Sunday, December 30, 2007

I am the Champion, My Friends...

If you want to do well in LRC's rankings, just make sure "Ron Paul" is in your article's title.

Gene, does this mean my article is 1/52 as cool as your Fascist America one?

Tough Times for the Big Guy

God has been going through some Cambridge changes, man.

(Hat tip to Roderick Long.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

More Fish Tales

My wife said, "I'm thinking of getting beta fighting fish."

I told her she should wait for the release version.

Rousseau on Rawls

John Rawls is most famous for his "veil of ignorance," which, in short, says that a just polity is one that everyone would choose if they had no idea of whom they would be in that society. As Anthony de Jasay has pointed out, this basically says, "If you make everybody the same person, we'll agree on political matters!" But, giving more evidence of Rousseau's genius, he anticipated and answered John Rawls 200 years before Rawls wrote:

"If there were no differing interests, we should scarcely be aware of the common interest, which would never meet any obstacle; everything would run by itself, and there would no longer be any skill in politics."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Day One in Iowa

Yesterday marked the start of eight days of Ron Paul Christmas. I met three fellow Ron Paul supporters in Chicago and we drove together to Iowa, through farmland and five hours later, into Des Moines. Aside from bumper stickers on out of state vehicles, the first candidate signs to be seen where the Huckabee and Paul campaign office signs, side by side. Inside the Ron Paul office, right now sprawling and very busy, at least 20+ volunteers were doing various things. After grabbing a bite to eat, I joined in and helped stuff literature (which we'll be handing out door to door in the coming days. Everyone was in good spirits and the talk around the office everywhere was surprisingly intellectual. No shortage of nerds at Ron Paul HQ, as it should be.

At 8 PM we headed over to the Marriot where Ron Paul greeted us and gave an inspiring speech. There were hundreds of students in attendance. When Ron Paul told us that this movement would outlast the election, regardless of the final outcome, he was given a fiery, standing applause. When he gives a speech you can tell he feeds off the enthusiasm and attention of the audience, and gets better and better as he goes. Afterward, Ron Paul shook hands and took a photo with every single student. He looks tired, but energetic despite it. We are being split into camps and we will be canvassing throughout Iowa in the coming days. I have some photos, but I'm not able to upload them until after the trip. I'm not sure how consistently an internet connection will be available, but I'll do my best to update what's happening on the ground in Iowa.

Six days and counting until the vote and a lot of work remains to be done.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The "Conservative" Response to Paul on Slavery

OK kids, let's walk through this. In the past, I've heard "conservatives" get furious over the suggestion that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. Rush Limbaugh once was talking to a kid who called in who was a history buff, and Rush said, "What was the Civil War over?" The kid said slavery, and Rush commended him on a job well done. After all, Rush explained, it was revisionist leftists who tried to blame everything on "economic forces" and who couldn't just accept the fact that Americans were willing to go fight and die for moral principles.

Now, in an effort to criticize Ron Paul, people (some who are conservative, though I don't really know about the Morning Joe crowd) are ripping him for allegedly blaming the war on slavery. (That's asinine, by the way, since Paul follows DiLorenzo's take on this issue closely. I.e. Paul was saying that Lincoln didn't need to fight a war to free slaves; he wasn't saying Lincoln went to war to free the slaves.)

This video of the Morning Joe show is a great example of what I mean. At one point the guest host (I think?) says something like, "I will be willing to move on, Dr. Paul, if you will admit..." and I thought he was going to say, "...slavery would not have ended without a war." But that's not what he said, he said, "...that Lincoln went to war to save the Union." Holy crap. Thank you, that's what many of us have been saying all along, that Lincoln went to war to crush the political self-determination of the South.

Finally, pay close attention starting around 6:30. The other guy chimes in to be a tough guy, and when Ron Paul says, "You don't have the courage to read DiLorenzo!" he retorts something like, "You're talking to the wrong guy!" I.e., "you thought you were messing with a non-scholar, but you just slipped up, my friend. BAM!"

However, since that moron a few seconds earlier had said that every other historian agreed with him and not DiLorenzo, I think we know what kind of avid reader he must be. (And I don't mean because I agree with DiLorenzo, I mean what kind of idiot thinks that every single other academic could disagree with one lone wolf on a major issue?)

And then the grand finale, this nincompoop says to the others, "Did you say he was a crackpot?" Ah what a thinker this man is. I bet Socrates is glad he had that drink so he doesn't have to call in and face this giant of debate.

Ron Paul and the Economics of Slavery

Wow, this was a hot button one. I got the usual email about not fighting Hitler, of course. I always love that argument, since I don't think the US should have fought World War II.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fish Tales

My daughter said to me today, "My goldfish are turning white."

I responded, "What do you expect? You moved them out of Brooklyn to Milford, PA. Of course they're turning white -- they can't dance anymore, they want mayonnaise with their fish food, and they watch ice hockey instead of hoops."

Only for readers over 18

Kids, don't try this. But for those with the legal authority to make life-altering decisions:

I have had a cold for a good two weeks now; it's really annoying. Anyway, I mentioned to my wife that I have a hard time swallowing big pills, and that I chicken out and have to hold the NyQuil gelcap in my mouth for a few seconds while I build up the courage to swallow it. She asked, "Aren't you worried it will start to dissolve in your mouth?" and I scoffed.

Well one thing led to another, and before you know it she has out her cell phone to act as a stopwatch while I hold a NyQuil in my mouth with some water. After 7 minutes I decided just to bite the thing to see how bad it was.

I kid you not, it was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted. You know how if you take an aspirin or something with a chipped edge, you can taste it and it's a bit gross? That is like a shower compared to a fire hose, when you try my NyQuil experiment.

Incidentally, if you are now curious, I think it's important to hold it in your mouth for a few minutes. The warmth of the contents made it that much more disgusting. I actually thought for a second that there was some chemical reaction and it was eating away my tongue.

Go ahead and guffaw at this blog post; your scorn doesn't bother me, after I have lived through the horrors of tongue-to-NyQuil-gelcap-interior contact. The next time you have to take a NyQuil gelcap, go ahead and do the experiment. You won't believe how disgusting it tastes.

English Analysis of Financial Situation

This is pretty entertaining, but mostly because of how much more "outrageous" British TV is. This show would be canceled if it were American because of the frequent references to mortgages for an "unemployed black man" as the foundation of the subprime crisis.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tim Russert Shows He's a Dolt

By using two of the worst weasel terms in our political vocabulary: "Islamic fascists" and "moral equivalency."

Folks, there's no such thing as "Islamo-fascism," and "moral equivalency" is used to smear anyone who criticizes anything America does, by saying any criticism at all is the same as saying "America is just as bad as X," where X can be "the USSR," "the VietCong," "Castro," or "al Qaeda,"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ignorant American

I was reading a WSJ story today and was stunned to learn that Afghanistan has a larger population than Iraq. (It's 31.9 million compared to Iraq's 27.5 million.)

Umm, does this shock anybody else? I guess I kinda pictured Afghanistan as a few dozen goatherds and opium growers. And Taliban.

Dana Perino Slips Up in Responding to Helen Thomas

What's amazing in this exchange is that the White House spokeswoman, in mere seconds, switches from saying that the very idea that the US kills innocents is an offensive falsehood, to the fact that the US deeply regrets its killing of innocents. It's similar to when Giuliani said he had never heard of Ron Paul's theory of blowback, and then elaborated that it reminded him of the Saudi prince and Democrats who hold the same theory.

Just to be clear, I understand that these two and their supporters would clarify and evade any "gotcha" from me; Perino obviously would say, "I meant that if Thomas were claiming that the US intentionally killed innocents, it was offensive," and Giuliani would say, "I meant that I never expected to hear that from a fellow Republican, especially one seeking to be Commander in Chief." But it still disappoints me that people on YouTube can think "Giuliani schools Ron Paultard" or "Perino ownz Helen Thomas" when they so obviously botched their comebacks.

Friday, December 21, 2007

My first dramatic role, in a US Government production

This is a great documentary about American patriotism. I have a guest appearance at around 45 seconds. I know some of you will think I sold out, but the money was too good and I have a kid to feed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You Gotta Love This Stuff

In his article "Down With Primitivism: A Thorough Critique of Polanyi," Murray Rothbard first writes:

"Let us never forget that the existing primitive tribes are precisely the ones that didn't progress and remained in their primitive state. To infer from observing them that this is the way our ancestors behaved is nonsense and apt to be the reverse of the truth, for our ancestors presumably behaved in ways, which quickly advanced them beyond the primitive stage thousands of years ago. To scoff, therefore, at the idea that our ancestors among primitive tribes engaged in barter, and then in monetary exchange, etc., on the basis of the magic and games indulged in by present-day primitives, is a blunder of the highest order."

