Monday, March 31

Why Hillary's pandering is misleading

The Chinese economy today is, in large measure, an assembly platform for American and foreign companies to turn components designed and made elsewhere into final products, and then to export them to the rest of the world. More than 60 percent of "Chinese exports" are, in fact, the sales outside China of multinational firms operating in China.

What Apple says on the back of every iPod is true: "designed by Apple in California, assembled in China" from chips, hard drives and screens made in America, Korea and Japan. Chinese assembly adds only a tiny amount to the value of each iPod.

The iPod is not a new millennium icon because of its components. Nor does it beat the competition on price. iPods are must-have gadgets because of their elegant and simple design, a design created in Silicon Valley, with almost all the profits returning to Apple and its U.S. shareholders.

The fact that iPods are not assembled in the United States certainly costs assembly line jobs in America. But these are in the lowest tech and lowest part of the production process. Much better American jobs are created, in design, financing, marketing, logistics and distribution. This is a very positive trade-off.

The final China trade secret is that Americans have benefited from the vast quantities of dollars and Treasury bills (estimated at $750 billion) China has purchased in recent years to manage the dollar-renminbi exchange rate. China-funded credit kept U.S. interest rates low after 9/11 and the dot-com bust, fueling both consumer spending and the rapid run-up in housing prices.

Sunday, March 30

Politics as Usual

Howard Dean on John Kerry four years ago:
"Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America, a group of people who never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy who served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star on the battlefields of Vietnam?"
Howard Dean now:
“John McCain can try to reintroduce himself to the country, but he can’t change the fact that he cast aside his principles to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush the last seven years. While we honor McCain’s military service, the fact is Americans want a real leader who offers real solutions, not a blatant opportunist who doesn’t understand the economy and is promising to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years.”
I think it says more about Dean than Kerry or McCain. Hey, they're both Irish! Maybe Dean is, too.

Saturday, March 29

Sadistic bastard creator

Describing the Goliath Bird Eating Spider, Cracked says,
While the "intelligent designer" theory has lost steam of late, the "sadistic bastard creator" theory is single-handedly supported by the existence of this creature.
"Sadistic bastard creator" also describes any divinity that would be responsible for inflicting other suffering on us.

The "natural" fantasy

reason: You suggest that your understanding of modern ideas about food production arises from interactions with your students. What is it that they want?

Paarlberg: My students know just what kind of food system they want: a food system that isn’t based on industrial scale monoculture. They want instead small farms built around nature imitating polycultures. They don’t want chemical use; they certainly don’t want genetic engineering. They want slow food instead of fast food. They’ve got this image of what would be better than what we have now. And what they probably don’t realize is that Africa is an extreme version of that fantasy. If we were producing our own food that way, 60 percent of us would still be farming and would be earning a dollar a day, and a third of us would be malnourished. I’m trying to find some way to honor the rejection that my students have for some aspects of modern farming, but I don’t want them to fantasize about the exact opposite.


reason: So the romanticization of bucolic farm landscapes unmarred by scientific advance has an American and European pedigree.

Paarlberg: It’s not what we do at home—only two percent of agricultural products in the US are organically grown. And many of those that are organically grown are grown on industrial scale organic farms in California that don’t bear any resemblance to small bucolic farms. But it’s the image we promote in our new cultural narrative. It’s something that affects the way we give foreign assistance.

Saturday, March 22


Maybe you had to be there, but anyway, the scene is Mr Crumley's department store, with an exhibit of the Hogfather, something like Santa Claus, but whose sled is drawn by pigs. Then something else appears:
The four pink papier-mache pigs exploded. A cardboard snout bounced off Mr Crumley's head.

There, sweating and grunting in the place where the little piggies had been, were . . . well, he assumed they were pigs, because hippopotamuses didn't have pointy ears and rings through their noses. But the creatures were huge and grey and bristly and a cloud of acrid mist hung over each one.

And they didn't look sweet. There was nothing charming about them. One turned to look at him with small, red eyes, and didn't go 'oink', which was the sound that Mr Crumley, born and raised in the city, had always associated with pigs.

It went 'Ghnaaarrrwnnkh?'

