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Josh Barro on limited government and the mosque “controversy”

16 Aug

Part of supporting limited government is understanding that sometimes, things you don’t like will happen, and the government especially the federal government won’t do anything about it. Getting to do what you want comes at the price of other people getting to do what they want—including build mosques where you’d prefer they didn’t….

There is even a strip club three blocks south of Ground Zero, but nobody seems to have noticed that it is sullying the memory of the place.

via A Very Long Post on Cordoba House – The Agenda – National Review Online.  Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the link.

I’ve yet to read a persuasive argument for why a law-abiding group of Americans ought to be prevented from building a religious house of worship.  If you come across one, please let me know.

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Why Charlie Rangel should defend himself

11 Aug

In an unprecedented 31-minute speech on the House floor done against the advice of lawyers and friends, Rep. Charlie Rangel, attacked head on the allegations against him and the process under which he said he’s suffered unfairly.

via Rangel’s Rant – Swampland – TIME.com.

I won’t comment on Charlie Rangel’s guilt or innocence but I will say that his trial will be an incredibly positive event for the country.  Trials are instructive and cathartic events.  While a plea deal only tells us that an individual did wrong, trials teach us about the systems and processes that created the person’s conduct.   Trials are sunlight on a wound whereas “apologize and resign” is a band-aid.

If Charlie Rangel defends himself, we, the American people, will learn about what goes on in our government and what favors are considered normal.  Through tales of other representatives, we’ll get to judge the normality or abnormality of Rangel’s actions.  Rangel or his witnesses will surely tell us what his colleagues do and we’ll get some insight into what’s tolerated.

There is no question that a trial could be very bad for Democrats, and maybe even Republicans, but that’s probably because the truth will be uncomfortable and maybe even a little shameful.   The lives of powerful politicians come with special privileges and unimagineable burdens.   It is a world that 99% of us know nothing about.  A vigorous Rangel defense is a good way for us to find out.

I ask Charlie Rangel to defend himself as (maybe) his last act of public service.  He may end up teaching all of us a powerful civics lesson that it seems only trials or powerful investigative journalism can bring out.  With the latter largely dead in the popular press, we’ll have to hope that Congressman Rangel chooses to fight.

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Three very good sentences on privacy

9 Aug

As privacy becomes more and more scarce, those things we have to hide actually become increasingly valuable as well. Being able to keep that privacy increases in value. And that is going to lead to some very interesting and controversial business models and situations over time.

via Abundance And Scarcity In Privacy | Techdirt.

How about a search engine optimization service that populates hundreds of pages with good things about you so as to push the bad things to the end of the google rankings? Up til now its been services like identity theft protection or identity theft insurance but you could easily see services popping up which offer to obscure negative information about you or perhaps allow you to remove that information.

Alternatives to the “paperback Kindle”

10 Jun

Seth Godin proposed that Amazon introduce a basic and no frills $49 Kindle.  I’ve got a better idea–sell me an e-reader that allows me to electronically access the books I already own.  Give me the benefits of the Kindle–one device that holds 300 books, wireless access, bookmarking, ability to take notes, search notes–but make it extend to every book I already own.

I have a massive library of books that I love and don’t want to have to buy again.  I want Kindle benefits without paying $5000 to rebuy all these books.  You can even make me verify the fact by having me send in books that I want to digitize.  This should satisfy publishers that I’m not getting a free ride or that I won’t go sell my hardcopies later.

If I can convert all my CDs to MP3s, shouldn’t I be able to do the same thing for all of my books? Imagine if every Kindle came with the opportunity to electronically access the books you already have hard copies of? It would be a massive undertaking to negotiate with the various rights-holders but Amazon already has the relationships to do this.  If they did this for me, I would even pay a little extra for the privilege.  I’d also own just one reading device and that would be a great thing for whoever sold me that device.

Bottlenecks in the Entrepreneurship Pipeline: Legal

3 Mar

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the entrepreneurship pipeline and the bottlenecks that keep people from starting a business. Some of these bottlenecks are necessary (not every company deserves the $500k in funding they want) but many of them are process problems that can and should be fixed.