Rothbard is rejecting trying to figure out ancient hunter-gatherers by looking at how modern hunter-gatherers live. Now, that would seem to be one of the best ways to make progress here, and Rothbard's reason for rejecting seems capricious ("they are the ones that didn't advance" -- yeah, maybe because they live in the center of the Amazon rain forest, hey?), but let's grant him his point for a moment. What is Rothbard's alternative? He goes on to write:

"Secondly, the primitive's life is a life of almost constant terror. Terror of the world about him, which he does not and cannot understand, since he has not engaged in any sort of scientific, rational inquiry into its workings. We know what a thunderstorm is, and therefore do not fear it, and can take rational measures against lightning; the savage does not know, and therefore surmises that The God of the Thunder is displeased with him..."

You see, rather than doing the best you can by studying modern, primitive tribes, the right way to understand our roots is to just make up whatever shit you want off the top of your head, based on nothing at all!

Man, am I glad Rothbard cleared up that methodological confusion!

Notes on Rousseau

I've been reading Rousseau's The Social Contract. First of all, in only a few pages, it is clear that Rousseau is a brilliant political thinker. Right away, he knows to whom he's talking -- Hobbes and Locke. And he shows why the theories of the social contract presented by the two of them cannot be quite right -- very successfully, I think.

His argument against being able to voluntarily place oneself in slavery is wonderful. To be a slave means to cease being a moral agent -- if the master says, "Eat those schoolchildren," the slave is obliged to do it. But this is impossible -- the slave's moral agency cannot be alienated, no matter how much he wants to do so. I believe Rousseau is right. Libertarians should not interfere with "voluntary slavery contracts," but they should treat them as nonsense -- as if you agreed to sell me "all of the galaxies that will never be reached by humans." Two people can clown around and claim they have this agreement, but no one else should help them enforce it, or even allow them to enforce it violently.

For someone who I have often seen presented as "the anti-libertarian," Rousseau has two positions that are largely libertarian:
1) One of the major selling opints of the State for Rousseau is that it serves to secure private property. (Whether he is right that it can do so is doubtful, IMHO, but if it could that would be a good thing.)
2) He makes it clear that only unanimous consent can justify the State, and there is no justification for the, "Your ancestors were conquered, now shut up and obey," explanation of legitimacy put forward by conservatives.

More to come.

More Gregynog Photos

Click for a larger image:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My new favorite blogger: Glenn Greenwald

I became aware of him when he had written some very fair Ron Paul articles, along the lines of "the guy has extreme views, but he's not a nutjob." If you're looking for someone who is very big on backing up his claims, and who appears to be very meticulous, you've found your man. Check out this recent post on what "winning" in Iraq looks like--make sure you read the stuff at the bottom about permanent military bases. I love when people dig up quotes from years ago to confirm my suspicions.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Didn't We Win That War in 2001?

Our ally, Australia, announces that we are currently losing the war in Afghanistan. Six years later. How long did it take the USSR to give up? (By the way, the USSR was trying to defeat the 'Afghani freedom fighters', which is what we called them when they were fighting someone else, with over 108,000 soldiers [at maximum strength]. We're trying to do it with 33,000.)

How to Handle, 'He didn't lie -- it was bad intelligence!'

Over at Unqualified Offerings Doug writes:

'Now, it might be possible that the US Congress were all in on Bush and Cheney’s lies before they made them, but I find it much more likely that the the current administration, like the previous one, was relying on imperfect information provided by poor intelligence work.'

I respond:

Fine, let's grant that for the sake of argument, Doug -- they still lied! Why? Cause what they should have said was, 'We're very suspicious that Iraq is continuing their weapons programmes.' In the face of many conflicting intelligence reports (e.g., Scott Ritter saying, 'Nope, no WMDs') that is the strongest thing they were entitled to say. Instead, they said, 'We know for sure Iraq has WMDs and WMD programmes'. That's called lying, Doug.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- Psychic?

Giant rat of Sumatra discovered!

(Don't know the rat?)

The Really Amazing Aspect of Paul's Campaign

"In what has amounted to an unprecedented, spontaneous emergence of supporter generated revenue and public relations, Paul’s campaign now has millions of dollars to spend in early states--and all the Congressman had to do was sit back and watch Sunday’s online counter creep upward."

Read the rest.

McCain Legend Debunked

Matt Welch does a gretat takedown of the McCain legend. My favourite: the Des Moines Register says that, although McCain was imprisoned and tortured for five years, he 'never talked'. Well, it turns out that, rather than holding out for five years, it was actually four days before McCain broke. And where do we find that obscure bit of information? Is it slander by some McCain opponent? No, it's in books written by John McCain!

Collingwood on the Immeasurability of Feeling

Collingwood notes (I'm obviously having a 'Collingwood Week') that the problem with trying to quantify feelings is not just that we can't stick a ruler or scale in our minds, but is even worse: As you move along a range of feeling the feeling changes in kind, not just in degree. You can add four times the heat to a substance and measure four times the temperature (if you are starting your scale at absolute zero). But if at the first temperature you had a nice toasty feeling, at the second you won't have a feeling four times as nice and toasty -- you will have the agonizing feeling of being roasted alive. And if you halved the original temperature, you wouldn't get a nice, toasty feeling that was only half has intense as the one you had to start, you'd get an entirely different feeling of freezing. No reducing the amount of 'warm, toasty feeling' will ever arrive at the feeling of being cold.

"Who is the Master?" Frank Caliendo

Of impressions, that is. I used to think Kevin Pollak was the best, and I still like his Captain Kirk and Christopher Walken, but Frank Caliendo (below) has got to be the best of all time. This collage is a bit too quick in the beginning, but just give it a few minutes, it gets really good. Also, this excerpt is probably at least a few years old; he's gotten better since then, especially his George Bush.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

This post is for real--anti-Ron Paul bias

In contrast to my mock outrage below (regarding Yahoo!'s spam filter), here I am truly amazed. Ron Paul broke his own Republican single-day fundraising record hours ago, and yet CNN doesn't see fit to mention it on their front page. I even went to their politics page, and it's not there. Instead they feature stories on Sonny Bono's widow getting married, and oh yeah, a story about "Debate viewers to be 'dial-tested.'"

Yeah, that's more significant than someone raising $4.75 million in one day. I can see why they wouldn't even mention it on their political coverage page.

Willful Blindness

I was talking with someone the other day who said to me, 'I know al Qaeda says they attack us because we have troops over there, but that seems implausible to most Americans.'

'Why, then, do you think they attack us?'

'I think they want to return to the 8th century.'

I see. It's plausible to think that al Qaeda members believe they can reverse 13 centuries of history, but implausible to think that they believe guerilla warfare might drive off foreign troops! And it's not like al Qaeda has done this before or anything! It's not as if they spent a decade in Afghanistan fighting the USSR, or anything like that.

This is immoral, willful blindness. Now, we all have our shortcomings and blind spots. (Well, not Wabulon, but you get my point.) However, it's one thing to overlook the fact, say, that your son breaks antennas off of cars. But it's quite a bit different when this blindness has alreay gotten a million people killed.


Just back from the 2007 British Idealism Conference at Gregynog. (No, it's not said 'greg-EE-nog', it's said 'greg-u-NUG'.) How was the conference? Ideal, of course!

Some photos courtesy of Chris Rolliston (I will shrink them to fit soon!):

I have dinner with Colin Tyler, James Connelly, and Chinatsu Kobayashi. The bloody Brits wouldn't give me one of their funny hats!

My dissertation advisor, David Boucher, chats with Stamatoula Panagakou. Colin told David, 'That's the ugliest jumper I've ever seen.' David replied, 'It's not ugly, it's festive'.

A view of the grounds.

Whoa! Did I just hawk up a sidewalk oyster or what?! Steve Buckel is clearly disgusted.

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Worse...

Your country has been invaded, occupied, and even though it's still occupied... now someone else is attacking it. Pretty soon, we'll just turn Iraq into a place any country can practice military maneuvers.

Steam Engines and Scholars

I saw a show about steam engine enthusiast Fred Dibnah on the telly today. A couple of things struck me in the commentary:

1) Someone being interviewed talked about Victorian times being the era of 'well-built buildings.' Maybe that's true -- but you're sure can't determine it by just looking around you at the buildings built now and those built then. That's because your samples aren't the same. For today's buildings your sample is essentially 'all buildings,' while for Victorian buildings your sample is 'the best constructed victorian buildings.' A little Welsh miner's shack built in 1850 just ain't around anymore!

2) These folks were waxing all nostalgic about the beauty of steam presses, etc. Of course, for the sentimentalists of the 19th century, those were the dark Satanic mills! (The site linked to capitalizes 'Mills', perhaps thinking that Blake meant James and John Stuart.)

More mainstream bias against Austrian ideas!

I am working on the study guide to Human Action. Before I send in the chapters, I email them to myself just in case my computer blows up (or my son decides it's thirsty).