The sleigh had changed, too. He'd been very pleased with that sleigh. It had delicate silver curly bits on it. He'd personally supervised the gluing on of every twinkling star. But the splendour of it was lying in glittering shards around a sledge that looked as though it had been built of crudely sawn tree trunks laid on two massive wooden runners. It looked ancient and there were faces carved on the wood, nasty crude grinning faces that looked quite out of place.

Parents were yelling and trying to pull their children away, but they weren't having much luck. The children were gravitating towards it like flies to jam.

Mr Crumley ran towards the terrible thing, waving his hands.

'Stop that! Stop that!' he screamed. 'You'll frighten the Kiddies!'

He heard a small boy behind him say, 'They 've got tusks! Cool!'

His sister said, 'Hey, look, that one's doing a wee!' A tremendous cloud of yellow steam arose. 'Look, it's going all the way to the stairs! All those who can't swim hold onto the banisters!'

'They eat you if you're bad, you know,' said a small girl with obvious approval. 'All up. Even the bones. They crunch them.'

Another, older, child opined: 'Don't be childish. They're not real. They've just got a wizard in to do the magic. Or it's all done by clockwork. Everyone knows they're not really r---'

One of the boars turned to look at him. The boy moved behind his mother.

And people ask me why I don't believe

A hospital chaplain who's confronted by a heart-rending situation notes that the entire family has "rock-solid faith." A patient's relative tells her,
"I've been telling myself two things through all of this: God loves us, and God has a plan, even if we can't see it." And I nodded and made encouraging noises and tried to look pastoral, while inside I was thinking, This is a plan? My cats could come up with a better plan! And if this is your idea of love, I'd hate to see the alternatives!
To be sure, the chaplain sees the belief as helping the family cope. However, as far as I'm concerned, if there is some sort of presiding spirit, there's no way that it's benevolent, or even malevolent. It just doesn't care.

Therese Shaheen is real piece of work

According to Jeff Stein,

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the U.S. Army colonel who was Powell’s chief of staff through two administrations, said in little-noted remarks early last month that “neocons” in the top rungs of the administration quietly encouraged Taiwanese politicians to move toward a declaration of independence from mainland China — an act that the communist regime has repeatedly warned would provoke a military strike.

The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan at the time, Douglas Paal, backs up Wilkerson’s account, which is being hotly disputed by key former defense officials...

While Bush publicly continued the one-China policy of his five White House predecessors, Wilkerson said, the Pentagon “neocons” took a different tack, quietly encouraging Taiwan’s pro-independence president, Chen Shui-bian.

“The Defense Department, with Feith, Cambone, Wolfowitz [and] Rumsfeld, was dispatching a person to Taiwan every week, essentially to tell the Taiwanese that the alliance was back on,” Wilkerson said, referring to pre-1970s military and diplomatic relations, “essentially to tell Chen Shui-bian, whose entire power in Taiwan rested on the independence movement, that independence was a good thing.”

Wilkerson said Powell would then dispatch his own envoy “right behind that guy, every time they sent somebody, to disabuse the entire Taiwanese national security apparatus of what they’d been told by the Defense Department.”

“This went on,” he said of the pro-independence efforts, “until George Bush weighed in and told Rumsfeld to cease and desist [and] told him multiple times to re-establish military-to-military relations with China.”...

Rumsfeld’s former spokesman Lawrence DiRita called Wilkerson’s allegations “completely ridiculous—clear and simple . . . absurd.”

“The idea that there was some kind of DoD attempt to favor some faction in Taiwan, as described by Wilkerson ... is just crazy,” DiRita said in a brief telephone interview...

Another key character in the minidrama was Therese Shaheen, the outspoken chief of the U.S. office of the American Institute in Taiwan, which took on the functions of the American embassy after the formal 1979 diplomatic switch.

Shaheen, who happens to be DiRita’s wife, openly championed Chen and the independence movement, at one point even publicly reinterpreting Bush’s reiteration of the “one China” policy, saying that the administration “had never said it ‘opposed’ Taiwan independence,” according to a 2004 account in the authoritative Far Eastern Economic Review.

