Part One:

          Now according to these papers, all
          the Jewish families in this area have
          been accounted for - except, The Dreyfusis.
          Somewhere in the last year it would appear
          they have vanished.
          Which leads me to the conclusion that
          they've ether made good their escape,
          or someone is very successfully hiding

          (looking up from his papers, across the table at The FARMER)

          What have you heard about The Dreyfusis
          Monsieur LaPadite?

          Only rumors -

          COL LANDA
          - I love rumors! Facts can be so
          misleading, where rumors, true or false
          are often reveling. So Monsieur LaPadite,
          what rumors have you heard regarding
          The Dreyfusis?

          (The Farmerlooks at Landa.)

          COL LANDA
          Speak freely Monsieur LaPadite, I want
          to hear what the rumors are, not who told
          them to you.
          The Farmer puffs thoughtfully on his pipe.

          Again, this is just a rumor - but we
          heard the Dreyfusis had made there way
          into Spain.

          COL LANDA
          So the rumors you've heard have been of


          COL LANDA
          Were the LaPadites and the Dreyfusis

          (As the Farmer answers this question, the CAMERA LOWERS behind
          his chair, to the floor, past the floor, to a small area underneath the
          floorboards revealing;)

          (lying vertically underneath the farmers floorboards. These human
          beings are The DREYFUSIS, who have lived lying down underneath the
          dairy farmers house for the past year. But one couldn't call what The
          Dreyfusis have done for the last year living. This family has done the
          only thing they could, hidden from a occupying army that wishes to
          exterminate them.)

          We were families in the same community,
          in the same bussiness. I wouldn't say
          we were friends, but members of the same
          community, we had common interest.

          (The S.S. Colonel takes in this answer, seems to except it, then moves
          to the next question.)

- From the opening scene of Inglorious Basterds

Part Two:
If you’re an anarchist, then it would be illogical for you to argue that the US government should sell off federal land in order to divest itself of property. Instead, the logical argument should be that the federal government should vacate the land it has taken possession of and not interfere with its original owners’ resettlement.

For, if you argue that the government should sell the land it holds, then you are implicitly admitting that the government is a) a legitimate entity and that b) it possesses property rights. If the government were an illegitimate entity, then whatever ownership claims it would make would subsequently be illegitimate as well. Thus, it would have to forfeit all claims to the proceeds of the sales, since those claims are derivative from the initial illegitimate ownership claim.
- Simon Grey, A Brief Thought Exercise

Although I cannot locate a citation for it, somewhere in the far reaches of YouTube, there exists footage of an interview with Frank Zappa in which he discusses his problems with the Libertarian Party, circa 1985 or so. Zappa makes the point that he agreed with the LP on a lot of issues, but on other issues, he found their thinking to be problematic.

In the interview, he cites eminent domain as one example. At the time, the LP platform included a point about returning land to Native Americans. However, the platform also included a point about eminent domain's being unconstitutional, or otherwise wrong. Zappa's point was: How will we return land to Native Americans without practicing eminent domain? Grey's concern is identical to Zappa's; true to the adage, great minds think alike.

Part Three:
You hypocrite, I wrote, how can you contradict yourself? But it's inevitable, I wrote.
It takes courage to discover a sense of conviction. It is a lifelong journey to develop a code of ethics that works for you. Along the way, you are bound to contradict yourself. 
This is the nature of morality. This is what it means to be human. We will never live up to all of our own expectations for ourselves. Our expectations will even change over time. The fact that someone once read and enjoyed Atlas Shrugged or The Communist Manifesto or any other controversial set of moral ideas should never, ever be used as a Scarlet Letter against anyone.
Of course, it's easy for me to dismiss contradiction when levied at me, while simultaneously crying foul when I detect it in the position of others. Easy it may be, but fair it is not. Although I am not an anarchist and I don't wish to defend their beliefs, in the context in which it was written, Grey's point can be thought of as an allusion to open-borders immigration. To wit, if citizenship is a relevant concept - indeed, if nation states are a relevant concept - then how can one simultaneously believe in citizenship and open borders?

Part Four:
Can a Christian Frenchman living through the Holocaust lie to Colonel Landa in order to save a family of innocent Jews from certain death? That is, can one whose values stand against "bearing false witness" nonetheless bear false witness if the cause is noble? Does the value of human life outweigh offer sufficient justification for failing to consistently practice what you preach?

More to the point, under what conditions might we "get away with" a philosophical inconsistency in the name of a just cause?

There are no right answers here. In the movie, Perrier ultimately betrays the Jewish family to protect his own. Human life outweighs his belief in honesty; the lives of his immediate family outweigh those of his neighbors. The Libertarian Party, circa mid-1980s, valued Native American property rights more highly than their stance against eminent domain. Simon Grey values communal homogeneity over strict adherence to free market capitalism.

As is the case with so many different aspects of life, the world is complex to the point that total consistency is probably impossible. In that regard, complaints that religions are self-contradictory are specious, too. Everyone is some level of hypocrite, because there are far too many complications in life to be fully accounted for by any ideology.

What matters is not that a contradiction exists, but that no contradiction remains unexplained. Consequentialist ethics easily account for a "noble lie." In the name of pragmatism, we might prefer some level of legal authority if it enables us to shrink the State's property holdings. Logic dictates that immigration restrictions are easier to eliminate than claims to citizenship.

That good decisions are sometimes contradictory is no strike against good decisions. The problem only arises when one deploys arguments of economic freedom against immigration; when one deploys religious arguments against saving lives; when one uses creed to justify creed-violation.

Ideally, a good-faith dialogue helps clarify the trade-offs. I do see the value of borders in the modern world, in light of practical considerations. I realize that open borders compromise border security - and I am comfortable with that trade-off. Freedom of migration and economic growth are both worth more to me than border security.

I also realize that in-group homogeneity loses out when pit against the arrival of a heterogeneous out-group. This is a good trade, in my opinion, because I do not value in-groups at all, and homogeneous ones - with their many Colonel Landas, large and small - have been all the more pernicious, in my experience.


Time Warp

Moving forward through time, we experience a temporal illusion. It's a trick that affects the cognitive time-horizon in remarkable ways. It's my little Time Warp, in which the present plays itself out like an eternity, the future stretches forward as though it hardly moves at all, and the past is blink, most of which will never be remembered.

Part One:
I remember now with what hungry interest I began to watch the lives of other people--interest that I had never felt before! ...I could not understand, among other things, how all these people--with so much life in and before them--do not become rich-- and I don't understand it now. I remember being told of a poor wretch I once knew, who had died of hunger. I was almost beside myself with rage! I believe if I could have resuscitated him I would have done so for the sole purpose of murdering him! 
...Whose fault is it that they are all miserable, that they don't know how to live, though they have fifty or sixty years of life before them? Why did that fool allow himself to die of hunger with sixty years of unlived life before him? 
And everyone of them shows his rags, his toil-worn hands, and yells in his wrath: 'Here are we, working like cattle all our lives, and always as hungry as dogs, and there are others who do not work, and are fat and rich!' The eternal refrain! And side by side with them trots along some wretched fellow who has known better days, doing light porter's work from morn to night for a living, always blubbering and saying that 'his wife died because he had no money to buy medicine with,' and his children dying of cold and hunger, and his eldest daughter gone to the bad, and so on. Oh! I have no pity and no patience for these fools of people. Why can't they be Rothschilds? Whose fault is it that a man has not got millions of money like Rothschild? If he has life, all this must be in his power! Whose fault is it that he does not know how to live his life?
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

Part Two:

The ground was covered in snow, the wind was blowing from the east, the morning sun was shining brightly, and my stomach had butterflies that just wouldn't quit.

It was hard to warm-up in those conditions, especially since I had just spent the previous two hours in the back seat of my parents' 1992 Honda Accord. It was a long and dull voyage from Happy Valley, as many used to call it, to Cache Valley. At least, it was dull for a sixteen-year-old who would much rather have stayed home to play his guitar. I think I would relish the trip, these days. We spent about two hours traveling about 120 miles across the full length of civilized Utah.

