Thursday, December 18
Thursday, December 11
In March, the English-language Shanghai Daily reported that fully half of the steel sold to construction companies in Shanghai’s wholesale markets failed basic quality tests. Nearly a quarter of the tested samples failed tension tests, meaning structures built with them would not be able to withstand earthquakes and would be more likely to decay over time.
Monday, December 8
Imagine you had incontrovertible proof that there was no afterlife. No supernatural entities. No heaven or hell. No otherworld. No reincarnation. No forevermore."Imagine"? That's what I believe.
No second chances.
Imagine there was no moral accounting after death of your actions on earth. No supreme being to judge your soul’s worth on the scale of divine justice. No reward or punishment. No appeal to omniscient authority in matters of good and evil.
There was only the endless black void at the moment death. The infinite silence. A complete surrender of your consciousness as the last pinprick of light extinguishes. All your thoughts, your feelings, your sensation, your memories… you… wiped away clean to merge with the great nothing.
When there is no second life or higher power to appease; when our lives are machines — complex misunderstood machines cunningly designed to conceal the gears and pulleys behind a facade of self-delusional sublimation, but machines nonetheless — grinding and belching the choking gritty smoke of status-whoring displays in service to our microscopic puppetmasters… well, there can be only one reasonable response to it all. It makes no sense to behave any other way unless you never questioned the lies.
Monday, November 10
In his new book, Society Without God, Phil Zuckerman looks at the Danes and the Swedes—probably the most godless people on Earth. They don't go to church or pray in the privacy of their own homes; they don't believe in God or heaven or hell. But, by any reasonable standard, they're nice to one another. They have a famously expansive welfare and health care service. They have a strong commitment to social equality. And—even without belief in a God looming over them—they murder and rape one another significantly less frequently than Americans do.Yeah, but believe it or not, not everyone believes that an expansive welfare and health care service and a strong commitment to social equality are necessarily good things.
Denmark and Sweden aren't exceptions. A 2005 study by Gregory Paul looking at 18 democracies found that the more atheist societies tended to have relatively low murder and suicide rates and relatively low incidence of abortion and teen pregnancy.
Monday, November 3
All our wars on poverty have been lost by failing to help the poor help themselves. Higher business taxes, which ultimately can only be paid by individuals anyway, will simply export more economic activity to the world economy. Higher capital gains and income taxes will primarily reduce savings and investment at the expense of greater future productivity, which is at the heart of cross-generational reductions in poverty. A dozen countries, including the third largest economy, already have zero taxes on capital gains, and eight of them score high on the Economic Freedom Index and high in gross domestic product per capita.
I favor making all individual savings and direct investments deductible from income for tax purposes. In that world there would be no need to make any distinction between ordinary income and capital gains. By adding a negative feature to such a net consumption tax, the poor would not only receive redistribution benefit, but have an incentive to save and accumulate capital. Some poor will see this as an opportunity to help themselves.
Saturday, November 1
Specialists in public opinion have exhaustively documented the average voter's shocking ignorance about the main issues of the day, the names of their local candidates for office, or the policies the candidates support.
The flakiest voters -- the ones least motivated to show up at the polls year in and year out -- also tend to be most poorly informed. So when turnout drops, it tends to leave the pool of remaining voters with an improved average level of political knowledge and policy know-how. If well-informed voters have a better picture of the candidate or party most likely to promote the general welfare, then especially high turnout can actually tilt an election away from the better choice, leaving everyone a bit worse off. And that's not very civic-minded.
Wednesday, October 29
As Prof. Stan J. Liebowitz of the University of Texas points out in his study, “Anatomy of a Train Wreck,” the foreclosure problems began in mid-2006 when the nation’s unemployment rate was holding steady at a mere 4.6 percent. What triggered the crisis were not layoffs but an end of the rise in home prices. By contrast, in the economic slowdown that began earlier in this decade, unemployment started rising in early 2001 and peaked at 6.3 percent in mid-2003 but resulted in only a modest uptick in foreclosures by today’s standards....
The data suggest that speculation was rampant among average Joes and Janes and not something primarily that high-end buyers or ‘yuppie flippers” engaged in (as a hilarious Saturday Night Live skit suggested a few weeks ago). Indeed, one thing that probably accounts for the large number of defaults in lower income and moderate income neighborhoods is that these buyers were most likely to engage in speculation, according to the data that Liebowitz has crunched. He found that speculative purchases during the current bubble were higher as a neighborhood’s average income decreased. In neighborhoods where household income was about $40,000, or about one-fifth below U.S. median family income, speculative mortgages accounted for one-third of all loans, while in census tracts where average income was nearly double the nation’s median, speculative loans accounted for well under 10 percent of all mortgages.
Monday, October 20
... a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science.and even if they stick around, many of them don't learn anything
Perhaps more surprising, even those high-school students who are fully qualified to attend college are increasingly unlikely to derive enough benefit to justify the often six-figure cost and four to six years (or more) it takes to graduate. Research suggests that more than 40 percent of freshmen at four-year institutions do not graduate in six years. Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that's terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they'd still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound — they're brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.
A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below "proficient" levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.
Unbelievably, according to the Spellings Report, which was released in 2006 by a federal commission that examined the future of American higher education, things are getting even worse: "Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined. … According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined from 40 to 31 percent in the past decade. … Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today's workplaces."
Monday, October 13
The specter of fear is everywhere, not just on Wall Street. And the scale of the government’s reaction is no less than what it was after 9/11—that is what probably scares ordinary people the most. Yet no one who believes that the government exploited fears after 9/11 to strengthen its security powers is now saying that the government is exploiting financial crisis fears in order to justify taking control of credit markets. No one who thinks that government would use fear to curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear to curtail economic liberties. Why not?
Saturday, October 11
[The] poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit. In the morning when a large number of bodies were found in the pit, they took some earth and shovelled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagne with layers of pasta and cheese.Marchionne di Coppo Stefani (ca. 1320-ca. 1385), on the Black Death.
Before the discovery of the New World, there was lasagne but no tomatoes. I'm just sayin'.
For what it's worth, I like the idea of a black president, believe that Obama is an admirable person in many ways.... Nonetheless, I fear that the conjunction of an Obama victory, a strongly Democratic Congress, and a major economic crisis will produce a massive and difficult to reverse expansion of government....
Wednesday, October 8
By scaring people about the tiny levels of radiation emitted during the normal operation of a nuclear plant, [William Tucker, author of “Terrestrial Energy”] says, greens have effectively encouraged the construction of coal plants that actually release more radiation because of the traces of uranium in coal dust.
Tuesday, October 7
There is a superficial attractiveness to policies that seem to promise an end to falling housing prices, but...these policies all have the common feature of getting the government further entrenched in the operation of the housing market, and this creates all sorts of long-term market problems. I would have thought that recent events at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for example, would have made Americans recognize the costs of having government-sponsored enterprises play mortgage lender to the nation. I would have hoped that the history of public housing would have made us wary about spending huge amounts of tax dollars to get into the business of public property management.But we won't let them keep falling, I bet.
Starting in the 1990s, the flood of cheap products from China kept global inflation low, allowing central banks to operate relatively loose monetary policies. But the flip side of China's export surplus was that China had a capital surplus, too. Chinese savings sloshed into asset markets 'round the world, driving up the price of everything from Florida condos to Latin American stocks.So let's bomb China, right? Guess again. Mallaby blames Alan Greenspan's Fed, which
chose to stand aside as asset prices rose; it preferred to deal with bubbles after they popped by cutting interest rates rather than by preventing those bubbles from inflating. After the dot-com bubble, this clean-up-later policy worked fine. With the real estate bubble, it has proved disastrous.
So the first cause of the crisis lies with the Fed, not with deregulation...
Of course, the financiers did create those piles of debt, and they certainly deserve some blame for today's crisis. But was the financiers' miscalculation caused by deregulation? Not really...
