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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Great Bank Robbery of 2008

Over at Free Advice it has been All Paulson, All the Time. I thought it appropriate to spam you people with "The Great Bank Robbery of 2008."

UPDATE: I break in on Bob's post! Yes, it's always possible for me to do so, but I feel justified this time because I'm doing it to praise him. Bob has written of the best one-liners in economics; now he pens another in the article linked above: "Some very sharp academic economists are in a tizzy trying to treat this as an extra-credit question, rather than a crime scene."
-- Gene

Tight and Tighter

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, this note was sent to mortgage brokers from one of the biggest players remaining in the Florida market.

Effective tomorrow 10/1, we will no longer offer financing on the following transactions in Florida:
Second Homes
Condominiums regardless of occupancy
Investment Properties
LTVs greater than 90%
Borrowers with credit scores below 660 regardless of automated decision
Max DTI allowed 45% regardless of automated decision

I'm glad nobody has yet countered any of my lowball offers. They will regret it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

If a Motorist Flashes His or Her Lights, Do You Slow Down?

For many years, I have tried to warn motorists on the other side of a highway that there is a speed trap ahead of them. After I pass a cop lying in ambush, I wait a few moments (to catch people before it's too late for them) and then do a quick flash-flash with my lights. Do people get what I'm doing there, or would you, dear reader, assume I was telling somebody to turn on his lights?

Also, I wondered about the ethics of it. I think you could tell a plausible story where motorists announcing the presence of the cop, in effect just magnifies his effectiveness. I.e. if you did a huge model that had the police and motorists, and could show the different results from plugging in different strategies, then I think you could calibrate the payoffs such that everybody is happier when a certain fraction of motorists consistently warn others of a cop. It would be giving the police the option of deputizes a thousand citizens, as it were, to crack down on speeding, but the hitch is that the deputies can't issue fines. But lo and behold, people always slow way down when the deputies flash their lights. In this way, one squad car can slow down many miles of highway.

But the motorists like this outcome better, too, because now they never get a ticket. There are advance scouts, scouring the highways in all directions in order to provide a warning to each driver.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

So That's What Happened!

The Hartford Courant explains why the lady UConn Huskies didn't win it all last year:

"During UConn's run to the Final Four, [head coach] Auriemma tinkered with his post..."

Well, if you're going for the national championship, and the coach is off "tinkering with his post"... well, no wonder!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Target Women: Cleaning

My wife was cracking up and I needed to see what it was. It's pretty good.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Selling His Sowell to Wall St.

Thomas Sowell writes:
"Financial institutions are not being bailed out as a favor to them or their stockholders..."

"The real point is to avoid a major contraction of credit that could cause major downturns in output and employment, ruining millions of people, far beyond the financial institutions involved. If it was just a question of the financial institutions themselves, they could be left to sink or swim. But it is not."

"But bailing out people who made ill-advised mortgages makes no more sense that bailing out people who lost their life savings in Las Vegas casinos."

OK, Tommy baby (I now treat him with such disrespect as he has shown himself to be a mere pitchman for banking interests), how about this:

That $700 billion could completely pay off about 3.5 million $200,000 mortgages. If the Treasury gave people in risk of foreclosure that money, those people would keep their homes (yes, yes, the money would need to be in the form of coupons only good for mortgage payments), and all of that bad mortgage-backed security debt would no longer be bad -- the financial system would be saved!

So if you're goal isn't merely to save the wealthy investment bankers who fund your chair at the Hoover institute and allow them to seize the homes of a lot of poor people, why not back my plan instead of Paulson's?

This Week's Free Advice Free Sample

This week, your free sample of "Free Advice" comes in the form of blog post, "Why Hank Paulson Made Sprint Be Mean to Me."

Give That Man a Cigar!

David Friedman makes a brilliant point: The debate over whether or not global warming is caused by humans is irrelevant to the debate about what to do in response!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Money Mag Makes the Same Old Error

Here:

"Plentiful jobs, excellent schools, affordable housing - America's best small cities have all that and more..."

"Affordable" housing? Hmmm, demand must be low, and that must be because... this really isn't one of the best small cities!

Credit Where Credit Is Due

No one else in Congress said anything like this in 2003:

"Despite the long-term damage to the economy inflicted by the government's interference in the housing market, the government's policy of diverting capital to other uses creates a short-term boom in housing. Like all artificially-created bubbles, the boom in housing prices cannot last forever. When housing prices fall, homeowners will experience difficulty as their equity is wiped out. Furthermore, the holders of the mortgage debt will also have a loss. These losses will be greater than they would have otherwise been had government policy not actively encouraged over-investment in housing. Perhaps the Federal Reserve can stave off the day of reckoning by purchasing GSE debt and pumping liquidity into the housing market, but this cannot hold off the inevitable drop in the housing market forever. In fact, postponing the necessary, but painful market corrections will only deepen the inevitable fall. The more people invested in the market, the greater the effects across the economy when the bubble bursts."

-- Ron Paul, hat tip to Jim Quinn.

