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

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

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

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).
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.

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.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

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

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

Friday, May 30, 2003

Rep. KucinichMr. Spock

Separated at Birth
Apparently, not only can you not defend yourself with a gun in England, but you can't defend yourself with pepper spray either, as a wheelchair bound man who did so last week and was arrested has discovered. It has not been determined yet whether he will be prosecuted. (via Rachel)
Robert L. Pollock has a short vignette of life in postwar Iraq.

Among the thousands of friends and relatives who have come to this mass grave near Hilla to find their loved ones, there is surprisingly little bitterness against the U.S. for encouraging and then abandoning that rebellion. Some even express hope that Iraq could become an American state. "Saddam, Saddam," one man mutters in disbelief, staring at the bodies. "Television only show Iraq Ali Baba [Iraqis as thieves]," complains another of the foreign media's fixation with looting, "not show this."

Not surprisingly, none of these people thinks that finding weapons of mass destruction is critical to the case for war. The old regime did most of its dirty work the old-fashioned way, with a pistol to the head. Nor are they alarmed, like so many distant pundits, that Iraq has traded tyranny for anarchy. Even a messy freedom is something to savor.
The drive from Amman does little to prepare the visitor for the spectacle that is Baghdad. Western Iraq is a near-Martian landscape from which a few shepherds improbably coax nourishment for their flocks. But at Ramadi the waters of the Euphrates bring forth an explosion of date palms and other greenery, and it suddenly becomes clear how the lush land between the rivers, "Mesopotamia," could have become the cradle of civilization. Modern Iraq, it is often noted, is the only Arab country with both water and oil.

This wealth of resources was something neither U.N. sanctions nor Saddamite war-socialism could entirely erase. Baghdad has its slums. But it is also a city of wide boulevards, stately villas and well-tended gardens. Citizens spouting near-fluent English and holding degrees from European or American universities accost visitors with their hopes for the new Iraq. "Tell Mr. Bush . . ." they say. "I want to thank Mr. Bush and the Americans for helping liberate our country . . . and all countries that help the American people and stand with them for giving us the happiness . . . ."
You are Morpheus-
You are Morpheus, from "The Matrix." You
have strong faith in yourself and those around
you. A true leader, you are relentless in your

What Matrix Persona Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Well, what do you know? I am Morpheus. I guess one of my lives has a future after all.
Keith Windschuttle has a detailed dissection of Noam Chomsky in the New Criterion (Warning: it's a long piece). For those unfamiliar with the odious Professor Chomsky, this article will provide a good overview. For the cliff notes version, I have provided my own short guide to the views of Chomsky:

  • America (or Amerika) is a totalitarian state, led by a right-wing, corporate cabal. No one except the enlightened Chomsky and his followers are smart enough to recognize this fact.
  • All mainstream media are puppets of the totalitarian state. The only sources of unbiased reporting can be found at places like the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea News Agency
  • If America does anything to stop mass killings and totalitarian governments any deaths that arise from ending that governments reign of terror are the fault of America.
  • If America doesn't do anything to stop mass killings by totalitarian governments all of those deaths are the fault of America.
  • If America ever had any dealings with a country any deaths caused by that countries government are the fault of America.
  • Any deaths in the world due to famine, sickness and other natural disasters are the fault of America.
  • Any deaths caused by governments which are directly opposed by the US are justified.
  • Anything that isn't the fault of America is the fault of Israel and the Jews.
  • The death toll of the Holocaust is grossly exaggerated.
  • The death toll of Pol Pots 're-education' is also grossly exaggerated (and the fault of America anyway).
  • FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II are the greatest monsters in recent history.
  • Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein are great heroes.
John Cole at BalloonJuice posts this challenge from Kevin Drum at CalPundit:

Of course, Sullivan joins the chorus of those who say that they like tax cuts, honest they do, but what they really want is to cut spending. Fine. Let's hear what you want to cut. And remember, for bonus points you have to include some programs that you yourself benefit from.)

