Bring On The Sequester!

Wow. After much dilly-dallying, delaying, and obstructionism, it looks like the Sequester might actually Go Through this week. For some reason Americans aren’t very freaked out about it; the latest theory is that “it lacks a catchy name.” Maybe it’s harder to overhype something when it doesn’t have a scary word like “cliff” in the title.

What Spending Cuts?

Not that the government isn’t trying to overhype this thing. The powers that be are threatening us with delayed flights, furloughed workers — even “a lawless society“! To hear Obama and other politicians and officials talk about these “dire,” “brutal,” “devastating,” and “painful” cuts, you would think the Sequester is chopping the budget in half!

Actually, the apocalyptic post-sequester world involves federal spending that is still bigger than last year’s, just… not as big as it would have been. Here’s one of the charts going round the Internet:

Continue reading Bring On The Sequester!

Everything You Need to Know About Last Week’s News #33

Nothing, really. No popes resigned, no nuclear weapons exploded, no giant meteors crashed into earth. If you only care about big news and you have a high opportunity cost for your next five minutes, just skip this one and come back next week.

In reverse order of importance:

Continue reading Everything You Need to Know About Last Week’s News #33

Asteroid Detection: A Public Good, or A Public Good-Enough?

It has been over 100 years since a big asteroid slammed into Planet Earth; the famous Tunguska Event in Russia flattened trees for miles around. Scientists and space nerds eagerly awaited the close arrival of another big one last week that was scheduled to miss us by about 14 minutes, coming closer than the moon and even closer than some of our satellites.

This rare close encounter of 2012DA14, which was only discovered last year, spawned much discussion about the utility of improving detection of all these nearby rocks, especially since sooner or later one of them seems bound to hit a populated area.

Stunningly, twelve hours before this once-in-a-century asteroid event, another once-in-a-century event came out of nowhere in the form of a smaller asteroid that actually did hit Earth in the same country that saw the last once-in-century asteroid. It exploded over a populated area, injuring over a thousand people who stood too close to glass windows that shattered while they were gaping at the unexpected fireball.

It was almost unbelievable that the two events were unconnected, but it appears that the meteor crashed from a completely opposite direction while 2012DA14 was still several moon lengths away!

Continue reading Asteroid Detection: A Public Good, or A Public Good-Enough?

Petition Of The Day: Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal Again

UPDATE 02/21/13: The petition stormed past 100,000 signatures yesterday! I shall imagine that my timely blog post was what helped propel it over the finish line. (Naw, it’s probably better for my ego if I don’t.) Now we’ll see whether the White House responds meaningfully or if the petition will join the ash heap of political talking points.


If you haven’t already, I encourage you to sign this petition on the White House website. Unlike most useless Internet petitions, these petitions actually at least elicit a response from the White House if they reach the arbitrary threshold, which was recently raised to 100,000 signatures. The petition to Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal has 85,000 and needs 15,000 more by Saturday.

Reaching the threshold may not actually change anything, but even for a White House petition the odds are greater than normal. The regulation that recently and arbitrarily made it illegal to unlock cell phones came from the executive branch (The Librarian of Congress, specifically) and could theoretically be reversed. Based on my understanding of the subject, there was no good reason to change this regulation, and reverting it back would provide a better and freer market for consumers.

Derek Khanna, who has been helping to lead the charge on this, argues that “The Law Against Unlocking Cellphones Is Anti-Consumer, Anti-Business, and Anti-Common Sense.” Khanna is the same young conservative activist who was fired from his Republican staffer position after he rocked too many boats with his memo about common-sense copyright reform. I love how Khanna is directly trying to influence politics for the better by pursuing tangible and achievable policy changes – first with his copyright memo and now with his support for this petition.

So go sign the petition!

On Minimum Wages and Maximum Signaling

So, Obama wants to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25/hr to $9/hr. Like many generally conservative persons, I oppose the minimum wage on principle, expressed by countless others but most recently by The Crimson Reach:

if I want to hire someone to do a thing at $X/hour and that someone is willing to do the thing for $X/hour, or vice versa, this arrangement between we two is none of anyone else’s… business

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So Republicans Oppose Violence Against Women?

Earlier this week, the Senate voted on re-authorizing the “Violence Against Women Act,” and some Republicans caught flak for voting against it. The Internet lit up with predictable jokes about how the GOP is so anti-woman. Journalists even wrote articles like “Why Would Anyone Oppose the Violence Against Women Act?” as if the virtues of the bill were so patently obvious that it required a special investigation to uncover the mysterious motives one must have for opposing it.

This is a classic case of judging a bill by its title, which has become increasingly dangerous in recent years (Why would anyone not want to be a PATRIOT? Who wants to Leave Children Behind? Don’t you want Care to be Affordable? Etc. Etc.) Oddly enough, this bill has precisely the wrong title for such judging, yet everyone still manages to commit the same fallacy anyway!

The bill should be titled “Preventing Violence Against Women Act,” so anyone who opposes it could be accused of not wanting to prevent violence. As it stands, headlines like these don’t sound so bad: “Marco Rubio opposes Violence Against Women…” Yet everyone still implicitly understands that the joke is on the Republicans. Somehow it’s obvious that the bill’s goal is actually the opposite of its title, but it’s not at all obvious that the bill’s provisions may not be related to either one!

But enough about the title. I thought violence against women was already illegal, anyway. So what does this bill actually do?

Continue reading So Republicans Oppose Violence Against Women?

Monopoly Is Still An Outdated Board Game

After fans voted, Monopoly has replaced the iron token with a cat token. Apparently Monopoly updates its tokens from time to time in an attempt to stay relevant, although I’m pretty sure cats have been around longer than irons. But shuffling the tokens on the Monopoly board is like shuffling the deck chairs on a two-dimensional Titanic. When it comes to turn-based board games, Monopoly is still woefully outdated.

Blasphemy, you say? You still have nostalgic memories of glorious Monopoly nights? I know, I scoffed too, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that innovation in the turn-based board game industry has left old fogies like Monopoly (1934) and Risk (1957) far behind.

Let’s look at a few of the elements that render the gameplay of Monopoly and Risk inferior to a newer game like Settlers of Catan (1995).


Is The Sledgehammer The Only Way To Cut Spending?

Remember when the federal government “cut” a measly $37 billion in spending in 2011 and Obama hailed it as the “largest annual spending cut in our history”? Apparently even those cuts were full of accounting gimmicks, like counting money for projects that were already finished or cancelled. My personal favorite:

At the Census Bureau, officials got credit for a whopping $6 billion cut, simply for obeying the calendar. They promised not to hold the expensive 2010 census again in 2011.

Continue reading Is The Sledgehammer The Only Way To Cut Spending?