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Friday, September 30, 2011

I Principi Universali ed Eterni del Mondo Civile

"Osserviamo tutte le nazioni così barbare come umane, quantunque, per imensi spazi di luoghi e tempi tra loro lontane; divisamente fondate, custodire questi tre umani costumi: che tutte hanno qualche religione; tutte contraggono matrimonio solenni, tutte seppelliscono i loro morti; nè tra nazioni, quantunque selvagge e crude, si celebrano azioni umane con più ricercate cerimonie a più consagrate solennità che religioni, matrimoni e seppolture." -- Vico, La Scienza nuova

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oh My God

I just accidentally ate Miracle Whip! I blame the Québécois!

It's So Wet

That entirely new species of slugs are crawling cross my door.




Totalitarian Libertarianism

Read all about it. And weep.

Oh, and this sentence: "All religions are unique, but Protestantism is more unique than all the others."

A totally fine use of unique. We all know exactly what he means.

I Love the Environment!

Without, I'd be contextless, a mere abstraction! I'm all down with ecological concern. I compost. I keep live worms in my basement. I don't even kill bugs unless they try to eat bits of me. But I had to laugh the other day when I heard a Mom in a cafe badgering her 10-year-old daughter about how much water she used in the shower. The northeast has received almost a year's worth of rain in the last two months. Milford, PA has now passed 32 inches for August and September combined, and it is still raining. Every possible place the water might hang around is filled and over-filled. So if this girl takes a long shower, the water will go down the drain and out to the ocean. And if she takes no showers at all, the water will flow down a river and out to the ocean. Let the poor kid enjoy her showers!

It Weren't Lockean Homesteading!

"there aren't very many examples of modern property rights emerging spontaneously and peacefully out of a bargaining process. The way customary property rights yielded to modern ones was much more violent, and power and deceit played a large role." -- Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order

Evolutionary Psychology: Vacuous or False?

J.B.S. Haldane famously quipped that "I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins." If this simple mathematical relationship really captures the essence of altruism, then we should find that people are just as willing, on average, to lay down their life for their sibling as for their child. Of course, that is obviously false. What we are left with is studies showing that foraging robots obey the relationship! So, what is true about evolutionary psychology (in this regard) has been known for a long time: "Blood is thicker than water" and so on. What is novel about it is falsified with about a minute's thought.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No Free-Market Famines?

Some balding, religious guy asserted this was the case in comments upstream. However, he must not be aware of the year without a summer, when "many residents of New England and the Canadian Maritimes froze to death, starved, or suffered from severe malnutrition." Now, I know these areas still had some government, but this was a pretty darned free market society we're talking about, and this natural disaster nevertheless created severe problems. On the other hand, there are cases where sound government planning seemed to avert the worst consequences of a natural disaster.

Some people believe that the "true free market" is a construction that can be built up high enough that man will reach heaven, and will no longer suffer the vicissitudes of earthly life. Such projects have not gone well in the past.

Political by Nature

"We might label this the Hobbesean fallacy: the idea that human beings were primordially individualistic and that they entered into society at a later stage in their development only as a result of a rational calculation that social cooperation was the best way for them to achieve their individual ends. This premise of primordial individualism underpins the understanding of rights contained in the American Declaration of Independence and thus of the democratic political community that springs from it. This premise also underlies contemporary neoclassical economics, which builds its models on the assumption that human beings are rational beings who want to maximize their individual utility or incomes. But it is in fact individualism and not sociability that developed over the course of human history. That individualism seems today like a solid core of our economic and political behavior is only because we have developed institutions that override our more naturally communal instincts. Aristotle was more correct than these early modern liberal theorists when he said that human beings were political by nature." -- Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order


The individual is, in fact, a social achievement, and not something that can contract in or out of society by "preference" and still remain an individual.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vulgar Austrians and Aggregates

Often in blog discussion threads, one sees amateur Austrians popping up and saying things like, "Oh, your theory relies on aggregates, and those have no causal power!" or "No real economic actor ever acts based on aggregates!" or something of the sort. (I doubt you'd see Steve Horwitz or Roger Garrison or George Selgin saying anything like this.) Have they ever stopped to consider the fact that "credit expansion" is itself an aggregate concept, and their dictum has just shot down the Austrian theory of the business cycle along with their target?

