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Showing posts from May, 2008

Free Speech: Use It or Lose It

It always amazes me when someone will complain about the government on some issue, and then some blowhard comes back with, "You're lucky you live in a country where you have the right to criticize the government."

And the guy says it like the critic is a whiny teenager or something complaining to her parents about only getting the $300 cell phone rather than the $500 one she really wanted.

Do you think the government likes that we can mock them so openly? You've seen how choreographed Bush's public appearances were, where people in the crowd ask him "spontaneous" questions.

No, the reason people have liberties in this country is that a heck of a lot of people get outraged over stuff that would be no big deal in other countries. The government can't handle 85 different protests at once, so it picks its battles. There is a fluid front with our liberties on one side and the government's power on the other.

And we the people have been losing territor…

Using This Blog for Something Useful, part 4

I have to bite the bullet and buy a new printer. I truly suspect that my current one works by housing tiny monkeys who transcribe letters per my computer's instructions, in exchange for bits of banana.

So I definitely want a laser printer, since I often have to print out 40+ pages at a time, and my time is valuable--I'm kind of a big deal.

The other thing though is that I will be printing a lot of graphs with colored lines etc., so it also needs to be good in that respect.

Any thoughts? It can't be ridiculously expensive, but on the other hand it's a tax writeoff so there ya go.

BTW if this is at all relevant, I have a Toshiba laptop running Vista.

More on Oil Prices

In this Townhall column I defend three of the government's favorite scapegoats for high oil prices.

Understanding on Immigration

I was reading Landsburg's Fair Play today, and he was pretty harsh about people who wanted to restrict immigration. (I'll probably review his book formally so no more commentary on it here...)

Anyway, today it struck me that one self-interested reason I could see current WASPs being afraid of immigrants who look different is that you then lose the camaraderie with the police. I mean let's face it, whitey readers, whether you realize it or not, you really do have a lot more leeway with cops.

We live really close in Nashville to where the seriously loaded/important people live; like Al Gore material. And I got a speeding ticket once and remarked to my wife how incredibly courteous the cop was. She said something like, "Well they're probably being careful since they don't know who they're pulling over."

I imagine if I my skin were darker and I had on a baseball cap, the officer would have been quite sure I wasn't a city building contractor who pla…

I Excommunicate Tyler Cowen

Details here. If Gene didn't control this blog, his days would be numbered too. I am a fair man, but my justice is swift.

Finance Wizards Part I

When my Barron's article came out (May 12, 2008 issue), I bought the issue at the newsstand (that word has two "s"'s by the way.) Right before my article was a cool one interviewing a bunch of the pioneers in derivatives theory and practice. (Feel free to make cracks about LTCM.) At one point the moderator asked Robert Merton what he thought the most important trends in the future would be, and he gave this intriguing answer:

Market-proven derivative technology allows us to transfer enormous amounts of risk very efficiently. But much of the rest of the world doesn't distinguish between investing and risk transfer. Those two decisions can now really be separated, and that creates extraordinary opportunities.

Country risk could be managed on a massive scale with no capital flows, no trade flows involved. Look at sovereign wealth funds. A lot of people say that they provide a great way for a small country, say Singapore, to diversify its investments. But you d…

The Fruits of a Lifetime of Scholarship

The political arrangements of the Roman republic often appear, to modern eyes, to be an eccentric hodgepodge of institutions collected over time and kept around for their sentimental value rather than for any clear constitutional role they fulfilled. Listening to Garrett Fagan describe one of the more curious of those offices, that of the tribune (ten of whom were attached to the Tribal Assembly of the Plebs at any one time), I was amused by an example he gave as to how puzzling current scholars find the tribunate. He related how, at a conference, he listened to an esteemed, senior figure in the field of Roman history portray the development of his understanding of the office as follows (I quote from memory): "When I was a young scholar, just starting out, I was confident that I knew what the tribunate was all about. By the time I reached middle age, I began to have my doubts. And now, at the close of my career, I have no clue as to its function."

In Search of Falling Gas Prices

I gullibly try to make sense of the government's report on falling gas prices.

GG Trounces Charlie Gibson

Another classic post by Greenwald (HT2LRC). Charlie Gibson & Friends said they regret nothing about the media's coverage of the run-up to the Iraq invasion, because they asked tough questions about the Powell testimony. So Glenn the contrarian dug up some quotes that suggest otherwise.

I'm glad Greenwald's recollection of how people handled Iraq before it went to cr*p was accurate. (This isn't always the case.)

Anti-war.com Joins the Smearbund

Here.

And note: Bovard is not saying that 25 years ago Paul made some mistakes in whom he let write in his newsletters, as the Reason folks were. He's saying that right now Paul is selling out principle for a shot at speaking at the convention. Talk about Smearbundocity! But this will go unremarked at the LRC blog, because it's not from [T]Reason Magazine or the Cato Institute.

Pair Share II

==> (0, 0), (2, 2), (7/4, 7/3), (-2, 2/3), (-1/4, 1/5), (1.001,1001.0).

What do all these pairs of numbers have in common? Only grade-school mathematics required.

Numeration is decimal (the conventional way).

Answer: All these pairs have equal sum and product. Here are equivalent formulations:

a> ==> m+n = mn.

b> ==> (m-1)(n-1) = 1

c> ==> m = a/b, n = a/c, where a = b+c.

