Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Big kudos go out to Ragged Mountain in NH for letting us ski fresh powder from yesterday's storm. Two or three trails hadn't been groomed, but were open to skiers, and we got to experience it throughout the day: skimming through fresh powder in the morning, carving the natural moguls in the afternoon. My other ski-day highlight was being challenged by my brother to a summit-to-base race (1250' drop), and then beating him by less than a ski-length. He won the rematch.

Ragged is a modest mountain with prices a little high for its lack of elevation. But it beat out Waterville Valley today, which shut down most of its mountain with fear of wind gusts, and left us out in the cold after a long early-morning drive.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Beer Belongs

Great image at 1000 Awesome Things.

Best line in the ad: "And you'd be surprised how good free beer tastes!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Technical Fix

Tina Rosenberg pens a cool NYTimes commentary about the "Kangaroo Care" method of incubating prematurely-born babies. Often, as economists like to point out, a new 'technology' is actually an idea, not a machine.

Kangaroo incubation should be studied rigorously by the medical establishment, and (if it holds up) be promulgated throughout developing-world hospitals. In richer hospitals, one can easily imagine mixing mechanical incubators with human mothers, exploiting the best of both technologies.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Carl Crawford and Cotton Mather

Has a city ever wooed an athlete before with the opportunity to open an antiquarian Puritan bookstore? This had to be a consideration when Carl Crawford chose the Red Sox (after the $142 million, of course). RoyalsReview has the scoop:
Crawford's passion for New England history began at Jefferson Davis High School in Houston when he read William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation in the 9th grade. "At Jeff Davis at that time, it was very much the old Bercovitch reading of history that dominated. To prepare, I'd read The Puritan Origins of the American Self in eighth grade. Eventually however, I wanted to return to the primary materials."

"It's not only that most of the old archives, private libraries, research collections, and book dealers in seventeenth century books are on the East Coast... there's also the spirit in the air. Sure, you can run a great bookstore in Tampa. Yea, there's a strip mall out on the highway to Orlando that's perfect," Crawford said, laughing.
Do we give this guy an honorary doctorate instead of an MVP if he has a great year? And has the athletes-supporting-education movement ever had a more convincing black representative? Will he turn out to be a poor fit for the Red Sox because he's always missing practice squirreled away in the Special Collection at Harvard's Houghton Library?

Crawford intends to live in Salem, Massachusetts. Of course.

Hat tip to Soxaholix. A somewhat more truthful story (probably) is here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Carl Crawford, take 2

My brother was so excited about the Red Sox signing Carl Crawford that he emailed the family the following analysis:
Carl Crawford. we stole him right from under the Angels noses with a 7 year, $142 million deal. he has lots of speed, won a Gold Glove last year, and also hit .307, with 110 runs, 30 doubles, 13 triples, and 19 HRs. he drove in 90 runs too. this was all for Tampa Bay fyi. this gives us the fastest outfield in the world, as well as the freedom to trade Ellsbury if we need the bullpen help. Also we can now platoon Drew and Cameron which will be great because Drew has never been able to hit lefties. Another bonus is that because Crawford and Jayson Werth signed 7 year deals, the Yankees #1 target, Cliff Lee, will demand 7 also. The Yankees have been firm in stopping at 6. So either they fold and sign a risky deal, or they lose the best pitcher on the market.

To sum up, the Sox now have under contract for at least 5 years: Lester, Buccholz, Bard, Pedroia, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Wakefield, and Crawford (Gonzalez will sign an extension after the season starts to avoid luxury tax - he is in the last year of a $6 million per year contract but will get a SIGNIFICANT deal, probably 6 years, $15-20 per year) and are in a great position to win the east for the next 3 at least.
But check out these stat lines:

They're pretty similar in outcomes, although the style is different. The first player has a low average, but walks plenty and hits for home-run power. The first player does not walk much at all, steals a lot of bases, and plays more games. He of course is Crawford, with career averages adjusted to reflect the number of games a year he's played since 2003.

The second player is J.D. Drew. But it's not Drew's career average numbers, it's his 2010 season, which was his worst since 2002,. Drew saw a steep dropoff in average, walks, and power, leaving his OPS 100 points below its average. But even the worst year of J.D. Drew appears to be about as good as Crawford on average.

Crawford's hardiness (only in 2008 did he have real injury problems) should command a small premium, but if Drew is overpriced at $14 million, as most Bostonians think, how can Crawford be a good purchase at $20m per year?

Carl Crawford

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Julian Assange, Public Servant

Wikileaks founder and international man of mystery Julian Assange has apparently been arrested in London on Swedish charges that he lied about whether he was using a condom.

This is a travesty of justice, quite figuratively. Under the pretense of prosecuting a sexual offense (and I won't even mention the absurdity of Sweden's he-said, she-said laws), the governments of the developed world are colluding to persecute a man who embarrassed them and broke the rules of the good-old-boys club. Why haven't they arrested him of espionage or something? Because he did not break any real laws. So while lawyers spend days finding some law in some country under which they can charge him, they want him safely held in a Swedish gaol.

This persecution is wrong on two counts, substance and form. In form, it mocks the systems of justice and fairness that underlie our societies. Global Review has long held that unenforced laws are nefarious, since they allow unscrupulous authorities pretext to arrest whomever they want. Thus in Assange's case. In substance, Assange should not be charged with a crime because he did the world a service. The soldier who gave him the documents should no doubt be court-martialed: he stole data and broke all kinds of professional codes. But Assange chose to release the data altogether at once, not using it as blackmail or to gain power. He published it responsibly, and did the world a service by showing what really goes on in diplomatic circles. The Arab governments fear Iran: everybody knew it, but now it's public, not an "open secret". And if the U.S. Department of State was used for illegal acts of espionage, that should be laid at the door of Secretary Hillary Clinton and her predecessors, who ordered the violations.

Transparency in government is vital for democracy. Assange should be applauded for presenting this valuable data in a transparent and straightforward way. If the governments of the world are so desperate to shut him down, we should ask: are they just angry at being caught, or do they really have something to hide?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Turkey Day!