“Therese Shaheen . . . said don’t sweat it, the president didn’t really mean what he said,” Wilkerson said.

Coming from the wife of Rumsfeld’s spokesman, Shaheen’s remarks sent off angry alarms in Beijing.

Powell asked for her resignation.

Douglas Paal was then head of the American Institute in Taiwan, effectively making him the U.S. ambassador there. He backed up Wilkerson’s account.

“In the early years of the Bush administration,” Paal said by e-mail last week, “there was a problem with mixed signals to Taiwan from Washington. This was most notably captured in the statements and actions of Ms. Therese Shaheen, the former AIT chair, which ultimately led to her departure.”..

DiRita defended his wife, saying “she understood U.S. policy and executed it to the very best of her abilities and wasn’t trying to play games with” Taiwanese independence forces.

“That was always kind of a mythology of what happened over there,” he said.

Shaheen presumably got her post because of her connection with her husband, not to mention a $20,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee in 2000. Indeed, as Charles Snyder was cited in the pro-DPP Taipei Times,
Shaheen comes to AIT well connected with the Bush administration. Her husband, Lawrence Di Rita, is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's chief of staff, and her former partner in US-Asia Commercial Development, Richard Lawless, was recently appointed the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific affairs.

Lawless, who founded US-Asia Commercial Development with Shaheen in 1987, was previously a close confidant and business partner of President Bush's brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, with whom he conducted millions of dollars in real-estate and import-export business between 1989 and 1993.

The new AIT chairman contributed US$200,000 to Bush's presidential campaign in 2000. According to the campaign watchdog The Center for Responsive Politics, she initially donated US$200,000, but Bush, under a self-imposed US$100,000 limit, returned half of the money.

According to Michael Scherer, she also

...wrote a $250,000 check so that her Asian business clients can rub shoulders this week with George W. Bush. "Outsiders are fascinated by the president's inaugural, so it's nice for them," says Shaheen, who resigned her post as the head of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Taiwan last April and returned to the private sector. "The inauguration is always good for business development."

But only a few people, including the president's staff, know that Shaheen is responsible for the donation, which entitles her clients to tickets to top-tier events with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. That is because she donated the funds through the Strongbow Technologies Corporation, a company that lists no phone number and whose mailing address is a post office box in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. According to the State of Delaware, the company no longer even exists under that name, having been reincorporated in December as U.S. Asia Strongbow Technologies Corporation. "I'm just starting it back up," Shaheen explains, adding that the company has several new contracts, which she would not discuss...

Shaheen, the owner of Strongbow, has no plans to identify the foreign clients she is bringing to dine and dance with the President. But it is not hard to guess why they are working with her. In addition to her State Department experience, Shaheen's former business partner, and the former co-owner of Strongbow, was Richard Lawless, an ex-CIA agent who now works at the Pentagon as deputy undersecretary of defense for Asia-Pacific affairs. He has recently been discussed as a candidate to replace the head of the CIA's clandestine unit. Lawless and Shaheen founded a company in 1987 called U.S. Asia Commercial, which partnered with the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to work on deals with Asian investors. Shaheen's husband is Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita, who also serves as a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Nonetheless, she said her involvement in the inauguration was not political. "We are not taking any Taiwanese government officials," she said. Her guests, she added, are "business people and business people only."

Writing of rumors that Shaheen was going to give media interviews to say that Ma Ying-jeou's U.S. “green card” was still valid, Hugo Restall wrote,

I had dinner with her Sunday night, and it was clear that while she has very little understanding of Taiwanese politics, she is unreservedly committed to Mr. Chen and the DPP. If Mr. Ma is right and Ms. Shaheen does speak today, it is likely that in the little time left before the election Taiwanese voters will not be able to learn about her vested interest in helping the DPP. As a former U.S. official, her statements may be taken at face value, unless specifically refuted by current AIT officials.

I’ve spoken to current and former Bush administration officials about Ms. Shaheen, and the word on her is unanimous: She is politically naive and often shoots her mouth off without thinking — in other words, a loose cannon. Ms. Shaheen told me that she was fired because China wanted her out. That is directly contradicted by one who was involved — because she is a Republican loyalist, Ms. Shaheen got many second chances, but in the end the president recognized that she was damaging U.S. interests...

