Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Contradiction Among Right-Wingers Regarding Violence?

I apologize in advance, because this is really just barely coherent enough to even qualify as a blog post, but nonetheless something struck me when listening to news coverage of the Israeli bombing campaign. The reporter said that 300-and-change people had reportedly died, and then quoted a Bush Administration official who said something like, "It is ultimately the Hamas terrorists who are responsible for this regrettable bloodshed. There will be no peace in the Gaza Strip so long as rocket attacks continue hitting Israeli territory."

It struck me that this type of excuse for the admitted killing of innocent people, is very similar to the Black Pantheresque claim that there will be no peace without justice.

And in response to that, what does the average Rush Limbaugh fan say? Why, he says something like, "I don't want to hear your excuses. Regardless of whatever injustices you may have suffered from racist cops, you can't riot and kill innocent people, you hoodlums! What's this society coming to, when whining leftists try to understand the motives behind the wanton massacre of innocents?"

Presumably the person holding these (in my opinion) contradictory views would say, "Nonsense! We live in a civilized culture in the U.S., and rioting won't achieve anything for blacks. If they have legitimate grievances, they should take them to the ballot box."

But I daresay this advice sounds just as shallow to inner-city kids getting shot by drug squads, as telling Israeli settlers that the best, long run way to get Palestinians from shooting rockets at them is to adopt non-violent methods of protest.

Finally, let me state for the record that I am a pacifist and so of course I think rioting (to protest Rodney King, etc.) is wrong and counterproductive. But by the same token, I think killing hundreds of Palestinians (many of whom are innocent bystanders) in response to a few Israeli deaths is also wrong and counterproductive in the long run.

Press Neutrality

Others have brought this up before, but the doctrine of "press neutrality" often effectively means "give the real story and some complete fabrication equal time." A good example, on an important matter, was when the press treated the Bush administration's farrago of lies about the "Mission Accomplished" banner as serious news. On a lighter note, but illustrating the same point, check out this story from the world of basketball. Somehow, Elena Delle Donne's clear, explicit, and quite plausible explanation that she was burned out is given equal weight with Geno Auriemma's idiotic statement that "we might never know why Delle Donne pushed basketball aside."

Auriemma committed a major recruiting gaffe, and now he's desperately trying to hide that fact. But "press neutrality" demands that reporters give his pathetic attempts to distract us from his mistake equal weight with the heart-felt statements of the 18-year-old girl in question as to why she did what she did.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Recovery Is Just Around the Corner

At a holiday6 party, someone said, "Well, housing prices are bound to recover sooner or later, aren't they?"

"Absolutely," I remarked, "when property values in Rome began to decline around 200 AD, all you had to do was hang on until 15 or 16 hundred and you easily would have gotten your money back."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Common Libertarian Confusion?

By the way, I often think that libertarians may tend to get confused (of course not all libertarians, and of course not all the time) between defending the general concept of property rights and defending such rights as they are currently defined. Now, I think it's fine to have a default position of "Don't tamper with current rights on a lark," but there are times I think it would be a very good idea to tamper with them. For instance, I would have no problem criminalizing what these "Wow Gold" folks have been doing to this blog. I've got to be spending a half an hour per week deleting their comments and the e-mails they generate. I consider what they are doing no different them coming over to my house with megaphones and shouting about "Wow gold" at a cocktail party I'm throwing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wow! Gold!

OK, folks, Andy explained how these blog spammers are ingeniously getting past the word verification feature and spamming this blog anyway. (They get porn surfers to type in the key word for them.) So, does anyone know how to prevent this new maneuver?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Show Of Hands...

When Gene's photo first popped up and it wasn't obvious what those things were, did you think Gene was boasting?

Did you ever have one of those days...

When you just knew that, after 5 1/2 hours on the road, you'd get home to find the toilet bowl full of drowned flying squirrels?




Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Birmingham

Apparently, you can purchase hot dogs embedded in molten uranium ore here:




As well as:






And I learned a remarkable thing about ostriches - all creatures lay ostrich eggs!



At the Cardiff School of European Studies

Some loom like giants among men:




Monday, December 15, 2008

I Just Saved the Universe From Annihilation

In my gmail account there was an ad that popped up on the margin that said something like, "LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp. What you'll never read on websites that offer incorporation services." Then it gave a link to a URL that seemed awfully like it would offer me incorporation services.

Concerned about the avoidance of paradox, I didn't click the link, nor am I offering here lest any of Gene's illogical fans click through.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Shrub Should Have Said

Swansea














Lala

If you want to explore new music, and you already spend a lot of time in front of the computer, you should check out the streaming audio on Lala. It's free, and every computer geek knows how to capture the cached audio data for repeat plays. The streams are of decent quality (they say at 128kbps, but many sound better and a few worse. I'm not an audiophile, I don't want to fetish on the purity of sound at the expense of the music.) and the libary is so vast you'd think this offering criminal. I like the service so much I've set up a separate PC to run the streams. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Does Anyone Really Believe Them?

Madoff’s sons, Andrew and Mark, turned him in to U.S. authorities on the night of Dec. 10 after his confession, according to Martin Flumbenbaum, an attorney for the brothers.

“Mark and Andrew Madoff are not involved in the firm’s asset management business, and neither had any knowledge of the fraud before their father informed them of it on Wednesday,” according to a statement by Flumenbaum of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York.


http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aMfFYXi.JhQI&refer=home

My dad is running $15 billion plus, I work for his firm my whole life, everyone on the Street has been questioning how he makes his money without frontrunning for years (I heard more than once that people invested with Madoff because they believed he was actually frontrunning his broker-dealer order flow to make these returns), he was only carrying $1 Billion of open positions at the end of each quarter, making his fees only from trading commissions through the firm we were managing, yet I wasn't aware there was a problem.

Cardiff

The main shopping street:



On a chilly December night, how do Cardiff girls dress?




That Pink Section of the US

I regularly receive academic job listings via e-mail. They arrive sorted by region, and I just noticed that the final region is titled 'Non-US or Canada.' So, if the job location is outside the US, or if it is in the huge frozen region of the northern US, they'll put the job listing in this section.

An Interesting Perspective on the Auto Bailout

HT2 Sandy Ikeda.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kids Say the Darndest Things

OK I can't stand seeing Gene's "Motion Debater Light" post still at the top of the blog, so here ya go:

I rent an office and a woman put in a hair salon in the two offices next to mine. (She knocked down the wall. Or rather, she hired someone to knock down the wall.) So I hear all kinds of funny stories if I leave my door ajar. (When is a door not a door? When it's a jar.)

I just heard a lady say, "So Jimmy said to his grandma, 'I'm gonna go home and play with my Wii.' And his grandma said, 'Don't you talk like that!'"

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Motion Debater Light

I've got a "motion detector" floodlight over my porch door in Pennsylvania. What it actually does these days is either refuse to come on at all, or shine for a week straight, day or night.

I've decided it's Wabulon's fault. What I believed happened is this: Wabulon was sitting out on the porch reading Atomism and Its Critics, somewhere in the section on Zeno, Epicurus, Lucretius and so on debating motion. The light started reading along, and what it's doing lately is mulling over these positions. One week, it decides, "Parmenides is right! Motion is just an illusion. I refuse to turn on at all." The next week, he buys into Epicureanism and decides that everything is always in motion, and stays on all week.

Bring in the Clouds

OK, folks, what is up with these clouds? Does anyone recognize them as an instance of some meteorological ideal type?






Sunday, December 07, 2008

Brad DeLong Knows Thermodynamics Like He Knows Monetary Theory

After trashing Mises, Brad DeLong has a workplace accident. Be sure to note my wise aleck remark at Dec 6, 9:21 pm, and then someone talks a little Carnot* shop with DeLong at Dec 7, 9:20 am.

* I almost got caught bluffing. I had originally spelled it Cournot (like Cournot duopoly) but fortunately I googled it and realized the ideal heat engine was spelled Carnot. Heh heh damn I'm smooth.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Aaaaaah!

Apple seems to have implemented some across-the-company, strictly enforced, "keep the user completely in the dark" policy for their software engineers. I just received a message saying (I quote from memory), "An error occurred when Time Machine attempted to access the backup drive." (Time Machine is Apple's new backup software.)