Stay tuned for more on Fibonacci numbers and their ilk. Or maybe not...this hasn't been a good week for math posts. I understand that youall might be fresh out of intelligent comments, but that never stopped me when addressing your posts. What about woefully stupid comments? I don't see any of those either. Oh, well.

Can you get away with this?

I was sitting on a train from Lucerne to Milan talking with some folks from Costa Rica, and they told me how expensive it is to fly from Costa Rica to the US as opposed to the US to Costa Rica. I asked, 'Why not book in the other direction?'

They couldn't, they said, because the 'outbound' leg of their journey would have to be from the US.

'Well, make it that way. Let's say you travel to the US once a year for the latter half of June. Begin by booking a one-way ticket from CR to the US for June 15, 2008. When you get to the US, book a round-trip ticket, leaving the US on June 30, 2008, and returning on June 15, 2009.

Repeat every year.

Would it work?

Climate Change Skeptics Winning Hearts and Minds

I have to say that this kind of stunt--a "carbon belch day" in which people purposely waste energy--is not unstupid. I don't agree with Muslims either, but I don't spend my own money to insult them.

Samuelson Is Naked

According to this critic of neoclassical economics in Scientific American. His claims about mainstream economics are vaguely correct; on a Listserv we all wondered who the heck "Maria Edgeworth" was: we think the author surely meant Francis Edgeworth.

You know, I am getting a little fed up with this use of the word "scientific" as if it's synonymous with "true." They are different concepts. This guy keeps accusing mainstream economics of being based on "unscientific" assumptions. Now if you go and look at them, it's not stuff like, "Pareto thought the charge on an electron was such-and-such, but physicists now know that..."

On the contrary, this guy's issues are much broader and big picture. He is free to say the mainstream assumptions are false or even absurd or a good old-fashioned stupid, but "unscientific" doesn't really sound right to me.

Please tell me...

...that some kid with a terminal disease made a wish to write a commentary on Ron Paul/libertarianism for Wired. Surely this guy isn't a paid staff member?

Anyway, I was reading a cool Wired article about Thiel's funding of the Seasteading Institute (HT2LRC), and then I started following the related links at the bottom. That's what brought me to aforementioned critique of Ron Paul.

Now you're bracing for a rehash of the newsletters. Nope. This article makes such great objections as:

You can't be a good president in the 21st century when your chief concerns are the sovereignty of the American taxpayer and his right to bear arms.

Isolationism is no longer an option, and hasn't been for years. The world is too small and you can thank, or blame, technology for that reality. The stakes are far too high, as we've learned since Sept. 11, 2001, to act like we can do anything we damned well please anytime we damned well feel like it.

And this guy wants to pull us out…

The Ship of Jason

In response to the responses to Bob's query about what our readers want us to write about -- and here I thought I started a blog so that I could write about whatever the heck I wanted to! -- I post a genuine philosophical puzzle, and one which I really don't know how to answer.

The paradigmatic example of the conundrum is 'the ship of Jason' (of Argonaut fame). Suppose at time x we can uncontroversially identify ship A as 'the ship of Jason'. But time passes. Gradually the Argonauts and their successors replace more and more components of the ship with newer instances of the same part. Finally, the day comes when every single bit of ship A that made it up at time x is gone. Is the vessel in question still the ship of Jason?

Next, let us imagine that someone scavenges all of the discarded pieces of the ship that had comprised it at time x, and uses them to assemble a second, perhaps somewhat decrepit, ship, and at time y proclaims 'Behold the ship of Jason'…

How Do These People Get a PhD?

The economics mainstream and the Austrian heterodoxy often fiercely dispute the 'scientific' status of the views of the other camp. The Austrians accuse the mainstream of being wedded to unrealistic models that bear little, if any, relation to economic reality.

The mainstream, on the other hand, labels the Austrians (and other heterodox flavors) as being insufficiently rigorous, failing to cast their theories in a formal model that clearly explicates the predictions of a theory and that leaves its implications ambiguous.

But, for the moment, let's set that dispute aside. Whatever the merits of either team, I have not infrequently been struck by how feeble is the grasp of some tenured economists on any sensible theory at all. I once took a course -- at a university I will leave unnamed in the interest of not humiliating a pleasant man -- where the money and banking professor explained the persistence of inflation, in response to a student query, by offering an analogy to home…

Pair Share

==> (0, 0), (2, 2), (7/4, 7/3), (-2, 2/3), (-1/4, 1/5), (1.001, 1001.0).

What do all these pairs of numbers have in common? Only grade-school mathematics required.

Numeration is decimal (the conventional way).

Stay tuned for more on Fibonacci numbers and their ilk.

Dumb Citgo Ad

On my way to the office I heard an ad for Citgo saying something like, "And because our stations are locally owned, every time you make a purchase at Citgo you know you're creating jobs in your community."

Riiight, because those dang absentee owners of rival gas stations refuse to hire employees who live locally. They fly in kids from Paris to pump gas in Idaho.

Searching Abroad for Monsters to Destroy

Every now and then I like to take time off from picking fights with Cato (unjustified) or Gene (always appropriate), and argue with people who say things like:

Why should we turn to economists for this? They are the ones who have been discounting environmental damage for well over a century. The paradigm of eternal growth is outright insane, and the dismissal of society-wide negative impacts has been disastrous time and time again. Any attempt to assess the “economics” of climate change should be scientific. It should not be the god-awful pseudoscience that has helped bring us to the climate problems we have today.

My Apologies to Cato!

