Saturday, December 31

Donald J. Boudreaux has many good questions

Questions for liberals and conservatives both, starting with:
Why are the pundits and politicians who most fear the motives and the power of private corporations typically also the most strident advocates of higher tariffs to protect these corporations from competition?

Read more: And the answer is? - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Sunday, December 25

Can I get both?

Come With Me to Taco Bell

Girl #1, dramatic: Would you rather be burned alive, or forced to eat human excrement?
Girl #2: Can I get both?


via Overheard in New York, Dec 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22

Bruce Schneier

On T.S.A. security theater:
“We’re spending billions upon billions of dollars doing this—and it is almost entirely pointless. Not only is it not done right, but even if it was done right it would be the wrong thing to do.”

Wednesday, December 21

Nobel peace prize winner Obama keeps on killing

The Obama administration has carried out hundreds of CIA drone strikes, resulting in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths in Pakistan alone.
Because the names of the dead and the threat they were believed to pose are secret, it is impossible for anyone without access to U.S. intelligence to assess whether the deaths were justified.
That's not nearly as many as Bush is responsible for, but still....

Saturday, December 17

He is Full of Nice yellow Custard


The Caterpillar is Crawling along the Fence. He has Pretty Fur all over his Back, and he Walks by Wrinkling up his Skin. He is Full of Nice yellow Custard. Perhaps you had better take him into the house, where it is warm, and Mash him on the Wall Paper with Sister Lulu's Album. Then the Wall Paper will Look as if a Red Headed Girl had been leaning Against it.
--Eugene Field

Monday, December 12

Unravel the elite faux-consensus in favor of bailout economics

Matt Welch suggests that one
....measure government intervention against the claims made while selling it, marshal as much historical data as one can find, and try to fact-check policy discussion as it happens. This is where the elite faux-consensus in favor of bailout economics begins to unravel.
He notes,
Not a day goes by when George W. Bush’s deregulation is not blamed for the financial crisis, and yet he hired 90,000 net new regulators, passed the largest Wall Street reform since the Depression, and increased fiscally significant regulations by more than any president since Richard Nixon. We are told by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and his friends in The Nation that the country is being ruled by a ruthless “austerity class,” yet federal spending has continued to increase even after the summer’s debt-ceiling agreement. The Occupy Wall Street movement and the (mostly Democratic) politicians who support it have shifted the national conversation to the “fact” that the middle class is worse off than it was three decades ago, yet as University of Chicago economist Bruce Meyer and Notre Dame economist James Sullivan found in a recent paper, “median income and consumption both rose by more than 50 percent in real terms between 1980 and 2009.”

Sunday, December 11

With regard to The China Premium

Years ago, (before China's "reform and opening"), Johnnie Walker Black Label (more expensive than red label) was a standard gift in Taiwan. I heard that Johnnie Walker decided to lower the price to gain market share. Big mistake: sales plummeted. (Now they've got Blue Label as their premium brand.) Years later, XO cognac became the standard, and you still see it for sale in Chinatown supermarkets outside China. Funny thing, though--even though it comes from France, I've never seen it in liquor shops there. And I heard that in Hong Kong the Chinese would drink their XO with Coke. Nowadays, according to the Chinese soaps I watch, drinking grape wine out of the "proper" glass is the "in" thing, although characters are often portrayed as gulping it instead of sipping.

But we're not entire immune to this sort of nonsense. In "Predictably Irrational", Dan Ariely argues that fancy glasses makes wine taste better. At least in the sixties and seventies in France, adults drank their wine out of Duralex Gigogne & Picardie glasses--inexpensive tempered glass that was also the standard in school cafeterias.

Friday, December 2

Americans prefer freedom to equality

A majority of Americans oppose interference from the state
Nearly six-in-ten (58%) Americans believe that it is more important for people to be free to pursue their goals without interference from the state; just 35% say it is more important for the state to play an active role in society so as to guarantee that nobody is in need.

In contrast, at least six-in-ten people in Spain (67%), France (64%), Germany (62%) and 55% in Britain say it is more important for the state to ensure that nobody is in need; about four-in-ten or fewer consider being free from state interference a higher priority.
And yet they keep voting for Democrats and Republicans.

