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There are huge vultures (I thought they were condors, but I'm told now they're vultures) at work. The jump off the roof and swoop right in front of my window. Six foot wingspan, easily. Truly striking birds.

That Pats-Colts game was one for the ages.

Ratchet & Clank 3 is the most polished console game I've played in forever. I ordered Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which I've heard is some kind of 2D Masterpiece, and ten minutes in, I'm thinking that they have got to be kidding. It's like Super Metroid with a medieval theme and loading time (except not as good). 32 bit? I guess I'm used to the actual *fun* of a game like Ratchet 3. I have the other two Ratchets, and 2 is good fun with some excellent level design, but 3...

I mean, Symphony, you whip the nine foot tall wolf one time and suddenly he explodes like the gas tank on a Crown Vic. You can't "aim" your attack up or down, you have little to no air control. Argh. I'm spoiled by 3D freedom, I think, whether it's UT2K4 in lo grav with a fast computer and mouse, or the third-person Ratchet 3. Besides all that, I was shocked at the lack of production values. Cheesy music, awful voice acting, grainy utility screens, etc. I may sell it...

And here's a copy of an email I sent to my mother. We're having a long discussion on politics over email. You won't understand everything, but just pick it up here, if you will...

–We were talking about black boxes in cars and the specter of having your own property testify against you in court. You said that if there were a demand for cars without black box recorders, the market would meet it by building them. The problem with this, as in thousands of other situations, is government coercion. If the government mandates something like tamper-proof black boxes in every car, no amount of consumer demand for cars without them will bring cars without them to market – government interference has disrupted the free market for the 8,548,762nd time. There was no consumer demand for black boxes, but we still now have no consumer choice, just as there is no demand for onboard law enforcement – but mandatory onboard law enforcement is clearly on the way.

There are bright spots though. In the early days of airbags, they were ill-designed and sometimes deadly things – decapitating children, disfiguring adults, activating in the wrong situations. One of my managers at PJ’s had been in a mild accident that turned into a traumatic event because the airbag activated – it scarred and burned his face and put him in the hospital. All this was mandated by the government, of course: you couldn’t buy a new car without a first-generation, government-designed airbag system of “sufficient force,” couldn’t deactivate it or install a less powerful aftermarket version, and woe unto he who dared to replace his steering wheel with one lacking an airbag. Airbags were a good idea, and the market did want them, but it DIDN’T want them killing babies and causing much more trauma than the actual collision.

The private sector stepped in to do well what the government does so poorly: innovate, compete, and perfect. Although you still can’t buy a new car without an airbag, and you’re still a criminal if you install a different steering wheel in your own car, today’s airbags are much better, and have actually become a selling point in some vehicles.

In an odd way, this reminds me of NASA vs. the X-Prize: massively inefficient, wasteful, and sloppy government bureaucracy with absolutely no incentive to innovate or control costs vs. streamlined, pioneering, efficient private market enterprises. It is only because the US government held such a fascist policy toward private space travel R&D for so long that the X-Prize firms aren’t at a more advanced stage of development.

–We were talking about salaries and the free market for labor. I mentioned teachers and the shortage of teachers in some markets. I mentioned that this shortage should theoretically lead to higher salaries. You mentioned that this isn’t the case, though, because people don’t want to vote for higher salaries. Haven’t you proved my point? Teacher salaries, at least for teachers who work in government-controlled schools, exist *outside* of any market forces. There’s more demand than supply (i.e., a shortage) – this should raise the market price (base salary) for teachers.

But it doesn’t. Government interference – or, in this case, total government control – is a poor substitute for the free market. Give me a “choice?” Why would I vote to take more money away from my family or from my retirement? But even without public votes, government can never hope to allocate resources at anything approaching full efficiency. So salaries don’t rise, or don’t rise enough, and the disparity between the quantity “demanded” and the quantity supplied remains – and we have a shortage of teachers AND artificially low salaries.

Contrast this with another profession and labor market which enjoys much more market freedom: nursing. There is a shortage of nurses. But because nursing isn’t fully government-controlled, market forces are adjusting. Resources are being reallocated naturally. Salaries for nurses are rising, such that more labor units (people) are deciding to enter nursing. The gap between quantity demanded and quantity supplied is narrowing naturally. Sherri, Carla’s niece, just became a nurse two years ago and is making $85,000 per year.