Two Nations Divided by a Common Language

From Agatha Christie's Cat Among the Pigeons, where Ali, the ruler of a small Middle Eastern kingdom, is talking to Bob, his English confidante: "You have common sense. You are honest. And I remember, from the days when you were my fag, that you could always think up some ingenious idea..." It must have meant something different then and there, right? (Although, on the other hand, the book did mention that the two men had met at a British boarding school...)

Three Logicians Walk into a Bar

(Hat tip to Julie Sedivy.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My Favorite Libertarian Organization

Is probably the Institute for Justice. They focus on cases where a denial of economic liberty and property rights are hurting the little guy, on cases where they can actually win and make real improvements, and they often do win. I just learned about their fight for the rights of street vendors, and a recent victory in that fight.

This is a great strategy for those concerned about liberty, one that actually produces real results, instead of producing books about a fantasy world in which it is legal to starve your baby to death and blackmail your neighbor.

Gardening for Real People, II: Sun and Shade

The guidelines you get in most gardening books, or on the little plastic spiked tags that come with your plants from the shop, are usually very cut-and-dried about the plants' sun requirements: "Six or more hours of sun per day," for instance, or, "No afternoon sun."

But the messy conditions of the real world make nonsense of such simple prescriptions. Four hours of full sunshine and another eight of dappled sun under light shade may deliver more light to your tomatoes than the six hours of full sun they supposedly require. A bit of sun slanting in under taller trees late in the afternoon is unlikely to burn the leaves of your rhododendrons. Nearby glass or a white structure may reflect a good deal more light onto your plants than they receive directly. And what's more, the listed figures are the optimal conditions. But plants strive to survive, and can often get by on something far shy of optimal: I have seen backyard tomato gardens that couldn't have gotten more than two or three hours of direct sun a day, but where the tomatoes looked fine.

Another thing of which to take note is the time of year. In one of my gardens I was planting in June, and did not stop to consider, in choosing where to site plants, that the sun was at its absolute peak. Within two months spots that I had thought were sunny were in deep shade for most of the day. This is an especially relevant consideration for seasonal plants. Daffodils, for instance, need sun... but really only in the spring. Thus, you can plant them under deciduous trees, in places where sun-loving, summer-season plants could not possibly get by.

A great clue to what will survive where is what is already surviving where. Is there grass growing in a spot? Then that spot is at least a "partial sun" spot. Ferns? The spot is fairly shady, and will support hostas or astilbe fine. No ground plants at all? Then that's deep shade.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Stupidest Post on Mises.org Ever?

Check out this: "Texans are suffering terribly. Some pray for rain. Some curse Mother Nature. They should be cursing the government and praying for freedom from the environmental bureaucrats who have caused this shortage of water. Murray Rothbard predicted this in 1993."

So, the rainfall in Texas has been the lowest level since records have been kept, and the summer has been the hottest ever recorded anywhere in the country. But the shortage of water was caused by... environmental bureaucrats?! And Murray Rothbard predicted this in 1993? Look at the article linked to this headline! There are no predictions in it at all, certainly not any of record drought and heat. Instead, we have Rothbard complaining that environmentalists won't let the city of San Antonio completely drain some aquifer. Now, by slowing down past usage, environmentalists may actually have made the effects of this drought a little less severe. But in any case, Rothbard's article has nothing whatsoever to do with predicting the current water crisis, nor does it offer any plausible solution to it.

I don't know that I've ever seen a more intellectually dishonest headline in my life. (And I live in New York and see the Post's headlines all the time!)