Now, I was a software engineer for 18 years, and I was taught that a basic principle of error handling was to give the user as much information about the error that occurred as possible, to allow the user to attempt to fix the problem. And I know that the programmer writing the relevant bgit of code involved in this Time Machine error was checking for specific problems, such as the disk in question not having enough space available to store the contemplated backup, or the disk being off-line, etc, So why in the world is Apple not conveying what the problem is to the user? Does anyone have any idea why Apple is choosing to say nothing more than, "Oops, something went wrong"?

My Favorite Line of Realtor Doublespeak (for today, anyhow)

I called to enquire what my membership dues should be, without including payment for the Political Action Committee.

"Oh," I said, "the fees went up by about $54 this year." Realtor help desk person replied, "No, fees were exactly the same as last year." I objected, "Hey, I did the math, and it's $54 higher!"

"Your payment might appear higher this year because..." she spun thus: "your discount went down."

I need to go back to the dentist.

My Favorite Line

From the Tao Te Ching:
"Ruling the country is like cooking a small fish"

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dear John

You say you are thinking of leaving me. Well, so be it; it really makes no difference to me one way or the other. In fact, the whole question is of as little import to me as would be the outcome of an election on some remote Pacific isle.
Serenely yours,
Mary



Where are letters like the above handled?


Here:



Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Q: Who Are These People?

John: Why, that's a marvelous bridge you've designed there!
Mary: Thank you. And your water works are most lovely!
John: It's very gracious of you to say that!
Mary: Not at all -- you are the epitome of professional behavior.

The Avenger

OK, it's bad enough that I blew the engine in my car -- but did they have to give me a rental that I'm sure that John Steed will be jumping out of any second?


Blogroll Changes

Two changes on the sidebar:
1) Crash Landing welcomes the Collingwood/Oakeshott scholar Chris Rolliston to our blogroll with his blog A Single World of Ideas; and
2) We've dropped No Treason from the list, because they haven't posted nuttin' since September.

Do Bullets Keep Radiation at Bay?

If so, we're set: The government is transferring 20,000 troops to the homeland to protect against terrorist attacks.

What's Going On?

According to the Dux bed people, who apparently take of a very Leibnizian perspective on things, everything! I was listening to their ad on the radio this morning. The woman doing the pitch was talking about her grandmother having owned a Dux bed for 56 years now. "What was happening in 1952?" she asked. "Well, Alaska would not become a state for another seven years."

This presumably "happened" continually throughout the year, as the date of statehood became closer and closer. And, of course, the fall of the Roman Empire happened in 1952 as well, in terms of its date becoming more distant.

And so did every other event, past or future, all also happen in 1952. And every other year. History books are going to get really big. Or small, I'm not sure which.

Beth Hoffman, RIP

I just learned that Beth Hoffman of the Foundation for Economic Education died in her sleep last night. I did not know Beth well, but I did meet her a number of times at FEE events, and dealt with her frequently as both an author and proofreader for The Freeman. Beth always struck me as tirelessly devoted to FEE's mission -- as a "behind-the-scenes" persona, she certainly did not expect to receive either fame or fortune for her efforts, but, nevertheless, her efforts always went beyond the call of duty. She always made visiting scholars and authors feel at home at FEE headquarters, and was a constant presence there through several changes of management. I was about to write, "Beth, you will be missed," when I realized that what I really should write is, "Beth, you already are missed!"

Monday, December 01, 2008

Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith

In the 12th century, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides formulated his thirteen principles of the Hebrew faith. They are relevant to our recent discussion of "the Judaeo-Christian tradition" in relation to Islam, for several of them are explicitly directed at one of Judaism's "younger siblings." The principles, with my commentary:

1. The existence of God
Obviously common to all three.
2. God's unity
Against Christianity (the trinity) but not Islam.
3. God's spirituality and incorporeality
Common to all three.
4. God's eternity
Common to all three.
5. God alone should be the object of worship
Hmm, tough one -- Christians would say they agree, but Maimonides probably would have said their practice didn't, what with all those statues of Mary and shrines to the saints.
6. Revelation through God's prophets
Common to all three.
7. The preeminence of Moses among the prophets
Contra both Islam and Christianity.
8. God's law given on Mount Sinai
Contra both Islam and Christianity, in that Maimonides probably meant final and complete law.
9. The immutability of the Torah as God's Law
Contra both Islam and Christianity.
10. God's foreknowledge of human actions
Shared by all three religions.
11. Reward of good and retribution of evil
Shared by all three religions.
12. The coming of the Jewish Messiah
Contra Islam and Christianity, both of which claim their founders as offering the final chapter of the Biblical story.
13. The resurrection of the dead
Shared with both sister religions.

OK, by my count, seven of the thirteen items are held in common by all three religions. Judaism differs from Islam and Christianity alike on another four. For the remaining two, Islam is closer to Judaism than is Christianity. (And recall, Maimonides lived in Muslim lands, and, if anything, would have been biased on pragmatic grounds towards disputing Islamic theology more than Christian theology.)

I present this as evidence supporting my claim that it makes more sense to speak of a "Judaeo-Islamic tradition" and a divergent Christian tradition than vice-versa. (Of course, it makes even more sense to talk of all three together as the "children of Abraham." And, of course, none of this says anything to the "truthiness" of any of the three faiths -- Christianity is to blame for wandering farther than Islam from Judaism only if we already accept Judaism is correct -- if Christianity is the true faith, then it wandered from its roots exactly as far as it had to to set things straight.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Cat Monster

OK, the basket you see is on top of a piece of furniture about five feet tall and very narrow. How the heck the cat got where you see it, we have no idea:

Milford Cemetery

You'd think this would go without saying, but apparently not:

Perhaps they are forbidding the sort of hunting (for ghosts) my student Courtney engages in?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Call for Papers

0) We'll define this binary sequence in stages, punctuated by periods for clarity. (The periods are cosmetic; they are not part of the sequence.)

1) The first stage: 0.

2) The next stage: 1. So far: 0.1.

3) The next stage: a copy of all previous stages except the last: 0. So far: 0.1.0.

4) The next stage: same as for (3): 01. So far: 0.1.0.01.

5) Etc.: 0.1.0.01.010.01001.01001010.0100101001001. ...

6) Stripped of ".": 0100101001001010010100100101001001 ...

7) What, if anything, can you say about this sequence? This is not a "problem," I'd really like to know.

8) What, if any, reward in Heaven do you expect for your conscientious application to (7)?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spicy Cranberry Sauce

1 pkg. fresh cranberries

3/4 cup orange juice

3/4 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup sugar

1 Anaheim chili

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 pat butter

Melt butter in sauce pan. Finely chop chili and saute in the butter for 3 minutes. Add cranberries, orange juice, water, cinnamon, raisins, and sugar. Cook over low heat until the cranberries begin to break down -- about 15-20 minutes. Refrigerate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some questions

1) Is there a new language called "Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound"? Because I try to listen to movies in French these days (to help me learn it), so I'm always looking on the "Languages" section on the back of the video boxes at the store, and today, in the section, I found a video that claimed the dialogue was in the language, "Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound." Does anyone know where this is spoken?

2) Are these the worst lyrics ever written?
"Some beach
Somewhere
There's a big umbrella casting shade over an empty chair
Palm trees are growin' and a warm breezes a blowing
I picture myself right there
On some beach, somewhere"

I just picture the guy, sitting around, trying to come up with the particular beach that would capture what he wanted, and finally going, "Screw it-- some beach, somewhere -- those dopey country fans will still eat it up."

3) Why didn't our parents (for those roughly my age) realize there was something wrong when the "cranberry sauce" they would feed us at Thanksgiving was not a sauce at all, but a big blob of red goo? Folks, make your own cranberry sauce! It takes about 15 minutes, and is as different from the stuff in the can as pate is from a pile of dog crap. (Also, make you own salad dressing. There is not a single bottled dressing that you could not improve upon with about five minutes of work. To start: mix a good olive oil and a balsamic vinager at about a four-to-one ratio in a jar. Add salt, black pepper, garlic paste, oregano, and thyme. Shake well. (That's about two minutes of work there!) Now compare the taste of what you've just made to the "Italian dressing" you can buy at the store. You will never buy it again.

Explaining Change

In a recent post, I parenthetically asked "How and why did 'Moslem' change to 'Muslim'? One of our readers offered the explanation (I paraphrase) "Well, 'Muslim' is closer in sound to the original Arabic word than is 'Moslem.'"

