Thursday, June 05, 2003

Today is our one-year blogaversary. Max and I began posting on June 5th, 2002. In honor of the event we are moving to off blogspot and onto our own website.

Please adjust your bookmarks to point to http://www.commonsensewonder.com.

Things may be unstable for a few days while we work out final details, perhaps do some color and font changes.

Our great thanks to Kathy Kinsley of On the Third Hand for her invaluable aid in moving us from blogspot to MT.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

A lot of people are in a huff over the red star being incorporated into the emblem of the Russian armed forces. After people remember that Putin also reinstated the Soviet national anthem (though with new words) they get ideas of a reversion to the past. I can tell you there is no chance of this happening. There are people that want to go back to the past but most Russians really don't. They realize there is no going back now. They remember constantly being paranoid someone was watching them, not being able to read what they wanted, not being allowed to listen to the Beatles or Metallica, and being forced to wait in long lines for they knew not what (seriously, if people saw a line, they got into it figuring that there was something at the other end that they needed since they were always short of everything). And also remember that Communism barely was able to be instituted the first time around when people had no idea what they were getting into (it's really depressing actually how close Russia came to being saved from the Soviet calamity). August 1991 was Communism's last gasp in Russia and while it's not all clear sailing from here, Russia is now free and will remain free. A few symbols of the past to reinvigorate nationalist spirit will do nothing to change that.
Hamas has rejected the Palestinian PM's call for an end to the intifada. This really makes me wonder exactly what is the point of negotiating with the PA when such a large perpetrator of terrorist attacks isn't going along. The point is not to make peace with the PA but to make peace with the Palestinians in general, otherwise the only thing that will change will be who is perpetrating the attacks, and not the number of Israeli victims. I don't think Israel should sign any peace agreement until all the major parties go along, or at least until the PA actually starts disarming, jailing or killing militants who are bent on the destruction of the Jews.
Dallas Fed President, Robert McTeer, sings the praises of the dismal science and it's practitioners and suggests better economic education of the public would be a good thing.

My take on training in economics is that it becomes increasingly valuable as you move up the career ladder. I can't think of a better major for corporate CEOs, congressmen or American presidents. You've learned a systematic, disciplined way of thinking that will serve you well. By contrast, the economically challenged must be perplexed about how it is that economies work better the fewer people they have in charge. Who does the planning? Who makes decisions? Who decides what to produce?
...
Economics training will help you understand fallacies and unintended consequences. In fact, I'm inclined to define economics as the study of how to anticipate unintended consequences. Most fallacies in economics probably are fallacies of composition: What's true of the individual may not be true of the whole. You may be able to see better if you stand up -- but not if everyone stands up. John Maynard Keynes' paradox of thrift provides a currently relevant example: Individually, most consumers need to save more. But, if all or many consumers start trying to save more, the economy will be in deep trouble.

However, little in the literature seems more relevant to contemporary economic debates than what usually is called the broken window fallacy. Whenever a government program is justified not on its merits but by the jobs it will create, remember the broken window: Some teenagers, being the little beasts that they are, toss a brick through a bakery window. A crowd gathers and laments, "What a shame." But before you know it, someone suggests a silver lining to the situation: Now the baker will have to spend money to have the window repaired. This will add to the income of the repairman, who will spend his additional income, which will add to another seller's income, and so on. You know the drill. The chain of spending will multiply and generate higher income and employment. If the broken window is large enough, it might produce an economic boom! (Other catalysts to such booms might be a hurricane, a tornado or just about any government spending boondoggle.)


I couldn't agree more. For those not familiar with the work of the Dallas Fed under Mr. McTeer, you should have a look at their fabulous Annual Reports by W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm. They are, along with Berkshire Hathaways Annual Reports by Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, required reading.
Duane D. Freese has some fun at the expense of the anti-obesity zealots and the trial lawyers who support them.

So, what are we to do about this deadly scourge? Well, I always believe in going back to the roots. First, define the problem. And while I congratulate WHO and the CDC for developing proper bureaucratic verbiage, what I need to know is what kind of disease obesity is and how is it being spread.

Is obesity an acute disease with a quick onset that runs a short course, like a heart attack? Or is it a chronic disease with a slow onset that sometimes runs a year long, like rheumatic fever?