Sorry for the earlier, semi-sarcastic post. My anti-Beltway bias blinded me to the fact that several Cato people did oppose the Iraq invasion before the fact, e.g. here. Brink Lindsey's famous defense of pro-war libertarianism (e.g. here) stuck out in my mind, but that's not Cato's fault; obviously the WSJ would promote views it agrees with.

So sorry Cato. I had erroneously remembered only the Mises Institute and Independent Institute publicly opposing the invasion.

Cato Paper Says Libertarians Should Oppose War

I'm glad they're on board (.pdf), though I wish it had been earlier. Like, before the U.S. invaded Iraq.

UPDATE: Prompted by a comment, I did some checking and found, to my pleasant surprise, that Cato scholars had officially opposed the invasion. Sorry Cato!

Enjoy Your Tax Dollars

I stumbled across this pretty neat site about world oil facts while looking up something else. It's based on 2006 data, but anyway it is pretty neat. If you move the cursor around, you can get facts on 151 different countries, and if you move the cursor over the table at the right, it will rank the top countries by production, consumption, exports, and imports. Might be some surprises.

Gene, We Got Ta Give Em What They Want

Gene: "Hell yeah."

On Marginal Revolution, they put out a call for readers to give ideas for future blog posts. I was at first hesitant to do the same here, since it could be really embarrassing if only one person posted. ("Yeah, my request is that you and Callahan stop talking about things outside of your areas of expertise! And stop thinking you're 'clever,' you're not!")

OK now that I've got that off my chest....Anyone? Anyone?

RealClimate.org Scientist Stirs Up the Hicks

NPR broadcast a debate over whether global warming is a crisis last year. It's pretty funny at one part. If you download the edited version, at around 24:00 you can hear an exchange about cosmic rays. Gavin Schmidt, one of the lead contributors to the "consensus" website RealClimate, then says something like, "This is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. To the untrained layman, it sounds like you and I are now having a real debate about the science. But I know that that's not true, and so do you [the denier scientist]. But they don't know that you're leading them astray."

After the moderator asks Schmidt if he's saying the deniers aren't sincere, Schmidt gives an answer and the crowd takes offense. I can understand why, because (not in so many words, but almost) he basically said that he's mad that the scientists on the other side are purposely phrasing things in ways that they know the boobs in the audience won'…

A Problem With Technical Stock Analysis?

I'm about 70 pages into (what I'm told is) the Bible in this area, Technical Analysis of Stock Trends (9th edition).

I can definitely understand its "classic" status. It is written authoritatively and defines terms carefully upfront. It has plenty of charts to show you exactly how to apply the concepts, and devotes space to objections. So as a neoclassically-trained economist, and one who has studied modern finance a decent bit, I was pleasantly surprised by the book's rigor.

On the other hand, it seems there is a basic problem right at the start. Now admittedly this is more of a philosophical issue; after all, they list impressive tables showing the results from employing basic Dow Theory from 1890 through the present. (N.B. here I'm a little skeptical because the book admits that actual Dow theorists can disagree in the heat of the moment about whether the market has reversed course, etc. So I'm not sure how much "art" went into the histor…

Earth at Night

Image
Pretty neat. I think it makes those "carbon footprint" figures more understandable. This picture was obviously taken during a solar eclipse...

Movie Recommendation

Pick up Benito starring Antonio Banderas, an excellent account of the dictator's early career as a die-hard socialist. One tip: listen in Italian -- if you don't understand any, turn on the English subtitles. I started watching in English with my wife, who speaks almost no Italian, and she demanded to switch to Italian because the English dub-in actors were so awful.

One thing of interest: if you watch, ask yourself what modern libertarian figure Mussolini -- extremely charismatic, an ideological purist, constantly splitting with fellow travelers for being 'reformists', selling out to the state, committing [T]Reason to the cause -- reminds you of!

OPEC Policy

Did you know that world oil production peaked in 2005, and since then has tapered off ever so slightly? (I did.) Did you know that since 2005, non-OPEC production is up, while OPEC production has declined to almost perfectly offset it? (I did not know that, until very recently.) Specifically, in 2006 non-OPEC production increased 0.47%, and in 2007 it increased 0.82%. In contrast, OPEC production fell 0.72% in 2006, and then another 1.12% in 2007. (If you're curious, you can construct the figures from this EIA chart [.xls].)

As you may have heard, oil prices have been shooting through the roof the last three years. So OPEC's behavior is rather strange, especially since Saudi Arabia is supposed to have most of the world's spare production capacity.

So what gives? One theory is that the Saudis are lying about their fields, and they are pumping as much as they can.

(BTW, you might wonder whether it really is an OPEC thing, or just individual members--like Hugo Chavez wit…

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I may have blogged about this before; I can't remember. In any event, after coming back from staying with his grandparents one time, our 3-year-old starting calling every piece of paper "five dollars." E.g. just today, he was pointing to a sheet of paper on which I was taking notes as "five dollars."

I suspect his grandparents let him read Rothbard's critique of the Federal Reserve, and so Clark now ironically calls every piece of paper money.

Clinton: If Shooting Whiskey and Protectionist Speeches Don't Work...

...there's always plan B.

Overcoming Tragedy

J.A. Adande is writing about Lamar Odom at ESPN.com: "In reality it's hard to think of him as an underachiever. He came from East Nowhere, and whenever he tried to move up he lost a mother, a grandmother and a baby son."