Warning: Bad Language!

This week we're doing Jewish attitudes towards death, and in preparing I came across this passage in the Bible:

"And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass..."

I really don't think there should be language like that in the Bible! I'm not quite sure what the act signifies, but I can imagine the servants around the campfire, laughing: "Man, Jebediah, Abraham sure did saddle your sorry old ass today!"

And in a family-oriented book!

Need to Get Rid of...

that oregano that you thought was weed and paid $200 an ounce for?
Go here!

(Hat tip to Thoreau.)

Smilin' Fool

"The Hottest Part"

Take a quick look around the web, if you care to, and see how many pages of recipes tell you to "Remove the chilli seeds for a milder dish", or claim theat "The seeds are the hottest part of the chilli."

Man, a lot of people are wasting a lot of time out there: The seeds contain no capsaicin, the chemical that causes the "heat", at all. They are the mildest part of the chilli!

(It's true that the pith around them is the hottest, and if you happen to scrape that off while removing the seeds, you do getter a milder product. That may be where the "seeds are the hottest" legend comes from.)

Great Jon Stewart Video

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nashville and Auburn Together, Now You Know You in Trouble

Mark Thornton and I tag-teamed Paulson and Bernanke in this interview (mp3) with Scott Horton.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

AndyD Makes a Good Call

I didn't realize I attracted the attention of football analysts, but Google Alerts shows it is so. (Check out the first few lines of "2008 in review.")

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Reader Survey: Who Wants Callahan to Tape a Lecture?

I say that Gene should record his next lecture on Death & Dying, and then post it here. I shudder to think what happens when parents entrust their children to Gene's odd worldview, and yet I am eager to find out.

Thoughts on the Godfather

I watched it last night to wind down from my trip. Some observations:

(1) I had forgotten how good the acting was. Man Pacino was good.

(2) The Don was a much cooler guy than Michael. The Don actually thought he had some principles of honor, as opposed to Michael who was more ruthless. E.g. the Don refuses to kill the guys who attacked the undertaker's daughter, because that wouldn't be justice; he says, "We're not murderers." When Sonny is late to a meeting because he was cheating on his wife, the Don works in a completely unnecessary question about the visitor's family, solely to be able to indirectly tell Sonny, "A real man keeps spends time with his family" (or something like that). After Sonny is killed, the Don says he wants no inquiries and no retaliation, and calls the families together for a truce. He initially doesn't want to deal drugs, but capitulates when he sees how much the other families want it. Finally, he swears on his grandchildren that he won't break the truce (assuming nothing happens to Michael on his way back home), and he fulfills that pledge. In contrast, Michael doesn't forgive anything and lies all the time. And of course, the Don's last scene where he is playing with his grandson is adorable. Granted, if people want to give me all sorts of counterexamples, go ahead, but my point is that I think Puzo / Coppola were trying to show that the Don really wasn't as bad as he first seems.

(3) I had never noticed this before: In the scene where Sonny beats the cr*p out of his brother-in-law, there are three other mobsters holding the crowd back. I.e. the neighborhood would have intervened if some lone guy started wrecking a guy like that, and it took three other (obvious) mobsters to keep the public from interfering. Very interesting.

Friday, September 19, 2008

So What If This Doesn't Work?

Here's a scary question for the class: What happens if the market opens way down on Monday, perhaps because everyone on Wall Street has had a weekend to reflect on $800 billion+ in money coming from the Phantom Zone? Will they shut down the stock exchanges? They banned short selling, why not just ban selling altogether?

More Memes

Form The Daily Meme

"# A meme is: An idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve."

In other words, it is just an idea, not some special category of ideas, since what idea cannot "replicate" (be passed around) and "evolve" (change)? Phony biological metaphors do not give 'meme' any added intellectual heft!

"# A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover and adaptation."

Oh, so societies have customs, practices, traditions, and mores, and those spread, are subject to cross-cultural influences, and change according to circumstances? Gee, before some weenies started saying 'meme', no one had realized this!

"# A cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); "memes are the cultural counterpart of genes"."

Well, yes, except that there is no "DNA" of memes, no molecular biology of memes, no Mendelian laws of memes, etc. etc.

In other words, a 'meme' is a bunch of pseudo-scientific horse droppings.

Do I Have Priority?

I think I've invented a new dish -- at least I can't find a recipe for it on the Internet -- and so I offer the recipe hear to you:

Mashed Plantains and Chick Peas

3 yellow plantains (important -- not green like for boiling, and not black like for frying!)
1 can chick peas
1/8 pound butter
4 ounces light cream
1 handful of cilantro
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Boil the plantains and chick peas until the plantains are soft. (The canned chick peas are being boiled to skirt the risk of botulism!)

Place them in a blender with the rest of the ingredients.

Mash.

Enoy.

Wachovia

As this bank is on the verge of failing, and I hear it's name on the news, I'm surprised to find it's pronounced "Wak-oh-vee-ya." I had been thinking "Wach-ova-ya," I had thought it was a Brooklyn institution promising to look out for you!