Tuesday, November 29

It makes no sense

Some people fret that China will reap the green jobs of the future, but no economically viable green-energy product exists. It makes no sense for the U.S. to try to dominate a money-losing industry, especially by guaranteeing profits to inefficient power plants for 30 years.

Sunday, November 27

zodiac signs as job criteria

It appears that zodiac signs – what most people would agree to be an arbitrary aspect of an applicant’s profile – have in fact become significant criteria for many companies.
In China, at least.

Megan Mcardle reviews Shiny Objects

Megan Mcardle reviews Shiny Objects
Here are some of the things that upset [James A. Roberts] and that "document our preoccupation with status consumption": Lucky Jeans, bling, Hummers, iPhones, 52-inch plasma televisions, purebred lapdogs, McMansions, expensive rims for your tires, couture, Gulfstream jets and Abercrombie & Fitch. This is a fairly accurate list of the aspirational consumption patterns of a class of folks that my Upper West Side neighbors used to refer to as "these people," usually while discussing their voting habits or taste in talk radio. As with most such books, considerably less space is devoted to the extravagant excesses of European travel, arts-enrichment programs or collecting first editions.

One of the running themes of the economist Robin Hanson's excellent blog is that arguments like the ones found in these books are actually an elite-status proxy war. They denigrate the one measure of high-visibility achievement—income—that public intellectuals don't do very well on. Reading "Shiny Objects," you get the feeling that he is onto something.

Share the Wealth!

Wednesday, November 9


A chrome extension for reporting misleading health claims found on the web to the FDA. (The link is for the British version, but it works for some other countries, too). I'm wondering if Lifehacker will promote this.

Tuesday, September 20

The Progressivity of the Tax System

The Progressivity of the Tax System: With all the rhetoric floating around regarding the "Buffett rule," it might be worth trying extra hard to keep an eye on the facts.  Here is the progressivity of the current tax system, according to the Tax Policy Center.  If you can remember only one fact, make it this one: The middle class (middle quintile) pays 14.1 percent of its income in federal taxes, while the rich (top tenth of one percent of the population) pay 30.4 percent.

Tuesday, August 23

Can this marriage be saved?

You’re at a dinner party. Your hostess regales you with a long, meandering tale of her recent back surgery. It ends with attempted humor: she laughs and glances at you. You laugh in response, trying to convey an appreciation for her humor that you don’t actually feel.... With your spouse of 25 years, you can simply stare at him stony-faced when he tells you his favorite “funny” story yet again.
If the story makes my spouse happy, it makes me happy, and I'll at least smile at that.

Wednesday, August 3

The middle class is...

A couple of days ago, Megan McArdle said she'd prefer
a single entitlement system that takes care of people who are actually destitute and unable to work, not this mad scheme whereby America's middle class is supposed to get rich by picking its own pockets.
Conn Carroll chimes in,
In order to pay for all their entitlement programs, the middle class is going to have to pay more, too.

Wednesday, July 27

"Marquee", not "marquis"

Evan Osnos writes,
The Murdoch-mania is so conspicuous that some Chinese viewers are asking if it has anything to do with the fact that it coincides with the moment that Party leaders are struggling to quell criticism over a train crash that casts doubt on the safety of a marquis political symbol, China’s high-speed rail network.
He means "marquee", not "marquis".

Monday, July 25

Fukushima as it was

This was mounted on a piece of plastic and given to me many years ago by an American who worked for a company building another reactor in Japan.


Friday, May 27

France is not exactly libertarian

Speaking of French the "second family" of François Mitterrand and the "nocturnal escapades" Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac, Xavier Durringer claims,
The French people are quite willing to accept that politicians lead double lives, that they have affairs and mistresses. Infidelity and extramarital affairs are normal parts of life. France is a libertarian society; we have politicians who are a lot like us.
Although I realize the interview of a French director appearing in a German magazine was probably not conducted in English, France is by no means libertarian. Maybe he meant "libertine".

