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Apr. 14th, 2014

teacher-mode

Heartbleed

Thanks to jducoeur, this link to XKCD's explanation of the Heartbleed bug.

OMG: I didn't realize it was this simple and stupid. Reason #738 why no production code should be written in C or C++.

Apr. 4th, 2014

devil duck

Free speech and money

"The Court, in its magnificent equality, permits the poor as well as the rich to spend millions of dollars a year influencing Congressional elections and members of Congress."

So Mr. McCutcheon claims his free speech rights are being infringed when he's allowed to write multi-thousand dollar checks to only 27 Congressional candidates, not 28. SCOTUS agrees and says he should be allowed to write checks to candidates for every single seat in Congress if he wishes; that's freedom of speech. Of course, it's a freedom that's only open to the richest 0.1% of Americans, but still... the Constitution protects the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority. That's why we have the First Amendment, after all.

What did James Madison et al have in mind when they talked about freedom of speech and the press? I assume they had some notion that in a free marketplace of ideas, the best ideas will win if they're allowed to be heard. The McCutcheon and Citizens United decisions say it's not the best ideas, but the best-funded ideas, that will win, and we all know that the best-funded ideas are those that serve the interests of the already-rich, not necessarily the public.

The Court could reasonably have ruled that, even if you consider writing a check to be "speech" (which I dispute, since it has no idea content), campaign finance restrictions are regulations on "time, place, and manner," not content, and therefore permissible. But that wouldn't further this court's goal of rewarding wealth and power with more wealth and power.

Mar. 31st, 2014

rant

health care reform

So I read a blog entry and followed a link to a blog entry where there was a link to a blog entry where there was... you get the idea.  And I ran into an interesting article written by a couple of "thinking conservatives" (remember them?) entitled How to Replace Obamacare.

cut for lengthCollapse )
devil duck

spring is here, spring is here

March 31.  There's an inch of fresh snow on the ground outside my office, and it took me an hour and twenty minutes to drive to work.  (I normally take the train, but I have to pick up shalmestere from a doctor's appointment this afternoon so I drove.)
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Mar. 30th, 2014

devil duck

happy happy tech toy

I'm glad I live in a time when technology allows somebody to do this.
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Mar. 18th, 2014

teacher-mode

more armchair economics

I ran across a series of blog posts about "Modern Monetary Theory", and I'm trying to make sense of them.  The authors reach a lot of conclusions that I like politically, which suggests I'd better be more than usually skeptical to avoid confirmation bias.  One idea in particular intrigued me, and I thought I would try to analyze it on my own before reading more of what they have to say about it.

As I understand it, one of their fundamental principles is that over the past 80 years the U.S. and most other developed nations have moved from the gold and/or silver standard to the "tax standard": the value of the U.S. dollar, no longer backed by a fixed amount of gold per dollar, is ultimately backed by its ability to pay U.S. taxes (which, the libertarians will point out, is backed by the U.S. government's ability to punish people for not paying taxes).  In a way, this is nothing new: for hundreds of years of gold-and-silver coinage, a coin's worth was not only the value of the metal in it but also the promise that the King would accept it in payment of taxes.  We've just eliminated the precious-metal component entirely.

more analysis hereCollapse )

Mar. 3rd, 2014

devil duck

Dimpled snow

devil duck

Icicles at the Cloisters

devil duck

Act of God


Seen in front of Holy Child Jesus Catholic Church.  And yes, the statue is the Holy Child Jesus.

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Feb. 16th, 2014

devil duck

Yet more armchair economics: the minimum wage

The simple right-wing argument against minimum wage laws says "they make it more expensive to hire people, so any given company can't afford to hire as many people, so jobs will be lost."  (There are more sophisticated arguments, but I want to address this one now.)

The above reasoning is valid under the tacit assumption that everything else in the company's finances is unchanged, and the only thing changing is per-person labor costs.  In fact, several other things will change too.  For example, if your company pays higher wages relative to the market, your employees are less likely to leave for other jobs, so you save money on training and job churn.  But that's probably not a big effect if every low-wage employer's wages rise at the same time.

More interestingly, all of your employees are also somebody else's customers, and their employees are also your customers; if your customers suddenly have more money in their pockets, you'll sell more than you did before, so your revenues will go up at the same time as your labor costs.

So what kinds of businesses would see what kinds of effects?  Country clubs and luxury-clothing manufacturers won't benefit at all: they have low-wage workers, but no low-wage customers, so it's a loss for them.  Fast-food joints and big-box discount stores, OTOH, have both low-wage workers and low-wage customers, so it might be a wash, or even a slight win.

If it's a win (between job-churn and richer-customers) for those companies, why haven't they adopted higher wages already on their own?  Because it's not in any company's interest to be the first or only company to raise wages (at least in a low-skill sector where there's no shortage of workers); it only works if everybody does it.  Hence a law.

But a minimum-wage increase isn't going to pass a House of Representatives in which 20% of the members, in safe seats, don't want government to do anything, while another 30% won't vote for government to do anything out of fear of a Tea Party primary challenger.  So in keeping with Obama's pledge to use his own power to do what Congress won't, how about this:

Obama calls the CEO's of McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, Domino's, etc, puts them all in a room together, and says "I want you to all raise your bottom-end wage.  None of you will lose competitive advantage to the others, because you're all doing it simultaneously.  And since a lot of your customers are one another's employees, you'll all see increased revenues.  I'll be sure to mention in public which companies signed on, and which didn't."  Then he does the same with Walmart, Target, etc.

An interesting question: what kind of business would see a clear win from an increase in minimum wages?  Ideally, one that had high-paid employees (hence not affected by the increase) and low-paid customers.  The only way to pay for high-wage employees with low-wage customers is to have a LOT of low-wage customers -- to be on the long tail, making a little bit of money from lots and lots of transactions.  For example, Big Data companies: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, etc.  (Those don't make money on customers who are so low-wage that they don't have or use computers, but they would make a lot of money from people moving up into the computer-using echelon.)

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