Sunday, October 30, 2005

keep fast

Avid reader of Robin Hobb's earlier Farseer, Liveship Traders, and the Tawny Man trilogies will be certain to enjoy her latest Soldier's Son trilogy which begins with a "coming of age" book titled Shaman's Crossing.

The setting for this tale is an exiled empire called Gernia, which had lost its most precious coastal lands, and was forced to battle its way inland to territory already occupied by uncivilized tribes, collectively known as the 'plains people'.

The main character Nevare Burvelle is the son of a newly-appointed lord and is destined to become a soldier as was his father before the king rewarded him with lordship for his valor in combat. The story begins with couple of chapters summing up the important events of Nevare's childhood, but remaining in the present tense throughout.

The "coming of age" section, the meat of this tale, is when Nevare heads off to military academy, to hopefully become a mounted officer, part of the "cavalla" like his father before him. Nevare, a soldier's son, raised as a soldier to always obey, must now learn how to juggle between obedience and leadership, qualities which are often contradictory.

Without divulging any further plot material, this book has an ending to the compare of the Tolkien's 'scouring of the shire' in terms of Nevare's personality change and how he deals with the people around him.

What I enjoy in Robin Hobb's tales is her obvious talent in painting her characters with genuine personas, not unrealistic, quivering, and overdone moralists-- something which I believe is quite rare in the fantasy genre.

I have a vague notion of where Ms. Hobb intends on taking this series, and I believe it will be with a reexamination of the sad plight of the plains people, and the double-standard of Gernia; on one hand it proclaims its moral right to reclaim their ancestral lands, but at the same time it callously took another people's lands and disregarded their rights by proclaiming the indigenous people to be savages who must be brutally reformed into the civilization provided by Gernia.

My rating for this novel is 4.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

freeloading Amazon images

If you would just take a quick look down the sidebar, you will notice that I have added the cover artwork for each of the books I have listed. Being that I'm too lazy to scan in the covers myself, I went to 'teh interweb' in search of quality photos to link to with a "img src=" hyperlink.

Well who else but, right? Well not exactly!
Amazon seems to discourage freeloading of their images by placing obtrusive "Search Inside this Book" arrows or watermarking them with "COPYRIGHT MATERIAL" so that freeloaders like me won't link directly to the image, or even rehost the image file since they appear with defacement gratis.

Well, after playing around with their hyperlink code, it appears that I found the right combo which displays the image I need in the right size for my page.

Here is an example:

<img src="" />

The first part in blue characters should not be changed. The part in red must be replaced with the ASIN of the Amazon item you are linking to, which should be a 10-character string (the ASIN of a particular item can be found by looking at that items page on

As I finished writing about this exploit neat trick, I found a webpage titled "Abusing Amazon Images" which goes in detail into how you can manipulate the server to give you images in different sizes, with discount rates applied, and all other sorts of goodies rather you not know about.

To repeat what the author of that page said -- don't be an ungracious leech; if you're going to link to their hosted images, at least link to the sales page so that Amazon can make a buck off of it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I really don't have the words to express the way these outdated propaganda posters make me feel. I'm just really glad that this overt bout of insanity ended way before I was born. Not that the policies which scream economic-ignorance and individual-rights-trampling don't remain today; in fact I think the reason we don't see such posters anymore is due to the excellent schooling (note: I did not say "education") that we enjoy/suffer in this country, which no doubt played a major role in making propaganda totally unnecessary in our modern, statist-conditioned population.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

This is Why I Despise Politics

Politics is the opiate of the masses which is no more important than other day-after water-cooler topics such as sports, celebrity lives, and the happenings on the latest TV show.

Politics is about stirring up emotions, and encouraging people to take an active stance on different issues. So perhaps the most dangerous aspect of politics is that it fosters the dangerous human conditioning that any perceived problem automatically justifies an action of some sort to effect a perceived solution.

For example, one local rabbi was the topic of a recent family conversation. A family member complained how this rabbi has no regard for his congregants time, and is oft to spontaneously launch into long-winded sermons between services, during which some congregants nervously glance at their watches.

The rabbi brazenly justifies his take-all-prisoners approach; he announces that a little Jewish education would be time better spent than just lazing around in one's home. Recently, he made an announcement during Yom Kippur prayer services, that a time-sensitive* prayer called Ne'ilah could "wait a while" until he was done speaking. Not only did they miss the correct time for the prayers, this particular congregation finished what is supposed to be a 24-hour fast over an hour later than most synagogues. Perhaps the fasting condition exacerbated this annoyance, but regardless it was certainly inconsiderate of the rabbi to keep them waiting.

Now while I certainly can feel sorry for these congregants, I can not bring myself to condemn the rabbi or join others making demands that he apologize, or some other remedy of the like. The reason for my non-stance is because this rabbi owns and controls this synagogue, and that those who attend do so upon his rules and conditions, however repugnant you may find it. Of course I may bear some personal dislike for his egregious slights, but like opinion holding, that's all I am entitled to.