The "Meme" Meme

I can't figure out any use for the word "meme" other than to lend a spurious air of intellectual "gravitas" to something that might otherwise seem commonplace. For instance, take:
'Rickrolling is an Internet meme involving the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up".'

What does "meme" do in that sentence that could not be better done by:
'Rickrolling is an Internet fad involving the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up"'?

In fact, 'fad' would be far better! But if you write 'meme', it shows that you are 'up' on current pseudo-intellectual lingo.

Biblical Movie References

Trading PLaces is derived from the Book of Job.

Please discuss.

The Extremely Thoughful NJ Highway Authorities

I had to wake up at 7 am to teach my class today -- a disgusting time for me -- but I did it, got to class on time, and gave a wonderful lecture. But then I had to face an almost 2 hour ride back to NYC, at a time when I was ready for a nap. I was driving along, a little drowsy,wondering if I'd have to pull over and sleep, when I came upon a big, bright yellow sign on the verge that read "BUMP."

Good God, I thought, the NY highway people know just what it is that I need to get through this drive... and how kind of them to recommend it right at this moment! Who says government never helps us out?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We Could Be Heroes

I've been watching the show Heroes on DVDs, and it's kind of entertaining, but, man oh man, they just didn't worry much about intellectual content when throwing this thing together, did they? Every time the young Indian guy starts talking "philosophy" I want to throw something at the computer. You could pretty much string random words from pop science and religion together with a computer program that placed English verbs, conjunctions, etc. between them and it would make no less sense than the blather the writers put in that guys mouth. "Cockroaches are the pinnacle of evolution"! If you view evolution scientifically, it has no "pinnacle". And if you view it spiritually, you certainly wouldn't place cockroaches at the "pinnacle"! "We only use 10% of our brains." That's an old urban legend with no basis whatsoever in fact.

And what's up with his accent? He's an American, raised in Texas, but if you're going to make him a character from Madras, India, and have him speak in a foreign accent, why make it an English accent? I think the theory is, "Americans are so stupid they won't know the difference."

Profits are up!

Did you know...

That Isaiah named one of his sons speedy-spoil quick-booty (suitably translated from the Hebrew, of course)?

That Jeremiah once bought real estate as a prophetic act?

UPDATE:
Oh, and Isaiah's son's name was an act of prophecy, as well.

And so was the name of the kid was father (a prophet -- I forget which one) who had married a hooker -- he named his kid, essentially, "Not mine"!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is SNL Funny Again? A Great Palin-Clinton Skit

Twin Spin Cross Post

For this week's parasitic transfer of Crash Landing readers, I choose the serious blog post on the financial meltdown, and a lighter piece on "The Economics of Potty Training."

The Flying What?!

I literally stopped mid-lecture the other day when I saw one of my students wearing a "Flying Burrito Brothers" t-shirt in front of me to ask him about it. "No one" in the 1970s knew who they were, so it was pretty shocking to see their name on the shirt of a 20-year-old in 2008.

UPDATE: Did you know that "Sneaky Pete" Kleinow of the FBBs did special effects for Gumby, Davey and Goliath, The Outer Limits, The Empire Strikes Back, Gremlins, The Right Stuff, The Terminator, and Terminator 2.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

To Invest or Not to Invest

We're feeling some uncertainty in the real estate market here tonight in West Central Florida.

This afternoon I visited a 1980s condo. It was a villa style unit, with about 1500 sf under air, a one car garage (3 bed bath), and looked almost liveable. It needed a new roof, maybe at total of $7,000 to $8,000 in direct expenses, plus I'd have to put in some sweat equity, painting, floors etc.

The asking price is $80,000, and I was told a lowball would not be a problem for the owner: Fannie Mae. They've had so many offers blow up because the buyers could not come up with the cash.

I spoke with the neighbor across the street in a similar unit. She told me she paid $170,000 for her condo unit two years ago.

The wife and I are hashing (hashing? man I wish she'd let me, but she wants me to be urine test clean, lest I need to find a job) it out over the price. We think a firm and final offer of $45,000 would be fair. Lehman will likely fail tonight, and the schmutz, as they say, is hitting the fan. The listing realtor does not think we're wasting our time.

That's the state of Florida real estate tonight.

Superfriends Commentary

This one on Superman is pretty freaking funny, if you watched the cartoon. You can backtrack and read some of the other ones; I tried Batman and Wonder Woman, and they were OK, but not as funny as the Superman one.

BTW the cartoons (with fake dialogue) are pretty funny, so give those a chance too if you click on this thing.

H2T Zach Crossen.

Buy and Hold?

I was just looking at the NASQAQ Composite hovering somewhere around 2200, and recalling March of 2000, when the index was at... 5048! It's well over eight years, and the index is still down well over 50% from its peak. When will we see NASDAQ 5000 again? 2015? (Of course, it could be much sooner -- it only took a few years to go from 700 to 5000.)