For a child - even a teenager - two hours is a small eternity, but today time seems to pass so quickly that two hours are over before I have even had a chance to think about what to do with it. In fact, if I don't think about what to do with it, the moments pass right by me like the chilly Spring wind that morning. Each gust felt like a small, but unbearable, eternity in Hell at the time; but now, I couldn't account for a single one.

Part Three:
The race I ran that morning, the 3200m, must have began like so many others from that period of my life. I must have done my warming-up and stretching in a sweatshirt and a nylon track pants-and-jacket set. I must have shivered and blown on my hands to warm them up. I must have felt as though the race couldn't be over soon enough. I must have spent an hour or or so in a chilly purgatory before finally doffing everything except the minuscule portion of slick nylon cloth known as a racing singlet and running shorts. The frigid morning air would have hit my skin like a tidal wave of ice picks, and I would have walked up to the starting line, then started hopping up and down to keep myself warm and to look as though I was ready for the race. A man with a starting pistol would have called us up to the line, waited several seconds too long, and then started the race off with a literal bang!

Must have, would have... I put it to you this way because the truth is that I don't remember any of this. What I remember is the flash of a few fleeting mental images, and a great deal of experience tolerating similar conditions on multiple occasions.

What I do remember, and vividly so, is the large golden eagle pendant attached to a think gold chain as it bounced up and down behind the back of a fellow racer. I was positioned directly behind him, and I believe he wore the chain for good luck. If he kept the pendant in front of him, it would bounce against his sternum as he ran, causing excruciating pain. So, instead, he twisted his necklace around before each race, so that the pendant would bounce against his back.

I remember this so perfectly because that day, as I flexed my every muscle in the face of that terrible cold air and watched the golden eagle pendant bounce up and down, I discovered my little Time Warp.

Part Four:
After spending a couple of laps behind that bouncing golden pendant, I made the conscious decision to push myself harder, to run faster.

I might "hit the wall" early, I thought to myself, and expend all my energy before the race was through. But if I kept myself from slowing down too much, I'd better my time and set a new personal record for myself.

So I quickened my pace and left the golden eagle behind. True to my expectations, I felt my energy starting to wane after a couple more laps. As the pain of exhaustion started to wash over me and I felt a warm flush pass over my skin, my inner voice told me something that would change my life forever:
It's only for a few more laps. It will be over soon. You can rest when the race is over.
Really, I had nothing to lose. My energy was spent, anyway. The only difference between slowing down now and opting to keep moving was a little mental anguish as I pushed through the pain. In a split-second, I managed to talk myself into trying it. I didn't have time enough to grow skeptical of the idea. I was cold, tired, miserable, and in the middle of a two-mile race. If I wanted to argue with myself over this, I'd have to wait for the race to finish. I lowered my head and pushed through the pain, managing to increase my speed even a little bit more.

And then it was over. I remember turning around about twenty meters from the finish line, seeing my coach jumping up and down with a huge smile on his face as he informed me of my race time. It was a personal best, and a new school record.

But this is not a story about how I broke a record; it's a story about a Time Warp. See, I remember three things about that race: a bouncing golden eagle, my inner voice telling me that if I kept going it would be over soon, and the look on my coach's face as he came to congratulate me.

The whole experience - the two hour drive, the one hour warm-up, the ten minute race, lunch, and a two hour drive back home - didn't last longer than half a day. At the time, it felt like an eternity. Today, it's little more than three fleeting images. Logically, we understand that time simply is what it is. But, as we move through time and blend experience with perception, we enter a Time Warp in which a second first becomes a lifetime before ultimately becoming an immeasurably short flash of consciousness.

Part Five:
Here at the outset of the year 2014, with half my life ahead of me, it is tempting to take the day off and while it away. The sun is shining again, and it's cold again, just like it was that Spring morning so many years ago. Back then, I had the benefit of months of training behind me, so a small and simple decision to tolerate what I knew to be a fleeting moment of pain could translate into a memory that will likely last a lifetime.

But today, I'm a bit out-of-shape and I'll likely never really remember the effort I put in today. The anticipation of this afternoon's workout stretches out before my mind's eye like another small eternity. Nor is my inner voice on my side this afternoon, for it's telling me to start training for a half marathon on Wednesday.

Wednesday is New Year's Day, an obvious starting point, a logical day to turn over a new leaf. Even then, after staying up late to welcome in the new year, I could bargain with myself: It's the middle of the week - start training this Sunday. Sunday is, after all, an obvious starting point, a logical day to turn over a new leaf...

This time, a new sort of logic kicks in. I know from experience, thanks to the hypnotic bouncing of a golden eagle pendant, that any effort I expend while running today will be fleeting. What seems like an eternity today will become nothing more than a brief flash of consciousness in the future, if indeed it is long enough to remember at all.

So I pass through my little Time Warp, watching time slow to a standstill, then speed up again until it flows so quickly that it can no longer even be perceived. I use this to my advantage, knowing that pain is brief even though it seems lengthy, and that memories last a lifetime, even though they seem like milliseconds. The whole process distorts our perception, mangles the appearance of the cognitive time-horizon. But a savvy awareness of it makes it one more thing we can use to our advantage.

Layout Update

As you can see, I've given the blog a face-lift with an eye to 2014. 

2013 Year In Review

Find my 2012 Year In Review here.

2013 was not, in my opinion, an excellent year for movies. In fact, I hardly bothered to review any because most of them were not to my liking. The general trend in movies, as with art in general, is to provide more flash for ever-decreasing levels of substance, and especially originality. Like many other people, I, too, am a fan of fancy special effects. A great explosion, however, is only as great as its purpose in the context of the movie itself. So, while we have seen many great explosions this year, the number of truly memorable movies has, in my opinion, dwindled to one.

That one was Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's revenge epic based loosely on spaghetti westerns and the legend of Brumhilda. This movie barely made it into the cut. My review date says January 2nd, 2013. A star-studded cast of excellent actors, combined with Tarantino's playful storytelling and thrilling violence made this movie the only one not-to-miss this year.

On the Hindi movie side of the table, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola was a real stand-out. This was another one from January, starring two of my favorite Indian actors: Imran Khan and Anushka Sharma. One of the things that sets it apart from the rest of the Hindi film genre, particularly considering this year's offerings, was the decidedly mature subject matter, which was tackled with a frankness seldom displayed in Bollywood. At the time, I was rather skeptical of the film, but in light of this year's other Hindi movies - Race 2, Chennai Express, and Ram-Leela for example - it proved itself to be a cut above.

The best Hindi film of the year, however, was easily Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. This, along with Without Limits, is one of the only movies about running that actually does justice to the sport. Combine that with the excellent acting of Farhan Akhtar, and you've got yourself a classic of the running movie genre. I do not exaggerate when I say it's the best running movie I've seen since Without Limits, which is maybe the only other really good running movie out there.

If the movie world was a little lack-luster this year, the music world virtually exploded with output from my favorite artists.

The most popular of these was the self-titled debut album from The Winery Dogs. Fueled by praise from music critics like Eddie Trunk, The Winery Dogs exceeded everyone's expectations in terms of sales and success. This was the first actually good album featuring Mike Portnoy since he left Dream Theater (my opinion), and owes its excellence to what might be the best vocal performances of Richie Kotzen's career. The instrumental performances are characteristically virtuosic, but as many reviewers have noted, the real story in this album is Kotzen's singing and the soulful songwriting forming the backbone of all the songs.

Speaking of Dream Theater, their self-titled album was, for my money, the best thing they've done since Falling Into Infinity. Driven by a more aggressive bass sound and some truly stunning vocals, the album seeks - and manages - to capture everything that made the band what it was in the early years. And while it still feels stiff in comparison to the groovier tracks on the early albums, it is a strong offering in the Dream Theater catalog, and well worth its salt.

