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Sunday, December 31, 2006

You Know What I Hate?

(I knew you've been wondering.)

It's when some marketing department (like Vonage's this morning) writes "Save up to 50% or more on your phone bill!"

Aargh! You can write "Save up to 50 %" or "Save 50% or more," but combining the two makes no sense!

The Iraqi Name Game

is sorted out here.

(Via Jim Henley.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Hyperbole

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Patriot Act.

On an email discussion group of Austro-libertarians some were lamenting the inability of our efforts to do anything to check State power. Others were saying that we had to keep plugging away with articles and PhDs etc. I for one said that there had been modest gains on tax and inflation rates, at least since the 1970s.

In response to my naivete, someone said I was ignoring the curtailment of civil liberties under the "Bush gang." Someone else chimed in--and I can't remember the exact quote--to say that we were now living in an Orwellian state.

This struck me as a bit much. If we're trying to be "realists," as the cynics who questioned the efficacy of our writing efforts professed to be, then we're not in an Orwellian state. Winston in 1984 wasn't on a fairly accessible email discussion group talking about the best ways to eliminate government.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Putting the Economics Back In Christmas

Ever since Slate rejected my submission, I must attack every economics piece it runs...

Friday, December 22, 2006

And Justice for All

While following up on a link from an LRC article, I saw this nice statement from Ann Coulter. (She has a JD, ya know.)

The odds of an innocent man being found guilty by a unanimous jury are basically nil.

Now I'm no JD holder, but don't many courts in the US require a unanimous jury opinion for conviction? Isn't that the whole deal with a hung jury?

Sooo, is Ann Coulter really saying the odds of an innocent being convicted in our great nation are basically nil??? Not only is that naive, it also contradicts our alleged rule to let 10 guilty go free rather than falsely imprison 1 innocent.

Seriously, if someone wants to clarify her claim, please chime in. Even though she likes to say shocking things, this statement is so palpably stupid that I want to give her the benefit of the doubt.

A Fast Year

A friend, whom I just had dinner with in London, mentioned that his friend was a faculty member at CalTech with an unlimited travel budget. One year he took such advantage of that fact that he was moved to calculate his average speed for the year as a whole, which turned out to be something like 70 miles per hour.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Down with Male Body Image!

This ad makes me irrationally happy. I gotta say, I love seeing a product blatantly marketed at men telling them that they're ugly and unsexy and everybody thinks so, thus they need X.

Trump thinks he's special

So I don't know if you heard, but Miss USA had been drinking underage, hanging out in bars in NYC, and Trump, who owns the pageant, was considering firing her and it was a big media deal. So on The View, Rosie O'Donnell had a few things to say:

O'Donnell, co-host of the ABC television morning talk show "The View," said on Wednesday's show that Trump's news conference with Tara Conner had annoyed her "on a multitude of levels."

"Left the first wife, had an affair, left the second wife, had an affair. Had kids both times, but he's the moral compass for
20-year-olds in America," the comedian and actress said to roars of audience laughter. "Donald, sit and spin, my friend."

Trump lashed back at O'Donnell on the TV entertainment show, "The Insider," criticizing everything from her looks to her former television talk show and magazine.

"Rosie attacks me personally? I know her fairly well because her show failed. She didn't retire. She didn't get the ratings! Her magazine called `Rosie' was a total disaster," he said.

"She's out of her mind. I will probably sue Rosie for a number of reasons. I'm worth a lot of money. She doesn't tell the facts," added.

SO...let me get this straight. He's worth a lot of money, and therefore cannot be made fun of, ever?

Nitwits on NPR

As readers of this blog know, I've been frustrated at The Economist's pro-war idiocy (and I don't mean that as a pleonasm--I'm saying their pro-war writings happen to be idiotic). Just to show how fair and balanced I am, I'll mention two liberal D-U-M dumb things I heard on NPR this morning.

(1) On a story about how the wage gap has increased between men and women, the reporter concluded, "At this rate, it will take over 50 years for pay parity between the sexes." Umm, if the disparity increased last year, "at this rate" we will never have pay parity. Of course you can say, "Oh, they're using a longer time frame." OK, but I bet if you go back 50 years and see what the "wage gap" was then, that we've more than halved it since. You folla?

