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Friday, February 29, 2008

Rockwell Gets the Constitution Wrong

Here. His conclusion: "That is, McCain was born in a foreign country, and therefore not eligible to be president, according to the Constitution."

Two points:

1) You bet if Ron Paul had been born in the Panama Canal Zone, it would be a "MSM conspiracy" even to bring the issue up.

2) In any case, the Constitution doesn't say, "The president cannot have been born in a foreign country." It says the president must be a "natural born" citizen. But it doesn't say what "natural born" means! It could mean, "Born in a US state." Or, "Born in a US state or territory." Or, "Born to American parents."

Let me tell you, folks, if this goes to court the last interpretation is going to win, because the point of the clause was to make sure the president had no foreign allegiance, and the idea that McCain being born on a US military base in Panama makes him a likely agent of Panamanian interests is silly.

This shows the problem with someone like Ron Paul calling for an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. There just isn't any unambiguous, original interpretation available. It's like trying to pick up an 18th-century cookbook, filled with unfamiliar utensils and ingredients and obscure directions, and cook from the recipes with "no interpretation" allowed. It can't be done.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dan Mitchell's Tax Series

Perhaps not destined to be as popular as LonelyGirl, Dan Mitchell (formerly at Heritage and now at CATO) talks Laffer Curve shop. Having worked with Laffer (a little name dropping there for you), I can say that I think a lot of libertarians--in their zeal to be oh so pure--don't realize how right the supply-siders are on taxes.

The Philosopher as Rationalist

If you want to see a philosopher go about as disasterously wrong as possible on an important topic, check out Richard Sharvy from the the Journal of Libertarian Studies. His conclusion:

"If you want a house designed, consult a good architect, have plans drawn, and make your own decision. If you don’t like the plans, get a second opinion—from another professional architect. If you have a medical problem, see a physician for advice. If you don’t like his advice, get a second opinion—from another expert.

"Who’s to say what’s right and wrong about the strengths of bridge supports? A professional engineer. Who’s to say what medical treatment is right or wrong? A physician. Who’s to say what is morally or ethically right or wrong? A professional philosopher.

"It is outrageous that national commissions on 'ethics' and 'morality' often consist mostly of unqualified laymen: physicians, priests, lawyers, etc., rather than professional philosophers (see Singer 1976).

"Professional philosophers are the people who are experts on questions about what is right and wrong."

The confusion Sharvey exhibits is akin to that of someone whom, because he has a PhD in physics, is certain that he can crush Minnesota Fats at pool, or, because he has studied economics, believes he is a match for Warren Buffett at investing. The physicist is good at theorizing about physics, but Minnesota is good at applying it. If you want to understand the theory of sexual reproduction, you go to a genetic biologist. But is that who you're going to go to for advice on your sex life?!

The absurdity of Sharvey's claims becomes clear when one considers an "ethicist" whom Sharvey, in fact, cites, Peter Singer, a philosopher who is prone to offer advice about as destructive and un-ethical as you could hope to find on the planet. Sharvey would say, "Well, sure, but professional engineers sometimes disagree about bridges, as well." Yes, they do, but we never find a professional engineer telling us to build a bridge from methane gas, which would be about the equivalent of Singer's advice.

Michael Oakeshott was highly critical of theorists who made this error and therefore became despised "theoreticians." In On Human Conduct, which was published in 1975, he presents a dichotomy similar to his earlier contrasting of rationalism and traditionalism, but, in this instance, the distinction drawn is between the practitioner and the theorist. After a lengthy discussion of the nature of theorizing, he pauses to note the debt his analysis owes to the understanding offered by Plato, especially in the metaphor of the cave contained in The Republic. In light of the similarity of their views, Oakeshott continues, ‘it may be instructive to notice [their] divergencies’ (1975: 27).

As Oakeshott reads Plato, the cave-dwellers represent those whose attention is fixated on the world of practical affairs. Plato was correct, in Oakeshott’s view, when he contended that, because such individuals fail to recognize the conditional nature of their practical understanding of reality, they essentially are ‘prisoners’ of their limited perspective.

However, Oakeshott argues, ‘distracted by his exclusive concern with the engagement of theoretical understanding and with the manifest shortcomings of [the cave-dwellers world]… that he is disposed to write [the latter] of as nescience. This, I think, is a mistake’ (1975: 27). That the practical understanding of the world is inherently conditional does not negate the fact that it is nonetheless a genuine form of understanding, even if, given that it never questions its presuppositions, a form properly judged inferior to that achieved by the theorist. Moreover, most crucially for Oakeshott, the abstract superiority of theoretical knowledge over its practical counter-part in no way implies that the former can substitute for the latter. While it is true that discovering ‘that a platform of understanding is conditional and to become acquainted with its proximate conditions is a notable step in the engagement of understanding’, that discovery ‘is not like exposing a fraud… shadows are not forgeries’ (1975: 28).

Since knowledge of the realm of the shadows is a real and hard-won achievement, the theorist goes gravely astray when he erroneously attempts to use his insights to issue authoritative directives to the practitioner as to how to proceed in his mundane activities. The cave-dwellers, encountering him on his return to the practical world, might be impressed ‘when he tells them that what they had always thought of as “a horse” is not what they suppose it to be… but is, on the contrary, a modification of the attributes of God… But if he were to tell them that, in virtue of his more profound understanding of the nature of horses, he is a more expert horse-man, horse-chandler, or stable boy than they (in their ignorance) could ever hope to be, and when it becomes clear that his new learning has lost him the ability to tell one end of a horse from the other… Before long the more perceptive of the cave-dwellers would begin to suspect that, after all, he was not an interesting theorist but a fuddled and pretentious “theoretician” who should be sent on his travels again, or accommodated in a quiet home’ (1975: 30).