Who were the purchasers? They were by no means unregulated. U.S. investment banks, regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, bought piles of toxic waste. U.S. commercial banks, regulated by several agencies, including the Fed, also devoured large quantities. European banks, which faced a different and supposedly more up-to-date supervisory scheme, turn out to have been just as rash. By contrast, lightly regulated hedge funds resisted buying toxic waste for the most part -- though they are now vulnerable to the broader credit crunch because they operate with borrowed money...
If that doesn't convince you that deregulation is the wrong scapegoat, consider this: The appetite for toxic mortgages was fueled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the super-regulated housing finance companies.
Saturday, October 4
PALIN: One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars. We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings and we need also to not get ourselves in debt. Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card. Don't live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals we're taking personal responsibility through all of this. It's not the American peoples fault that the economy is hurting like it is, but we have an opportunity to learn a heck of a lot of good lessons through this and say never again will we be taken advantage of.
Then after Palin responds to Ifill's question about McCain's health care plan, Biden, apparently stung by the "redistribution" charge, says,
IFILL: ....Sen. Biden, we want to talk about taxes, let's talk about taxes. You proposed raising taxes on people who earn over $250,000 a year. The question for you is, why is that not class warfare....BIDEN: Well Gwen, where I come from, it's called fairness, just simple fairness. The middle class is struggling. The middle class under John McCain's tax proposal, 100 million families, middle class families, households to be precise, they got not a single change, they got not a single break in taxes. No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama's plan will see one single penny of their tax raised whether it's their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax. And 95 percent of the people in the United States of America making less than $150,000 will get a tax break.
Now, that seems to me to be simple fairness. The economic engine of America is middle class. It's the people listening to this broadcast. When you do well, America does well. Even the wealthy do well. This is not punitive. John wants to add $300 million, billion in new tax cuts per year for corporate America and the very wealthy while giving virtually nothing to the middle class. We have a different value set. The middle class is the economic engine. It's fair. They deserve the tax breaks, not the super wealthy who are doing pretty well. They don't need any more tax breaks...
PALIN: I do take issue with some of the principle there with that redistribution of wealth principle that seems to be espoused by you. But when you talk about Barack's plan to tax increase affecting only those making $250,000 a year or more, you're forgetting millions of small businesses that are going to fit into that category. So they're going to be the ones paying higher taxes thus resulting in fewer jobs being created and less productivity.
Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that's not patriotic. Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper. An increased tax formula that Barack Obama is proposing in addition to nearly a trillion dollars in new spending that he's proposing is the backwards way of trying to grow our economy.
BIDEN: Gwen, I don't know where to start. We don't call a redistribution in my neighborhood Scranton, Claymont, Wilmington, the places I grew up, to give the fair to say that not giving Exxon Mobil another $4 billion tax cut this year as John calls for and giving it to middle class people to be able to pay to get their kids to college, we don't call that redistribution. We call that fairness....Here's a little parable for Biden (from here):
Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:
The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.
So, that's what they decided to do.
The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until on day, the owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20."Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men --- the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?' They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so:
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).
Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20,"declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man," but he got $10!"
"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too.
It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!"
"That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!"
"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!
Monday, September 29
While both nominees love to talk about their big agendas for change, whoever wins will take office with their obligations defined and options constrained by what Bush dumps on their lap.
The focus right now – and probably for many months to come – is the bailout binge aimed at saving our financial system. All told, the government will likely put more than $1 trillion on the line (with hope the money will be recouped down the road).
Then there are the two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The combined cost is fast approaching $1 trillion, too – and both will eat up the time and budgets of the next president.
Then there is also the prescription drug benefit Bush added to Medicare. It carries a projected price tag of nearly $700 billion over ten years and serves as a powerful reminder of how big – untenably big, many experts say – our entitlement programs have grown.
As the candidates debate the nuances of their health care plans or tax cuts, consider:
How can you cut taxes when the government is so deep in the red? The budget deficit is projected to top $400 billion – and that was before the bailout.
How can you expand health care coverage when the country is broke? The federal debt is now expected to top $11 trillion by 2010.
How can you focus on “earmarks” and “waste” when everyone knows they make up a meaningless fraction of the federal budget?
How you tackle spending without a serious discussion of serious cuts to Medicare and Social Security, which account for 43.5 percent of federal spending?
How can you focus on anything but war, when you inherit two conflicts with outcomes that are very much in doubt? (U.S commanders say the war in Afghanistan is going worse then ever and will require many more troops to win.)
A lesson of the Bush binge is the awesome weight of the choice for president. His eight years of surprises shows that you never know exactly what you’re voting for.
He ran as a compassionate conservative who promised to restrain spending and practice a humble foreign policy. Instead, he launched two big wars and oversaw the biggest expansion of federal government in history.
There is a... piece of evidence that party identification rather than ideology is behind the growing polarization of the electorate: On a variety of unrelated issues -- gun control, the economy, war, same-sex marriage, abortion, the environment, the financial bailout -- the views of Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly monolithic. There is no reason someone who is against abortion should necessarily also be against gun control or for economic deregulation, but that is exactly what tends to happen among committed Republicans. Loyal Democrats have similarly monolithic views on unrelated issues.
"Party identification is part of your social identity, in the same way you relate to your religion or ethnic group or baseball team," said Gary C. Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego. This explains why, on a range of issues, partisans invariably feel their side can do nothing wrong and the other side can do nothing right. By contrast, moderates don't feel there is a yawning divide on issues because they don't identify with one party or another. Moderates, in other words, are like people who are uninterested in sports and roll their eyes when fans of opposing teams hurl abuse at each other.
Tuesday, September 23
In the United States, there were two key decisions. The first, in the 1970’s, deregulated commissions paid to stockbrokers. The second, in the 1990’s, removed the Glass-Steagall Act’s restrictions on mixing commercial and investment banking.
Of equal importance were the rise of China and the decline of investment in Asia following the 1997-1998 financial crisis. With China saving nearly 50% of its GNP, all that money had to go somewhere. Much of it went into US treasuries and the obligations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This propped up the dollar and reduced the cost of borrowing for US households, encouraging them to live beyond their means. It also created a more buoyant market for the securities of Freddie and Fannie, feeding the originate-and-distribute machine.
Again, these were not outright policy mistakes. Lifting a billion Chinese out of poverty is arguably the single most important event in our lifetimes. The fact that the Fed responded quickly prevented the 2001 recession from worsening. But there were unintended consequences. The failure of US regulators to tighten capital and lending standards when abundant capital inflows combined with loose Fed policies ignited a furious credit boom. The failure of China to move more quickly to encourage higher domestic spending commensurate with its higher incomes added fuel to the fire.
Monday, September 22
Senator Chris Dodd — formerly ranking member and now chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, with oversight over Freddie and Fannie — recently said on Bloomberg Television: “I have a lot of questions about where was the administration over the last eight years.”
Excuse me? Just where the hell were you, Senator? Oh, right. You were standing in line at the bank in order to deposit the political contributions Fannie and Freddie were lavishing upon you. At least they got their money’s worth — until the party ended and the American people got the bill.
Members of Congress — aided and abetted by their many waterbearers in the media — wonder why their collective approval rating is about on par with colon cancer’s. The reason is simple enough: Congress is the sick man of Washington; a textbook example of the truism that institutions tend to evolve in ways that benefit their elites, at the expense of the people they were created to serve.
Sunday, September 21
The [Christian Broda-John Romalis] paper, “Inequality and Prices: Does China Benefit the Poor in America?,” shows that from 1994 to 2005, much of the increase in U.S. income inequality was actually offset by a decline in the price index of the goods that poorer households consume. Inflation for the richest 10 percent of U.S. households, which tend to spend more on services, was 6 percent higher than inflation for the poorest 10 percent, which tend to spend more on nondurable goods, the type of goods often imported from China and sold at Wal-Mart.