And if you bought at the peak, you must be wondering if you will ever catch up with inflation.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Scott Horton vs. (War Hawk) Harvey Kushner

I just watched a debate between an atheist and a Christian where one side was horribly unprepared, so this one on US foreign policy was a very welcome contrast. I disagree very strongly with Kushner but he is a formidable debater.

BTW I have been on Scott's radio show several times. Here's a blast from the past.

Hannity Sums Up Neoconservatism

While discussing the evacuation efforts in Texas as Ike was a few hours from landfall, Hannity actually said:

"Please, folks, if you're in the area and you're thinking of staying in your home, just follow the evacuation order. Even if there's no good reason to--Just do what the authorities say, OK?"

That's not an exact quote, but it is very close and is certainly the spirit of what he was saying. (If anyone can find the exact quote, I'll update this. It was on his radio show on Friday, September 12.)

Climate Activists Defend Property Rights...

...by attacking a smokestack. I am curious what our libertarian friends who believe in manmade global warming think of this verdict. I am sure they will tell us.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Prophets

1) Did you know the difference between a prophet and a seer?

I didn't until tonight. A seer uses his own spiritual power to peer into the future, while a prophet is more of a conduit for God (or a god). That is why prophets in the Old Testament gradually came to be seen as more respectable than seers (such as Joseph): they weren't "putting nature to the rack" (F. Bacon on experimental science) to get answers; they waited for God. Of course, necromancers were even worse: they were put to death. Their power was seen as genuine, but outright wicked.

2) The "guild prophets" wore odd haircuts and clothing, did strange, symbolic actions, went into trances, had visions, whirled about dancing ecstatically, and were regarded as very weird by the establishment: early Deadheads, clearly.

Pocono Fall Fun!

Autumn is hitting the Poconos. The leaves are beginning to turn, and today I saw my first turkey in months. (Why do they show up just before Thanksgiving? Are they asking to be eaten? And where were they the last few months?)

In honor of the season, here are some fun Pocono activities:

1) Find the cub!
Hide a bear cub somewhere in your house, then see if the mother bear can guess which room it's in!

2) Find the tooth!
See that guy with the plaid shirt and three-foot long beard at the end of the biker bar? You just know he's got a tooth in that mouth somewhere, because you just saw him chewing some jerky. But where, but where?

3) Find the Democrat!
Somewhere in the town you're in, there's undoubtedly an Obama supporter lurking in some health food store or yoga clinic. But can you identify him/her on the first try?

UPDATE: As I post this, I see Wabulon is way ahead of me and has arrived at winter already!

Winter Poem

Ah, my love, you’re showing a lot of throat
For this winter weather.
Shall we stay, lie in the dark together,
Warm and unwearying, wearing each other?
Shall our days go by being forever ermine,
Our small sun pocket high?
Never mind, you won’t. Wind your hair about me
On the way and come, even out there we may be able to hide,
Or will you? Sweet love, decide. Let your coat fall or not.

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

Now Them's Scientists!

I was filling my tank at a Shell station today when I noticed a poster on the pump advertising hte quality of Shell's gas. Studies showed, the poster went, that Shell gas leaves your engine cleaner, etc. Just so the reader would be convinced these studies were "truly scientific," the poster showed him some scientists -- a Chinese guy and an Indian guy in lab coats.

If you want to convince today's American he's lookin' at real scientists, show him some Asian folk.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Henotheism

I've been listening to a lecture series on ancient Near Eastern religions of late, and the lecturer has confirmed something I've suspected for some time: the ancient Israelites, at least up through the time of Moses, were not monotheists, but, rather, henotheists -- that is, they did not believe that there weren't many gods, but that they had formed a covenant with one of the many gods, and were obliged to worship only him:

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;

"Do not have any other gods before me...

"You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me..."

There are other gods, but the Lord is "a jealous God" -- not the only true god, mind you! -- and resents other gods being worshiped.

UPDATE: I reached the lecture today where the lecturer concludes that true monotheism developed in Israel around the time of the prophets.

Callahan and Murphy

The Irish Mafia take over the book review section of The Freeman.

Since It's London Day...

here's me looking constipated in the LSE library, caught by Peter Jaworski:

Rand's Birthday

Looking up the piece with the details of my mugging, I found it was a diary entry, and right above it was something I had forgotten enough that it made me laugh all over again -- so I share it with you:

Monday, Feb. 7: Celebrating Rand’s Birthday


Since last Wednesday, February 2nd, was the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand’s birthday, I decided to have an "Ayn Rand day" of my own. Here’s my report on what I did:

8:40 AM:

I rolled out of bed and enjoyed a symbol of the fire in man’s mind. (I.e., a cigarette.) The previous day, in purchasing tobacco in anticipation of this celebration, I had been a little puzzled: just which brand is the most rational? Finally, I decided to buy a pouch of Golden Virginia and some rolling papers, as that way I could engage in productive activity (rolling) before smoking. (Of course, I bought a cigarette holder as well.)

