25 November 2006


As is usual for me around this time of year, I'm in a lazy holiday mood.  All I want to do is go home to Texas and relax for a few weeks with family; I'm finding it very hard to enjoy all the work I have to do before I leave.  But today I stopped working long enough to watch what is for me easily the most important football game of the year: Texas A&M against texas.  Nobody picked us to win, but the Wrecking Crew defense made some big plays and the option offense did just enough on two long drives to punch it in twice.  Statistically, it was pretty even:  They had only 70 yards rushing; we had 244 (against the top rushing defense in the country).  We had only 58 yards passing; they had 160.  They threw a few interceptions; we were penalized almost 100 yards and lost a key fumble that led to a touchdown.  The difference was conversions on third and fourth downs: we were 10 for 16 and they were 2 for 10, with a huge fourth-down stop inside our 10-yard line.  It's the first time the Aggies have beaten t.u. since I left A&M with a Master's degree seven years ago and the first time we've won in Austin since I was a fish.  It's a sweet win.

21 November 2006

Offensive patenting

In August I blogged about patents I filed while working at IBM.  Now IBM is suing Amazon for violating five patents having to do with online shopping.  "The suits say Amazon violates IBM patents covering such features as allowing users to order items from an electronic catalog, displaying advertising in an interactive service and storing data in an interactive network."  This is exactly the kind of patent abuse that I hoped was not part of IBM's aggressive patenting strategy.  IBM is undoubtedly a force of good overall, but they're wrong to use the patent system offensively, patenting everything they can just to sit back and collect royalties.  The free market doesn't need any more delay and distortion.

But Amazon isn't really an innocent party here; it's an offensive patenter itself, receiving licensing payments from its patent on one-click shopping (look up patent number 5,960,411 at the Patent and Trademark Office's database).  Sounds like hypocrisy to me.  Are there no good guys?

Another blogger sees this suit as a way for IBM to make easy money off the Web.  My take is simply that intellectual-property suits, like proposed Internet sales taxes, are bad for the online community.

17 November 2006

Still waiting for real change

So what do I think of the election results?  Inh.  Good, bad and same ol'.  I hope we can expect changes in foreign policy, but I fear that the new Congress will be less friendly to free trade.  At least increased federal gridlock must be a good thing.  But I don't have any confidence that those elected are any better than those kicked out were.  Essentially, as the Onion put it, the politicians are still in charge.

I was disappointed at first with the vote totals of Libertarian candidates, especially those of my good friends Michael Badnarik and Rock Howard, but then I found out that LP results were actually better than ever.  Automatic ballot access has been retained in Texas and several important races nationwide may have been "spoiled" by Libertarian candidates.  An article by Ross Kaminsky describes how the Republicans' defeats can largely be explained by their betrayal of their fiscally conservative principles.  They have taken the libertarian ("small L": generally fiscally conservative and socially liberal) vote for granted, but many libertarian voters are fed up and no longer see the Republicans as the lesser of two evils.  Most fallen Republicans deserve their losses.

15 November 2006

The physics and psychology of my beard

I've never planned to grow a beard.  At first, I'm just lazy: I go three days without shaving.  I shave with an electric razor, and, strangely, my beard is easy to shave after one day or two days but after three days it might as well have been a year—I call that phenomenon the Beardocline—so when I go three days without shaving I'm less and less likely to shave.  At some point I go from the lazy stage to the apathetic stage, in which my manly whiskers become an ugly "wino" beard but I just don't care enough to shave it.  Eventually it gets so bad that I reach the acceptance stage: I take the time to trim it and make it look nice.  I go to the trouble of maintaining it until I start to get tired of having a beard and realize that shaving it off is easier than keeping it neat.  Then everyone asks me what I did with my beard, but I think it controls me more than I control it . . .

07 November 2006

Crowded race in Texas

This election year in Texas the governor's race is the most interesting.  The incumbent Republican Rick Perry has been disappointing as governor, largely betraying his fiscally conservative ideals while remaining a social conservative and party insider.  He's the only one of the five candidates to support the Trans-Texas Corridor, which will require extensive use of eminent-domain powers and which many consider to be a huge waste of taxpayer money anyway.  In Perry's favor, he was a Yell Leader while at Texas A&M and has been surprisingly liberal in his use of the veto.

I would prefer any of Perry's rivals.  Carole Keeton Strayhorn has served as the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts as a Republican but has repeatedly stood up to Perry's relatively high spending and is running against him as an independent.  My hometown newspaper has endorsed her.  Chris Bell, the Democratic nominee, is relatively unknown statewide but is attracting most of the liberal/progressive/anti-Bush vote, meaning that he has no chance to win but is likely to finish second.  Richard "Kinky" Friedman is another independent; he has a lot of novelty appeal and seems to be the most popular candidate on the Internet, but he's low on substance and doesn't give any real sense that he'd make a good governor.  His few clear policy stances don't paint him as a conservative, liberal or libertarian—he wants to lower taxes and increase spending—so he's a true independent, for better or worse.