Last night I emailed myself the attachment with the subject line "ha sg chap xvii". And can you believe, that Yahoo! routed it to my spam folder?! When will the mainstream start taking us seriously?!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Could've Predicted Fama Would Say Something Dumb

In an effort to broaden my horizons, I've started perusing the blog Marginal Revolution. (For the record, the reason I personally don't get too high-falutin here on Crash Landing is that that's what God invented for.)

Anyway, I was intrigued by the interview with Eugene Fama to which Cowen linked. But Fama says something pretty dumb, in commenting on the alleged "irrational exuberance" of markets:

Well, economists are arrogant people. And because they can’t explain something, it becomes irrational. The way I look at it, there were two crashes in the last century. One turned out to be too small. The ’29 crash was too small; the market went down subsequently. The ’87 crash turned out to be too big; the market went up afterwards. So you have two cases: One was an underreaction; the other was an overreaction. That’s exactly what you’d expect if the market’s efficient.

Huh?! I hate when really sharp proponents of a worldview talk like this; you see Darwinians do it all the time. Contrary to Fama, if the market were efficient, then the underreaction of 1929 would have nothing to do with whether the response to the 1987 crash were too high or too low. Ex ante the response would be expected to be just right, and ex post there's no reason to think it would've been more likely to be an overreaction. (Well, strictly speaking, if it weren't symmetrically distributed about the mean of zero, even so that would have nothing to do with the underreaction in 1929.)

If Fama were right, that would mean from 1935 onwards, people who believed in an efficient market would say, "The next time the market crashes, there will be an overreaction. So let's buy halfway into the plunge and we'll make money for sure."

Does that sound like an efficient market?

NB: I am not saying that an efficient market implies no over- or underreactions. What I'm saying is that the errors aren't correlated. What Fama has done is say that equivalent of, "The roulette wheel came up black and then red, which is exactly what we would have expected from a fair casino."

Finally, it occurs to me that it's getting late, and I have been dealing with a cranky toddler. So maybe I shouldn't be so quick to lecture Fama on the EMH. Oh well, "prove me wrong kids, prove me wrong."

Bad News

Global warming is real!

Notes from across the Pond

* I passed a strip joint that was offering Christmas specials! Celebrate the birthday of Jesus with a lapdance!

* OK, British laddies: If you go out with messy hair, that's cool -- you were in a rush, you care about other things more than appearance, you forgot, etc. But if you spend a half-an-hour every day to make your hair look messy, you are a twerp.

* I don't get cricket! I walk to the lounge, and the score is 99-1. I go out again an hour later, and the other team is up 428-99.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Locke the Room?

My friend had left the research students room at EUROS in Cardiff without telling me if he was coming back. I was going out, and didn't know the custom: would he have his keys with him or not? Should I locke the room? Well, if men in the state of nature are still governed by natural reason and law, then that's OK. But what if they are in the war of all against all? Then, I would have to hobbes the room -- probably triple lock it and plant a mine by the door. But if they all feel mutual compassion, maybe I should just leave it open and 'rousseau the room'.

Life in a politics department is full of dilemmas.

Murphy Twin Spin

An article reviewing Peter Schiff's Crash Proof, and an op ed on privatizing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mighty Aphrodite

'[The Greeks] habit of representing their gods in vividly realized human form was not a piece of theology, it was a piece of poetry. When they described or portrayed Aphrodite, for example, they did not think they were describing or portraying a magnified and non-natural woman who, by the exercise of something like will, but a superhuman will, brought about the various events which together made up her realm, namely, the events connected with sexual reproduction. They did not think they were describing or portraying a person who controlled these events, they thought they were describing or portraying these events themselves, regarded generically as natural events, or events not under human control, and specifically as sexual events. The human or quasi-human figure of Aphrodite is merely the poetical way in which they represented these events to themselves.'

-- R.G. Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics (emphasis mine)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Permutations, Derivative Hierarchy


1 2
1 2 3
1 2 3 4
1 2 4 3
1 4 2 3
4 1 2 3
1 3 2
1 3 2 4
1 3 4 2
1 4 3 2
4 1 3 2
3 1 2
3 1 2 4
3 1 4 2
3 4 1 2
4 3 1 2
2 1
2 1 3
2 1 3 4
2 1 4 3
2 4 1 3
4 2 1 3
2 3 1
2 3 1 4
2 3 4 1
2 4 3 1
4 2 3 1
3 2 1
3 2 1 4
3 2 4 1
3 4 2 1
4 3 2 1

Does this have any important mathematical significance? Well, no, not really. Yes, it shows clearly why there are n! permutations of n, but you knew that already. So why bother with it? Because, think of this list, not of 1-4, but 1-infinity. Can you visualize it? It is infinite in a rather complex way.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Minor Inaccuracy

'Instead of being arrested, as we stated, for kicking his wife down the stairs and hurling a lighted kerosene lamp after her, the Revd James P. Wellman died unmarried four years ago.'
(Correction in a US journal quoted by Colin Dexter.)

All aboard!

I think Gene's piece is an excellent representation of the bare reasoning underlying the pro-life position. This analogy captures the moral dilemma well, in my opinion. Bob is not so sure. He writes in the comments:

I realize this was an LRC piece, and not a submission to the Journal of American Philosophy, but I still think you made this way too blunt.

First, the extreme libertarian position probably IS to have the legal right to kick the guy off your ship. I'm virtually certain that's what Walter Block (of non-Crash Landing posting privileges) would say.

Second, let's make the analogy closer. Suppose the person coming aboard was certain to go around ripping up the sails, or was so heavy that the ship couldn't get to the original destination. Or suppose the owner of the ship had just watched that early Nicole Kidman movie and was afraid the guy coming aboard was a nutjob.

There are plenty of scenarios where even intuitively, most people would think it OK for the ship owner to kick the person back into the ocean. So then the issue is, is Gene's ideal court going to get inside the person's head and second-guess those motives?

I.e. if you agree that if the owner truly feared for his/her life--maybe the person climbing aboard just had a weird look about him, or kept muttering stuff under his breath--then that makes refusal to bring him aboard OK, then I think you're stuck. Because then everyone can just claim that that was the motivation, and it would be hard in practice to prove otherwise.

If you're just trying to prove most cases of abortion are immoral, that's one thing. (I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing.) But I don't think you've come close to proving that it would be illegal in a just world.
Firstly, I don't think Bob's invocation of the "extreme libertarian position" is relevant, unless he means by this the pure (and thus correct) moral position a consistent libertarian would hold. Libertarianism is about total respect for life and property, but it is not clear how a baby dropped by a stork onto Gene's ship has violated any property rights. It doesn't seem the Reason/Cato/Blockian position on this is a logical extension of a libertarian moral framework in any coherent sense.

Bob's next point is, I think, his most constructive. Bob's week Nicole Kidman-watching captain scenario aside (how do irrational fears factor into an objective moral assessment of abortion?), Gene's point that the new passenger cannot "compel you to go anywhere you were not going before" is not perfectly analogous to pregnancy. The handling of an unruly passenger whose presence may tear down sails is less clear than the originally framed situation. And of course a pregnancy might lead the mother to have to change the destination if, say, she intended on pursuing a modeling career but would have to "sail elsewhere" if she had the kid. Per Gene's original framing, a weak case for throwing the passenger off (using the "bugger off" clause) could be made if the very presence of the passenger changed the destination of the ship.

I think such points are ultimately an abuse of a metaphor that is much more subtle. The point is that if you have a human being, you have a reasonable obligation to protect him if he finds himself with no other place to go but your ship. Gene suggests that while you don't have to do whatever the passenger demands, you must at least make sure if you do let him off, you make sure he is safe. That's the essential point. Yes, a baby may "tear up sails", may necessarily rule out certain navigation routes, such as a modeling career in the short run, but a baby is only implicitly asking to live, and after all, it was not actually floating in the ocean, it was borne of the ship itself.

The "all aboard" shout was heard, and a baby heard it and got aboard. It's not that a man's ship sunk exactly, but a man was welcomed on board. The captain may not have intended the welcoming of the passenger, but it is not the passenger's fault he was so welcomed. There may be some inconveniences to the captain, but there must be every reasonable attempt to save the life and balance the danger to the ship and the gravity of the loss to the captain as a result of a possibly different course.

This is almost the same as the policy before Roe v Wade in many states, incidentally. Abortion was outlawed, but there were some special cases in which it was allowed, including when the mother's life was at risk.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A couple video links

1. NPR brings a bar into a studio and gives Stephin Merritt a picture and phrase for inspiration, locks him in for two days and makes him write a song. Video here. Song here. Very cool stuff. (hat tip to Julian Sanchez)

2. A couple of blogs are posting the latest philosophical attack ad, this one against Immanuel Kant, who is getting hit hard in this election. It remains to be seen whether we have free election or a deterministic one.