I have no doubt s/he is correct about his linguistic facts. Nevertheless, the explanation can be immediately dismissed, without any need for empirical investigation. Why? It attempts to explain a change in one circumstance by citing another condition that did not change. The problem with our reader's explanation is that, true though his point about pronunciation may be, it was just as true during all those years that English speakers said "Moslem." Since it was constant during the duration of each of the conditions, the transformation of the first of which into the second we seek to explain, it cannot possibly be the reason for the change!

The underlying principle, which I would regard as almost to obvious to bother stating, if I did not see it being violated so often, could be stated: Only a change in one condition, and never its constancy, can explain a change in another condition.

To give another example of an explanation ignoring this truth, the likes of which I have heard several times: Real estate prices in, say, New York City shoot upward. A wag is asked why, and he answers, "Well, NYC is the business capital of the world." We can dismiss his explanation without further ado, because NYC was also the business capital of the world before the real estate boom. Some factor must have changed to produce the change in prices.

In the case of the shift from 'Moslem' to Muslim,' I suspect that there was some agitation on the part of some faction to show sensitivity to or appreciation for Arabic culture. Note that there are many, many other instances in which English speakers call some group or nation by a name far more different than 'Moslem' is from 'Muslim,' without any apparent movement to 'correct' the situation -- we might as well call the nation that its residents call 'Deutschland' by the name 'GeneCallahanLand' as 'Germany.'

Monday, November 24, 2008

The New FEE Blog

is here, by the way.

In the Current Issue of The Freeman...

I review Alan Greenspan's recent book. My conclusion? "The Age of Turbulence is a work of little substance, and its composition appears to have been driven by vanity and a doubtlessly alluring advance from the publisher. I was paid to endure it, but I see no reason for readers of The Freeman to suffer as I did."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

New York's Most Obscure Subway Entrance

I took this photo standing across the street from a major subway entrance in Brooklyn Heights:

Can you detect any signs of the entrance's proximity? (There are two.)

The Heat Is on For Georgian President Saakashvili

According to this Der Spiegel story, Western officials on both sides of the Atlantic are starting to doubt his version of events leading up to the Russian spanking. This is no surprise to LRC readers.

SEA IV

Paul Lewis gives his autograph to David Harper:


Obama showed up for some Austrian advice:


While this guy just monkeyed around all conference:



You Thought the Stock Market Was Disturbing?

Then contemplate this score: Texas Tech 167 -- East Central 115. College basketball defense is dead.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

FEE Summer 2008 Reunion at the SEAs


Left to right, front row: Meg Patrick, Nick Snow, Liya Palagashvili, Peter Lewin, Bruce Caldwell, Steve Horwitz, Ivan Pongragic, Peter Leeson
Second row: Tony Carilli, Geoffrey Lea, Gene Callahan, Dan D'Amico, Peter Boettke, Chris Coyne.

Pete Boettke holds court





SEAs


Pete Leeson is pleased by the proceedings:




Friday, November 21, 2008

At the SEAs

Mario Rizzo listens to Gerry O'Driscoll presnt:


Chris Coyne, Peter Lewin, and others listen to Steve Horwitz present:


Roger Koppl enjoys lunch:



Thursday, November 20, 2008

Keep Your Customers Happy

I've heard that "the customer is always right," but I've never had customer service like I had today in the dentist's office. I went in for a cleaning and got 32 hits of hydrocodone (big 10s) for my trouble. The dentist said I need to come back every three months for a cleaning. I have insurance, and he has a deal!

Adam and I arrive in DC

For the Southern Economic Association conference:








Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bubblicious thinking


My wife (who works in finance) and I were discussing the terrible arrogance on display in the video I posted below, where the opponents of Peter Schiff's views just laughed in his face for claiming a crash was coming, and we decided that, perhaps that attitude is an integral part of bubbles. Those comitted to the view that "the good times will last forever" begin to sense that the rising market is like Tinkerbell--it will cease to exist if we don't believe in enough. Thus, someone like Schiff is not merely wrong, he is a traitor, and a danger to the people of faith (in the bubble).


Thoughts on Islam: I

For my course on Death and Dying, I have been undertaking an energetic effort to better understand the tenets and histories of the world's major religions, since the course is intended to offer a cross-cultural survey of attempts to comprehend the reality of our mortal condition. My most recent explorations have been directed towards bettering my knowledge of Islam, and I want to share some of my musings on the subject with Crash Landing readers.

The first surprise from my studies, given the frequency with which Islam is charged with oppressing women, was to learn that Mohammed, for his time and place, was somewhat of a radical feminist. His contemporary Arabian society regarded women as property; a husband owned his wive(s). Mohammed insisted that marriage be regarded as a contractual rather than proprietary relationship. He made it easier for women to divorce, and demanded that their right to own property be respected. He banned the (apparently common) practice of female infanticide. He said, at one point, "The best among you are those who treat your wives the best." And he held that, in a Godly society, men and women ought to live together in compassion and equity.

Now, none of the above negates a charge that contemporary Muslims (when and why did 'Moslem' get replaced with 'Muslim,' by the way?) ought to have kept going along the course that Mohammed charted, and that they are properly criticized for not having done so. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that, at its inception, Islam represented a significant advance in the status of women.

Reincarnation

All of Gene's mysticism has opened my mind to the possibility of reincarnation. And while doing some research I came across a photo of a famous Italian dictator. Is it just me, or does he look awfully familiar?



EIB

(That's Evil in Broadcasting, by the way.) For a few months now I have taken to the extremely unhealthy* habit of eating my lunch in my car, listening to Rush Limbaugh. I do find him entertaining, but it's also "work," because I give a bunch of interviews myself to the vast right-wing conspiracy and so I need to stay on the cutting edge of societal evolution.

Anyway, the other day Rush was talking about plans to close Gitmo, and how incredibly stupid it would be. And I kid you not, his entire argument was, "OK we bring these people to the States and give them trials with lawyers and the whole nine yards. What is the prosecution gonna do, call in the CIA and ask them, 'Can you please explain why you arrested these people?' Can you possibly imagine the CIA coming in and testifying? So these people are going to be acquitted, and then what are we supposed to do with them? Turn them loose? You can't ship them back to their countries, they don't want a bunch of murderous thugs either."

I kept waiting for Rush to at least give a nod to the issue of whether these people were actually guilty. And I don't think he ever even discussed that aspect of it. He took it for granted that (a) if the CIA/military grabs people and throws them into Guantanamo Bay, they must be bad guys and (b) we can't trust our normal legal system to keep obvious killers behind bars.

Now for point (b), in fairness to Rush, he touched on the issue about the CIA not being willing to divulge the reasons for these guys' guilt. But even here, I am filling in the blanks for Rush; he was talking about the CIA just to illustrate the (ostensible) absurdity of the notion of a trial in the first place; I don't think he was bringing it up to show why our system of justice--which has a chance of finding killers guilty and acquitting the innocent when it comes to US citizens with Constitutional rights--wouldn't work when it comes to accused terrorists with funny names.

It never ceases to amaze me how people who are very suspicious of government in certain respects, can be so confident that US officials would never detain an innocent person.

Also, isn't it odd that the same conservative pundits who think our legal system is a joke, are also the ones who want to spread "our way of life" to the rest of the world via bombs? If our culture is so screwed up that our "justice" system can't even be trusted to correctly identify trained killers who want to maim American civilians, then what the heck are we so proud about?


* I think the correct term is unhealthful habit; i.e. it's not like my habit will die young because it is so unhealthy. But I can't bring myself to use the term unhealthful. It is snootiness up with which I will not put.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Abstract Art

Below are photos of some artwork outside my office (done by students at NCC). What is interesting about them, to me, is that they indicate where modern, abstract art has been going. At first, its job was just to break out of the realist box, and you'd get things like paint splotches on a canvas. But eventually, free of realist constraints, it acquired the task of creating new aesthetic forms of its own. And even at the student level, it is doing so:








Monday, November 17, 2008

The Inventor of LSD

dies at 102.

I Know a Terrible Argument When I See One

And C.S. Lewis's argument for why it is impossible to consider Christ "just a great teacher" is a terrible argument.

Lewis says, basically, that it's coherent to consider Christ either divine, or a psycho nutjob, but nothing in between. Why? Here's Lewis:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

This is just pitiful. It ignores a variety of alternatives, such as:
1) Jesus claimed "to be God," but meant this in the way a Hindu would, where, if the acolyte says "I am God," the sage says, "You've finally figured this out, hey?"
2) Jesus did not say some of the things attributed to Him in the Bible. Perhaps his followers , who were writing the New Testament two generations after his death, had a distorted view of what he had been preaching.
3) Even in the New Testament, as we have it, Jesus does not claim to be God. And, in fact, #3 is the view of most modern Biblical scholars!

