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Showing posts from August, 2008

Gov't Prohibits Private "Regulation"

Hey it's a new week so I am allowed to link to Free Advice! In the "Legalize Murder!" thread, John Goes pooh-poohed my private alternatives to government handling of violent criminals (and what a fine job they've been doing on that front). John argued that my proposed private mechanisms could exist today, and so their absence shows that they really aren't a workable solution to the problem of violent people.

I confess I don't know all the specifics, but I think there are government measures that prohibit competing, private sector agencies that perform traditional government services. I discuss a beautiful illustration over at Free Advice today. A meat packer wanted to test all of its beef for mad cow disease, and the government said it can't. An excerpt from the WSJ article on the story:

A federal appeals court said the government can prohibit meat packers from testing their animals for mad-cow disease.

Because the Agriculture Department tests only a sm…

Pre-emptive Strike Against Protesters in Minneapolis

Ah, the heavily armed SWAT teams just keep pushing the boundaries back little by little. Apparently they are raiding houses--and doing standard procedure of coming in with semi-automatic weapons, cuffing everyone and putting them on the floor for a half an hour at a time, you know--where people are planning to protest the upcoming Republican convention. The people who were raided claim that they weren't planning anything illegal, and were just going to exercise their rights in this free country.

But that's what you expect lawbreakers to say.

Glenn Greenwald was actually there, interviewing people after the fact, but the videos are kinda boring. You should read his (short) article though to see exactly what I am talking about.

We're getting there, folks. They started doing SWAT raids like this on citizens' houses because of the possibility of armed drug dealers, and nobody cared. "Hey, I don't deal crack out of my living room. They won't knock down my do…

Query: How Did Luther Resolve This Bit?

Since various Protestants have been known to frequent this blog, maybe they can clear something up for me: Luther famously held Scripture to be the sole guidance to the true Christian ("sola scriptura"), always trumping the supposed authority of the Church. But, of course, just what Scripture consisted of had been decided by... the authority of the Church! (There were many candidates vying for inclusion in the status of being scriptural books, and hot debates about which ones would be so stamped with approval.)

So, once Luther rejects the authority of the Church, how can he insist on just those four gospels being scriptural? What if a Protestant wants to follow, say, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of James, the Gospel of Judas, the Secret Gospel of Mark, the alternative Gospel of Luke, the Diatessaron, or the Gospel of Peter? They all had their adherents back in the day, but were declared infra dig by the authority of the Church. So on what basis can Luther criticize a Prot…

The Pre-Christ

My classes first assignment was Phaedo by Plato, and I must say... well, I had heard/read many times that Christianity was the child of the marriage of Jerusalem and Athens, but I was stunned by how much "pre-Christianity" was in this dialogue: monotheism, the immortality of the soul, turn the other cheek, a disdain for "the world" and devotion to spiritual purification... even the phrase "through a glass darkly"! Of course, you also get a doctrine -- indeed, what Socrates holds to be a proof -- of re-incarnation, which we don't get in Christianity, but, as I understand, that was actually a disputed point early on, and apparently we easily could have had a Christianity that embraced the idea.

UPDATE: By "easily could have" I mean, of course, from an historian's point of view. If you believe the Church Father's were divinely guided and re-incarnation a false doctrine, then, of course, the rejection of it was inevitable.

Is the Falling Dollar Good for Economic Growth?

I tackle this and other questions in this Free Advice post.*


* I promise to limit the cross-blog contamination to about one post per week. But in truth I better understood the flaws in the typical press coverage about recessions after typing out the post linked above.

Everyone Needs a Hobby

And mine of late has been salting slugs. These little, slimy %$@^%#$%$^%@ have just been destroying a dozen or so plants in my garden, so I've taken to going out at night with a flashlight and salt shaker, and gleefully watching them dissolve. I'm reminded of reading about the British philosopher F.H. Bradley, of whom, the piece in question said, while he never taught at Oxford, he did like to go about the campus at night and shoot cats.

Death and Dying

I've started teaching my course on death and dying, and assembling some Internet resources for use in the class.

Any suggestions for more good material?

Panda Bob vs. Komodo Dragon

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Many of you have wondered what sort of posts I would reserve for Crash Landing, now that I have a "serious" blog. Well start your engines...

This article on Komodo dragons in the WSJ really got me mad. First, I was incensed at the arrogant Western environmentalists who screwed up this island's ecosystem and frankly don't give a dang. This is presumably the angle that the WSJ editors were foisting on us, and it worked (on me at least).

But I also got mad at these villagers, and especially this father:

A year ago, a 9-year-old named Mansur was one such victim. The boy went to answer the call of nature behind a bush near his home in Kampung Komodo. In broad daylight, as terrified relatives looked on, a dragon lunged from his hideout, took a bite of the boy's stomach and chest, and started crushing his skull.

"We threw branches and stones to drive him away, but the dragon was crazed with blood, and just wouldn't let go," says the boy's father, Jamain…

Gov't Screwup Again Cited as Proof of Need for Gov't

In an intentionally provocative post, I called for the legalization of homicide, meaning that the government should stop using its armed agents (paid for with stolen tax dollars) to harass people it classifies as "murderers." (Read the post if you want to see my reasons.)