An English Grandmaster in Tehran

Nigel Short, former challenger to the World Chess Championship title (against Garry Kasparov) writes a very interesting article about his experience coaching the Iranian national team.

Unfortunately for Iran, the most qualified, moderate people are the ones most likely to emigrate. They do so in massive numbers. Several friends have left the country and many others will follow.

It is not only the lack of freedom (on the internet, even social networking sites such as Facebook are banned) but also the lack of good job opportunities that drives them away. With weak private enterprise and a large state sector, jobs are created by such inane expediencies as tearing up parking meters so graduates may write out tickets. How very Soviet.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, I Solve the Abortion Question


Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Do you have Prince Albert in a can?"

"Then better invade his country!!"

Or something like that. A teenage kid calls Bush and gets threatened by the authorities.


Cooperation in the Trenches

From Browning and Zupan's microeconomics textbook:
"The situation along the Western Front of World War I can be represented as a repeated-game prisoner's dilemma. In any given locality, opposing units could either "cheat" (shoot to kill) or "cooperate" (withhold fire or shoot in such a way as to miss). Cheating was the dominant strategy for both sides. This is so because weakening the enemy through cheating increased the cheating side's chances of survival. Cheating by both sides however, resulted in an outcome--heavy losses inflicted on both sides for little or no gain--that was inferior to the one produced by cooperation. And opposing units interacted with each other for what appeared, at least to them, indefinite periods of time.

The diaries, letters, and reminiscences of the trench fighters testify to the "life-and-let-live" (that is, cooperation) equilibrium that eventually emerged. One British staff officer touring the trenches was "astonished to observe German soldiers walking about within rifle range behind their own lines. Our men appear to take no notice." A soldier commented: "It would be child's play to shell the road behind the enemy's trenches, crowded as it must be with the ration wagons and water carts, into a bloodstained wilderness...but on the whole there is silence. After all, if you prevent your enemy from drawing his rations, his remedy is simple: he will prevent you from drawing yours." Another British officer recounted: "I was having tea with A Company when...suddenly, a [German] salvo arrived but did no damage. Naturally, both sides got down and our men started swearing at the Germans, when all at once a brave German got on to his parapet and shouted out "We are very sorry about that; we hope no one was hurt. It is not our fault, it is that damned Prussian artillery [behind the front lines]"

Believing that tacit truces would undermine troop morale, the high commands of both sides began rotating troops and ordering raids (whose success or failure could be monitored by the headquarters staff) in an effort to destroy the "live-and-let live" system."

American Gangster is Awesome

If you are on the fence about this movie, I heartily recommend it. Some day I may write a review for LRC, so for here I'll just say, it's awesome. I don't know how anybody can support the Drug War after watching this.

Sign at the Cardiff U. Graduate Centre

'Fancy walking, making new friends, and keeping fit?'

I would like to take up this 'fancy walking' business, I think.

In a Cardiff Pub

The Polish barmaid was befuddled by my American accent. Behind me, sitting at a table, a fat Welshman sang along to a traditional, Welsh song. The Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now' came on the jukebox. I marveled as the crooning of Farrokh Bulsara, a gay Zoroastrian from Africa, filled equally the ears of a confused Polish exile, a lonely, wandering American, and a fat, singing Welshman.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ominous... For Us

From BBC News, after news that Iran has halted its nuclear programme:
"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the programme, they halted the programme," Mr Bush told a news conference. "The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."

Yes, it would be a precondition of restarting something to first stop it, wouldn't it?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Triple Twirl

Select an object having approximately uniform density throughout and in the shape of a rectangular solid with no two sides equal. Almost any hardcover book will do nicely.

Let the three axes between the centers of opposite pairs of faces be labeled X, Y, Z: the X-axis is the longest, the Z-axis is the shortest, and the Y-axis is intermediate.

Pick up the object in both hands along one of the axes and toss it gently into the air, twirling it about the axis. About the X-axis it will rise, fall, and twirl stably, and about the Z-axis likewise. About the Y-axis it never will, no matter how carefully you toss it. Try it if you don’t believe me. It’s quite mind-boggling to experience.

Now, come back here and explain, please.

Secret Sex Tips

Who else thinks this blog is sorely lacking in the advertised sex tip department? Yeah, me too. Unfortunately I'm not a sexpert, but at least I can offer links, which will make us somewhat honest. Here's what I'm getting the sex toy friendly folk on my Christmas list this year:

The iBuzz vibrates in time with your music, and includes attachments for men and women.

Merry Christmas. And now, back to Ron Paul posts.

Gotta Love Internecine Warfare

This article about the in-fighting among libertarians made me laugh out loud. I realize every partisan must think this way, but I was pleased to see that even the insults from "my side" were much more accurate than vice versa. For another thing, Justin Raimondo had the courage to use his name, whereas the "Rockwell is the devil" guy was a wuss. More proof that I picked the right team.

Ron Paul's Christmas Vacation

I don't know all the details yet, but it looks like I will be spending 9 days around New Years (December 27th to January 4th) in Iowa fighting on the ground for the Ron Paul campaign's "Christmas Vacation", going door to door and asking people to join their ballots to the cause of liberty. I will blog the trip here.

Classic sketch: "Argument to Beethoven's 5th"

(hat tip to Lew Rockwell)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Apple Falling Down on the Job?

Apple's reputation rests on building 'user-friendly' systems. But of late I've been very annoyed with the poor quality of Apple error messages. I was trying to send an e-mail yesterday and the Mac mailer complained 'One or more of the "To" addresses appears to be invalid.' 'One or more'? How about telling me which 'one or more'?! The programmer who wrote the message generated because a specific address parsed wrong. So let the user know where the problem is!

Similarly, I was backing Garage Band files up to a CD and got the message 'The total size of the files you have selected exceeds the capacity of the target CD.' (I quote from memory here.) The programmer who wrote that one had just done a subtraction of the total size of the selected files from the CD capacity to see if they would fit. In other words, he had the precise amount of the excess sitting right there in his code when he wrote the error message. So, is it a proprietary secret, or could the user be informed as well? It really would have helped to know if I was over by 1%, 10%, 100%, 1000%, or whatever. Instead, I had to de-select one file at a time and try to burn the CD again, until at last it worked.

And those aren't the only two messages of their ilk. 'A modem error has occurred' comes to mind at the moment (which error?!), and I know I've seen others.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Excellence in Balderdash

Lately I've been listening to talk radio whenever I'm in the car, so that means during the day I hear Maha Rushie. He was talking about the faddish health kicks etc. and how they are based on the desire to live forever. He waxed philosophical and said something like:

'Folks, we are all going to die. No one has ever disproven this.'

If you've listened to Rush, you can imagine how he said this, too. It was sort of a "let me make it 'mathematical' just as icing on the cake, because I'm both a master of wisdom and of formal argument."

But of course this is nonsense. Rush thought he was saying "there has yet to be someone who has lived forever" but the strict wording he used (which I may not have reproduced perfectly above) made a more accurate test, "Is there anyone who hasn't died?"

And of course, there are over 5 billion people who are pending counterexamples to Rush's empirical claim that everyone dies.

BTW, of course I get Rush's point. But I'm just saying that he was trying to be super anal about it and make it "scientific," when he wasn't really testing his hypothesis at all. He believes in the theory that everyone is mortal, and that's fine; so do I. But he doesn't add anything to the analysis by implicitly invoking Popper.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sick, Sick, Sick

The mainstream right in America is more fascist every day. Take a look at this thread. The New Republic carefully fact-checked their Scott Beauchamp stories once questions were raised about their veracity. (It was difficult to fact check at all because Beauchamp was an anonymous writer serving in a combat zone.) They finally decided that, while they had good evidence that Beauchamp's stories were at least partially true, they couldn't be sure, and they retracted. Good, honest journalism.

The wingnut brigades descended on the comment section of the stories like flies, slandering and insulting the TNR staff in every way possible, accusing them of publishing "obvious falsehoods," "slandering the troops," etc. And realize, these are the same people who had decided the stories were false the day they appeared, with NO FACT CHECKING AT ALL.

This is fascism at work, folks. There is no attempt at discussion, just vicious bullying of anyone who departs from the party line.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two Religious Points

Two quick points:

(1) I may have said this before; I can't remember. In any event, I think perhaps the single goofiest argument for atheism is when they list some implications of the existence of God (whether it's his allowance of the Holocaust or whatever), and then conclude, "I don't want to believe in a God like that."

They say this with self-righteous huffery, as if they've just blown up their silly theist opponent. In any other argument, this would be such a childish stunt that it wouldn't even occur to anyone to try it. "You think if the US hadn't entered World War I, then Hitler wouldn't have come to power!?! Well I don't want to believe in a historical narrative like that. QED."