Haken's The Mountain was a genuine 2013 surprise. While the band's previous albums explored djent and progressive shred, The Mountain toned things down a bit, showcasing the band's knack for complex vocal arrangements and the softer side of prog keyboard work. There simply isn't another progressive band doing what Haken is doing these days, and this the band's third album proves that they are leading the charge of the next generation of progressive music.

Meanwhile, the best of the best of the prog heap - Fates Warning - released their first album in nearly a decade, and it was amazing. Darkness In A Different Light explores lyrical themes of grief, death, and religion, while embarking on a musical display of musicianship the band hasn't really showcased since perhaps Perfect Symmetry. The album is so good that I basically haven't stopped listening to it since it was released, and see no reason to stop listening to it now. Its musical themes are dense, complex, multi-layered, and don't reveal themselves in the first listen. Sit with this album for a month or two, and you will discover that Jim Matheos and company are still the best progressive band actively making music.

The album in fact ties for my favorite album of the year with another pleasant surprise: Greg Howe's new project, Maragold, released a self-titled album this year that offers the perfect contrast to Fates Warning's deep and complex compositional style. Maragold offers radio-ready rock with concise arrangements and some of the smartest songwriting I've ever heard. Add to that some mind-blowing guitar and bass work - truly mind-blowing, better than anything else recorded this year - and the best new rock vocalist to hit the music scene in a decade or longer, and you have yourself a real treat. Maragold was perhaps "my Winery Dogs," considering the power-trio-plus-amazing-vocals-doing-radio-rock format. I personally found the jazz-inflected guitar work and clever guitar-bass interplay to top even what Sheehan and Kotzen managed to do with The Winery Dogs. But the real show-stopper was Meghan Krauss and her jaw-dropping vocals that call to mind memories of, yes, Ann Wilson.

Finally, I was treated to some amazing concerts this year, most notably the one-two punch of The Aristocrats and Joe Satriani, both of whom managed to set a new standard in what I can expect from a live performance. The concerts were different enough that I couldn't really compare them to each other, but it's safe to say that Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann have become about the best rhythm section in modern music. I count myself fortunate for having seen these concerts.

The only book written in 2013 that I managed to read this year was Susan Cain's Quiet, which offers a little insight into the world of introverts. I found the book only so-so. It could have benefited from more science and less compromise. It was not as fearless a book as I would have preferred. It was not written from the viewpoint of someone who is comfortable being an introvert, although I get the sense that Cain wanted it to be exactly that.

Donald Fagen's semi-memoir, Eminent Hipsters, offers a good look at the world of the cool from the perspective of an aging and obviously depressed Baby Boomer. It is an entertaining read, but it's hard for an optimist like myself to invest too much time in the thoughts of such a grump. I would also liked to have known more about Steely Dan from the inside, but I suppose one can never hope for such a book to ever be written. At the minimum, Eminent Hipsters offers somewhat of an explanation for why we'll never read a real Steely Dan autobiography.

I did read several books this year. More than last year, too. As usual, they were not recent books. The best one was Born To Run, even despite the fact that it is obviously a bit of a marketing pitch for barefoot running. It is a truly inspiring book that made me want to run more.

I suppose the big story of 2013 was the eight-week training schedule I developed, and subsequently attempted - successfully. (Find it on the training collection page.) This was a lot of fun to build and to work through. It kept me at the gym all summer long and made me feel about as healthy as I've ever been able to feel.

Prior to that, I gave body-building a try - unsuccessfully. I say "unsuccessfully" because, while I did make it all the way through Jim Stoppani's "Shortcut To Size," I didn't put on much weight. Perhaps this is a function of my diabetes. Because my diet is so heavily regulated for blood sugar management, I cannot really afford to do the kind of eat-eat-eating required for a body-building regimen. On the other hand, maybe body building just isn't for me.

Overall, it was a good year. As I mentioned in previous posts, Stationary Waves is due for a change, and hopefully a change for the better. But it's nice to close off the year by taking stock of some of the things we saw in 2013 before embarking on another exciting year.

Some Links

Tyler Cowen is mostly wrong (in my opinion) on Bitcoin, and consistently so. In his most recent post on the topic, he describes a situation in which competing currencies drive down the incentive to devalue. In other words, Cowen's description of Bitcoin's "collapse" is synonymous with Bitcoin's believers' description of its success. I am optimistic for Bitcoin.

Gary Becker is good on income redistribution. There are some excellent points throughout his post, but this one caught me be surprise: "China’s inequality is now comparable to that in the US, as measured by the Gini coefficient[.]"

Puzzlingly, Jonathan Finegold Catalan defends snark. However, he clarifies in the comments that he really has in mind "being direct." I like the latter, but not the former, and yes I will admit to my own checkered history of snark.

Robert Murphy applies shared guilt to homosexuality. Here's a novel thought, though: Maybe there's nothing to feel guilty about.

And while I'm at it, Murphy's recent post on god's "omniscience" really just makes me wonder: If god can see and know everything before it ever happens, then why did any of the stuff in the Bible even occur? I mean, why punish mankind - or offer them salvation - if you can see their every move before it happens? Why not just skip that step and move straight to whatever heaven or hell he's got planned for us? Or, alternatively, why didn't he just create us to be perfect? (If he cannot, then he is not truly omnipotent; if he can then he is not truly good, etc. etc...)

Remember when people who were against the Russian government were called "rebels," not "insurgents?" I don't, either.


New Year's Resolutions

My father has a running gag.

Every year, he waits for someone to ask him what his New Year's resolution is. When asked, he always replies, "Not to make any more New Year's resolutions." It's the sort of joke that is clever the first time you hear it, then as the years go by, it grows old, gets annoying, then gradually becomes funnier again, until it has been done so many times that it's legendary.

Even after having been asked again and again, my father never wavers. He's not just making a joke; he has genuinely resolved not to make any more New Year's resolutions.

At this point, I could speculate. My father is a very competitive man. Perhaps his competitive nature resulted in a series of resolutions that became progressively more difficult to accomplish. Each year, he would have attempted to best himself and his previous year's resolution, until the point at which he had attained a resolution so difficult that he realized that further resolutions would be beyond his ability to achieve.

Perhaps as a young man he gradually acquired a cynicism about New Year's resolutions. He dutifully set a high bar every year, attempting to better himself through diligent and constructive goal-setting. Then, as the year passed by and urgent matters claimed all the spare time with which he planned on learning to speak Japanese, or publishing a novel, or building a gazebo in the back yard, or etc. Frustrated that life was always undermining his efforts at self-improvement, maybe my father finally and reluctantly threw in the towel. He'd never make another New Year's resolution.

Most likely, though, my dad didn't want to learn Japanese or build a gazebo. He spent all day long working for the man five days per week. When he got home, he was inundated with any number of frustrating and expensive home repair tasks. He had to sink his Saturday's into repairing the plumbing fixtures and mowing the lawn. His evenings often disappeared into a carefully regimented system of lawn-watering. (These were the days before home sprinkling systems were very affordable.) He might have to cook dinner on the grill outside, only to discover on his way out that the doorknob needed to be replaced. Then, finally sitting down to dinner, he'd be informed that the weatherproofing on the windows needed to be re-done. Understand, none of this happened because our home was a junk heap. Our home was gorgeous, which itself is a testament to the dedication and conscientiousness with which my father attended to his responsibilities.

When all is said and done, though, it is perfectly understandable that he'd be reluctant to task himself with a separate pile of homework to score extra credit points with his self esteem.

In that light, my father's true New Year's resolution becomes entirely clear. He hadn't resolved not to make any New Year's resolutions at all. He had simply resolved to make the most of every moment he had. He resolved to find time to stop, relax, and smell the roses. He had resolved to spend a lot of time with his family, doing things that made him genuinely happy.

Furthermore, he had resolved not to have to answer to that fact once a year, when everyone wanted to know why he didn't have some special project to report. He had resolved to enjoy his free time by doing whatever he pleased, without having to field follow-up questions a year down the road. How is that novel coming? Say something to me in Japanese. When are you going to start on that gazebo? Do you need help painting it? 