I suggest that this section of On Human Conduct provides a perspective on rationalism that, while different to that of Oakeshott’s earlier essays on the subject, is complementary rather than contradictory to its precursors. Here, the modern rationalist is understood as a ‘theoretician’ who is reiterating Plato’s ancient misstep. Because he justifiably conceives the theoretical understanding he has achieved to be, in some sense, superior to practical understanding, he mistakenly concludes that theory ought to be the unquestioned master of practice. He fails to realize that the fundamentally different concerns of theorizing render its findings intrinsically irrelevant to practical matters, unless they are translated from their native idiom into that of practice.

NO on Top

From ESPN:

'"O'Neal, a former LSU star, was cheered during introductions and said he was happy to see a big crowd. "It's coming along," O'Neal said of New Orleans' recovery from Hurricane Katrina. "Business is picking back up, downtown is nice, All-Star (weekend) was a success and in a couple more years New Orleans will be right back on top, where it used to be."'

On top of the nation's murder stats?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Left Mite and the Doorbell

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this heart-rending story of a lonely, terrified Irish man, Fiochra O'Toole, who, after a car accident, is left with only one functioning cell in his body. Miraculously, he learns to use the chemical emissions of this cell in a complex code that he sends down a MIDI interface in order to control a bank of electronic keyboards and compose movie soundtracks. He moves to Hollywood and marries Jessica Simpson, but Tony Romo, in a fit of jealous rage, tears the mitochondrion out of Fiochra's one working cell and leaves him mute.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hoop Scoring

My hometown boy, Calvin Murphy, has recently been selected as one of the 25 greatest college basketbll players ever by ESPN. (Actually, they selected him as one of the "Top 25 Greatest Players in College Basketball," a formulation that makes me cringe -- the "Top 25 Greatest" as opposed to what, the "Bottom 25 Greatest"?)

In any case, Murphy's selection made me think about college basketball scoring. The other day, D.J. Augustin had a great first half in which he scored 19 points -- he's the Big Twelve's second leading score, as I recall from the screen, at 18 a game. So he was on his way to a 38-point game, and the announcers were pretty worked up about this. But that exceptional, 38-point game would have fallen just short of Murphy's average in his sophomore year of 38.2 per game. And Murphy didn't win the scoring title! Pete Maravich did, averaging 43.8 per game.

So why doesn't anyone ever put up numbers like that today? (The leading scorer right now happens to be from Murphy's old school, Niagra, and is averaging 27.9 -- a bad game for Murphy or Maravich in those days.)

Different Measures of Oil Scarcity

A very naive view says, "There is a fixed amount of oil. We use some every day. Therefore the government needs to do something, and quick!!"

I used to think that the best way to deal with this type of objection was to point to the moving "window" of oil supplies. When you divide total reserves by annual consumption rates, you obtain "years of reserves." And this number certainly doesn't drop by 1 every 12 months. In other words, the alarmists can (correctly) say, "At present consumption rates, we only have x years of oil left!!" But this overlooks the fact that oil companies don't go out and find every last drop of oil right away; no, they only go out and find more supplies as they use up existing supplies. We always have (give or take) x years of oil left. An analogy I liked to use was a young boy looking at how much his family eats at dinner every night, and then looking in the pantry. He freaks out and says, "Mom! At current rates we're going to run out of food in four days!!"

However, a few months ago I learned that the measure "proven reserves" was not a purely technical concept. It also relies on the price of oil, because "proven reserves" are those oil reserves that can be profitably brought to market, given existing technology and prices.

In retrospect, this is a perfectly reasonable component of the definition. After all, it does no good for an oil company to know of a billion barrels of oil at the center of the earth, which would cost $2000 / barrel to bring to the surface. Economically speaking, that oil doesn't exist and shouldn't be counted as part of our "known supply."

On the other hand, putting the market price into the mix changes the rosy interpretation of the figures showing "years of oil supply" holding up over the 20th century. Back when I thought "proven reserves" was a purely technical concept, I thought that oil companies were literally finding more oil deposits, and in fact at a faster rate than they were depleting the known deposits (since annual consumption rates steadily increased over the 20th century).

Now that could still be true, and in fact probably was for most of the century. (Here's a great case for optimism.) But since 2000, oil prices have shot up enormously. And so that alone transforms particular barrels of oil into "proven reserves," whereas in 1987 they were not so classified.

This is a little weird. (Again, I'm not criticizing the definition, I'm just saying it's a little weird.) The whole point of the "years of oil left" statistic was to reassure us that we weren't in store for a supply crunch. But if the only way we get the number of years to hold up, is for the market price of oil to go to $120/barrel, then is that figure really reassuring after all?

Indeed, even if the alarmist view were correct, and all the world's oil were sitting in one giant pool of known volume, that figure of "years of oil left" might be fairly stable. If the owner(s) of the oil forecast the future perfectly, then the price of oil would rise over time with the rate of interest, so that the owner(s) were indifferent between selling a barrel on the spot market or holding it for another year and selling it at the higher spot price in the future. (I'm assuming no other costs of selling the oil.) As the spot price rose exponentially, the number of barrels purchased per year would decline. There's no reason to expect that the statistic of "years left of oil, at current consumption rates" would be constant from year to year, but it wouldn't ever hit zero. And yet, this scenario is perfectly consistent with the people suffering tremendously from depleting energy supplies.

