Thursday, August 30

What has Illinois earned?

S&P lowers Illinois credit rating over pensions
Continuing pension problems have earned Illinois another reduction in its credit rating.
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services announced Wednesday that it is lowering Illinois' general obligation rating to A from A-plus. The decision is based on weak funding for government pensions and a "lack of action on reform measures."
As Speaker of the Illinois House almost continuously since 1982, Michael Madigan has been a major force in Illinois politics for decades. Yet over those same decades, the state government has failed to fund Illinois public pensions (and at least compared to those of state government employees nationally, they aren't particularly generous). (See The Illinois Pension Funding Problem: Why It Matters or March 2012 Financial Condition of the Illinois State Retirement Systems) This failure is Michael Madigan's poisonous legacy.

Solyndra and General Motors

Paul Ryan complains Obama’s stimulus
went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs, and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst.
Tad DeHaven points out Ryan voted for the GM bailout, and
If you replace “Solyndra” with “General Motors” the story is essentially the same

Wednesday, August 29

The GOP is an echo of the Democrats

Nick Gillespie's GOP Pushes to Become Seen as Medicare's Savior Despite Fiscal Destructiveness, Unfairness of Program
... the GOP is doubling down on being an echo of the Democrats rather than a full-throated Goldwaterian alternative to the status quo. You can see that in their actual budget proposals (to the degree that they exist): In a decade's time, Obama hopes the government is spending about $2 trillion more than it is now; the GOP Congress wants to spend $1 trillion more. In a country that is borrowing almost 40 cents of every dollar it spends, this is splitting hairs.

What is not seen

James L. Payne's The Unnoticed Deficit That Makes Us $6 Trillion Poorer
Though there is an element of redistribution in many spending programs, basically government is taxing people and then trying to return the money to them as some benefit they could have bought for themselves, such as education, housing, art, pensions, medical care, and so on.
He then goes on to detail how overhead costs of government tax-and-spend programs result in waste.

Chris Christie’s "hard truth"

Josh Barro on Romney and Christie’s Hard Truth Problem
...a hard truth Christie absolutely will not tell is that every one of his budgets has been unbalanced by more than $2.5 billion. When Christie said tonight he has signed “three balanced budgets,” he wasn’t telling a hard truth -- he was using bad accounting to hide a hard truth.

Each year, Christie has achieved “on paper” budget balance by making inadequate payments into the state’s pension fund, effectively borrowing from the fund.
That sounds like a Democratic governor.

Monday, August 27

Cheddar on whole wheat

In The Hidden Truths about Calories Rob Dunn writes,
A new study this year found that in a lab experiment individual humans who ate 600 or 800 calorie portions of whole wheat bread (with nuts and seeds on it) and cheddar cheese actually expended twice as much energy, yes twice, in digesting that food as did individuals who consumed the same quantity of white bread and “processed cheese product.”
Each of us gets a different number of calories out of identical foods because of who we are and who our ancestors were.

...your microbes are different than mine which likely matters to digestion....
One of my favorite sandwiches happens to be cheddar (mild or sharp) on whole wheat (oops. Safeway Select Nut And Grain Bread is primarily white flour, but it's got walnuts & sunflower seeds and a bunch of grains) with mayo, sliced tomato & onion, and lettuce. I can't stand processed cheese.

Sunday, August 26

That's not what "nonpartisan" means to me

Daniel Immerwahr, in his review of Inderjeet Parmar's Foundations of the American Century, writes,
Unlike the think tanks of today, the Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller foundations were, and continue to be, studiously nonpartisan. They sought above all technocratic order: a strong federal government, a class of experts ready to guide it, and a docile public eager to follow. Abroad, they combined their faith in the rule of experts with the belief that the ideas and institutions best suited to the poorer countries of the world were those of the United States.
But everyone has certain ideas that they promote, and often those ideas are controversial, and opposed by one party or another. For instance, there is one party that's much more fond of the federal government than the other. On the other hand, I can't imagine either American political party openly calling for "a docile public eager to follow" them. As Glenn Greenwald notes, there is a disturbing thirst for leader-worship amongst supporters of both parties.

