Of the Character of one Mr. Brownlow

From There’s Pippins And Cheese To Come, by Charles S. Brooks (Yale University Press, 1917)

By some slim chance, reader, you may be the kind of person who, on a visit to a strange city, makes for a bookshop.

But the habit of reading at the open stalls was not only with the poor. You will remember that Mr. Brownlow was addicted. Really, had not the Artful Dodger stolen his pocket handkerchief as he was thus engaged upon his book, the whole history of Oliver Twist must have been quite different. And Pepys himself, Samuel Pepys, F.R.S., was guilty. “To Paul’s Church Yard,” he writes, “and there looked upon the second part of Hudibras, which I buy not, but borrow to read.” Such parsimony is the curse of authors. To thumb a volume cheaply around a neighborhood is what keeps them in their garrets. It is a less offence to steal peanuts from a stand.

So our dear Mr. Brownlow, respectable gentleman and thief.

‘The prosecutor was reading, was he?’ inquired Fang, after another pause.

‘Yes,’ replied the man. ‘The very book he has in his hand.’

‘Oh, that book, eh?’ said Fang. ‘Is it paid for?’

‘No, it is not,’ replied the man, with a smile.

‘Dear me, I forgot all about it!’ exclaimed the absent old gentleman, innocently.

‘A nice person to prefer a charge against a poor boy!’ said Fang, with a comical effort to look humane. ‘I consider, sir, that you have obtained possession of that book, under very suspicious and disreputable circumstances; and you may think yourself very fortunate that the owner of the property declines to prosecute. Let this be a lesson to you, my man, or the law will overtake you yet. The boy is discharged. Clear the office!’

Speaking of Hate

I really hate that the rhetoric of liberty is perverted in the service of illiberal causes. And I hate this not just because of the hypocrisy of it. I hate this because now that the language of liberty is indeliably associated with those wishing to deny liberty to others, it is relatively simple for all who wish to deny liberty to others to argue that it is in fact those who wish to defend liberty who are in reality attempting to suppress it.

For example, it is well-known that the Ku Klux Klan would deny liberty to blacks, Jews, and Catholics, among others. Yet in rallying people to their cause, they speak of defending their freedoms. Now any who would defend liberty can be discounted as fellow travelers, tarred by association.

This rhetorical identification allows those who would expand their power at the expense of liberty greater discretion. You don’t really want to be like them, do you?

What, Me Worry? I’ve Done Nothing Wrong.

One thing I’ve never quite understood is how advocates for expansive government power never quite seem able to imagine themselves as being on the unpleasant receiving end of that power.

Take, for example, Michelle Malkin, who has been a vocal and enthusiastic proponent of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act but is now, finally, concerned that her liberty might be at risk. I’m not alone in seeing the irony in this.

It would, however, be a crying shame if the people whose party was until recently the token opposition conveniently forgot their defense of liberty now that they are in power.

Footprint per Capita

The newspaper had a map of each country’s carbon footprint per person. Something like this one from Wikipedia.

carbon dioxide emissions per capita per country

This is one of those graphics that misleads with statistics. The U.S. seems top of the charts here, but one has to recall that the ranking is per person. Compare, for example, China or India, which have many more people than the U.S. In the ranking of emissions per capita, the United States comes in 10th, behind Qatar and other well-known polluters such as Aruba. China is 91st, while India is 133rd. However, considering emissions alone, without dividing by the population, we’re #1, followed closely by China, with Russia and India lagging behind in 3rd and 4th place, respectively.

carbon dioxide emissions by country

What Benefit are Wire Services in a Well-Connected World?

As a former employee of The Associated Press, it’s been somewhat embarrassing to watch their plodding attempts to control data which has already escaped from their control. I recall some discussions with graphics and photo editors in 1996 or so about the feasibility of preventing unauthorized copying of images, while still allowing authorized copies. We were in the business of distributing the news, after all. The discussion eventually shifted to watermarking in order to identify material from the A.P.

(While you can make copies extremely expensive to produce, that itself is expensive — and thus not feasible for most. In case anyone is still wondering, not only is it not feasible to prevent copies, it’s not possible.)

The Associated Press began in the cooperation of several publishers in the task of quickly delivering news dispatches from the Mexican War:

an 1846 arrangement whereby Mexican war reports arriving at Mobile, Ala., by boat were rushed by special pony express to Montgomery, then 700 miles by U.S. mail stagecoach to the southern terminus of the telegraph near Richmond, Va. That express gave the [New York] Sun an edge of 24 hours or more on papers using the regular mail.

But Moses Yale Beach relinquished that advantage by inviting other New York publishers to join the Sun in a cooperative venture. Five papers joined in the agreement: the Sun, the Journal of Commerce, the Courier and Enquirer, the Herald and the Express.


Moses Yale Beach’s decision to share news with rivals was “neither altruistic nor cost-driven,” but recognized that “nothing could compete with the telegraph for speed, and all newspapers, rich or poor, would now be on a par,” historian Menahem Blondheim [author of News Over the Wires: the telegraph and the flow of public information in America, 1844-1897] said. [emphasis mine]

There are two aspects to the A.P.: gathering the news, and distributing it. The gathering of news involves the collection and analysis of data as well as the direct observation of events. For example, election returns are publicly available, but broadly distributed, disjointed, and officially slow. After the news is gathered, it is distributed. News gathering can be done by everybody, but there’s some sifting to be done to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is distributing the news that is most disrupted by the Internet.

When you can go directly to the source, what need is there for someone to bring the news to you?

The advantage of wire services has been time. The speedy delivery of information to a third-party, whether television, radio, or print, who can then bring it to you. That advantage is lost when the whole world is connected.

When you can find out now, why wait until tomorrow?

The Internet shortens time and shrinks space. And in that environment, any business that relies on the scarcity of either must find some other means to survive.

It is not that the cooperative did not recognize the threat and the promise of the Internet. Many of us there did. But like many long-lived organizations, there’s an institutional bias in favor of the status quo. How would A.P. serve its member organizations if it adapted to the changed environment?

Now it seems that the Associated Press will fill the role for newspapers that the R.I.A.A. and the M.P.A.A. have for their respective industries. I do not wish them luck.

Statistical Enquiry of the Devil’s Playground

Certain laws and regulations, and policies related to those, have a non-trivial impact on statistics which are not normally thought of in concert with those laws. For example, mandatory sentencing increases incarceration rates, which in turn will decrease the employable population. Child labor laws directly impact the employable population, but so do mandatory attendance requirements for high school.

How does the unemployment rate of the United States compare to other nations when differences in incarceration rates and school attendance are taken into account?

Or, where do these people find the time to riot?

New York City Department of Kafka

What the fuck?

We hear from New York City school teachers about a secret room in the New York City Board of Education building. Teachers are told to report there, and when they arrive, they find out they’re under investigation for something. They have to wait in this room all day, every day, until the matter is cleared up. They call this bureaucratic purgatory “the rubber room.” Some teachers have been stuck in it for years.


Suppose that I go to Vegas to gamble.

Further suppose that someone gives me $100, which I then increase to $1000 at the slot machines.

Further suppose that I wander over to the roullette wheel, where I proceed to lose $900.

How much money have I lost?