(Actually, now that I type out the above, I realize that this scenario shows the flaw with looking solely at the "proven reserves / current consumption rate" statistic. It doesn't have anything to do with whether the "proven reserves" are calculated as a technical exercise or if they include market prices. But the next scenario involves the inclusion of market prices in the definition, and shows why it can be a bit weird...)

OK now consider this example instead: What if tomorrow, there is a fabulous discovery of a $50 gadget that allows your car to run on oxygen? Soon enough the worldwide demand for oil would fall tremendously. Depending on the applications of the new gadget, it's possible that the price of oil could fall to $5 / barrel. In that case, much of the current "proven reserves" of oil would disappear, and if rates of consumption didn't fall as quickly, then the "years of supply" figure might drop sharply as well. But of course, the new discovery is wonderful! We are clearly much more secure in our energy supplies because of it!

So as I mulled these things over, trying to tinker with the various statistics to come up with a better measure of our energy situation, I realized that the single best indicator of the scarcity of oil was...

...the market price. Duh.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Big" History Versus "Little" History

I've just finished reviewing Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms for The Freeman. (Coming soon, as I know you can't wait to read it.) One thing Clark does, in common with Jared Diamond and other "big picture" historians, is to disparage "narrative" historians for their focus on particulars and individuals, instead of, say, total national GDP growth, or sweeping technological changes.

Now, the "broad sweep" approach to explaining history is fine, as far as it goes. The mistake these fellows make is that they think it can somehow be a replacement for the detailed picture. It's as if, every day, when one of them comes home from the office and the wife asks, "What did you do today honey?" he answers, "Well, I metabolized fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and used the resulting energy to generate neuro-muscular activity." Not doubting that he did do that, nevertheless she insists that really wasn't the answer she was after. When she does, he berates her for focusing on the specific details of life, instead of seeing the big picture.

There is a place for both types of answer. It all depends on what the question was.

We're from the Government

and we're here to help!

Yesterday's NY Times reported that Karl Malone, of former NBA fame, brought his logging company's equipment to Mississippi to help clear debris. Not for profit or anything, but just to help.

FEMA sent him packing, telling him he "wasn't authorized" to do the work involved.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Vista Is Giving Me the Productivity of Gene Callahan

This is serious, kids. For the last three days, whether I actually turn off my computer, or just flip it shut so it hibernates (or whatever the biological analogy is), when I bring it back on, it goes through "updates" that literally take at least 10 minutes. I can't crash the system or anything to avoid this.

What the heck? Is this normal? Is there something I can uninstall? This just started happening. I think I updated Adobe last week; could that be it?

I can't believe I was a sucker and started downloading the automatic updates on this relatively new laptop (a Toshiba, if it matters). On my old computer I learned that you always say "NO!!!!!" to recommended updates because they just screw up your computer.

I stand open to correction, but I hate my computer right now.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More Tyler Bashing

Yes, another post bashing on Tyler Cowen. (BTW, this is actually a compliment, since it shows that I check his blog every 30 minutes!)

Cowen dabbles in many things, much like we do here at Crash Landing. (Well, not really.) Regarding the Nabokov controversy (should his family honor his deathbed wish to burn his manuscript?) Cowen comes down on the side of publishing it. Now, I have no problem with this answer. I think some libertarians interpret the world as a matter of legalities, which is different from thinking people should obey the (libertarian) law. So I agree that there are nuances (e.g. maybe Nabokov didn't really want his family to burn it, etc.) and I think people can differ on this issue, without betraying their libertarian credentials.

However, just look at the reasoning behind Cowen's answer! After quoting Tom Stoppard who wrote, "It’s perfectly straightforward: Nabokov wanted it burnt, so burn it," Cowen responds:

...Stoppard is wrong. Dead people don't count in the social welfare function. (If they did, how many of them would prefer non-democratic or racist outcomes? And would we count that? We shoudn't and we don't.)

I am absolutely flabbergasted. Let's put aside the issue of wills; we'll assume Cowen wasn't talking about that.

Where in the world does Cowen come up with the idea of eliminating people from the social welfare function, on the basis of their views? If you're going to be a utilitarian, you don't get to veto people's preferences like that. Now, you can overrule them, because to cater to their preferences would cost too much in terms of other people's preferences. E.g. a utilitarian wouldn't endorse serial killing, but the reason isn't, "Oh murder is icky!" No, the reason is that most people don't want to live in fear of being murdered in their beds, etc. Tradeoffs have to be made--everyone can't get everything he wants--and the utilitarian can decide that the "most" happiness results from keeping serial killing illegal/immoral.

(BTW folks, of course I am ignoring all the tremendous problems with this method of thinking. But my point here is that even when I was a utilitarian a la Mises, Cowen's remarks would have shocked me.)

Why stop with dead people? Do racists right now count in the social welfare function? What about homophobes? What about communists? What about atheists? What about Jews? What about Muslims? What about Christians? What about abortionists? What about anti-choicers? What about those awful people who eat meat?

Now this last point I don't hold with as much conviction as the previous ones: I'm not so sure I agree with Cowen that dead people in the past don't count. If they don't, then why should we count future people who are unborn? In other posts Cowen has talked about his guarded endorsement of the global warming concerns, and presumably he is mostly worried about future generations.