You may like Lewis's conclusion. But if we are truth seekers, we must reject bad arguments, even if they reach a conclusion we like.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I'm not saying any or all of alternatives 1-3 above are true. I'm just saying Lewis's list of "the only alternatives" is far from complete.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Some Quick Quickbooks Questions

I think that is the first phrase I have ever written involving three consecutive Q-words....

OK I recently decided that my PhD and Excel were no match for the accounting and regulatory demands of running a top-flight consultancy. At the advice of my CPA I broke down and bought Quickbooks (Pro 2009, if it matters).

I know some of you are also instigators of creative destruction, and so I turn to you entrepreneurial, computer savvy geeks to rescue me from my overeager key stroking:

I came back from a business trip and first entered in all of my receipts as Bills like a good little boy. Then I went to Pay Bills and selected all of them, then hit Pay (or whatever). I thought it was going to take me to another screen, but instead it processed all of them as if I wanted to pay by printed check, and now is waiting for me to print them.

However, a few of these "bills" were actually my taxi fares, for which I used cash that had been withdrawn from my personal checking account. And the other ones were meals, for which I used my business debit card. So two questions:

(1) How do I reverse the Paid Bills, so that Quickbooks isn't waiting to print these checks out?

(2) What's the best way for me to handle the fact that I paid a business expense with cash from my personal checking account? I can think of at least two solutions:

(a) Enter an influx of cash into the business as Starting Equity (or whatever the term is). Then count the taxi Bills as paid for with business petty cash.

(b) Withdraw the exact amount of cash from the business checking account as I spent on taxi fares, then put that cash into my wallet. Then tell Quickbooks I paid those bills with business petty cash.

I would appreciate any suggestions. Note that I am trying to obey the dictates of both GAAP and the laws of Tennessee.

Tyler Cowen Wonders How We Can Limit Corporatism...

...four posts after he explains that he doesn't regret his endorsement of the Paulson bailout. As I said over at my blog:

Over at MR, Tyler Cowen refers to the latest issue of Cato Unbound, where Matt Yglesias chides libertarians for claiming to oppose corporatism while not taking real practical steps to limit it. Tyler says:

In my view at the margin it would be better to have both less corporate privilege and less labor union privilege. Maybe we have no good theory (much less a strategy) for how to get there, but surely some marginal improvements are possible and who knows maybe more.


In the comments I offered this helpful remark:

Here's a suggestion on strategy: When the former CEO of Goldman Sachs asks for $700 billion to dish out as he pleases, in light of an alleged disaster that he had no idea was coming just two months prior to the request, then all libertarians say "HECK NO!"


Seriously, I guess I can understand why some libertarians--especially those with "respectable" positions where they can't come off as cranks--didn't raise a ruckus when Paulson first asked for the money. But now that he has almost literally admitted he was lying through his teeth at the time, what's the holdup, fellas? At the very least, please spare us all this faux hand-wringing over 'how oh how can we limit corporatism?'

What Holds Back Tyrants?

The fear that they may wind up looking like George Bush!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Did You Know?

About .5% of the world's population is descended from Genghis Khan?

This Is Unbelievable

Some chump over at some "advice" blog links to video of a series of "esteemed" commentators basically laughing in Peter Schiff's face as he predicts the financial future to a tee! I think everyone who reads this should write Ben Stein a letter and ask what he thinks of his call that Merrill Lynch was being "given away" at $76 now that the stock is at $14. The man should never comment on anything other than eye drops again in his life.

Dramatic Announcement Below

I warned you this was coming. For some damned reason, I'm being allowed to participate in the best blog in economics.

A Gaffe?

I went to a "publishing party" at my youngest son's school this morning. The idea is that the kids put out a piece of writing on their desks along with a comment sheet, and the parents circulate through the room, reading stories and writing comments. The teacher instructed us to restrict ourselves to positive comments. At that time, I thought I had done OK, but, in retrospect, I grow worried that "What the fvck was that all about?" may not qualify as a positive comment.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Glenn Greenwald Dishes Out Blame for the Last 8 Years

GG is getting a bit shrill lately for my taste, but he still manages to hit the nail on the head in this recent column:

As the Bush administration comes to a close, one overarching question is this: how were the transgressions and abuses of the last eight years allowed to be unleashed with so little backlash and resistance? Just consider -- with no hyperbole -- what our Government, our country, has done. We systematically tortured people in our custody using techniques approved at the highest levels, many of whom died as a result. We created secret prisons -- "black site" gulags -- beyond the reach of international monitoring groups. We abducted and imprisoned even U.S. citizens and legal residents without any trial, holding them incommunicado and without even the right to access lawyers for years, while we tortured them to the point of insanity. We disappeared innocent people off the streets, sent them to countries where we knew they'd be tortured, and then closed off our courts to them once it was clear they had done nothing wrong. We adopted the very policies and techniques long considered to be the very definition of "war crimes".

Our Government turned the NSA apparatus inward -- something that was never supposed to happen -- spying on our conversations in secret and without warrants or oversight, all in violation of the law, and then, once revealed, acted to immunize the private-sector lawbreakers. And that's to say nothing about the hundreds of thousands of people we killed and the millions more we displaced with a war launched on false pretense. And on and on and on.

Prime responsibility for those actions may lie with the administration which implemented them and with the Congress that thereafter acquiesced to and even endorsed much of it, but it also lies with much of our opinion-making elite and expert class. Even when they politely disagreed, they treated most of this -- and still do -- as though it were reasonable and customary, eschewing strong language and emphatic condemnation and moral outrage, while perversely and self-servingly construing their constraint as some sort of a virtue -- a hallmark of dignified Seriousness. That created the impression that these were just garden-variety political conflicts to be batted about in pretty conference rooms by mutually regarding elites on both sides of these "debates." Meanwhile, those who objected too strongly and in disrespectful tones, who described the extremism and lawlessness taking place, were dismissed by these same elites as overheated, fringe hysterics.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Setback in Race Relations?

It just occurred to me that the American people did not pick the first black president. Rather, they picked the first black president-elect.

Consumers Don't Cause Recessions

I explain over at Mises.org. Incidentally, this is an article of medium length, but I really tried to bury the notion that we just need to boost "spending" to fix recessions. Free market geeks should thoroughly enjoy.

What's Become of Obama Supporters?


Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Song in Honor Of Obama's Victory

We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the foe, that's all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they all flown in the next war

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
No, no!

I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
For I know that the hypnotized never lie

Do ya?

There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again
No, no!

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

IIB

(That's idiocy in broadcasting, by the way.) So, on my drive to class, I sometimes put on talk radio. And there, I hear Rush "Stupidity on Loan from God" Limbaugh telling listeners "If only the Democrats had passed the tax cut Bush had recommended last spring, this whole financial crisis could have been avoided."

I see. In the midst of record government deficits, and a bursting bubble caused by too much debt, the fix was... more debt!

Yes, Rush, and if only the Democrats had stuck their heads as far up GWB's rectum as you have yours, then the current economic situation wouldn't stink!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sweet Home Alabama

To those that say race played a small role in this presidential election, put it here.

"Here in Alabama, where Mr. McCain won 60.4 percent of the vote in his best Southern showing, he had the support of nearly 9 in 10 whites, according to exit polls, a figure comparable to other Southern states."

I live in what is considered the deep south, and I'm keeping my Obama stickers on the car. This is my answer to those who kept their W or Bush/Cheney stickers adorning pickup trucks down here. I still see them every day.

Rednecks suck.

The Day's Snap Question

Hi there! What search string receives 2,730,000,000 hits on Google?

I'll bet...

...that you didn't know that there is a chemical compound called melon.

Use In A Dishwasher?



I haven't paid much attention to the inner parts of my coffee maker, until today when I made a mess because I failed to close the door to the fiter basket during operation. After owning this machine for nearly six months I noticed that one of the fixed parts warns: "NOT INTENDED FOR USE IN DISHWASHER." (My apologies for the glare in the photo.)

Has anyone here tried preparing coffee in a dishwasher? Is there an advantage to preparing coffee this way?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Robin Hanson Shakes Me to My Very Core

In a post praised by Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson argues that

We feel a deep pleasure from realizing that we believe something in common with our friends, and different from most people. We feel an even deeper pleasure letting everyone know of this fact. This feeling is EVIL. Learn to see it in yourself, and then learn to be horrified by how thoroughly it can poison your mind. Yes evidence may at times force you to disagree with a majority, and your friends may have correlated exposure to that evidence, but take no pleasure when you and your associates disagree with others; that is the road to rationality ruin.