Of course, only a liberal (or a congressperson of either party) would think that this is a difficult thing. For one thing, except for defense, there is not a single Federal Program that I consider myself to benefit from. Any benefits I get from government come at the local level (garbage, schools, water, etc). That said, there is a fair amount of waste in the Defense department that I would be happy to see cut. As a first step they can accelerate and expand on the projected list of base closings which congressional pork considerations keep open. And several weapon systems in development can also be given the boot. But considering that military spending was about the only thing the Clinton administration was happy to see cut I think cuts here would be offset by spending in other areas along the lines Rumsfeld has suggested reshaping the military.

Now that the bonus points are out of the way, lets get to cutting. I culled these from a quick once over of the 2004 Federal Budget. I am amused, looking over the budget, at the distinction between 'mandatory' and 'discretionary', since except for pensions and Social Security payments which have already been promised and therefore have some contractual claim to being mandatory, everything else in the budget is discretionary (ie exists at the whim of Congress). In fact, since SS benefits have been changed many times it is hard to even claim that they are completely mandatory.

Since I believe drugs should be legalized, the whole DEA can go. NASA hasn't done anything useful in years, scrap it and build a supercollider with some of the left over cash. Department of Energy, useless, gone. Dept of Agriculture, except for inspection services and some of the research programs, gone. End all the payments to farmers to not grow things, honey, mohair, etc, etc subsidies, export subsidies, below market loan programs. HUD, scandal ridden, useless, close it. Department of Education, worse than useless, I think it has actually worsened education, get rid of it, it should be handled at the local level anyway. Commerce department, except for small business assistance which is probably an earner because of backend tax revenue from job creation and some regulatory administrative functions the rest is useless. Dept of Transportation completely useless, except for normal road maintenance programs which are mostly handled by the states anyway and FAA safety administration, close the rest of it. Cut Amtrak loose too and stop the airline payoffs. Community and regional development programs, don't work and are mostly just pork delivery mechanisms to get local congress people re-elected. Department of Health, actually one of the few I don't have major complaints about. CDC functions and food inspections services are actually useful. But I'm sure there is a lot of waste here too that could be cut, there certainly is in Medicare and Medicaid administration. Justice Department, like I said get rid of DEA, also BATF which can be merged with FBI. I think there can also be large cuts made to congressional and executive staffs which have increased exponentially in the last 40 years.

There that was easy and I didn't even get to Social Security privatization. Now since I'm Neo, all I have to do is gain control of the Matrix, and...
You are Neo
You are Neo, from "The Matrix." You
display a perfect fusion of heroism and

What Matrix Persona Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Yup, that's me, pretty much in a nutshell.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

I wonder how I've missed getting a subscription to this magazine. Be sure to check out the Great Moments in the History of Hooch which contains such gems as:

2800 BC A brilliant isolated tribe living off the coast of Scotland begin brewing a hallucinogenic ale out of, among other things, hemlock, nightshade and cow dung. Undoubtedly prompting the first unironic usage of the phrase: "Hey, this beer tastes like shit."

30 AD Performing his first miracle, Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding, rescuing the occasion from becoming a dull affair. Christ's entourage soon doubles.

625 AD Mohammed declares alcohol is evil. Europeans wonder, "Well, what shall the Muslims do for fun?"
711 AD  Muslims invade Europe.
David Pogue asks 'Why hasn't the digital video recorder become the must-have, smash-hit, world-changing appliance of the digital age?". As one of the million or so DVR owners, I like Pogue and the other owners of this wonderful device am constantly evangelizing it's charms to everyone who will listen. Read the article then go order your TIVO. (I recommend getting one of the pre-hacked ones you can buy online so that you can get more than the 80 hour maximum that TIVO currently sells).

P.S. I made a convert of Max who now happily has one. Join us. Resistance is futile!
Nat Hentoff adds his support for the posthumous pardon of Lenny Bruce's 1964 NY obscenity conviction.
Somehow this doesn't strike me as a good idea...there is a "Lord of the Rings" musical being planned for the London stage.