Thursday, May 26

Insider trading among members of the House of Representatives

A study released Wednesday in the journal Business and Politics by Alan J. Ziobrowski of Georgia State University, James W. Boyd of Lindenwood University, Ping Cheng of Florida Atlantic University and Brigitte J. Ziobrowski of Augusta State University found
“...strong evidence that members of the House have some type of non-public information which they use for personal gain,” according to four academics who authored the study, “Abnormal Returns From the Common Stock Investments of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

To the frustration of open-government advocates, lawmakers and their staff members largely have immunity from laws barring trading on insider knowledge that have sent many a private corporate chieftain to prison.

The watchdog group said on its blog Wednesday that the findings suggest “that U.S. House members are using their powerful roles for more than just political gain.”

Wednesday, May 25

A niche that no one else has explored

David Rubinstein writes of the life of the college professor, and notes,
As Thomas Sowell has argued, building a scholarly reputation requires finding a niche that no one else has explored—often for good reason. I am hard pressed to explain why sometimes exquisitely esoteric interests should be supported by taxpayers: This expertise certainly does not match the educational needs of students.

Friday, May 20

The U.S. didn't reach per capita GDP of $16,740 until 1963

In the 1970s growth rates in western Europe and Japan cooled off at approximately the $16,740 threshold. Singapore’s early-1980s slowdown matches the model, as does the experience of South Korea and Taiwan in the late 1990s.

Saturday, May 14

E.J. Dionne, political hack

Yuval Levin points this out:
The passage of health care reform provided the first piece of incontestable evidence that Washington has changed.  Congress is, indeed, capable of carrying through fundamental social reform. No longer will the United States be the outlier among wealthy nations in leaving so many of its citizens without basic health coverage. In approving the most sweeping piece of social legislation since the mid-1960s, Democrats proved that they can govern, even under challenging circumstances and in the face of significant internal divisions.
     -E.J. Dionne, March 22, 2010
And second:
As if our political system were not having enough trouble already, we now confront the possibility that a highly partisan judiciary will undo a modest health-care reform that is a first step toward resolving a slew of other difficulties.
     -E.J. Dionne, May 12, 2011

Saturday, April 23

Cost of Illinois State Employee and Retiree Health Insurance

The table below shows average monthly retiree health costs for members and for the State in FY2011 and total state costs. These figures do not include the cost of coverage for retirees’ dependents; retirees are required to pay premiums for their dependents.

When people don't even have any idea of how much their benefits cost, much less have any responsibility for paying for them, is it any wonder that costs keep rising? The same problem is true of Obamacare.

Friday, April 22

Blame the "speculators"

Here's your federal energy policy: Do nothing significant to increase domestic supply, create mandates to have XX% of future supply come from magical green leprechauns, then when prices (surprise!) go up, you know what to do: Blame the "speculators"... It says a lot about how debased our politics have become that we could have expected this kind ofaggressive economic ignorance had the other party won the presidency, too.
Gotta get me a unicorn fart bottling franchise.

Where the Tax Money Is

Why is it so hard for government to have the budget it had in 2007?

If government agencies and programs functioned with 19% to 20% of GDP in 2007, why is it so hard for them to function with that percentage in 2021, when GDP will be substantially higher and with many opportunities for reforms and increased efficiencies? And if GDP and employment grow more quickly, as they would if private investment increased as a result of lower government spending and debt, then that 19% to 20% share of GDP could provide much more in the way of public goods.
And this tidbit:
...the chart shows that the second Obama administration budget, submitted a week after the Ryan House budget, is substantially different from the first administration budget. It is highly unusual for an administration to decide to submit a second budget....

Sunday, April 17

The real "subsidies to the affluent"

In response to Ross Douthat's criticism of policies that "subsidize the affluent", Mungowitz at Kids Prefer Cheese writes,
the real "subsidies to the affluent" are cutting subsidies to sugar, corporate farms, oil companies, and big fat defense firms. The problem is not a misallocation by ability to pay, but rather straight up subsidies to war pigs, farm pigs, and the prison-industrial complex fattening the purses of anti-drug warriors. Those payments dwarf the tax cuts.