So does he count them in the social welfare function, or is it that our altruism for them affects our current utility? But if the latter, then what about our current concern for the wishes of a dead author?

I'm glad that people ripped Cowen a new one in the comments to his post. I wonder if he will reconsider his justification.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Real-World Application of Wits

OK kids, this is a true story. I had taken out the garbage and done some other manly things, which rendered my hands dirty (I am a germaphobe, and I can't believe more of you people aren't too).

So I was in the laundry room and saw the lint filter was out, chock full of lint. Naturally, I couldn't just leave it, to be dealt with at a future time. The problem was that I normally lick a finger in order to wipe out the lint. But clearly I couldn't do so, what with my digits teeming with microbes.

Ironically, there was a sink right next to the dryer. But alas, no hand soap! I resigned myself to going upstairs to wash my hands properly, then coming back down so I could lick my finger and wipe out the lint trap.

But then Encylopedia Brown whispered a suggestion in my ear, which saved me the trip upstairs.

WHAT DID ENCYCLOPEDIA SAY TO BOB?

I Wouldn't Be Any Worse Than That

When I'm in a karaoke bar, I usually don't get the courage to go up there until someone really awful goes. Then I don't feel as if I'm wasting the crowd's time.

As I was reflecting on this, I realized that this is my approach to life in general. I have done a lot of stuff in the last few years (take care of an infant, buy a house, start a business, forecast interest rates) that would have terrified my 20-year-old self.

And how did I overcome that feeling of inadequacy? It's certainly not that I got more competent (though I did). It's rather that I realized all the other people currently doing those things, don't know what the h*ll they're doing either.

Reconciling Christianity and Capitalism

There is an undeniable tension--at least on the surface--between Christianity and capitalism. It is entirely understandable how socialists could view, say, the Acts of the Apostles as vindication of their worldview.

I would go even further, and say that many libertarian defenses of capitalism vis-a-vis Christianity miss the mark. I don't have any particular writer in mind, but I know that I've heard people attack the popular notion (that Jesus is against private property) using fairly incidental arguments. Stuff like, "Jesus talks about accumulation of wealth in the parables," and so forth.

I think the better response is to (a) acknowledge that God doesn't want you to define yourself in terms of material wealth (for various reasons--one of which is that it betrays a lack of faith in His providence) and also (b) point out that God always wants us to FREELY CHOOSE the right course of action.

So yes, contra many libertarians (perhaps), I DO think that God is unhappy with the distribution of wealth on the earth. It IS ridiculous that some people are starving while others have 10 cars, and this difference isn't solely due to bad institutions.

Having conceded that, it doesn't follow that the government should do anything about it. I think the true lesson from the Bible, is that God works by inspiring people to do the right thing from within. So it is better to have private property than communism, and it's even better still (from a Christian viewpoint) if people didn't concern themselves so much with their privately owned property.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

How Do They Get Away With This? v2

Gene earlier pointed out some silly writing in news reports. Well if we lower the bar from "major news outlets," we can find absolutely abysmal writing. Check out this news story (originally linked from LRC). The inappropriate use of semicolons is nothing. It would be pointless to try to describe just why the writing is so bad. I think you just have to read it for yourself. (The topic is interesting in any event.) Oh I can't resist. Here's a taste: Just consider the title (though maybe it was due to someone besides the writer of the article):

NEW BILL TO ALLOW POLICE MISCONDUCT BE HIDDEN FROM PUBLIC.

Is that in ebonics?

UPDATE: Oh I can't resist just one more hint. I want you folks to really look this article over; they should hand this friggin' thing out at Cracker Barrel to occupy the kids. ("Find 12 or more mistakes--you are a genius.") Check out this paragraph:

Representative David Litvak says “I think what’s critical with law enforcement is public trust. If it appears that things are swept under the rug or not done in the light of the public; you can comprise that trust.”

I spot two glaring punctuation errors (one of omission and one of commission) and one obvious error in transcription.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Those Dumb Conquistadors

When I was young, I "learned" that the white man ripped off the Native Americans (or maybe we called them Indians back then, I can't remember) by buying Manhattan Island for $24 in trinkets. Well, that overlooks the time value of money. If you invested $24 in 1626 and earned an annual return of 6%, by 2008 it would be worth over $111 billion.

Now maybe that rate of return is too high, but clearly it's absurd to look at the 1626 purchase price and draw conclusions.

(Here's Cecil on the matter.)

Cowen Gives His Opinion of Shock Doctrine

I just came across Tyler Cowen's review of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. I have been reading Klein's scathing critique of Chicago School economics over the last few months (since the birth of our son my reading skills have vanished) and it really was...shocking. I remember when I was younger and read in a Stephen King novel about CIA agents torturing people, and I scoffed at the wacko liberal King. The very idea that our government would do such horrible things! Well, if you think like I did back in grammar school, then don't pick up Klein's book because you will think she's making up a whole lot of documents and testimony about government-funded psychiatric programs in mind control.

Anyway, back to Cowen's review: You would think he would give us one concrete example of Klein's misuse of the facts. Nope. Instead he just assures us that she is making stuff up, and that the only thing she's got on Milton Friedman is an offhand remark in 1962. Right, there's that, and then also the complimentary letter (maybe letters, I can't remember right now) that Friedman wrote to Pinochet.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Cowen's review is far more biased than Klein's book. When she accuses Friemdan of enabling torture, she quotes him extensively and documents all of the Chicago-trained economists who worked for regimes while they were rounding up people and torturing them. In contrast, Cowen quotes Klein only...oh wait a second. I just switched to the other Firefox window to count up how many words from the book Cowen quoted, to let Klein speak for herself.