I don't see a lot of my friends coming down with obesity overnight. So my guess is that it's a chronic disease with a slow onset. That could pose problems.
So we must find out what are the causative agents to develop a course of prevention. If it is an infectious, or communicable, disease that can be passed from person to person, like a severe case of mumps, the suggested course, as in the SARS epidemic, would be to isolate the carriers. Only, if infectious only in the early stages of the disease as in some types of flu, the slow onset will make it hard to spot those carriers, especially if they are infectious only in early days. Further, it is perfectly possible for a causative agent to survive in an organism without affecting that organism. And asymptomatic carriers could pass along the disease to others that are susceptible to impairments caused by it. So, simply rounding up obese people wouldn't isolate the disease.
...
So, obesity may have something to do with food as a source of caloric intake. What, though, is the mechanism by which the people and their pets are taking these calories in? Are they breathing them in with the air? Do they gain pounds every time they pass a Krispy Kreme bakery or fast food restaurant?

Some people seem to think so. And on June 21-23 at Northeastern University, the Public Health Advocacy Institute is going to bring these people together to explore an altogether radical way to attack the problem of obesity. They will explore "Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic."

In other words, they are planning to sic the most fearsome macrobiological weapon known to human kind upon this health scourge - trial lawyers.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003



Thanks to Little Green Footballs for pointing this one out.
Daniel Pipes has another great piece today:

Two oddly similar searches are underway in Iraq these days, one for Saddam Hussein and another for his weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Neither has yet been found.

No one argues that because Saddam has not been located, he never existed. But that is what some are saying about the coalition forces not finding actual WMD. Probably those weapons were well hidden; maybe some were latterly destroyed. What if they are never found - does that undercut the rationale for going to war?

Hardly; WMD was never the basic reason for the war. Nor was it the horrid repression in Iraq. Or the danger Saddam posed to his neighbors. Rather, the basic reason was Saddam's having signed a contract with the United States, then breaking his promise.

Let's replay this video:

Iraqi and coalition military leaders met in Safwan, in southern Iraq, on March 3, 1991, to sign a cease-fire agreement. This was right after the U.S.-led coalition forces ejected Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

The agreement they drew up had many provisions – specifying the cease-fire line, prohibiting certain activities by Iraqi troops, ending support for terrorism. Foremost among them was the demand that Baghdad dismantle all its WMD. To give this teeth, Baghdad had to accept outside inspectors who would locate and destroy the offending weapons.

...

This work of locating and destroying was supposed to be completed in 120 days.

No way. Instead, for 7½ years Saddam Hussein and his minions played a cat-and-mouse game. They hid weapons and documents, threatened the Special Commission personnel - and on the sly developed new WMD. Overall, were more WMD destroyed or built in that period? It's hard to say.

Feeling ever more confident with what he could get away with, Saddam finally closed down the inspections in August 1998. His government blithely announced it had completely fulfilled the terms of Resolution 687 and ejected the Special Commission from Iraq. Saddam Hussein now had a free hand to build WMD without those bothersome inspectors.

With this step, however, he broke the Safwan contract. The correct U.S. response to this outrage should have been: "Let the inspectors back in and cough up your WMD-related activities . . . or else."

But 1998 was the era of "end of history" dot-com fog, and President Bill Clinton was diverted by the Lewinsky scandal. As a result, Saddam got away with his defiance. Four long years followed, without anyone keeping tabs on what WMD he might be developing.

Then came 9/11, and a new American sense that the world is a dangerous place. The old casualness toward broken promises was no longer acceptable. Beginning in early 2002, President Bush began exerting pressure on Iraq to fulfill its agreement, or pay the consequences.

...

The moral of this story: Uncle Sam enforces his contracts - even if a few years late. Keep your promises or you are gone. It's a powerful precedent that U.S. leaders should make the most of.

The campaign in Iraq is ultimately not about weapons. It's not about the United Nations. And it's not about Iraqi freedom.

It is about keeping promises to the United States - or paying the consequences.
Check out this Honda commercial from the UK. Apparently it took 606 takes to get right and has no CGI effects. It is really cool! And by the way, everything you see in the film is a part of a Honda.
Oregon wants to use GPS to implement a road-use tax by keeping track of how much every car uses the roads. At first this really scared me. But then I remember that the government already keeps track of every dime I make and even takes some away from me before I even get a chance to see it. So we definitely shouldn't be surprised when tax authorities want to know everywhere we go as well. That is what happens when you give the government an inch, they take a mile.
The tyranny of the left exposed for the self aggrandizement of the class.
Rev. Ken Joseph says that most Iraqis welcome the US presence and want US forces to stay.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 2 (UPI) -- It is dusk in Baghdad and I am talking to the regular group of men who gather near the house I am staying in to talk about the day's events.

"What do you think about the Americans? How long do you think they should stay? Are they doing a good job?" I ask.

The answer is very complicated while at the same time very, very simple. It is the "politically correct" thing to do to complain about the Americans, say they are not wanted and tell them to "go home."

The reality, though, is very different.

As usually happens throughout Iraq, people look around before they tell their true feelings. Simply put they are still afraid to speak the truth. Before it was Saddam, now it is the Shiites and others who frighten them.