At least they’re not out killing people

From Caroline Daniel's interview with Ian McEwan:
His work has spawned dozens of theses. I hand over a list, pointing to one exotic title, which he reads out loud, faintly embarrassed: “Mimesis and the Imaginable Other – Meta-fictional Narrative Ethics ... ” (He stops reading before it gets to: “In the Novels of Ian McEwan”.) As if to deflect attention, he mordantly adds: “Well, at least they’re not out killing people, I suppose.”

Friday, August 24

How drug legalization would improve on the status quo

Conor Friedersdorf writes,
...legalization would mean less likelihood of death by overdose due to standardization of supply and dosage; getting high based on the safest drug that gets the job done, rather than the one most easily available, even if much more dangerous and addictive; no need to transact business with drug dealers, who are sometimes dangerous and violent; an ability to seek medical attention for oneself or one's family members without fear of arrest; and more opportunities for subsidized treatment, if even a fraction of the money spent on policing and incarceration were spent on social services. There's also the fact that fewer would face long prison sentences.

Thursday, August 23

Romney: Dick Cheney without the charm

In Obama and Romney vs. the Bill of Rights Steve Chapman writes,
If you're looking for an opponent willing to call Obama out for his disappointing efforts in [the realm of civil liberties], Mitt Romney is not the candidate for you. When it comes to civil liberties, he gives every appearance of being Dick Cheney without the charm.

Tuesday, August 21

Monday, August 20

The Obama administration has adopted a terrorist tactic

Glenn Greenwald writes, "Attacking rescuers – a tactic long deemed by the US a hallmark of terrorism – is now routinely used by the Obama administration." Late last year, Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, was still defending the committee's decision to award Obama the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the 40th Anniversary of the "Limits to Growth"

On the 40th Anniversary of the "Limits to Growth" pretty much says it all. Also, Environmentalism as Religious Doctrine quotes Steven Landsburg's "The Armchair Economist" on his suspicion that environmentalists don't want to seriously inquire into the long-term effects of recycling "because their real concern is with the ritual of recycling itself, not with its consequences. The underlying need to sacrifice, and to compel others to sacrifice, is a fundamentally religious impulse." Of course, serious inquiry into the long-term consequences of anything is in pretty short supply on all sides.

I was just wondering if one could say that we don't truly exist if we're totally misinterpreting our lives. What if although what we perceive is real, it's only a tiny portion of reality, and so poorly interpreted that we actually understand everything in our peculiarly local context that is irrelevant in the larger picture. 

Sunday, August 19

Green managment

According to this, the four houses topping the Ninth Heaven International Mall 九天国际广场 in Zhuzhou, Hunan are legally sanctioned, and are not private residences (别墅), but used by the for "green management" (绿化管理) and "property management" (物业管理).

Different Pentagon Spending Plans

Christopher Preble writes,
Paul Ryan would spend more than President Obama on the military; Mitt Romney would spend much more.

Saturday, August 18

U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide emissions down

Ronald Bailey writes,
U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide emissions are back down to their 1992 levels.... Lots of environmental activists dislike cheap natural gas because it outcompetes their first loves, photovoltaic and wind power. It spooks the nuke folks too. I noted a Washington Post headline back in February that actually read: "Cheap Gas Jumbles Energy Markets, Stirs Fears that It Could Inhibit Renewables."

Our future of invisible threats

Gabriella Blum imagines the following:
You walk into your shower and find a spider. You are not an arachnologist. You do, however, know that any one of the four following options is possible:

a. The spider is real and harmless.

b. The spider is real and venomous.

c. Your next-door neighbor, who dislikes your noisy dog, has turned her personal surveillance spider (purchased from “Drones ‘R Us” for $49.95) loose and is monitoring it on her iPhone from her seat at a sports bar downtown. The pictures of you, undressed, are now being relayed on several screens during the break of an NFL game, to the mirth of the entire neighborhood.

d. Your business competitor has sent his drone assassin spider, which he purchased from a bankrupt military contractor, to take you out. Upon spotting you with its sensors, and before you have any time to weigh your options, the spider shoots an infinitesimal needle into a vein in your left leg and takes a blood sample. As you beat a retreat out of the shower, your blood sample is being run on your competitor’s smartphone for a DNA match. The match is made against a DNA sample of you that is already on file at (Everything about Everybody), an international DNA database (with access available for $179.99). Once the match is confirmed (a matter of seconds), the assassin spider outruns you with incredible speed into your bedroom, pausing only long enough to dart another needle, this time containing a lethal dose of a synthetically produced, undetectable poison, into your bloodstream. Your assassin, who is on a summer vacation in Provence, then withdraws his spider under the crack of your bedroom door and out of the house and presses its self-destruct button. No trace of the spider or the poison it carried will ever be found by law enforcement authorities.

Thursday, August 16

Obama vs. Romney--some choice!

In Romney and Ryan Would Return Us to the Bush Years, Andrew Napolitano writes,
Today in America, nearly half of all households receive either a salary or some financial benefit from the government; the other half pay for it. In Obama's vision for America, no one will be permitted to become too rich, no matter his skills and hard work. He somehow believes that government seizures and transfers of wealth generate prosperity. We know, of course, that the opposite occurs. Seizing wealth through taxation removes it from the private sector for investment. That produces job losses and government dependence on a massive scale.
Last week, Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, blasted Obama for borrowing more than one trillion dollars in just the past year. He must have forgotten to look at the voting record of his designated running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

Wednesday, August 15

Obama harms American consumers

To protect ethanol, Obama seeks to inflate meat prices
Campaigning in Missouri Valley, Iowa, yesterday, President Obama announced yet another government spending program -- this time designed to inflate meat prices in Midwest swing states. "Today the Department of Agriculture announced that it will buy up to $100 million worth of pork products, $50 million worth of chicken, and $20 million worth of lamb and farm-raised catfish," Obama explained to reporters in front of a drought-stricken cornfield.

... even environmentalists rejected ethanol long ago, when scientists established that it actually increases carbon and smog emissions.

To recap, government is driving up the cost of food, animal feed and gasoline, and Obama's solution is to drive up meat prices as well. Obama could eliminate the entire problem overnight and reduce carbon emissions were he to waive the ethanol mandate in a time of drought. Instead, he is creating a new spending program to mollify livestock producers, who, were it not for the ethanol mandate, would be able to make an honest living without his help.
Which is not to say that Republicans are much better. From Obama Panders to Greedy Iowans:
...the farm bills currently stalled in Congress trade one set of ill-advised industry subsidies for another. They would continue to favor farming over other industries. And by handing out more insurance, they would actually create new incentives to farm land that is susceptible to drought.

Worse, these policies aren't even that controversial. The main point of contention between Republicans and Democrats in Congress is how deeply to cut the food stamp program, which is contained within the same law as farm subsidies; they are in broad agreement on giving handouts to farmers.

Sunday, August 12

I hope we're not #1

Michael Giberson wrote about how “clean energy” advocates only care about whether we’re #1 in green energy. The next day Scott Shackford wrote, China Is Winning the Race to Lose Billions on Solar Power.

Middle-class incomes are not stagnating

In The Mismeasure of Inequality Kip Hagopian and Lee Ohanian write,
We will show that much of what has been reported about income inequality is misleading, factually incorrect, or of little or no consequence to our economic well-being. We will also show that middle-class incomes are not stagnating; in fact, middle-class incomes have risen significantly over the 29 years covered by the cbo study. Lastly, we will address assertions that the rich are not paying their “fair share” of taxes.

Friday, August 10

Machine translation fail

From Tous les matins du monde: the narrator says, "J'avais froid aux fesses. Mon sexe etait tout petit et gelée." and the subtitles read as in the picture.

Thursday, August 9

The inappropriate font

Errol Morris writes,
The conscious awareness of Comic Sans promotes — at least among some people — contempt and summary dismissal. But is there a font that promotes, engenders a belief that a sentence is true? Or at least nudges us in that direction? And indeed there is.
It is Baskerville.
So perhaps Joann Lombardo is going to tear down banners in Comic Sans? And hound everyone to use Baskerville?

Tuesday, August 7

Religion is good?

And in the case of encouraging ‘prosocial’ behavior, we're not talking just any religion, but old-timey fire & brimstone religion. In Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates, Azim Shariff & Mijke Rhemtulla conclude:
Though religion has been shown to have generally positive effects on normative ‘prosocial’ behavior, recent laboratory research suggests that these effects may be driven primarily by supernatural punishment. Supernatural benevolence, on the other hand, may actually be associated with less prosocial behavior.
In Support for Redistribution in Western Europe: Assessing the role of religion, Daniel Stegmueller et al. conclude:
We find that both Catholics and Protestants strongly oppose income redistribution by the state. The cleavage between religious and secular individuals is far more important than the difference between denominations.
This would seem to explain something about the religious right.
Links via Mungowitz at Kids Prefer Cheese.

