Showing posts from October, 2011

Fatuous Forecasting

Look, economic forecasting is necessary. People need to act now in situations where the best decision depends largely or entirely on future conditions. So, go ahead, make a guess! Publish it if you want, and even ask others to pay for it if they will. But let's not pretend to accuracy we can't possibly achieve:

"Some cities will continue to fade, however. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.'s forecast is for a 9.2% drop through next June and another 6.7% the 12 months after that."

Don't you love that ".7" on the forecast for two years from now? If these folks can get within two or three percent for a two-year-out forecast, they are doing a fantastic job.

Did You Know...

that Neil Young once replaced Rick James in a band?!

Oh-oh, New England

Rod Dreher asks what you would recommend to someone visiting your area for ten days who wants a sense of what is like. I offer the following tour of New England, starting from the NY border:


1) Drive on 35 into Ridgefield, CT. Park and walk the downtown.

2) Drive down 7 to the Merritt Parkway. Take it east to New Haven. Drive to the top of West Rock and enjoy the view.

3) Drive down Whalley Avenue to the city center. Take a walk around the green and the Yale campus. Get some pizza. Head east out of the city and stay at a B&B in Stony Creek.


4) Take off east again on 1-95. Stop off in Mystic and visit the seaport.

5) Continue to Rhode Island. Tour the mansions in Newport. If it is summer, go for a swim at Horseneck Beach just across the line in Massachusetts. Stay in New Bedford.


6) In the morning visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Then up to Boston. Tour the commons and Beacon Hill. Catch a Celtics or Red Sox game. Stay at a hotel in the city center.


7) Up the coas…

A Piece of Detailed Research

You may think, after reading the last few posts, that I derived my understanding of history from Butterfield. But I had actually not laid a finger on any of his writings about history until yesterday morning. So it has been kind of fascinating, in the context of our discussion, to find Butterfield, both a great historian and a great thinker about history, to be saying almost exactly what I have been, if more clearly stated.

In any case, one more quote from the man:
We, after a survey of the Reformation, may seek to deduce from general principles what must have been the reasons for its occurrence; but there is all the difference in the world between this kind of philosophising and a close and concrete examination of how Martin Luther’s great decision came to be made. This accounts for the air of unreality which hangs around much of our general history when it has been compiled with too great impatience of historical research. The result of historical study is precisely t…

More Detail, Please!

"In the last resort the historian's explanation of what has happened is not a general piece of reasoning at all. He explains the French Revolution by discovering exactly what it was that occurred; and if at any point we need further elucidation all that he can do is to take us into greater detail, and make us see in still more definite concreteness what really did take place." -- Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, p. 72.

There is not in history a set of "facts" and a separate explanation for why they occurred: the explanation simply is a more and more detailed view of the facts.

Real Works of Physics

Here is a quick test:
1) Did you find it at Barnes and Noble? Not a real work of physics.
2) Was it in the top 100,000 at Not a real work of physics.
3) Did a professor who is not a physicist assign to you in a class? Not a real work of physics.

1) Did you find it at Barnes and Noble? Not a real work of history.
2) Was it in the top 100,000 at Not a real work of history.
3) Did a professor who is not an historian assign to you in a class? Not a real work of history.

A True Work of Art

That I am sixteen years behind on picking up on:

Why Do I Keep Posting on the Philosophy of History?

I was having a hard time. I would post one thing, and Bob Murphy would agree with it, but Daniel Kuehn would abjure. I'd post another, and Silas would object, but Ryan would agree. Lord Keynes would like one post of mine on property rights, but Tom would hate the very same post. This was all very unsatisfactory.

But now, in my posts on the philosophy of history, I've found something to say about which every single one of my readers universally objects. I am in my milieu.

Actual Historical Research and Abridgements of History

"It is only by undertaking an actual piece of research and looking at some point in history through the microscope that we can really visualize the complicated movements that lie behind any historical change... Perhaps the greatest of all lessons of history is this demonstration of the complexity of human change and the unpredictable character of the ultimate consequences of any given act or decision of men; and on the face of it this is a lesson that can only be learned in detail. It is a lesson that is bound to be lost in abridgment, and that is why abridgments of history are sometimes calculated to propagate the very reverse of the truth of history. The historian seeks to explain how the past came to be turned into the present, but there is a very real sense in which the only explanation he can give is to unfold the whole story and reveal the complexity in telling it in detail." -- Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, p. 21-22.