(2) The anchor was interviewing some visiting scholar to an organization (not sure if university or think tank) in CA I believe, who apparently is an expert on Iraq. She was gushing over the State run oil industry and how the greedy US oil companies are trying to screw the Iraqi people. OK fair enough. Then the anchor asked her how the Iraqi gov't has been doing, running the oil lately. She said something like:

It's done quite well, actually. Daily production before the invasion was about 2.5 million barrels, while now it averages around 2.2 to 2.3 million barrels.

OK, so compared to oil production during a regime of a brutal thug who was being punished by punitive worldwide sanctions (but yes there were "oil for food" programs), oil production is now down 8 to 12%. What would have to happen for this lady to say the State-run enterprise were being poorly run?

Colbert's Bold Performance

Stephen Colbert was far braver than I would have been at the White House Correspondents dinner, as described here. I encourage you to take the time to actually watch the clips. The ending film clip is a bit slow, but be sure to see Helen Thomas' great question. Thanks to Rachael for the tip...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Another Dumb Excerpt from The Economist

From the December 2, 2006 issue (p. 31):

The speculation grew to fever pitch this week as the [Iraq Study Group] decamped to the Reagan Building to complete its interviews and debate its final draft...The NYT reported that the group will recommend a gradual withdrawal of American troops, though it will stop short of laying out a timetable, and it is not clear whether the withdrawal will be to bases inside Iraq or out of the country altogether.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Michael Chertoff Lies

Here: "The main cause of terrorism is weakness."

Sure. That's why the terrorists keep attacking, you know, Luxemborg, and Andorra, and San Marino.

The Da Vinci Hoax

Caution, there are mild spoilers in this blog post. If you plan on watching/reading the Da Vinci Code and don't know what the "code" is about, you should skip this. (It's not that interesting anyway.)

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OK. So the big secret is that Jesus had a child before leaving the earth. Now forget the machinations of the misogynist Church and so forth. Does Jesus of Nazareth strike you as a guy who would get someone pregnant and then split? Even if you don't think He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, certainly you can concede that He was fairly clever and would have known His ministry could lead to His death. I.e. don't get a girl pregnant if you think your mission is to challenge the Pharisees.

Now you might say, "Didn't Jesus abandon the disciples, even according to your sacred book?" Yes that's true, but I think it's a far cry from training grown men for three years and then sending them out to spread the gospel, versus getting a woman pregnant and then taking off.

Even Latin Texts Are Doing It!

Distorting the history of science, that is. The Cambridge Latin Course, Book II, in describing ancient astronomy, claims:

"The idea was also put forward that the Earth was round, rotated on its axis and circled the Sun with the other planets. After the end of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, this idea was forgotten until Copernicus rediscovered it in the sixteenth century."

Whew! What a tangle. First of all, who thought to call it one idea that "the Earth was round, rotated on its axis, and circled the Sun with the other planets." That sure looks like three ideas. And it's important to separate them, because:
1) "the Earth was round" -- Essentially every educated person in the Greek and Roman world believed this idea. But so did essentially every educated person in the Middle Ages. (Here you can see a medieval model of the Earth -- a sphere!) And if we might find a case or two of an educated person in the 8th or 9th century who doubted it, it certainly was not because he had forgotten it ever existed.
2) & 3) "the Earth rotated on its axis and circled the Sun with the other planets." As far as I can tell, exactly one person in the ancient world believed this. Everyone else thought he was nuts. Nor were these two ideas forgotten until Copernicus -- Nicolas Oresme, for one, examined them in the 14th century.

So, in other words, far from having fallen into a "Dark Age," medieval astronomy pretty much simply was Greek astronomy. (It's true that, until the 13th and 14th centuries, science largely had stagnated.) So who wrote the above passage? And where did they get this nonsense from?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Get Your Info about Prostitution Here!

This post sort of fits its title, but I figure that although there may be more suitable titles, they are less likely to get Crash Landing as many hits from Google as the above is.

In any case, I'm just back from the UK, where the top news story is that a serial killer has been targeting prostitutes in the town of Ipswich. Two things on the British news coverage of the case struck me as odd:
1) Announcers kept asserting that the case was changing the public's attitude about prostitution, creating a groundswell of support for legalization. Now, I:
a) Am in favor of legalizing prostitution;
b) Consider it, in the realm of human vices, a fairly mild indulgence; and
c) Certainly do not wish to see prostitutes murdered.
Nevertheless, I found the "reasoning" here weird. If a person, before these murders, thought prostitution was a genuinely criminal activity, properly illegal, then why should these killings make any difference to his opinion? Would it make any sense, if a serial killer was targeting muggers, to decide that mugging should be made legal?
The one thing I can see that supports the change in opinion is that, perhaps, people are acknowledging that prostitution never ought to have been illegal, but only now do they have sufficient motivation to place much importance on changing the law.