In the comments, someone calling himself "oj" said:

Son,

This is an excellent proposal!

I assume it will apply retroactively?


That's funny--it made me chuckle--but does everyone see that it proves my point? This is so typical when a libertarian calls for something to be privatized. People point to outrageous things that happen under State monopoly, as evidence of why the State needs the monopoly.

For example, Paulina Borsook ridiculed the idea of abolishing food safety inspectors, and her argument was that people in fast food restaurants had gotten sick the month before she wrote her op ed. See? The government needs to protect us from bad food, because people got sick under the government's…

Crooked Dilians

Which species is a closer relative of an alligator: a turtle, a snake, a lizard, or a hummingbird? answer may surprise you.

He's All Grown Up Now!

My little boy, off on his own! But he promises that when he has something trivial to post, he'll still show up here.

UPDATE: OK, OK, so Bob posted this below! But it's not official until I post it.

Which Freeman Writer Put the Reagans to Sleep?

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Check out the photo below. I always thought it was cute that Nancy was cuddling up to the Gipper. But then I realized that whatever article Ronnie is holding up, apparently knocked them both out. I can't make out the issue number, but I have my suspicions.

My Python Boot Was Too Tight

http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wildlife/article782162.ece

Were there sufficient demand for python boots, the spread of the python would not present a problem.

Iraq Isn't a Mess?

Francis Fukuyama paid $100 to the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens on a bet that Iraq would be a "mess" five years after the invasion. Although Fukuyama conceded he had lost on the "narrow terms" of the bet, he still writes that the invasion was a mistake.

What's odd is that this mess-less Iraq is also a place where, we learn in a different WSJ op ed (August 22) written by Michael Cohen and Maria Kupcu, that "U.S. Contractors Shouldn't Face Iraqi Courts." According to these writers:

However, placing contractors at the mercy of an underdeveloped Iraqi legal system is not a solution. Greater liability for PSCs will also bring a higher price tag. Furthermore, PSC ranks will become deprofessionalized, as many of the most experienced contractors may decide that the risks of being thrown in an Iraqi prison are not worth a paycheck.
...
Even with a drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, American diplomats will need protective security for the foreseeable …

You Will Receive This Message Only Once

In an effort to exceed the riches and popularity of Tyler Cowen, I have started a new blog, Free Advice.

Also, in a futile attempt to strangle rumors in their infancy, let me state for the record that I am not breaking up with Gene Callahan. We still go to the movies, spend Saturdays at the roller rink, play 45s while sitting on the roof gazing at the stars, etc.

I will still blog here at Crash Landing, but most of my "professional" commentary will be shunted over to Free Advice.

Legalize Murder!

In having an email discussion/argument with Silas, he argued that, if the science behind anthropogenic global warming is correct, then the government capping total emissions would be no more objectionable than the government enforcing laws against murder.

Now, I myself have long thought that sure, the government does some horrible things that would NEVER occur in a free society, but some of its activities are closer than others. It's crazy when cops hunt down a kid for growing a (pot) plant in his backyard, but (I thought) it's not so bad when cops arrest somebody for homicide.

I now believe that this is completely wrong. When the government bans alcohol selling, what happens to the profession of alcohol sellers? Do they become more or less dangerous to society--even from the point of view of their product's effects, i.e. ignoring all the gangland killings?

But that's what happens when government enforces laws against murder: It makes the group of people, "murder…

Rush Misremembers Ultimatum to Saddam

Wow. I was just listening to Rush dissect Obama's "moral equivalency"* of the Russian invasion of Georgia to the US invasion of Iraq.

Anyway, Rush explained that the US had a coalition (whereas Russia did not), etc., and then said something like this (not an exact quote but close):

"...For heaven's sake, we didn't do this like the Russians, under the cover of darkness. There were 14 UN resolutions. There was a long build up. Saddam had a year and a half to show the world he had no weapons of mass destruction" (my bold).

Wow. That's actually not what the ultimatum was. According to George Bush's pre-invasion State of the Union Address:

Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for the United Nations and for the opinion of the world.

The 108 U.N. inspectors were sent to conduct--were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials acro…

Is George Reisman the Richard Lindzen of Economics?

For those who are amateur "skeptics" on global warming* like me, guys like Richard Lindzen are heros. Yeah they might be off a little bit, and maybe they overgeneralize, but we think they're basically right and the rest of their field are not nearly as bold.

It occurred to me that perhaps George Reisman plays that role for the economics profession, including Austrian economists. Reisman offers some very bold arguments in his treatise Capitalism. For example, he argues that the notion of "opportunity cost" is a mirage. Really, some radical stuff in terms of economic theory.

Yet nobody has adequately dealt with his critiques. I think he's wrong, but I'm not very confident in my conclusion--do you want to blow off a guy who controls the website Capitalism.net ?? At the very least, we should publish why he is wrong.

(This is a self-congratulatory post, since I am currently working on a 3-year-old article that I had started as a college professor and then…

The Post Involving Chocolate Penises

My wife just relayed a potty-mouth joke she had heard, and chortling over it led me to make an observation that is interesting, though probably not new.

Anyway the joke: Some girl's mom said to her something like (I believe in consolation): "Don't talk to me about a perfect man, because I've never met one with a chocolate dick that ejaculates money."