There are a couple of t…

There Are Causes, and There Are Causes

Let's us say we are shooting cannon balls into the East River from Brooklyn. Suddenly, we see one of them soar off and land on the FDR Drive on the Manhattan side of the water. What happened?

"What caused that one ball to cross the East River?" you ask.

There are different possible answers, but they generally should take the form of offering a difference in the mechanical forces acting on that ball.

"Well," I might say, "I doubled the amount of powder I used for that shot," or perhaps "That ball only weighed half of what the others did," or something of the sort.

But let's say you see me driving across the Brooklyn Bridge. You turn to our mutual acquaitance, Sanford, and ask him, "What caused Gene to cross the East River today?"

Sanford answers, "Well, Gene wants to go to Pennsylvania today, and to do so, he must get off of Long Island somehow. He prefers the Brooklyn Bridge as it is toll free and relatively easy to acces…

History, the Final Frontier

Fascinatingly, social scientists seemed to be trained in a way that makes them unable to recognize that there even is such a discipline as history. When they say to you, "Of course, history exists," what they mean is that events did happen before today. They have no clue that history is a distinct discipline, with its own unique methods and standards of evidence.

I just received a note from a very bright social scientist that exhibits this befuddlement on the topic of history very nicely. I quote it, with permission:

"I assume the following two points

"1. 'Facts' are theory laden."

Right away, he has gone completely off the tracks. He believes that there are historical facts, around which one devises a theory. What counts as a fact depends somewhat on one's theory, but these facts, while being "theory laden," are separble from one's theory, and could, for instance, confirm or refute it.

But that is all nonsense. The historian's t…

Metaphor Abuse Detection

Samuel Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, tries to make the case the Turkey is a "torn nation," stuck between two civilizations, "the West" and "Islam." I don't wish to dispute Huntington's case here -- for one thing, I just don't know that much about Turkey. But I do wish to dispute a piece of "evidence" he cites for his case. He writes:
President Suleyman Demirel similarly called Turkey "a very significant bridge in a region extending from west to east, that is from Europe to China." A bridge, however, is an artificial creation connecting two solid entities but is part of neither. When Turkey's leaders term their country a bridge, they euphemistically confirm that it is torn. Eegads, that is awful! First of all, a metaphor is meant to highlight one or a small group of similarities between two different things. It is entirely illegitimate to move from the implied comparison to a…

Religious Indoctrination in the Public Schools

All three of my children are in public schools. They have also been home-schooled at times, and attended private schools. All-in-all, I don't find the public schools my kids are attending so bad. But once in a while...

Like today, I was looking over my youngest's science homework, and found him being told: "Everything in the universe is made of atoms. You are made of atoms."

This, of course, is eliminative materialism. It means that things like, for instance, ethics and morality do not exist, since they are obviously not made of atoms. And it means that "you" are nothing more than your physical body.

This is not a scientific position. Given its absurdity, it's not even really correct to call it a philosophical position, although it sometimes is able to slip by the unwary as if it were one. And it flat out contradicts the teachings of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism... and I bet just about any other religion one can think of. (Except, o…

Academic Kindness

I'm filling out an application today where they don't ask for references until you are short-listed and they actually intend to interview you. Everyone should follow such a policy: it is kind on the applicant's referees.

A similar policy more widely followed is: don't ask for formatting changes until you accept a paper! The paper's referees are not going to have a different recommendation based on whether the paper has references inline or as footnotes.

That Unrealistic Dreamer, Jon Stewart...

confronts the steely-eyed realist, Ron Paul.

Robin Koerner knocks Jon Stewart by noting that Stewart is just not dealing with the real world as we actually find it:

"Theoretically, and in an ideal world, no: just because government has failed to do something effectively does not prove that it cannot do it or that it should not be asked to do it. But in the country in which we live, largely yes."

Ron Paul, on the other hand, does not drift off into fantasy in any way whatsoever:

"Corporations in Ron Paul's favored society would not be allowed to violate the property rights of others, pollute their air or water, defraud them, lie to them or hurt them in any way."

Well, let me tell you, in my favored society, we can all float to the moon on gossamer wings and a race of intelligent but naturally servile chimps wipes our bottoms for us after we defecate. So let's set policy based on that!

Missing the Forest for The Trees

Bryan Caplan nitpicks over a mathematical error in Kahneman's new book, and misses the much larger error. Interesting, it seems social scientists, by their training, lose the ability to think about this topic. Here is the quote from Kahneman:
The idea that large historical events are determined by luck is profoundly shocking, although it is demonstrably true.  It is hard to think of the history of the twentieth century, including its large social movements, without bringing in the role of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong.  But there was a moment in time, just before an egg was fertilized, when there was a fifty-fifty chance that the embryo that became Hitler could have been a female.  Compounding the three events, there was a probability of one-eighth of a twentieth century without any of the three great villains and it is impossible to argue that history would have been roughly the same in their absence. The problem is that Kahneman is bringing in concepts that are cate…

A Song for My Daughter

(You really want headphones for the end bits.)

How to Clean a Dolphin

All you need is a cloth and some all-porpoise cleaner.

That Delicate Internal Combustion Engine

"The time has long gone by when anyone who claims the title of philosopher can think of religion as a superfluity for the educated and an 'opiate for the masses.' It is the only known explosive in the economy of that delicate internal combustion engine, the human mind. Peoples rich in religious energy can overcome all obstacles and attain any height in the scale of civilisation. Peoples that have reached the top of a hill by the wise use of religious energy may then decide to do without it; they can still move, but they can only move downhill, and when they come to the bottom of the hill they stop." -- R.G. Collingwood, "Fascism and Nazism"

There Were Others There Before Me!

Robert Barclay, eminent seventeenth-century Quaker: "Nevertheless, because [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader."

It's Like They Think It Is Their Country!

Michele Bachmann is very upset the US troops are finally being withdrawn from Iraq; she feels it is outrageous that we are being "kicked out." Furthermore, we ought to get them to pay us... for invading their country and reducing it to chaos and rubble!

I want to make some sort of scathing comment, but words fail me.

Democracy Can Be Confusing

I heard on the radio today that many Tunisians found their ballots too confusing, what with hundreds of parties and candidates listed. They should learn from the pros: Here, we only allow two parties to have a chance at winning, and whichever one wins, they will implement the same policies. It makes voting much simpler.

Aaak. Aaak. Jeffy wanna hold office. Aaak.


Liveblogging The Origins of Political Order

I have previously protested the abuse of the word "statist" by some libertarians. Here is why it is good not to abuse it: when you find someone who genuinely is a statist (in the sense that Mises, say, used the term), you will not have a way to describe his position.

I happen to have come to believe that the state is what we got now, and what we're likely to be stuck with for some time to come, so we'd better make the best of it. But some people really do see the state as a telos (or perhaps the telos) of history. Take our current specimen under examination, Dr. Fukuyama. His first chapter on India is called "The Indian Detour": it is a "detour" because they didn't form a state. A period of small, competing states is termed "another period of political decay" (p. 184). The Muslim empire in India was deficient because "their state too was limited in its ability to shape Indian society" (p. 185). China had a "superior l…

And Neither Does "Cause," Used in the Scientific Sense, Have a Place in History Proper

Ryan, this one is for you:

"But further, there is another kind of cause which must be rejected in historical explanation because to recognize it involves the destruction of history. A cause in scientific experience is, briefly, the minimum conditions required to account for any example of an observed result. But this, clearly, is a form of explanation foreign to historical experience; and it is possible in science only because the world of scientific experience is a world, not of events but of instances. Were he to adopt it, the historian would be obliged to eliminate all causes save one, of existing effects; and this would resolve history into an infinite regress of abstractions in search of an absolute beginning, or limit its reference to whatever lay immediately behind the given event. And moreover, the historian would find himself obliged to consider (by a kind of ideal experiment) what might have happened as well as what the evidence obliges him to believe did happen; that …

The Term "Accident" Has No Place in Historical Understanding

"And lastly, Bury’s theory of contingent events implies that in history there are accidents, surprises, abnormalities. But the notion of the accidental is contradictory of the whole character of the historical world. It is a notion which the historian, when he sits down to write history, must dismiss from his mind. History knows nothing of the fortuitous or the unexpected; in history there is nothing extraordinary, because there is nothing ordinary. The hard winter of 1814 which ruined Napoleon’s expedition to Russia, the storm which dispersed the Armada—these, from the standpoint of the participants, were distressing mischances; all (from that point of view) might so easily have been different. But the attitude of the historian is not that of the eyewitness or the participant. Where they see mischance and accident, he sees fact and event. And he is never called upon to consider what might have happened had circumstances been different. For himself and his friends the death of W…

Liveblogging The Origins of Political Order

Well, my liveblogging went dead for a bit, as I forgot to bring Fukuyama's book back with me from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn. (I explain because I know how anxious you all must have been for the next installment!) But now I have it again! Here is this post's quote of note:

"The only part of the world where tribalism was fully superseded by more voluntary and individualistic forms of social relationship was Europe, where Christianity played a decisive role in undermining kinship as a basis for social cohesion" (p. 78).

If Fukuyama is correct (and I suspect he is), what does this say about projects like that of The Front Porch Republic and Rod Dreher (see links in the sidebar to the right) that are both Christian and seek to strengthen local, traditional ties? Is the an inherent tension in their efforts between the Christian elements and the localist elements?

UPDATE: Oh, and I might include me in the list of people who ought to think about this apparent tension!

Libertarianism Calls for Bigger Government

Or so a libertarian argument I just ran across implies!

The argument was against supporters of Keynes. I ran across it in private correspondence, so I can't point you to where to find it, but it runs as follows (Argument A):

1) Keynes's supporters say that his policies don't necessarily call for bigger government; instead, Keynes said governments should run surpluses in good times and deficits only in bad times, a recommendation which is entirely size neutral.
2) However, Keynes's advice was unrealistic; knowing public choice theory, we can see that, in fact, governments will love running deficits and hate running surpluses, and so will only pay attention to half of his advice.
3) Therefore, in fact, Keynes's prescription calls for more government.

So, let us apply this to a libertarian policy stance (Argument B):

1) Libertarians say that the market should decide both when a firm should grow large and when it should fail. No one should step in to bail out market l…

There's Plenty of Blame to Go Around!

I can't get over the fact that people have such a hard time realizing that multiple actors can be to blame for a situation. You see it all the time in the way that people feel that, "You're blaming the victim!" is a knock-down argument. Well, sometimes the victim is to blame! That doesn't mean the perpetrator isn't also to blame, and probably even more to blame.

This came up the other day in reference to a friend's substance abuse problems. Someone said "He tells his ex-girlfriend that she is an enabler, as if he's not to blame."

Well, he probably is trying to shift blame, but that doesn't mean he is wrong in what he says! I saw them together, and she was a terrible enabler:
Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me
If I spring a leak, she mends me
I don't have to speak, as she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one That does not in the least excuse him. She was an enabler, after all, not an enforcer.

You see the same sort …


was the single word that split the Eastern and Western Christian churches in two. (Of course it was only the final straw, but still, it was the final straw!)

Hey, I Just Withdrew Some Colorless Red Patches from the Bank

A rather bizarre argument against fractional reserve banking, which I ran into this morning yet again, runs as follows: If I make a contract to sell you a square circle, that contract cannot be enforced, because it is self-contradictory. (Is the contract really self-contradictory?) Well, fractional reserve banking is the same! The fact that people may voluntarily put their money in fractional reserve banks means no more for their legitimacy than does the fact that someone might have agreed to take delivery of a bunch a square circles.

Well, if this analogy worked, what it would prove is that fractional reserve banking can't possibly exist. Contracts for square circles are illegitimate because square circles are impossible. By analogy, contracting into a fractional reserve relationship must be illegitimate because fractional reserve bank notes cannot exist.

Oddly enough, these non-existent entities are also the cause of the business cycle!

Empty yourself of everything.

Let the mind become still.
The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.
They grow and flourish and then return to the source.
Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.
The way of nature is unchanging.
Knowing constancy is insight.
Not knowing constancy leads to disaster.
Knowing constancy, the mind is open.
With an open mind, you will be openhearted.
Being openhearted, you will act royally.
Being royal, you will attain the divine.
Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.
Being at one with the Tao is eternal.
And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.

Our Knowledge of the Concrete Comes First...

and generalized abstractions only later.

In fact, without first understanding concrete situations, we would be unable to generalize, since we would have no idea what we were generalizing from. Our knowledge of generalizations is secondary and derivative of our knowledge of particulars. But scientific training often leads people to believe just the opposite of the truth here.


When I've worked for a private company they generally haven't cared about making personal phone calls so long as the amount billed didn't become outrageous. But today, I am filling out paperwork on writing a check for the 96 cents worth of calls I have made this semester.

Doesn't it occur to anyone that:
1) printing a statement of my calls;
2) printing a form where I assert their purpose;
3) distributing such forms to my pigeon hole;
4) having me spend time filling the forms out;
5) having me spend time writing a check;
6) having me spend time delivering the forms and check; and
7) processing said forms and check...

Are going to cost a lot, lot more than 96 cents? And that maybe they should set a threshold below which charges are ignored?

Is Buddhism an Atheistic Religion?

No, it has an apophatic theology, which is also found in many strains of Christianity, in Hinduism, in Taoism, in Islam, and in Judaism.

Amusing Graph of the Day

Here. (You may not find what the graph indicates to be amusing. But the graph itself certainly is.)

Voegelin on Gnosticism

I recall that in one blog discussion someone showed up and said, "It's funny that Voegelin is supposed to be such a scholar, but on Gnosticism he had no idea what he was talking about." His "evidence" for this was to link to some fellow leading a modern Gnostic cult who said Voegelin had no idea what he was talking about!

In any case, here is Voegelin 25 years after The New Science of Politics came out:

"nor: More specifically, if I may: would you do anything differently with your third part on Gnosticism as the nature of modernity?

"voegelin: Well, yes. Because in the twenty-five years intervening since the book was published, we know so much more now about the continuous trends in Western intellectual history. Gnosticism is certainly not the only trend."

So, he used a term that, given that state of historical research at the time, seemed apt, but then, as more facts were uncovered, he changed his mind.

You know, the way a scholar should do.

Whatever Is Truly Valuable Is Useless

"The original meaning of science and of philosophy, of course, is that each has a purpose in itself and is not a contribution to anything at all. Purposes which are ultimate have no further purpose. They fall into the quite purpose­less activity of exploring the structure of reality." -- Eric Voegelin

It is easy to demonstrate that anything that is truly valuable has no usefulness: Things are useful in that they are used to achieve / acquire something else. Of course that something else must be more valuable than the useful thing, or there would be no net gain (and no reason to act) in employing the useful.

So, is that for which the useful employed itself useful, or not? Sometimes it is: in that case, the thing for which it is useful is yet more valuable. But this chain must clearly come to an end, at which point we have arrived at what is most valuable and utterly useless.

Who Knew

That a fourteen-year-old English kid could sing like an anguished fifty-year-old from the Bayou?

(I don't think that Eric Burdon is really fourteen here, but he sure looks like it.)

I Was Like, "How Did That Happen?"

That the phrase "was like" replaced "said." You know, I was like, "The latter is like shorter and all."

It Was the Deregulation, Stupid

Rod Dreher on the role de-regulation and non-regulation played in the current meltdown. That anyone can try to deny this was a major factor speaks of their living in a dream reality of their own construction.


"Relentness necessity, wretchedness, distress, the crushing burden of poverty, and of labor which wears us out, cruelty, torture, violent death, constraint, disease -- all these constitute divine love." -- Simone Weil

A Puzzle

Why haven't New York taxi drivers learned to check the traffic before they pick a road?

Now Step to the Right, Now Shake It to the Left

I mentioned a while back that I heard some people at a conference were puzzling over my "conservative turn." Well, yesterday at the Oakeshott conference someone approached me and said, "Ah, Gene, it was good to hear your voice from the left during the comments!"

Perhaps I am like a human Rorschach test.

You Know What Phrase I Hate?

"Our democracy."

Just the Facts Redux

Prateek was skeptical about this post. (But Prateek, aren't you in India? Why weren't you sceptical about it? Is American spellling spreading there?)

Here are Prateek's remarks:

"Are you saying that facts admit of some cause-effect relation by themselves?"

"Cause" and "effect" ideally shouldn't be employed in history at all, because they create confusion. Historical "causes" are understood situations, and historical "effects" are intelligible responses to those situations.

 "Between events A and B, there could be a million reasons for A leading to B. One might cite a plausible reason for A leading to B. But plausibility has little to do with what actually happened."

There could be, Prateek. It is the job of the historian to examine the evidence until she knows what did lead from A to B! If she can't determine that, she doesn't yet know the facts, because, without seeing what led from A to B, she doesn…

Dennis Ritchie Is Dead


Just the Facts, Mam: The Origins of Political Order.

It is often supposed that history collects a bunch of facts, and that these facts then stand in need of explanation by some other subject: perhaps economics, or sociology, or biology, or... something else. Fukuyama often seems to have such a view of what he is doing in The Origins of Political Order.

This view is mistaken, and the person holding it has not yet grasped that history is its own form of understanding. The historian does not gather a number of facts which then stand in need of explanation. When the historians knows what the facts are, he has already arrived at his explanation. That is because the way one settles upon what the facts of some historical episode are is to see what makes sense of the evidence you have at hand. And to have determined what posited past events will make sense of your evidence is to have explained those events in the very same process.

We Discuss Virtue and Liberal Education

Atilla Molnar, Ken McIntyre, me, Kang Chen

Herbert Simon on Maurice Cowling

"He was born middle-aged, dressed erratically, drank like a lord, and was polite only when he could think of nothing suitably offensive to say."

They Weren't Doing History

At the Oakeshott conference, Ken McIntyre just said, "It is wrong to say that pre-modern thinkers were making historical mistakes, because before 200 years ago, no one was doing history."

Just so.

Need Someone to Drive Drunk in Tulsa?

Here's your man:

Where Your Happiness Starts

I'm sitting in LaGuardia Airport. CNN is on. An ad came showing a bunch of smiling people were on the beach, riding jet skis, and doing other fun things.

Then, the only voice or text in the commercial comes on: "Xingdao, China: A livable city where your happiness begins." (I am 100% certain I have the name of the city wrong.)

OK, why is this city advertising its livability on CNN?

A Pizza Guy

Is now up on Ron Paul by 2.5 to 1.

But it would be treasonous to admit there is no chance he can win.

What Are All Those Things?

I just set up a new 2TB external drive for backups. Time Machine kicked off, and announced it was about to back up 1,052,466 files!

"I Want You to Be Advised

That the bus to Port Chester is not running today."

Well, one good way to achieve that goal would be for you to advise me of that.

In the Free Society of the Future...

rolling one's eyes is an act of treason, no doubt punishable by death at the libertarian Nuremberg trials.

UPDATE: By the way, it's rather amusing that pointing out the obvious -- Ron Paul is not going to win the Republican nomination -- is considered by Block to be an act of treason!

Heliocentrism Meant What?

It's an old, old canard that says that people objected to heliocentrism because it made people feel unimportant on the cosmic scale. I guess the people who said this had never read Job:

“Who is this that obscures my plans
   with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
   I will question you,
   and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
   Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
   Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
   or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
   and all the angels shouted for joy?
“Who shut up the sea behind doors
   when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
   and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
   and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
   here is where your proud waves halt’?
“Have you ever given…

If You Don't Pronounce Italian Badly, Like Me, I Will Correct You!

I was just reminded of a scene in Two for the Money where Matthew McConaughey correctly pronounces bruschetta as 'brusketa," and Al Pacino "corrects" him, and says "No, it's 'brusheta'!" I've gotten this in my neighborhood a number of times: "No, it's muhzarell!" or, "No, it's proshoot!"

If you want to pronounce Italian correctly, listen to the way Italian-Americans say a word, and then say something else. At least you'll have a shot at getting it right.

Defending Western Civilization

I had told my 14-year-old that he should be in by dark, even in non-school nights. And as dark has been coming earlier, so should he be getting home earlier.

But then I discovered that three of his friends (who are brothers) are allowed to stay out until eight PM. That wouldn't bother me, except that... these friends are Muslims! I've got to uphold the honor of the decadent, permissive West. I immediately told him he can stay out until eight.

If Muslim kids are allowed to stay out later than my son, the terrorists have already won!

9/11 Obsession

A store clerk reduced the price of a product I was buying today by one cent. The reason? The price, with tax, had come out to $9.11, and it would be unlucky to charge me that amount.

Mind Your Matter Going In!

So, here's how it went down:

Descartes cleaved the world in two. One part, which he called matter, was totally inert, only acted upon, never acting. It could be fully described employing the language of only "shapes, sizes and motions." Consider how Descartes regarded most of our own mental processes:

"I should like you to consider that these functions (including passion, memory, and imagination) follow from the mere arrangement of the machine’s organs every bit as naturally as the movements of a clock or other automaton follow from the arrangement of its counter-weights and wheels." -- Descartes, Treatise on Man

Animals he famously regarded as solely and only machines, with no awareness at all. (He clearly was without pets.) Humans, however, were different: they also were made up of an active component, mind, or spirit. Mind had no size or shape, and was the only active principle in the universe. One great mind, God's, had set all of the inert matter …

How to Avoid Dying from Pneumonia

Bob Murphy says a CNBC commentator has implicitly endorsed laissez-faire in writing:

A depression occurs “only once it becomes painfully obvious that the markets and economy are failing to respond to repeated bouts of policy stimulus,” one economist said.

So, Bob concludes, this means the way to avoid depressions is obviously not to engage in monetary stimulus. Similarly, if a doctor wrote:

Death from pneumonia occurs only once it becomes painfully obvious that the patient is failing to respond to repeated bouts of antibiotic therapy.

I imagine that Bob would conclude that one could avoid dying from pneumonia by avoiding antibiotics.


A guy sets up an anonymous blog, being very careful not to reveal his name. But he forgot one rule of anonymous blogging: don't tell Tyler Cowen your name!

Two "Jokes" That Will Get You Killed


You might also like Strunk and White: a piece of crap. Pullum demonstrates that Strunk and White sometimes go so far as to violate one of their "rules" in the very sentence describing that rule! And, remarkably, three of their four examples of that naughty passive construction are not passive constructions at all.

Were the Gospel Writers Trying to Tell Historically Accurate Stories?

They were not. And how do we know they were not? Because the concept of "historical accuracy" is a modern concept, not available for the gospel writers to adhere to even had that been their goal... which it could not have been, since the concept did not exist yet!

Don't believe me? Consider the two greatest historians of the ancient world, Herodotus and Thucydides, the closest we come to modern historians in that time. Well, both of them were quite happy to simply make up a speech and stuff it into the mouth of one of their characters. They might even invent an entire dramatic meeting without any real evidence that such a meeting took place. Of course, they did not make up just any old speech or scene: they made up a speeches and scenes that they thought would convey the essence of what had gone on. They were worried about the spirit of the matter, and not about the details. They simply did not possess the modern concept of historical accuracy. What they wanted to do wa…

Liveblogging The Origins of Political Order

Discussing the same era as mentioned in my previous post, Fukuyama writes, "All of these [casualty] figures are regarded by historians as wildly inflated and unverifiable, but it is still remarkable that the Chinese ones are a full order of magnitude higher than their Western counterparts" (p. 111).

Well, it may be remarkable, but it doesn't tell us anything about the real casualty rate, does it? I mean, if these figures are "wildly inflated and unverifiable," what does it matter if they are a trillion times higher than their Western counterparts? Perhaps the Chinese had thought in terms of larger numbers than Europeans? Perhaps when they exaggerated, they really liked to exaggerate?

If two fisherman who are renowned liars tell you fish tales, and one says his fish that got away was 10-feet long, while the other says 20-feet, you are not justified in saying, "Well, even given that we know they are both liars, it is remarkable how much longer the second fe…

Liveblogging The Origins of Political Order

Discussing the period before the rise of states in China (which is why "states" is in scare quotes below), Fukuyama notes: 'One scholar has calculated that in the 294-year duration of the Spring and Autumn period, more than 1,211 wars were fought between and among Chinese "states." Throughout this entire period, there were only 38 years of peace' (p. 111). Far from being the source of warfare, the state arose in response to the constant warring of pre-state societies. (And the more-organized chiefdoms arose in response to the warring of less-organized tribes, and so on.) The death tolls in these wars, especially when population became dense and there was no escaping to empty land nearby, were horrific. If creating the state did not create war, why in the world would someone think that eliminating the state will eliminate war?

Yes, It Really Is Possible...

Hmm, Casoulet!

My pork shoulder has been going in the crock pot for 2 1/2 hours now. Here's the whole recipe:

Put one pound of white beans in a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat and put the lid on the pot. (The trick here is that by doing it this way, the beans are getting softer, but at a slow rate where you don't have to worry about ruining them, so your attention can be on other things.)

Brown pork shoulder in oil. When done, place in crock pot.

Dump out the oil, then de-glaze the pot with one quart of chicken stock. When the stock has come to a boil, pour it over the shoulder. (I like to heat anything I add to the crock pot first, since the thing takes so long to heat up.) If your stock is low sodium, you might want to add some salt as well.

Add a package of cubed prosciutto to the pot, noting well that there is an 'o' on the end of the word 'prosciutto,' and recalling that there are no silent, final vowels in Italian.

Ideological Commitments

Dan Klein claims: "One’s ideological views – that is, the pattern of positions one tends to take on important public-policy issues – run deep and change little."

Well, Dan is not using the word "ideology" in the same way I do. And that's fine: I can get different definitions than my own. But in my case the claim is simply empirically way off: My views have changed dramatically at least five times in my life: from conservative as an adolescent (I used to watch Firing Line religiously at age 12!), to pretty far left by my mid-twenties, to neoconservative in my mid-thirties, to mild libertarian a few years later, to libertarian anarchist, and finally, to a understanding that holds that ideologies themselves are the main problem with contemporary politics.

I like to believe that this is a result of a willingness to think things all the way through again and again, changing my beliefs as required by such re-thinking. My critics will probably say it is just evidence …

Constitutional Originalism

It doesn't work.

(Hat tip to Brad Delong.)

Perhaps It Was Just His Neurons...

that made him think this made any sense:

"And he offered what I thought was one of the wisest responses to the debate over the existence of evil (and thus free will):

"What he suggested is that we ought to act as if we had free will to choose good or evil."

So, this "wise response" suggests that we should choose to act as if we are able to make choices. Which, of course, we could only do if we were really able to make choices.

Stop Making Sense

So, Warren Buffet thinks the rich should pay more in taxes. I don't want to discuss here whether that makes sense or not. What I do want to discuss is the dumb response many libertarians have offered: "Why doesn't Buffet just pay more taxes voluntarily if he wants to?"

Well, hmm.. let's think... perhaps because that would be an empty gesture that wouldn't even put a dent in the deficit, while Buffet believes (rightly or wrongly) that raising taxes on all of the rich would help fix the problem. This answer is so obvious that one commentator at Reason noted that thelibertarian objection we're discussing is equivalent to: "If you think the speed limit should be lowered on a given stretch of road, why don't you just drive slower while everybody else whizzes by you?"

Maybe Buffet's idea is good or maybe it's bad. But this line of objection is moronic.

Karl Marx...

John Maynard Keynes, and Friederich Hayek walk into a bar.

The bartender looks up and says, "What is this, a joke?"