Broda and Romalis found that in the sectors where Chinese imports have increased the most (especially nondurable goods such as canned food and clothing), prices have fallen dramatically. They estimate that about one-third of the price decline for the poor is directly associated with rising imports from China. “In the sectors where there is no Chinese presence,” Broda says, “inflation has been more than 20 percent.”
They won't get it from the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus; they must get the money from taxpayers. That means if Congress collects $100 from a taxpayer for highway construction, he cannot use that $100 for some other expenditure that would have created a job. If Congress borrows the money for highway construction, it causes interest rates to be higher and therefore less job-creating investment. The bottom line is that Congress can only shift employment or unemployment but cannot create net new jobs.
Many politicians and pundits claim the credit crunch and high mortgage foreclosure rate is an example of market failure and want government to step in to bail out creditors and borrowers at the expense of taxpayers who prudently managed their affairs.
These financial problems are not market failures but government failure. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 is a federal law that intimidated lenders into offering credit throughout their entire market and discouraged them from restricting their credit services to low-risk markets, a practice sometimes called redlining. The Federal Reserve, keeping interest rates artificially low, gave buyers and builders incentive to buy and build, producing the housing bubble.
Lenders were willing to make creative interest-only loans, often high-risk "no doc" and "liar loans," to allow people to buy more housing than they could afford. Of course, with the expectation that housing prices will continue to rise, it was no problem for lenders and borrowers but housing prices began to fall, leaving some people with negative home equity and banks in trouble.
The credit crunch and foreclosure problems are failures of government policy. In fact, what we see now is a market correction to foolhardy government policy. Congress' move to bail out lenders and borrowers who made poor decisions will simply create incentives for people to make unwise decisions in the future.
Saturday, September 20
...regulation is often the derivative salesman's best friend. Complicated rules encourage complex transactions that seek to conceal or re-shape their true nature. Regulated entities create demand for complex derivatives that substitute proscribed risks for admitted risks. If a new risk is identified and prohibited, the market starts inventing instruments that get around it. There is no end to this process. Regulators have always had this perversely symbiotic relationship with Wall Street. And the same can be said for the ridiculously complicated federal taxation rules and increasingly byzantine Financial Accounting Standards, both of which have inspired massive derivative activity as the engineers find their way around the code maze.
Thursday, September 18
However narrative is defined, people know it when they feel it. Whether fiction or nonfiction, a narrative engages its audience through psychological realism—recognizable emotions and believable interactions among characters.
“Everyone has a natural detector for psychological realism,” says Raymond A. Mar, assistant professor of psychology at York University in Toronto. “We can tell when something rings false.”
But the best stories—those retold through generations and translated into other languages—do more than simply present a believable picture. These tales captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story’s characters. Such immersion is a state psychologists call “narrative transport.”
Researchers have only begun teasing out the relations among the variables that can initiate narrative transport. A 2004 study by psychologist Melanie C. Green, now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, showed that prior knowledge and life experience affected the immersive experience. Volunteers read a short story about a gay man attending his college fraternity’s reunion. Those who had friends or family members who were homosexual reported higher transportation, and they also perceived the story events, settings and characters to be more realistic. Transportation was also deeper for participants with past experiences in fraternities or sororities. “Familiarity helps, and a character to identify with helps,” Green explains.
Empathy is part of the larger ability humans have to put themselves in another person’s shoes: we can attribute mental states—awareness, intent—to another entity. Theory of mind, as this trait is known, is crucial to social interaction and communal living—and to understanding stories....
Perhaps because theory of mind is so vital to social living, once we possess it we tend to imagine minds everywhere, making stories out of everything. A classic 1944 study by Fritz Heider and Mary-Ann Simmel, then at Smith College, elegantly demonstrated this tendency. The psychologists showed people an animation of a pair of triangles and a circle moving around a square and asked the participants what was happening. The subjects described the scene as if the shapes had intentions and motivations—for example, “The circle is chasing the triangles.” Many studies since then have confirmed the human predilection to make characters and narratives out of whatever we see in the world around us.
[Steven Pinker, a Harvard University evolutionary psychologist, in the April 2007 issue of Philosophy and Literature posits] that stories are an important tool for learning and for developing relationships with others in one’s social group. And most scientists are starting to agree: stories have such a powerful and universal appeal that the neurological roots of both telling tales and enjoying them are probably tied to crucial parts of our social cognition.
As our ancestors evolved to live in groups, the hypothesis goes, they had to make sense of increasingly complex social relationships. Living in a community requires keeping tabs on who the group members are and what they are doing. What better way to spread such information than through storytelling?
Anthropologists note that storytelling could have also persisted in human culture because it promotes social cohesion among groups and serves as a valuable method to pass on knowledge to future generations. But some psychologists are starting to believe that stories have an important effect on individuals as well—the imaginary world may serve as a proving ground for vital social skills.
...common narrative themes reveal our basic wants and needs. “Narrative involves agents pursuing some goal,” says Patrick Colm Hogan, professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Connecticut. “The standard goals are partially a result of how our emotion systems are set up.”
I’ll say it one more time for those who can’t be bothered to actually ask someone who owns a gas station. Gas stations set prices for the gas they sell today based on the wholesale price of the gas they will have to buy to replace it. Get it? The price you pay for a gallon today is the cost of the gallon the station will have buy to replace the one you just bought.
Gas stations sell gas at or near cost, so if they did not use replacement pricing any sudden spike in gas prices would shut them down and you couldn’t get any gas. I simply do not know why our public and private talking heads cannot understand and communicate this simple fact.
Monday, September 15
Saturday, September 13
...in a world where mainstream feminists almost unanimously backed Bill Clinton during the Paula Jones scandal and now excoriate McCain for choosing Palin, I'm not totally clear on what feminism entails -- if not simply support for the Democratic Party.
Thursday, September 11
We'd actually be better off if insurance companies reduced the portion of medical expenditures they pay for. Your monthly insurance payments would end up costing you less, and while you'd shell out more for hospital stays and other medical expenses if illness struck, well, at that point you wouldn't be healthy enough to enjoy spending the extra cash anyway.
Wednesday, September 10
The trouble with casting medical care as a "right" is that this ignores how open-ended the "right" should be and how fulfilling it might compromise other "rights" and needs. What makes people healthy or unhealthy are personal habits, good or bad (diet, exercise, alcohol and drug use); genetic makeup, lucky or unlucky; and age. Health care, no matter how lavishly provided, can only partly compensate for these individual differences.
There is a basic dilemma that most Americans refuse to acknowledge. What we all want for ourselves and our families -- access to unlimited care paid for by someone else -- may be ruinous for us as a society. The crying need now is not to insure all the uninsured. This would be expensive (an additional $123 billion a year, estimates the Kaiser study) and would provide modest health gains at best. Two- fifths of the uninsured are young (19 to 34) and relatively healthy.
Tuesday, September 9
Interviewed by Rick Warren at the grotesque Saddleback megachurch a short while ago, Sen. Barack Obama announced that Jesus had died on the cross to redeem him personally. How he knew this he did not say. But it will make it exceedingly difficult for him, or his outriders and apologists, to ridicule Palin for her own ludicrous biblical literalist beliefs. She has inarticulately said that her gubernatorial work would be hampered "if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with god." Her local shout-and-holler tabernacle apparently believes that Jews can be converted to Jesus and homosexuals can be "cured." I cannot wait to see Obama and Biden explain how this isn't the case or how it's much worse than, and quite different from, Obama's own raving and ranting pastor in Chicago or Biden's lifelong allegiance to the most anti-"choice" church on the planet. The difference, if there is one, is that Palin is probably sincere whereas the Democratic team is almost certainly hypocritical.
Sunday, September 7
With the exception of high-end footwear, more than 95% of the shoes Americans wear are produced outside the U.S. Yet the U.S. still imposes a tax on imported shoes that can reach as high as 67%, a legacy (believe it or not) of the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930. Shoe tariffs raise more money than auto tariffs, and the tax is applied most heavily on the lowest-priced imported footwear.