Once a year, we resolve to make ourselves better people because... well, because there is such a thing as a "New Year's resolution." Personally, I enjoy making them. I might have taken after my mother in that regard, or maybe I just enjoy spending my time learning things and working on projects. It's easy to get caught up in the action and then later feel bad about the fact that we had a whole year to learn Japanese and build gazebos, but we didn't manage to get anything done.

In light of that, we can all stand to learn a bit about my father's no-resolutions-resolution, because it teaches us something important: Free time is meant to be enjoyed. So, enjoy it.


Character Development

Imagine you had never seen or read any version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol ever before. Imagine further that, rather than starting at the beginning, you started at the arrival of the first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past. You started there, and continued all the way to the end. Under those circumstances, the plot of the story would be perfectly obvious. The story's major conflicts would be thoroughly straightforward. The moral of the story would resonate perfectly well with you. Everything would be just fine.

Considering all of that, what purpose is served by the first part of the story? Why must we invest so much time and effort into gaining exposure to all the cantankerous things Ebenezer Scrooge does and says? What is the purpose of learning about Tiny Tim early on in the story, or learning about Scrooge's workaholic nature? Why should we even care about Jacob Marley's visit?

Good writers understand the importance of character development. It's not necessary to tell a story with rich and well-developed characters, but the better we understand the people within the story, the more meaningful their actions become. Anyone who goes through the experience of viewing reruns from their life and previews about the future will learn a few lessons about generosity, but the real genius of A Christmas Carol is not that anyone learns to be a good person, but that a particularly evil man learns to be good. It means all the more that a hopeless case found redemption than it does that some guy learned to appreciate the world around him. We can tell the story from A Christmas Carol without any scene that occurs prior to the visit of the first ghost, but the story just won't be as good.

Now, if someone were to ask me what A Christmas Carol is about, I might tell them something like this:
A Christmas Story tells the story of a rich miser who, over the course of a single night, receives a visit from three ghosts. The first helps the miser re-live his past mistakes; the second shows the miser the important things that are going on around him in the present-day; the third shows the miser his fate, should he continue to live his life as he has thus far. As a result, the miser is moved to change his ways, just in time for Christmas Day, and sets out to live a happier, more generous life.
Notice that my plot synopsis just justice to the story while simultaneously omitting all references to Jacob Marley, Tiny Tim, and the many other characters who serve to make the story the classic that it is.

Suppose we were having a conversation, and you told me that you hated how people wear those stupid Santa hats during Christmastime, and my response was, "What are you, buried with a stake of holly through your heart and boiled in your own pudding?"

Obviously, I'm making a reference to a classic Scrooge quote. To those of us familiar with the story, we instantly understand the message I'm conveying to you. I am, in effect, implying the entire book to you through that one sentence. We have a chuckle, and we move on, but I haven't said anything about the plot of the story, nor have I made any reference to any of the characters or particular events in the story.

With one well-placed citation, I'm making a statement that spans hundreds of pages of English literature.

Music theory works the same way as the two episodes I've described.

On the one hand, we can consider music theory as a sort of character development. You don't need any understanding of music theory in order to write a song, or appreciate something on the radio. You can pleasantly bob your head along with whatever you hear. You don't need an academic understanding of music theory for any of that, of course not.

But without that additional character development, without the added frame of reference with which to supplement your listening experience, you won't really be able to appreciate what you hear on the same level. Just as we need to understand that Ebenezer Scrooge is a wicked man in order to fully appreciate his reform over the course of the visits from the three Christmas spirits, so, too do we need to understand something of music theory in order to enjoy the depth of expression available to us when we hear music.

And, on the other hand, we can think of music theory as a stand-out quote from a great novel. Jazz musicians do this all the time when they quote melodies from famous songs while soloing in a second song altogether. But it need not be that obvious, either. I can evoke certain moods just by changing the way I phrase a melody. Just by moving one note, I can make a melody go from sounding "normal" to sounding "exotic." In doing so, I convey to you a whole series of musical ideas, often with only a few notes.

Some people do not fully appreciate the fact that knowing some music theory enhances the listening experience. It's not about what's "smart" or "good," it's about conveying ideas on multiple levels, adding character development of sorts, and making references to tertiary ideas.


A Fascinating Look At The Indian Video Game Market

This article about the new Playstation 4 game console offers a fascinating view of the challenges faced by businesses when regulations and market complexities get in the way of an otherwise straight-forward business model. Here are some stand-out excerpts.

First, on why PS4 costs more in India than in Europe or the USA:
In India, gaming products unfortunately attract a heavier duty. Let's assume you're importing a product that costs Rs 100. Your duty on that product will roughly amount to 24-25% of the cost of that product, and this is just the import duty. Add to this local customs clearance cost as well as port handling cost, and you're looking at a 2-3% increase. 
Over and above all of this comes the VAT (value added tax), which for items of this category amounts to roughly 13.5-14.2%. When you add it all together, you're looking at a pretty substantial amount that goes into the hands of the government. 
Even when you consider the price of this product in the US, once you add the 36% duty upon that number, you get a much higher price than you would with a simple dollar-to-rupee conversion...
People also need to understand that India has a multi-layered distribution system market, so you are talking about a straight deal between 10-15% that is fed into distribution channels. This is not the case in bigger, more developed markets like the US.
An idea I hadn't considered before is the fact that local Indian distributors will find a way to replicate - meaning mass-produce - games from within India in order to undercut the import price-plus-duty. This is, of course, the whole point of high import duties - they force local customers to buy from local businesses rather than from abroad. The price differential represents a dead-weight loss to Indian society in the form of foregone video game consumption. The interviewer demonstrates some awareness of the dead-weight loss (if not its root regulatory cause) when he says:
The average American gamer is supposed to be 30 years-old, but in India, most gamers are still in school or college. How do you expect them to pay these premium prices for both hardware and software?
But, back to local game replication, the Sony representative says:
It's too early to say now, but once we have an established base, that opportunity looks extremely viable given that we already have a Sony disc replication plant. But even then, people shouldn't expect drastically lower prices. A locally replicated game may go down from Rs 3,999 to roughly Rs 3,499. We unfortunately do not have a magic wand that can take the price all the way down to Rs 2,499.
For reference, 3999 Rs is equivalent to about $65, and 2499 Rs comes out to about $40.

Of course, in some cases, the taxes and duties mean that no one in India has access to the product in question at all. This would be an unintended consequence.
The demand for the PS monitor wasn't that high to begin with, and considering the tax structure that I just explained earlier, it just didn't make sense to us. However, this time around, first-party accessories like the controller, and camera will be available at launch.
The entire interview is economically fascinating, so do read the whole thing.

I leave you with one additional anecdote. This will come as a surprise to those of my readers who have spent their whole lives in the United States: In other countries, the infrastructure for debit cards is supplied by companies that are completely independent of Visa or MasterCard. Here in the States, since debit transactions are handled by the same companies that handle credit transactions, there is no special infrastructure required for retail processing. In foreign countries, however, debit cards are processed using a completely different technological apparatus. This is likely because banking regulations abroad prohibit banks from engaging in that degree of horizontal integration.

Think about that while you read the following:
We've heard certain debit/credit cards do not work on PSN. Any idea why this is happening?
Debit cards don't work on the store, and we don't have plans to add in debit card support. Most of the international credit cards like Visa and Master Card work, but cards from local or corporate banks will not work.

The Goal Is Self-Exploration

A few weeks back, I had the good sense to add the "Find A Workout..." page to the blog. That page currently captures the most up-to-date suggestions I have for constructing a workout regimen. There, you will find information on how to train for a marathon (probably not your first marathon, though), an eight-week general fitness regimen that I developed to get in shape for a beach vacation, advice for runners both novice and experienced, tips on how to train for your first 10K, and how to build your own workout.

