The All-Thing
   


All carrot and no stick, since ought-three.

三衢道中 (曾幾)

梅子黃時日日晴,小溪泛盡卻山行。
綠陰不減來時路,添得黃鸝四五聲。

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Mon, 16 Jun 2003

Somerville and Cambridge smoking ban

Somerville and Cambridge both plan to follow the City of Boston's recent ban on smoking.

Sigh. This is a bad idea. My dear hyper-liberal friends, let me splain you why.

It's easy to ban things. It's easy to legislate your problems away. But any time you subtract freedom from people's daily life, you should be exceedingly careful. This is doubly true when the free market itself can provide an alternative, even if it doesn't do so.

So you don't like smoke. It's bad for you. Everyone knows this. And yet, people still go to bars. You probably still go to bars. Why is this? Because you've used your adult judgment, you've weighed the tradeoffs, and you've come to an intelligent, informed decision.

So you see what you've just done, in supporting the ban? Rather than treating adults like adults, rather than allowing for American-style maximum freedom, you treat them like kids. You don't have a choice, you've said, "because we know better than you".

So how about, instead of trying to legislate your problems away, you put your money where your mouth is and open a smoke-free bar? Rather than removing choice from people's life, offer them more choice. Now one of two things will happen:

  1. People who don't like smoke will come to your bar. You win. You've created a new option that people didn't have before. And you can make money. Congratulations.
  2. People don't come to your bar. Hm, I guess they've decided that the tradeoffs didn't work out in your favor. I.e., they'd rather put up with second-hand smoke and its costs, for the value they get from going to their favorite smoky bar.

But no. You've done the most un-American thing of all: you've removed people's right to choose.

The most common argument I hear at this point is: "but what about the workers? We must protect them!". And to this I say: the above argument applies even to them. They have made an intelligent, informed decision with their adult minds. And you must provide me with an argument that doesn't apply to every other dangerous job.

It's easy to think that, after the ban, everything will stay the same except that the bartenders and staff will now breathe fresh air. But clearly this is 太簡單, as we say in Chinese. (Roughly, too simple.) How much business do you drive away from the bars, in terms of smokers and their buddies who choose to hang out at home more, or go to bars in neighboring places more frequently? How many staff do bars now sack because their income has gone down? Things are not going to stay the same.

And ultimately, when were they better off? Before, when they had a job, albeit a smoky one? Or now, when they don't have a job at all? Remember, they took that job despite its smokiness. Not only have you deprived them, and me, of the freedom to choose my bar and my job, you've potentially deprived them of their job itself.

Don't think that just because you're self-righteous enough to criticize other people's lifestyle choices (hm, sound like an argument you've applied against the religious right recently?) that legislating your morals onto other people's bodies (hm, ditto?) is going to help anything in the long run. That warm fuzzy feeling only lasts until you start thinking about it.

Posted at 11:31 | /mortal | 1 comment | permalink

Eddie Stubbs

One of my personal musical heroes is Eddie Stubbs. Not only does he host a fantastic traditional country radio show on WAMU, net-broadcast on http://www.bluegrasscountry.org, which I am listening to RFN, he played with the Johnson Mountain Boys and is of my favorite bluegrass fiddlers. Probably my third favorite, I'd say, after Chubby Wise and Kenny Baker.

Really tastefully, really classic bluegrass fiddling.

Posted at 10:00 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Turing machines

So BoingBoing had a pointer to this article by some dude about Turing machines and Turing computability. This guy allegedly has a PhD in CS from Duke. Wtf.

I posted a critical comment (comment #2) which I'm going to expound upon briefly here.

Turing machines are a model of computation. What makes them universal is that, for any set of separate Turing machines that do different things, including the infinite set of all possible Turing machines, one can find/construct a single Turing machine that does all of those tasks. In other words, adding one Turing machine to another does not remove you from the world of Turing machines—you simply end up with a third Turing machine.

Now what makes Turing machines a powerful idea is the Church-Turing hypothesis, which essentially states that anything that we as humans would call computation can be performed by a Turing machine. The C-T hypothesis, like many scientific theories, can never be logically proved, but it has not been disproved, and people believe it.

Computatability theorists have studied more powerful models of computation than Turing machines, in particular ones where you assume the presence of a magical oracle which answers correctly any question you pose it, but these models do not correspond to anything in the real world. Saying that because people have studied these models, Turing machines are somehow irrelevant or insufficient or outdated, is simply incorrect.

Anyways, I just find it a bit bizarre that this guy attacks Turing machines. It's a little difficult to really understand his arguments because he confuses a lot of terminology and ideas.

Posted at 09:26 | /computing | (leave a comment) | permalink

No telephone in heaven

I don't have any internet access at home for the next week (and haven't had it for a week already). And I have mixed feelings about it.

Obviously it makes some things a lot more difficult—e.g. all the brilliant ideas that I have, I'm forced to remember them until Monday morning when I can finally inscribe them in the stone tablet of the anti-blog for your (my non-existent reader's) pleasure—but it's also a no-underwear kind of liberating. E.g. I sat around last night sipping my new favorite bourbon, barrel-proof Wild Turkey (which, by the way, is both exceedingly delicious and exceedingly alcoholic—this batch was about 108 proof) and reading this big book of Chinese art I've had for years but never really looked at.

Of course the book was still boring as fuck BUT given that my traditional activity for the evening would have been compulsively reloading Craigslist, I felt it was a significant improvement.

But I'm hoping this sort of this will continue even post-internet installation, now that I have separate rooms for reading, internet access, and sleeping. I've always had a difficult time mixing contexts so I'm hoping this will make it easier to get some reading/studying done at home.

And if not, the 1369 Cafe is two literal blocks from my doorstep...

Posted at 08:51 | /meta | (leave a comment) | permalink


   

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, Are of imagination all compact... -- Wm. Shakespeare, "A Midsummer Night's Dream"