So anyway, this got me thinking about stereotypical roles, hunter gatherer cavemen grunt-like-Tim-Allen kinda thoughts.

And it's true that women tend to favor guys who have money, just like guys tend to favor women who have looks.

Now the reason men tend to earn more, I think, is ultimately that they are more competitive. (I'm sure there are 15 other reasons, including unfair expectations, but I'm picking what I think is the most significant reason, at least in a market economy.)

What's great about the market economy is that it channels such manly ego-stroking into a wussy task (and that's why the p…

The Hockey Stick Debate, Clima(c)tic Conclusion

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(The "c" is optional, get it? Heh heh d*mn I'm smooth...)

In a previous post, I gave a dumbed down version of what McIntyre and McKitrick did to blow up Mann et al.'s hockey stick (featured again below, because pictures are so good to break up the monotony of this site--seriously Gene, let's hang up a portrait or something!).



(One other loose end: I emailed McKitrick and there wasn't a mistake in his description of what happens to the variance when you use Mann's algorithm. It's not worth getting into--and frankly I don't fully understand it yet myself, I need to print this thing out and really study it--but suffice it to say, McKitrick didn't get the direction mixed up, as I had speculated.)

Now then on to the fun stuff. So at RealClimate--the premier anti-denier website--one of the Real Climate Scientists has a "official" response to the hockey stick stuff. (There are plenty of other posts at RealClimate on this issue.) For the …

The FBI Is So So Bad

Folks, if you haven't been following this stuff with Bruce Ivins, I strongly encourage you to read this Glenn Greenwald article. It is really bad. The FBI leaked what seemed to be a damning fact about Ivins' leaving work one day, but then bloggers pointed out that the fact actually gave Ivins an airtight alibi (for that day). So then a week or so later, the FBI leaked a different story, saying Ivins mailed the letters the next day (compared to their original theory that bloggers had debunked the previous week).

And mind you, this changing of their basic theory as to how he actually mailed the packages--a fairly important part of their case against him, you would think--occurred after they had scared him to death (presumably) by telling him he was going to be charged with killing those people, and basically ruining his life.

What's really creepy--as GG emphasizes--is how the press just keeps reporting whatever the latest "details" are in the FBI's leaked case…

Fibonnaci Again

Some facts are instances of a Great Principle, while others Just Are. Here is a nice example I take from a book by Martin Gardner, the great popularizer of math and science--Mathematics Magic and Mystery (Dover, 1956):

Write down the first ten terms of any Fibonacci sequence, e.g.: 7,2,9,11,20,... Their sum is 11 times the 7th term. This is easily proven by brute force: 1st term a, 2nd term b, 3rd term a+b, 4th term a+2b, etc. The sum of the first ten terms is 55a+88b; the 7th term is 5a+8b.

This just is. Examine the first few terms of ths sequence and you will not find more instances of like behavior.

What does philosophy have to say about this sort of thing, I wonder?

Updating Bayes

I got a clearer handle on exactly what was wrong with Bryan Caplan's post on Bayesian updating, and, indeed, the general application of Bayesian updating to scientific theories, while reading The Drunkard's Walk. On pages 110-111 Mlodinow discusses the original example Bayes used to illustrate his theory. You have a table onto which you can roll balls in such a way that they have any equal probability of arriving at any point on the surface. You roll out one ball. Now your job is determine how far that ball lies from the left-right axis. You do that by rolling more balls, seeing whether or not they lie to the right or the left of the original ball, and using Bayesian updating to refine your idea of where the original ball lies.

This works fine if your initial model of the situation you face was accurate; in this case, the table is unbiased and each ball toss is random. But it just doesn't apply to situations where what you ought to be doing is throwing out your model! For i…

Wow, That's Some Curse!

I cracked up reading David Freedlander in AM NY about the "uncanny" results of the curse of being on the cover of John Madden's football video game:

"But the results are uncanny. In 2000, star running back Barry Sanders was on the cover, and suddenly retired soon after the game appeared. In 2006, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, suffered a sports hernia in the first game of the season and missed half the year. Last year, football fans in San Diego started an online petition to keep star running back LaDainian Tomlinson off the cover."

What an amazing string of... Wait... one guy retired, because, you know, he wanted to, not because something bad happened to him. One set of fans freaked out about the "curse" and undertook a silly campaign... and nothing bad happened to the guy on the cover. And one guy got hurt. Which, as you know, has never happened to anyone in football who was not on the cover of the Madden NFL game.

Must have been a slow news week …

"Is My Bank Safe?"

I don't know, but Robert Wenzel shows us how to start answering the question.

Starting from Berkeley

Starting from Berkeley

Starting from Berkeley, walking,
You will come upon a monument to certain dead people.
“This is all that is left.
“They were beautiful.
“They mattered.
“They excelled.
“Do not forget them.
“They fought the”
I don’t know. Did we win?
And then, some of us are still alive.
So, under a basic limitation,
Autobiography is all I have to offer.
Driving, starting from anywhere,
It is a symphony crossing the Golden Gate
And Van Ness Avenue,
Soon to smell the eucalyptus. Thus,
I come to Berkeley to be happy,
But I find, in early Summer,
Not everyone is simple.