That's a lot of information. Let me further add the caveat that I am not really trained to be giving out all this advice, if by "trained" we mean "formally schooled." One of the reasons I find the "fitness world" so distasteful is that a lot of it consists of weird, cultish marketing. Mark Sisson wants you to "swallow the red pill" and eat like a caveman. Dr. Atkins wanted you to eat more bacon. Tony Horton wants you to make P90X a lifestyle. Others would prefer that you juice, or make shakes, or make smoothies. The Crossfit crowd is notoriously cultish. The list of examples is far too long.

If I wanted to be a fitness guru, it wouldn't be difficult for me. First, I'd acquire the aforementioned formal schooling, and that has become so easy in this day and age, that it really amounts to nothing more than a few weeks of self-study online courses. Maybe I'd buy a red t-shirt and some track pants, and take promotional photographs of myself with my arms folded and big, cheesy smile on my face. I'd develop a special conceptual language to advance my key messages, and to facilitate the sense that my book - and perhaps my DVD set - is part of a larger community of active, fit, happy people who all think uniform thoughts about how to run and how to work out. 

And how to eat. My, how we eat! We eat clean. (Not cleanly. I guess that's different.) We eat a special, scientifically tested, peer-researched (ha, ha, get it?) blend of carbohydrates, protein, and fat tailored to the exact physiological requirements of the human body, based on... oh, let's say evolutionary principles and archeo-culinary design. The recipe book that I've written to compliment the workouts you find on the DVD is yours free with any purchase from my line of dietary supplements, all of which make their own special appearance in recipes themselves. I take the guess-work out of eating clean. In fact, that will maybe be the subtitle of my book; or maybe it's just the QVC tagline, I'm not sure yet.

The point is, I could tell you how to eat, and train, and supplement, and think, and read so that your whole life would be wrapped up in this Stationary Waves running business.

I could, but I won't.

I suppose one important reason I won't do that is because, as I said, I lack the formal schooling to argue from authority. Another reason is my firm belief that every individual body is a little different and requires some tailor-made changes that only you yourself can be aware of. The workouts I've collected here are the workouts that I do myself. When you try out some of the 8W workouts, or when you attempt my 18-week marathon training, or when you get ready for a 10K by starting out one minute at a time, you really are working out right beside me. Thus, in a certain sense, you're getting workout ideas that are tailored to my own unique needs.

In light of all that, I'd like to write some more posts like the Stationary Waves Guide To Designing Your Own Workout. My goal here is not to convince you to workout my way, but to try to pass along the building blocks of information required for you to do some fitness self-exploration of your own.

I won't tell you how to eat. I'll tell you how I work out, but I won't argue that this is The Path to better health and wellness. What I'm really trying to do is get you started on a fitness Stationary Waves journey of your own. How do you know when to take a rest day? How do you know when you're starting to injure yourself? How do you know when to increase the intensity of your workouts? How do you know you're ready for a marathon?

You can go anywhere to learn how to do posture-perfect leg raises. You can decode the secrets of the paleo genome in any other corner of the internet. Here at Stationary Waves, we're not really interested in that. What we're striving for is a point where we all have the knowledge to develop our own unique approach to training.


Some Links

Let me attempt a humorous paraphrase of this recent post from Stephen Williamson: We are all saltwater economists now, even those of us reviled by saltwater economists.

Michael Munger was so-so in Part I, excellent in Part II, and - at least in my opinion - somewhat dangerous in Part III. Specifically, Munger wants us to question what a "truly voluntary" voluntary exchange is. This is destined to devolve into the same kind of philosophical mish-mash produced by discussions of free will. If by "voluntary" we mean bereft of any influence from circumstance, then "voluntary" no longer means what any of us think it means. In short, no, it's not a good point Mr. Munger. At least, not this time.

David Henderson makes an excellent point, as usual. This time, it's on immigration.

News you can use: If you're going to be a dissident, it helps to be an attractive young woman. I actually wonder if there's something to this, because after all Edward Snowden is relatively free, while Julian Assange is effectively under house arrest.

This is a few days old now, but I thought this was a reasonable and balanced look at the paleo dieting fad.

65% of Americans hate ObamaCare. Think about it. With support like that, we could actually pass a constitutional amendment against it.

A 47-year-old woman ran 86 hours straight, with no sleep. And people whine about how they're too tired to get up in the morning for an easy morning run. The human body can do more than you think it can.

What a nightmare: Two pro-life issues in a single case. I do not envy this poor man.

My Theory On Income Convergence

Despite my having promised more interesting, less opinionated blog posts in the future, a recent post at Marginal Revolution has given me an opportunity to articulate a theory that has been working itself up in my head lately.

But first, some pictures. Let's start with the map posted at Marginal Revolution, originally found here.
Now, let's compare that to a graph of the percent change in population, by county for the one-year period from 2011 to 2012, which I located at this link:
There are some obvious points of overlap, but it's not a home-run. Things look even better when you look at where the population was increasing up to about 2007, found at USA Today (note that the period covered in the first graph is 2007-2012):
Now that we have a sense of what's been going on, I'll make two points very quickly.

First, if it isn't obvious to you that population growth results in economic growth, I would encourage you to give these maps some additional thought. When people have more children, the economy benefits because, simply stated, people are good for the economy. A tangentially related point to this is that immigration is good for the economy. That's a point for the open borders crowd.

Secondly, some have lamented that US median income has been stagnating for years, at least on a national level. Clearly, there is no question that the US has had a poor recovery since the-great-recession-or-whatever-we're-calling-it-these-days. It seems ages ago since it was fresh in our minds, but prior to the "great recession," the big economic issue was outsourcing. People were upset that they were losing their high-paying factory jobs to people in China, and that they were losing their high-paying programming jobs to people in India, and so on.

We see technology playing a larger and larger role in daily American life. You can place fast food orders at computers, or online. You will soon receive Amazon.com purchases delivered by drones. Labor is an important component of the economy, and I disagree with Cowen and others when they place such a high emphasis on the importance of artificial intelligence and imagine futures where intelligent robots walk beside us.

But when you add up all these trends, it seems to indicate that wages throughout the world are converging. What this means in the United States is that one no longer has to move to New York City in order to enjoy New York City salaries. From the NYC vantage point (or Fairfax, VA), this feels like "stagnation" because it is getting costlier and costlier to keep up with ever-inflating price levels. But, from the vantage point of Oklahoma City or Topeka it looks a lot more like increasing wages. That's because incomes in the Midwest are apparently increasing, and thus converging with comparable incomes in the old urban centers.

On an international level, the middle class in the developing world is and has been experiencing enormous wage growth. Life is not as "dire" in developing nations as the Baby Boomers once believed. In fact, life is actually quite pleasant. Every year, things in the "third world" look a little bit more like the "first world."

My theory here is that, just as "the Great Stagnation" feels like a stagnation in Baltimore, but feels more like a boom in Fargo, the "slow recovery" that we've experienced here in the United States feels more like "solid growth" in places like Mexico and India.

In conclusion, I would like to make the prediction that we should not expect to see a lot of wage growth in the United States for quite a long time. But this does not mean that life will get worse here; life will get better as world incomes grow and the entire world experiences hefty wealth increases. I would expect this to put deflationary price pressure on the United States, and the rest of "the west" more broadly. This will likely put central bankers in a bind, but I think they should not worry about it so much. A rapidly growing economy is a very good thing, of course, but a surge in global wealth and its resulting income convergence is also very good.

To fully reap the benefits of what's going on, we here in the United States should think about decreasing barriers to international trade, so that we can more fully enjoy decreasing prices, and also that we might do a better job of doing business internationally.


Looking Ahead To 2014

As you must certainly already know (ha ha), 2013 is winding down into its final weeks. It is a bit of a tradition for people to do some of their best navel-gazing in such circumstances, and I would like to take full advantage of the excuse.

This blog began its life as a place to collect my thoughts regarding, primarily, economics and politics. Looking back over my first few posts, from May 2010, reveals something unexpected: I spent a lot of time discussing morality. As the years have gone by, I've kept up with that. While I was sure that, for a while, I would be something of an amateur economics blogger, I have been far more consistent on posts about morality, which does happen to be my primary interest.