"This is the most regressive policy in America today," says Ed Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute. "The biggest victims are poor, single mothers." He's right. The tariff steals about $5 billion a year from U.S. consumers, and a family that shops at Payless or Wal-Mart typically pays a $5 duty on a $15 pair of sneakers.
Actually, if you rank a nation's sporting prowess by how many Olympic gold medals it wins per capita, Jamaica - which won 2.2 gold medals per 1 million inhabitants - is, hands down, the supreme sports power on the planet. China, with a population of 1.3 billion, ranks 47th, and the US, with 305 million people, 33rd. Such calculations may seem flippant, but they also point out the dubiousness of equating a country's Olympic performance with its standing as a nation - athletic or otherwise.
The reason Chinese athletes achieved such glory is not the general fitness and athletic talent of its people. Rather, it is China's large and expensive scouting and training system, reminiscent of those in the former Soviet Union and East Germany, that selects children as young as five for Olympic training and turns them into state-sponsored athletes. Also, particularly for this past Games, in which the host was determined to shine, the Chinese sports bureaucracy chose to target sports that offer relatively weak international competition.
Meanwhile, however, the real China, in stark contrast to the Olympic China, exercises little and, perversely, seems to be getting fatter in the cities while remaining undernourished in the countryside. With spectacular images of the "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube" still lingering, it is easy to forget that most Chinese continue to live in rural areas, where poverty and malnourishment are commonplace. At the same time, in the burgeoning cities, American-style obesity has become a problem.
Sunday, August 31
Without the Games and their prestige to drive home the necessity of “harmony” at any cost, China’s ruling party will have to confront its greatest Achilles heel – its inability to admit to the existence of real diversity and dissent – head on.
For years now the Olympics have acted as a safety net for the juggling act China’s ruling party is constantly engaged in. The post-Olympic aporia that the country is likely to experience spells higher risks with less than predictable outcomes. Expect some furrowed brows in Zhongnanhai.
Monday, August 25
Shankar Vedantam goes on to say
Consider these scenarios.
Scandal A: A prominent politician gets caught sleeping with a campaign aide and plunges himself into an ugly paternity dispute -- all while his cancer-stricken wife is fighting for her life.
Scandal B: A prominent politician's signature health-care plan turns out to have been put together badly, and he is forced to confess that the plan will cost taxpayers billions more than expected.
evolutionary psychologists argue that the reason John Edwards's adultery has more zing in our heads than a dry policy dispute that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars is that the human brain evolved in a period where there were significant survival advantages to finding out the secrets of others.But what about that prominent politician's signature health-care plan that was badly put together? Who was it? Mitt Romney?
The choice of a political ideology, which is to say of a general orientation that guides a person's response to a variety of specific political and ethical issues, is less a matter of conscious choice or weighing of evidence than of a feeling of comfort with the advocates and adherents of the ideology.Really? What does that say about me?
Saturday, August 23
China's Olympians have walloped their American counterparts this past fortnight, capturing 16 more gold medals and ending the global supremacy that US athletes have enjoyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union....but a recession is the end of the world for the US.
It is an outcome that will only deepen the United States' present funk, with pundits sure to compare China's inexorable rise with America's decline, asking when the lines will cross.
The answer is not for a long time - if ever. By almost any measure the US remains in a different league. Its gross domestic product was $13.8trillion last year, dwarfing China's $3.2 trillion. GDP per capita was $46,000 to China's $5,300. Of the world's 30 largest companies, 11 are American and 3 Chinese, according to Fortune magazine.
But what is striking to casual visitors to China, however, is the extent to which its people have adopted the attitudes that made America great - the optimism, dynamism and patriotism, the can-do spirit, the determination to leave the next generation better off than one's own. In three weeks travelling around China last month, I found a country oozing with confidence.
Although every Chinese child is taught the legend of Yue Fei, a 12th-century general whose mother tattooed “serve the country with utmost loyalty” on his back, tattoos were considered disreputable in China for centuries. Imperial courts tattooed criminals’ faces before sending them into exile. By the 1949 revolution, the tattoo was the favored mark of crime syndicates and subsequently condemned by the Communist Party. Today, tattoos remain taboo for many of China’s elder generation, which sneers at the sight of a sun or lotus inked on the back of a trendy neighbor.
...in the last 10 years, hundreds of tattoo parlors have opened in Beijing, and body art has become a language that connects young Chinese across subcultures and cities. “People’s minds have opened up along with the economy,” Mr. Dong said. “Before, all you saw were Mao jackets. Now when you walk down the street you see punks and skaters and they all have tattoos.”
Beijing's gleaming new sports stadiums, efficient subway lines and legions of smiling volunteers are a testament to the Communist Party's power to mobilize a country of 1.3 billion people. But to do so, the party has had to draw vast resources from faraway towns and villages, where millions of ordinary citizens ...are now suffering from water shortages, blackouts and business losses brought about because of the Games.The article suggests that one Cheng Linpeng lost his job as a fish farmer when the central government approved a water diversion project aimed at relieving shortages in Beijing and other parts of the arid north.
While few are willing to publicly criticize the Olympics, outrage has spread online among the anonymous.
"I just want ask this one question: Are farmers not people?" a resident of the coastal province of Shandong wrote on one online message board, expressing frustration over the blackouts in his area. "We are in the dark, sweating all over.
"A number of farmers are not big earners in income," the writer continued. "They can not spend money to see Beijing Olympics. . . . From within the heart it is not fair."
Others say they are torn between their duty to the state and their individual losses.
He said he's excited China is doing so well but doesn't know anyone who is going to the Games. When asked if he thought about going, he looked surprised.
"Would we be allowed?" Cheng asked, explaining that migrant workers are considered second-class citizens in Beijing. "The place is not so big, and it wouldn't be able to hold everyone who wants to come. We are not qualified."
Thursday, August 21
-- The sharpening rhetoric between John McCain and Barack Obama over their competing plans to overhaul the nation's tax system has underscored one of the most profound differences between them -- how they would target America's wealthiest taxpayers.
Under McCain, the rich would see their tax burden ease. Under Obama, their rates would rise dramatically.
For much of the campaign, the two candidates have talked sparingly and obliquely about how they would deal with affluent taxpayers. But a recent volley of acid-edged campaign ads stirred up the tax issue, and a question posed last weekend by Orange County pastor Rick Warren zeroed in on how both men defined "rich."
Obama said the dividing line was an income of $250,000 a year, while McCain responded somewhat flippantly that it was $5 million. McCain aides said later that the senator was joking, but his remark quickly became a campaign flashpoint.
"I guess if you're making $3 million a year, you're middle class," Obama sniped, prompting a McCain aide to fire back: "It's not the job of the government to define who is rich."
Where to draw the line among the nation's wealthiest taxpayers is the central difference between rival tax blueprints that offer starkly differing formulas for reviving a faltering economy.
On Tuesday, new ads from both camps played on the public's rising anxiety about taxes, incomes and the volatile economy. "Three Times," an Obama television ad airing from Virginia to Colorado, savages McCain for lavishing $200-billion tax "giveaways" on "big corporations." McCain responded with "Millions," a radio ad that predicts Obama will "raise taxes on your income, your electric bills, even your life savings."
The two camps immediately issued rebuttals, each claiming its position on taxes was being distorted by the opposition. The Obama campaign contended that the overwhelming majority of Americans would not see a tax increase under his plan, only the wealthiest 5% or so. The McCain side retorted that the "$4 billion" in tax breaks for oil companies mentioned in Obama's ad was misleading because McCain is proposing an across-the-board tax cut for all corporations and is not favoring the oil industry.
A close look at their proposals shows that the differences fall neatly along the traditional policy gulf that has long divided Republicans and Democrats: liberating the wealthy with tax cuts to stimulate the nation's prosperity versus raising their rates to redistribute the tax burden and pay for crucial government programs.
"The real fault lines are over how to treat people in the highest tax brackets. It gets to the heart of their economic philosophies," said Leonard E. Burman, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington-based tax reform group that has questioned the details of both tax plans.