An overly complicated legal system can keep people like me in business but there’s no question that its harmful to entrepreneurship.  I can count at least a dozen potential entrepreneurs who never entered the race because the legal challenges seemed to daunting.  You could make an argument that perhaps those folks wouldn’t have succeeded to begin with but isn’t it possible that the costs outweigh the benefits?  I refer not only to the cost of incorporating (as high as $500 in many states) and the cost of raising money ($30k or more in legal fees) but the cost in time and energy wasted on activity that does not always create value.

A group of attorneys and venture capitalists led by Series Seed’s offer of open source legal documents is a good example of how we can make the process simpler, I encourage you to check out the explanation of these documents. With reliable financing documents and a few hours of legal advice, many companies seeking to raise $25,000 or $50,000 will be able to get the financing they need to expand and their business ideas.  In the situation where both the investor and the company want to play ball, this is a way for the “umpire” to get out of the way.

More: YCombinator also offers open source financing documents.  I haven’t reviewed either set so I can’t tell you which is better but I can say that fantastic attorneys appear to have worked on creating both.  Series Seed and YCombinator both give you a disclaimer and I better do the same: I don’t offer these as legal advice and can’t assume any responsibility for the consequences of using these documents.

Hat Tip: VentureBeat.

Patent of the Day: Tea leaves that infuse in cold water!

5 Apr

I was looking for water infusion tactics and stumbled upon this, a patent for a tea leaf that infuses in hot and cold water…

“Green tea leaves are macerated, treated with tannase, fermented in the presence of hydrogen peroxide in an amount that is sufficient to activate endogenous peroxidases to oxidise gallic acid and other compounds that are liberated by the tannase treat

The patent is owned by Unilever, the largest consumer products company in the world.

Prisons, Argumentation, and Good Night and Good Luck

29 Mar

Energy, the environment, and the economy, are often said to be the three most important challenges for America in the 21st century.  Less common are discussions about the problems facing the American judicial system. For example, how it imprisons 25% of the world’s prisoners and results in 1 in 31 Americans being in prison, jail, or some form of supervised release.  A problem rarely discussed because in the eyes of most people, it simply isn’t a problem.

Want less people in prison and you are weak on crime, want people to serve long prison sentences and you are in favor of a brutal and torture prone system.  Predictably, debate breaks down, conversations end, and we go back to talking about the best way to do something about the 3 E’s.

If you’ve never seen “Good Night, and Good Luck”, I recommend you watch it.  It is about the journalist Edward R. Murrow and his dispute with Senator Joe McCarthy over the “tactics” used to root out communism during the 1950s.  The film offers three particularly stunning elements.

  1. Black and white film allows you to see unfamiliar shades and nuances.
  2. The camera angles engagingly betray the controlled chaos of the time and of the Columbia Broadcasting System newsroom.
  3. The diction, word choice, and argumentation technique of Edward R. Murrow

The movie begins with Murrow taking up the case of an Air Force Lieutenant who has been deemed a “security risk” and suspended without trial because his father and sister alledgedly have Communist ties.  Murrow does not argue for the guilt or innocence of the Lieutenant but for the absurdity of a system that suspends the rights of individuals based on who they know, what magazines they subscribe to, or what meetings they have attended.  Today, most rational people woud consider such a system to be a travesty of justice.  Most impressive about Murrow’s argumentation technique is his use of the abstract as a way of asking his audience who amongst them would not be guilty under such a system.  In my mind, Murrow succeeds not by rightly criticizing McCarthy’s virulent anti-communism but by boiling these arguments in a crockpot of history (“we come from men who were not afraid to think unpopular thoughts or do unpopular things”), practicality (“will we arrest every man whose father or brother has gone to a meeting of socialists?”), and optimism (“our nation wil endure against the communist in a battle of weapons but more importantly in a battle of ideas”).

This may be the only way to defeat argumentation by fear.  This combination of history, practicality, and optimism has been used a structural plan for many of candidate and now President Obama’s speeches.  This morning, I was pleased to see a variation of this technique used by Senator Jim Webb of Virginia when discussing our prison problem.

“With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different–and vastly counterproductive.”

Perhaps its been made before but such an argument prepares us to finally have an honest debate on what is one of the great challenges for our country in the 21st century.

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