Friday, April 15

Volkswagen manuals suck

So I wrote to them:
Give me information pertinent to the vehicle I bought!

Instead, you provide a manual filled with irrelevant descriptions of features that mine doesn't possess, typically describing them as if they're present in all vehicles. It's simply infuriating.

Incidentally, the dealership was of no help in this matter either.
The dealer was in Kirkwood, btw.

Monday, April 11

Not bottled unicorn farts

From either Walter Sobchak or Fat Man (possibly the same person?)
..."visionary" politicians who think an industrial economy can be run on unicorn farts and bottled rainbows....

Monday, March 21

What Ever Happened to the Antiwar Movement?

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that antiwar activity in the United States and around the world was driven as much by antipathy to George W. Bush as by actual opposition to war and intervention.

Sunday, March 6

Largest unions pay leaders well, give extensively to Democrats

On the surface, the fight between the governor of Wisconsin and organized labor is about balancing state budgets and collective-bargaining rights. Behind the scenes, hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to top labor leaders as well as campaign contributions to Democrats could be in jeopardy.

Tuesday, March 1

The European Union’s fruit and vegetable standards

EU bureaucrats and USDA officials alike measure whether cucumbers are cucumbers based purely on visual qualities — appearance and form — rather than taste.

Friday, February 4

Watch out, capitalism!

Potlatch writes:
Capitalism depends on frustrated yearning to persist, as both Marx and Keynes recognised. Its gravest danger is that people get enough of something....
I've already got pretty much all I want. Watch out, capitalism! (Actually, no worries: I seem to be pretty much an outlier).

Tuesday, February 1

Obama is an establishment figure

Tim Cavanaugh writes,
The president routinely depicted by detractors as the demon seed of the ’60s counterculture is in fact an establishment figure who blocks efforts to end federal discrimination against gay people, supports immunity for federal agents who illegally engaged in warrantless wiretapping, declines to withdraw on any front from either the war on drugs or the war on jihad, made insurance giganticorps the centerpiece of his health care law, failed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and helped deliver hundreds of billions of dollars into the hands of insolvent bankers and industrialists.

Sunday, January 30

Artists never got money

Francis Ford Coppola, interviewed by Ariston Anderson, argues
You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.

Just because you mean to do good doesn’t mean that you will actually do good.

Wednesday, January 26

“Snail” does not mean “slime cow”

Tim Flannery claims
The Chinese characters for “snail” read as “slime cow”
If he means the characters 蝸牛, the most common word for snail, he's wrong. While 牛 ("niú") does mean bovine (bull or cow) 蝸 ("wō" in China, "guā" in Taiwan) means "snail". And anyway what's the significance of what it means in Chinese?

Monday, January 17

Yikes: Chen Kuiyuan (陈奎元)

A vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and dean of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Chen Kuiyuan is strongly associated with China’s hardline left, and his presence in the official news photo from Xinhua is for media insiders in China a tangible sign — a flesh-and-blood cautionary note about the need for media to fall into line in 2011.

It was this same Chen Kuiyuan who wrote an influential essay in the People’s Daily in August 2004 arguing that the greatest legacy left by Deng Xiaoping (邓小平), the architect of China’s opening and reform policy, was not reform itself but the so-called “Four Basic Principles, or si xiang jiben yuanze (四项基本原则). A favored political buzzword of China’s conservative left, the Four Basic Principles — sometimes referred to as the “Four Cardinal Principles” — are as follows:
1. We must cleave to the road of socialism
2. We must uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat
3. We must uphold the leadership of the Communist Party
4. We must uphold Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought
And it looks as if he'll be severely restricting media freedom.

Friday, January 14


From Conquering Fear in the WSJ
"Part of what mindfulness does is get to you to recognize that these critical thoughts are really stories you have created about yourself. They are not necessarily true, but they can have self-fulfilling consequences," says Zindel V. Segal, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto who devised Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy to help depressed patients. "If you can get some distance from them, you can see that there are choices about how to respond."