Copyright (c) 2008 by Walter Bloch. All rights reserved.

Stealer of Names

Excerpts from a long discussion of codes and ciphers, keeping our codes-and-ciphers-loving friends at bay...

"...and also perhaps easy to nail as all created by the same person, so I guess I won't be using very many symbols." This is a common direction of attack on codes and ciphers, as testified by stories of the WWII years; messages in the process of decryption would be filed with other messages presumed by analysis to have come from the same author's cleartext, or coding habits. Thus one typical paradox: versatility, or optionality, in encrypting, intended to make code more diverse and therefore harder to decrypt, often made it easier by admitting the deadliest of vulnerabilities, the dirty living human mind.

My father used to demonstrate one of the characteristic weaknesses of the human mind. He would invite students up to the blackbroad, er, blackboard and ask them to write down out of their heads a string of random digits. When they began show signs of extreme fa…

PPI Hits 27-Year High

In July the Producer Price Index went up 1.2% (over a 15% annualized rate), and yr/yr it had risen 9.8%, the biggest annual rise since 1981. Details (and scary graph) here.

So Dr. North, when is that deflation kicking in? If I understand your position, we should expect massive inflation in the future, when Bernanke lets it all hang out. But right now we're supposed to be experiencing falling prices, I thought...

Justin Raimondo Puts His Finger On Something

This has been percolating for a while in my head, but Justin pins it down:

...the Russophobes have developed an entirely novel theory of political economy, which is an outgrowth of the environmentalist fad and the extreme nationalism of our ruling elites. It is the absurd idea that any and all countries that depend on oil to generate the bulk of their national income are unnatural, inherently flawed, and even intrinsically aggressive and a threat to the security of the West. Oil-producing states are inclined, by their very nature, to authoritarianism, they argue, although somehow I don't think they mean the state of Texas.

The full column is here, and HT2RW.

BTW, in reference to my last LRC article on Russia and Georgia, I got two complimentary emails (meaning they gave compliments, not that they were free) and about 8 accusing me of hating Russia and serving the Elders of Zion. The problem was my line, "I have no doubt that Putin is an evil man who would conquer the world if h…

A Depressing Story About Customs at JFK

Any of our international travelers want to comment on this? Unfortunately if you're not dark-skinned and traveling to/from the Middle East, you might not really be able to say if this lady's tale is accurate. (HT2LRC)

I Am a Wise Aleck, But I Am Not "alec"

I grant you that this sounds like something I would write, but I promise this reader comment from "alec" on MarginalRevolution is not from me:

I thought the subtitle of this blog was "Small steps toward a much better world", not "Irrelevant Facts While I Do An Imitative Freakonomics Jig". (I would also accept "Small steps towards overanalyzing small things" or "Relevant economics is dead and I intend to prove it")

Although the telltale signs are there, I always capitalize my name. (I am "bob murphy" in Blogger but I don't know what happened there. I don't remember setting it up like that...)

Spot the Funny

It's late so maybe this isn't so funny after all, but the following statement (from a government FAQ on global warming) generated mirth for me:

With now 28 years of reliable satellite observations there is confirmation of earlier suggestions of an 11 (and 22) year cycle of irradiance related to sunspots but no longer term trend in these data.

The Real Meaning of Michael Phelps

Pat Forde explains at ESPN:

"As with the Miracle on Ice team in 1980, everyone was rowing in the same direction on this one. It wasn't your team versus my team. It was Our Michael versus Their Mortals."

So, "everyone" -- of any importance, that is -- means Americans. "Your team versus my team" divisions are petty -- unless my team is America and you team is the rest of the world, because then it's a contest between ubermensch and mere mortals.

God damn, we should just get it over with and clear the planet of all those other inferior races, then America can rightfully win every gold medal at the Olympics!

Philosophical Question

If there's a big storm and a tree falls in my back yard, but my wife and I act like we don't see it or hear it, then did it really happen?

Riddle CMXLVIII

How do you get a one-armed Polish tree-sitter out of the tree?

How to Extract the Cube Root of Two in your Head

2 = 128/64 ~ 125/64.
Therefore 2^(1/3) ~ 5/4 = 1.250.
The above error in 2 is -3/64, therefore
The proportional error in 2 is -(3/64)/(128/64) = -3/128. Therefore
The proportional error in the cube root is one third,
Namely -(3/128)(1/3) = -1/128. Therefore
The absolute error in the cube root is approximately -(1/128)(1.250) ~ -0.010.
Adding back the absolute error of the first approximation:
2^(1/3) = 1.250 + 0.010 = 1.260.

The Hockey Stick Debate

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I have been reading up on the "hockey stick" debate, which refers to the graph of estimated global temperature featured not in the most recent, but the previous IPCC report (TAR--third assessment report).



As the graph above makes clear, the hockey stick was a decisive point in favor of the theory of anthropogenic global warming. (I.e. Al Gore is right.) The team responsible for the above graph was Mann et al., who published it in a 1999 paper.

However, the latest version of the IPCC report (AR4) doesn't feature the above graph. This is (I gather) due to the scathing critiques by co-authors economist Ross McKitrick and a sharp guy Steve McIntyre who (I think) is just a veteran of the mining industry.