This is, ultimately, a good thing. I must confess that over the years I have become more and more aware of my shortcomings as an economic thinker. The more I learn, the less certain I am of the things I was initially writing about. The more submerged in the "economics blogosphere" I become, the less inclined I am to write economics posts, or even to comment on the blogs of others. On the other hand, when it comes to morality, my interests really haven't waned at all. Perhaps they have even grown stronger.

It is in light of this shortcoming of economic knowledge that I feel an urge to take this blog in a different direction: More questions, fewer answers. More stories, fewer expositions. More perspective, less opinion.

In short, I'd like this blog to be a little more fun. It's always fun to find out something new about something, but it takes a person much more intelligent than I to articulate opinions in a way that really moves - or at least passably entertains - readers. On the other hand, stories - about my experiences and those of others - have a natural appeal that transcends opinion. Told effectively, stories can inspire opinions and maybe even shape them, without being quite so on the nose as expository writing has to be.

Having said that, I feel that my best accomplishment at the blog this year was my 8W series of posts (a list of which you can find here). It was a great series of workouts and they were a lot of fun to develop. The posts seemed to generate a lot of blog traffic, too. With some effort, I believe I can put together something similar to that every year. (After all, my marathon training series is also available at the same link.) The fitness component of Stationary Waves has always been an important piece of the overall philosophy, although I haven't always made that explicitly obvious. Perhaps it's time I did so.

At any rate, in 2014, here's what I think you have to look forward to at Stationary Waves:

  • Better-quality writing. No more stream-of-consciousness, opinionated, blathering. Well-written blog posts that tell stories and are, I hope, more entertaining to read.
  • More fitness stuff, written the way I like my fitness information. In other words, fitness stuff without all that pesky, cultish marketing language. Just good information pulled from personal experience.
  • Topics of greater interest to the reader. If I write about economics, for example, I'll give you a reason to care about what you're reading.
Hopefully, when I pull it all together, 2014 will be another great year for the blog, but specifically a great year for readers of my blog. I always aim to offer a quality blog-reading experience, but in the coming year I'd like to start writing more about the kinds of things I'd like to read about, and less about whatever happens to pop into my head at the time.

I can't guarantee that I'll succeed, but I can guarantee that I'll try. I hope you'll join me in the process.

Music As Art: Hum

Sometime in 1995, I started hearing a song called "Stars" on the radio. The vocals were not to my liking, but the composition of the piece, the guitar work, the combination of sounds, and so on, were unlike anything I'd ever heard before. It was a bit like Failure, but somehow heavier. It used to come on close to the time I'd settle into bed and start to fall asleep with the radio playing softly.

In time, the radio stations stopped playing "Stars," and I sort of forgot about it. Then, early in 2003, I auditioned for a band in Salt Lake City who was looking for someone who was influenced by Failure and Hum. Failure's Fantastic Planet was - and is - one of my all-time favorite albums, so I jumped at the opportunity. I had what I thought was an excellent audition, but ultimately the band didn't like me. It was really too bad. I would have been exactly what they needed.

Over the course of eight years, Hum's third album, You'd Prefer An Astronaut, went from being mildly popular post-grunge alternative filler to being one of the most influential records in the "indie," or "alternative," or whatever-they-call-it-now music genre. Chino Moreno said it was a major influence on The Deftones and rated it one of his all-time favorite albums. Hum's sound combined a certain heaviness with a certain softness, which is a description that should resonate with Deftones fans. But beyond that one point of influence, Hum fans spread across the full "indie" music spectrum. The moody, tweedy, acoustic crooners appreciate Hum's attention to tonal combinations. The heavy modern alt-rockers - the guys you hear on Sirius XM's "Octane" channel, for example - love Hum's appreciably brutal guitar riffing and impeccable sense of groove. The gen-Xers can put on a Hum album while they're brooding, while the gen-Yers can listen to a Hum playlist while riding their fixies down Yonge.

Impossibly, Hum created a sound that resonates with almost everyone. Kids a decade or more younger than me know Hum; people ten years my senior are well familiar with their back catalog. And yet, incredibly, Hum never sold many records, broke up almost 15 years ago, and is mostly just active on the obscure-band-reunion-show circuit.

Still, I am confident that when music history finally comes to terms with all the crap we musicians have been putting out since about 1999 or so, and the art world finally has its reckoning day and decides to make amends for selling out so totally, so completely, so cheaply, that most people can't even post a ukulele cover of a Lina Santiago tune without OMG monetizing it! Hum will be written into the same chapter of the history books as King's X, The Velvet Underground, Green River, and Kate Bush as artists that never attained a level of fame that did justice to their degree of influence on the medium.


Sober Analysis

The mark of a deep thinker is his or her ability to avoid letting strong emotions get in the way of a calm and patient analysis. Otherwise, the tendency is that emotions can get the better of a person.

Suppose labor force participation dropped in the wake of a reduction in employment benefits. A left-leaning person experiencing strong emotions over the plight of the poor would be inclined to conclude that reducing social welfare payments to unemployed persons results in a loss of real wealth, in the form of a shrinking workforce. "Correlation does not equal causation" does not quite encapsulate the problem here.

There is, in fact, no reason to "suppose" the above example. In a recent Bloomberg article, Evan Soltas reports just such a thing. (Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.) The most interesting part of Soltas' piece is this excerpt:
In addition, North Carolina’s labor force began to shrink. The state is experiencing the largest labor-force contraction it's ever seen -- 77,000 fewer people were working or searching for work this October than a year ago. This should, but won’t, settle a partisan debate. Cutting unemployment insurance apparently hasn’t encouraged the unemployed to look harder for work: It has caused them to drop out of the labor force altogether. 
To get unemployment insurance, you have to actively search for work and prove that you're doing so. The drop in the labor force suggests that this incentive was effective. Without it, more people just give up.
I haven't verified the numbers Soltas reports in his piece, but I have no reason to question them. Let's take them at face value.

One fact stands out more than all others in my mind: The only thing keeping these folks in the workforce was welfare. Without those welfare payments, they gave up looking for work entirely. On its face, it sounds pretty bad. But if we actually take the time to consider what this actually means, the picture changes a bit.

First of all, recipients of unemployment benefits do not have jobs. That fact doesn't change, no matter what. If their benefits were increased or decreased, or left unchanged, they would still not have jobs. Thus, if we take Soltas' reporting at face value, there is no reason to conclude that any change to unemployment benefits has had (or will have) a serious impact on the number of people drawing employment checks.

Let's pause to emphasize that point to you conservatives and libertarians who are inclined to argue that the reason people aren't working is because unemployment benefits are so extravagant. Clearly, North Carolina's experience negates that viewpoint. These welfare recipients didn't get jobs when their benefits ran out; they stopped searching for work altogether.

Yet, that being true does not bode well for the liberal position, either.

The rationale for unemployment insurance is supposed to be that we are supporting a good man or woman who has lost a job while that person looks for a new one. If a good person struggling to make ends meet needs a few months' support to prevent himself/herself from losing an apartment or car, society could conceivably benefit from bearing a small burden to avoid a comparatively larger loss in wealth to the resulting "under-employment."

Note, however, that Soltas reports neither under-employment, nor an increase in homelessness. Liberals' worst fears were not realized. Instead, what's happening is that people are exiting the workforce when their benefits run out... and they are mysteriously "just fine." I put "just fine" in scare quotes because clearly someone who was once getting a paycheck, and then a welfare check, and now receives no such income, is certainly worse-off than before.

But if such people needed employment to survive, and are exiting the workforce, what we expect to see is an increase in the death rate. We're not seeing that. Instead, we're seeing people quietly exiting the workforce and making due without unemployment benefits. Presumably, they have somewhere to go. Either they have spousal support, or parental support, or non-employment income, or a home abroad, or something. One cannot simply stop working altogether. Something happens. There is a Step Two.