Mindfulness also involves paying attention to your breathing and other physical sensations while observing your thoughts so you have a tapestry of information to consider, says Dr. Segal. In fact, neuro-imaging studies have shown that when people consider problems mindfully, they use additional brain circuits beyond those that simply involve problem-solving.

Although some critics initially dismissed mindfulness-based therapies as vacuous and New Age-y, dozens of randomized-controlled trials in the past decade have shown that they can be effective in managing depression, panic disorders, social phobias, sleep problems and even borderline personality disorder.
Psychologist Dennis Tirch, director of the New York Center for Mindfulness, Acceptance and Compassion-Focused Therapies, uses this formula to help even people with profound developmental disabilities take control of their emotions: "Feel your soles of your feet. Feel yourself breathe. Label your emotions and make space for your thoughts."

The article has several illustrations with suggested coping strategies:
Worry About Getting Fired
  • Change: Resolve to work harder and be indispensable.
  • Deny: Remember your recent raise and glowing review.
  • Accept: Understand that everyone feels this way and ask yourself if worrying is worth it.
A Fear of Flying
  • Change: Force yourself to fly as much as possible until the fear subsides.
  • Deny: Remind yourself that flying is much safer than driving.
  • Accept: Expect and acknowledge the fear; breathe deeply and focus on the moment.
Feeling Fat and Ugly After Reading Fashion Magazines
  • Change: Resolve to eat less, exercise more and improve what you can.
  • Deny: Remember nobody looks that good; even the models are air-brushed.
  • Accept: Realize that magazines always make you feel fat; assess how much you really care.
From, "mindfulness" is translated as follows:

七?X支 Seven Enlightenment Elements...念 mindfulness...?穹? Wisdom - 相关搜索
我常将之译成「观察力」(observing power),而非「念」(mindfulness)。然而,...

I've also found it on Google as 冥想 、靜觀 and 玄覽:心居玄冥之處而覽知萬物。老子

Searching Google books for "靜觀 the" leads to this selection from Custody and treatment of dangerous prisoners: recommendation no. R (82) 17:
Page 93
認為人的認識&像不是外界事物;而是人身,認識的目的是通過內省自身兩表達天意. ...
Page 241
是一種神秘主義的直覺認識, ~老子的認識方法是"靜觀"、"玄覽" ,老子講"觀" ... 1 儘管
芸芸萬物、千變萬化,但都歸根於道,只要"靜觀" ,就能認識萬物周而復始、不離其根的 ...
Page 471
作為 ..
I guess I should try to find the book.

Sunday, January 9

Locavore idiocy

[N]o agricultural economist has informed the public that a key claim of local-food advocates—that local-food purchases enhance the local economy—violates the core economic principles taught in every introductory economics class. Until now.

Spending other people's money

It's presented as a test, but here are the answers:
1) Total spending for the federal budget for 2010 is projected to be approximately $3.6 trillion.  The budget comprises total expenditures and total receipts by the federal government.

2) The federal deficit for 2010 is projected to be approximately $1.2 trillion.  However, note that in 2009, the deficit was projected to be $407 billion but ended up being $1.4 trillion.  The deficit is total expenditures less total receipts (such as income taxes) received.  When receipts exceed expenditures, there is a surplus.

3) The national debt at the end of fiscal year 2010 is projected to be $14 trillion.  This debt is the accumulation of every year's deficit since 1776 less all accumulated surpluses.

4) The annual interest payment on the National Debt for 2010 is projected to be $164 billion.

Sunday, January 2

Some needed context

Jonathan Mirsky writes,
[Susan Greenhalgh, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine] herself refers to the years from 1980-93 as a time of "human and natural catastrophe," of "bad governance, even by the regime's own standards, which have consistently rejected the use of what in party-speak is called 'coercion and commandism.'"
In fact, on p. 56 she writes,
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Leninist birth planners had tried to operate the population program on a natural science model.... The result was a human and political catastrophe.
And on p. 86,
population management was a prime example of bad governance....
He makes it sound as if she's criticizing Chinese policies in general, whereas she's criticizing population policies.