I hope all Global Review readers had a great turkey day... and have a wonderful Thanksgiving, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Samuel Eto'o and Bostjan Cesar compete with each other for the most girly foul and the most absurd overreaction. How is it that people root for these prima donnas? My love for soccer precludes a tolerance for antics like this (from the Serie A).

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Ben Bernank and the Quantitative Easing

Viral video on quantitative easing. Hilariously informative.

Like Landsburg I don't agree with everything they say, but it certainly puts the problems with the Fed starkly.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Solve the Deficit

...without leaving your chair. Absolutely awesome little game from NYTimes: you make the hard choices about which programs to cut or taxes to raise in order to solve the Federal deficits in 2015 and 2030.

This shows that solving the deficit is not as much hard as it is painful. It also highlights the magnitude of certain big programs - leaving Afghanistan and limiting Medicare and Social Security growth can account for 92% of the projected 2030 deficit. The biggest bopper on the tax side is to get rid of most deductions.

Check it out!

The Phelps Critique

Kudos to Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Mike Pence for trying to apply the Phelps Critique to the Fed's mission. Better late than never!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rational Stimulus?

David Brooks is way out of his depth writing about the divide among economists on how to respond to the recent recession. He claims:
The economic approach embraced by the most prominent liberals over the past few years is mostly mechanical. The economy is treated like a big machine; the people in it like rational, utility maximizing cogs...

These models can be used to make highly specific projections. If the government borrows $1 and then spends it, it will produce $1.50 worth of economic activity. If the government spends $800 billion on a stimulus package, that will produce 3.5 million in new jobs. Everything is rigorous. Everything is science.
David Brooks doesn't, clearly, understand rationality. If $1 borrowed and spent by the government produces $1.50 in the economy, the government should borrow infinitely! This "regularity" is not reproduced in any rational-optimization model of which this economist is aware.

Moreover, within the discipline, those who believe in optimizing agents, intertemporal tradeoffs, and rationality typically are anti-stimulus. Those who are in favor of the stimulus and who have the ear of the Obama administration - Krugman, Stiglitz, Hall, etc - are typically more solicitous of 'heterodox' behavioral approaches. The Keynesian approach of the Obama administration is predicated on the famous concept of "Animal Spirits".

Brooks has it completely backwards: the administration and its 'technocrats' have relied on empirical regularities which lack theoretical underpinnings. What we need is exactly what November voters demanded: a return to rigor and reasonable intertemporal tradeoffs.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Internationalist

Remember how electing Barack Obama was supposed to restore America's honor in the world and end our unilateralism and isolation? I know it seems a long time ago, but when Bush was president, those of us who traveled took a lot of flack for his policies.

With Obama, it's so much different the same. At the G-20 Summit, Obama has been shellacked by squadrons of world leaders who are angry at Obama's administration for taking the politically easy route and devaluing the dollar, instead of manning up and cutting deficits. Are these guys Tea Party members? When did England, France, Korea, Japan, China, and Germany become racist reactionaries? Don't they know that deficits don't matter because we're all dead in the long run?

As long as the Democratic Party remains beholden to labor unions with a screw-thy-neighbor ethos, it will never be a good partner for America's allies.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why Charlie Lost

Friend Adam Ramey has an excellent quantitative analysis of the Massachusetts gubernatorial election. He shows that while turnout was just about equal in November and in the January special election which delivered Sen Scott Brown (R), Democrat-turned-Independent played a very effective spoiler role, giving a plurality and four more years to Gov. Deval Patrick (D).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Down Goes Gerry! Down Goes Elbridge Gerry!

Californians took to the polls and slayed the monstrous Gerrymander. The campaign pitted the voices of California governors Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Grey Davis (D) against the quiet money of Nancy Pelosi, Howard Berman (whose brother Michael was given $1.3 million in bribes to draw the lines to make safe Democratic incumbents back in 2001) and a horde of other incumbants. The new redistricting commission will be drawn by lot, like a jury, from a pool of at least 36 candidates, who remain from an applicant pool of 31,000 eager Californians.

So look your last on California's "Ribbon of Shame" 23rd district. Get ready for big, squarish blocks, communities of democracy replacing the fiefdoms of autocracy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Big GOP Win?

InTrade investors are predicting a big GOP win. Republican control of the House is selling at 95, and Democratic control of the Senate dropped in the last three days from a steady 55 to a surprising 45. The math is tough for a GOP Senate, unless seated Dems switch sides, but it's still possible.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Global Review Endorsements: National

Outside my own district are a few key races Global Review should weigh in on.
  • California Ballot Questions #20 and #27: This could be the most important race of the year. Voters in the most populous state have the chance to end Gerrymandering. As California goes, so goes the nation. When Americans can be shown a map that tells the story - "Look, square districts in California, tortured snakes in your state" - they will understand how corrupt a system is in which the politicians get to pick their voters instead of the voters picking their politicians. So Californians need to Vote Yes on #20.

    But it's not that simple. Opponents of the ballot initiatives - sleazy labor unions, mainly - have fought back, hoping to confuse the electorate with an equal and opposite measure. They want to abolish the nonpartisan commission that #20 relies on! It's barefaced political trickery, and Californians need to show themselves worthy of competitive districts. Vote No on #27.
  • Delaware Senate: The storyline here is that Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell beat establishment liberal Mike Castle for the Republican nomination, and that O'Donnell has no chance in the general election. The second part is false: she has a better chance in the general than she had in the primary, in which she was basically unknown. But the first part is also false. Christine O'Donnell isn't so much a Tea Party candidate as just a Candidate. She's a lifelong self-promoter, and caught the tide at the flood. Global Review endorses her opponent, liberal Chris Coons (D), for two reasons. First, O'Donnell is unlikely to faithfully represent the Tea Party, the GOP, or her state. She would be an embarrassment to all three. Second, with O'Donnell as incumbent, Beau Biden, the Veep's son, would probably take the seat from her in 2014. Global Review believes dynasties are anathema to American liberties, and does not want Beau Biden running for his Daddy's seat the same way Andrew "Mario W." Cuomo is doing in NY.
  • Massachusetts House, 4th District: [An open letter to my parents] Vote for Sean Bielat over Barney Frank on Tuesday. I don't know a ton about Bielat, but I do know a lot about Frank, and in an economy and a Congress where a lot of people are losing their jobs, he deserves to lose his more than anyone else. He is the Chair of the Financial Services committee, and angrily defended Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac up to the day they collapsed, saying they posed "no risk" to the economy. They became the biggest culprits in the crash in 2008. After promising for years that federal money would never be used to bail out Fannie & Freddy, they got more money - and quicker - than anybody else.