How to Live Forever

My review of John Gray's The Immortalization Commission is in the current issue of The American Conservative. Bob Murphy's favorite line from the review was: 'Gray's version of Hamlet would have the prince declaring “What a piece of crap is man.”'

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Before the fall

When they wrote it on the wall
When there wasn't even any Hollywood
They heard the call
And they wrote it on the wall
For you and me we understood

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's All Good!

A friend of mine has a subordinate she may have to fire. The fellow just doesn't seem that interested in his job. Every project she gives him comes back half done, or else a project somewhat like the one he was asked to do was done instead. So she has started the formal procedures to aid him in achieving extra leisure time, which are initiated by a meeting with Human Resources. What HR told her is that she needs to give him a chance to correct the problems. Fair enough. But she was also told to "keep everything very positive."

Say what?! If everything was very positive, this guy wouldn't be on the verge of losing his job now, would he? What is she supposed to tell him? "I must say, I have never met anyone quite so good as you at doing something resembling, but not quite actually being, what you were asked to do," or maybe "Your interpretation of my instructions to you shows tremendous creativity."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Typology of Models of the Business Cycle

The major types of business cycle models are:

a. Those that belong to the Federal Reserve

b. Embalmed ones

c. Those developed by economists that are trained

d. Those developed by suckling economists

e. Those involving Hayek

f. Fabulous ones

g. Stray models

h. Those that are included in this classification

i. Those that make economists tremble as if they were mad

j. Innumerable ones

k. Those developed with nonlinear regression analysis

l. Others

m. Those that have just broken a third-world central bank

n. Those that resemble microeconomic models from a distance

Prime Minister Bringing Two Prostitutes to Church?

The explanation: post-modernism!

Under-Consumption Theories

It's amazing how often naive commentators on the left continue to explain recessions with theories about how workers aren't paid enough vis-a-vis capitalists, so that they can't buy up all of production. Here is a pretty trenchant critic of such theories:

"It is sheer redundancy to say that crises are produced by the lack of paying consumption or paying consumers. The capitalist system recognizes only paying consumers, with the exception of those in receipt of poor law support or the 'rogues.' When commodities are unsalable, it means simply that there are no purchasers, or consumers, for them. When people attempt to give this redundancy an appearance of some deeper meaning by saying that the working class does not receive enough of its own product and that the evil would be dispelled immediately it received a greater share, i.e., if its wages were increased, all one can say is that crises are invariably preceded by periods in which wages in general rise and the working class receives a relatively greater share of the annual product intended for consumption. From the standpoint of these valiant upholders of 'plain common sense,' such periods should prevent the coming of crises. It would appear, therefore, that capitalist production includes conditions which are independent of good will or bad will..."

OK, no Googling, who wrote the above?

What Have We Created?

Working in Ron Paul's Favor

Last time around, his anti-war stance was obviously a problem for many Republican voters. He's got a leg up this time around, since Obama has been in office long enough that those wars are now seen as being a Democratic president's wars.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kevin Vallier on Politics and Religion

How to Spot an Ideological Blockage

Sue: "What happened to Bill's nose?"

Betty: "George punched him."

Sue: "Good God! Whatever made George do that?"

Betty: "Well, he saw Bill messing around with his wife."

Would any person of over 80 IQ think that Betty was offering two contradictory explanations for what happened to Bill? Of course not. There is the physical attack that damaged Bill's nose, and there is the question of what motivated that attack. (And note well: Explanation is not justification!)

But check out this:

'But it's a "subtle" political piece like the kinds played on TV all day on 9/11/2011, in which the Towers fell not because terrorists flew planes into them but because of America's incessant meddling in the Middle East; the same meddling which, educated people all know, had nothing to do with the Arab Spring at all.'