After finishing my smoke, I showered, dressed, and got ready for my first big event of the day. I watched the house across the street out of my window until I saw all of my neighbors head off for work or school. Then I fetched the dynamite I had bought the day before, and headed over to get rid of the building. It’s pretty architecturally hideous, one of those awful fake Tudors, so, like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, I figured it would be OK, especially today, to blow it up.

However, as I placed the dynamite, I recalled that in Rand’s novel Roark freely admitted to having blown up the building. Hmm, the house was pretty ugly, but I wasn’t sure it was so ugly that I was willing to do some time to be rid of it. I might be doing others a favor, but, then, to suffer in prison myself for their benefit would be altruistic, and acting unselfishly was surely no way to celebrate Rand Day. Let them blow up the building if they want. I shuffled back across the street and put the explosives back in my room. Crap, what is my landlord going to think if he finds enough dynamite to blow up a house in my dresser?

9:45 AM:

Well, time to enjoy the fire in the mind again – must remember not to do so too near the dresser! – so I rolled another fag and lit it. Fire, a dangerous force, was tamed at my fingertips. Well, maybe not quite tamed, since I hadn’t rolled the cigarette too well, and a burning chunk of man’s rationality fell on my trousers. Unfortunately, I was watching the smoke and thinking, waiting for great things to come into my mind, so I didn’t notice the mishap until the ideas burned right through my pants and I felt the sharp, hot sting of the mental united with the physical on my leg.

After patting out the burning thoughts – I worried that such a response might be irrational, but, damn it, my leg hurt! – I decided it was high time to charge someone with plagiarism. I called my friend Bob Murphy and told him that I felt he had stolen his article on the origin of money from my work.

"What are you talking about, Gene?"

"Well, you write that money arose through indirect exchange, as some commodity came to be a commonly accepted medium of exchange, don’t you?"

"Yes…"

"And don’t I say the same thing in my book?"

"Yes…"

"And isn’t it true that you read my book before writing that article? In fact, that you read it very carefully, taking notes on it, since the publisher paid you to read it before it was even published?"

"Yeah, but what about Menger…"

"No, my friend, I’ve got you nailed. I demand that you come to London for a trial. If you refuse, I will break with you and announce that you are a looter."

"Uh, yeah, whatever, Gene. Maybe you should cut back on the partying a little bit, huh?"

10:50 AM:

The plagiarism bit, I thought, had gone significantly better than the house demolition project. I had some more fire from within – oh, wait, that’s the wrong guru! – some fire from the mind of man, and mentally prepared myself for my next challenge. I called up a friend of mine – for the sake of her privacy, let’s call her Ann, even though her real name is Barbara Johnson. "Ann," I said, "I’ve always admired you. As the logical outcome of that admiration, I’m coming over to force rough sex on you in a way verging on rape. But don’t worry, you’ll enjoy it. Is that OK?"

"Um, Gene, first of all, if you’re going to force sex on someone, you can’t really ask them if it’s OK. It kind of refutes the whole ‘force’ idea."

"Oh, yeah… good point."

"And, secondly, I have a boyfriend. I don’t think he’d be too keen on that."

"What, he doesn’t want us to unite the mental and the physical in a way that expresses our highest ideals? Should we instead sacrifice our own happiness at the altar of some death-worshipping ‘morality’? Is he anti-life?"

"No, I don’t think so. But he is a bouncer at a London night club, and a black belt in karate."

Well, then, forcing sex on Ann was out. I was at a loss to imagine whom else I might take in the roughest way possible, until I happened to glance into the mirror. Suddenly, I knew what would happen, as I caught myself staring at me with a look of such smoldering passion that I knew resisting my life-affirming desire was futile…

Noon:

After that was over with, it was high time for a smoke before setting off on my next task. I traveled to central London, where I spent a couple of hours lurking in alleys and doorways, awaiting passers-by whom I could mysteriously accost with the question, "Who is John Galt?" Most of them just pretended that they hadn’t heard me – clearly, those were folks who wanted to exist without thinking – but a few people stopped long enough to answer, "That fellow from Atlas Shrugged. Have I won something?"

Clearly, my question wasn’t having the same effect that it had had in Rand’s novel. Therefore, it was irrational to continue asking it. I played some Rachmaninoff on my I-Pod, lit another fag, and contemplated – quite rationally, mind you! – what I should do next.

My Stalker

Last week I received a letter from someone asking details about my London mugging. (Details are at the bottom of the page I linked to, if you are curious.) I kind of brushed him (her?) off.

So yesterday I get this:

"I think you are a good writer. I am born 1959 too you know.So I am really interested about the two yoots and your mugging.I have questions about it. please answer them below
1)were your two muggers african american
2)did they steal your cell phone (when you said they scooped up your cell phone and took off running)
3)who was that commuter on his cell phone to the police was that you or another person.I thought they stole your cell phone
4)how much did your cell phone cost the one that the two muggers stole"

"please answer my questions"

I responded, "Who are you and why in the world do you want to know these things?"