I do believe the answer is ZERO.

(Don't be thrown; there is a quote from her at the end, but that's from an interview she gave in reference to her earlier book. I'm pretty sure there are zero quotes from the book being reviewed.)

The Lag Between CO2 and Temperature

Let me bring people up to speed: In his movie, Al Gore shows a chart spanning hundreds of thousands of years, on which is plotted temperatures and atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The two lines move in lockstep. Gore says something like, "Now some people will deny that there is any connection here, but I'm not so sure about that...heh heh," and the audience laughs with him at all those evil deniers.

Well, it turns out that if you blow up the scale on the timeline, then you can easily see that the temperature increases lead the CO2 increases, by up to 800 years. So that's a bit odd, if your current explanation for global warming in the 20th century is that humans have released a bunch of CO2.

The anti-skeptic, professional climatologist site, RealClimate, has addressed this very issue. They explain that other things (such as changes in the earth's orbit) triggered an initial rise in temperatures, which then initiated a CO2 feedback cycle (i.e. more CO2, more warming, more CO2, etc.).

What's interesting is that in the letter exchange at the end of the blog post, it comes up that there are lags in the coolings as well. To repeat: The temperature goes up first, then hundreds of years later CO2 goes up. Then the temperature drops, and up to thousands of years later the CO2 goes down.

My question: Are there any warming/cooling periods without such lags? If not, does the consensus climatologist view require that large moves in CO2 have only been due to temperature variations initially set in motion by other forces?

(It seems to me they would have to assume that, for if some non-temperature-changing event caused CO2 to change, then this should have been at least one episode without a lag. E.g. if a CO2-rich asteroid smacked into the earth and increased concentrations in the air, then that should have been one episode where CO2-increases led global temperature increases.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

America's Finest

Just doing their duty.

And the Beat Goes On.

Both from the LewRockwell.com blog:

"Ron Paul teen Cody Hauer of Owatonna, Minn., is fighting the government tickets, totaling $500, he has gotten for DWP--driving while Paulian."

The guy put up a 13 by 40 inch sign that must block the majority of his view out the back. But the fact that's against the law is not the reason he's being ticketed -- oh, no -- he's being ticketed because he supports Ron Paul!

As part of the "total Paul blackout," Newsmax features him on their cover and credits him with changing the face of the GOP. But is that enough for the paulanoid? No way:

"UPDATE from Jack Mayer: 'Could they have picked a worse picture of Dr. Paul for the cover? Of the thousands of smiling, confident photos from which to choose, they chose that one. No bias there, for sure.'"

Let the Smearbund Begin!

Apparently there is some good-looking economist with a name quite similar to mine, but his middle initial is M (whereas mine is P). It seems he is a stooge for the oil companies though.

(Incidentally I have no idea why they got the middle initial wrong. It's correct at IER's website.)

UPDATE: They have since caught their mistake. Now they list me as Robert P. Murphy. But there is still a trace (as of the night of 2/12) of their original goof; the tags for their post include "robert m murphy". These sloppy folks wouldn't last a day on BP's payroll.

Brooklyn

Click for a larger image.





Monday, February 11, 2008

Talk Radio: Don't Think Too Hard

Example 1

When people call Sean Hannity, a lot of times they say, "Sean, you're a great American." Without fail, Hannity responds, "Thank you sir, you're a great American."

Isn't the bar set rather low to be a patriot? If somebody emails me and says, "Dr. Murphy, you're a great Austrian economist," I just say, "Thanks."

================

Example 2

Rush Limbaugh often starts his show by saying, "Greetings everyone, this is the Excellence in Broadcasting Network. I'm your host, Rush Limbaugh, meeting and exceeding audience expectations every day."

If that's true, aren't Rush's listeners a bit slow on the uptake? Some of them have been listening to him for over a decade. And they keep underestimating his performance 5 days a week? Maybe for tomorrow's show, they should imagine how good Rush is going to be, and then double it. They need to try something to break out of this cycle of biased forecasts.

Lovely Nicaragua!

Where you can go fishing for white lobsters.

McCain: Frighteningly Frank

I have to admit, McCain's candor is somewhat refreshing. Besides the "we'll be in Iraq for 100 years and I'm fine with that" stuff, check out this video. Around 6:19, the interviewer asks McCain about his waffling on the Confederate flag, and McCain admits that he hid his real views in order to advance his political career. (If you think I'm exaggerating, check out the video.)

Incidentally, the beginning of this video documents the hilarious "I can walk through Iraq unarmed" comments.

How Do They Get Away with...

Writing like this at major news outlets:

'Both parties, he says, "are way too far apart, and nobody is looking out for the good of the people."'

Good thing that it's not just one of the parties that is far apart, while the other one is close together!

Or this:

"In fact, on his first day on the job, James McDonough says he walked into his office -- the same one his predecessor used -- and there was crime scene tape preventing anyone from entering."

So, McDonough walked into his office only to notice tape that prevented anyone from entering. It must have been put up an instant after he walked in.

UPDATE: Just in from CNN after Vanderbilt beat Kentucky by 41:

"Vanderbilt hadn't beaten Kentucky by this big a margin since Feb. 8, 1989, in an 81-51 victory."