Holy schmokes! This apparently happened repeatedly -- note the 'whenever'. Damn, there goes another mother, grandmother, and baby son -- fourth such trio I've lost this year.

F-sequences

F-sequences 080517 Sat - 080524 Sat

0. Introduction. F-sequences are generalizations of the Fibonacci sequence, hence the name. There are many published investigations of the Fibonacci sequence, including some wonderfully counterintuitive findings; but little has come to my attention apropos generalizations thereof. Curious. (Work on such generalizations may be out there--my research was cursory.)

Some problems look complex and difficult, but on closer analysis they break apart and are easily solved. Some problems just continue to look complex and difficult however much analysis they receive. I have not given much time to characterizing the properties of F-sequences, but so far it looks like a Type II.

1. Definitions.

1.1. Term of a Sequence. Let a be a sequence. The nth term of a is a(n). Usually, a(n) is an integer, and usually, a(0) is the first term. A sequence initially infinite before recursion will have negatively indexed terms without limit.

1.2. Fibonacci sequence has the recursio…

An Unsung Music Hero

You've probably never heard of him, but he played on 'Walk on By', 'American Pie', 'Like a Rolling Stone', 'Aja', 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head', 'Piece of My Heart', 'Peg', and 'Soldier Boy'.

Ellen DeGeneres Puts McCain in an Unlawful Stress Position

My wife tipped me off to this. I actually think DeGeneres (should I call her Ellen? I don't watch her show...) was really cool about this. In contrast, I believe Rosie O'Donnell was less than cool when she argued guns with Tom Selleck on her show. (Plus Selleck wasn't running for president.) What's really nice is that DeGeneres cracks a joke at the end to end McCain's misery.

I'm not really sure how I feel about the actual issue of gay marriage. In an ideal society there wouldn't be a government as we know it, and religious organizations could marry whomever they chose, while secular groups could have something analogous to getting married by a justice of the peace. Society wouldn't need to have a debate on it, just like society wouldn't have to decide whether 9-year-olds should be allowed in bars. (Of course "society" would decide in the loose sense in which society decides on the market price of a share of IBM.)

But that answer isn…

You Get What You Give

That's the title of a peppy song (no embedding enabled for some reason) by the New Radicals. It is similar to the ending (except for the odd, "Her Majesty") of the Beatles' Abbey Road album, where they say:

And in the end
the love you take
is equal to the love
you make
aaaaa aaaaaaa.


It sounds so deep and just when the issue is love or satisfaction with the world. But when a free market economist says the wealth you take is equal to the wealth you make, he sounds like a jerk.

Why? Is it because Paul McCartney's voice is so much better?

Why Not? One More on Torture

Hey it's a sexy topic. It occurs to me that some people reading my last post might think, "Oh c'mon, the issue is, what do the U.S. guards actually do to these people, not whatever latent fears might lead the prisoners to obey! If the guard says, 'Roll over and bark like a dog,' and the detainee does it because he fears a beating, that isn't the same thing as if the guard actually gave him a beating! Man you pacifist wussies are something else!"

For those types of readers, let's just make sure we're all starting from the same place. Here are some nice photos from Abu Ghraib. And again, these are scenes where the U.S. personnel felt comfortable taking the photos; we can only wonder what scenes were so gruesome that they said, "You know, maybe we don't want to be snapping a shot of this."

Well, Blogger isn't taking my attempts to upload the photos. Maybe that is a sign I should allow viewer discretion. Anyway, click here if yo…

Speaking of Torture...

...here's something I've never understood. So that Wall Street Journal article I was talking about discussed things like stress positions, having guys get interrogated by females while the guys were naked, etc. The oddest one was they apparently put a leash on a guy and made him do dog tricks.

Now these things are unseemly, but I know a lot of people (probably most who listen to the same radio programs I do) are thinking, "Give me a break! Did you ever read about the Viet Cong's treatment of their prisoners? This isn't really torture."

Fair enough. But what puzzles me is, how do the Gitmo guards get compliance for these humiliating practices? I mean, if I'm in prison and the guard says, "Hey, would you mind doing dog tricks?" I'm going to say, "Thanks, I'll pass."

But if he says, "Do you want us to kick your teeth out?" I would definitely think about it.

So the issue isn't, "Is it too cruel to make someone …

That's Not the Angle I Would've Taken

On page A3 of May 21's Wall Street Journal, there is an article discussing the results of a Justice Department inquiry. Apparently some FBI agents observed things at Guantanamo (and elsewhere) that not only would be illegal for them to do, but were in violation of rules the Administration had laid out for the military up to a year earlier (in response to public concerns from even prior interrogations). The agents refrained from participating in the dubious practices, and often left the room. Some FBI agents reported their worries to their superiors, who did nothing. Just to be clear, I am not drawing inferences here; everything I've just said is all in the Justice Department report and stated explicitly in the WSJ article.

So what title did the WSJ choose for this article? "Military Breaks Law"? "Justice Probe Confirms Detainees Tortured"? "FBI Officials Ignore Abuse"?

Nope. Here is the actual title:

Report Says FBI Didn't Use Harsh Tacti…

Using This Blog for Something Useful, part 3

OK, the possibility of my hard drive blowing up, and hence the loss of my computer calendar, never used to terrify me. But now it's getting to the point where it would really be bad, especially since I wouldn't know how bad until I missed an important deadline.