So why would Ms. Shaheen be willing to be used in this sleazy effort (if indeed Mr. Ma is correct)? One clue comes from her business background. She has been involved in business in Asia and Republican politics for decades, including the nexus between the two. She was in business with Richard Lawless, a former CIA officer who was recently deputy assistance secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific affairs. When Jeb Bush was Florida secretary of commerce, he hired Mr. Lawless to represent the state of Florida in Asia, and was later involved in other business deals with him. Ms. Shaheen gave $100,000 to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.

I don’t usually read Mother Jones, a left-wing magazine, but this article [referred to above] gives a good indication of the typical Beltway operation Ms. Shaheen has been running. In essence it is money for access. If Frank Hsieh wins the presidency, Ms. Shaheen stands to benefit by continuing to provide an “in” with the Republican establishment, which is a key constituency for maintaining the U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan. As the saying goes, follow the money.
Finally, the pro-KMT China Post noted,

the United Evening News (also pro-KMT) reported yesterday that Shaheen's foundation, set up in 2007, after she had been fired as AIT chair, received US$400,000 from the Taipei representative office in Washington.

Quoting "reliable sources," the afternoon paper said Shaheen demanded financial support from Taipei for her "service" to President Chen.

The vernacular quoted Joseph Wu, Taipei representative in Washington, as admitting to the cash contribution to Shaheen for holding a number of seminars in Los Angeles for promoting Taiwan tourism.

The original report:





Of course, who knows, maybe the KMT will work with her.

UpdateDays after the election, she suddenly speaks out to say "I traveled to Taiwan as a private citizen, to speak to a private sector conference, the 2008 Taiwan Global Technology and Industry Summit Forum." Funny she couldn't have made herself available to reporters during the election frenzy.

Monday, March 17

Gary Becker on moral hazard

Hardly a day goes by during this housing crisis that the media does not report on families in foreclosure proceedings, or in arrears in repayment on mortgages that had close to zero down payment requirements and low “teaser “ interest rates. The many excuses offered by some home owners for their plight, and also eagerly by the authors of these human interest stories, is that the borrowers did not understand that these introductory interest rates might rise a lot after a few years, or that they would have negative equity in their homes if housing prices stopped rising and began to fall. An obvious alternative explanation for their behavior is that they gambled that the good times would continue indefinitely.

This type of response to failed decisions is not unique to the present housing crisis, but is part of a strong trend toward shifting responsibility to others...

Successful attempts to shift the responsibility for bad decisions toward others and to society more generally create a "moral hazard" in behavior. If individuals are not held accountable for decisions and actions that harm themselves or others, they have less incentive to act responsibly in the first place since they will escape some or all of the bad consequences of their actions. It does not matter greatly whether this moral hazard resulted from the shifting of blame for unsuccessful actions to the "small print" in a contract, to an abused childhood, to a mental state, or to many other efforts to shift responsibility away from oneself.

An important foundation of the philosophy behind the arguments for private enterprise, free economies, and free societies more generally, is that these societies rely on and require individual decision-making and responsibility. This philosophy not only emphasizes the moral hazard reasons to require individual responsibility, but also "the use it or lose it principle", a colloquial expression indicating that various mental and physical capacities wear down and erode if they are not used on a regular basis. This principle implies that people who are accustomed to having other persons or governments make their decisions for them lose the ability to make good decisions for themselves. Free societies lead to better decision-making partly because men and women accumulate more experience at making decisions that affect their well-being and that of others.

Of course, I recognize that not all individuals are equally capable of making decisions in their own interests...

Still, greater practice in making decisions, and greater responsibility for the consequences of one's decisions, usually significantly improves decision-making by the vast majority of adults, regardless of limitations in their education and cognition. Moreover, many of the decisions and actions that do not work out well are not due to low education, inability to understand what is going on, or biased and incorrect information.

Sunday, March 16

Journalists are like academics, then

Steve Salerno writes:

...the uncomfortable but factually supported truth: ...if your child is not molested in your own home — by you, your significant other, or someone else you invited in — chances are your child will never be molested anywhere...