2) The news broadcasts also frequently mentioned the belief that, once the first two killings had come to light, the local police should have been doing far more to protect the area's streetwalkers, thus, perhaps, saving one or more of the later victims. I had some sympathy for the conundrum facing the police in this regard: given that the average prostitute strenously is trying to avoid having her professional activities come to the notice of the law, what, exactly, were the police supposed to have been doing? Asking these ladies if a bobby could come along in the car whenever a john picked one of them up? Let them use a spare room in the police station for their engagements?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Baby Signs are really catching on!

The Rise of the Spite Right

Barry Loberfeld has a good LRC today. Some of you may find the points obvious, but I thought he crystallized some things that have been bothering me for years.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I Don't Want to Start an Argument, But...

Can someone please explain this response to Gene and my critique of Hoppe? Is Heinrich (I know him, btw, so it's all good) saying that our position relies on someone demonstrating a preference for being coerced? Gene, did you think that's what we were doing?

Yes, they really are pro-war.

When arguing with some "conservatives," I hear something like, "C'mon, we're all for peace. It's just we are more realistic than you are, and know that peace comes with strength."

That's hard to square with this news story (which my wife brought to my attention). After the media interest, the homeowners association backed off and let the lady keep her peace wreath up.

What's really funny about this story is that the head of the HA basically made himself dictator by dissolving the parliament.

The Social Function of Call and Put Options

Is at your fingertips...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Four Easy Pieces

How America's Iraq policy is made.

We Don't Want to Pigeonhole the Chap

Three prostitutes have been murdered in the same, small area of the UK over the past few weeks. The announcer on BBC said something like, "The signs indicate that the same person committed all three murders, a serial killer, perhaps."

You know, just because he murdered three people in quick succession is no reason to jump to conclusions about the fellow.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pet Peeve

I'm not a big fan of when someone comes into my office to show me something or ask a question, and actually puts his finger on my computer monitor.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Nashville


Today's featured coupon on the Nashvile Scene's website. And I was really hoping for a lunch special!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Whoa! Talk about an Imposition!

Jim Henley alerted me to the presence of a new nutjob organization called the 910 group. At their web site, I found:

"Thwart attempts to impose Sharia Law. The ultimate goal of Islamofascists is to impose Islamic “Sharia” religious law upon us all. Groups could monitor and block every Fabian effort (imposing Sharia in small bites) like demands for prayer rooms and allowing headscarves in schools."

So allowing people to wear what they like on their heads is a way of imposing Sharia law! Who knew? Today I plan to "impose" the wearing of black overcoats on others by putting on mine before I go out.

"The US Airways story removing Moslem imams from a flight resulted in a barrage of denunciations from Moslem advocacy groups like CAIR with no one to give a “fair and balanced” rebuttal. What is needed is an “Anti-CAIR” media team that can praise the justifiable concern of airline passengers for their safety and demand that Moslems understand that concern. There must be no tolerance for Islamic bullying."

First of all, isn't it odd that a "story" was able to remove people from an airplane. Secondly, these folks were forcibly removed from a plane and held in police custody for praying in the terminal and speaking in Arabic. Islamic bullying, indeed.

"All people have the right to speak freely, to choose their religious beliefs, and to be free of the threat of violence."

Well, of course, that is, unless they want to wear headscarves in schools, or are Moslem and want to ride an airplane. Then, fuck 'em.

A Black Confusion

My post below about Barack Obama and the ensuing comments led me to contemplate the swirling confusions surrounding the use of the term "black" and "African-American" in our language. Just the other day, my son, who has had the preferability of the term "African-American" drilled into him in school, asked me, about Ghana, "Aren't most people there African-American?"

"No," I said, "most of them are African-African."

On the other hand, Americans who actually have recently moved here from Africa, such as my Egyptian friends at the deli down the street or my economic mentor, Israel Kirzner, are never called "African-American."

So, is African-American really a racial classification? Well, it's not that either, because someone whose ancestory is mostly of non-African origin can still be "African-American."

A lot of the same problems surround the word "black" as well. One of the commenters in the thread above said "Obama is half-white and half-black." But, given that his father is from East Africa, his patrilineal heritage is probably a complicated mix of East Indian, Austronesian, Khoisan (see below) and "black" genes, where black is meant to indicate the fairly distinct genetic group that originated in the forests of Western Africa and spread south and east from there. "Blacks" in that sense are actually one of several genetically distinctive groups in Sub-Saharan Africa, others of which include the Khoisans mentioned above (think Nelson Mandela, who isn't genetically "black" at all!) and the Pygmys.

Mo Media

For those who resisted the urge to listen to the mp3 of my talk on free trade, now you can watch it in wmv format. Such discipline!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Celebrity Couples

Do you think the gossip journalist or editor who coined the term "TomKat" is particularly proud of him or herself? Certainly that person should feel superior to whoever came up with the repugnant "Brangelina." (When googling to make sure I wasn't botching these terms, I came across "Bennifer" which is pretty clever too, though I hadn't heard it before.)

I suspect that the only reason my wife Rachael and I haven't been inundated with paparazzi is the difficulty in coining a catchy name for us. Rabob? BoRa BoRa?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

An Actual Empiricist Seconds My Views

Thanks to Dave Lull for sending me this Times article where Bryan Appleyard complains about Stephen Hawking. (Gene, I think you'd like this stuff.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I Love the Terrorists More Than You!

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 96%
 

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz



Take that, Radley Balko.

Accident Avoidance

Accidents occur when two motor vehicles meet at the same place at the same time. (Yes, yes, I know, it could be a vehicle and a rock, a vehicle and a tree, etc. In fact, Wabulon's worst vehicular accident was a one vehicle crash occurring at 0 miles per hour! [Tell 'em, Wabulon.])

So, it seems to me that the obvious way to avoid having an accident is: Stay away from other vehicles! That's why I like to find big, empty "pockets" in the flow of traffic and settle into them for as long as they last. And why it always baffles me to see one car following another down a mostly empty away at a distance of about ten feet. Not, you know, coming up that close to pass the car in front and then going around it. No, the guy in the back just settles in, at 60 miles per hour, a car length or so behind the leader. What in the world is that about? Maintaining a proper following distance -- maybe 60 feet-- would result in the rear driver arriving less than one second later than his following at ten feet.

I think people just get mesmerized into filling the space between themselves and the car in front of them.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Get Hawkish on Stephen

Now I liked A Brief History of Time and of course the whole wheelchair / voice enhancement stuff is touching, but I'm getting sick of Stephen Hawking. If he wants to shoot his mouth off to the press about event horizons, fair enough; he's got me there. But a few months ago he was talking about science vs. religion and his remarks were just D-U-M dumb, and he does it again in this story concerning colonization (which my wife brought to my attention).

OK, first some geek quibbles: In Star Trek the warp drive doesn't take you somewhere "instantly." And although it relies on matter/antimatter annihilations, it also allows faster-than-light travel. So what Hawking is talking about in this article would be a far cry from "Star Trek propulsion."

Another quibble: A nuclear war couldn't "wipe us all out." It would destroy modern civilization, perhaps, but it wouldn't exterminate the human race. I suspect his remarks here are less based on scientific inquiry and more on the views of "sophisticated" crowds in which he travels.

Major objection (1): Why would we need to go to other star systems to be safe? Wouldn't it be enough to establish space stations or colonies on asteroids / the moon / Mars?

Major objection (2): You'd have to go a lot farther than the next star system if the goal is to find an inhabitable planet. In fact, I've read some compelling investigations that conclude Earth may possibly be the only planet in the universe hospitable for human life. (You scoff and say, "C'mon there are trillions of planets," but there are all sorts of things that could make life impossible.)

Major objection (3): Who cares how long the trip is? I think when pioneers venture out to colonize other star systems, they are probably going to be in ships that are self-sufficient, as opposed to having (say) 7 years of supplies and then hoping to replenish once they reach Alpha Centauri. So if that's true, then whether it takes 7 or 700 years to reach the destination is irrelevant.

OK in closing, in fairness to Hawking I'm just relying on this news story. Maybe his actual remarks were a lot more nuanced.