Today, this comes back:

"I am a police in London. I am investigating this. so please give me information about it.
1)when a commuter on his cell phone to the cops was that you or another person? I thought the guys stole your cell phone
2) did they steal your cell phone when you said they scooped up your cell phone and took off running
3) how much did the cell phone the muggers stole cost

"please respond back"

In the first mail I quote above, this guy makes it obvious that he's American, and not English at all, let alone "a police in London." Do you see his slip-ups? (UPDATE: I now notice three.)

But why in the world is he so persistently trying to get this information. If it's just morbid curiosity, why not say so? Why come up with the "a London police" lie?

Any ideas?

UPDATE:
Just got this:
"I am a recent london police. just joined. so please tell me about your mugging incident

"please respond back"

UPDATE;
This morning from the Metropolitan Police:
"I can confirm that the matter you originally had contact with Police has been investigated and the investigation is complete.

"No Metropolitan Police Officer or any UK Police officer would use a gmail account in an official capacity or crime investigation, therefore you should report this matter to your local Police in the US as there maybe offences they should be investigating."

Monday, September 08, 2008

Hitting the Nail on the Head

David Friedman writes:

"Before denouncing that as an intellectually indefensible position, it's worth asking what fraction of those who believe in the theory of evolution could accurately explain it—let alone do a competent job of describing the evidence for it. My impression is that most believers in evolution, like most believers in creationism, base their belief not on their own knowledge and thought but on what they have been told by the authorities they respect."

I recently heard a person loudly denouncing those who did not realize Darwinian evolution was "a proven fact." Here's a true believer whose is hugely ignorant of the history of science. No scientific theory is ever a proven fact -- it's the best guesss we've made so far, if it's the currently held theory.

Here They Go Again

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/us/09salvia.html?hp

Everyone seems to have found out about Salvia. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, living in a redneck hell like Florida which was in the vanguard of banning the plant.

Although I've been told that I wasn't sentient in 1965, I do know that I wasn't reading the New York Times back then. Didn't the Times run some incendiary articles about LSD, just prior to it becoming illegal? Didn't the Times cite examples of a (U Penn?) student going blind, from staring at the sun, while tripping?

The New York Times gets a hold of a story and pictures a Texas redneck lawmaker (yuck), and soon we'll see Salvia on the DEA's drug schedule.

Forget Ron Paul!

Joad Cressbeckler for president:

Old, Grizzled Third-Party Candidate May Steal Support From McCain

And here's one for Roderick Long:

Hurricane Bound For Texas Slowed By Large Land Mass To The South

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Bottom Is In

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122072588739407007.html?mod=hpp_us_whats_news

Complain all like about government intervention. Keep complaining for the next decade, or whenever the next crisis happens. In the meantime, I think I'm going to make some dough on distressed housing.

"Come, Quickly, They're throwing money away."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Why Is Jennifer Aniston...

In bathroom there is one of those little metal magazine racks on the floor. Inside it, there is a copy of Good Housekeeping, folded over saw that only half of the cover is visible. Next to a picture of the aforementioned actress I can see the headline fragment, "Why Is Jennifer Aniston..."

I have not yet looked to see what the rest of the headline is, but in my mind, it reads, "...on the Cover of This Magazine, When She Hasn't Done a Lick of Housekeeping in Her Adult Life?"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Silas Goes to His Protection Agency

I forget, what happens now? Is there a shootout and the side with more readers wins?

I am happy to report that the legal proceedings have moved Silas' Barbie post from the top of his blog, where it had been sitting since August 27.*


* Yes Silas, this last comment was completely unfair and represents humor at your expense. Although it is true, it implies things about your post that are not true. Some would call it shameful what I have done.

Research Papers

I wondering why I'd want to assign my students (as is standard practice) one or more scholarly type research papers, when none or almost none of them will be going into academia. Sure, it's great to give them writing assignments, and I plan on plenty of those, but why should they be learning how t0o do bibliographical references and proper footnoting, since, once they leave college, they will probably never create a bibliography or a footnote again.

Is there some point to this exercise I'm missing? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Silas Problem

Regular readers know that a certain poster often departs from what many would consider to be the conventions of civility. (I am making no judgments in this post.) Recently Gene succumbed to the pleasures of his power as Administrator and began deleting comments from the person in question. This raises the question of what the final solution should be to our Silas Problem. I offer some possibilities, with commentary, below.

(1) Ban him. The problem here is that he can come back in alternate guises. Once we "out" him, is that new persona immediately banned too? Or does the new and improved Silas have to earn a fresh banning at that point? Also, we then run into problems of consistency. We have to start banning others if they cross "the line," meaning we have to define the line. There is also the efforts of enforcement. I for one don't feel like judging whom to ban, and going to the trouble of deleting posts. If we have a "hey we never ban" policy, then we can't be held liable for the ridiculous and offensive things you may see here. But if we ban one person, then the next time Robert W. puts up anti-Islamic screeds, we are implicitly giving him a nod and wink if we don't ban him too. You see the problem.

(2) Ignore him completely. This is neat because it dovetails with pacifist ostracism strategies. But it too is subject to some of the above problems.

(3) Ignore him when he is being particularly rude and/or incomprehensible. This is my preference.