    Then, when Frank's committee drafted financial reform legislation, it was harsh and punitive to surviving banks, even those who had not contributed to the crash, while placing no substantive restrictions at all on Fannie & Freddy. Frank has had thirty years in Washington, and his experience made him arrogant rather than experienced and closed-minded rather than savvy. In Sean Bielat's line of work, a performance that bad would have led to a dishonorable discharge or a court-martial. Give Frank a rest, and give Bielat a chance.
  • Alaska & Florida Senate: In each state, a GOP presumptive nominee was ousted in a primary challenge, and is playing to spoil. The storylines differ somewhat, but the endorsement is clear: Vote your party, not the person. Whats-her-name in Alaska got the seat from her daddy and thinks it belongs to her; Crist in Florida thinks he's the second coming, and has entertained caucusing with Democrats if that would get him elected. We can't purge megalomania from politics, but we can at least punish those who flaunt it publicly.
  • Lastly, Global Review issues a general endorsement of Tea Party-backed candidates. The Tea Party will not "take back America", despite their rhetoric, but they will provide a cohesive bloc of skeptical votes in the House. Presuming a GOP-led House for the rest of the Obama administration, the Tea Party may end up being the in-house enforcement of fiscal sensibility on the otherwise Schizo-Keynesian Republican Party. There are not enough Tea Partiers to pass any radical legislation (even good radical legislation, like restoring Federalism by repealing the 17th Amendment), so fiscally-conscious moderates have little to worry about.

Global Review Endorsements: New York Local

Following up on Saturday's endorsements in high-profile New York state races, here are endorsements in Rochester's elections, and principals for voting in legislative and court races throughout New York.
  • County Court: Global Review does not believe that judges should be elected. They ought to be insulated from public opinion because judicial decisions are narrow by nature. A ruling that is unfair to one person may be very popular generally. But judges are elected in New York, and to abstain in all races is to give the power of their appointment simply to other voters. Thus, a rule of thumb is to vote for incumbents when possible, and to abstain on open races unless there are pressing reasons to select one over another. In Monroe County, only one incumbent is running - Kelly C. Wolford (D). Global Review endorses Judge Wolford, and refers readers to the D&C's excellent endorsement page for a more opinionated take.
  • New York Senate: The sitting senators belong to the most dysfunctional deliberative body in America. Since all of the Senators supported their respective parties in the embarrassing standoff last year, instead of seeking compromise, all of them deserve to be fired. A randomly selected group of New Yorkers couldn't do a worse job if they tried. Vote agains the incumbant, and in favor of his Republican or Democratic challenger in every race. The D&C agrees with me on all counts except Robach (R) v. Wilt (D), in which it refuses to endorse either one.
  • New York Assembly: The Assembly is little better, and is under the heavy thumb of Shel Silver. Even in one-party rule they have failed to balance budgets - often failing even to pass budgets - and failed to change the culture of politics-uber-alles that prevails in Albany. Worse still, all but 12 New York Assemblyman come from uncompetitive districts, and Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver refuses to give up the power to draw these uncompetitive lines. Global Review endorses Republicans across the board. Until Democrats agree to basic reforms, like allowing Assembly members to bring legislation to a vote, ousting Silver is the #1 priority. The D&C agrees with this prioritazation, although it is less categorical in its endorsements.
What has this exercise in endorsement taught us? All politics is national (or, at least, statewide). The most important vote a U.S. Rep casts is for Speaker of the House; the most important vote an Assembly member casts is for or against Silver. The main issues facing the legislature dwarf the small-caliber local conflicts or expertise of the candidates, who will spend most of their careers saying "aye" or "nay" to the central leadership.

In Bill We Trust

How smart does Bill Belichick look now?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Global Review Endorsements: NY Statewide and Congressional

Global Review has never published official endorsements before, but in this mid-term election, it is worthwhile to do so. A great deal will be determined by whom we choose. This first post is Global Review's selections for the high-profile races relevant to Rochester, NY.
  • NY Attorney General: A close, and contentious race between Eric Schneiderman (D/W/I) and Dan Donovan (R/C). Schneiderman has spent his career in Albany, and has voted to reduce sentences for drug offenses and against reinstating capital punishment. Donovan is the District Attorney of Suffolk County, giving him relevant job experience. In a job which has few political implicatons, Donovan's experience is certainly more relevant to the position.
  • NY Comptroller: A comptroller is an external auditor. New York would benefit most from an independent, non-partisan, and unelected comptroller. Maybe one appointed by another state? In any case, we do have to vote, and the best alternative to a true independent is someone from the party not in power. Global Review endorses Harry Wilson (R,C,I), a Harvard MBA with big-business experience, who garnered the left-of-center Independence Party's nomination.
  • NY Goober. It's the 'goober' race because most of the candidates are goobers. Jimmy McMillan has the best hair; Carl Paladino is the most angry; and Andrew "Mario W." Cuomo has the best-developed sense of entitlement.
    Global Review is a right-of-center blog, but we cannot endorse the foolishness that is Carl Paladino. He has correctly diagnosed the malaise in Albany, but the messenger is louder than the message, and his personal failings and oversize ego make it unlikely that he could improve anything in Albany. More likely, Governor Paladino would drag New Yorkers through another round of scandal and add another ring to the circus.
    Nor can Global Review endorse Andrew Cuomo, who has never found a policy so far to the left that cannot support it. He is from the leftist branch of the Democratic Party and will consistently move New York in the direction of centralized government control.
    The only palatable candidate is Warren Redlich. He highlights eminent domain as a key issue, and fought a Kelo-style abuse of town power in his capacity as Guilderland Town Council Member.
  • Senate Races: Global Review is no fan of Chuck Schumer (D), nor, by extension, of his handpicked colleague Kirsten Gillibrand (D), who is defending her seat for the first time. Each of them cast the deciding vote in the mad rush to pass a healthcare law that was called "reform" but in fact failed to address the foundational flaws of our healthcare system and further entrenched the moneyed interest. Their opponents, Republican/Conservative/Taxpayers-nominated Joe DioGuardi and R/C Jay Townsend are reasonable and seasonable alternatives. Vote for them.
  • Congressional Races: Greater Rochester is gerrymandered (by the state GOP) among 4 districts - 25, 26, 28, and 29. In district 25, incumbant Dan Maffei (D) faces a challenge from Anne Buerkle, who is nominated by the Independence Party as well as the R/C/T, and endorsed by Rudy Giuliani.
    In district 26, Chris Lee's opponent, Phil Fedele (D) doesn't even have a website. Vote against the incumbant here as a matter of principle - it won't matter, and it's better if representatives can't take their seats for granted.
    District 28 is home to Louise Slaughter (D), one of Pelosi's key lieutenants. She has the Independence nomination, and is the Chair of the Rules Committee, as well as co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus and a lavish expropriator, currently trumpeting a cyclotron for the University at Buffalo. How many 28th-District residents will benefit from the cyclotron? All of us will pay for it with higher taxes and lower government benefits in the future. Slaughter's opponent this year is Jill Rowland, a Buffalo dentist who is one of the few candidates to pass Project Vote Smart's Courage Test. This is the time to send Slaughter a message that her district is not benefitting from the hard-left policies she is pushing in Congress.
    District 29 chose Eric Massa (D) two years ago as a centrist reformer. He went to Washington and told fellow Democrats he would do what was best for his district even if the district opposed it - i.e. "I know better than you!" Then he had one too many tickle fights with his staffers in their frat house, and resigned in disgrace. Vying to replace him are Corning Mayor Tom Reed (R,C,I) and CIA officer Matt Zeller (D,W). Reed has been endorsed by the Democrat & Chronicle and has executive experience in business and local government. Zeller is hard to learn about - his website proclaims that he's "not a politician" instead of posting positions on important issues. His endorsements come from labor and veterans groups. If he disagreed with any key portion of Pelosi's leftist agenda, it would likely show up on his site.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On Zithers