Anyway, if you want to get more into the climate debate but you're not sure how to sift the evidence, and you don't want to waste your time with a bunch of blowhards one way or the other, then I suggest McKitrick's 18-page essay on, "What is the Hockey Stic…

Townhall Critique of Pelosi on Energy

Shooting fish in a barrel, but you have to keep the pressure on. The Congressional ban on offshore drilling expires on September 30. That means the Democrats have to figure out a way to reinstate it, without being obvious (hence the Gang of Ten plan). Go gridlock!

Georgian President Saakashvili, Welfare King

I explain here.

Who Knew?

Rep. John Boehner writes here:

"Since Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, the energy crunch has been swift and severe. Gas prices have risen from an average of $2.33 per gallon in the first days of the Democratic Majority to $3.78 per gallon today, while diesel prices – particularly important for school transportation purposes – have risen from $2.44 per gallon to $4.47 per gallon today. No matter how you slice it, the surge in energy costs has been dramatic, and with fall and winter right around the corner, the pain will not just be felt at the pump, but in heating bills as well."

So the cause isn't speculators, increased consumption, disruption of supplies, or any of those things... it's Democrats!

Pilots for Truth?

I don't know anything about flying a plane, but these two guys are either the real deal, or excellent con men. They sure sound like pilots who are matter of factly saying there's no way amateurs were flying the planes on September 11.

Has this thing been debunked, the way the conspiracy stories from the engineers and architects has (apparently) been matched point for point?

And then you read something like this, and really get worried.

(BTW I skipped ahead to about 3:00 in this interview, and don't think I missed much. It gets really good near the end.)

The Best Article I Have Ever Read on Climate Change

I bet some of you think I am linking to my own piece. Nope this is Jim Manzi at Cato. This is really a tour de force, except for the wussy concessions at the very end. (HT2MR)

L & A

L: There once was a man from Peru
Who mistook his wife for a shoe
Olver Sachs
Wishing to wax
Said that god-damned title won't do!

A: When life gives you a bowl of cherries, make lemonade out of them.

Murphy Talk in the Bahamas

I will be giving a talk in the Bahamas on oil prices, on September 11 (really).

I have been considering the following threads for the talk:

1. Godel's Incompleteness Theorems: Is the second a trivial corollary of the first?

2. If someone were traveling at .99c and began reading Marginal Revolution, would he learn anything besides jargon?

3. Should the audience members at my talk have to pay a surcharge for the higher fuel prices needed to get me there?

4. Why are speculators driving up oil prices and down financial stocks? They can make guaranteed money either way, so why rub our noses in it?

5. If Tyler Cowen is right about climate change, will he sell me a promise that he will never compete for after-dinner talks in island nations?

6. Albert Einstein once said, "God does not play dice." Discuss.

"Parking Garages Make Crazy Cash!"

In the spirit of Gene's post below, I observe that I have often heard people confidently say that parking garage owners must be rich, especially in a big city. The evidence is that they charge outrageous rates even for a half hour to park your car.

Fair Trade

By me, in the Christian Science Monitor.

"He Must Own the Building!"

I hear this often, in reference to a shop owner who keeps a low-traffic shop open in a high-traffic area. People say, "He must own the building, otherwise he couldn't afford the rent!"

It's the economic fallacy of confusing money costs with real (opportunity) costs. It doesn't matter whether or not the man owns the building -- it's costing him just as much to run the business there either way. Let's say he's making $1500 a month in a site that could (or does) rent for $2500. I f he rents he is obviously losing $1000 per month. But if he owns, he could rent the space for $2500 instead of drawing $1500 profit from it -- for a loss of $1000! It's the same result.

The truth behind this mis-perception is that to subsidize a money-losing business takes some wealth -- and owning a building is one form that wealth could take. Additionally, the building owner may be able to hide his loss from himself" more easily than most -- the $2500 he could have got…

Live It Up, the Dollar Is Dead?

In this piece I argue that you shouldn't pay down your credit cards. Am I pulling a Paulson? On the contrary, I am giving very unpatriotic advice.

Home Sweet Home

OK after about 6 months of ignoring it, I finally fixed up my homepage. (There had been a hacker attack last September, and my host hadn't backed up my index page, and the emails they sent to me must have gotten filtered because I never saw them. And that week they were always busy when I called, no doubt because everybody's site was messed up.)

Deep Thoughts for the Day

The reason you shouldn't lie is that doing so makes it easier for you to lie to yourself. And when you can't even trust yourself for an accurate assessment of the situation, how can you possibly be happy with life?

I have obeyed my Christian instructions and can say that I love the war hawks in Washington. You know how the media portrays them as compassionate, concerned about collateral damage, outraged at the suggestion of lying the country into war, etc.? Well that's how they view it too. Why wouldn't they believe their own PR? It's so much easier than doing the "moo hoo ha ha!" when the cameras go off. I don't hate Don Rumsfeld, I want to ruffle his hair and say, "What were you thinking? Come here you! I think somebody needs a hug!"

My Commentary on the Short-Sale Restrictions

Details here. So what do you think, kids? Will the SEC extend the restrictions, which are supposed to expire tomorrow?