(4) Have Gene assign Silas' death and dying as a class project. This is surely illegal, an obvious strike against it.

(5) Something we are overlooking?

We invite reader feedback, inasmuch as we need to know how many lurkers are entertained by these shenanigans, versus how many decide to spend their time at other "serious" blogs.

The Futility of a Libertarian Running for High Office

Lew Rockwell lays it all out for libertarians who are excited about Palin's VP candidacy -- you're just getting duped into involvement in presidential politics:

"When a decent person accepts a job such as vice president, our first instinct is to celebrate that good people are in a position of power and influence. This is what McCain is counting on. But this is an illusion. The influence runs completely the other way. Good people become part of the party machine and surrender all their principles in order to survive. This, sadly, is the future of Sarah Palin, who may have been doing some good in Alaska..."

"There are names I could mention here in our time, former libertarians now holding high political appointments in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy. They know who they are. They can pretend superiority, that they are "getting their hands dirty" while the rest of us are merely typing away at our keyboards. But in fact, they have become responsible for great evil..."

I remember when Ron Paul was running for President, and some libertarians foolishly got all enthused, how Lew always would give the same warning, saying, "Don't think putting a good person in the office of President will help -- this is just going to corrupt Ron Paul, and kill off any good he was doing in Congress." How, if he got elected, Paul would only be "responsible for great evil..." and, therefore, libertarians shouldn't support his campaign.

That was what he said about the Paul campaign, wasn't it? "Don't bother getting involved; this is worse than pointless -- it's actually evil." Wasn't it? I can't quite remember now.

Challenging the Climate Change Consensus

(More alliteration for you.) What we've got here is a failure to communicate. I ran into this back in the day when I was foolish enough to dive into the Intelligent Design debate. I would end up arguing with very smart believers in orthodox neo-Darwinism, and they would keep giving me implications of their theory as if they were evidence for its truth.

The same happens when I (again, foolishly) try to show why the climate change consensus is not as airtight as its strongest advocates assert. For example, the consensus currently says that if you double CO2 concentrations, the long-run equilibrium (i.e. after all feedbacks play out) effect on the global temperature will be about 3C. (They give a range, but 3C is best point guess.) And then this estimate of the earth's "climate sensitivity" is the basis for the projections about the optimal carbon tax, why we need to take immediate action, etc.

Now as you know, there are PhDs in the relevant fields who challenge this consensus view. They say there are serious flaws in the official story. I'm not going to go over their claims here, except this one: If you look at the observational record, so far the historical "transient" (not long-run equilibrium) response to increased CO2 has been much less than the consensus estimates. I.e., just looking at how much CO2 has increased since 1880, and seeing that global temperatures have gone up only 0.7C so far, you get a very low observed sensitivity.

Now there are two main "consensus" responses to this point. First, there are other things going on besides more CO2 (and other GHGs) being pumped into the atmosphere. E.g. industrial emissions also put aerosols up there, which may have had a cooling effect and so masked what would have been greater warming in the 1970s. Second, the 3C best guess is a long-run, equilibrium concept; 120 years is not enough for all the feedbacks to work through the system.

OK everyone got that? The cutting edge models are consistent with the observed trends, but the skeptics' point is that thus far, we haven't actually seen the alarming degree of warming in response to CO2 emissions. So they're saying it lends credibility to their point of view, that these models are bunk, and that people who keep claiming that the models have been "verified" are probably misleading the public with those claims.

Now let's focus in on "PI"'s response to this challenge, in the comments of a MarginalRevolution thread (and if you read our exchange, you'll see he is very sharp, so I'm not picking on a blowhard here):

BOB: "empirical observations THUS FAR have not demonstrated this high sensitivity"

PI: Again, that's misleading. You can't note that the transient response is smaller than the equilibrium response and claim this is evidence against high sensitivity; the transient response is ALWAYS smaller, no matter what the sensitivity. You can equally well say that empirical observations THUS FAR have not demonstrated or even favored low sensitivity. Indeed, from the shape of the estimated climate sensitivity probability distributions, it's been easier to observationally disfavor low sensitivities than high ones.

The fact is that the two are difficult to distinguish from each other at this point, given the limited length of observations, the until-recently small accumulations of excess CO2, the uncertain response time of the system, and the uncertain forcings. We EXPECT low and high sensitivities to give similar responses in these circumstances. The observations so far exclude sensitivities lower than 2 C with high probability, and sensitivities greater than 5 C with somewhat less high probability, but beyond that it's really difficult to say more.


Everyone catch that? The observed 0.7C warming over the last 125 years rules out the 2C estimates more than the 5C estimates of climate sensitivity. (To be clear, the observed forcings have been less than what a doubling of CO2 would have produced; I'm not saying the consensus "ought to have" yielded an observed warming of 3C.)

To put it in other words, I am pointing to the low observed warming as evidence that the models are fundamentally misguided, and PI's response is that no, according to the models, the models are just fine. Yes, that's true, in the model, the model is correct. But we didn't need to look at the data to make that point.