There once was a boy with a zither
Habituated rather to dither
His mother, less pensive
Said: "That was expensive
From hither, don't dither, play zither!"

Monday, October 18, 2010

Real Health Care Reform?

It appears that the Obama Justice Department is on a mission to reform health care and lower costs by increasing competition. In a Michigan lawsuit, Justice is alleging that Blue Cross Blue Shield's signed agreements with most of the state's hospitals to set minimum prices that they can charge to BCBS competitors, in exchange raising the BCBS reimbursement rate a bit, are anticompetitive. This looks like basic monopolistic behavior, and it's disturbing to see it coming from a non-profit organization.

The fundamental inefficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system arise from perverse incentives inherent in the overgrown health insurance industry. Global Review is cheered to see the Obama Administration taking on the powerful insurance companies instead of entrenching them, as it did in the partisan health care reform bill earlier this year.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Home Cooking

Most who know me at home know I find it enjoyable to cook, and especially enjoyable to eat. So riddle me this: what comestible did I make recently with just four ingredients.
  1. A common household cleaner.
  2. Something containing trace amounts of cyanide.
  3. Something that kills your cells on contact in high enough concentrations.
  4. A substitute for gasoline.
I'll give you just one more hint: it's delicious!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mankiw On Tax Rates

Greg Mankiw, author of the most common introductory texts in economics, lays it on the line with a clever little treatment of tax incentives in the NYTimes.
If there were no taxes of any kind, $1,000 of income would translate into $1,000 in extra saving. If I invested it in the stock of a company that earned, say, 8 percent a year on its capital, then 30 years from now, when I pass on, my children would inherit about $10,000.

Now let’s put taxes into the calculus... 39.6 percent in federal income taxes on that extra income... 1.2 percentage points... Medicare tax, which the recent health care bill is raising to 3.8 percent... 5.3 percent in state income taxes... that $1,000 of pretax income becomes only $523 of saving, and no longer earns 8 percent... 35 percent corporate tax on its earnings... the $523 in saving grows to $1,700 after 30 years... estate tax...

My kids will get, at most, $1,000 of it.
I wonder how many Econ professors will assign this article along with Mankiws textbook this semester? Hat tip to AidWatch.

Capitalism and Underground Survival

WSJ has a paean to the innovators whose products saved the lives of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped a full half-mile below the earth's surface.
If those miners had been trapped a half-mile down like this 25 years ago anywhere on earth, they would be dead. What happened over the past 25 years that meant the difference between life and death for those men? Short answer: the Center Rock drill bit.
It's a valid point: while mining accidents have occurred for hundreds of years, high-stakes mine rescues are relatively new. Twenty-five years ago, maybe even 10 years ago, these guys would have died. Instead, high-tech companies offered some really tremendous industrial products.
Center Rock Inc. is a private company in Berlin, Pa. It has 74 employees... Seeing the disaster, Center Rock's president, Brandon Fisher, called the Chileans to offer his drill. Chile accepted. The miners are alive...

The high-strength cable winding around the big wheel atop that simple rig is from Germany. Japan supplied the super-flexible, fiber-optic communications cable that linked the miners to the world above...Samsung of South Korea supplied a cellphone that has its own projector. Jeffrey Gabbay, the founder of Cupron Inc. in Richmond, Va., supplied socks made with copper fiber that consumed foot bacteria, and minimized odor and infection.
Whether the companies above donated their items or sold them to the Chilean government is not mentioned in the article: and it's beside the point. The main point is that the companies created something almost ex nihilo. They created markets for their products by meeting human needs or desires, they charged prices that would give salaries to their workers and profits to their investors, and they improved - and in this case saved - human lives.

The author points out that government response in disasters is vital, and can be brilliant (as Chile's in both the mine and 8.8 earthquake) or awful (the U.S. in Hurricane Katrina and the BP spill; China frequently). But the government's less dramatic policies - free trade agreements, taxes on capital - will determine whether technology advances rapidly or slowly, and thus whether the frontier of human ability is advanced ahead of future disasters.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Taxing the Poor

A new study reports that the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts will hurt the poor most. The tax increase scheduled for January 1 would eat up 6.7% of the income of a family of 4 earning $40,000. That's enormous! But Pelosi and company decided to adjourn Congress early rather than deal with the most pressing economic issue facing Americans.