"The Americans are doing wonderfully. We want them to stay forever," I hear.

I am not surprised. It is exactly like I thought. When I was in Iraq before the war, the reported feelings were that while the people of Iraq did not like Saddam, they would fight for their country and were against the war.

As I said then, the people wanted the war to come so they could be liberated from Saddam but were not free to talk. The same situation with a different twist exists today.
It is not widely reported, nor fashionable to say the Americans are loved and wanted in Iraq, but in fact as they were wanted before the war, they are wanted now.

"We hope they stay forever" is the true feeling of the silent majority in Iraq, contrary to what is reported.

The logic is very simple -- the Iraqis do not trust their leaders. Faced with a very complicated situation of a 60 percent Shiite majority, a former police state, Iran at their doorstep trying with all its might to destabilize their country, and desperately relieved and happy to be finally liberated from nearly 30 years of Saddam, they want the United States to stay.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a short guide to scholars who blog, many of whom you can find on our blogroll.
Dennis Prager has a good piece on how lawyers have turned our legal system into a nightmare. I must admit I am rather torn by this issue, on the one hand I completely support the right of people to sue for damages and am loathe to impose any restrictions on those rights. On the other hand, the sheer stupidity of many lawsuits and the costs to society, both direct and hidden, makes me think we have to have some kind of sanity check on lawsuits. I don't have any suggestions, including 'loser-pays' which is usually touted as a solution. This would only discourage people with legitimate complaints from suing for fear of facing ruin if they lost (just as being wrong and idiotic is no guarantee of losing a lawsuit, being right doesn't guarantee a win either).
David Frum on how silly liberal complaints over the feds detaining illegal immigrants are:


Is it really so outrageous for a citizen to worry when two Middle Eastern men rent a truck from him ostensibly for a one-way trip to a distant city, return it just a few minutes later after driving only a few miles, forfeit a large deposit without complaint, and seem visibly nervous through the transaction? When the citizen reports the incident and it turns out that the men are present in the country illegally, is it really so intolerable for the FBI to hold them, question them, and then deport them?

If you remember how much favorable attention the press gave to reports last year that the Bush administration had missed opportunities in the summer of 2001 to detain the 19 9/11 hijackers, you have to wonder – are they telling us that in a national emergency the government should detain only those illegal immigrants who later turn out to be dangerous and no illegal immigrants who later turn out not to be dangerous? Is it really true that the cause of civil liberties requires law enforcement to have 100% perfect foreknowledge of what their investigations will later find?
Now this is something we can never have enough of. Apparently there is a 'new' kind of orgasm, dubbed the 'trigasm' by sexologist Dr. Ava Cadell.

She admits many couples who have tried to reach a "trigasm" found it nearly impossible, "unless they were contortionists."

But now, Dr. Cadell hopes to influence people to give her new kind of orgasm a whirl with a special sex toy designed for it called the "Trigasm vibrator."


My life now has a goal.
Lileks thinks the Simpsons may have gotten away with broadcasting the filthiest joke on network television:

Watching the Simpsons “Tomacco” episode tonight, I was struck again by the brief appearance of the filthiest joke ever broadcast on network TV. I’m serious. I think it’s still there because the censors didn’t get it. If you don’t get it, you don’t see anything untoward; it doesn’t have the appearance of naughtiness. But there it is, every other month when the episode’s rerun: a sign on a rural store.

SNEED’S FEED AND SEED
(Formerly Chuck’s)

I’ve described the line to smart people, clever people, Men of the World, and they don’t get it, which is probably why it’s still there.

And no, I’m not going to tell you if you don’t get it.

Okay, three words: search and replace.


It took me a few minutes but I did finally get it. Lileks has way too much free time. Either that or he is just that neurotic. I think the truth is a little from column A and a little from column B.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Mark Steyn reports from Iraq.

I've spent the past couple of weeks on a motoring tour of western and northern Iraq, and I can't recommend it highly enough. The roads are empty except for the occasional burnt-out tank and abandoned Saddamite limo. You can make excellent time, because it will be several months before a deBa'athified Iraqi highway patrol squad is up and running and even longer before they replace the looted radar detectors. On the boring stretches of desert motorway you can liven things up by playing D-I-Y contraflow. And best of all, if you avoid Baghdad and a couple of other major cities, you'll find the charming countryside completely unspoilt by Western reporters insisting that America is "losing the peace".

For most of the Iraq war and its immediate aftermath, it was easy for any relatively rational person to dismiss the media doom-mongering. Hundreds of thousands of dead civilians? Never gonna happen. Hand-to-hand street-fighting as Baghdad morphs into Stalingrad? Dream on. Even that Iraqi National Museum "disaster" was an obvious hoax, though I was sad to see my friends at The Spectator fall for it and add their own peculiar twist that it was all a conspiracy of a sinister US antiquities lobby.
Cool. Spiderman gloves.