Both candidates have promised to balance their tax relief programs with budget cuts designed to trim soaring deficits. But the Tax Policy Center has warned that both plans -- coupled with the candidates' high-cost healthcare proposals -- would balloon the $9.6-trillion national debt. The center's analysis reported that McCain's tax proposals would add $5 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years, while Obama's would add $3.6 trillion.
Wednesday, August 20
Beijing’s poor air quality – 300 or so micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre – has generated volumes of purple prose, but London’s numbers in the 1950s were consistently above 400, and surged to 1,600 during the Great Smog – more than five times Beijing’s in early August.
To date there has not been a study of an Olympics or other large-scale sporting event that has found empirical evidence of significant economic impacts such as increases in household income. ...it is unlikely that anyone ever will.
Monday, August 18
Saturday, August 16
a windfall tax on profits means that...gas prices will stay higher in the future than they would have been without the taxWhy?
theory ... tells us that excess profits attract the competition that wipes them out... and do so by lowering the prices of those things which were in short supply. Which is, I think, exactly what we all want to happen, no? Let's make gas cheap again! So confiscating those extra profits will mean that first, no one making them has the money left to look for more and, secondly, no one is going to dive into the industry if they think that they won't be allowed to keep the profits they might make.
...many people, and not just my American friends, wonder about the discrepancy between what they hear on screen and what they read in the subtitles. The explanation is really quite simple.Except, as a commenter notes, in captions for the hearing impaired.
...[P]eople process spoken information faster than written information. Subtitles follow the pace of spoken language. The amount of text used in subtitles therefore needs to be reduced so that the reading speed matches the speed of the dialogue. The faster a character speaks, the more the translator needs to reduce his text. Most of the time it is simply impossible to do a word for word translation.
Staci Simonich, an environmental chemist from Oregon State University whose lab group has made three trips to Beijing to study the city's air...[said on average], she's been measuring particulate levels about six times higher than those seen in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.How bad are America's most polluted cities?
A good day in Beijing, she said, is roughly comparable to America's most polluted cities.
Thursday, August 14
Here’s Phelps’s typical menu. (No, he doesn’t choose among these options. He eats them all, according to the Post.)
Breakfast: Three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Two cups of coffee. One five-egg omelet. One bowl of grits. Three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar. Three chocolate-chip pancakes.
Lunch: One pound of enriched pasta. Two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo on white bread. Energy drinks packing 1,000 calories.
Dinner: One pound of pasta. An entire pizza. More energy drinks.>
Author Hu Fayun ... still remembers the shock of reading [The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich] for the first time, describing it as astonishingly original and powerful. He said, 'this book ripped a giant hole in my ideology,' because the slogans and actions of the Nazis were so similar to China's Cultural Revolution.
The vast area known today as China has indeed witnessed the development of human civilization for millennia. But so have India, Africa, Europe and the Near East. The implication that non-Chinese peoples lack a comparable degree of history is false. The Jews have a history of at least 5,000 years, as do the Egyptians and Indians. The recorded and archaeologically attested history of the Celts is of similar length to that of the Chinese; the early history of both peoples disintegrates into unattested mythology...
In making statements about China's "5,000 years", the term is being applied retrospectively. In this sense it actually denotes nothing more than a geographical area. Modern Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan can make even more impressive claims on this basis.
But despite these facts, Chinese people have been taught that they are the heirs to a more ancient civilization than are other peoples of the world. Most believe it. The message conveyed in Chinese schools and universities, and echoed by the media, is that China's history makes it special. This particular lesson has sunk in deeply. History has become an instrument of national self-assertion.
The unquestioning approach that is nurtured in the Chinese study of history allows many bizarre notions to slip into popular mindset, beside the notion that Chinese civilization's longevity somehow distinguishes it from other nations...
The teaching of history in modern China is, of course, intended to foster patriotism. It is this that allows China to lay claim to the achievements of Mongols and Manchus while attacking them as enemies or oppressors at the same time.
"I’d hardly call the US track record over the past fifty years of Olympiads ’dominant.’
Nor would it seem prudent to link gold medal tallies with the health or prosperity of a particular country or economy or to the stability of its political system. After all, in the years between Seoul and Barcelona, of the top 10 countries in terms of overall gold medals in 1988: the top two (USSR and GDR) ceased to exist, four others (Romania, Bulgaria, South Korea, and Hungary) saw authoritarian regimes replaced by…less authoritarian regimes, and we all know what happened in the PRC (#8 in ‘88 with five gold medals) the summer after the Seoul games.
Wednesday, August 13
If part of our problem is that the Chinese are going to eat meat and you've got to have corn and soybeans to feed the Chinese their meat, then why isn't it just as legitimate for the Chinese to go back and eat rice as it is for us to change our policy on corn to ethanol?
Although Obama is offering a new series of tax breaks, they undermine rather than improve economic incentives. First, whether or not you get those breaks will depend on your income. In Washington, taking away tax breaks as families work harder to make more money is called a “phase-out.” Economists have a different name for it—we call it a tax. Reducing a person’s tax credit as his income goes up also reduces his incentive to earn more income.via Tyler Cowen, who adds, "I do not intend this presentation as an endorsement of John McCain's utterances on fiscal policy."
Tuesday, August 12
CHARLES GIBSON (Off-camera) Next we're going to turn to presidential politics and a campaign strategy that was once suggested to Hillary Clinton by a top advisor in her primary campaign against Barack Obama. The idea was to question Obama's authenticity as an American. She rejected that strategy. But there are indications that John McCain may be adopting it now. So we turn to our senior political correspondent, Jake Tapper. Jake?Wow. So because a Democrat wanted to attack Obama as foreign, and because McCain says he wants to listen to Harleys, not foreigners, and has a picture of himself as a POW, and that means he's criticizing Obama for being a foreigner? I don't think much of McCain, but according to Gibson/Tapper, virtually anything he says is an underhand attack on Obama.
JAKE TAPPER (Off-camera) Good evening, Charlie. Well, Senator Barack Obama this week is on vacation with his family in Hawaii, the state where he was born and where the grandmother who largely raised him still lives. Some of Obama's opponents have debated how much they want to draw attention his unusual background, his unusual roots. A Kenyan father, a childhood largely spent in Hawaii and Indonesia.
(Voiceover) As Senator Barack Obama vacations with his family in Hawaii, a controversial memo has surfaced about his roots there. In a March 2007 memo, obtained by the "Atlantic" magazine, Mark Penn, the top strategist for Obama's then rival Senator Hillary Clinton wrote that the campaign should draw attention to Obama's heritage. Obama's "boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii exposes a very weakness for him - his roots to basic American value and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not as his center fundamentally American in his thinking and values. Let's explicitly own American in our program, the speeches and the values. He doesn't." Many Democrats are disgusted.
BOB SHRUM (FORMER DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST): It's an appeal to stereotypes. It's an appeal to prejudice. I think it's ugly. And I think if Hillary Clinton had done that, she would permanently besmirch her reputation, her legacy and her place in American politics.
JAKE TAPPER: (Voiceover) Some Democrats say that John McCain has tried to subtly portray Obama as not quite American enough.
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: Thank you.
JAKE TAPPER (Voiceover) Playing up Obama's popularity abroad.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Not long ago, a couple of hundred thousand Berliners made a lot of noise for my opponent. I'll take the roar of 50,000 Harleys any day.
JAKE TAPPER (Voiceover) And then there was this.
ANNOUNCER (POLITICAL AD) John McCain, the American president Americans have been waiting for.
JAKE TAPPER (Voiceover) A line many saw as implying something not American about Obama.
If the Chinese Communist Party were to present an honest version of its own past, its own legitimacy might also come into question. Why, exactly, does a party with a history drenched in blood and suffering enjoy a monopoly on political power in China? Why does a nominally Marxist party, one whose economic theories proved utterly bankrupt in the past, still preside over an explosively capitalist society? Because there aren't any good answers to those questions, it's in the Chinese leadership's interest to make sure they don't get asked.More on Tombstone here.