I regularly copy my Documents folder to a flash drive. Does anybody know which file I have to copy so that I could recover my default, no frills calendar? I have Vista. (Condolences may be sent to my gmail account.)

Rothbard Sums Up History of Liberty in 1989

I had to enter a bunch of business receipts into Excel, so I wanted to put something on in the background. I chose Murray Rothbard's address to the 1989 Texas State Libertarian Conference. If you haven't ever seen clips of Rothbard speaking in public, you should definitely let this play for a few minutes, even if it's just in the background. It's always immensely easier to get the tone of someone's writing if you've heard him/her speak.

(BTW he really starts getting laughs in the middle to end.)

Personalism and Impersonalism

OK, I'm finally getting around to posting an explanation I promised in the comments section of 'This Just Wasn't the Year for Jesus'. Long ago, in a conversation with a Hare Krishna, I was introduced to a basic division in spiritual paths that has stuck with me ever since, between 'personalist' paths and 'impersonalist' ones. (Although it just happened to be a Hare Krishna whom I heard about this from, the distinction is not original to that sect, but pre-dates them in Indian theology.) The gist of the idea is that 'personalists' are focused on seeing the divine as an individual similar, in important ways, to a human person, while the impersonalists are focused on the divine as 'cosmic law', 'the great light of the void', and so on.

When asked to declare my 'religious affiliation', my answer is 'Mahayana Buddhist', since the teachings of that school happen to be the ones that have hit home the hardest for me, and n…

Ethanol Lobbyists: Friends of the Taxpayer

You know how ethanol is great because it keeps gas prices down (.pdf)? Well did you also know that there is currently a 54-cent per gallon tariff on imported ethanol? You might think this is pure protectionism for the ethanol industry, but apparently not, according to their spokesman:

“We simply believe American taxpayers ought not to have to further subsidize Brazil’s or any other nation’s ethanol industry when we are trying to build one in this nation. The tariff is there to protect the taxpayer, not the ethanol producer.”

(BTW he is referring to the fact that right now, U.S. refiners get a 51-cent exemption on excise taxes for blending ethanol gallons into their output. So without the tariff, the refiners would naturally get the ethanol [to claim the tax credit, and also to comply with federal mandates on how many gallons of ethanol need to be in the mix] as cheaply as possible, say from Brazil.)

That's Gotta Be Embarrassing

I've been known to make horrible predictions in the past. But at least they weren't yet proven false at the time I made them! (I guess they would be a post-diction in that case.) Anyway, this guy takes it well. More generally, the two guys at this Environmental Economics site are pretty cool.

As far as economists go, I mean.

Slimy Talk Radio

OK in the past week I have heard two great examples of the vast right-wing conspiracy, or rather, the vast right-wing smear machine. (I don't use "smearbund" because I don't really understand the term. It sounds like a technique for applying sauerkraut.)

So last week, the great American Sean Hannity had on some pastor (I think?) that said Obama and Jeremiah Wright had had a long romantic relationship. Hannity asked what the guy's proof was, and he said, "I have rock solid evidence, Sean, but I'm not going to share it with you today." Hannity gave a good 10 or 15 minutes to this clown, all the while "defending" Obama against baseless, ad hominem attacks that do nothing except discourage good people from running for office.

I suppose if I called up Hannity and told the call screener I had rock solid evidence that George Bush hung out at Michael Jackson's ranch, they'd give me 15 minutes of air time.

The other issue concerns the supp…

On the US "Imperialist" Issue

I was listening to a talk radio guy (heaven forbid I hear any music that is modern) and a soldier called him up, complaining about Tom Harkin's comments. The host said something like:

"Well that's what the Democratic Party thinks of you. John Murtha thinks you're a bunch a rapists and murderers who go on a killing spree, and he didn't even apologize when that turned out to be a complete fabrication. John Kerry thinks you're too stupid to do anything but join the military. And Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, compares you to the Roman legions..."

At that point I was pulling into my office building's parking lot and there was a black woman going in, so I turned off the radio. On the off-chance the radio guy said something ridiculous, I didn't want to have to say, "I don't agree with him, really I don't! Some of my favorite comedians are black people!"

But anyway, I think it is wrong when today's conservatives say …

Cantor set V

"An elementary example (due to Feng-Gao) of an R.E. set over [the real numbers] which is not decidable is the complement of the Cantor Middle [T]hird set in the unit interval. The demonstration is via [a] "machine" (and the fact the Cantor Middle [T]hird set is an uncountable totally disconnected set)."

--from the paper cited in commentary to Cantor set III.

Speaking of Persistent Popular Misconceptions...

which we were in the ID thread, what's up with the persistence of the idea that Einstein's formulation of E=mc2 led 'to the development of the atomic bomb and nuclear power', as I just read a book called A Perfect Mess? The energy released from atomic fission and fusion is due to the fact that the elementts in the middle of the periodic table tend to have lower potential energy than those above or below them -- I think Iron-56 is the trough -- so that converting a very light or very heavy element to one closer to the middle releases the energy difference. E=mc2 has no more to do with the process than it does with the release of energy from a fire -- which is to say it is useful in calculating the energy released, but not for understanding the basic process. In some alternate universe, the atomic bomb could have been developed before E=mc2 was discovered. And you don't need to study advanced physics to figure this out-- just have access to Wikipedia.

Taki's Mag Joins the Smearbund!