Understand, I'm not arguing that life is getting better for people who find themselves exiting the workforce. But on the other hand, if they're not dying, and rates of homelessness aren't increasing by exactly the same rate as the decrease in labor force participation, then we are talking about a group of people who have found a way to get by without employment income. That's not necessarily a tragedy.

One final point: I don't think Evan Soltas has ever been in line at the unemployment office before. There is a requirement that recipients be "actively looking for work," yes. But applying for jobs and making a serious effort to obtain a job are two different things entirely. I would never suggest that all welfare recipients are merely going through the motions in order to receive their welfare checks. But I'm not pretending it never happens, either. We'd expect those people to be the first ones to exit the workforce when the benefits run out.

Let's Talk About Liberty

Over the years, Jeffrey Tucker has managed to amass an admirable amount of goodwill from within what we might call "the liberty movement." I don't know his full biography, but I do know that he connected with Murray Rothbard early on; he served as editor of Mises.org and has been an instrumental member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute; he is a successful author and speaker; and he has a huge online following. My sense is that, while he probably never set out to become a celebrity, his public persona is so likable that his celebrity was basically inevitable.

I've always been somewhat interested in the celebrity business model, from a pure economic standpoint. Most of us have to develop skills that we then sell to employers. Career or economic success for most of us is a function of the skills we develop and their usefulness to other people. For celebrities, the case is a little different. Celebrities have found a way to be interesting simply by being themselves - by being funny (like stand-up comedians), or by being fun to hang out with (like Paris Hilton), or by being good at playing a sport or a musical instrument. Especially in that last case, it's not even sufficient for a celebrity to have disproportionately high skill. John Mayer is no better a singer or guitarist, for example, than half the state of Texas. It's not his skill set that makes him interesting, it's his "John-Mayer-ness," the fact that he is interesting for being who he is.

And so it is with Jeffrey Tucker. I don't want to minimize his knowledge or skills - he obviously wouldn't be where he was if he lacked either. But there are many people in the "liberty movement" who have not enjoyed the same level of fame as Tucker, and as I said, I think this has a lot to do with his likability.

What does one do with a huge stockpile of likability and a large following? Capitalize! What else? Tucker co-founded the Laissez-Faire Book Club, which seems to be a sort of Amazon-cum-Netflix for libertarian literature. I'm out of the loop on this stuff, but it seems to be going well. But it also seems that Tucker's work with Mises.org, with LFB.org, and so on, were all a prelude to the main attraction: Liberty.me. Here's the launch video:
You can read about the launch of Liberty.me and what amenities it promises you here. I am trying to remain agnostic on the idea, but I have to admit that I am very curious.

It seems to bill itself as a subscription-based digital community. Sort of like MySpace (much moreso than Facebook or Google+) for libertarians. But this really only appears to be the attention-getting device. Liberty.me also provides access to e-books and information on... how to be a libertarian, I guess. How to interact with law enforcement, how to invest your money, how to protect your online privacy, and so on.

Some this will obviously appeal more to some than others. Those with a high interest in how best to interact with law enforcement are obviously those whose daily behavior marches a little closer to the edges of the page than the center, if you know what I mean. And while everyone has an interest in investing, one does get the sense that the kind of advice you'll be getting at Liberty.me will reflect the founding members' interest in such things as precious metals, Bitcoin, and whole life insurance. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

For me, there are two primary sources of appeal here. The first is that, by creating what is essentially a gated libertarian community, complete with its own exclusivity, they make people like me think, "What kinds of cool things will I miss out on by not joining?" Will something really useful and interesting pop up, that I would otherwise not have access to? The liberty movement is pretty innovative, and if that innovation recedes into the proverbial Galt's Gulch of gated online communities, then it is only to the detriment of non-participants.

The second source of appeal is what the promotional materials refer to as "a built-in audience." The Stationary Waves audience has loose ties to the liberty movement. Liberty.me could potentially compete with my audience, which is certainly not "built-in." Of course, that depends largely on how successful the launch is, how large the community is, and so on.

At a price of $100 for a year-long membership - which, do note, is a reduced price - the barrier to entry is high enough to create a real sense of exclusivity. I suspect that many people will not elect to pay, but at the same time, the "liberty movement" never ceases to impress me. So I suppose we shall see how it pans out.

I mention it here at Stationary Waves because it is an interesting development. I am not yet ready to take the plunge, myself. Being the individualist that I am, I seldom benefit from community membership of any sort.


Want To Run A 10K? All You Need Is One Minute A Day!

I've written before that a good approach to getting in shape - or getting in better shape - is to make small changes on the margin. You might not be able to go from a point of no-exercise to training for your first marathon overnight. In fact, if you tried that, you'd probably hurt yourself. (Please, don't try it.) Instead, you'll probably find more success by starting wherever you are on the fitness continuum and making a small change for the better.

Let's assume you do not exercise at all, and you eat cheeseburgers every day, but you dream of one day running a 10K road race. Unless you're on some kind of specific timeline for getting this done, you have the flexibility of taking things at a pace that feels right to you. You might be too overweight to start running tomorrow, and you certainly can't do anything like fartlek training.

In this case, your best bet might be to just lay off the cheeseburgers for a week. It's not training for a race, but it sure is a lot easier than a ten-mile run. But I'll make it even easier for you: Let's say you're addicted to cheeseburgers. In that case, swap 5 cheeseburgers per week for Caesar salads. You're not on your way to becoming the next Ms./Mr. Universe, but you're still better off.

Next, you can try going for a daily walk. Let's assume you're incredibly lazy, so I'll start you off at 1 minute. Your job this week is to walk for one minute every single day. That's easy. Anybody can do that, even you. You think it's a stupid idea, but you'll do it just to prove to me how stupid it is. So for a week, you get 1 minute of cardiovascular exercise per day. Guess what: Now I've got you exercising daily.

The next thing you might try is increasing your daily walk by one minute per day. It was one minute all last week, but next Monday, it's 2 minutes. Tuesday, it's 3 minutes. Wednesday, it's 4 minutes. By the end of the month, you're getting 30 minutes of daily cardiovascular exercise, and you're eating 5 fewer cheeseburgers per week.

If you had tried to make that kind of change overnight, you probably wouldn't have succeeded. But look how easy it is when you make a series of changes on the margin.

Now that you're exercising 30 minutes per day, I'm going to suggest that you jog the first minute of every workout. Do that for a whole week and now I've got you running every day. See how this works? We repeat the same process again: Next week, I'll have you swap out 1 minute of walking and add an additional minute of running. Monday is 2 minutes of running + 28 minutes of walking. Tuesday is 3 minutes of running + 27 minutes of walking. And so on.

If you do the math and follow the logic, you'll be running 30 minutes per day after just two and a half months. And all you had to commit to is a one-minute daily change in your lifestyle.

A final word of caution: Marginal changes only work if you stick to what you've changed. If you follow this process for two weeks, then go on a week-long pizza binge in a hotel room in Mazatlan, then try to pick up where you left off, you're sunk. That's when things get difficult again. That's when it starts to be more like making a drastic change all at once.

Instead, I'm recommending that you change your lifestyle one minute at a time. It's easy, it's do-able, it involves constant, daily success stories, and it really does work.