WSJ One-Ups the New Deal wrt Housing

One UPDATE below.

So you know how during the New Deal they had federal agents go around and tell farmers to overturn crops, etc.? (I haven't actually looked this up myself, but I bet that the famous scene in The Grapes of Wrath where they douse oranges with gasoline, was not really a market phenomenon. And I don't just mean, because the Depression was caused by the Fed.)

Well, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., in a July 30 op ed, said that one solution to the housing mess would be to blow up some of the excess housing to bolster prices. No, this is not The Onion, and I think Jenkins was being serious:

So far, Washington has put its political capital into trying to refinance salvageable homes for unsalvageable homeowners, when a relevant policy would consist of judiciously [!] buying unsalvageable houses and demolishing them. Fannie and Freddie's strength is software: They could be put to work devising a least-cost, maximum-bang strategy for demolishing unoccupied homes to preserve …

The Count of Monte Cristo

I'm watching the movie right now -- and if I didn't have my wonderful new remote setup, I wouldn't be making this post! -- but I'm really enjoying the movie, while, when I attempted the book, and just couldn't get into it. The movie has made me realize why -- books like this were the best escapist action-adventures possible before cinema, but now, having experienced cinema, I read them and just wind up feeling "This really should be a movie, not a book!" What I look for in a book is what movies can't give us, which to put it simplistically, is more narrative and less action -- a movie does action better, while a book better handles interior monologue, metaphorical descriptions, philosophical digressions, and so on.

New(ish) iMac Review

I just picked up one of the current iMacs, including the wireless options, and man am I impressed!

The best thing about this machine is I can get away from the computer with it. I can lounge on my couch and type as thoughts come to me while reading, instead of having to choose whether I'll be researching comfortably or sitting typing for a long stretch of time. A laptop doesn't permit this -- still too big and clunky -- but the Apple wireless keyboard can be stowed easily alongside your body while you read or watch TV -- I mean here, between your body and the couch back (with you reclining on the arm), and not taking up a seat beside you. Since it weighs a couple of ounces rather than 10 pounds, you don't need to shift positions to pick it up and make a note.

"OK," you ask, "but that certainly doesn't solve what to do when you have to reach the mouse and need a flat surface, does it?" Well, let me tell you, I can literally mouse with no difficulties a…

Excellence in Namedropping

I have been doing a lot of self-promotion lately (and another post is in the works--it will be a "promote myself, rip Tyler Cowen" combo!), and so I hesitated to mention that Rush Limbaugh mentioned me on the air Friday. (It's at the bottom of this transcript, and I think you can listen to it if you click the links at the top of the page.)

But then Pepe convinced me otherwise when he reminded me: "C'mon, it wouldn't be Bob if there wasn't namedropping."

No joke, when Gene first asked me to blog here, I was reticent to even post links to my articles, because it was so narcissistic. I've come a long way, baby.

My Special Skill

Wabulon once told me that he'd always felt everyone has a special skill in life, but it took him until 50 to discover his, which was knowing what's in other people's pantries. And boy, is he good at it -- when he's stayed over, I can call home and ask, "Wabulon, do w have black beans?" and he'll respond (without looking) "No, you used the last can on Tuesday" -- and be right.

Well, I'm happy to have found my own skill at a (slightly) younger age then Wabulon -- helping people to avoid stepping in dog poop. I'm really good with my kids, but I'll also often steer perfect strangers around a big, steaming turd.

I'm also not bad at spotting animals near the road. I'm often the passenger in a car, spotting many creatures the driver has missed, like a big buck that had been considering crossing.

Both skills seem connected to peripheral vision.

Mises and Wenzel vs. Gene and Bob

I'm not going to dig up the links, but Gene and I have been arguing with Robert W. about whether we can truly have "facts" about the world, which are themselves not dependent on our antecedent theories. In stressing the a priori nature of economics, Mises apparently sides with RW:

The application of spurious economic theorems results in undesired consequences. But these effects never have that undisputable [sic] power of conviction which the experimental facts in the field of the natural sciences provide. (emphasis original, Human Action, Scholar's Edition, p. 858)

I Give Up, part 345

(We also would have accepted, "Release the Hounds, part 319.")

I know some of you have so much free time that you actually come here, looking for links to arguments Gene and I get in on other blogs. Well here ya go. It starts out with me high-fiving Alex Tabarrok, then trying to help Rex understand the flaws in Keynesianism, but somehow by the end I've got Odograph telling me that it's human nature to have government-owned bridges (and that US foreign policy was good from 1975-2000, I think), and some guy meter using four-letter words to describe CEOs.

My work is done here.

OK I'm Not Crazy, Sullivan Changed His Mind

I thought I was going nuts, because lately Andrew Sullivan seems dovish, but I thought I had earlier pegged him as a hawk. But as Justin Raimondo reminds us in the postscript to this article, Sullivan was rather aggressive before the Iraq invasion. Below are Justin's quotes from Sullivan's 10/31/01 blogging:

Andrew Sullivan: The sophisticated form of anthrax delivered to Tom Daschle's office forces us to ask a simple question. What are these people trying to do? I think they're testing the waters. They want to know how we will respond to what is still a minor biological threat, as a softener to a major biological threat in the coming weeks. They must be encouraged by the panic-mongering of the tabloids, Hollywood and hoaxsters. They must also be encouraged by the fact that some elements in the administration already seem to be saying we need to keep our coalition together rather than destroy the many-headed enemy. So the terrorists are pondering their next move. The c…

If That's Not Dirty, Then...