Some people like to cling to the Labor Theory of Value: this thing should have this much inherent value in it because of the work or materials that went into crafting it; my labor should be worth this much because I feel it is this noble, or because I spent this much time and effort learning to do it, or because it does this much “good” for civil society.

It’s much more productive to accept the way things really work – the Subjective Theory of Value: this thing or service is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it; my labor or time is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay me for it – except, unfortunately, where government rears its ugly head. This in no way discounts the non-monetary satisfaction an individual can derive from an object – enjoyment, sentimental value, time value – or from a job. And it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily getting the best price possible for a good or for your time or labor.

I may value the intangible satisfaction I received from PJ’s higher than the satisfaction that I receive from Fidelity, but the monetary compensation – the pension plan, higher wages, employer-subsidized emergency care, retirement plan, faint hope of career advancement, etc. – keeps me at Fidelity. I believe that people generally vote their preferences by their actions (and that a great majority of people fail to even realize this simple fact about their OWN actions). Intangible rewards help explain why someone would choose to stay at a lower-paying job when a higher-paying one is available.

– We were talking about reason vs. emotion in politics. Two of the things that bug me about people I would generally classify as being “modern liberals” (as opposed to the classical definition of the word “liberal,” which has more or less been replaced by the word “libertarian”) are 1) that they can fail to think one or two Chess moves ahead of their actions, and 2) that they can tend to want things both ways. I believe these problems stem from the use of emotion and good intentions for decision-making rather than logic and reason.

Here’s an easy example to illustrate the first point. In one of the most affluent counties in California, the animal activists got together and decided that declawing cats is inhumane and barbaric and that no one should be allowed to do it. Like any good liberals, they ran to government for a remedy – after all, it’s only through the coercive power of government that you can truly bend people to your will. Anti-declawing legislation was successfully introduced in the area. However, the end result was that significantly more cats (with all their claws) were put to death than would have been had the law never been introduced. More cats were out on the streets. It turns out some people weren’t even willing to own cats unless they could declaw them, which they couldn’t, thanks to the animal lovers and their concern for the well-being of cats.

For the second point, I’ll just summarize the prescription drug industry in the US, circa 2005. People want safer drugs (MORE FDA regulation, more testing = much more cost to bring each new drug to market), cheaper drugs (LESS FDA regulation = less cost to bring each new drug to market), and more effective drugs (ongoing, tremendously expensive drug research). They think it’s unfair that the rest of the world pays less for drugs than we do (ignoring the fact that we subsidize drug research for the world), and think the solution is for importation restrictions to be lifted. They pitch a fit when a drug that underwent a billion dollars of testing is later found to slightly raise the risk of some types of problems in .01% of those patients it’s prescribed to. They want to kick the legs right out from under drug companies, but they want everything safe and interaction-tested to an incredible degree; they want drug companies to invest hundreds of millions of dollars of capital in new drug research so that revolutionary drugs and treatments can keep coming, but they don’t want drug companies to make a profit from any existing drugs. They want the FDA to tighten up and relax at the same time.

They must think billions of dollars and decades of drug R&D just grows on trees. Some suggest the radical idea that new drugs should go through an extreme “fast track” process that would basically merge the research phase and the proliferation phase and give each patient partial responsibility for deciding his level of risk tolerance – but rest assured that tort law being what it is, no amount of publicly-available information and no number of official waivers would let drug companies and doctors escape the wrath of lawyers defending a patient “wronged” under such a system – so it will never happen.

– We were talking about the spread of socialism. I contend that the country is moving inexorably toward socialism on a thousand different fronts. The heads of the American Socialist Party and the American Libertarian Party both agree with me. Rather than try to recite all the hundreds of examples of the last couple of years, I offer this: one of the saddest things to me about government schools is the indoctrination of young children into the socialist mindset. Consider two examples. First, young students have to bring various supplies – paints, tissues, etc. But they are then confiscated by the authority figures, the teachers, and doled out *according to need*. Private property isn’t important – the “benevolent” authority knows best who should have what and when. Second, one of Ron’s employees has a young boy who was just starting school in August 2003. One of the few things the students got to keep personally was their set of folders. She bought him some very nice, high quality folders that he liked. They were confiscated and redistributed. The folders he came home with were generic and much lower in quality. Apparently it’s not “fair” that he was able to have something better than someone else. His benevolent teacher used her coercive power – her power to MAKE him do something OR ELSE – to take his property away and give it to someone “less fortunate.” She probably thought she was being “fair.” I find this attitude demented.