¼ teaspoon regular yeast (instead of rapid rise), mixed into
1 cup water; I add
2 cups flour and
1 teaspoon kosher salt (regular table salt may also work)
Mix together and let rise 6 hours in a warm place.
Refrigerate several hours (overnight, in my case)
To be able to eat at noon, I take it out of the refrigerator at 9 am, take the wet mix out of the bowl and let it rest on a floured board under an overturned bowl for an hour.
At 10 am I divide it into two, shape each one into a square, then fold the square down into a long rectangle that I shape into a baguette. During the previous two steps I try to handle it gently as to avoid puncturing bubbles.
Then I place the baguettes on the baguette mold (coated with bran) and cover them with a floured cloth to rise for a total of 1½ hours. For the first hour I leave them in a warm oven (on a rack that has unglazed quarry tiles arranged on it), and then take out the baguettes and preheat the oven to 450º.
I then bake them for 20 minutes.
This is a slight modification of this. While the crust is not a crisp as a real French baguette, the flavor is excellent.
Monday, August 11
...one person, the subject, is selected from a group of people at a party and asked to leave the room. He is told that in his absence one of the other partygoers will relate a recent dream to the other party attendees. The person selected then returns to the party and, through a sequence of Yes or No questions about the dream, attempts to accomplish two things: reconstruct the dream and identify whose dream it was.
The punch line is that no one has related any dream. The individual partygoers are instructed to respond either Yes or No to the subject's questions according to some completely arbitrary rule. Any rule will do, however, and may be supplemented by a non-contradiction clause so that no answer directly contradicts an earlier one. The Yes or No requirement can be loosened as well to allow for vagueness and evasion.
The result is that the subject, impelled by his own obsessions, often constructs an outlandish and obscene dream in response to the random answers he elicits. He may think he knows whose dream it is, but then the ruse is revealed to him and he is told that the dream really has no author. In a strong sense, however, the subject himself is the dream weaver. His preoccupations dictated his questions which, even if answered negatively at first, frequently received a positive response in a later formulation to a different partygoer. These positive responses were then pursued.
Thursday, August 7
Calves-foot jelly has two forms: sweet, common in 19th-century Britain and America...and savoury--called petcha, a standard of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. Both dishes start with a long braise of split cow's feet. The latter adds garlic, onion, salt and pepper, and usually retains the meat that falls from the feet; the former adds sugar, Madeira wine, brandy, cinnamon and citrus, and discards the meat. In both cases the stock is chilled until it sets, and the fat that rises to the top is skimmed off.Also a reference to Elizabeth Gaskell's "My Lady Ludlow".
[Boone Pickens] says we spend $700 billion a year on foreign oil, which he calls a "transfer of wealth." But exchanging money for oil at the market price is an exchange of things of equal value. If we didn't value their oil more than our dollars, we wouldn't participate in such a bargain.
...these plans are fulfillments of ritual, not practical proposals -- and their authors indicate as much by the economy of thought they put into them.
Take the universal recrimination over our failure to impose tougher fuel-mileage mandates, in which Mr. Pickens also indulges. These complaints are lofted without the slightest attention to what we've actually learned in 30 years of such mandates -- that car buyers simply amortize their forced investment in fuel-saving technology by driving more miles. They buy more affordable homes farther from town; they commute longer distances to work; they trek across two counties to buy groceries at Wal-Mart rather than the pricey supermarket down the street
Wednesday, August 6
Tuesday, August 5
Solzhenitsyn gave Americans little reason to relax or to admire themselves. Two of his supporters, the scholars John Ericson, of Calvin College, and John Dunlop, of the Hoover Institution, have compiled book-length collections of writing largely about the reaction to Solzhenitsyn in the West. Even in the years before Solzhenitsyn arrived in this country, the attacks came from high and low, and they were endless. In 1974, before becoming the main book critic at the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley wrote for the Knight-Ridder chain that Solzhenitsyn was a “not-very-thinly-disguised Czarist.” Writing the next year in the Guardian, Simon Winchester referred to Solzhenitsyn as the “shaggy author” and the “hairy polemicist,” and declared that he had become “the darling of the redneck population.”Reason quotes from what is apparently D. M. Thomas' Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life:
Simon Winchester, the English Guardian's Washington correspondent, praised Ford for his "reality and integrity" in denying a hearing to the "shaggy author," the "hairy polemicist" who had become the "darling of the redneck population" after talking for an hour and a half to thousands of "sagging beer bellies."
[Contemporary American education] begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who "feel good" about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.In other words, what's wrong is the promotion of ideas like
The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences. Modesty? Yes, for while talented scientists are often proud of their talent and accomplishments, they universally subscribe to the humbling need to prove themselves against the most-unyielding standards of inquiry. That willingness to play by nature's rules runs in contrast to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along insouciance that characterizes so many variants of postmodernism and that flatters itself as being a higher form of pragmatism.
The aversion to long-term and deeply committed study of science among American students also stems from other cultural imperatives. We rank the manufacture of "self-esteem" above hard-won achievement, but we also have immersed a generation in wall-to-wall promotion of diversity and multiculturalism as being the worthiest form of educational endeavor; we have foregrounded the redistributional dreams of "social justice" over heroic aspirations to discover, invent, and thereby create new wealth; and we have endlessly extolled the virtue of "sustainability" against the ravages of "progress." Do all that, and you create an educational system that is essentially hostile to advanced achievement in the sciences and technology. Moreover, those threads have a certainty and unity that make them not just a collection of educational conceits but also part of a compelling worldview.
The antiscience agenda is visible as early as kindergarten, with its infantile versions of the diversity agenda and its early budding of self-esteem lessons. But it complicates and propagates all the way up through grade school and high school. In college it often drops the mask of diffuse benevolence and hardens into a fascination with "identity."
- diversity and multiculturalism
- "social justice"
- "sustainability" over "progress"
A full bus or trainload of people is more efficient than private cars, sometimes quite a bit more so. But transit systems never consist of nothing but full vehicles. They run most of their day with light loads.Yeah, the local transit always seems mostly empty whenever I see it. But
...it is always the green move for any individual to take existing mass transit over their car. That's because the transit is running anyway, so the incremental cost of carrying one more passenger is indeed less than just about any private vehicle. It is similarly green to carpool in somebody else's car that's going your way.
The existence of families with more than one child has allowed researchers to track the practice of sex selection before birth, particularly since hard data on abortion and infanticide is scarce.
Health policy expert Avraham Ebenstein of Harvard University examined China's 2000 census data and found that the sex ratio of first births for couples was close to the natural sex ratio, but it became increasingly skewed following the birth of one or more daughters. That suggests parents value firstborns regardless of sex, but practice sexual selection for later children if they do not yet have a boy. 'The steep rise in sex selection rate between first and second births is responsible for 70 percent of missing girls,' Ebenstein says.
Monday, August 4
How does it differ from your everyday, run of the mill profit? Is it some absolute number, a matter of return on equity or sales -- or does it merely depend on who earns it?And what about farmers?
Mr. Obama didn't bother to define "reasonable," and neither did Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, when he recently declared that "The oil companies need to know that there is a limit on how much profit they can take in this economy." Really? This extraordinary redefinition of free-market success could use some parsing.
Take Exxon Mobil, which on Thursday reported the highest quarterly profit ever and is the main target of any "windfall" tax surcharge. Yet if its profits are at record highs, its tax bills are already at record highs too. Between 2003 and 2007, Exxon paid $64.7 billion in U.S. taxes, exceeding its after-tax U.S. earnings by more than $19 billion. That sounds like a government windfall to us, but perhaps we're missing some Obama-Durbin business subtlety.
Maybe they have in mind profit margins as a percentage of sales. Yet by that standard Exxon's profits don't seem so large. Exxon's profit margin stood at 10% for 2007, which is hardly out of line with the oil and gas industry average of 8.3%, or the 8.9% for U.S. manufacturing (excluding the sputtering auto makers).