Ovoer at UO Threau (who seems to have devoured what started out as Jim Henley's blog from the inside the same way Bob has done to mine -- for which I love him, btw), posts on animal sex. So I thought I'd raise him one. Did you know there are flowers that disguise themselves to look and smell like bugs' booga-woogas -- typically just before the female hatches -- so that the tricked insect will come along and... well, you know, it does the dirty with a flower! And then another and another, spreading pollen all the while.

Folks, that ain't just bestiality, that's inter-kingdomality. Isn't there some law to stop them?

Over at Fire Megan McCardle...

Bob linked to it below -- scroll down you lazy so-and-sos -- one of the polls has "Megan McArdle - Teh Atlantic."

Crimminy, I know I've complained about it before, but folks, this joke where you misspell 'the' has been posted on the Internet like 46 million times now, and it's not F^&%&^!@%^CKING FUNNY ANYMORE. No joke is funny when you've heard it 46 million times.

USSR Forever!

I just read Isaac Asimov's Fantastic Journey II -- not a bad book, about what you'd expect from Asimov. (Yes, 350 books is fantastic output, but quality does suffer a little along the way.) But what really struck me is that Asimov, writing in 1987, saw the USSR still around 100 years later, still operating much as it did in 1987, just a few years before its complete disappearance from the scene.

More Hobnobbing With Politicians

A California representative (who was at my flat tax luncheon) mentions me in a political rag. (It's about halfway through the article.)

Fire Megan McArdle!

The only good to come out of Cowen's narcissistic post was someone's suggestion that this website was the winner. Now it's a bit ridiculous to devote an entire website to mocking a lady, but still, this made me laugh out loud twice. Be sure to scroll down and check out the polls on the left hand side.

I'm Thinking of a Number Between 0 and 100...

...what is it? The first person to guess gets an autographed copy of my latest book.*

* Not really, and I'm just making fun of Tyler Cowen in this post.

Wall Street Gold Hustlers?

So there are these things called Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), which allow investors to gain exposure to non-stocks (like oil, gold, bonds, Asian market, etc.) with the ease of stocks. What happens is that you buy a share of the ETF, and then the ETF invests its money such that its own share price (in theory) mimics the thing you are ultimately trying to invest in.

Now oil ETFs, for example, don't actually buy and hold oil. (At least, not the ones I've researched.) Presumably this would be too costly. Instead, they buy futures contracts on oil, and then roll them over when the delivery date approaches.

But when it comes to gold, both the GLD and IAU ETFs claim that they invest in physical gold. GLD (not sure about IAU) also says that its investors can redeem shares of GLD for the equivalent amount of physical gold at any time.

Well I was talking with a guy who works for "an investment counselor in Switzerland" (the term he asked that I use), and he said that his fi…

Two Observations on John, Chap. 6

Well, a while ago I started blogging on the gospel of Luke. It's not that I stopped reading it, but what happens is that I (try to) read a chapter each night before I go to sleep, and then the next day I don't blog about what I had read.

Anyway, now I am up to John chapter 6. I have two observations:

(1) There is a big divide between Catholics and Protestants over the route to salvation. Catholics think you have to do good works; good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell. Protestants (at least some subset of them, not sure if all) believe that man can't please God with his works; you have to accept Jesus and that's it. To the delight of atheists, there are strong New Testament passages for either interpretation. (I.e. the Bible seems to contradict itself on this issue.)

For a while I have thought that this was a false dichotomy. And then it seems Jesus confirms this in verses 28-29:

Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of …

"You're Two Hours Late...

and now dinner is ruined."

I hear something like that quite often on TV shows. And you know what's funny? I cook a lot, and yet I've never had occasion to say that to anyone. Why? Because I stop cooking the food when it's done, not when the other person shows up. Then, if they still haven't shown up, I put it in a Tupperware and in the fridge. What are these people on TV cooking all the time, soufflés?

"Klingon Watch"

I take it that this guy, Captain Quirk, has it in for economists like me, but even so I find his bio intriguing:

According to Memory Alpha, an online reference for everything Star Trek, Klingons are a fictional warrior society, aggressive, holding an "intense belief in expansion and conquest in order to survive." Here on earth, in the reality based community, economists--in particular a class of economists--often act in that role. They too are also obsessed with expansion, aggression, and conquest. And similar to the Klingons, this particular breed of economists have acquired a nefarious cloaking technology, in the form of specious arguments, allowing them to slip their unfounded ideas undetected into media commentary and analysis, private and public policies, and our every day walking-around consciousness. This blog--Klingon Watch--guided under the watchful eye of Captain Quirk, is dedicated to detecting and uncloaking Klingons--and their dangerous misleading arguments-- whe…

The Toad Song

The Toad Song

After me and twelve other chillun,
My pappy, who was a fatuous villain,
Said to my momma, go and get your tubes tied.
Momma said, shove it up your ass.