Besides him telling me that one of my secret pleasures is "EVIL," Hanson's post disturbed me because I think it is totally wrong. Isn't the whole point of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty that we should nurture dissent, so as not to become slaves to our own prejudices? I go out of my way to disagree when there is a "consensus" on something, and I think that serves a useful purpose besides relieving me of the chore of maintaining a bunch of friendships.

You Know Who Is Really, Really Annoying...

and not very funny? Jon Stewart. Just carefully study the contrived little hand-over-the-mouth gesture in this skit -- it's a classic example of the "Hey, I don't think it's funny, but it seems to work with these dopes I pander to" school of comedy.

We Go Now to Our Pakistani Correspondent...

I saw the most effed-up news story Friday morning. The network anchor (I think it was CNN) explained that there were reports of CIA missile attacks in Pakistan. They interviewed some Pakistani people talking about it, and then they interviewed the guy who coined the term "shock and awe." Some thoughts:

(1) Does it freak out anybody else that American media have to interview the alleged recipients of US firepower to try to determine whether our government is in the process of bombing foreigners? I kid you not, I don't think CNN even said, "The US government declined to comment on this story." I didn't hear them even mention what the US government had to say about all this, though I was in a hotel food area eating my continental breakfast, so maybe I just missed it.

(2) Does it freak out anybody else that it is the CIA who is allegedly launching missile strikes on terrorists? Isn't the CIA supposed to gather intelligence? What is the purpose of this? "Well sir, we wanted to see what would happen if you sent a missile into a guy's chest. Apparently he dies. We'll have a full report in the morning."

(3) If you are so intertwined with the Iraqi debacle that you coined the term "shock and awe," why the heck is the media even calling you anymore?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

One Good Thing About the Election

is that the conservative pundits are likely to get better. (Well, nothing could make gasbags like Hannity or Limbaugh bearable, but some will get better...) Note how critical Steyn is of McCain in this piece.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Rednecks Is PISSED

I know a lot of people are upset that Obama won because they think he'll raise their taxes, be soft on terrorism, (further) socialize medicine, etc., etc. But there's also a goodly contingent who are fuming about the president being a God-damned jigaboo. I stopped to get some beer today near Bushkill, PA, and was immediately "tested" with a wave of Obama "jokes." (This, by the way, was done by two dirty looking, unshaven men, sitting bleary eyed, drinking beer at midday.)

"Did you hear Obama is going to plant watermelons on the White House lawn?"

"Yeah, I heard he's going to replace the Oval Office with a basketball court."

"He's already moved to replace the eagle as the national symbol by the fried chicken wing."

Now, if this pair had as many IQ points as Obama between the two of them, I'd be shocked. (And I know the duo has fewer total teeth than he does.) But somehow, they're still damned certain that they're superior to him, in some indefinable way.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The President Who Must Not Be Named

Last night at National Review's "The Corner", Katheryn Jean Lopez was so perturbed at the thought of an Obama victory that she could not name the event:
"If what everyone thinks may happen happens tonight..."

Who Da Pundit, Who Da Pundit?

At 6 AM yesterday morning,I called the electoral college 364-174. And if NC and MO hold as they are now, the final tally will be... 364-174.

How did I get my total? Well, I went around one of those interactive electoral maps and picked every single state correctly. CNN? Fox News? BBC? Hiring in 2012?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Nail Biter (in the Popular Vote)

It really amazes me how close this thing is, in terms of the popular vote. As of this writing, it is Obama 50% and McCain 49%.

Do you think "they" do it this way on purpose? Just like the people running the NFL, NBA, etc. try to make sure that it's always competitive, to keep the fans interested?

And if so, what is the purpose? To keep us divided, and always fearful of "those evil #$()# Repuplicans/Democrats" staging a comeback in two years?

Why I Don't Vote

In a nutshell, because it's silly to engage in a morally dubious practice that won't even yield any pragmatic benefits. If that hasn't convinced you, read the full post.

Monday, November 03, 2008

You can vote for None of the Above, but you'd be a fool to waste your time at the poll

Make your predictions on the US Presidential race here:

I say Obama 306 McCain 232. I hope I'm being conservative, and that it's an Obama landslide.

(I'm not including apportioned results)

Remember, You Can Vote for Neither McCain Nor Obama

For those who like Obama because he is so peaceful, here's an odd video. I confess I don't know the context, but does it really matter? (HT2EPJ)

Welfare Benefits

At school, picking up my kids, I see a poster proclaiming "Win aTrip for Two to the Probowl in Hawaii!" How can you win this?By signing up for welfare benefits! (Free school meals for your kids.)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

10/10/08

was market capitulation day! (That's when the new bull market starts.)

I've Unconsciously Decided This Is Rubbish

From New Scientist:

"BARACK OBAMA or John McCain? Floating voters in the upcoming US election may already have made up their minds - they just don't know it yet.

"Bertram Gawronski, a social psychologist at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and his colleagues asked 129 residents of Vicenza, Italy, whether they would support a controversial proposal to enlarge the city's US military base. To measure subconscious biases, the team used an "implicit association" test to record, for example, whether volunteers associated pictures of the base with positive words such as "joy" or negative ones such as "pain".

"When polled a week later, many who were undecided about the base in the first poll had resolved to support or oppose it - and the team found that their decision could be predicted by their responses on the association test (Science, vol 321, p 1100)."

Hmm, people's decisions are affected by what things they think of as good or bad -- what a surprise! But that doesn't mean they've already "made up their minds" on all future decisions. You've only made up your mind when you know you've made up your mind, because that's what "making up your mind" means.

How Could Anyone Be Undecided?

I see this question asked on bulletin boards. Its grounding is something like, "These two candidates are miles apart! How could anyone not be able choose between them?"

Well, I really don't think they are so many miles apart, but, in any case, that distance is totally irrelevant to the issue: Place an anarcho-capitalist and a communist running against each other. Now place a hypothetical voter squarely in the European-style social democrat camp. He's about halfway between them, and may have a hard time choosing. These "How can you be undecided?" folks have confused difficulty reaching a preference for one candidate with an inability to distinguish them, as if the customer in a restaurant who is debating between having pasta and steak can't tell them apart!

Clearly

Soma things are clear to some, not to others:

"Clearly, the sun that shines up there is a horse sacrifice..." -- Brhadaranyaka Upanisad

God Poem

Prayer

O solitary God,
So don't be lonely.
Destroy the fog,
Driving the presence
Of Your angels
Into the Land of Nod,
Where we are waiting.


050312 Sat 0940, Oakland, CA

Copyright © 2005 by Walter Bloch, all rights reserved.

Friday, October 31, 2008

This Is Why I Hesitate to Complain at Restaurants

I will spare you a Rocky Road reference.

Lew Rockwell Interview With Naomi Wolf

I am not exaggerating, this is quite possibly the best interview I have ever heard in my life. (Just click on the link and then play it from within your browser.) During the show itself, Naomi Wolf comes to see why libertarians are so opposed to the IRS and the Department of Education. She (at least twice) says, "Oh my God, you are so right." Hint: it's not because we hate poor people.

The Wrong Way to Prevent Jingle Mail

If this is the way to stop the profligate from mailing in their keys, the old Wall Street adage rings true on Main Street: "Bulls make money, Bears make money, but Pigs make more money than anyone."

"The Federal Housing Administration began Hope for Homeowners on Oct. 1, aimed at making as many as 400,000 mortgages affordable. Under the program, lenders will refinance loans to 90 percent of a house’s current value, automatically giving the owner 10 percent equity.
The loans will be insured by the government, which will take a share of any gain when the house is sold. If a sale occurs in the first year, the government takes it all. The second year, it takes 90 percent; and so on down a sliding scale. After five years, it takes half the gain."


WTF? I don't have a problem with helping people manage their bad bets if that's going to stabilize the housing market. But why give away the upside?

Would not a better plan be to create a personal recourse lien on the real estate, that accrues no interest (aside from some kind of indexed adjustment which is capitalized), requires no monthly payments, and is only repaid upon reversion?