So 30 is now as big as 41!

Goodbye, CNN

For whatever reason, I used to use CNN as my source for online financial and political news. After several examples of me missing huge financial events, I switched to CNBC for my financial news. Then last week, when CNN/politics was frozen during Super Tuesday, I discovered the joys of MSNBC's primary coverage.

(BTW the above links were a bit funky, and the screens involve all sorts of bells and whistles, so I'm not sure if they will work by the time you are reading this blog post.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

US Government: Keeps Us Safe From Druggie Pitchers and Singers

The following is from an article on the Grammys:


The 24-year-old singer-somgwriter [Amy Winehouse]'s personal life has fallen apart over the past year as her career blossomed. As the ceremony approached, suspense built over whether she would appear. She was rejected Thursday for a U.S. work visa, and Grammy producers arranged for her to perform via telecast. Soon afterward, the U.S. government reversed itself and approved Winehouse, but it was too late for her to make the cross-continental trek.

Someone, please tell me that Amy Winehouse missed the Grammys for a reason other than a stupid bureaucratic rule. But if that is really what happened, then please tell me that the actual legal issue wasn't whether she could "work" by singing Rehab.

Surely our government isn't that crazy.

(This is why I'm not in favor of the feds "securing our borders.")

Paulanoia Strikes Deep

The new primary schedule was supposed to be a major reason Paul would do well: "With the compressed primary calendar, there should be several pro-war candidates splitting the vote in the early critical primaries. Thus, Ron Paul’s antiwar stance is not an obstacle to his nomination."

Well, it was until he didn't do well, after which it turned out to be a plot to stop Ron Paul (and other minor candidates): "By front loading the primary process, the Beltwayites have given the electorate the ‘bum’s rush’, evincing an air of inevitability for their chosen candidates. "

Those clever Beltwayites! They lured Paul into a false sense of optimism and then bum rushed him.

Also, it is reported that thousands of ballots in Washington state are invalid because the voter did not commit to a party on the ballot. Pretty straightforward, you'd think? There's either a signature on the GOP line, a signature on the Dem line, or no signature, right? And anyone could check these ballots to make sure valid ones weren't being tossed.

Well, it's not so simple if you suffer from Paulanoia! Oh no, this is actually an effort to throw away all of the Paul ballots, and the signatures are just an "excuse"!

And Paul's name? Well, he was actually born with a first name and a last name, but the Beltwayites altered his birth certificate to give him two first names, knowing that would damage his chances for winning the presidency 72 years later.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

More Confused Than Ever

As of 11:30 PM EST tonight, CNN is reporting that Huckabee is beating McCain by a 3-to-1 margin in Kansas. Say what?!

OK, sure, Kansas is a fairly Christian, conservative state. However, it's outside Huckabee's supposed "base" in the South. That he might beat McCain there is not so stunning, but... 3-to-1?! Running against the candidate already anointed as the GOP nominee?

This sure is a weird primary season. I'm just about prepared to hear that Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura, and Oprah Winfrey are joining forces to launch a third-party challenge, with the backing of Byron Low-Tax Looper.

While that GOP result merely baffles me -- I have no idea whether I should think it's good or bad -- I'm quite pleased by the news on the donkey front. I'm not enthralled with Obama, but man-oh-man, would I prefer to see him as president rather than Bush-lite -- I mean, H. Clinton. The mendacious tactics the wanna-be co-presidents employed against Obama in South Carolina cemented that preference for me. And while it's true, as people like Justin Raimondo have noted, that Obama is not a real anti-imperialist candidate, he's still much less of a hawk than HRC.

Finally, as of right now, Ron Paul is at 21% in Washington. And I think that's great! Folks, contrary to what some of you have concluded, I ain't anti-Paul! I think he mishandled the newsletters flap, and I certainly don't agree with every position of his -- in particular, I think his immigration stance is deplorable, and his "originalist" approach to the Constitution naive -- but, if I could personally pick the next president from out of the current batch of major party candidates, he'd be my choice. What's more, I'm glad he's raising the issues he is and drawing significant support. I just never saw him as having a real shot to be the nominee of a party whose membership is still largely behind the general Bush approach to the "war on terror."

Cowen Rejects Gold Standard

In this blog post Tyler Cowen rejects a gold standard because of (a) the socialist calculation debate and (b) we now control central banks. (For example, I just called up Ben and insisted on price stability in '08. That was terrible, back in the days when central banks were controlled by the fat cats, and when inflation was high.)

It would be one thing if he rejected a gold standard in favor of gold as money (i.e. no gov't currency at all). But that's not his position.

SimGene

Here, in which I make my first appearance as a video game character (about five minutes in).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Oh Boy...

Paul didn't lose California because he was polling around 5%, exit polling around 5%, and actually got around 5% of the vote. Oh no, Paulanoia has a much, much better explanation:

'Writes Holly Clearman:"After sifting through the results of California's primary, a phenomenon has occurred that can only be explained as a statistical miracle.

'"In California, a state larger and more diverse than many countries, each and every congressional district returned the same result. The Republican candidates placed first through fourth in the same order and in nearly the same proportion except for CD 52 where in an inexplicable fit of randomness, Romney beat McCain. It's astonishing."'

Yes, it's astonishing that her Paulanoia makes her unable to read the results, which first of all vary a good bit in proportion and what's more, in order as well. A quick scan shows Paul in fourth in about half the districts, but Giuliani in fourth in about another half, and Duncan Hunter even finishing ahead of Paul in one district.