Hat tip to BOTWT.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day and Hypocrites

Lots of people will say politically correct things about how wrong and evil Christopher Columbus was in discovering the western Hemisphere and initiating the subjugation of its inhabitants. My only question: when are you selling your house and moving back to Europe?

Friday, October 8, 2010


This comedically dumb corruption in New Jersey - Democrats planted a Tea Party candidate to split the conservative vote - shows why there isn't more corruption in American politics. It's just too easy to get caught.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dems: Not too principled, not too smart

Two hundred and ten Democratic Congressmen voted to adjourn the House of Representatives today without addressing the biggest issue of the session: how much of the Bush Tax Cuts to extend. Thirty-nine Democrats joined one hundred and seventy Republicans voting against adjournment.

Clearly, Democratic leadership doesn't want to force its many vulnerable members to take a tough vote on taxes before standing for re-election. That's understandable, but they're doing a great deal of damage to the economy simply by leaving this momentous uncertainty hanging in the air for another month.

The tax increase takes effect January 1st; anyone hiring a new employee right now has to take into account that taxes may, or may not, rise sharply in just a few months. The government often daydreams about having positive ways to affect the economy: here it is, folks! Pass sensible tax legislation, well in advance, instead of playing head games with America's job creators.

However, hightailing it from Washington for political expediency might not actually help Democrats. They've helped guarantee that the lousy economy will continue and that fewer employers will make new hires. Voters will (rightly or wrongly) lay the persistent 10% unemployment rate on Democrats' doorsteps, and vote the bums out if things don't improve sharply in the next month. So Democrats may have outsmarted themselves and abandoned what little sense of adult responsibility they had, all in one fell swoop.

Taxes aren't the only thing left undone by this Congress: there's no federal budget with a new fiscal year starting on Friday. This is a fundamental failure by Congress to do its job. And don't blame the GOP: a bare majority is all that Pelosi needs to pass whatever Democrats want in the lower house. There's plenty of blame to go on the GOP side when they are in power.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Big in Brockton

NYTimes profiles Brockton High School, a 4,100-student behemoth in a lower-class Massachusetts immigrant town. Growing up on Boston's South Shore, I knew "Brockton" as a byword for crumminess. Brockton was sometimes the punchline of the joke, "The South may have invented white trash, but [insert trashy town here] perfected it."

Some teachers (unionized teachers!) have changed that, at least at the high school. Kudos to Dr. Szachowicz and friends for bringing grassroots change to the teaching culture, and kudos to the administration for stepping back and letting the educators take control.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pritchett on Obama on Development

President Obama laid out the clearest manifest of his administration on aid, and, according to well-respected economist Lant Pritchett, got most of it right. His guest post at AidWatch covers the highlights.

Calling all Reagan Democrats

A masterful remake of the "Morning in America" ad is about to hit the airwaves, says the LATimes. It's called "Mourning in America". If - like me - you were too young to remember the original, watch them both, and imagine the effect that'll have on Democrats who switched over to vote for Reagan in '84.

Hat tip to Drudge.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Marxist or the Witch?

Delaware Senate voters have no good choices for Senate in the race to replace Joe Biden. The pragmatic centrist in the race, Rep. Mike Castle, is a Republican but could not hold his base together and did not understand the level of disgust with Washington and the status quo. Perhaps, since he'd been in public life since 1966, he was not the best choice.

But Delawarians now face a choice between a Republican so nutty that former staffers hate her and she once joked about dabbling in witchcraft, and a Democrat who called himself a 'Marxist' in college. Presumably, they've both grown up, though the Democrat - Chris Coons - has executive experience to prove that hypothesis, whereas questions abound about Christine O'Donnell.

Global Review seriously considered endorsing Coons. He is, after all, more experienced and a known quantity, unless the Marxist thing rears its head.

But here's the kicker: if O'Donnell turns out to be a flake, she'll lose in 2014. Coons, unless he does something criminal, would be a lifetime appointment in Dem-heavy Delaware. When choosing between two bad representatives, choose the one you can un-elect later.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tea Party Zeitgeist

Peggy Noonan takes a stab at explaining the Tea Party movement today. She does as good a job as anyone so far, illustrating how individual voters became so frustrated with their tepid GOP representation that they struck out on their own.

The Tea Party has no central leadership, despite the best efforts of Sarah Palin and Dick Armey. And it has massive "sympathy" from the electorate; Noonan cites the statistics that while a full 20% of voters identify as "Tea Party members", more than half of voters "favor" the Tea Party. More than half! That bodes well for Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, and others who are being praised - and tarred - as Tea Partiers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trickle-Down Economics

Poverty has reached its highest level in the 50 years of recorded American history. Of course, the arbitrary line defining poverty has moved up over time, so this is not to say people are actually poorer than their grandparents, but they are certainly poorer than they were a few years ago.

It's a trope on the left now to mock "trickle-down economics", the notion that wealth created by the wealthy and talented drips down to those below them. The ugliness of the analogy aside, this notion was hammered hard during the Bush years, which saw substantial economic growth, but saw it concentrated in the top half of the income profile.

Does anyone, however, doubt that we're in the midst of a trickle-down recession? It began as a 'rich-man's panic', with stock portfolios tumbling and real estate investors losing big while the real economy chugged along healthily. After six months or so, however, job losses started piling up and a full-scale recession hit in the last quarter of 2008.

Now that the focus is on the recovery, why does "trickle-down economics" get such a bad name? If anything, the fat-cat bankers and annoying-at-parties investment bankers should have made themselves (and their conspicuous consumption) missed. These folks aren't the ones entering poverty, but those who are newly poor are painfully aware of the complementarity of capitalist, entrepreneur, and labor in creating jobs.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Introducing: Archipelago

My sister Polly is in Indonesia this year on a Fulbright teaching scholarship. She'll be in a remote town teaching English. Her new blog might be some of the best writing in the blogosphere; when Polly turns a phrase, it stays turned.

Notes from an Archipelago" will be in the blogroll; enjoy.

It's All the Media's Fault

NEWSFLASH: Blogger criticizes mainstream media!
NEWSFLASH: Dog bites man!