(2) The Catholic Church has been responsible for some terrible stuff, I grant you that. (BTW I was raised Catholic but am no longer one; I'm simply trying to correct a common simplification.) And then there's all the Galileo stuff; maybe Gene can give us a good link as to why the typical Dawkins-esque story here is wrong too. But I bet a lot of people don't know where the term "devil's advocate" comes from. It's from the old Church practice of appointing someone to argue against canonization, to make sure the nominee was deserving.

Now he's gone too far!

I watched Mike Huckabee's phone call with God stunt (see below) very closely, but I don't think he crossed the line. (If he hadn't said that God didn't take sides in the election, it would have been clearly inappropriate. As it was, I think it was just a bad joke.)

But LRC linked to a statement in which Huckabee said Jesus must endorse capital punishment because He didn't argue against it while on the cross. By the same logic, Jesus must not only agree with capital punishment for murderers, but also for religious heretics.

The fact that Huckabee is so flippant about our (meaning his and mine--I'm not trying to convert all Crash Landing readers) Lord while He was bleeding to death... I have to agree with Lew Rockwell that "this guy gives me the creeps."

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Well-Lubed Machinery of Government

" 1787, two days before their work was done, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention 'adjourned to a tavern for some rest, and according to the bill they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 of whiskey, 22 of port, 8 of hard cider and 7 bowls of punch so large that, it was said, ducks could swim around in them.'

"Then they went back to work and finished founding the new Republic."

The rest is here.

How Language Changes!

I was reading a book on Jefferson and Burr tonight and read, "Justus Bollman sent a message from his cell to the President's house."

'What?!' I thought. 'He was texting Jeffereson?!'

Then I realized he had been in jail at the time.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Republican YouTube Debate

You can economize on your time by just reading the transcripts (I and II). If you already know the people, it's pretty easy to reconstruct how it must have looked when it happened.

It is really stunning how bad on economics a lot of these candidates are. The best is Duncan Hunter saying we should "buy American" this Christmas season to create jobs. And Giuliani and Romney both refused to take up a questioner who wanted them to end federal subsidies for agriculture, because we need to ensure a domestic food supply.

What's funny is, most of the candidates were posturing about how they were going to use the federal government to crack down on the flow of illegal immigrants. So we're worried about foreigners sneaking in illegally, and we're also worried about us not being able to import food legally. Makes sense.

I do have to say I was impressed with McCain on illegal immigrants--reminding everyone that they are God's children too--and with Huckabee on the literal interpretation of the Bible. As far as the latter point, that just shows how ridiculous it is that we want to elect someone who can be an "expert" on 973 different topics. Huckabee is a minister and so he gave the best answer on that question. It doesn't mean he's qualified to conduct foreign policy, influence taxes, deal with immigration, blah blah blah.

(Note: All of these things come from Part I of the transcript, if you want to see for yourself.)

Mission Accomplished!

Sheldon Richman on the new American aims in Iraq:

"Finally, the 3.0 agenda aims to get a law passed to let Ba’ath Party members back into government jobs. “This last goal was described by a senior Bush administration official as largely symbolic, since rehirings have been quietly taking place already without a law,” the Times reports."

So now one of our war aims is to re-install the government we went to war to expel!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mike Huckabee Illustrates the Meaning of 'Tautology'

In tonight's debate, a viewer asked,"Do you believe every word of the Bible?'

Now, my answer would have been "What the hell business is it of yours?"

Huckabee said, "I believe that the Bible is exactly what it is."

I guess he's holding some sort of Tarskian theory of truth, whereby "It is raining out" is true whenever it is the case that it is raining out. (Which I've found to be the least helpful philosophical truth ever propounded.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ya Gotta Love These Guys!

At NRO Andy McCarthy writes:

"The greatest blown opportunity in recent political history[?] I'd have gone with Clinton's chance to take out al Qaeda right after the 1998 embassy bombings — which would have been good for the country, won the 2000 election for Gore, and spared us the Cole bombing and 9/11."

But of course, at that time, anytime Clinton acted against al Qaeda, the right screamed "He's just distracting the people from Monica! Wag the dog! Wag the dog!"

Monday, November 26, 2007

America's Great Liberal On Torture

On November 7 Alan Dershowitz--the epitome of a civil liberties loving liberal, in the eyes of many--wrote a WSJ column on "Democrats and Waterboarding" (page A23). A reader took issue and wrote a Letter to the Editor complaining, and on November 14 Dershowitz replied (in the Letters section), writing:

Douglas A. Johnson premises his letter to the editor on Nov. 12 on the factual assertion that I am "passionately promoting the use of torture." Did he not even bother to read the column to which he was responding in which I stated unequivocally that "I am personally opposed to the use of torture." [sic on punctuation--Bob] This assertion runs through all of my writing about torture. Being the head of a do-gooder organization does not give one a license to make up the facts.
Cambridge, Mass.

Wow, them are some strong words. Let me take some excerpts from the original WSJ piece--a forum not known for its hostility to aggressive interrogation techniques, mind you--to shed some light for the perplexed Dershowitz:

==> Most Americans...want a president who will be strong, as well as smart, on national security, and who will do everything in his or her lawful power to prevent further acts of terrorism.

==> Hundreds of thousands of Americans may watch Michael Moore's movies or cheer Cindy Sheehan's demonstrations, but tens of millions want the Moores and Sheehans of our nation as far away as possible from influencing national security policy.

==> I am not suggesting that Democratic candidates seek to emulate Mr. Giuliani. But they cannot ignore his tough stance on national security if they want to succeed in the 2008 election...

==> I am not now talking about the routine use of torture in interrogation of suspects or the humiliating misuse of sexual taunting that infamously occurred at Abu Ghraib. I am talking about that rare situation described by former President Clinton in an interview with National Public Radio...

==> Although I am personally opposed to the use of torture, I have no doubt that any president--indeed any leader of a democratic nation--would in fact authorize some forms of torture against a captured terrorist if he believed that this was the only way of securing information necessary to prevent an imminent mass casualty attack.

==> There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.

==> Michael absolutely correct, as a matter of constitutional law, that the issue of "waterboarding" cannot be decided in the abstract. Under prevailing precedents--some of which I disagree with--the court must examine the nature of the governmental interest at stake, and the degree to which the government actions at issue shock the conscience, and then decide on a case-by-case basis. In several cases involving actions at least as severe as waterboarding, courts have found no violations of due process.

==> The members of the judiciary committee who voted against Judge Mukasey, because of his unwillingness to support an absolute prohibition on waterboarding and all other forms of torture, should be asked the direct question: Would you authorize the use of waterboarding, or other non-lethal forms of torture, if you believed that it was the only possible way of saving the lives of hundreds of Americans in a situation of the kind faced by Israeli authorities on the eve of Yom Kippur?... If not, would you be prepared to accept responsibility for the preventable deaths of hundreds of Americans?

I think the above quotes make it clear why Johnson "misunderstood" Dershowitz. Apparently Dershowitz is personally opposed to the use of torture, but hopes that people in government who can actually order torture don't share his impractical moral scruples.

Integer Vitae IIIA

.. I.V. IIIA republishes I.V. III without the crappy formatting (my hour on the library computer ran out and then came Thanksgiving).


…, 1010, 1011, 1000, 1001, 1110, 1111, 1100, 1101, 10, 11, 0, 1, 110, 111, 100, 101, 11010, 11011, 11000, 11001, 11110, ...


.. No other digits ==> binary
.. Context free ==> “0” is always 0, “1” is always 1 ==> no minus sign even for negative integers
.. Extrapolation, and considering that log2(21) = 4+ suggests a unique total unsigned representation
.. Pairs, e.g. “0” “1”, “110” “111”, suggest radix or at least some kind of positional notation
.. Aha: radix, base -2

.. In I.V. II, I mentioned, “Arithmetic? Looks dicey, but simple algorithms must exist, because indeed this is a familiar radix system (successive positions indicate successive powers of the so-called base).” Well, I know you have been slavering over that ever since (unless you worked it out for yourself). Subtraction is just a dialect of addition, really, and for the sake of brevity we shall pass over division in blessed silence; so that leaves addition and multiplication. The algorithm is the same for any radix: add digitwise with carry; multiply digitwise, aligning the partial products with the digits of the multiplier, and add them. These operations require tables of addition and multiplication for single digits—and that is really the only difference between different bases. And multiplication’s table is the same for the corresponding portion of the table for any base:

..... x : 0 1
..... --:-----
..... 0 : 0 0
..... 1 : 0 1

.. So, really, it’s all about addition. And here is something new: using this addition table

..... + : 0 1
..... --:------
..... 0 : 0 1
..... 1 : 1 110

try adding 11 + 1. The algorithm breaks down, with infinite recursion. Here is the minimal addition table required for base -2:

..... + : 0 1 11
..... --:---------
..... 0 : 0 1
..... 1 : 1 110 0
..... 11 : 0


....... 10 (-2) .. 10 (-2) .. 11001 (+9) ..... 11001 (+9)
..... + 11 (-1) .x 11 (-1) . + 1110 (-6) .... x 1110 (-6)
..... --------- .--------- . ----------- .... -----------
..... 1101 (-3) .. 10 ....... 00111 (+3) .... 11001
................. 10 ....................... 11001
.................--------- ................ 11001
................. 110 (+2) ................ --------------
........................................... 11011110 (-54)

.. OK, does base -8 relate to base -2 the way octal relates to binary? Sure.