When I was three my momma done told me,
Son, she said, you was borned a toad.
Maw, I said, I allus knew I’s different,
Still I guess that’s a heavy load.

But I was young, so I got used to it,
Had a lot of fun,
Sittin’ in the swamp in the mud up to my ears
Growin’ warts and croakin’ in the noonday sun.

When I was seven I left home
‘Cause my pappy didn’t like to have a toad in the house.
Goodbye Maw, ain’tcha gonna kiss me?
Mamma said, shove it up your ass.

© 2008 by Walter Bloch, all rights reserved.

Oil Speculators: The Geek Version

OK here is the geekiest version yet of my views on oil speculation. I go through this one pretty slowly, step by step. I deal with some of the complications brought up by our good friends at MarginalRevolution etc., and show that they don't change the conclusion that speculators don't seem to be responsible.

There will be a punchier version (which deals more with the policy implications, rather than the boring economics) in an upcoming Freeman.

Gov't Screwup: Proof of Market Failure

Once again, the government royally screws up and someone calls this "laissez faire." Check it out. (Here the issue is the bogus warnings about tomatoes.)

California's Spending Binge Breaks Budget

Details here.

Happy A-Bomb Day!

Ralph Raico--the Don Rickles of Mises Institute events--offers his characteristically definitive views on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Minnesota Chris Makes Murphy Compilation

"Minnesota Chris" (I'm assuming that's not on his birth certificate) sent me the following compilation he'd made of my Congressional testimony. Thanks Chris!! (Note that the "joke" starts around 4:15 on the first clip. It doesn't seem very funny here, but at the time it was pretty good I thought. Especially since Chris edited out the rambling answers of the first two guys.)

In Part 2, you can see my response to the Congresswoman who wants to lower the speed limit.



FBI's Weak Case Against Ivins

Good ol' Glenn goes through the FBI's flimsy (leaked) case against Bruce Ivins, the government scientist and alleged anthrax mailer, who just killed himself. (So far no one has speculated that he was killed by the government. C'mon guys, where's the imagination?) I haven't been following this too closely, but if Glenn is even 50% right, this is yet another outrageous example of the FBI framing somebody.

The Oddest Justification Yet for the Iraq Invasion

In his August 5 WSJ op ed, Bret Stephens argues that, "The war in Iraq is over. We've won." (He has in mind the low troop fatalities.)

We can argue whether or not that is accurate, and whether or not he might look foolish in 12 months. (Remember the "Mission Accomplished" fiasco.) But the real contribution is his list of reasons why the invasion was a success:

Here's a partial list: Saddam is dead. Had he remained in power, we would likely still believe he had WMD.

Is anyone else amused/horrified by that second reason for invading another country? Rather than, "Oh my goodness, we killed a bunch of people on the basis of bad intelligence!" Stephens has turned it into, "Phew! We killed a bunch of people, but at least we corrected our bogus intelligence."

Obama's Tell?

I've noticed that a lot of the time, when people ask Obama his position on something, he'll say, "As I've said numerous times before, I support blah blah blah..."

At first I thought this was just political schtick to combat the charge of flip-flopper. But now I wonder, is this his tell? I.e., if he doesn't want to actually answer his true opinion on something, he can truthfully say, "In the past I've said that my position is..."

This way, he can minimize the number of lies he has to tell. He does it once in a prepared speech, and then in informal interviews he (perhaps subconsciously) falls back on a truthful reference to his speech.

Remember, Obama hasn't been in politics as long as someone like Bill Clinton. Blatant lying might still be hard for him.

I Woke Up This Morning

and I got myself a gun.

Yeah, I've been watching the Sopranos, so sue me if I play too long. (What's that from, hey?)

Mary-Kate Olsen Knows the Policeman Is Not Your Friend

My wife alerted me to this news story. Mary-Kate Olsen wisely insists on immunity before discussing Heath Ledger's death with police. Maybe she saw the video I discussed earlier where a law professor explains that you should NEVER talk to the police without getting immunity.

Sex, sex, sex

OK, I know, we've been remiss here in revealing the "sex secrets of the Himalayan masters". But, although I won't be revealing those here, I do want to talk about sex. Specifically, did you know:
* The male boar releases 85 billion sperm in a single act of copulation?

* The guppy can switch sex so quickly that, if two female guppies "in the mood" meet, they may frustrate each other by repeatedly becoming male, then female, then male again, each switch taking only a few seconds?

* Schistosoma haemaatobia develops with the female already embedded in the male in a kind of permanent sexual embrace?

* The blue whale gives birth to young weighing 15 tons and already 2/5 of her length (i.e., her baby is bigger than an elephant at birth)?

* Madame Feodor Vassiliev of Russia gave birth to 69 children, 16 twins, 7 triplets, and 4 quadruplets?

* Worms mate by mutually penetrating their partner's vagina with their penis while their own vagina is similarly penetrated?

* Ra…

Batman Question

I am going to tuck this question as the first comment on the post. (I don't want to give a spoiler to the movie.)

David Henderson Outs Tyler Cowen

Hey I didn't do it: David Henderson calls Tyler Cowen a big sellout wuss (or something like that). I add my two cents at the end, but I think most of the MR crowd has moved on at this point. Heh heh this way I get the last word, albeit spoken to myself.