Post from February, 2015

KTRE Segment on Homeland Security Funding Battle

Saturday, 28. February 2015 11:42

I was interviewed by KTRE on Friday (2/28/2015) about the current political controversy over the Homeland Security funding bill in Washington, D.C. that centers over Republican opposition to the President’s decision to invoke Executive authority to exempt about 4.5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Excerpts from the interview are used in the segment and article linked below. | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

KTRE Article on Homeland Security Funding Battle

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Projecting the Future: A Lesson in Humility

Tuesday, 24. February 2015 0:00

80s laptop

The NY Times had this to say about the profitability and utility of laptop computers in 1985:

WHATEVER happened to the laptop computer? Two years ago, on my flight to Las Vegas for Comdex, the annual microcomputer trade show, every second or third passenger pulled out a portable, ostensibly to work, but more likely to demonstrate an ability to keep up with the latest fad. Last year, only a couple of these computers could be seen on the fold-down trays. This year, every one of them had been replaced by the more traditional mixed drink or beer.

Was the laptop dream an illusion, then? Or was the problem merely that the right combination of features for such lightweight computers had not yet materialized? The answer probably is a combination of both views. For the most part, the portable computer is a dream machine for the few.

The limitations come from what people actually do with computers, as opposed to what the marketers expect them to do. On the whole, people don’t want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper. Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so.

But the real future of the laptop computer will remain in the specialized niche markets. Because no matter how inexpensive the machines become, and no matter how sophisticated their software, I still can’t imagine the average user taking one along when going fishing.

Keep this in mind when reading confident predictions as to what gadgets, technological innovations, and innovative tools will be in demand and useful next year and five years from now. What may seem like sagacious prognostication now may appear to be quaint foolishness just a few years down the line. We are no better and projecting the future market than we are at projecting the weather of the future (i.e. next week).


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Relevance of Athenian Democracy to Study of American Government

Sunday, 8. February 2015 16:31


Legal Scholar Paul Gowder makes the case for studying Athenian democracy in order to understand modern political debates over law and politics.

Even though Athens isn’t really at the heart of our legal tradition, it is at the heart of our political tradition. The democratic self-understanding of the (male, native-born, not-enslaved) Athenians is remarkably similar to ours, not least because ours is in part directly traceable to theirs through the tosses and turns of intellectual history. And a lot of the other things they were concerned about were also concerns of ours. They, for example, were also concerned about keeping those with socioeconomic advantages from turning them into political advantages (although the worry ran less to campaign finance and more to coups). They, too, were worried about balancing popular sovereignty with good decision-making—a fun exercise is to read Plato together with, say, my friend Jason Brennan.

As VC blogger and law professor Ilya Somin puts it:

Ancient critics of Athenian democracy, such as Plato and Thucydides, argued that the state was dysfunctional because the citizens who ruled it through direct democracy were often too ignorant and irrational to make good decisions. For example, Thucydides claimed that Athens launched the disastrous Sicilian expedition, which led to the fall of the Athenian Empire, because the ignorant citizens had no idea how large and populous the island of Sicily was, and thus were easily snookered by demagoguery in favor of the ill-advised high-risk venture.

For centuries, critics of democracy pointed to Athens as a prime example of why the ignorant masses should be barred from wielding political power, especially directly. These critiques of Athens had a major impact on the American Founding Fathers. They were a key factor leading them to include a number of anti-democratic features in our Constitution.

Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy

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