.... (-2) (-8)
.... --------------------
.... 010 . -2 written “X”
.... 011 . -1 written “Y”
.... 000 . 0 same as “Z” (to help you remember “X” and “Y”)
.... 001 . 1
.... 110 . 2
.... 111 . 3
.... 100 . 4
.... 101 . 5

.. Our version of “negoctal” uses the digits -2,…,5 (eight in all).

Example: 11,011,110 (base -2) = YY2 (base -8) = -54 (decimal).

.. Here are the addition and multiplication tables for base -8:

.... + : X Y 0 1 2 3 4 5
.... --:------------------------
.... X :14 15 X Y 0 1 2 3
.... Y :15 X Y 0 1 2 3 4
.... 0 : X Y 0 1 2 3 4 5
.... 1 : Y 0 1 2 3 4 5 YX
.... 2 : 0 1 2 3 4 5 YX YY
.... 3 : 1 2 3 4 5 YX YY Y0
.... 4 : 2 3 4 5 YX YY Y0 Y1
.... 5 : 3 4 5 YX YY Y0 Y1 Y2

.... x : X Y 0 1 2 3 4 5
.... --:------------------------
.... X : 4 2 0 X 14 12 10 1X
.... Y : 2 1 0 Y X 15 14 13
.... 0 : 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
.... 1 : X Y 0 1 2 3 4 5
.... 2 :14 X 0 2 4 YX Y0 Y2
.... 3 :12 15 0 3 YX Y1 Y4 XY
.... 4 :10 14 0 4 Y0 Y4 X0 X4
.... 5 :1X 13 0 5 Y2 XY X4 151

.. Note that 5x5 is three digits long.

.. There is no end to this silliness. Here are some central integers (from -20 (decimal) to +20 (decimal)) in base -3, using the digits -1 written “Y”, 0, and 1 (note the antisymmetry around 0):

…, 1111, 110Y, 1100, 1101, 11YY, 11Y0, 11Y1, Y1Y, Y10, Y11, Y0Y, Y00, Y01, YYY, YY0, YY1, 1Y, 10, 11, Y, 0, 1, YY, Y0, Y1, 11Y, 110, 111, 10Y, 100, 101, 1YY, 1Y0, 1Y1, YY1Y, YY10, YY11, YY0Y, YY00, YY01, YYYY, …

Well, there you have it.

Keeping the love in the rEVOLution.

Gene is always telling me that some Ron Paul supporters are giving the others a bad name with their behavior on web sites. I take action.

Your freedoms are half empty or half full, depending.

This is really interesting. From LRC I saw this article on the alleged "forced vaccinations" in Maryland, which makes it sound as if the Gestapo are at your door. So I tried to find coverage of the story from a more mainstream news outlet, and this was the best analog.

What's really amazing is that they're both basically reporting the same flow of events, but the latter story wouldn't alarm most people. "Oh sure, there were technically fines and jail time, but c'mon, it was for the kids, and nobody was really going to throw parents in jail. That was just to get them to comply."

US/Iraq "Deal"

The opening paragraph of this news story is rather chilling:

BAGHDAD - Iraq's government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.

So it's not a conspiracy theory, it's now front page news, that the current people running Iraq would not be able to maintain their rule without US troops. When other countries do this, it's usually called a "puppet government."

And isn't it a rather odd "deal"? "Okay, tell you what. If you agree to provide us with security, we agree to let your troops stay here and provide security."

It's almost as if the US government likes to have its troops stationed around the world...

"Electability" Measure

This guy emailed me in response to one of my columns, and he's made an interesting analysis. I haven't checked his results, but he's backed out the implied conditional probability of someone winning the general election once becoming the Republican or Democratic nominee. Al Gore is an astounding 100%, while Ron Paul leads the Republicans (as of early November) at over 40%. Any theories?

Rudy's Inappropriate Laughter

Check out this clip starting about 0:55 into it. Giuliani gets some tough questions about his placement of the command center (which turned out to be disastrous on 9/11), and he starts laughing like a schoolgirl. Is that his tell? This will be useful if he's the next president.

And seriously, what's the deal with the laughing? Is he amused because of Wallace's "backward" charges? I.e. is Giuliani thinking, "This is a riot! My chief advisor urges me to place the command center in lower Manhattan, and now I'm being criticized for that decision! Heh!"

Now, That's a Valid Comparison

In the course of ridiculing the plan by some Ron Paul supporters to hire a "Ron Paul Blimp," Jason Linkins write, "But why stop there? Why don't we raise some money to buy Ron Paul his very own kangaroo?"

Man, I just hate arguments like this. I have no idea if the idea of a Paul blimp is sensible or not. But, look, it's based on a tested advertising idea that many corporations apparently feel seems to work. So it's certainly not patently stupid, like the kangaroo notion. The thing is, for people who are too dull or lazy to examine the analogy, a "pundit" like Linkins can do this with anything: "Clinton supporters plan to buy ads on billboards! Oooh, why don't they just buy signs on the sides of atoms and advertise there?'

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Consistent Materialist

"Hate, Im so full of it and I love it. That is one thing I really love. Some time ago, I used to believe in humanity and I wanted to live a long and happy life... but then I woke up. I started to think deeper and realized things. But it was not easy to become existential... knowing as much as I know has made me unhappy, frustrated and angry. I just can’t be happy in the society or the reality I live. Due to long process of existential thinking, observing the society I live and some other things happened in my life... I have come to the point where I feel nothing but hate against humanity and human race.

"Life is just a meaningless coincidence... result of long process of evolution and many several factors, causes and effects. However, life is also something that an individual wants and determines it to be. And I'm the dictator and god of my own life. And me, I have chosen my way. I am prepared to fight and die for my cause. I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection. "

From the Finnish school shooter who recently killed eight people.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

How to Become a Professional Newsman

Say things like "lodge bombs at you."


In this article, detailing how firemen will now be used as spies, the writer says, "Americans have given up some of their privacy rights in an effort to prevent future strikes."

Do you remember when you did this? When you voluntarily "gave up" some of your rights as part of your "effort to prevent future strikes"? That's funny -- I don't either!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Integer Vitae III

Establishing Property Rights in a Commons

After reading this blog post on the North Atlantic cod fisheries, I had a quick thought on how to privatize the resource fairly: Create a corporation with ownership rights over the fish resources and give everyone currently fishing an area shares in the corporation in proportion to their current catch.

UPDATE: The point here was don't privatize the commons through one of these shite schemes where some state pretends its the owner and then auctions off the commons, which is snatched up by some large statist corporation, which sells the right to fish there to the current users who really already own it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Weird Pennsylvania Laws, Part II

I think I detailed the weird liquor laws out here in an earlier post but I can't find it right now. (Basically, it is legal to buy up to 12 beers or more than 23 beers out here, but illegal to buy between 13 and 23!) However, tonight I found ann even stranger situation: there is a fireworks store in Matamoras, Pennsylvania, that Pennsylvania residents are not even allowed to enter. (I got around this by not having updated my driver's license in so long that it says I still live in Connecticut.) Apparently, the fireworks it sells are so dangerous that they are only suitable for the yahoos out in Ohio. (They are illegal to even transport through New York, the state about two miles away from the store.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Philosopher as Dickhead

I just read this profile of Peter Singer. I've always consider him an ass, but I had underestimated him -- he's really a gargantuan ass:

"Singer himself gives 20% of his Princeton professor salary to nonprofits, principally Oxfam. To lead an even minimally moral life, he argues, we’re all obligated to give at least that much."

Wow! What a coincidence! The absolute minimum that anyone can give to charity and still be considered morally decent just happens to be exactly the amount Singer himself gives! Man, did he luck out! Cause, you know, just 1% less and he would have had to condemn himself.

So how did he arrive at that figure? From one of his "two overarching principles": "If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it.” It's not right, he claims, for Americans to enjoy luxuries while others starve.

You know what? Eighty percent of the salary of a tenured full professor at Princeton plus book royalties still buys a whole lot of luxuries. Singer's "principle," which he has no intention whatsoever of living by, requires him to give about 99% of his income away. I'll tell you how he arrived at the 20% figure: it's a higher amount than given by anyone he is likely to run into at a coktail party, so that he can demonstrate his moral superiority to them but not be inconvenienced too much.

Bob on Nobel on

Article here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Undervalued Dollar?