I decided to vote for the Libertarian, James Werner, mostly to help the Libertarian Party retain automatic ballot status for 2008.  (We lost it in the last cycle and had to mount a petition drive to get it back.  To retain it we need 2% of the vote in the governor's race or 5% in any other statewide race.)  Unfortunately, Werner's chance of winning is slim; if all I cared about was making a difference in the outcome, I'd probably have voted for Strayhorn.

A crowded race like this provides a great example of the benefits of better voting systems.  As election day has approached, the independents have seen their poll numbers decline as voters desert them for one of the frontrunners.  Under Approval Voting I'd have been able to vote for both Werner and Strayhorn (and even maybe Friedman and/or Bell), supporting compromises without deserting my favorite.  Vote-splitting would be eliminated, the candidate with the widest support would win and losing candidates would receive their true level of support.  A similar system, Range Voting, allows rating each candidate in some range, say 0 to 10—see an online poll for Texas governor for a demonstration.

Meanwhile, mainly due to the vote-splitting effect, Perry is likely to gain enough of the votes of Strayhorn-supporters to win reelection, but you never know . . .

Dr. No's opponent

Democrat Shane Sklar is running against my favorite Congressman, Ron "The Taxpayers' Best Friend" Paul, in the 14th district of Texas.  An endorsement announcement from the front page of Sklar's campaign site reads,

"In recommending Shane Sklar for the 14th Congressional District, the editorial board of the Galveston County Daily News declared that 'local Interest is the primary issue' and said, 'we just don’t believe that the constant no votes are the most effective way to secure the funding that the district obviously needs.'"

Let's translate that.  In other words, "we're not getting enough pork" and "we trust him to vote for big spending bills that give your tax money to other districts in order to bring more tax money here".  Those "constant no votes" sure do annoy special interests.  In fact, Sklar's endorsements are all from special interests that hope he'll do his best to tilt economic regulations in their favor, something that Ron Paul, who prefers limited government and to let the free market work, isn't willing to do for anyone.

Then, under his issues page, Sklar says that he "probably would have voted to send troops to Iraq".  Surely he's just pandering to his conservative district, but—a Democrat who's more pro-war than his Republican opponent?!  Ron Paul is one of the very few incumbents who deserve to be reelected.

06 November 2006

Frozen Peas for Senate

I just saw an online ad that said "Vote Frozen Peas for Senate".  It linked to payattention.org, a bizarre site that mocks citizens who don't pay attention to politics in the style of The Onion.  Non-candidates such as Spoiled Yappy Dog and Broken File Cabinet are portrayed as running for public office.  The point, presumably, is to encourage voters to get informed about "the issues" and vote, but actually I'd rather vote for Frozen Peas than most of the scummy candidates that are winning these days; at least Frozen Peas wouldn't raise taxes.  Furthermore, I'm not in favor of encouraging people to vote.  Really.  If political information is readily available and someone isn't motivated to vote, I'd rather his vote not count.  Besides, isn't there a certain nobility in refusing to participate in a corrupt process that votes money away from some and to others?  I do vote, but I usually feel like taking a shower afterwards, and I sympathize with principled non-voters.  At least here in the U.S.A., unlike in Australia, we still have the freedom not to vote!

02 November 2006

Don't push me

I just got push-polled by Jim Talent's campaign.  Like a schmuck, I thought it was a legitimate phone poll, and I gladly provided a verbal answer to each yes-or-no question.  "Will you be voting in the November 7th election?"  Yes (but not here).  "Will you be voting for Jim Talent?"  No.  "Will you be voting for Claire McCaskill?"  No.  "Would you describe yourself as pro-life?"  No.  "Do you think foreign terrorists should have the same legal rights as American citizens?"  Yes (in the sense I assume is meant—and this poll is starting to sound a little biased).  "Do you agree that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman?"  No.  "Do you agree with the NRA that the right to own a gun should be protected?" Yes (though the NRA does a poor job of defending gun rights—I prefer GOA).  "Did you know that Jim Talent is the only candidate for U.S. Senate endorsed by the NRA?"  I don't care.  What a waste of my time.  I feel violated as I realize my "votes" aren't being counted at all.  The call ended with a flat-out request that I vote for Talent.

I'm glad I can't vote for him.  But whoever wins that election, Missouri loses.

Voting day

As I mentioned in my last post, I vote in Texas, and today I mailed my absentee ballot.  I ended up voting for four Republicans, four Democrats and twenty-three Libertarians, and I voted against all seven Austin city bond issues.  (I abstained in fifteen local races with one unopposed Democrat.)  The easiest races to vote in were the two-way races with a Libertarian against a Republican or a Democrat—the Libertarian was the obvious choice each time.  I also ended up voting for the Libertarian in the three-way races, except for one race in which I chose a pretty good liberty-minded Republican candidate over a Libertarian who ran a paper campaign only.  For the seven races with one Republican and one Democrat, I spent some time researching and made a relatively informed choice.  They all were for judges of different kinds, and, given the information I found, overall I ended up feeling more comfortable with the Republicans for courts that hear mostly civil cases and the Democrats for courts that hear mostly criminal cases.

Mina Brees, the mother of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, was the Democratic candidate in one of the races.  He was angry that she used his image and fame in her campaign and publicly asked that she stop.  I chose her Republican opponent.