Oh, by the way: The reason Paul didn't make it as a major league baseball player? The CIA would sit in the stands at his high school games and flash the sun into his eyes using mirrors.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Two Different Ways to Deal With Addictions

If you push proponents of the Iraq invasion just right, they will admit it was partly about oil. As Rush Limbaugh put it (and I honestly can't remember which Gulf War he was referring to), the war was about securing "the free flow of oil at market prices."

The idea is, yes we're addicted to oil, and so that's why we had to take out that thug Saddam, who might hold us over a barrel (especially if we sat back while he gobbled up Kuwait).

Now a standard objection to this analysis is to ask: What would be the point of Saddam taking over Kuwait, if he didn't plan on selling its oil to other countries?

Then just recently it occurred to me that this is the exact opposite strategy the US adopts with "its" addiction to cocaine. Under the Limbaugh logic, if we want to stymie the flow of cocaine into the US, we shouldn't try to ensure peace and stability in cocaine exporting countries. Rather, we should allow vicious thugs to wreak civil war and terror, because when these cocaine lords gain power, they will stop shipping the US so much cocaine, in order to raise its price. I.e. they will do our job for us!

So do people like that theory? That vicious drug lords in South America, if they controlled more and more territory in their respective countries, would reduce cocaine exports?

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa!

I am humbled and contrite. I have been forcing all of us to write comments in those crappy little comment pop-ups for a long time, and just tonight I saw it was an option! We are saved!

O felix culprit!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Why the Patriots Were Bound to Lose

I told my friend that, even with two minutes left in the game and the Pats up, I felt the Giants were going to win. Why? I recently absorbed the lesson of Greek tragedy: hubris will get you every time, and too much success breeds failure. You have to know yourself: you are not a god or an animal, but a man. (That's what that Socratic principle means, not 'Sit around all day introspecting.')

Just Wait for Super Tuesday

Some LRC bloggers, especially James Ostrowski, have been pushing the line "Sure, Paul is not doing well now, but everyone else is out of money, and he's been saving his for Super Tuesday. Then we'll show 'em!"

Well, as of right now, per CNN, "out-of-money, dead-in-the-water" Huckabee has won 4 states and at least 51 delegates, while Ron "I'll show 'em Feb 5" Paul has at best one or two second place finishes, and 0 delegates. (And mind you, I think Paul's second-place finishes are a great accomplishment, and I'm happy he did that well. But, as I posted long ago, his 20% in those states is the maximum I ever expect he can get.)

That showed 'em, alright!

If you were convinced by this talk that Paul could win, you were sold a bill of goods and Jim Henley explains why, at the end of the linked post.

Don't Get Da Dems

OK, folks, who can explain why Obama crushes Hillary in Minnesota, but she dominates him in Tennessee? Why does he swamp her in Colorado and Idaho, while she easily bests him in Arizona. The usual explanations just don't seem to fit -- I'm pretty sure Arizona has more blacks than Idaho, and both are pretty far from either candidate's home state. And does Minnesota being near Illinois really explain such support for Obama? Does Tennessee being near Arkansas explain much about Hillary's support? Connecticut is pretty near New York, and Clinton lost there. Why is 'way white' Utah going towards Obama, while diverse California swings towards Clinton (as of 11:43 EST)?

And in many cases these results are landslides -- it's not like it's 51% - 49% in every state, and Hillary takes some and Obama others.

Signed,
Confused in Brooklyn

UPDATE, 12:40 AM EST: OK, Obama is crushing Clinton in Alaska, 73-23. Pretty darn white, very far from Illinois and New York. Somebody, please explain!

Kinsley on Reagan's Tax Cuts

Michael Kinsley disputes the Reagan Record on taxes in this Slate column. He writes:


But the biggest fairy tale about Reagan is the most central one: about taxes and spending....When Reagan took office in 1981, federal receipts (taxes) were $517 billion and outlays (spending) were $591 billion, for a deficit of $73 billion. When he left office in 1989, taxes were $999 billion and spending was $1.14 trillion, for a deficit of $153 billion. As a share of the economy (the fairest measure), Reagan did cut taxes, from 19.6 percent to 18.4 percent, and he cut spending from 22.2 percent to 21.2 percent, increasing the deficit from 2.6 percent to 2.8 percent....[T]hese numbers hardly constitute a "revolution."

This analysis is strikingly similar to one I wrote up a few years ago (though I can't locate the article at the moment). I had talked about the popular tax rate cuts, and explained that Reagan also did things that raised taxes (such as reducing "loopholes" etc. such as in 1986). At the time, I honestly thought the fairest measure--as Kinsley says above--was to look at how much the feds took as a percentage of GDP. After all, tax receipts were a useless measure, because of the Laffer Curve: A legitimate tax cut could nonetheless lead to higher receipts to the Treasury.

But then after my article ran, a former colleague emailed me and pointed out that the supply-siders had predicted, before the Reagan tax cuts went into effect, that the share of GDP being taxed could go up. The reason is that across-the-board rate cuts spur income creation, but particularly in the highest brackets. If this income is taxed at a higher rate than the previous % of GDP going to taxes, then obviously the effect will be to raise the % of GDP going to taxes.

If you're having trouble seeing it, just exaggerate the numbers. Suppose originally the government taxes incomes under $10,000 at 20%, but incomes over $10,000 at 100%. Clearly the % of GDP going to taxes is 20%, since nobody is going to work and report income over $10k and give it all to the government.

