends, but by my mid-twenties was pretty much done with it.

Discussions of theism often get started with a sort of "natural theology". Of course, this is the most logical entry point for a discussion when a theist is talking with someone whose beliefs they don't understand. I regularly encounter a few basic theist arguments -- what we might call "first mover", "intelligent design", and "magnificent universe" -- that I find completely unconvincing. It's kinda hard to produce anything but a blank stare when someone dishes me these lines. It seems that I can either arrogantly point out their logical error (e.g. assuming that a powerful intelligence is behind anything of interest) or just play stupid and say "I don't understand what you mean" until they give up in frustration. Neither is appealing.

The times that I have tried to engage with the above ideas, I have completely failed to connect with the monotheists whom I am speaking with. When I follow those lines of thoughts, I end up at some sort of pantheism, and with an exasperated conversation partner. The other problem is that I have only encountered one phenomenon that suggested intelligent design, and that is the interaction of the human brain with the compounds within psilocybin mushrooms. There are a variety of reasons that I refrain from bringing up that experience, depending on whom I'm speaking with.

If we get out of natural theology and deal instead with revelations, then I am forced to confront the credibility of whatever religious tradition inspires my partner. This is just asking for trouble. Once I get around the general problems with revelation, then we have to deal with the well documented history of lies and threats that separates us from the supposed revelation. I really don't want to go there.

The final problem that I have when discussing religion is that I don't have a nice label for my beliefs, and I don't belong to any organized school of thought. Others are content to identify as a "Christian" or a "Jew", despite the great variety of beliefs that fall under those labels. I could point to a variety of philosophical traditions, of which I only have passing knowledge. So I could say that I've liked what I've read about Epicurus' philosophy. I like Zen Buddhism, if you drop the mythology. I like the ideas of Christian Unitarianism and Universalism, but that's more about aesthetics than conviction. If we get into philosophy, I find myself to be really the odd-man out, and without any champion that I can defer to. I'm a solipsist of sorts, though I'm told that no serious philosopher is a solipsist (maybe we're using different definitions). The term "subjective idealist" seems to fit my ideas, but I don't think that I'd agree with George Berkeley.

So here I am, left without much to say when my friends talk about their deepest thoughts. Oh well.