An example: Joe the Dishwasher bought a $500,000 house with no money down during the bubble. Joe's house is now worth $400,000. For some strange reason he's now unable to pay his mortgage. Miraculously, dishwashers can support payments on a conventional $400,000 mortgage. Let’s recast the mortgage to $400,000, and continue getting payments from Joe. The $100,000 for which we’ve shown forbearance will be returned to us later as part of the reversion, or if there’s still a deficiency, we’ll garnish Joe’s wages. This keeps Joe locked into his house, he doesn’t want to carve up that fat dishwasher paycheck.

The current plan is partly a subsidy to business to artificially create labor mobility, and mostly a farce to prop-up property prices. Joe can now dump his castle for $360,000, walk away clean, and all the denizens of the ‘hood will see their assets re-priced accordingly. Once again, they’ll petition FHA to forgive and recast their mortgages under the threat of Jingle Mail, and we’ll continue our spiral down.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Slim Idiot

Last week -- it's late now, I'm about to go to bed, and too tired to hunt up the link -- Limbaugh posted the idea that the big market drop of day X was due to businessmen being in touch with reality, and realizing that the high likelihood of an Obama win spelled disaster for American businesses. Now, the first piece of rubbish here is that the mountain of bushit contends, in many other posts, that there is NO likelihood of an Obama win, and that the race is neck-and-neck. But the second can only be seen in retrospect, when this week, as the Dow scored its second highest gain ever, Limnuts failed to make a post saying, "Oh, gee, I guess business has decided Obama is fine after all!"

That's a sign of pure partisan hackery -- EVERY sort of evidence "supports" you're position.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meditation upon the Epistemology of Circumstance

God had just created Adam and Eve. "Welcome to the World," He said. "I have a birthday present for each of you. You get to choose who gets what."

"What are they, huh, what are they?" said Adam.

"Well," God said, "One is, I give you a little hose to pee through, so you can pee standing up."

"Oboyoboy," said Adam, "Pee standing up--I want that one!"

"OK, you got it," said God. "Eve gets the multiple orgasms."

Demon Poem

> Sneaking It Past the Demon
>
> I live with a demon most terrible.
> She shits blood in the night.
> It drips up through the ceiling.
>
> Her eyes encircle her head, and she never sleeps.
> The first day I slipped it under my coat.
> The circlet of eyes never blinked, but she knew.
>
> The first week I tried mailing it,
> Rolling it in a rug, giving it a fake ID,
> But always she knew.
>
> I would have sold my soul.
> I bargained, but to no avail.
> She wanted it all.
>
> The pet store delivered a snake.
> "Bon appetit," said I,
> And later released the snake.
>
> She purged it.
> It isn't natural, you see:
> Demons were made before nature.
>
>
> 050203 Thu 1430-1545
> 050211 Fri 2000 stanzas
>
> Hey, a first for Boy Scout me: a poem about infidelity!
>
>
> (c) 2005 by Walter Bloch, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What Will Disappoint Me from Obama?

If he don't stop that mojo shit he be directing at McCain and Palin!

(Hat tip to Henley.)

Our Nobel Ideate

Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

"What’s happening, I suspect, is that the Bush administration’s anti-government ideology still stands in the way of effective action. Events have forced Mr. Paulson into a partial nationalization of the financial system — but he refuses to use the power that comes with ownership."

"Whatever the reasons for the continuing weakness of policy, the situation is manifestly not coming under control. Things continue to fall apart."

Uh, Paul:
1) An administration with an "anti-government ideology" does not engage in "a partial nationalization of the financial system".
2) An administration with an "anti-government ideology" does not increase the size and scope of government faster than any administration in my life.
3) Your preferred policies are failing. Time to admit it.

(Hat tip to Elen.)

Obama Is Good for Crash Landing

Yesterday traffic to Crash Landing was 732% higher than the previous day. I assume this has something to do with Andrew Sullivan's link (HT2 Ralph Raico) to my "How could Obama disappoint you?" thread. Woody, let's start another argument!

Little Balls

A friend of mine who plays go a lot found this on her go server. Mathematicians post stuff there, she said, and, being mathematicians, they post problems, not answers.

"You have a collection of 11 balls with the property that if you remove any one of the balls, the other 10 can be split into two groups of 5 that have the same weight. If you assume that all the balls have rational weight, there is a cute proof that they all must weigh the same. Can you find a proof? Can you find a way to extend the result to the general case where the balls have real weights?"

Solving the implied system of 11 equations in 11 unknowns is fairly trivial and gives a proof, but it isn’t “cute” by any stretch. I have been unable to come up with either a cute proof, or a proof, cute or otherwise, which depends on the unknowns being rational.

Does anyone see what I missed?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You Have More Than Two Choices

Both in the Crash Landing thread and the spin-off on Unqualified Offerings, some people seem to be misunderstanding my challenge. To repeat, I want pro-Obama people to list some concrete things that a President Obama could do, that would make them admit (at that time) they were foolish for having supported him now.

As I said, several people are misunderstanding. They say stuff like, "Even if Obama did horrible thing X, my support would only be a mistake if we assume McCain wouldn't have done horrible thing X, or even worse thing Y. And I have no reason to think that."

But that's not what I'm asking; we all know you have weighed the evidence, and right now you expect Obama will be better than McCain. Regardless of who wins, we will never know the answer to that question, since history will go down one path and not the other.

To return to my own example: I am not sure what John Kerry would have done, had he been in office during the financial panic. Maybe he would have seized 85% shares in Freddie and Fannie, instead of Bush's 79.9%.

But that's not really the point. Back when it was a toss-up between Gore and Bush, I was rooting for the latter because I thought, "Yeah, he's an a-hole on rights for people on death row etc., but at least he's a free market guy." It would have been absolutely inconceivable to me, that a President Bush would agree to partially nationalize the banks.

So if Obama nukes Iran, or uses the Fairness Doctrine to somehow get Rush Limbaugh off the air, then he is not the guy his supporters think he is.

A few people have said, "We only have two realistic choices, and so I'm supporting the one that I think..."

That is false. You have many many choices you can make, as an individual. It is a choice to vocally support either candidate, for example. It's not just a matter of, "For whom will I cast my vote?" You can abstain. You can put yard signs up (or not). You can work phones (or not). You can make blog posts critical of one or both (or neither).

So this is what I'm talking about. Obviously, we can intellectually assess which candidate would be "better."

The government wants you to believe, "We have two choices for how to conduct ourselves." Don't believe their lie. It is entirely possible for you to say, "Either of the these candidates will do evil things once he becomes the most powerful person on the planet. I cannot in good conscience 'support' either one of them; I reject this system altogether. Now having said that, I predict that it would be better if so-and-so won..."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Things Have Gotten So Bad

that McCain staff members are now knocking their own VP candidate!

Nothing between him and the sky!



Is baldness now a job requirement at Treasury?

Trying out blogwrite


From my iphone. Here's emma:




Let's Decide Beforehand What Obama Could Do to Disappoint His Current Supporters

In a previous post, I admitted that I now feel quite foolish for being afraid that if Gore won the White House, he would have "wrecked the economy." (Again, I didn't vote for Bush, but I was rooting for him against Gore. I rooted for Kerry, though again I didn't vote for Kerry.) I warned that those who are pro-Obama because he's the "peace candidate" may have similar feelings, a few years from now.

So as a fun exercise, I would like the pro-Obama people to come up with specific things that would make them admit they are mistaken right now, in their advocacy of Obama. For example, if Obama orders the use of nuclear weapons on Iran, surely that would count, right?

To be clear, I'm not talking about things like, "Aww man, he could raise tax rates and cause slower GDP growth!" I'm saying, what if he starts arresting journalists?

So no matter how ludicrous you have to make the events, surely you will admit right now that there are some things President Obama could do, that would make you regret your current support. I would just like to have a record of those things, before he actually takes over.

What I'm trying to guard against is something like this: Surely if you had asked the average American in February 2003 whether we should go into Iraq, if no WMD would be found, there would be more than 4,000 US killed, and we would be there at least 8 years, there would be very little support. And yet, many of those same people still DO support it now, because it's already a done deal. Their views have morphed to avoid cognitive dissonance.

So I don't want that to happen here. Some of you very vocal Obama supporters, please write down some things, no matter how ridiculous they now sound to you, that would make you have to admit (should they come to pass) that you are being fooled right now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Government Makes Sure No One Slips Through the Cracks

Two people have now emailed me this short video on what to do if you have an analog TV; it's pretty funny.

State Fugue: An American Tragedy

Here.