Gene, I am sure my good friends are going to have at me with this topic of climate change, so if you feel inclined please post other examples of this mistake in the comments. I.e., cases where very knowledgeable experts in a field can't step outside their orthodoxy in order to deal with critics who are asking for evidence that their worldview is correct. Basically, scientists who do the same thing as a fundamentalist citing gospel passages when asked to prove the authority of scripture.

Paul Ghostwriting Controversy, Current

OK cr*p, let's get this out in the open... Here is a WP story that does its best to cast Ron Paul and my personal friend Tom Woods as liars. My quick reactions:

(1) I have no problem with ghostwriting. I have ghostwritten things for people and I don't think it is dishonest, generally speaking. I'm sure you could come up with scenarios (like writing somebody's term paper), but especially if you are drawing on a public person's previously promulgated policies (holy alliteration!!), and then let the person read over what you've done before it goes out the door, I think you're going to have a hard time drawing any meaningful line in the sand. Nobody objects to politicians using speechwriters, right? The only thing I could see being a problem, is if the listeners / readers didn't realize the process and would be disheartened to learn the truth. Then, the ghostwriter might be running into moral issues. But from Tom's description, that doesn't seem to be what happened here.

(2) I do think it's counterproductive for Ron Paul to say that they aren't protesting the RNC. I think they should either have said that's what they're doing, or scheduled it for a different week. On the other hand, maybe they did it this way to gain access to all the bored reporters who might migrate away from the hurricane fund raisers down the street. (I.e. maybe they really did want to make it a different week to not look like jerks--just like Paul didn't run on the LP ticket--but they decided they couldn't pass up the huge press access by hosting it nearby.)

(3) Is Woods implying that he worked on Hillary Clinton's book? If so, then I have problems. Not with her, but with him.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Lew Rockwell Says Bush Succeeded in Energy Policy

Really, just watch. (And yes, let's open the floodgates to comments about newsletters, race-baiting, blah blah blah. That's definitely what you should focus on now.)



Dorothy Sayers

I've been reading the novels of Dorothy Sayers for the third time the last week. If you enjoy mystery novels at all, and don't know Sayers, you must check her out. Not only could she write mysteries, she was a brilliant thinker -- one of the first women to earn a degree from Oxford University, the originator of the Guinness ad campaign with the toucan, conversant in the latest intellectual advances, and a renowned translator of Dante -- and this powerful intellect is apparent in her works.

Part of the fascination of her work is the way in which she captures England on the cusp -- the pre-war England of Victoria was fading away, and the new England rising, but, in the 20s, both were visible, and Sayers brilliantly plays on the tension between the two. In ways, the 1920s were like a dress rehearsal for the 1960s, and Sayers also captures this spirit of social novelty: giant cocaine parties, unmarried couples living together, political radicalism, and so on.

Pick up a Sayers novel today! (Busman's Honeymoon may be one of the best.)

UPDATE: Here's Sayers on "The Lost Tools of Learning".

New Band of the Day

My friend Julian Velard in The Guardian.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How many people have been cryogenically frozen?

Only about 90, according to this ESPN (!) story. (BTW, the article makes it sound as if the proper term is "cryonically frozen," but that sounds weirder than Walt Disney.) Wikipedia lists 8 of the people.

For What It's Worth

Bob asked to see my CV some time ago -- here you are!

Another Reason Democracy Is Bad

It reveals just how awful we all are. Under a monarchy, for example, would Andrew Sullivan have had any reason to demand that a woman make her medical records public, so that he can "breathe a sigh of relief and move on"?

Gene, are cuss words allowed on Crash Landing?

The Philosopher and the Partisan

In the Phaedo, Socrates makes a distinction between his approach to argument as a philosopher and that of the partisan:

"For the partisan, when he is engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the question, but is anxious only to convince his hearers of his own assertions."

I ran across a nice illustration of this in The NY Post today, where I found one Kirsten Powers writing the following bit of piffle:

"What of the claim that McCain's pick [of Palin for VP] undermines his assertion that experience is what matters in a president?"

Her entirely partisan response:

"Hmm: Palin isn't running for president; she's running for vice president."

Sure. And what's the whole point of the position of vice president? Why, to be able to step in for the President should need arise, of course! So the exact same criteria for fitness apply to either office.

"Last time I checked, John McCain isn't dying."

Yes, and there are millions of other people who "aren't dying" right this minute but will die in the next four years. John McCain may turn out to be one of them.

"And if experience is your worry, there's plenty to worry about on the opposing ticket if, God forbid, something happens to Joe Biden."

Now she's chased her tail in a full circle. The argument "It's not good to have inexperienced people in high office" is now being offered as a refutation of itself!

Folks, thought and honesty have nothing to do with this "argument". This woman cares not a whit that there isn't an ounce of sense in what she's written -- that was never the point. The point was to feed McCain supporters some snappy comebacks they could use which, if one gave them very, very superficial attention, might seem to defuse the charge that McCain has undermined one of his own attacks on Obama.