"Nominal Tomato"

Thanks to a roundabout series of links I followed, initiating at Marginal Revolution, I became aware of this rather elucidating discussion at Scott Sumner's blog. The knock-out punch in the debate was thrown by a person calling himself/herself "zanon," and reads as follows (all spelling and grammatical errors are in the original, but don't judge too hard, because this obviously intelligent person equally obviously speaks English as a second language and still manages to be both clear and witty):
Doc & Philo: I will show Sumner the same respect you extend to flat earthers when you try to convince them that planet is, actually, round. 
It is not like this stuff is hard. And look at extreme arrogance of this comment: “The core theorem of monetary theory (the public determines the real demand for money and the Fed determines the nominal supply of money) is founded on the fallacy of composition. Because bankers don’t see the big picture, they have no idea of the role they play in the system.” 
I hates bankers. But Sumner and his ilk hold themselves up as people too smart of “fallacy of composition” who can “see big picture” and then they display knowledge of basic loan as taking out suitcase of vault money from bank and eating it with ketchup (or something, certainly it is not used for actually buying something on planet earth). 
If Sumner was to apply his “fallacy of composition” “big picture” brain to, say, human reproduction, he would say babies come from hospital and start writing papers on how stork migration patterns impact population growth. It is imbecilic. 
Banks, at system level, do not lend out reserves. They simply do not. Therefore, quantity of reserves do not impact whether banks make loans or not. OIR has no impact on bank lending. 
I have shown very clearly how, in case of simple car loan, reserve is debited at one bank and credited at another bank by exact same amount. This blows great smoking hole in “banks lend reserve” at system level. It leaves entire Sumner position as smoldering wreck. It is not first time this has been pointed out to Sumner, and he is lost cause for obvious reason, but you as commenter maybe interested in learning something new should be able to smell the stinky fish. 
Reserve requirement, and fractional reserve banking, impose no limit hard or soft on bank lending at system level. Canada has requirement of zero. Capital requirement pose hard limit. Academic economist do not understand this fundamental difference — no doubt because they are too focused on “big picture” or navel. Your guess. 
MarcC: Fed has option of doing its job and maintaing FFR at target, or blowing up interbank market. If system hits reserve constraint, which it can for any reason for technical only, those are its choices. Do its job, or blow up. 
I mean hecks. Enough people develop appetite for Scott Sumner vault cash with ketchup, and walk out with suitcase of money from deposit account, system could hit reserve constraint (and not there has been no lending). Ben Bernanke says “oh no, do I do my job or let system blow up?! People want to eat dollar bill with ketchup! Let me call Scott Sumner so he can tell me whether I should act normal or destroy interbank market, and with it, banking system”. 
Scott sumner will write post on nominal tomato.
Considering the extent of the discussion at that link, I now feel a bit of an intellectual obligation to learn more about what commenters "zanon" and "anon" are calling "Post-Keynesianism." I know nothing about it. The commenters, at least, are knowledgeable of actual bank operations, which makes me inclined to learn more about their underlying macro model.

We shall see. 

All Accelerator, No Brakes

Although a search for the relevant comment didn't turn up at The Money Illusion, I once asked Scott Sumner in a comment under one of his posts if he thought monetary policy was always either expansionary or contractionary. I wanted to find out whether he felt there was any situation in which a central bank could take essentially a neutral position. Again, I can't dig up the relevant blog post in this case, so you'll just have to take my word for it that he said no. In a Sumnerian universe, all monetary policy is either expansionary or contractionary - it is never neutral.

This has an implication that is a little uncomfortable for me: If you're not expanding the money supply, you're contracting it. To be sure, it is a position that makes sense according to the Market Monetarist paradigm. Market Monetarism is, at the end of the day, an argument for a constant and predictable increase in the money supply. Thus, if you're not expanding NGDP, then you're contracting RGDP.

To me, it's a lot like driving an automobile that doesn't have a brake, only an accelerator. The driver can control the level of acceleration, but cannot decelerate. Perhaps more accurately, it's like driving a car with a bomb connected to the brake: the driver can control the rate of acceleration or decide to coast, but if the driver attempts to brake, the car explodes. Similarly, under Market Monetarism, every contraction is a bad one. At least, that's how I understand it.

I thought about all of this in light of Daniel Kuehn's unsavory comments to me under yesterday's "Some Links" post. Setting aside all the distasteful personal stuff Kuehn elected to bring into the discussion, we can focus entirely on his answer to my question. My question was what an acceptable (subjectively speaking) decrease in government spending might look like. Here's his reply (emphases mine):
I've said any decline in spending can be described as a "collapse" - but I suppose you attach more significance to the word "collapse" than I do. I'll add that no decline in spending is appropriate right now.
Long story short: Every reduction in government spending is a collapse, no reduction in spending is appropriate.

To be clear: I'm not going to say that Kuehn is wrong about this. First of all, I consider it a matter of opinion. Second of all, the issue to me isn't really a matter of right-and-wrong. What's interesting to me is that there simply isn't room in the paradigm for a spending decrease. That's just an objective fact about the paradigm, not a judgement about whether or not their should be room in the paradigm for a spending decrease.

By now, it should be clear that these two examples share a common thread. There is only room in the Sumnerian paradigm for positive increases in the money supply. There is only room in the (I'll call it) "Liberal New Keynesian" paradigm (I do not mean that label to be derogatory in the slightest) for a decrease in government spending.

That is important because it defines the parameters of the discussion. If Louis L. Libertarian wants to reduce the size and scope of government, Kenny K. Keynesian feels that doing so will cause serious detrimental economic effects. If Audie A. Austrian thinks that expanding the money supply is distorting the market and causing detrimental effects, Manny M. Market Monetarist feels that doing anything other than expanding the money supply is an act of economic contraction!

There simply isn't enough space in either the Market Monetarist or "Liberal New Keynesian" viewpoints to allow for common ground to be built with competing theories. I'm not here to declare that they should expand their range of acceptable viewpoints, I'm just here to make a simple prognosis: It is probably not possible for the opposing viewpoints to communicate productively, given the narrow range of allowable opinions the various sides are willing to consider.

So the Market Monetarists can talk among themselves about whether 4% or 5% is a better NGDP target, the Liberal New Keynesians can talk among themselves about how to keep government expenditures as high as they need to be without increasing military spending too much, the Austrians can talk among themselves about whether free banking is possible under anarcho-capitalism, and nobody will ever have to worry about cross-contamination with the other groups.

Not good.


YouTube Advertisements

I do not really understand YouTube advertisements. When I was doing "Ryan Ruins Requests," YouTube got mad at me because I was posting cover versions of other people's material. They told me I could not monetize those videos because I did not own the copyright. Ultimately, I decided the best way to proceed was to take those videos down and focus on my original work. I also removed all monetization from my videos and my blog.

Today, I am listening to music on YouTube while working, and the songs almost always start out with an advertisement. The problem is that none of these videos were posted by the copyright owner, so I am not sure how the presence of ads is not a direct violation of the terms of service.

This begs a few questions:

  1. Assuming it's all based on who gets "reported" for YouTube TOS violations, who on Earth would report me for doing "Ryan Ruins Requests?" Were they really that bad?
  2. Assuming it's not about who gets reported, why is monetizing a video containing an entire album by a particular artist "okay," while posting my own crappy rendition of a long-forgotten 80s song "not okay?"
  3. ...and so on.
Now, I can sort of see the underlying rationale of the people who post these videos. They want to upload a popular song and monetize it so that they can earn ad revenue for doing nothing other than uploading one of their favorite songs. But this is pretty clearly the whole reason there are rules against this sort of thing. Regardless of how you feel about copyright law, such activity is clearly a violation of existing copyright law. This qualifies as a public broadcast for commercial purposes, and you need permission for that.

But are people really this smarmy? I can understand why artists monetize the videos they upload. Musicians are pretty cheap, money-grubbing people. They want to take advantage of any revenue stream they can get their hands on, no matter how small. I don't fault them for that. That makes sense. But monetizing a video of someone else's work is pretty ridiculous. There are not very many morally compelling reasons to do this sort of thing.

A final word: We are completely inundated by advertising in today's world. One of the reasons I don't really monetize my blog or my videos is because I think people ought to be able to listen to a song or read an article without having to worry about buying something. It cheapens the whole thing. I want people to watch my videos and listen to my music because I want people to be interested in my music. I'm not trying to sell something. I just want people to like it. Or, barring that, I'd like them to at least be exposed to music they might not ordinarily hear. If my music were worth paying for, people would pay for it. I wouldn't need advertising revenue.

These days it seems like it is more about advertising than having a quality product. That needs to change.