However, the politically active members of society (who may pride themselves on this wonderful "virtue") are typically the ones who immediately call for heads to roll, or solutions to be enacted. Therein lies the danger of the politico -- he unquestionably assumes that something ought be done, consequences or the trampled individual rights be damned (sometimes without even considering either!)

The politician is also at fault to mistake the outcome desired by those who hold opposing viewpoints. For instance, one can choose to oppose public education, but that does not mean that he opposes the outcome of education, only the state running or funding thereof- and his means might consist of a totally private proposal, a voucher initiative, etc.

This lesson is apparently wasted upon people who produce T-shirts like these:

The faulty assumption is that those who oppose initiatives called "universal healthcare" or "affordable housing" oppose the desired outcomes. While that might even be the case, it is more like that the opponents of those initiatives also desire those outcomes but disagree on the specific means to this end. If they're anarchists of the libertarian bent, they will certainly object to the means being employed (even if it successfully brings about the ends!) since the ends can never justify the means.

The anarchocapitalist/libertarian/voluntarism solution is usually the same in any situation that I can imagine; the respect for the sanctity of property. Example after countless example, the results of this one golden rule will yield the equitable outcome politicians promise but are unable to deliver (or won't for concern of their job security.)

Murray Rothbard's treatment of "Yelling Fire in a Crowded Theatre" is an example par excellence of the golden rule delivering the desired outcome without the obliteration of individual or property rights.

*The prayer service called Ne'ilah is performed only once a year on Yom Kippur, and literally means "closing", referring to the gates of heaven being closed so that no further atonement prayers will be accepted that day. Traditionally, the time of this closing is at sunset, so congregations take special care to pray this service before then.

Friday, October 14, 2005

I'm Not on Wal*Mart's Payroll...

and yet that doesn't make me a "useful idiot" either.

Recently, the NYC city council has passed a bill (overriding the veto efforts of Mayor Mike Bloomberg) to require businesses with large footprints to contribute towards the health care costs of it's employees. This ploy was for the purpose of keeping one low-priced, international store chain called Wal*Mart from opening a store in any of New York City's boroughs. Even one of the lone dissenting votes admitted that he would vote for it, if only the law excluded a few of the businesses located in his district which were the unintended and unfortunate targets of this new legislation. (read more here: "The Higher-Priced Groceries Act", "City Council, in Veto Override, to Block Wal-mart" and "New Questions Arise on Bill on Wal-mart".)

If on principle I reject the legitimacy of government to determine which retailers are allowed to locate how, where and when, how does this ever translate into a "pro" Wal*Mart position?

As an anarchist, I condemn any group or individual from coercively intervening to prevent or stop an individual from performing an action which causes no direct or indirect physical harm to befall a second party and/or their property.

As an aspiring economist, I will even deny the legitimacy of the claims of those who say bigbox retailers are bad for the economy, bad for jobs, uses the state to subsidize their healthcare, worsens the "local economy" by exporting money, etc. and will argue that these claims are either completely baseless or at least dispute the question of its utility (which determines the "badness" according to the proponents of said arguments.)

Furthermore I will state that policies enacted upon "wishful-thinking economics" will only hurt consumers (shortages, higher-prices, long lines, etc.) and prolong inefficient business investment, and which will result in a more spectacular job-market or local economic collapse when these businesses ultimately fail.

I found myself chuckling yesterday over a poster seen at a local senior citizen's center. It was promoting the innocuously-titled "Farmer's Market Nutrition Program" where underneath it stated to bring your WIC stamps to the Farmers Market to support the local growers of unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

This the perfect example of the federal and its corresponding state-level government agency intervening to prop up a most-likely inefficient local economy (namely the production of fresh produce in an urban neighborhood) which involves multiple wealth redistributions just to realize.

First, the government must allocate space to set up the market, and yet they don't charge access fees like they would for any private use of that resource. Second, they urge those who are net tax receivers to spend their freely-obtained WIC stamps at these locations, which bears
a) the cost of the Farmer's Market promotional material
b) the overhead of the bureaucracy which produced and distributed the material and runs the program,
c) the cost of the WIC stamps face value, even if discounted,
d) the overhead costs of running the WIC agency for running the programs,
e) the overhead of the tax collection agencies (local, state and federal) which need to collect the funds to do all of the above!

In all likelihood, the local economy would be better, and more efficiently served if the participants were simply handed a handsome and generous check which paid them ten times the price of their products and just called it a day. However, this leads right into my next point.

Instead of economizing the taxpayer's funds with a direct wealth transfer, the government opts to cover up an indirect welfare transfer under a colorful banner of economic-illiterate yet local-friendly garb. Anyone who thus attacks the wealth transfer is than labeled as one who is anti-small business, or one "who doesn't want to support his local economy".

There is absolutely nothing wrong with [voluntary] supporting your local economy; it's only naive to think that an artificial support supplied by multiple wealth transfers of inefficient government agencies will successfully accomplish what the free market will not bear.