Perhaps in an unintentional response to my post, in which I asked how much Tyler would have made if he practiced as his alter-ego preached and shorted T-bonds three years ago, Tyler Cowen writes today:

I know full well that in most sensible intertemporal models the U.S. dollar is overvalued and must fall further to set right the trade balance. But these same intertemporal models don't explain business cycles or unemployment very well (they do at times, but that's it), so why should they explain currency values? Nor do these same macro models command the full loyalty of Krugman and other pessimists in different settings.

I do know that purchasing power parity predicts long swings in exchange rates to some crude extent, and right now I'm dead set against family summer vacation in Europe. So I will accept this dare and assert that the U.S. dollar is undervalued in world currency markets.

Now, as I understand the above, Tyler's argument boils down to his blind intuition that the dollar is undervalued. He says that the same economists who are predicting a downward trend in the dollar are using macro-economic models that don't explain the business cycle, and therefore why should they have any relevance to an analysis of the dollar? That's fair enough, I suppose, but there as at least one economist, Austrian Tyler Cowen, whose analysis is grounded in general models of the business cycle. His model appears to have had some recent predictive success.

Time may of course shed more light on the matter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pollster Zogby Thinks Ron Paul Can Get 15 to 18 Percent in NH

He apparently said this to an astounded Sean Hannity.

For those who don't check these things maniacally, Paul is now polling at 8% among likely Republican voters in NH (pdf). However, that's misleading because as everyone knows, RP supporters are "spammers," i.e. they fanatically vote for their candidate more so than other supporters do for their guy or gal. I.e., people can tell a pollster they'll likely vote in the primary, but I bet more Ron Paul supporters actually do it.

Americans Drop Out...

of 2008 presidential race.

Monday, November 12, 2007

It's Just My Belief, Not a Fact

While perusing a thread discussing whether or not Mitt Romney's Mormonism should be relevant to his presidential candidacy, I found myself marveling at the contortions Americans go through in dealing with such issues, in their effort to appear non-judgmental in making a judgment. Many of the posters seemed to hold something like, "I'm open-minded, and would never vote against a person of any faith -- as long as that faith means no more to him than his choice of necktie."

One poster even asserted that "a person's religious faith... passes inspection as long as they... understand that faith is a belief, not a fact." In other words, she'll vote for someone as long as their ideas are an incoherent jumble, and they are able to "believe" something without thinking that it is a fact! "I believe it's raining out, but I know that, factually speaking, it is not."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Don't see Lions for Lambs...

...unless you want Robert Redford to lecture you for 88 mins. Here's a good Slate rip that gives minor spoilers. If you want a real political thriller with an anti-war hawk bent--basically, what the ads promised Lions would be--then rent The Sum of All Fears, from a few years ago.

Ron Paul, Underdog

This is a great video, the best compilation of how the smug media downplays Ron Paul. And man, just look at how professional this thing looks! The Internet (and computers generally) is amazing. (Originally saw this on LRC.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

How rich would Tyler Cowen be?

I found an old post by Tyler Cowen at top economics blog Marginal Revolution, written almost three years ago, that caught my eye. It's titled "If I believed in Austrian Business Cycle Theory". He lists:

1. I would think that Asian central banks, by buying U.S. dollars, have been driving a massive distortion of real exchange and interest rates.

2. I would think that the U.S. economy is overinvested in non-export durables, most of all residential housing.

3. I would think that we have piled on far too much debt, in both the private and public sectors.

4. I would think these trends cannot possibly continue. Asian central banks may come to their senses. Furthermore the U.S. would be like an addict who needs an ever-increasing dose of the monetary fix. This, of course, would eventually prove impossible.

5. I would think that the U.S. economy is due for a dollar plunge, and a massive sectoral shift toward exports. Furthermore I would think it will not handle such an unexpected shock very well.

6. I would buy puts on T-Bond futures and become rich.

7. I would think that Hayek's Monetary Nationalism and International Stability, now priced at $70 a copy, is the secret tract for our times.

Of course that is not me. But at least someone appears to believe in Austrian business cycle theory. By the way, here is one summary of the theory, although I do not agree with the characterization in all respects.
What I find astonishing about this list is how much of it has actually happened, as we head into 2008.

(1) is still somewhat debatable as far as empirical evidence goes.
(2) is consistent with the housing bubble and the continued decline in housing prices.
(3) is seems increasingly evident, though there may be room for debate on this.
(4) may be happening.
(5) dollar plunge is evident, how we are coping with it is less so, at least to me.
(6) an investment opportunity may have been missed.

I have never read that text by Hayek, nor have I yet read Tyler Cowen's book Risk and Business Cycles: New and Old Austrian Perspectives, though it looks worthwhile. I'm undecided as to whether Austrian Business Cycle Theory is entirely correct, but it's certainly interesting how prescient Tyler's Austrian alter-ego is. Any readers know how rich he would be?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Why Ron Paul Is No Average Politician

Say what you will about his policies, you have to admit that Ron Paul is not afraid to be the lonely man standing up for principle. Check out this interview with Wolf Blitzer, starting at 5:18 into it. (Originally posted on LRC.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Fate of the Ron Paul Revolution?

My oldest son asked me today, "Dad, if Ron Paul comes close to winning, do you think he'll be beaten to death with benches?"

What's the historical reference he's making? A free subscription to Crash Landing to the first ten readers to get it right. (Of course, given the paucity of comments lately, I'm not sure there are ten readers.)

Panarchy in the UK!

My political philosophy has made it onto Wikipedia. Now, when someone asks, "Are you a Democrat or Republican," and I say, "No, I'm a panarchist," and I get a blank look, "I'll say, 'Look it up on Wikipedia.'"

By the way, this is one of my two great re-inventions. When I first arrived at panarchism, I had no idea others had done so before me. My other great re-invention was to come up with the Sieve of Eratosthenes one afternoon at work.

The "Cost" of Our Freedom

Here a nitwit sounds off on the bombing of Hiroshima. He writes "America has forgotten what it cost to keep her citizens free, but this article provided a crucial history lesson we needed."

Yes, in the bombing of Hiroshima, it "cost" America maybe a hundred thousand Japanese lives "to keep us free." As though Japan in 1945 posed any threat to the freedom of American citizens, and as though the death of Japanese civilians was a "cost" Americans were paying!

"Granted, the unleashing of an atomic weapon was horrible, but he was acting under an order that ultimately saved more lives than it took."

Per the calculations of those who, after the bombing, sought to justify this war crime. Luke Wagoner, of course, has no idea what the trade-off in lives was, but simply chooses to believe the bombers.

"Honor the man for having the courage to do what was necessary."

Just as we should honor Adolph Eichmann for "doing what was necessary" to rid Germany of the scourge of the Jews.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bush Weighing Pros and Cons of Giving Souls to Prisoners

Or wait, not quite. Rather, US officials are considering granting more rights to Guantanamo detainees. (It would be great at a press conference if someone asked, "What does the expression 'this is a privilege, not a right' mean to you?")

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Integer Vitae II

Remember these?

…, 1010, 1011, 1000, 1001, 1110, 1111, 1100, 1101, 10, 11, 0, 1, 110, 111, 100, 101, 11010, 11011, 11000, 11001, 11110, ...

Here are the integers from -10 to +10 listed in the usual way--in sequence and in ascending order. So “0” is 0 and “1” is 1. If the encoding is context-free, then “0” is always 0 and “1” is always 1. In fact, this is true. So nothing represents minus sign (or plus sign). We have some sort of binary system which represents the integers without the use of signs; and judging by this modest sample, it represents all the integers uniquely, just like more familiar numerations. The fact that log2(21) = 4+ (just edging into the five-digit numerals) supports these hypotheses. Arithmetic? Looks dicey, but simple algorithms must exist, because indeed this is a familiar radix system (successive positions indicate successive powers of the so-called base). Most familiar is base 10; reformers have pushed base 12; computer geeks use base 2 (binary), base 16 (hexadecimal), and occasionally base 8 (octal). The numeration in question is radix, base -2.

I include Steadman’s interesting comment from I.V. I.

Are there negative numbers in the list? Have you dropped the signs or are they encoded too? They appear to be base four couplets, but it's 1AM, I just finished a lot of work, and my brain is dead.

Substituting as follows:A=10, B=11, C=00, D=01, your list is then


which has enough in common with counting to make me think I'm close, but I'd be more convinced if D was followed by BA.

Good Riddance

Just fifty-three years too late.

Yet Another...

senseless, running-related death.

People, it's time we unite behind a national war on jogging.

Military spending is out of control

The Pentagon Orders 12 New Imperial Walkers

"PORTLAND, OR. Nov. 2, 2007 - The Pentagon has ordered twelve new Imperial Walkers for special duty in Iraq, and in preparation of possible military escalations with Iran.

The Imperial Walker Program had been under secret development until recently when the US government accidentally tortured a US scientist working on the program. The scientist was subjected to water boarding and confessed he had indeed leaked documents to the press. Since then, critics of the program have grown, including some in Congress."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

US Woman to Middle East: "Do what we want or else!"