The world media appears to be in an uproar about one (and maybe several) "Christian" pastors who are planning to burn copies of the Quran on Sept 11th, which is the 10th 9th anniversary of the hateful attacks. And as we know, Jesus taught his followers to fight fire with fire and hate with hate.

But if this spark of hate metastasizes into a global conflagration, and especially if people die, the fault lies with the media. There's a lot of hateful, idiotic opinions in the world, and it is nowhere written that the media has a responsibility to give each of them a voice. Imagine if the media wrote stories about what some dumb blogger posted every time a controversial opinion popped up on the internet.

This "pastor" wanted fifteen minutes of fame, and the media has obliged obsequiously.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lighting Up the Course

Stranger than fiction: A California golfer set a golf course on fire when his club hit a rock in the rough. The surrounding grass was dry enough to light, and the ensuing conflagration consumed 25 acres.

He is reportedly taking a mulligan on the shot.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Evil Empires

Baseball is always said to be "as American as apple pie". But it looks like the national pastime is swindling taxpayers.* This wasn't always a secret - in a year when New York state is delaying tax returns because it can barely pay its employees, the state and city chipped in $400 million toward new stadiums for the New York Yankees and Mets. You know, those impoverished teams who could benefit so much by ditching New York and moving to Hartford!

New York elected officials aren't the only ones seduced by the big lights and exciting athletes, the free tickets, and the threat of being demoted from the status of "major league city". In many cities, billionaires beg for handouts from the state because of the unprofitability of their sports team (which they bought for a hobby the way I play fantasy football). Does it not occur to the cities that these owners typically have bigger annual surpluses than the cities themselves? Or that a sports franchise leaving reflects poorly on the franchise - not on the city?

But the latest act of public malfeasance committed by a filthy rich owner of an "unprofitable" team was downright dishonesty. Jeff Passan outlines the dishonesty of the Florida Marlins, who claimed that they barely broke even, when in fact they were secretly pocketing $25 million a year from revenue-sharing. Deadspin got a hold of leaked documents, and the Marlins owners are calling the leak a crime. The real crimes were their lying to public officials and the public officials taking the Marlins' word without concrete documentation.

Miami fans: boycott your team, vote out your incumbents, and throw stones at Jeffrey Loria's limousine until he repays the city every cent of its $500 million "investment" in the Marlins' huckster scheme. The Marlins have started construction and are on the hook - they can't afford to ditch the under-construction stadium. You break it, you own it.

* this sentence can, and should, be read two ways.

Monday, August 23, 2010



To: NFL advertising execs
From: A "football" fan
Date: 23 August 2010

The potential confusion over the word "Football" is also a potential goldmine of NFL promotion. While many Americans are being turned on to Metric Football, many are also turned off. The flopping and diving in the World Cup highlights not only the worst aspect of Metric Football, but also the tough side of NFL Football.

The ad concept consists of a series of football action footage, a shot from the World Cup, and then a shot from the NFL. In each World Cup shot, two players will brush each other, and one (or both) will collapse in agony, rolling around and flailing his arms to signal a yellow card. In each NFL shot, the player will get lit up by a bone-crunching tackle, and jump to his feet triumphantly signalling a first down. Close the video with a baritone voice intoning, "this is American Football; this is the NFL", or some such.

Someone, somewhere, PLEASE make this video!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Obama and the Mosque

Bill Clinton had a "Sistah Souljah Moment", when he showed that there was a leftward limit to how far he would go. Now Barack Obama has a Mosque Moment, which shows that there is no limit on how far he believes his office reaches.

The U.S. presidency has long been described as the most powerful office in the world; POTUS is "the leader of the free world". But presidents have historically remained agnostic on local zoning disputes. But now that the Supreme Court has taken an activist role in empowering municipalities to (literally) bulldoze citizen concerns, it shouldn't be a shock that the Chief Executive wants to get involved.

Some Muslims want to build a tall building housing an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan. Some other Muslims destroyed a tall building housing some 3,000 office-workers in downtown Manhattan. They aren't the same Muslims. The Park51 crew claims to be "dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet." They are showing this dedication to pluralism and appreciation by ignoring the concerns of those who disagree with them and building their center right near Ground Zero despite nationwide opposition.

The relevant levels of government have sided (rightly) with the Park51 Muslims. America is a place where you have the right to build a 13-story building celebrating your faith and (unironically) your conquest of a Christian city. Imagine if Christians tried to build a similar building in a Muslim country, celebrating the civilization of Outremer. Anyway, huzzah for America's religious freedoms, and for New York City's government going through all the proper processes and allowing the permits, etc.

What did Obama have to add to this discussion? Maybe he could have had some back-room talks with the Park51 leaders about how the medium is the message, and how they would get a lot further with cultural understanding if they moved to Midtown. Maybe he could have asked them to build a sister center in the Arab Gulf, with the same "multifaith", "pluralistic" message. Or maybe he could have kept his thoughts to himself.

But he didn't. And he deserves the firestorm of criticism on the web, radio shows and cable TV that he's getting. Mr President, how dare you tell us how to zone our neighborhoods? Do you recognize no bounds on the limit of Federal power? What makes you think you are more wise the Cambridge police force, the New York zoning board, or the employees of the State of Indiana?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hipster Christianity

Brett McCracken has an article (and forthcoming book) saying in many words what I and others have often said: the church does not need to follow the culture to be relevant to people's lives. The culture can take care of itself. The church needs to follow Jesus.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mac is Catholic, DOS is Calvinist

Umberto Eco, brilliant novelist, wrote in 1994 about the competing computer systems. His thoughts were dredged up by Damian Thompson, discussing the perma-craze surrounding each generation of Apple products.
I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the “ratio studiorum” of the Jesuits.
Now the question: do more Catholics use macs than Protestants?

Hat tip to BOTWT

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ready to Go

I've got dancing shoes, walking shoes, water sandals, hiking boots, and bare feet. I've got a tiny flashlight and a maglight. I've got an extra-light sheet bag, a sleeping bag, an extra sleeping bag, and a lightweight emergency blanket. I've got a bathing suit, sunscreen, wool socks, and a warm fleece. I've got a passport, 10 pages of directions, and a giant atlas. I've got The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the radio play of the first six Chronicles of Narnia, and twelve other audiobooks. I've got my wife / co-pilot.