Now, this is a smart man writing this, but look at the rubbish he's written: As if anyone who thinks that our meddling motivated the 9/11 attacks thinks the terrorists didn't actually carry them out, or that planes were not involved! (And this lovely Arab Spring: Is that the same one leading to attacks on the Israeli embassy and those lovely incidents of racial violence in Libya? So is he pointing to more bad things caused by our meddling?) The Last Psychiatrist is a very intelligent person who would not for one second have a problem following the story with which I opened this post, comprehending that there are two different sorts of explanations being offered, not two contradictory explanations. But, as soon as he thinks of 9/11, his brain shuts down. Other posts make clear that he is ideologically committed to American exceptionalism: it has formed an important part of his self-image. Faced with the rather obvious challenge of the plain and simple fact that American meddling in the Middle East motivated the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11, he could either admit that, and surrender the self-image, or inanely sputter, "No, it was the airplanes that caused it!"

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Lion in Winter

OK, so the new Mac OS restarts everything you had open when you shut down, plus some.

THIS. IS. THE. STUPIDEST. FEATURE. EVER. ADDED. TO. ANY. OPERATING. SYSTEM.

What it means is that every time you start up your system, to, say, send off an urgent e-mail, you have to wait for every single thing your were doing the last time the computer was on to re-start.

Including... oh say, that web site that hung the computer yesterday. That hang that was the very reason you shut the computer down.

That hang that will now hang your computer again before you get to send off that urgent e-mail.

The Illness of Seeing Patients as Customers

Here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Post

I am now an honorary research fellow at the School of European Studies at Cardiff University.

So if you need any honorary research done, let me know.

Morning Info

My 11-year-old son just said to me, "Dad, a dwarf porn star who looks like Gordon Ramsey was just eaten by badgers."

Apparently this really happened.

Empiricism Versus Rationalism

Daniel Kuehn claims that "a priorism is a bad way of understanding the world."

Well, that is true to the same extent that empiricism is a bad way of understanding the world. For instance, it is a well-known finding in the philosophy of science that, given an empirically adequate theory of some phenomenon which theory we accept, it is trivial to generate an infinite number of other equally empirically adequate theories. (For instance, just keep adding more variables that exactly balance each other out in getting the observed result.) Certainly we cannot have empirical grounds for rejecting such theories: they are, after all, created to be empirically equivalent to the theory we accept. Therefore, our grounds must be "a priori." (I'm not sure that is the best way to put that, but it will do for this debate.) Or consider, for instance, how Einstein decided that one cannot catch up with a light beam: it certainly was not because he kept experimenting with ways to do so and found they all failed!

Good scientific method requires a delicate balance of empirical and rational judgment. How do you get that balance right? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Our Desgregated Society

Stopped at a Starbucks along the Sawmill Parkway today. The place was pretty busy: 6 or 8 employees, and perhaps 20 or more customers.

Every single employee was black, and every single customer was not.

Somewhere in America

Siemens is running a radio ad, which I quote from memory:

"Somewhere in America, it's six A.M., and Mary Smith is going for her morning jog. Her feet pound the turf as birds sing overhead. But beneath her feet electricity is being generated, by the first underground substation in America... built by Siemens."

So, what they're saying is... they can't remember where they put the friggin' power plant! The best they can tell us is it is "somewhere in America." That does not make me feel confident about Siemens at all.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Censorship: The Good Kind

As described by Geoffrey Pullum.

Confusion Now Illegal

So I heard on the radio this morning that the Obama administration is considering banning the electronic, smokeless cigarettes on all flights to or from the US. Why?

"They are causing confusion."

Hey, We Copied Something Original...

Doesn't that make us original as well?



The Problem Is You

Just saw Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman being interviewed on TV. He told the interviewer that the solution to US economic problems is:
1) Leave politics at the door;
2) Stimulus spending on highways; and
3) Spending cuts to help balance the budget.

So, spending should be cut, except for spending that directly benefits his company, and anyone who doesn't agree is playing politics.

Mr. Oberhelman, you can't offer solutions to our political problems as you are our political problem.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wonder

"Man has to awaken to wonder -- and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again... as though lightning were more commonplace or less astounding today than 2000 years ago." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Three Universal Principles of Political Science

1) Che si dia provvedenza divina;
2) Che si debbano moderare l'umane passioni i farne umane virtù; e
3) Che l'anime umane sien immortali.