'Paul, it must admitted, gave the “smearbund” an opening via what appears to be the only significant lapse in judgment in his career: his (probably absentee) editorship of a newsletter in which stupid and/or offensive racial jokes occasionally appeared in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Paul is fallible.'

This appeared in Taki's Magazine. Because Taki is on the 'right' side of the libertarian divide, and hires people like Raimondo, this will, I guarantee, raise no hackles on the LRC blog. But the exact same words mentioned in a Reason blog post would have had a swarm of bloggers using there oh-so-clever '[T]Reason' moniker and talking about how the poster was 'a total loser'.

Early, Notable Open Source Programmer

I was listening to Garrett Fagan lecture on the Roman Revolution, when he said something like, 'Cleopatra used to move through the streets carried in a golden chair, while Antony walked beside her, along with her UNIX.'

I did not know Cleopatra had hacked her own UNIX version! Does anybody know if it was based on Free BSD?

With Great Power Comes Great Income

I finally watched Spider-Man 3. (Yeah yeah, I'm way behind, I know.) I thought it was really good, especially when Peter Parker has the black suit and is smooth with the ladies.

However, I wish the Sandman had read my article on Superman. Then he would have known that he didn't need to rob armored cars and banks to pay for medical treatment for his daughter! With his abilities, he could have hired himself out to a construction crew, say, and easily earned $10,000 / day. And if he got hooked up with firms working on a skyscraper, I bet he could charge them $50,000 / day.

(I'm assuming he's a hard worker who follows directions. But maybe he's lazy and doesn't take no cr*p from nobody, and that's why he turned to a life of crime.)

The Monster Within

I just poked EconomistMom in the eye again. I bet the people at that site think I am a troll. I'm not trying to be, of course; I actually think my comments (which have been ignored thus far) are cogent. But maybe that's what every troll thinks!

UPDATE: EconomistMom answered me, so maybe I'm not a troll after all. Then Gene jumps in to hit a lady (and a mom!). I think all three of us actually agree on the case of government increasing spending today by increasing the deficit. But where Gene and I differ with her is that EconomistMom (I presume) thinks it might not make our children poorer if we raise spending today and then raise taxes today to pay for it. I think what she has in mind is that if you raise taxes to pay for it, then you get government goodies today largely at the expense of private goodies today. Whereas if you finance with deficits, you get government goodies today and private goodies today, with less private investment.

Zurich Photos

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Bad Movie Searches #6 & 15

OK, tonight's movie is The Client -- I'm justifying my recent spate of movie watching by listening to them all in French, BTW -- and I saw Susan Sarandon do something that has always bothered me, i.e., the 'movie search'. In this 'search, you go into a room took look for, say, a file, and execute the 'search' by randomly heaving things around the room and spilling the contents of boxes all over the place.

Is this a likely way to find something? Has anyone out there ever seen anyone search for things in such a fashion in real life? I never have. So why do people always search like this in movies?

Dembski and the NFL Theorems

OK everyone, I promise that this is the last ID post from me for a while. (If Gene posts on the topic though, I will almost certainly comment on the thread.)

Anyway, what I will quickly do here is summarize the No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems, and then William Dembski's attempt to apply them in the arena of the origin of life. Despite the official shrugging off by experts, I think Dembski has hit upon an incredibly powerful argument, and if he did nothing else worthwhile in his career (some might say this is true!) he would still be a genius.

OK so first let's go over the NFL theorems: Basically they show that no optimization algorithm can outperform another, over the entire domain of all possible problems. Now this is a shocking result, and if it doesn't shock you, you probably don't grasp what it is saying. So let me put the result in a concrete way, using an example that others (I think maybe the original authors?) have used.

Suppose the problem is to find the highes…

Geographical Malfeasance in Movies #23

In recently re-viewing The Raiders of the Lost Ark, I found myself cracking up at the car chase scene when one of Indiana Jones's foes, after chasing him through several miles of lush vegetation, plunges off of what appears to be a thousand-or-so-foot cliff. I haven't been to Egypt, but I'm pretty sure the only extensive areas of lush vegetation are in the Nile River valley, which I'm pretty sure is never a thousand feet above some land on its border!

Bad Policy Decision in History #17

After the assassination of Caesar, the Roman Senate vacillated as to whether it should support the 'liberators,' as the assassins called themselves, or the Caesarean party. As a result, they wound up handing out pro-praetorships, or provincial governorships, to members of both parties, which also meant giving them control of the legions in their provinces. As Garrett Fagan sardonically remarks, this amounted to making sure that both sides had plenty of arms and troops for the coming civil war.

Why Is God Hiding?

Spurred by our debates in some of the threads below, Micha posts a common question at his own site:

If God really did exist, why would God provide complex, statistical, scientific evidence for its own existence only in the micro-world of biochemical processes, and not instead, say, host his own public access television show called Jesus and Pals? Are microbiologists more deserving than the rest of us to bask in the knowledge and glory of the Divine? Or does God want us all to give up our day jobs and become microbiologists?

I realize I've been harping on this stuff for a few days now, so I'll keep my answer here brief.

1) God did try direct communication with the Hebrews. They weren't very obedient. Even though they were literally being led around by a column of fire, they still managed to make golden idols etc. Look, I personally believe that God has intervened in my life, and I think He is watching over me. I still act like a punk. So this idea that, "We would al…

The Aimless Shepherd

I just watched The Good Shepherd, directed by Robert DeNiro. I have never seen a movie he directed before -- he apparently has only done one other, A Bronx Tale. I must say, this film was shot wonderfully, had great acting... and basically no plot. I literally spent the entire film thinking, 'OK, this is a really good, if long, set up for the real action, which is going to start any moment.' Bobby, Bobby -- if you're going to make a spy movie, it's a good idea to include a spy story in there somewhere!