Now the government cuts tax rates in half across the board, so that people making under $10k pay 10%, while those making above that pay 50%. It is entirely possible that in a large economy, this unambiguous tax cut would yield a higher fraction of GDP going to the government.

Our Wily Father

I was recuperating at the gym--this physique isn't natural, ya know--the other day, when a woman and her young daughter were leaving. The kid was dawdling, watching the tennis players etc. The mother announced, "Julia, I'm leaving. See you later," as she headed out the door. The kid panicked and ran after her, not wanting to be left behind.

I chuckled because my wife and I have used this trick many a time on our 3-year-old. The very idea that you would leave your little buddy at the zoo! And yet he is so incapable of conceiving of how much we love him, that he actually thinks we're serious.

Then it occurred to me: What if God doesn't really send anybody to hell?

What's the Next Term II

Well, I don’t think I’m going to suck in anyone who hasn’t been heard from by now…

So, OK, what is the next term of this sequence? 0, 1, 2, 8.252 x 10^2466, ...

Here, "10^2466" means "ten to the 2466th power." The corresponding term is necessarily slightly approximate, since it contains 2467 decimal digits.

Here’s my answer (the one that the problem comes with): t(n) = n(!^n).

0 = 0
1! = 1
2!! = 2! = 2
3!!! = 6!! = 720! = 8.252 x 10^2466
4!!!! is a rather large number in most contexts

Hey, you wanna see a really big number? Howsabout (10^10)(!^(10^10))? True, it’s still only 0% of aleph-null.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cops Strip a Woman and Leave Her in Cell for 6 Hours

I am sorry for the titillating title but this is serious. Cops actually did this...and the woman had called 911 for help!!

Here is the blog post by J.H. Huebert with the details. I am calling the sheriff's office later this week (number contained in the post).

What's even crazier is that, if you watch the 2nd part, you'll learn that some of the news station's viewers complained about one-sided treatment. I.e., "Hey, maybe those cops had a good reason to leave her naked in a cell for 6 hours."

Seriously, what the heck does the government have to do for people to think it screwed up?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Chad, Then and Now

The country of Chad is now in crisis. But Stu Morgenstern and I wrote about better times in Chad. (Sorry, the Chad government moved all the photos we had linked to.)

Boucher & Cohen



My PhD advisor, David Boucher, with Leonard Cohen. David is the author of:


(Yes, I know, clearly he's not the 'sort' physicistdave would allow in his home.)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Chastened Planner

I review Douglass C. North's Understanding the Process of Economic Change for The University Bookman:

"Douglass C. North’s new book represents a watershed in the social engineering consciousness. North, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1993, is a social engineer made humbler through the hard experience of the repeated failures of social engineering to improve the economic performance of developing countries. North recognizes that the abstract, mathematical models that developmental economists typically have used are inadequate representations of complex, messy social realities. He acknowledges the importance of hard-to-quantify factors such as belief systems and customs in shaping economic outcomes. He understands that any individual possesses only a tiny fraction of the knowledge that market processes manages to pool from every market participant’s knowledge, and that this relative individual ignorance holds of social planners just as much as of the economic agents they hope to direct.

"However, North’s humility, while encouraging, never reaches so deep that he asks if social engineering itself might be a bad idea..."

Read the rest.

Woolworths Pulls "Lolita" Bed for Young Girls

My wife tipped me off to this story:

A chain of retail stores in Britain has withdrawn the sale of beds named Lolita and designed for six-year-old girls after furious parents pointed out that the name was synonymous with sexually active pre-teens...

"What seems to have happened is the staff who run the website had never heard of Lolita, and to be honest no one else here had either," a spokesman told British newspapers.

"We had to look it up on (online encyclopedia) Wikipedia. But we certainly know who she is now."

In a related story, the Pentagon quickly canceled its planned $18 million purchase of Radio Shack's "Big Brother" line of infrared goggles. A spokeswoman told reporters yesterday that they had never heard of the novel by George Orwell containing the phrase.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I Just May Vote for Obama

In the past few weeks I have identified with the unwashed masses. Here are some highlights:

* I am self-employed making a good chunk of change and I literally cannot get any insurer to cover my three year old son, because of his heart murmur. He has never taken any medication for it or gotten any treatment whatsoever. Once we took him to a cardiologist for a routine check, and he was being so fussy (my son, not the doctor) that the cardiologist said to just skip it and bring him back the next time. So my point is, my son is not a walking liability. When my agent explained that the various companies declined coverage for my son, I offered to pay higher premiums or attach a rider to the plan to exclude any payments concerning his heart. Nope. He's uninsured. (Incidentally, when you see figures for the millions of uninsured Americans, don't assume they're all shortsighted. They might have left their jobs and now literally cannot find a company who will pick them up.)


* Because of my switch to self-employment, our bank won't let us refinance our house. Just think about that for a few minutes. Since they are concerned I will default, they won't lend us the money to pay off our loan to them. So they refrain from earning closing costs etc., keeping us locked into higher payments on the loan they have already given us, because they are afraid I won't be able to afford the lower payments.


* Also, for those who are thinking of becoming self-employed, keep in mind that you have to pay both halves of Social Security (if you are unincorporated). You get killed on 1099 form income.

Correcting Kinsley on Libertarianism

Read it here.

A Plea for Peace From Roderick Long

He wrote this in 2004, but it is relevant today--and he himself agrees (though I've misplaced the current link he gave to it).