I'm ready to go West.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

America Confounds the Cynics

Washington has learned: when somebody cries "RACISM" in a crowded room, the panic won't end until someone's head rolls. Washington has learned: make someone else's head roll today and it won't be your head tomorrow. So when Andrew Breitbart posted video clips of a USDA employee making racially inflammatory remarks, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack moved with speed and got Shirley Sherrod to resign under pressure the same day.
"You know, the first time I was faced with helping a white farmer save his farm. He took a long time talking but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn't know, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland. And here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land, so I didn't give him the full force of what I could do... I figured if I take him to [a white lawyer], that his own kind would take care of him."
What has followed is ready-made for the Lifetime channel. Turns out, Breitbart's video was incomplete, and her March speech to the NAACP was about overcoming - not exacerbating - racial division. Now Vilsack, who tried to save his own neck from a cable-TV scaffolding, looks foolish. The NAACP, who condemned Sherrod without even fact-checking their own event, looks more foolish. And foolish would be a compliment to Andrew Breitbart in this case.

But outside of Washington, a funny thing happened: in a story of smears, lies, and coercion, a peculiar humanity showed through.
"Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who haven't. They could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to help poor people - those who don't have access the way others have."
With her life now under scrutiny, Shirley Sherrod has been lauded as a case study in overcoming adversity with grace. Her father was shot in the back and killed by a white man when she was 17. A white grand jury refused to bring charges. White USDA officials were skeptical of her agricultural co-operative and denied them loans during a drought.

But this time was different. Roger Spooner, the white farmer who Sherrod said "acted superior" when seeking help, came forward, along with his wife. The wife's live chat on WaPo today (usually a tedious medium) is endearingly folksy:
"That was just about two weeks before they were gonna sell our farm up at the courthouse. He got the Chapter 11 to stop it and Shirley Sherrod arranged it all and got it going. We would have lost everyting if it hadn't been for Shirley.
The farmers grew up, they said, as friends with blacks. In 1986, when Sherrod offered them a black lawyer in their town or a white lawyer 45 minutes away, they chose the local man (he was too busy, so they eventually switched). And when an acquaintance from 24 years ago was being tarred and feathered, the white farmers drove to Atlanta to set the story straight.
So we listened and me and Roger looked at each other and we said that she helped us when we really needed help and we were gonna try to help her.
Shirley saw White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs apologize to her on TV. She got a new job offer from Tom Vilsack to be high up in USDA working on civil rights issues. And she was asked whether she wanted an apology from President Obama. No, she said, but she would like to talk to him.
"[Obama]'s not someone who has experienced some of the things I've experienced through life being a person of color. He might need to hear some of what I could say to him. I don't know whether that would guide him in the way that he deals with others like me, but I'd at least like to have the opportunity to talk to him about it."
And the movie has a happy ending.
"Shirley called me today and told me she talked to the president. She wanted to come over tomorrow but we're gonna be busy; Roger's got to go to the doctor and then Saturday we've got funeral. Sunday she's gonna call me we'll decide then when we can get together. We didn't talk a long time. She said I know you're like me and we're both tired. She said it would be good to sleep in own tonight.
Washington, you've been confounded by America.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Overheard on the Youghiogheny

OK, technically this isn't anywhere near the Yough, and we didn't "hear" anything. But it was on the way there, and we saw it (oversaw it?) and it was hilarious.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Overheard on the Youghiogheny

Guy #1: Yeah, it's a cool job. I get to fly a helicopter, a small, maneuverable one like Magnum P.I. used.
Guy #2: Wow, I wish I could say that I go to work like Magnum P.I.
Guy #1: Just grow a mustache and start wearing Hawaiian shirts!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Intelligent Congressional Leaders?! Working together???!!!

This could be the best thing to come out of Washington in years. Leaders Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and John Boehner (R-OH) spoke in separate instances about the need to raise the retirement age to 70 for people now under 50 years of age. Absolutely! This is the single most important, obvious, and simple step in creating Social Security and Medicare solvency. The sooner the better.

Hat tip to Drudge.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Overheard on the Youghiogheny

Us: swimming down the rapids on the Loop
Kayaking Guide paddling by: Gnarly run! Don't let the State Park catch you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Red Meat

Ross Douthat at the NYTimes has some blood-boiling class warfare rhetoric (as far as conservatives go). He understates the degree to which the rich pay income taxes, but he's certainly right that those who work hard and pay taxes are subsidizing a panoply of well-connected special interests. If the Republican Party doesn't go after some of these interests with their nascent mandate, they'll be booted out again as quickly as they're racing in.

World Cup Recriminations

FIFA insists on showcasing its two most heartbroken teams in a 3rd-place match the day before the final both yearned to play in. They do this so that the number of matches in the 32-team World Cup is a beautifully symmetric 64. They also do this because the game showcases the best football of the entire tournament. Freed of the terror of losing, players stop gaming the referees, attack audaciously, and stop tripping each other.

In the competitive games, however, the quality of play decreases linearly with the quality of talent. The least talented teams - North Korea, New Zealand, the U.S.A. - play their hearts out, keep their noses clean, and emerge with respect (if not hardware). The best talents revert to playground tricks and duplicitous histrionics as they face tough competition. The World Cup final saw a team noted for aggressive play (Holland - my favorites) face a Spanish team noted for precision. Predictably, the Dutch broke up the Spanish midfield ballet with hard tackles and rapid attacks. Wonderful - that's good football. But they started playing for fouls, cards, and referee attention instead of for goals. One of the many eye-rolling moments of the match featured a Spanish attacked fouling a Dutch defender in the box. The referee missed it, but the Dutch player looked away from his man and threw up his hand to signal a foul before returning to playing defense. That's the epitome of a lousy game.

The epitome of bad refereeing (a theme throughout the tourney) occurred when a Spanish player had rolled around for a full 10 seconds, after a minor foul the referee didn't see. When the referee noticed the Spanish thespian's bravado performance, he stopped play and issued a yellow card by way of applause - for an infraction he did not even see!