From this page you can listen to an NPR story about a gas station that bills itself as "terror free," i.e. they don't rely on Middle Eastern oil. (At the end of the piece the company admits that it does use oil from the Middle East, but that what's important is "the message" we send. I guess the message is, we're idiots and liars.)

Anyway, early on in the segment they interview a customer of the station. Now listen carefully. When she is explaining why it's a good idea, her initial reason is that these Middle Eastern countries don't "do what we want them to." Then I think even she realized how awful that sounded, so she started talking about innocent people.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I don't need to check; I know I'm right.

In preparation for a possible op-ed on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which was established after the OPEC embargo to act as an added buffer, I asked an expert about whether the private industry saw it coming. I explained that I needed to know so that I could take my defense of the free market one of two ways:

* If the private sector people did anticipate the embargo, then I would explain that Nixon's price controls and high tax rates would make it pointless for speculators to build up inventories before the crisis hit. So SPR isn't necessary, we just need to unleash the market to do its job.

* If the private sector did NOT see the OPEC move coming, then I would explain that this isn't a strike against the market and FOR the government; after all, the planners were caught off guard too. So the question going forward is, okay, now that we realize OPEC could do this again, who is most likely to prepare for it better? Private speculators who are risking their own money, or bureaucrats?


Now, is anybody else slightly troubled by this? It gave me the willies when I realized that my solution was going to be the same no matter what had happened historically. Now granted, this is partly the point of Misesians who stress that economic theory is a priori. But still, I could definitely understand if a leftist thought this simply proved how dogmatic I was.

A Whole Lotta Passin'

Trinity College wins a football game with a last play that included 15 laterals. (Scroll down in the story for the video.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Intransitive Verbs

I've blogged before about my annoyance at a store clerk asking me, "Can I help?" Well the practice has spread to the US, and now I've encountered an even worse intransitive use of a transitive verb: I asked for ice in a supermarket the other day, and the cashier said, "We're out. Try the gas station up the road -- they might have." Two days later, I heard the same usage: "Oh, he might have."

We've become so busy we can't afford the time to say "it."

Dead Again

This story is pretty amusing. These rural Germans, from an area "Halloween isn't very well known," mistook a costume-zombie for a murder victim. But what puzzled me was this: "Police told the man to remove his make-up after which he was allowed to continue his journey."

Were the police afraid that the passengers in his car would again mistake him for a dead man if he left the makeup on? That they'd get another phone call: "This time he's been murdered for sure!"

There's a Moon Out Today

When I was working for MECA Software, I recall going for a walk along the Saugatuck River with a colleague who was about thirty or so. As we strolled along, he suddenly exclaimed, "Look at that! The moon is out in the daytime!"

I really didn't know what to say. What I thought was, "Yes, just as it has been for about 720 periods of several days each earlier in your life."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Michael Medved is a Joke

Look at this ridiculous open letter to Ron Paul. I can't believe I used to like this crowd of "thinkers" when I was a teenager.

David Horowitz spouts more drivel...

"Anyone who links Islamic radicalism to the terrorist campaigns that are being waged against America, Europe and Israel and against non-radical Muslims in places such as Darfur, is automatically labeled an 'Islamophobe.'"

Has anyone, anywhere, ever so denounced someone else? Is there anyone who denies that these terrorist campaigns are linked to radical Islam? Sure, there are some of us who argue that it's not OK to kill millions of Moslems because a few of their fellow believers commit terrorist acts, but that's a slightly different point.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Integer vitae

Here is a small sequence of the integers around zero listed in the usual way--in sequence in ascending order. So the only question is: What &$#@*&!*$ numeration (system of representing numbers) did I use?

…, 1010, 1011, 1000, 1001, 1110, 1111, 1100, 1101, 10, 11, 0, 1, 110, 111, 100, 101, 11010, 11011, 11000, 11001, 11110, ...

Tales of Israel's Occupation of Palestine

If these stories are true they're pretty disgusting. (Link originally on LRC.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hulsmann Says Murphy Is the Next Rothbard

Well, not quite. If you start listening to this mp3 at 21:40 you can hear about my peers and me. It was an honor just to be nominated. (Start at 20:00 to get the full context.)

The Problem of Plato and Aristotle

Recently, I've run across several economists whho causually term all religious belief "irrational," among them Douglas North and Bryan Caplan. I went to present two contrary cases I think should trouble them. When presented with someone like Aquinas, who surely was very rational by any yardstick, those promoting the "religion is irrational" view will often say someething like, "Sure, he was bright, but he was not immune to the prejudices of his culture." But that answer won't work for Plato and Aristotle, two of the most rational individuals in history, because the Greek traditions they inherited contained nothing at all like the concept of a transcendent God arrived at by both men. While their concepts were certainly not identical to the Judeo-Christian-Moslem concept of God, they were far closer to that concept than they were to anything from Greek mythology. And they were arrived at, against the current of their culture, by purely "rational," philosophical means.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Virgin PRI blog post--The value of saying sorry.

I will only post particularly pithy ones here from now on, but here's my first blog post as Senior Fellow in Business & Economic Studies at Pacific Research Institute.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Financial Engineering, Behaviorial Economics and Praxeology

I had an interesting discussion last night with an old friend, about a mutual friend's job as a financial engineer. As a financial engineer, our friend creates innovative models of options and futures markets, based on variable inputs. For instance, he might attempt to create a forecast model on how certain markets react to supply shocks, or general market surprises, based on clever mathematical analysis. Sometimes the investigations of these models are prompted by a trader's hunch; sometimes, an interesting mathematical approach is tried for it's own sake, to explore new mapping possibilities. The end product is a tool used by traders to make decisions and strategies for various contingencies in the market.

My initial bias is to be skeptical of the value of such an approach. Mathematical futures/options forecasting seems similar to Max Cohen's grandiose attempt to predict the mathematical patterns in the stock market in the movie Pi (an excellent film); an illusory objective, like perpetual motion or attempts to square the circle. Mapping the current state of the economy is one thing, but making toy models of previous markets and simulating them based on the future seems a blind bet on intelligence to model what is not amenable to insightful modeling: human actions and behavior in the future.

Thinking about it, I realized my bias against such modeling came back to Mises' illustration of two approaches to economics. Murray Rothbard writes, 'One example that Mises liked to use in his class to demonstrate the difference between two fundamental ways of approaching human behavior was in looking at Grand Central Station behavior during rush hour. The " objective" or " truly scientific" behaviorist, he pointed out, would observe the empirical events: e.g., people rushing back and forth, aimlessly at certain predictable times of day. And that is all he would know. But the true student of human action would start from the fact that all human behavior is purposive, and he would see the purpose is to get from home to the train to work in the morning, the opposite at night, etc. It is obvious which one would discover and know more about human behavior, and therefore which one would be the genuine "scientist."'

Certainly this example illustrates a natural division of approaches, and to my mind makes a succinct and convincing case for praxeology, but the behaviorist may not be down for the count.

Before picking up the thread, it should be noted of course that financial engineers and quants are not (generally, anyway) trying to derive scientific truths or general principles. On the contrary, they are concerned with modeling many particular truths, especially particular generalized patterns that underlie particular phenomena. Everything is contingent and models are always susceptible to review.

It is less obvious, then, what particular, if any, contingent patterns or principles a financial engineer may uncover. The reason to hire a financial engineer, of course, is to help traders make money by exploiting inefficiencies in the market. Hayek's explanation for apparent "inefficiencies" in a given market is that since knowledge is dispersed asymmetrically, it is expected for there to be a kinked array of market prices within a short interval, there is no perfect knowledge. Behaviorial economists formulate much the same principle, but assert that modeling such inefficiencies may provide tangible insight into the patterns of knowledge distribution, or more precisely, the patterns of it's output given certain inputs.

In essence, one might say that a financial engineer is creating a telescope that allows traders to obliquely understand what tends to happen given a relatively stable(but disparate) distribution of knowledge. This is an empirical question, but I think there may a basis in this example, for a weak (but sound) case that even behavioral economists have some contribution to the development of an applied economic science, potentially aiding praxeologists in much the same way telescopy has aided astronomy and physics and computers have aided number theorists.

Addendum: It's come to my attention that Gene has already written about this topic in depth here, thoroughly discussing the philosophical importance of financial modeling, but most interestingly (to me, anyway), providing some key insights into the practical significance of modeling. I liked this analogy:

Mathematical equations can be useful for modeling the result of people following through on previously made plans, for capturing "equilibrium-like" phases of markets.

"Analogously, we could say that once a player in a basketball game decides to shoot jumper, we could use an equation that, based on the initial force vector that the shooter chooses to apply to the ball, then predicts the progress of the shot. Such an equation will be of little use, however, in predicting whether the player will change his mind and pass instead."


"If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not mystical, you're not going to go anywhere." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb