Sunday, October 28

If there are aspects of life that God does not control, he is not omnipotent, but just one magical force among many.
Whether we construe Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s statement generously and limit it to his obvious intentions—that the life that results from a rape is a gift that God intends to happen—or construe it less favorably to what Mourdock meant to say but faithfully to Christian theology—that God intended the rape that impregnates the victim—either interpretation is required by the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent God. Given the nonstop stream of prayers that believers send God’s way every second, seeking favorable dispositions of, inter alia, their home foreclosure, their bypass operation, the election, the aftermath of an earthquake and every other natural disaster (belatedly), it’s clear that believers rightly reason that there is not a single aspect of life invisible to the all-powerful God and over which he fails to exercise utter control (even if he sometimes seems to get a little distracted). I mean, if he can perform such Iron Age miracles as ventriloquizing through a burning bush , he can sure as heck prevent a rape if he chose to do so. His will has no option but to be done.

Saturday, October 27

I was going to send this to professors I know, but I didn't want to depress them

The Magic of Education by Bryan Caplan
Think about all the time students spend studying history, art, music, foreign languages, poetry, and mathematical proofs. What you learn in most classes is, in all honesty, useless in the vast majority of occupations. This is hardly surprising when you remember how little professors like me know about the Real World. How can I possibly improve my students' ability to do a vast array of jobs that I don't know how to do myself? It would be nothing short of magic.


Many educators sooth their consciences by insisting that "I teach my students how to think, not what to think." But this platitude goes against a hundred years of educational psychology. Education is very narrow; students learn the material you specifically teach them... if you're lucky.

The only difference between Obama and Bush

The only difference between Obama and Bush is that Obama is killing more people. He’s about double the numbers now. Can you imagine if McCain had won and did precisely what Obama has done, with every speech and every political maneuver overseas? There’d be riots in the streets about the people we’re killing. And yet because it’s Obama, and he’s better looking and better at reading the teleprompter, we let him get away with it.
Penn Jillette

Thursday, October 25

More people have been starting college, but...

...the fraction that actually finishes college has remained flat. Or so Bryan Caplan argues:
...we already have an enormously high dropout rate, especially for marginal students. Most of, or at least a lot of the payoff from going to college comes from finishing. And yet, over the last decade or so we’ve had a large rise of the number of people who start going to college, but the fraction that actually finishes has been very flat. So it seems quite likely in a way that this is just going to encourage a lot of people to waste a couple of years of life and get very little show for it.

Tuesday, October 23

Spot the difference

Krugman didn't write this:
What continues to amaze me is this: our current strategy of massive, unsustainable deficit spending in the hopes that this will somehow generate a self-sustained recovery is currently regarded as the orthodox, sensible thing to do - even though it can be justified only by exotic stories about multiple equilibria, the sort of thing you would imagine only a professor could believe. Meanwhile further steps on monetary policy - the sort of thing you would advocate if you believed in a more conventional, boring model, one in which the problem is simply a question of the savings-investment balance - are rejected as dangerously radical and unbecoming of a dignified economy.

Will somebody please explain this to me?
He wrote this:
What continues to amaze me is this: Japan's current strategy of massive, unsustainable deficit spending in the hopes that this will somehow generate a self-sustained recovery is currently regarded as the orthodox, sensible thing to do - even though it can be justified only by exotic stories about multiple equilibria, the sort of thing you would imagine only a professor could believe. Meanwhile further steps on monetary policy - the sort of thing you would advocate if you believed in a more conventional, boring model, one in which the problem is simply a question of the savings-investment balance - are rejected as dangerously radical and unbecoming of a dignified economy.

Will somebody please explain this to me?

Monday, October 22

Should I vote for someone because I identify with him?

Obama’s ‘not one of us’ attack on Romney echoes racial code by Karen Tumulty, who might say "to be sure" before adding:
The context of the ad is very different from the one in which the phrase “one of us” was used to divide the country along racial lines....
But anyway, why must people identify with a particular candidate? Don't appeals to identity (which certainly do suggest racism to me) mean that a candidate doesn't have much to say on the issues?

Saturday, October 20

Illegal immigrants don't take jobs away from American workers

Eduardo Porter in Immigration and American Jobs:
[Economists] confirm earlier findings that immigration on the whole has not led to fewer jobs for American workers. More significantly, they suggest that immigrants have had, at most, a small negative impact on the wages of Americans who compete with them most directly, those with a high school degree or less.

Meanwhile, the research has found that immigrants – including the poor, uneducated ones coming from south of the border — have a big positive impact on the economy over the long run, bolstering the profitability of American firms, reducing the prices of some products and services by providing employers with a new labor source and creating more opportunities for investment and jobs.

Friday, October 19

Should I vote for someone because of his ethnicity?

Jay Chen seems to think I should vote for him because of his ethnicity. Funny, though, how a couple of Latinas seemed to have snuck in. No blacks or whites, though. So if one is not East Asian or Latina one shouldn't vote for him?

Thursday, October 18

Is the Cato Institute right wing? (II)
Please, no bigotry toward those who are successful in pursuing the American Dream
According to the IRS, the top 1 percent of earners take home 17 percent of the nation’s total taxable income. Yet they pay 37 percent of the nation’s taxes. They are paying a disproportionate share of the burden of government and yet the Occupy protestors, public employee unions and even President Obama demonize them.

Think about who the 1 percent are. They are entrepreneurs who have pursued life, liberty and happiness. For many, pursuit of a dream is the root source of their wealth. They risked some of their own money and perhaps recruited investors to put in some of theirs. They hired workers to join them in making this dream a reality. Some of those workers became 1 percenters, too.

And how do these dreams come true? By operating businesses that succeed by serving others well. That is the essence of the free market and capitalism. Despite all its flaws, despite the risks, despite the many challenges, success is achieved by serving others well. This should be championed, not vilified. It’s surreal we must be reminded of this.

What a watery mess

From Parched in the West but Shipping Water to China, Bale by Bale by Peter Culp and Robert Glennon:
In 2012, the drought-stricken Western United States will ship more than 50 billion gallons of water to China. This water will leave the country embedded in alfalfa -- most of it grown in California -- and is destined to feed Chinese cows. The strange situation illustrates what is wrong about how we think, or rather don't think, about water policy in the U.S.

...the most curious consequence of this export market involves water. Alfalfa is a water-guzzling crop -- and the water embedded in the alfalfa that the U.S. will export to China in 2012 is enough to supply the annual needs of roughly 500,000 families.

Southern California's Imperial Irrigation District gets its water from the Colorado River, 82 miles to the east. Alfalfa farmers in the district use as much as 50% more water than growers in other areas of the state due to scorching heat, salty soil and, perhaps most important, their legal rights to an enormous quantity of cheap water. This single irrigation district controls more than 20% of the total annual flow of the Colorado River. Remarkably, the district's water rights are 10 times higher than that of the entire state of Nevada.


The perversity of a situation in which California taxpayers must spend tens of billions to protect the water supplies of vital farms and cities -- even as California farmers convert tens of thousands of irrigated acres to feed cows in China -- reflects the growing incoherence of domestic water and agricultural policy. Antiquated Western water laws often block intrastate or interstate water transfers that could satisfy changing domestic urban, agricultural and environmental needs.
Cutting the Bureau of Reclamation and Reforming Water Markets by Chris Edwards and Peter J. Hill notes the problems caused by the eponymous agency:
The large subsidies built into many Reclamation projects indicate that they have been a loss to taxpayers and the economy. But Reclamation projects have also harmed the environment, which has prompted Congress to burden taxpayers with further spending aimed at mitigating the damage.


President Jimmy Carter was an early anti-dam crusader and he famously tried to terminate 19 major projects of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers. Carter examined the environmental and economic effects of these projects, and he concluded that they were boondoggles. However, Carter misplayed the politics of the issue, and his spending cuts to water infrastructure projects went nowhere in Congress.69 Carter's skepticism of dams is more widespread today, and a movement has developed to remove dams where the costs seem to outweigh the benefits.70.
If these Cato authors praise a Democratic president, does that mean he's wrong?
[California's Central Valley Project] is Reclamation's largest irrigation project, providing roughly 6,800 farmers irrigation water for about 3 million acres of land. The farmers receive the water at roughly 10 percent of its market value, which in 2002 worked out to an annual subsidy of about $416 million a year, according to EWG...83 

On top of the irrigation subsidy, about one-fifth of CVP farmers who receive federal irrigation water also receive crop subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.... This subsidized production of often water-intensive crops in the arid West competes with more efficient production of the same crops in other regions of the country. Federal farm subsidies encourage overproduction of crops in all parts of the nation, and so the government is exacerbating the overproduction with irrigation subsidies in the West.
(via Water: Excess of Subsidies, Lack of Markets by Chris Edwards)

Wednesday, October 17

Where Inflation Comes From

And where it's likely to go. From The Everyday Price Index ("Written by AIER Staff")
Given the monetary expansion policies pursued by the Federal Reserve in the last few years, inflation is unlikely to moderate and may even accelerate in the future. The Fed increased M1, the narrowly defined money supply that consists of currency and demand deposits only, by 14 percent in 2011 alone and by 48 percent since the start of the financial crisis in 2008.

Historically, such a large expansion of the money supply has always resulted in higher inflation. For now, most of the additional money created by the Fed is accumulating in the excess reserves held by banks. But recently banks have started lending again. Reserves have started flowing out of the banks and into the wider economy through a somewhat increased volume of consumer loans and a more dramatic increase in the volume of commercial and industrial loans. There are also some early signs of life in the housing market and therefore in mortgage-loan origination.


Chronic price inflation—even at moderate rates—leads to significant losses of buying power over time, a fact often obscured by the general focus on comparatively small monthly or annual price changes. During the past decade, the average rate of price inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index was 2.4 percent. Most people accept a 2.4 percent inflation rate as fairly tame. Yet it implies a loss of more than one-fifth of the purchasing power of the dollar over the decade.
What I'm afraid of is hyperinflation, because neither Democratic nor Republican politicians are seriously considering paying for the government spending on entitlements and defense. (via J.D. Tuccille)

Is the Cato Institute right wing?

GOP Groups’ Ads on Sequestration, Defense Jobs Are Misleading.

(Hint: the answer is no.)

“Professor” is hate speech

If your name is Elizabeth Warren.

Sunday, October 14

Blame Cuomo, Bush and Clinton for the Meltdown

As the title Clinton’s Legacy: The Financial and Housing Meltdown indicates, Sheldon Richman blames Clinton. First, he explains,
The meltdown was the consequence of a combination of the easy money and low interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve and the easy housing engineered by a variety of government agencies and policies. Those agencies include the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and two nominally private “government-sponsored enterprises” (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The agencies — along with laws such as the Community Reinvestment Act (passed in the 1970s, then fortified in the Clinton years), which required banks to make loans to people with poor and nonexistent credit histories — made widespread homeownership a national goal. This all led to a home-buying frenzy and an explosion of subprime and other non-prime mortgages, which banks and GSEs bundled into dubious securities and peddled to investors worldwide. Hovering in the background was the knowledge that the federal government would bail out troubled “too-big-to-fail” financial corporations, including Fannie and Freddie.
Then he later adds,
Clinton’s contribution to the crisis lay in his appointment of Cuomo to HUD. Cuomo became HUD secretary in 1997 after becoming assistant secretary in 1993.
So, yes, it was Clinton's fault for the appointment, but even more Cuomo's. Then Richman quotes from "a heavily researched 2008 article in the Village Voice" by Wayne Barrett which also puts the onus primarily on Cuomo, but also on George Bush and Bill Clinton.