The other unpleasant thing about the film was Eddie Redmayne, perhaps the most physically off-putting actor I have ever seen in a major movie. I felt nauseous every time he came on the screen and I had to look at his pouting, self-absorbed face again.

GG Strikes Gold Again

I encourage you to read his recent post on tough-guy Thomas Friedman's declaration of war on Iran. But check out the 3-minute clip he posts of Friedman on the Charlie Rose show:

Scoffers of the New Metereology

In the May 10-11 WSJ, there was an obit of George Cressman, who inaugurated the practice (at the National Weather Service) in 1966 of using probabilistic forecasts. According to the story, a writer for the Christian Science Monitor ridiculed this newfangled approach:

"Tell me, every time there's a 50 percent chance of rain do I wear one rubber, and leave the other one home?"

Gene, didn't you raise similar sarcastic questions a few months ago on this blog? Oh wait, Catholics don't wear rubbers...

Ba-DUM. Thanks folks, I'm here through Tuesday. Please remember to tip your waitresses.

Roger Koppl on the Limits of (State) Forensics

Roger Koppl writes in Forbes on the surprisingly low accuracy of crime labs. Some scary stuff in there.

BTW here is my comment on the MR post from which I stole this link:

I loved the article, but I think Koppl doesn't push it far enough when he says the problem is monopoly, and therefore we need the government to require multiple tests, etc. That's like saying the problem with oil prices is OPEC, and that's why we need to ask Saudi Arabia to pump more.

Case in point: Koppl discusses a guy who was wrongly convicted of rape and held for four years. His compensation? $118,000. If those are the penalties the government faces for mistakes, no wonder they are so sloppy. In a voluntary system where people could patronize different legal frameworks (and yes we can argue about how/whether that would work), I think the fines might be such that the agencies that survived the competition fixed the leaky roofs over their crime labs.


Holy cow! I see now that someone responded to this bri…

Self-ownership revisited

In response to Gene's response to my response to a short novel I read, "Dirty Weekend" by [I think I remember, book no longer in hand] Helen Zawhiri: I left Gene a phone message that I had come across a short, interesting paragraph on ownership of self that I thought might interest libertarians. The novel is about a weak, unlucky woman who, she thinks on p.17, is incapable of any real self-defense, and, realizing that you can only own what you can defend, surrenders to the knowledge that she cannot own herself, but is in fact anyone's property for the taking. (Happily, she wakes up one particularly miserable morning to the realization that she has quite simply had enough, and spends the weekend murdering men, all of whom clearly deserve it.)

I Love the Questions Tyler Cowen Raises...

...I just often hate his answers. Here he talks about the Master Creator's intentions for us.

Why Intelligent Design Is a Scientific Theory

In the comments to a previous post, Micha took issue with what I think is an absolutely crushing argument in the "Is ID scientific?" debate. To repeat the argument: Many orthodox biologists etc. (whom I shall call "neo-Darwinians" for lack of a better term) say that not only is ID wrong, it's not even worthy of being called a false theory. To them, to explain the first cell as being consciously designed (rather than searching for a story involving lightning, amino acids, etc.) is like explaining thunderstorms by the anger of Zeus.

This is too narrow a conception of what science is. My favorite way to demonstrate is the following consideration: It is certainly possible that life on Earth was seeded by intelligent aliens, who designed a cell with all sorts of sophisticated DNA etc., then set it loose here billions of years ago. Now just suppose that were true. How in the world would we humans ever figure that out? Why, through people doing the exact type o…

Hey Barney: I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

From the May 9 WSJ article, "Mortgage Firms Cool to Principal-Cut Plan":

But mortgage companies may face pressure to use the program. "I want to put the servicers on notice," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said at a hearing last month. "If we see a widespread refusal on the part of servicers to cooperate voluntarily in what we see as an important economic problem...they can expect much tougher regulation in the future."

Cover Bands: The Pattern Continues

I have found in the past that I could stop grudgingly paying respect to bands for catchy tunes, because they ripped them off from someone much cooler. E.g. no need to think Vanilla Ice (Ice Ice Baby) is good, since he ripped off the tune from Queen/David Bowie (Under Pressure). There are a couple of more like this that escape me right now (maybe Dylan songs?), where I realized that someone much cooler had written the original of a song that I associated with more modern punks.

Anyway, I just learned that UB40 ripped off Red, Red Wine from Neil Diamond. Since I don't own a CD past 1985 (OK a bit of an exaggeration but not much), you'd think I would have known that. True story: My dad actually played with Neil Diamond back in the day, and has an autograph to prove it. ("Pat, you're a gas. --Neil")

Now for your enjoyment:

The Two-Door Paradox

Most large buildings in New York have a pair of doors at their entrance. But, almost always, one of the two is locked closed, and you can only enter the building through the other one.

I haven't been able to figure out the reason for this phenomenon. I entertained the idea that fire codes might require two doors where the owner wanted only one, but that doesn't seem to make sense -- what good is a locked door in case of a fire? So, why keep building two doors at the entrance to large buildings, only to keep one perpetually locked? And, given that the two doors are there, what advantage does the owner gain from sealing one of them off? The practice is so common that I cannot believe that there isn't some good explanation for it, but does anyone know what it is?