-- Vico, La scienza nuova

The Ideology of Architecture

"That’s the whole point we learn from contemporary architecture: there exists a basic need for religious belief, and architects tend to follow a cult of images. It arose in the early 20th century from the desire to break with all elements of the past, especially inherited human culture. Ours is therefore not the secular world everyone pretends it to be, but instead a religious world (though in the sense of a pseudo-religion). Contemporary architects professing to be atheistic champions are in fact promoting an ideology with religious overtones. This ideology is detached from nature and from God, and therefore it is irrational." -- Nikos Salingaros
(Hat tip to Rod Dreher.)

The Sheltered Lives of the Citizens of the World's Hegemon

Reading yet a bit more hand-wringing over how 9/11 was "incomprehensible" made me want to get a bucket of ice water and toss it over my country's head. 9/11 was bad: I do not approve. If you lost someone, you have my condolences. But 9/11, in terms of worldwide badness, was a relatively minor bad. Let's buck up and get on with things.

There's no such thing as a $20 bill lying on a sidewalk.

The title of this post contains a truth, but I think it could stand to be spruced up a little. I will suggest what I think is a better way of putting it at the end of this post.

I was walking to brunch the other day with my wife when we passed what appeared to be several dollar bills on the sidewalk. "Leave 'em," I said, "they can't really be there." (True story -- but then I went back and picked them up.)

I also was walking with economist Thomas McQuade once when we literally found a $20 bill on the sidewalk.

I also worked for a firm that spent the entire trading day scooping up $20 bills from sidewalks of the the financial markets, especially the options market and the pending merger market. Now, the truth contained in the statement in the post title is this: we had to be really, really fast to get those twenties. There were plenty of other people scanning the sidewalk for them. We invested millions in proprietary software, high-speed feeds, and really smart traders. These opportunities lasted only seconds, and we had to be able to seize them during that instant they were yet unnoticed by others.

I think the more correct formulation is "A $20 bill on the sidewalk won't be there for long."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Those Brights

Watching an atheist attempting to do metaphysics is like watching someone who denies the existence of water attempting to swim.

Trinitarian Meditations

The Father       <--> metaphysics
The Son           <--> mathematics
The Holy Spirit <--> natural science

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Invisible Hook

Reviewed by me, at The Review of Political Economy.

Mom-and-Pop Shop Stop

I recall recently that, when I mentioned that the hegemony of big box stores is harmful to communities, a commentator replied, "I used to go into mom-and-pop stores when I was a kid, and I never noticed they were any friendlier than WalMart."

This was actually an illustration of how far the destruction of community in America has proceeded. This young person has no clue what living in a functioning community is like. He cannot envision any meaning to the term "community" beyond "person X is friendly during a commercial transaction"!

I was in WalMart the other day -- the local shops in Milford, PA, mostly having been wiped out, and the alternatives being Lowe's, Home Depot, K-Mart, etc. -- and the cashier was effusively friendly. A lovely, lovely lady. Whom I will never see again in my life. She was a friendly stranger, and not a member of my community.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, I am lucky enough to live in an actual (if still weakened from yesteryear) community. In an actual community, the shop owners may or may not be "friendly." But they know you. And therefore, when you are a couple of bucks short, they tell you, "Get me next time." When your kid acts up on the street, when you come back to pay them the two bucks, they mention, "Hey, I saw Tony down the block -- did you know he smokes? At his age!" When a friend needs to stay at your place, you can leave them the keys and they will hand them over to your friend. When you come back for the keys, they will let you know, "Hey, you hear about Joey Vongole? Heart attack: at his age! And him with three young kids." Then you know you should try to help out Joey's family. In short, they provide a portion of the glue that holds a real community together.