In truth, today’s system of news delivery is an enterprise whose procedures, protocols, and underlying assumptions all but guarantee that it cannot succeed at its self described mission. Broadcast journalism in particular is flawed in such a fundamental way that its utility as a tool for illuminating life, let alone interpreting it, is almost nil...

By painting life in terms of its oddities, journalism yields not a snapshot of your world, but something closer to a photographic negative.

Even when journalism isn’t plainly capsizing reality, it’s furnishing information that varies between immaterial and misleading. For all its cinema-verité panache, embedded reporting, as exemplified in Iraq and in Nightline’s recent series on “the forgotten war” in Afghanistan, shows only what’s going on in the immediate vicinity of the embedded journalist. It’s not all that useful for yielding an overarching sense of the progress of a war, and might easily be counterproductive: To interpret such field reporting as a valid microcosm is the equivalent of standing in a spot where it’s raining and assuming it’s raining everywhere.

Journalism’s paradoxes and problems come to a head in the concept of newsmagazination, pioneered on 60 Minutes and later the staple tactic of such popular clones as Dateline, 48 Hours, and 20/20. One of the more intellectually dishonest phenomena of recent vintage, newsmagazination presents the viewer with a circumstantial stew whipped up from:

  • a handful of compelling sound-bites culled from anecdotal sources,
  • public-opinion polls (which tell us nothing except what people think is true),
  • statistics that have no real evidentiary weight and/or scant relevance to the point they’re being used to “prove,”
  • crushing logical flaws such as post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning,
  • faulty or, at best, unproven “expert” assumptions, or other “conventional wisdom” that has never been seriously examined,
  • a proprietary knowledge of people’s inner thoughts or motives (as when a White House correspondent discounts a president’s actual statements in order to reveal to us that president’s “true agenda”), etc...

One underlying factor here is that journalists either don’t understand the difference between random data and genuine statistical proof, or they find that distinction inconvenient for their larger purpose: to make news dramatic and accessible. The media need a story line — a coherent narrative, ideally with an identifiable hero and villain. As Tom Brokaw once put it, perhaps revealing more than he intended, “It’s all storytelling, you know. That’s what journalism is about.” The mainstream news business is so unaccustomed to dealing with issues at any level of complexity and nuance that they’re wont to oversimplify their story to the point of caricature.

The best contemporary example is the Red State/Blue State dichotomy, invoked as an easy metaphor to express the philosophical schism that supposedly divides “the two Americas.” ... Well, guess what: The dichotomy doesn’t exist — certainly not in the way journalists use the term. It’s just a handy, sexy media fiction. Although California did wind up in the Kerry column in 2004, some 5.5 million Californians voted for George W. Bush. They represented about 45 percent of the state’s total electorate and a much larger constituency in raw numbers than Bush enjoyed in any state he won, including Texas. Speaking of Texas: That unreconstituted Yankee, John Kerry, collected 2.8 million votes there. Two-point-eight million. Yet to hear the media tell it, California is deep, cool Blue, while Texas is a glaring, monolithic Red. Such fabrications aren’t just silly. They become institutionalized in the culture, and they color — in this case literally — the way Americans view the nation in which they live.

The mythical Red State/Blue State paradigm is just one of the more telling indications of a general disability the media exhibit in working with data. A cluster of random events does not a “disturbing new trend!” make — but that doesn’t stop journalists from finding patterns in happenstance...

Journalists overreact to events that fall well within the laws of probability. They treat the fact that something happened as if we never before had any reason to think it could happen — as if it were a brand-new risk with previously unforeseen causation. Did America become more vulnerable on 9/11? Or had it been vulnerable all along? Indeed, it could be argued that America today is far less vulnerable, precisely because of the added vigilance inspired by 9/11. Is that how the media play it? Similarly, a bridge collapse is no reason for journalists to assume in knee-jerk fashion that bridges overall are any less safe than they’ve been for decades. Certainly it’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, which is how several major news outlets framed the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge this past summer. As Freud might put it, sometimes a bridge collapse is just a bridge collapse. Alas, journalism needs its story line.