Well, He's Not Fat Anymore

Flipping round the AM dial on my way home from work I found Rush Limbaugh on a local station. God, what a pathetic, partisan hack he's become. Is the McCain campaign paying him? He was insisting that the presidential election is very close, and that Palin is helping the GOP ticket! He must of gotten a hold of some oxycontin again.

(Far from being "very close," McCain is so far down that GOP operatives aren't even waiting until after the election to start blaming each other for the landslide loss coming.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's All in Schumpeter (Not)

I recall, after raising objections to what I felt was Murray Rothbard's unneccesarily savage trashing of Adam Smith in his history of economic thought, having some defender of Rothbard's tell me, "Well, Schumpeter reached the same conclusions!"

So, now I'm reading Schumpeter, and I find: "But though the Wealth of Nations contained no really novel ideas and though it cannot rank with Newton's Principia or Darwin's Origin of Species, it is a great performance all the same and fully deserved its success."

And what about the charge that Smith was a plagiarist? "...no charge of plagiarism can be made either against Smith or on his behalf against others."

So, not so much in Schumpeter, after all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Bush Admits He Lied"

I was following some YouTube links and came across one with this title. I was curious and clicked it. At first I was thinking, "Huh? He's not admitting he lied." But by the end he basically does!

Hey Kids, Spot the Math Mistake!

(Wabulon, please give someone else a chance before posting the answer.)

A while ago I sent my brother Peter Bernstein's book Capital Ideas.* I was trying to get him interested in becoming a "financial engineer," i.e. one of the Wall Street whiz kids who can tell you how safe mortgage-backed securities are. (Now you know why I cannot charge for my advice.)

Anyway, he was looking at it again and noticed a pretty dumb mistake. I reproduce the relevant excerpt below. The author is referring to Cowles (whose first name I forget):

[Cowles] must have been a fiendish bridge player. Here is one passage from his notes on the game:

"If each of 50 million bridge players in the US plays 200 sessions of 40 deals each, this adds up to 50 million*200*40 = 400 billion hands dealt each in US (sic). The probabilities on any given hand being dealt with 13 cards of one suit are .00000000000156. The chances of a hand with 13 cards of one suit being dealt in the US in any given year, therefore are 400 billion times .00000000000156=.624."


I will post the first comment to this thread, giving a hint from my brother.


* Isn't it odd that in that sentence, it seems for a second that my brother is Peter Bernstein? Cuz he's not.

Yuuuck

I was working in the yard and, when I came inside, I looked at my jacket and thought, "I've gotten something slimy on it." Then I looked more closely and saw that someone else was getting something slimy on it: a slug was crawling up my chest, soon to nuzzle against my neck.

(Dr. Tyson's Chicken, I've given you a big opening here: what can you do with it?)

By the way, Bob soon will not be the only one blogging somewhere else: watch for the exciting announcement in these pages soon!

Murphy vs. Cowen on Business Cycles

I have finally made it; Tyler Cowen links to me (sort of) at his blog. So here is my original mises.org article, "The Importance of Capital Theory." Then Tyler acknowledges it parenthetically in this post, though he chooses to filter it through a foreign website (presumably for tax purposes).

Incidentally, my mises.org article above lays out the basics of how capital consumption can give the illusion of prosperity for a brief time, but then reality sets in and a "recession" is physically inevitable. If you don't really get what I am talking about, but are interested to understand what physically might have happened with the world economy over the last few years, I recommend the big section in the article titled, "A Sushi Model of Capital Consumption." I.e. you can probably skip the first sections where I quote Krugman and Cowen, and jump right into the "model."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Meaning of Human Life

As I was planting a rhododendron today, I discovered the above! I realized that, while many creatures (think elephants) before us have uprooted plants, we are surely the first to uproot them from one place and then stick them back in the ground somewhere else.

We exist to offer plants mobility!

Matt Welch Cites Me

as someone at (T)reason who was calling for better oversight of Freddie and Fannie years ago.

UPDATE: Bob Murphy reminds me how it is endlessly funny, even the 5000th time it is done, to spell the name of this magazine (T)reason -- so the post is suitably amended.

Ed McMahon Rapping



(Hat tip to Elen.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Comment Verification On

Aargh! Some virulent spammer found Crash Landing tonight and posted about 30 spam comments in 5 minutes. So, unfortunately, I feel compelled to turn commnt verification on.

Sorry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Libertarian Finally Appreciates Shock Doctrine

I have been very frustrated with many libertarians smug dismissal of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine; as usual, the piece de resistance in this area comes from my favorite GMU professor.

But Joe Stromberg sees things my way in the October Freeman, so now I can stop asking, "Is everyone taking crazy pills?!"

Some good excerpts:

The core thesis of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine is that American foreign and domestic policies of the last 30 years have shaped a new corporatism. Corporatism, Klein writes, “originally referred to Mussolini’s model of a police state run as an alliance of . . . government, businesses and trade unions . . . in the name of nationalism.”...

Klein’s case is tightly organized, well presented, and overwhelming in cumulative impact. She makes a complex argument dealing with what are, indeed, complicated matters. Some reviewers complain that Klein forces the evidence into a pattern. They say her treatment of the views of certain psychologists, economists, and military planners and her comparative account of how those views are (were) implemented, are “unfair,” especially to the economists. But Klein rightly pursues the ideas in question across these fields of knowledge (and action) by analogy—a perfectly good Aristotelian and Thomistic procedure. “Hooding” a captive and “blacking out” an entire city by bombing are analogous, because they are done for the same reason—to disorient and confuse, and so on, through further stages of comparison.

The said psychologists, economists, and military planners dwell endlessly on certain themes because they see the world as a manipulable object and proceed from shared mechanistic, Hobbesian, positivist premises, whereby actual people are mere atoms, objects, or empty ciphers on indifference curves. We cannot be surprised that these experts’ activities complement one another in real life and reveal an indifference to “unforeseen consequences,” while a kind of mathematical Platonism underlies the supposedly “empirical” performances. Shared themes include “shock,” “shock therapy,” crises as experimental opportunities, and “clean slates” (Hobbes’s “clean paper”) on which to plot out new worlds. They talk this way; Klein makes nothing up.
...
The Sri Lankan case must suffice here. There, long-established fishermen, having survived the tsunami, were barred from their beach holdings, so that resort hotels favored by the World Bank, U.S. operatives, and investors might expand. This is precisely what a Chicago Law and Economics (Coasean) judge would do. The fishermen are “socially inefficient.” They got no “growth.” Away with their land! They may come back in the reformed “free market” as waiters and busboys.
...
There are some problems of language throughout the book. Reading it, one might think the author deplores any conceivable free markets whatsoever. Klein uses “capitalism” and “free market” to refer to assertions made by policymaking ideologues merchandising corporatist and imperial policies. I wish she had somehow separated official rhetoric from other possible, face-value meanings of these words, by putting them in quotes or occasionally writing “state-capitalist.”

This is, in any case, an important, insightful book. Klein’s specific critique of new-wave corporatism outweighs any disagreements some might have with her “third way” politics. Accordingly, I hope people read the book before falling into predictable, knee-jerk reactions.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'm Hoping for a Decisive Win

I'm not really rooting for McCain or Obama; I think either of them is equally capable of presiding over some awful developments in federal policy. As I've said before, it's true that McCain sounds more likely to bomb Iran, but by the same token, he will be under less pressure to prove what a tough guy he is, and also, he is probably more likely to grasp whether something really would be infeasible from a purely military point of view. I.e. I think Obama wouldn't want to bomb Iran because of the dead babies, whereas McCain might think, "Nah, we're too bogged down right now. Putin would have an even freer hand if we opened up another front in the Middle East."

So, since I am not going to get all worked up hoping for one or the other, what I will say is that I hope one of them wins decisively. At this point, of course, that means I hope Obama really wins. (But if there is a late October surprise, the polls could swing in a matter of days.)

What would be absolutely terrible is if the election is razor-thin, and then Republicans bring a bunch of lawsuits claiming voter fraud, or that Obama isn't a US citizen, etc. I realize that some hardcore libertarians would say, "No, that will be great! Maybe the American sheeple will wake up and realize they don't pick their leaders."

But it could also mean that the people "get used to" the fact that sometimes elections need to be postponed indefinitely, blah blah blah. E.g. what if Bush tries to stay in office for another 6 months until the courts can figure out who the next president is? I realize that sounds inconceivable right now, but what exactly would happen if he did it? Remember, in the scenario I've painted, 40% of the country is going to be dead certain that Obama won, while another 40% will be dead certain McCain is the true president. So long as Bush prattles off how the review process will be fair blah blah, I think most people will sit and home and b*tch about how screwed up the country is, rather than start rioting. Keep in mind that Obama himself could go on national TV, urging his supporters to be patient and let democracy play out.