The personnel at the big box stores are institutionally incapable of providing that glue, no matter how "friendly" they are.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Parrots

Have names. (And this means wild parrots have names for other wild parrots, not that there are pet parrots named Polly.)

The Mother of Error

"Another benefit that comes from the revelation to men of truths that exceed the reason is the curbing of presumption, which is the mother of error. For there are some who have such a presumptuous opinion of their own ability that they deem themselves able to measure the nature of everything; I mean to say that, in their estimation, everything is true that seems to them so, and everything is false that does not. So that the human mind, therefore, might be freed from this presumption and come to a humble inquiry after truth, it was necessary that some things should be proposed to man by God that would completely surpass his intellect." -- Aquinas, Contra Gentiles

State of Play

Della Frye: I think I saw him last night.
Cal McAffrey: Are you sure?

How does dialogue like that make it into an expensive movie? No, she's not sure: That's what the "I think" means!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

No Child Left Behind

Is clearly not working. Therefore, I cast my hat in the ring: I announce my candidacy for president in 2012, with my platform being "Every child left behind!"

Ditch the little rug rats if they can't be bothered a learnin'. Every last one of 'em -- how's that for a non-discriminatory educational policy?

He's No Brave Sir Robin!

No, Bob Murphy is more like the never-say-die knight in The Holy Grail: David Graeber has sliced off both of his arms and both of his legs, but is Bob quitting? No! He's shouting "Come back here, you coward! I saw how you mentioned silver being used in long-distance trade!"

Sometimes, Libs, I Got Your Back

I just calls 'em as I sees 'em. And on this one, I will defend you. On its face, the argument being ridiculed is quite plausible: The USPS delivers tons of junk mail, which is bad for the environment, so killing the service would be an environmental good. (I have a PO Box in which I receive about 90% junk mail, with no apparent way to stem the flood.)

Now, that argument might well be wrong, for a number of reason. For instance, it might be that in the absence of the USPS, FedEx would deliver the junk mail instead. Or perhaps the USPS does so much good otherwise that the environmental bad is more than offset. But Clarissa does not offer any such reason as to why the "Libertarian" argument is wrong. (Apparently, it is a vague, nameless "Libertarian" mass that offers the argument, as there is no link to anyone actually offering it.) Her "counter-argument" is nothing but sneering: as if any libertarian ever had any actual concern about the environment!

This rubbish is on about the same level of "argument" as "John Maynard Keynes loved the Nazis!"

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

I'm listening to some lectures by Professor Thomas Williams of The University of South Florida, on medieval philosophy. In regards to the question in this posts' title, he notes:

1) No one has ever discovered this actual question in any medieval text; and
2) When angels were discussed in medieval philosophy, they were used in the same way as modern philosophers employ zombies and brains-in-vats. (That is not to say medieval philosophers did not believe in angels!)

Ron Paul Is Not a Libertarian

Clarissa tells us how to make your blog popular.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Conclusion Does Not Follow

Here:

""We basically show that cocaine is a disorder of the brain, which is a big step," said Ersche. "For a lot of people, it is still a moral issue and willpower has nothing to do with the brain."

So if something is connected with the brain, it cannot be a moral issue?! Willpower has nothing to do with the brain?!

I suppose Ersche will next discover that murder is not a moral issue: it turns out it's all about the victim's heart stopping!

Are Habitual Masturbators...

a protected group? Find out here.

Cool Map

Here. It's amazing how much of the country has "German" as its most prevalent ancestry.

But here's a puzzle: Almost all of Kentucky and Tennessee, and good bits of the South otherwise, list their ancestry as "American." Not "American Indian" -- that's a separate category. Did the population of large swathes of the South simply not grasp the question they were being asked?

I Broke My Leg Last Winter

It kind of sucked, but at least it got me exercising.

Now, hundreds of libertarians should please jump in and lecture me on how I don't understand Bastiat.

Overturning Historical Research

with the "It doesn't fit my ideology, so I won't believe it!" approach.