If that's what constitutes windfall profits, most of corporate America would qualify. Take aerospace or machinery -- both 8.2% in 2007. Chemicals had an average margin of 12.7%. Computers: 13.7%. Electronics and appliances: 14.5%. Pharmaceuticals (18.4%) and beverages and tobacco (19.1%) round out the Census Bureau's industry rankings.
Friday, August 1
The protectionism advocated by these parties is a form of extortion, forcing consumers to involuntary pay higher prices. Most economists will tell you that Americans as a group are net winners from trade and globalization.
The EPI ignores the creation of jobs elsewhere in the economy that are made possible by trade and globalization, which creates jobs not only through exports but also through foreign capital flowing into the United States creates jobs through direct investment in U.S. companies and indirectly by lowering interest rates, which stimulates more domestic investment.
Even when trade does displace workers, in a flexible and growing economy, new jobs are created elsewhere. In fact, job losses in manufacturing during the past decade have been more than offset by net job gains in better-paying services sectors.
Wednesday, July 23
Congress is expected to vote this week on legislation that addresses the home foreclosure crisis and provides financial aid to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The struggling firms are currently regulated by a division of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The bill would establish a new, independent regulator
But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been highly successful at evading regulation in the past; see The Fannie Mae Gang.
Monday, July 21
- Any protective policy should be compared to a "null case": do nothing, and use the money saved to rebuild and to compensate any victims.
- Abandon any effort to imagine a terrorist target list.
- Consider negative effects of protection measures: not only direct cost, but inconvenience, enhancement of fear, negative economic impacts, reduction of liberties.
- Consider the opportunity costs, the tradeoffs, of protection measures.
Tuesday, July 15
The collapse of [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac], and of the housing market in general, can be viewed as a failure of central planning. Unfortunately, the dynamics are such that when central planning fails, you typically get more central planning.
Sunday, July 13
- Support Free Trade
- Oppose Farm Subsidies
- Leave Oil Companies And Speculators Alone
- Tax The Use Of Energy
- Raise The Retirement Age
- Invite More Skilled Immigrants
- Liberalize Drug Policy
But "Raise Funds For Economic Research"?! Can't economists rely on the market like everyone else?
Thursday, June 26
If Obama wants energy independence through alternative fuels, why doesn't he back imported sugar-based ethanol? This old-style politician knows it isn't grown in the Midwest and Brazil has no electoral votes.
Corn-based ethanol gets a 51-cents-a-gallon tax subsidy that will cost taxpayers $4.5 billion this year. McCain opposes ethanol subsidies while Obama supports them. McCain opposed them even though Iowa is the first caucus state. Obama, touted by Caroline Kennedy as another JFK, was no profile in courage in Iowa.
That subsidy was cut to 45 cents a gallon in the new farm bill, but more money was pushed toward other biofuels such as switch grass. The Democrats can't wait for offshore oil or ANWR, but they can wait for switch grass. The tariff on imported ethanol was extended. Neither candidate voted on the bill, but Obama said he supported it. McCain said as president he would have vetoed it.
If Obama is sincere about alternative fuels, why does he oppose imported sugar-based ethanol from countries like Brazil? He supports not only the domestic subsidy, but a 54-cents-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. McCain opposes both.
Corn ethanol is less energy-efficient and costs more. It generates less than two units of energy for every unit of energy used to produce it. Ethanol made from sugar cane has an energy ratio of more than 8-to-1. Production costs and land prices are cheaper in the countries that produce it.
Wednesday, June 25
On his travels across China in the mid-eighties, which he later described in “Red Dust,” the book that made him known in the West, Ma Jian repeatedly chafed at official brutality and philistinism. Speaking to a small-town book club, he proclaimed, “I will not let a political party tell me how to live, when to die or what to believe in.” Reciting Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” to a fellow-writer, he mocked Ginsberg’s angry rejection of America. “He implies his country is not fit for humans to live in. Well, he should live in China for a month, then see what he thinks. Everyone here dreams of the day we can sing out of our windows in despair.”And not just Allen Ginsberg.
Friday, June 20
Sen. Obama promised, "I'll make oil companies like Exxon pay a tax on their windfall profits, and we'll use the money to help families pay for their skyrocketing energy costs and other bills."Take your pick.
Why should we stop with oil companies? They make about 8.3 cents in gross profit per dollar of sales. Why doesn't Mr. Obama slap a windfall profits tax on sectors of the economy that have fatter margins? Electronics make 14.5 cents per dollar and computer equipment makers take in 13.7 cents per dollar, according to the Census Bureau. Microsoft's margin is 27.5 cents per dollar of sales. Call out Mr. Obama's Windfall Profits Police!
It's not the profit margin, but the total number of dollars earned that is the problem, Mr. Obama might say. But if that were the case, why isn't he targeting other industries? Oil and gas companies made $86.5 billion in profits last year. At the same time, the financial services industry took in $498.5 billion in profits, the retail industry walked away with $137.5 billion, and information technology companies made off with $103.4 billion. What kind of special outrage does Mr. Obama have for these companies?
Sen. McCain...can be as hostile to profits as Mr. Obama. "[W]e should look at any incentives that we are giving," Mr. McCain said in May, even as he talked up a gas tax "holiday" that would give drivers incentives to burn more gasoline.
This past Thursday, Mr. McCain came close to advocating a form of industrial policy, saying, "I'm very angry, frankly, at the oil companies not only because of the obscene profits they've made, but their failure to invest in alternate energy."
But oil and gas companies report that they have invested heavily in alternative energy. Out of the $46 billion spent researching alternative energy in North America from 2000 to 2005, $12 billion came from oil and gas companies, making the industry one of the nation's largest backers of wind and solar power, biofuels, lithium-ion batteries and fuel-cell technology.
Such investments, however, are not as important as money spent on technologies that help find and extract more oil. Because oil companies invested in innovation and technology, they are now tapping reserves that were formerly thought to be unrecoverable. Maybe we are all better off when oil companies invest in what they know, not what they don't.
And do we really want the government deciding how profits should be invested? If so, should Microsoft be forced to invest in Linux-based software or McDonald's in weight-loss research?
"Whenever you have development, you are going to increase the runoff, increase how much the rivers and streams have to carry," says civil engineer W. Gene Corley, a senior vice president at CTLGroup, an engineering firm that constructs levees. "The other side of that is that if you don't have development, you don't have housing for people or business or manufacturing."So, restrict development, then?
In addition, by paving over previously open space—or farming previously reserved lands—communities in these watersheds contribute to record high waters through increased runoff.
This extra runoff is why waters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for example, rose to a record 30-plus feet (over nine meters). "The amount of development that has happened in communities up and down the river way creates less opportunity for water to be absorbed back into the earth as opposed to just running off," notes structural engineer Jeffrey Garrett, president and CEO of CTLGroup. "Suddenly, you've got a lot more water that has to flow between the levees."
I followed them to a house in the San Fernando Valley that had a couple of '50s-era Buicks in the front yard. We went in through the back door to the kitchen, and there was a double sink. One of the sinks was filled with carburetor cleaner, and car parts were soaking in it.My wife is sick, and I was just thinking that some guys would be happy to have their wives gone, but I don't see how I can be happy--unless I could find an obsession that outweighs my feelings for her.
Then, I noticed none of the cabinets had doors, and they were filled with carburetor parts from old Buicks, all carefully labeled with tags saying what they were. As we moved throughout the house, Buick fenders, wheels, tires and other stuff were all stacked up.
So I said to the guy who seemed to be the homeowner, "Single man, are you?" He responded, "Yeah, how'd you know? The wife left eight years ago. Now I can do what I want and collect my Buick stuff."