Researchers at the University of Manchester say they have cracked the secret of one of the reptile world's greatest climbers, the gecko, and produced a sticky tape that can mimic the lizard's gravity-defying abilities.

Soon, people could walk on walls like comic-book superhero Spider-Man, the university said.

The WSJ reprints two superb Peter Drucker columns from 1976. With the incredible changes in the world over the last quarter century, it's amazing how some things seemingly never change.

Businessmen habitually complain about the economic illiteracy of the public, and with good reason. The greatest threat to the "free enterprise system" in this country is not the hostility to business of a small, strident group, but the pervasive ignorance throughout our society in respect to both the structure of the system and its functioning.
But the same businessmen who so loudly complain about economic illiteracy are themselves the worst offenders. They don't seem to know the first thing about profit and profitability. And what they say to each other as well as to the public inhibits both business action and public understanding.

For the essential fact about profit is that there is no such thing. There are only costs.

What is called "profit" and reported as such in company accounts is genuine and largely quantifiable cost in three respects: as a genuine cost of a major resource, namely capital; as a necessary insurance premium for the real--and again largely quantifiable--risks and uncertainties of all economic activity; and as cost of the jobs and pensions of tomorrow. The only exception, the only true "surplus," is a genuine monopoly profit such as that now being achieved by the OPEC cartel in petroleum.
Steven Pinker has a very interesting essay on the technical difficulties of creating designer children:

Many prognosticators assume that we are currently discovering single genes for mathematical giftedness, musical talent, athletic prowess, and the like. The reality is very different. The Achilles heel of genetic enhancement will be the rarity of single genes with consistent beneficial effects.

Behavioral genetics has uncovered a paradox. We know that tens of thousands of genes working together have a large effect on the mind. Studies show that identical twins (who share all their genes) are more similar than fraternal twins (who share half of those genes that vary from person to person), who in turn are more similar than adopted siblings (who share even fewer of the varying genes). Adoption studies show that children tend to resemble their biological relatives in personality and intelligence more than they resemble their adoptive relatives.

But these are the effects of sharing an entire genome, or half of one. The effects of a single gene are much harder to show. Geneticists have failed to find single genes that consistently cause schizophrenia, autism, or manic-depressive disorder, even though these conditions are substantially heritable. And if we can't find a gene for schizophrenia, we're even less likely to find one for humor, musical talent, or likeability, because it's easier to disrupt a complex system with a single defective part than to improve it by adding a single beneficial one. The 1998 report of a gene that was correlated with a 4-point advantage in IQ was recently withdrawn because it did not replicate in a larger sample-a common fate for putative single-gene discoveries.

So don't hold your breath for the literary-creativity gene or the musical-talent gene. The human brain is not a bag of traits with one gene for each trait. Neural development is a staggeringly complex process guided by many genes interacting in feedback loops. The effect of one gene and the effect of a second gene don't produce the sum of their effects when they're simultaneously at work. The pattern of expression of genes (when they are turned on or off by proteins and other signals) is as important as which genes are present.

Even when genes should be at their most predictable-in identical twins, who share all their genes, and hence all the interactions among their genes-there are no foregone conclusions about anyone's traits or behavior. Identical twins reared together, who share not only their genes but most of their environment, are imperfectly correlated in personality measures like extroversion and neuroticism. The correlations, to be sure, are much larger than those for fraternal twins or unrelated people, but they are seldom greater than .5. This tells us there is an enormous role for chance in the development of a human being.
You are 24% geek
OK, so maybe you ain't a geek. You do, at least, show a bit of interest in the world around you. Either that, or you have enough of a sense of humor to pick some of the sillier answers on the test. Regardless, you're probably a pretty nifty, well-rounded person who gets along fine with people and can chat with just about anyone without fear of looking stupid or foolish or overly concerned with minutiae. God, I hate you.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com



I definitely know I'm losing geekness with age.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

A lucid explanation of the mindset at the NY Times that fosters a Jayson Blair.

You are 59% geek
You are a geek. Good for you! Considering the endless complexity of the universe, as well as whatever discipline you happen to be most interested in, you'll never be bored as long as you have a good book store, a net connection, and thousands of dollars worth of expensive equipment. Assuming you're a technical geek, you'll be able to afford it, too. If you're not a technical geek, you're geek enough to mate with a technical geek and thereby get the needed dough. Dating tip: Don't date a geek of the same persuasion as you. You'll constantly try to out-geek the other.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com



I think I've been losing Geekness as I age. I bet in H.S. I would've been up in the 90+% range.