The costs to society dwarf the estimated benefits

But the government believes it knows better. In Overriding Consumer Preferences with Energy Regulations, Ted Gayer and W. Kip Viscusi write,
This article examines a major class of recent government initiatives by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) pertaining to energy efficiency (as distinct from economic efficiency). The regulations of interest all pertain to consumer products that are durable goods. There may be some kind of market failure with respect to the energy usage of these products, as energy use leads to environmental consequences. However, the existence of an imperfection alone cannot justify all regulations that take the form of government intrusion into the marketplace to override consumer choices. We examine the justification for these energy regulations and show that demonstrable market failures are largely incidental to an assessment of the merits of these regulations. Rather, the preponderance of the assessed benefits is derived from an assumption of irrational consumer choice. The impetus for the new wave of energy-efficiency regulations has little to do with externalities. Instead, the regulations are based on an assumption that government choices better reflect the preferences of consumers and firms than the choices consumers and firms would make themselves. In the absence of these claimed private benefits of the regulation, the costs to society dwarf the estimated benefits.
(via Michael Giberson at Knowledge Problem)

Monday, August 6

Some choice!

Guy Taylor in Obama, Romney spar over Pentagon spending:
...neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney has a real plan for reining in runaway defense spending.“Obama will spend a lot; Romney will spend more. That’s the difference,” said Winslow T. Wheeler, an analyst at the liberal Center for Defense Information....

The irony, said Mr. Korb, now a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, is that “apart from the first Reagan administration, the Pentagon has historically made out better under Democrats than Republicans in terms of money.”
“And the problem with Romney saying he’s going to increase defense spending,” said Mr. Korb, “is how is he going to do that while also dealing with the deficit?”
And then there's Romneycare vs. Obamacare.

Sunday, August 5

One good Mormon deserves another

The context for the slobber.

So many people are not paying attention

In what "Don Boudreaux calls "the greatest blog-post ever written", Deirdre McCloskey writes,
... anyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing 19th-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention.
Follow the link for further elucidation.

Obama worse than Bush?

Steve Coll writes in The New Yorker:
the Obama Administration leans toward killing terrorism suspects because it does not believe it has a politically attractive way to put them on trial. Federal criminal trials of terrorist suspects draw howls of protest from many Republicans, even though the George W. Bush Administration successfully prosecuted a number of high-profile terrorists in federal court.
via Glenn Greenwald, who cites Noam Chomsky:
If the Bush administration didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them.
Of course Romney won't raise any of this, and if elected, will presumably follow Obama's lead.

Saturday, August 4

San Bernardino County Library Has Great Stuff

Patrons of the San Bernardino County Library have free access to online Mango Languages (under Electronic Resources):
Arabic (Levantine)
Chinese (Cantonese)
Chinese (Mandarin)
Farsi (Persian)
French (Canadian)
Greek (Ancient)
Greek (Koine)
Haitian Creole
Biblical Hebrew
Portuguese (Brazil)
Spanish (Latin America)
Spanish (Spain)

Also several courses in English as a Second Language:
لإنجليزية للمتحدثين بالعربية
Anglais pour Francophones
Englisch für Deutschsprachige
Αγγλικα Για Έλληνες
Inglese per Italiani
한국인을 위한 영어
Angielski Dla Polaków
Inglês para Brasileiros
Английский Для Русскоговорящих
Inglés Para Hablantes De Español
Türkçe Konuşanlar için İngilizce
Tiếng Anh Cho Người Việt Nam

If you don't have access to a public library that offers Mango, Online Foreign Service Institute Language Courses are another alternative for free language learning (albeit a little old-fashioned).

And a list from Open Culture.

Friday, August 3

Campaign Spending Down in 2012

That's a headline you won't see lots of places.

John Samples gives Some Perspective on Campaign Spending in 2012
[C]ampaign spending in 2012 seems likely to shrink as a share of overall national wealth compared to 2008. That conclusion is compatible with spending rising to record in absolute dollars. Indeed, spending is likely to set such records in every presidential election unless the economy contracts over a four year period.

Amid all the complaints about “record spending” shouldn’t at least one person in the media point out that campaign spending is lower, maybe much lower, than history would have led us to expect?