Today Was a Good Day, I Must Say

...I didn't have to use my AK. (Oh come on, I lived in Bed-Stuy for a bit during grad school. I have to keep it real.)

After some last-minute edits, including a nice quote from Steve Forbes on the back cover, my flat tax study is now posted (.pdf) at PRI's website. I encourage even hardcore Rothbardians to glance through it, especially the first few chapters. I bet you will be surprised at the power of marginal tax rate reductions; I know I was.

But much better than the publication of my study--a culmination of about seven months of work--was my toddler finally going pee pee in the potty. Unfortunately I now know what the next lecture topic is for my son.

Another Murphy Discusses Tax Policies

Some purists have gotten mad that I wrote a study for Pacific Research Institute on tax reform. (I.e. since the best tax rate is zero, I shouldn't be helping politicians fleece taxpayers.) It's a valid concern, but as this op ed clearly proves, it is a different guy doing this stuff.

(BTW the joke is that they got my middle initial wrong. If it has been changed back to "P" in the meantime, then what little humor there ever was in this blog post has been completely drained.)

Why Bill O'Reilly Can't Run for President

My wife sent me this video. I'm not sure I would want to do an internship with him. Note that not only is O'Reilly a jerk, but he's also a moron; look how long it takes him to parse the words on the teleprompter.

There Ought to Be a Law

...against book reviews where the reviewer doesn't include a single quote from the book, and against movie reviews where the reviewer admits he hasn't even seen the film.

Like John Derbyshire, I too haven't seen Ben Stein's Expelled--and that's why I'm not going to tell you whether it's good or bad. (Sounds reasonable, eh?) Just take a look at this thing. Now pretend for the moment that life on Earth really didn't originate out of "blind" forces. Yes, that could mean God did it from scratch, or it could mean that the Dawkins account happened on some other world, and then those beings seeded Earth with a cell they designed.

OK but the point is, just imagine for a moment that the people--the ones with the PhDs in biology and chemistry, yes they exist--who are questioning the orthodox views are right. In that mindset, Derbyshire's article is simply breathtaking. He repeatedly voices his outrage over the "sneering, slanderous" at…

Momma Mia

The "Economist Mom" has started a blog. (Hat tip to the greenie economists.) I was going to criticize her for criticizing the Laffer Curve (without explaining why the episodes of revenues going up in the 1980s and even under George W. Bush don't count), but that got shunted aside when I saw this:

Deficit financing is a cost-maximizing budget strategy — because of the curse of compound interest. The choice is simple: Pay for it now, or our kids pay even more for it later. For example, the balance on a $1,000 loan swells to more than $3,000 when repayment is put off for 20 years, even under a relatively low interest rate of 6 percent.

I think this is literally a fallacy that Landsburg or Friedman dissected in one of their pop books. I posted a comment, asking her if only suckers take out 30-year mortgages.

If I really wanted to be a jerk, I could have asked if no company buys materials from Japan, because the prices there are like 100 times higher than here. This is the w…

Boston Globe feature

An interesting piece on a young Austrian economist who is very interested in anarcho-capitalism and went to Hillsdale College. (Did I trick you?) For some reason the writer seems to think that the word democracy is defined as "stuff about society that I like." Strange. (HT2MR.)

Barrons Article on Mechanism Design

Another iteration of a theme I've been hitting since the "Nobel" for economics came out last year. This link is just to the free preview. If you are in Barnes & Noble this week check it out.

I've Found Him!

In books lie The Lord of the Rings, things are always passing "beyond the ken of man."

I always wondered, "Just who is this 'ken of man.'" Well, folks, I've found him.

The Unfinished City

Sandy Ikeda on the character of New York.

Damned Multiculturalists

Leon Hadar excoriates globalists at Taki's Magazine.

I second his emotion with the following remarks:

Man, those multi-culturalists! I recall the story of one Jewish dude who apparently was not satisfied with his local folkways. He imported a melange of ideas from Greek philosophy and Eastern religion into his native inheritance and came up with some weird hybrid mix. His followers, after his death, immediately became "rootless cosmopolitans," trotting all around the Mediterranean world, asserting that the culture you came from didn't matter as long as you accepted their new "globalist" creed. They sucked into their "ideology" an obviously incompatible blend of Greek philosophy, Roman civic and political ideas, and Hebrew revelation.

Good thing that nonsense had no lasting impact on the world!

Those Peaceniks!

Clark Stooksbury reveals a shocking fact: the Nobel Peace Prize committee rewards anti-war activists!

One Bad Apple

OK, I'm sticking with Macs for now, because I was a UNIX programmer, Mac OS X is UNIX, and I can work smoothly at the command-line interface.

Otherwise, I think Apple's user interface group has lost their minds. For instance, if I'm getting my Mac mail on the Web, my session will time out after 30 minutes. OK, cool, there's some security concern here. But what happens? I'm presented with a dialogue box that says my session has timed out, with an 'OK' button. I click 'OK,' and am brought to a screen that says "Your session has timed out," and presents me with a button that says "Log back in." I click on that, and finally get to the login screen. Yo, yo, Apple dudes, why not send the logged out user straight to the login screen? The two screens in between do nothing but require me to click 'OK' twice. What the hey?

In the Mac OS X native mail application, the up or down arrow at first moves you between messages. That's O…