For a textbook example of the intellectual barrenness of so much of what’s presented even as “headline” news, consider the Consumer Confidence Index and media coverage of same... The Board’s index is an arbitrary composite of indicators rooted in five equally arbitrary questions mailed to 5000 households...

Few reporters bother to mention that, customarily, there has been only a tenuous connection between CCI numbers and actual consumer spending or the overall health of the economy as objectively measured...

Nowhere are these foibles more noticeable — or more of a threat to journalistic integrity — than when they coalesce into a cause: so-called “advocacy” or “social” journalism. To begin with, there are legitimate questions about whether journalism should even have causes. Does the journalist alone know what’s objectively, abstractly good or evil? What deserves supporting or reforming? The moment journalists claim license to cover events sympathetically or cynically, we confront the problem of what to cover sympathetically or cynically, where to draw such lines and — above all — who gets to draw them. There are very few issues that unite the whole of mankind. Regardless, as Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism told USA Today, “News outlets have found they can create more … identity by creating franchise brands around issues or around a point of view.”

In his thinking and methodology, today’s journalist resembles the homicide cop who, having settled on a suspect, begins collecting evidence specifically against that suspect, dismissing information that counters his newfound theory of the crime. Too many journalists think in terms of buttressing a preconceived argument or fleshing out a sense of narrative gained very early in their research. This mindset is formalized in journalism’s highest award: the Pulitzer Prize. Traditionally, stories deemed worthy of Pulitzer consideration have revealed the dark (and, often as not, statistically insignificant) underbelly of American life...

The world we’re “given” has an indisputable impact on how Americans see and live their lives. (How many other events are set in motion by the “truths” people infer from the news?) Here we enter the realm of iatrogenic reporting: provable harms that didn’t exist until journalism itself got involved.

In science journalism in particular, the use of anecdotal information can have results that would be comical, were it not for the public alarm that often results in response...

To hear the media tell it, we’re under perpetual siege from some Terrifying New Disease That Threatens to End Life as We Know It...

In science reporting and everywhere else, there’s no minimizing the psychic effects of regularly consuming a world-view rooted in peculiarity, much of which is pessimistic...

Figuratively speaking, we end up drowning in the tides of a hurricane that never makes shore.

I give you, herewith, a capsule summary your world, and in far less than 22 minutes:

  • The current employment rate is 95.3 percent.
  • Out of 300 million Americans, roughly 299.999954 million were not murdered today.
  • Day after day, some 35,000 commercial flights traverse our skies without incident.
  • The vast majority of college students who got drunk last weekend did not rape anyone, or kill themselves or anyone else in a DUI or hazing incident. On Monday, they got up and went to class, bleary-eyed but otherwise okay.

It is not being a Pollyanna to state such facts, because they are facts. Next time you watch the news, keep in mind that what you’re most often seeing is trivia framed as Truth. Or as British humorist/philosopher G.K. Chesteron whimsically put it some decades ago, “Journalism consists in saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”

Literature is even worse

The sad truth is that "non-fiction" has been unreliable from the beginning, no matter how finely grained a section of human knowledge we wish to consider. For instance, in my own field, critics have tried to replicate the findings in academic journal articles by economists using the initial data sets. Usually, it is impossible to replicate the results of the article even half of the time. Note that the journals publishing these articles often use two or three referees--experts in the area--and typically they might accept only 10 percent of submitted papers. By the way, economics is often considered the most rigorous and the most demanding of the social sciences.

You can knock down the reliability of published research another notch by considering "publication bias." Publication bias refers to how the editorial process favors novel and striking results. Sometimes novel results will appear to be true through luck alone, just because the numbers line up the right way, even though the observed relationship would not hold up more generally. Articles with striking findings are more likely to be published and later publicized, whereas it is very difficult to publish a piece which says: "I studied two variables and found they were not much correlated at all." If you adjust for this bias in the publication process, it turns out you should hardly believe any of what you read. Claims of significance are put forward at a disproportionately and misleadingly higher rate than claims of non-significance.

Friday, March 14

What the hell happened?