Friday, June 13
Democratic attacks on Mr. McCain and Republican attacks on Mr. Obama both seek to punish impermissibly positive thoughts. At a time when there exists a sense of crisis over the economy, fuel prices and many other issues, this reinforces the odd, two realities of life in the United States today: The way we are, and the way we think we are. The way we are could use some work, but overall, is pretty good. The way we think we are is terrible, horrible, awful. Possibly worse.
The case that things are basically pretty good? Unemployment is 5.5%, low by historical standards; income is rising slightly ahead of inflation; housing prices are down, but the typical house is still worth a third more than in 2000; 94% of Americans do not have threatened mortgages, and of those who do, most will keep their homes.
Inflation was up in 2007, but this stands out because the 16 previous years were close to inflation-free; living standards are the highest they have ever been, including living standards for the middle class and for the poor.
All forms of pollution other than greenhouse gases are in decline; cancer, heart disease and stroke incidence are declining; crime is in a long-term cycle of significant decline; education levels are at all-time highs.
Sure, gas prices are up, the dollar is weak and credit is tight – but these are complaints at the margin of a mainly healthy society.
Thursday, June 12
Democrats are unsympathetic to the Copenhagen Consensus:
Q: What will be the most urgent priority facing the next president and Congress in January?
Democrats (39 votes)
Global warming.....................................................31 percent
Health care..............................................................0 percent
U.S. economy ......................................................44 percent
All of the above (volunteered).............................13 percent
Economy and Iraq (volunteered)..........................3 percent
Global warming and health care (volunteered)...3 percent
Economy and health care (volunteered) .............3 percent
Republicans (39 votes)
Global warming .......................................................0 percent
Health care ............................................................13 percent
Iraq ..........................................................................10 percent
U.S. economy.........................................................59 percent
Energy (volunteered)..............................................15 percent
Immigration and gasoline prices (volunteered)...3 percent
But there's something wrong with this: 0% Democrats for Health care?
Wednesday, June 11
On the one hand, he projects himself as the great conciliator. He uses the metaphor of his race to argue that he is uniquely suited to bridge differences between liberals and conservatives, young and old, rich and poor -- to craft a new centrist politics. On the other hand, his actual agenda is highly partisan and undermines many of his stated goals. He wants to stimulate economic growth, but his hostility toward trade agreements threatens export-led growth (which is now beginning). He advocates greater energy independence but pretends this can occur without more domestic drilling for oil and natural gas.
All this reflects Obama's legislative record. From 2005 to 2007, he voted with his party 97 percent of the time, reports the Politico. But Obama's clever campaign strategy would put him in a bind as president. Championing centrism would disappoint many ardent Democrats. Pleasing them would betray his conciliating image. The fact that he has so far straddled the contradiction may confirm his political skills and the quiet aid received from the media, which helped him by virtually ignoring the blatant contradictions.
...He strikes me as a super-successful graduate student: the brightest, quickest, most articulate guy in the seminar. In his career, he has advanced mainly by talking and writing -- not doing -- and may harbor a delusion common to the well-educated: that he can argue and explain his way around any problem.
All very cogent, except for Samuelson's nonsense about "too many poor and unskilled immigrants, whether legal or illegal".
He has often defied Republican-party orthodoxy, and his credentials to lead a centrist coalition are stronger than Obama's. According to the Politico, he sided with his party only 83 percent of the time from 2005 to 2007. Even in this election year, he has taken unpopular positions. Note his criticism of farm subsidies, which won't help him in the Midwest. The trouble with McCain is that he often mistakes stubbornness for principle.
He has a hard time changing his mind, even when the evidence overwhelmingly suggests he's wrong. He has stuck with "campaign finance reform" despite its dismal record. After three decades, it has entangled political campaigns in rules and paperwork without solving any notable problem (for example, people continue to believe that wealthy "special interests" have too much influence). On immigration, he still does not grasp what I think is the actual problem: not illegal immigration so much as too many poor and unskilled immigrants, whether legal or illegal. Like Obama, he seems oblivious to the possible unintended consequences of endorsing an anti-global warming "cap-and-trade" program.
Steadfastness and good judgment are qualities we value in a president, and McCain has often displayed these. He was early and correct in his criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq War and of its treatment of prisoners. He has been consistent in his opposition to high and wasteful federal spending. But good judgment must accompany steadfastness, and there are enough instances of McCain's bad judgment to make you wonder which would prevail.
As Donald J. Boudreaux wrote:
I'll bet $100 that, regardless of which candidate wins the White House, in 2013 the federal budget will still contain agricultural subsidies and tariffs that take billions of dollars from the many to give to the few - that a majority of Members of Congress will continue to successfully sponsor earmarks - that the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare will be no smaller than they are today - and that partisan bickering will be every bit as much a part of the daily news as it is now.
Monday, June 9
[Prof. Daphne Patai, a pioneer in the founding of women’s studies programs at the University of Massachusetts] decided to jump ship when, in a planning session with other women’s studies specialists, she wondered out loud why the sciences were “sexist,” and asked specifically about the Periodic Table—something, surely, both men and women would agree is beyond the dimorphism that characterizes most modern discussions of sex and gender. After all, the world is the world, chemical, physical, biological. But with that contempt for intellect which characterizes both Bubba in Georgia and too many women’s studies professors, she was told that “Only men would put numbers in boxes.” She retired happily into the Romance Linguistics department, whence she had come.Not just "too many women’s studies professors"; it's too many liberal arts professors.
No previous generation ever lived in such a safe world as we do; we live longer, we murder each other less frequently, much less frequently do we experience the tragedy of losing a child. We are healthier, we do not have to fear hunger, much less often do we fall victim of natural disasters, not to mention wild animals. But we have the same or greater fears and anxieties as our forbears, and many of those fears are delusions that we allow ourselves to be talked into...That's from Andrzej Koraszewski, in what amounts to a review of Dan Gardner's Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear.
Philip Tetlock, a psychologist from the University of California, examined the accuracy of the predictions of sociologists, economists, and journalists over a period of twenty years. He checked 82,361 predictions, and their accuracy was so pathetic that guessing at random would give better results. And they were not any old predictions or any old experts. In 1975 the world was supposed to start dying of worldwide hunger, later we were suppose to become extinct because of a demographic bomb, and of course according to Rachel Carson’s prediction there are no more birds, and that is not because of a nuclear war--which was also unavoidable.
Saturday, June 7
Over two years, more than 50 economists have worked to find the best solutions to ten of the world’s biggest challenges. During the last week of May, an expert panel of 8 top-economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates, sat down to assess the research.Their whole list below (ugly formatting is my own):
The result: A prioritized list highlighting the potential of 30 specific solutions to combat some of the biggest challenges facing the world.
Combating malnutrition in the 140 million children who are undernourished reached the number one spot, after economist Sue Horton of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada made her case to the expert panel.
Providing micronutrients for 80% of the 140 million children who lack essential vitamins in the form of vitamin A capsules and a course of zinc supplements would cost just $60 million per year, according to the analysis. More importantly, this action holds yearly benefits of more than $1 billion.
In effect, this means that each dollar spent on this program creates benefits (in the form of better health, fewer deaths, increased future earnings, etc) worth more than 17 dollars.
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Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc)
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The Doha development agenda
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Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization)
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Expanded immunization coverage for children
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Deworming and other nutrition programs at school
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Lowering the price of schooling
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Increase and improve girls’ schooling
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Community-based nutrition promotion
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Provide support for Women’s reproductive role
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Heart attack acute management
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Malaria prevention and treatment
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Tuberculosis case finding and treatment
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R&D in low-carbon energy technologies
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Bio-sand filters for household water treatment
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Rural Water supply
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Conditional cash transfers
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Peace-keeping in post-conflict situations
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HIV combination prevention
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Total sanitation campaign
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Improving surgical capacity at district hospital level
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Improved stove intervention
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Large, multipurpose dam in Africa
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Inspection and maintenance of diesel vehicles
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Low sulfur diesel for urban road vehicles
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Diesel vehicle particulate control technology
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R&D and mitigation
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