The Adolescent Need

Referring to Jonathan Turley's Op-Ed on the gradual death of free speech in the west, Glenn Greenwald notes
...he places the blame squarely where it belongs: on the veneration of "sensitivities" over the free flow of ideas, and relatedly, the adolescent need on the part of many adults to plead with authority figures to shield them from views they find offensive.
It's not just views that many adults find offensive. It's behavior of all kinds that they dislike and seek to have the authorities eliminate.

Thursday, October 11

What 喝西北風 means

Howard Goldblatt's overly literal translation of the idiom 喝西北風 hēxīběifēng in Mo Yan's The Garlic Ballads has always annoyed me.
The phrase is an old metaphor used at least as early as the eighteenth century (in the novel 儒林外史 Ru lin wai shi) and actually means "to go hungry" or even "to starve". It's a dead metaphor, and doesn't really have anything to do with drinking or eating the northwest wind. A similar error appears in From May Fourth to June Fourth: Fiction and Film in Twentieth-Century China by Ellen Widmer & Te-wei Wang.

But, he does concede "some" and "many"

In Why Gasoline Prices Are Volatile, Jonathan H. Adler wrote:
While most of the fuel standards were adopted in the name of the environmental protection, many are actually the result of special interest pleading. Producers of various products, ethanol in particular, sought fuel content mandates or performance requirements that would benefit their particular product. (I detailed part of this history in “Clean Fuels, Dirty Air,” in Environmental Politics: Public Costs, Private Rewards (Greve & Smith eds. 1992).) Worse, some of the content requirements are irrelevant for new cars due to modern pollution control equipment. Federally imposed boutique fuel requirements have outlived whatever usefulness they ever had.

Wednesday, October 10

What cause the mortgage meltdown and the ensuing Wall Street crisis

Jonah Goldberg on the subprime mortgage crisis:
The question of what caused the crisis is obviously still controversial, but a consensus seems to be forming around the following narrative: The federal government, out of an abundance of concern for the plight of the poor and middle class, made it too easy to buy a home. Congress, on a bipartisan basis, set unrealistic affordable-housing goals for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

President Clinton used those goals to expand access to mortgages to low-income borrowers. Then President George W. Bush, with the approval of Congress, expanded the practice, until way too many low-income or otherwise underqualified Americans owned mortgages they couldn’t afford.

A mixture of greed, idealism, cynicism and stupidity led to the practice of bundling those iffy mortgages into financial instruments that Wall Street didn’t know how to handle and regulators didn’t know how to regulate. As Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) put it in 2003, he wanted to “roll the dice a bit” on regulating subprime mortgages.

When the Washington-abetted housing boom went bust, regulators demanded immediate markdowns of mortgage-backed securities, which required financial institutions to sell them, creating a fire-sale atmosphere that fueled the panic even more.

Some Obama defenders will say that Bush’s deficits made it harder to deal with the crisis. That seems reasonable, even if it’s a red herring in the debate about what caused the crisis. And Obama’s record on deficits hardly gives him much standing.
Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible, and so naturally they each blame the other.

Sunday, October 7

The two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions

Matt Ridley, writing on The benefits of GM crops notes,
the two technologies most reliably and stridently opposed by the environmental movement-genetic modification and fracking-have been the two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions.

Wednesday, October 3

That sounds right.

From the Abstract to Why Most Published Research Findings Are False by John P. A. Ioannidis:
Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.
"Claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias." That sounds right to me.

Wait a minute....

Commercial speech is less protected

For some ungodly reason, commercial speech is less protected than other kinds.

Tuesday, October 2

Fuck Sam Houston State University

A professor at Sam Houston State University was so incensed by seeing "Fuck Obama" on a student-sponsored "free speech wall", he excised the word "Fuck". Not surprisingly, the other instances of the word on the wall apparently didn't offend him, but when the campus police were informed, they demanded removal of every instance of the word.

The real villain here isn't Professor Joe E. Kirk (although the kids at ratemyprofessor don't seem to like his teaching much) and his pathetic vandalism. The real villain is the administrator that's standing behind the campus police. Would that be President Dana L. Gibson?