[Irving Biederman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California] first showed a collection of photographs to volunteer test subjects, and found they said they preferred certain kinds of pictures (monkeys in a tree or a group of houses along a river) over others (an empty parking lot or a pile of old paint cans).

The preferred pictures had certain common features, including a good vantage on a landscape and an element of mystery. In one way or another, said Dr. Biederman, they all presented new information that somehow needed to be interpreted.

...coming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.
I remember when I was little, the world seemed both mysterious and ultimately meaningful. Not anymore; at least I've got the internet.

Friday, March 7

What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?

To the question "What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?" responds, "My answer is clear and resolute: 'it is our freedom.' I may also add 'and our prosperity,'" Klaus. This was from his speech at the Heartland Institute's International Climate Change Conference, as reported by Ronald Bailey:

Klaus noted that ideological environmentalism appeals to the same sort of people who have always been attracted to collectivist ideas. He warned that environmentalism at its worst is just the latest dogma to claim that a looming "crisis" requires people to sacrifice their prosperity and their freedoms for the greater good. Let me quote Klaus at length.

"Future dangers will not come from the same source. The ideology will be different. Its essence will, nevertheless, be identical—the attractive, pathetic, at first sight noble idea that transcends the individual in the name of the common good, and the enormous self-confidence on the side of its proponents about their right to sacrifice man and his freedom in order to make this idea reality," warned Klaus. "What I have in mind [is], of course, environmentalism and its currently strongest version, climate alarmism."

Klaus added, "What I see in Europe (and in the U.S. and other countries as well) is a powerful combination of irresponsibility, of wishful thinking, of implicit believing in some form of Malthusianism, of cynical approach of those who themselves are sufficiently well-off, together with the strong belief in the possibility of changing the economic nature of things through a radical political project."

Bailey adds,
As John Locke Foundation economist Roy Cordato explained: "A higher tax today means lower production and output of goods and services tomorrow, making future generations materially worse off. In setting a carbon tax you must show that future generations would value the problems solved by reduced global warming more than they would value the goods and services that were foregone." He argued it's not possible to know the preferences of future generations, but providing them with more wealth and better technologies will give them more options to express whatever preferences they have.

Buy French stocks

A rising stock market can therefore be evidence of a lack of dynamism in the economy, that incumbent firms are being sheltered from competition. The French market has out-performed the US over the long-term.

George Bush: tax progressive

George Bush's tax cuts made the tax system more progressive, but it's true--the cuts for poor people were, on a percentage basis, bigger than the cuts for rich people.

John McCain wants to pander, too.

Apparently inspired by the example of the example of Obama & Clinton, McCain spouts nonsense about vaccines and autism.

Sunday, March 2

Megan McArdle hopes Obama is a liar

Well, I certainly hope he's lying, because I think he's going to be the next president of the United States.
And he's her chosen presidential candidate! Not that Hillary Clinton is any better:
Since Nafta took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, the U.S. economy has added a net 26 million new jobs. The average real hourly compensation (wages and benefits) of workers has climbed 23%. Real median household net worth has increased by a third. Of course, Nafta was not the primary driver of all that good news. But it is a useful counterpoint to the sense that large numbers of Americans have been "devastated" by Nafta and other trade agreements.

In recent years, U.S. manufacturers have enjoyed record output, revenue, exports and profits. Since Nafta, U.S. manufacturing investment in Mexico has averaged a modest $2 billion a year -- a tiny fraction of the $150 billion or more those same companies invest annually in domestic manufacturing capacity. American factories actually added a net half-million new manufacturing jobs in the five years after Nafta.

The irony of the present Democratic cat fight over free trade is that the Nafta agreement was a policy triumph of the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore fought hard and successfully for the agreement, which passed Congress in November 1993 with the support of 102 Democrats in the House. Hillary Clinton boasts about the robust U.S. economy of the 1990s as evidence of sound economic stewardship -- yet she and Mr. Obama now reject the very free-trade policies that were an integral part of that record.


Backtracking on Nafta and other trade agreements will not restore a previous era of glory to organized labor or Youngstown, Ohio. It will only slow America's own economic progress while unnecessarily alienating our closest neighbors.