The participants in this grand scheme are thus kept working in less-than-gainful employment, for goods better supplied from elsewhere. Even if they truly were more efficient at producing and supplying these goods, there is still the question of whether the locality enjoys a comparative advantage of having the goods produced elsewhere so that the local resources are utilized in professions and tasks which are more valuable.

The one thing that bothers me most is having to defend my "pro" Wal*Mart position with economics, and not simply denying the validity of those who wish to intervene in the first place. Why is that the ethical argument is always less appealing than the utilitarian (economic) approach?

One thinks that this is because of the unquestioned legitimacy of the state, which in the minds of its dupes enjoys the right to shoot first, ask questions later; so that it may impose bodily or financial harm to individuals, the costs of which to be judged at another time, when the recipients of the wealth transfer can then vote for the politician who promises not to take the wealth transfer away (i.e.- see rent control).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Viva Las Vegas

In January of this year, my wife and I vacationed in Las Vegas and subsequently in California. This blog entry deals with the Las Vegas leg of our trip, being that I was deeply moved and inspired by the anecdotal experience of a relatively free market in action.

When in Vegas, do as the Vegasians do. So I gaped at all the right sights, took dozens of digital snapshots as a proper tourist is obliged; however all the sensory-induced astonishment I was subject to was easily outmatched by the curiosity to understand what makes this insomnious city tick.

As a minor sidetrack, I was dismayed to learn that Las Vegas's pomp is veneer, although now in hindsight I understand that it doesn't make sense to have it otherwise.

For example, the Venetian hotel's lobby and the underside of its enormous outdoor awning bear Sistine Chapel-like frescos which made me catch my breath in amazement. This level of ostentation is expected from hotels which cost billions of dollars, no?

However after my protracted scrutiny, I observed that all was but a masterful application of printed wallpaper, not the skilled work of supine artisans.

If one already knew this instinctively, I beg your pardons, as I am not even remotely expert in matters pertaining to art, paintings, Michaelangelo's magnum opus, painting techniques and methodology, et cetera. What I found which destroyed this illusion was the very subtle lines where the wallpapers joined. In some places, I even found the wallpaper edges begining to curl, although minimally.

Henceforth for the duration of our visit, the cynical voice within me spoiled all the delicious eye candy I once basked in on a previous visit to this newly-realized "pretentious" city. Plaster or marble objects such as columns and busts suffered my quidnuncous hand-knocking to gauge their hollowness or composition.

Despite all these "shortcomings", I was still impressed by the economic miracle that Las Vegas appears to be. It's obvious that major capital investment has been made in this desert rose. And it's also fairly obvious how this once deserted nowhere became the gaming, tradeshow, shopping and adult entertainment mecca of the secular world.

According to common lore, Benjamin "Bugsy" Seigalbaum, a tier-one member of Murder, Inc. had the crazy idea of expanding Mayer Lansky and Salvatore Charles "Lucky" Luciano's gambling and racketeering empire to the west coast. It didn't hurt that the Nevada state had recently legalized gambling in 1931, and that prostitution is not illegal in Nevada counties with less than 400,000 occupants.

In a unincorporated county known as Paradise which bordered Las Vegas, he took over a failed hotel project with mob money and built the Flamingo hotel, reputedly for the reknown oral skills of his favorite mistress Virginia Hill (it's all in her testimony to the IRS -- gosh, don't you love Wikipedia??)

Combine one part of the following Kirk Kerkorian, the Hilton corporation (Bally, Ceasar's, and now Harrah's), Sheldon Adelson, Steve Wynn and you have the modern-day strip in Las Vegas.

What this all demonstrates is that capital has the nature of water, in the sense that liquid will always flow to the lowest place of its container. Likewise, [the owners of] capital will seek the lowest-regulated enviroment for its investment, as individuals in such places are more free to spend, gamble and invest their savings in the fashion they choose.

However, I think that Las Vegas is not exactly the example one wants to use to demonstrate the potential of a free market. In truth, it's perhaps the opposite. The modern Las Vegas owes itself not a free market, but because the external conditions were unfavorable towards investment. If gambling and prostitution were unregulated everywhere, its doubtful that anything like Las Vegas would arise in the free market, and instead smaller pockets of popular gambling locations would be numerous and uncountable, unlike today.

Yes, a free market might or would provide extraordinary gambling destinations, but I think that Las Vegas is the effect of unnatural accumulation of capital due to federal-recognized tribal monopolies.

For an interesting and short lecture on Las Vegas, William Wieder delivered A Misesian Perspective on Las Vegas (right-click link to download)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

High Holidazed

For those of you who are wondering; yes, I'm still bickering about all that is wrong with our world, and in specific the majority of her inhabitants. Except that all this has occurred in the offline universe, 'round both the sabbath or holiday table (and I've been to six of those in the last week, and looking forward for about fourteen more this festival-packed month).

In between work, holiday preparations, and everyday life I have been trying to post some stuff and without much success. If there is anyone out there who has experience with using Blogger on Mac OS X, through either Safari, Firefox, Deerpark, Camino, et. al., I ask that you please share your knowledge since I am having much difficulty with the image posting function, which alas has frustrated me to no end.