Like I said, even I don't really think the above is plausible, but then again, if you had described all of the Paulson BS 6 months ago--especially the part about the American public vocally opposing it 9-to-1 or more--I would have laughed at you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ah Democracy

I haven't watched any of the presidential debates, so I thought tonight I should probably get to know the guy who will lead us into official socialism. I had a freshly opened beer, and was putting off balancing my checkbook. And yet, the debate was so intolerable, I turned it off. That's right, I decided I would rather balance my checkbook than watch these clowns.

In the same paragraph, possibly the same sentence, McCain excoriated Obama for not backing a free trade deal with our ally Colombia, who after all had done so much to stem the flow of drugs into our country. (Just let that one sink in.)

For his part, Obama said "we" need to guarantee loans to automakers, but also hold them responsible for not building the fuel efficient cars of the future. You see, Obama doesn't think we should import cars from Japan or South Korea. Oh, he also said he was for free trade.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hiking in Pennsylvania

Click on photo for a larger image:


The view from the top of High Knob -- that's New Jersey on the horizon.


Peck's Pond.


Hearty mountaineers..

Steelers Beat Writer

I saw that graphic underneath a talking head on a sports channel the other day, and thought "Oh my God, and entire pro football team pummeling some poor journalist!"

Then I realized the talking head was a writer who covered the Steelers' "beat."

Marketing Director Needed

The name of Key Foods frozen fish concoction? "7 Crunchy Fish Portions"

Fish portions... mmmmm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Henry Paulson Must Listen to Eazy-E

So in case you haven't heard, let me inform you that Paulson has just decided that more than $125 billion* will go to healthy financial institutions. This reminds me of some lines from Eazy-E:

Bankin, I specialize in ganking
Whites, Mexicans, brothers and others.



* Initially RW put the figure at $135 billion, but now he is not sure. The phrasing is a little off in the article, so it's hard to know. So to be safe, just say it's at least $125 billion.

Sunset Poem

Dropped rock fire the red sun down
Golden evening bridge gate crossing the bay.
Chopped blue gray glad steep freehold finding
To save light.

(c) Copyright 2008 by Walter Bloch, all rights reserved.

Florida

Greetings! This is from a wonderful book that Gene and Elen turned me on to: Leonard Mlodinow, The Drunkard's Walk (Pantheon Books, 2008). For simplicity, assume that gender in successive children is 50-50 independently for each child.

(i) A family has two children. What is the probability that both are girls?

(ii) A family has two children, one of them a girl. What is the probability that both are girls?

(iii) A family has two children, one of them a girl named Florida. What is the probability that both are girls?

According to the author, Florida was a rather popular name in the first decades of the 20th Century, although it has since been very much in decline.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I Know It Was You, Larry, And You Broke My Heart

I caught "free marketeer" Larry Kudlow in a whopper that actually made me embarrassed for him.

Sidewalk to Nowhere



Why shouldn't Obama move to the center? The people are generally morons.

Warning to Obama Supporters, From Burned Bob

I think that things are going to be awful over the next four years, regardless of who wins the White House. Now I know some people (even staunch libertarians) are very passionately hoping for an Obama win, because they would rather a Marxist than a Mad Bomber.

I agree that in a perfect world, Obama would be much more peaceful than McCain. But of course, we don't live in a perfect world. And I have seen nothing to indicate that Obama will implement the peaceful policies that (I agree) he personally desires.

The most classic example is Obama saying something like, "North Korea, Iran...these are tiny countries that don't pose us any threat." Awesome. Somebody needed to say it. And yet, within a few days (maybe even just one, I can't remember) later, he completely reversed himself and said something like, "I have always said that Iran and North Korea pose serious threats to this country." So forget the blatant lie, it's rather that he is lying about something so crucial.

A more recent example concerns the "negotiating with rogue leaders" issue. Obama clearly said he would be willing to sit down with no preconditions with the leaders of "terrorist" states. Awesome. Somebody needed to say it. And yet, when Palin tried to embarrass Biden with that, what did Biden do? He lied about it, and said "Barack never said he'd sit down without preconditions..." or something like that.

I have been personally burned in this matter, so I am warning libertarian Obama supporters not to make the mirror-image mistake. Back in 2000, Bush was running against Al Gore, and I was terrified of a Gore presidency. I thought if he won, Gore would impose a carbon cap on US businesses, raise taxes on rich people, blah blah blah. I didn't think much about it, but yeah I probably would have conceded that Bush was more likely to blow up foreigners, but still, for me at that time, I thought Gore was the clear and present danger because of his socialist tendencies.

I think we see how ridiculous my worries were. (Note that I have NEVER voted for George W. Bush. I can't remember if I did vote in that election, but if I did, it was straight third-party down the line, either Libertarian or Constitution Party depending on who was available.)

It is a myth that Republicans are good on economics while Democrats are good on foreign policy. Nixon closed the gold window and instituted wage and price controls, while Truman nuked babies and LBJ bombed the crap out of Viet Nam.

Let me close with this final observation: If Obama wins and there is another terrorist attack on US soil, he is going to "have to" take aggressive action such that future libertarians will ruefully conclude, "Yeah, President Obama believed in diplomacy the way President Bush believed in free markets."

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Winner's Curse" in Publishing?

This is the kind of thing Gene would complain about, so I'm posting it here rather than at Free Advice. In this post, Tyler Cowen summarizes an article that claims:

In economic theory the winner’s curse refers to the idea that someone who places the winning bid in an auction may have paid too much...The same thing may be happening in scientific publishing, according to a new analysis. With so many scientific papers chasing so few pages in the most prestigious journals, the winners could be the ones most likely to oversell themselves—to trumpet dramatic or important results that later turn out to be false. This would produce a distorted picture of scientific knowledge, with less dramatic (but more accurate) results either relegated to obscure journals or left unpublished.


By itself, this is just goofy. There are probably a good 7 things wrong with this theory. (I confess I haven't read the paper, so maybe they address all 7.) Here are some big problems, some of which I thought of myself, and others which people at MR came up with:

* As with other nifty things, like the criterion of falsifiability, this idea above falls apart if you apply it to itself. Or, as I put it in the comments: "I have tried for years to get a paper published that says the refereeing process tends to select papers with true hypotheses, but no journal was interested."

* This really isn't the winner's curse. So even if it's true that "the most interesting papers are probably wrong"--which is how either Steve Landsburg or Bryan Caplan (it was one of the two but I can't remember which) phrased it several years ago--that's not really the winner's curse. As an MR comment explained: "[T]he winner's curse applied to papers would be that published papers present more information than was necessary to get published, IE they could have published 2 papers instead of the one. Therefore, I refuse to read the paper because I disagree with the conclusion from the snippet Tyler posted... Why does the extra information have to be incorrect? Doesn't the Journal check the validity of the information before it is published? (And I'm not talking about the economist.)"

* The guy's comment quoted above actually had two points, the second of which I handle here: Even given the tendency for referees to be more interested in "unexpected" results, why can't they be aware of that and scrutinize the paper more carefully? E.g. in the actual winner's curse literature, in Nash equilibrium rational bidders don't overbid. They are aware of the forces that would lead a group of naive people to consistently fall prey to the winner's curse, and so they adjust for it. So do economics referees not understand game theory? Maybe they don't, but the point is, you can't do a model of the refereeing process that yields this perverse outcome, unless you plug in that the referees (in the model) are morons. So yeah, no kidding if the referees are morons, then we can't trust the papers they publish.

* Finally, here's a great point someone brought up (and note he is quoting from the article in the beginning):

"Dr Ioannidis based his earlier argument about incorrect research partly on a study of 49 papers in leading journals that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists. They were, in other words, well-regarded research. But he found that, within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies. For the idea of the winner’s curse to hold, papers published in less-well-known journals should be more reliable; but that has not yet been established."

This sounds to me like

1) We don't know how likely papers in other journals are to be refuted, so we don't have a sense that the ones in highly regarded journals are *unusually* likely to be refuted;

2) Even if they are unusually likely to be refuted, I'd like to see an argument that it's because they're *worse*, not because the extra attention paid to them due to their place of publication has led to more efforts to replicate/refute their results.

Chicken horror movies

Take place in human diners, and show one omelette after another being cooked and devoured.