To paraphrase Gregg Easterbrook, there is no immutable law that football must remain as globally popular as it now is. Many talk about what FIFA must do to win Americans over. Nay, FIFA must reform itself to hold onto European and Asian fans, who can and will shift their attention and Euros to other venues if international football continues down the road to travesty.

After watching more of this World Cup than any before, I suggest the following simple reforms for improving the matches.
  1. Use video review before issuing cards or awarding penalty kicks (not free kicks). Use video review of goals at the referee's request. Under this system, when the referee calls a foul, the free kick is taken and play continues. A centrally-located booth reviewer automatically gets all the video angles and takes his time determining whether a yellow card is deserved for either the infraction or for the dive. At the next break in play, the on-field referee issues any cards.
  2. Choose better referees. If a player born and playing in France qualifies as Algerian, why not a referee of Algerian descent who referees in France? Matches should not be officiated by lightweights like Koman Coulibaly.
  3. Add a referee per match. People are more attentive when they aren't exhausted, and an extra angle always helps.
  4. Make red cards a 45-minute power play, carrying over to the next match. Reds early in the match are too debilitating; Reds late in the match (e.g. Suarez) are too lenient. If booth review is a bridge too far, at least review all red cards between matches and rescind unfair ones for the subsequent match. FIFA can't bear admitting it is wrong. But if the Association behaves like a child, how can it expect adult behavior from its players?
  5. Never end a match with penalty kicks. Extra time is often goal-less because players are exhausted and defense is less taxing than offense. When extra time occurs, give longer breaks to let players catch their breath. That's more time for commercials ($$$) and the revived players will reward you with better play. Also, award one or two extra substitutions to each team at the start of each 15-minute overtime period. After the first half-hour extra time, continue 15-minute extra time periods indefinitely (with a new sub for each one), like a baseball game in extra innings. Could it be insanely long? Yes, maybe. But that would also be insanely exciting. And anything is better than penalty kicks, which is like settling a draw in Chess by playing War.
Thematically, what's wrong with FIFA is a breakdown in respect. The referees and the association exact enormous penalties at will, but are subject to big margins of error. They refuse to admit that they may be wrong. The players respond by gaming the system and playing flop instead of playing football. The refs demand respect instead of earning it, and the players openly mock the system. A more humble approach by FIFA ("We're wrong sometimes") would lead to more respect for the game among players. And all of that would lead to the best football being played at the highest level in front of the largest audience - and isn't that what everyone wants?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: The Real Story Behind the Russian Spies

GLOBAL REVIEW EXCLUSIVE: Why did 10 deep-cover Russian spies get arrested right after a visit by President Medvedev to Washington? Easy - he gave them up. Originally, the spies had been put in place to pose as ordinary U.S. citizens and spy on those who hold the levers of power in America.

After a decade or two, however, the Russian handlers were fed up: the spies had succeeded in becoming "ordinary Americans", but had also discovered that ordinary Americans know very little about what goes on behind the closed doors of the powerful! And what little we do know comes from the internet.

A quick cost-benefit analysis by Medvedev's people determined that the best alternative was to abort the program and buy a high-speed internet modem. To avoid the high cost of 10 retired-spy pensions (bitter spies are dangerous at home), the Russkies gave up their people to a lifetime in U.S. prisons.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The beam that is in thine own eye

Democrats in Washington have come to an agreement palatable to the Congress, Senate, and White House on financial reform. No doubt some financial reform was needed; whether 2000 incomprehensible pages were needed is another story.

The good news about the banking sector is that (whether thanks to or inspite of TARP) the remaining banks are solvent, have not needed more bailout money despite the recession, and appear to be running normally. But two huge enterprises are still sucking up taxpayer money and barreling along toward financial ruin: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Here's what the exhaustive, 2000-page financial diktat does to reform Fannie & Freddie: .

That's right, nothing. In fact, the Wall Street Journal notes, Government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain a multibillion dollar drain on the U.S. Treasury, and largely untouched by this proposal. The Federal government contributed heftily to causing a housing crisis by pushing marginal buyers into homes for two decades, and guaranteeing their mortgages through Fannie & Freddie. They blamed Wall Street, are socking them with 2000 pages of fees and regulations... and leaving the beam in their own eye untouched.

On the upside, with the prospect of all those new regulations, fine print, and slogging court battles, financial lawyers everywhere just got expensive dinner reservations for their families to celebrate.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Slam Dunk!

President Obama does the right thing by removing loose-lipped Gen'l Stanley McChrystal and replacing him with Gen'l David Petraeus. Petraeus had been at CENTCOM, overseeing the Aghanistan and Iraq wars from a distance. Now he'll get the chance to work in Afghanistan with the same talent - and hopefully comparable results - as he displayed in Iraq.

You ^&#!@ set of Algerines!

America has a long history of rivalry with Algeria leading into their decisive World Cup match today. OK, mainly an old history of conflict. North African pirates ravaged American shipping to the Mediterranean, and "Algerine" was almost synonymous with "Pirate".

In Milton, Massachusetts, Algerine Corner commemorates an event (or legend) in which a local citizen cursed young miscreants as a "set of Algerines".*

The Marine Corps anthem and the U.S.S. Constitution commemorate the First Barbary War, a naval excursion to punish the pirates and the states that harbored them - mainly in modern Algeria.

Thus, game-time taunts can include:
  • Making fun of the Algerian mascot, the Fennec. Nice ears, Belhadj!
  • Any insult ending with "you &$%%@! set of Algerines".
  • Referring to the game as the "Third Barbary War".
  • Humming the Marine Corps anthem.
  • Chanting "Egypt's Better".
* The History of Milton, Mass, 1640-1877 attributes the remark to Hon. Edward H. Robbins, a Milton scion born in 1758.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bush / Obama

A poll of Louisianans last week found that most respondents think President Bush did a better job of handling Hurricane Katrina than President Obama has been doing handling the Deepwater Horizon gusher. Prof Paul Rubin gives some reasons why that shouldn't be a surprise. While Rubin ignores some key communication failures within the Bush administration, the dichotomy in actions possible / actions taken is striking.

A Run of Luck

David Brooks points out what an incredible run of political good luck Democrats have had in the past few years. Why, then, has the country turned so sharply against Democrat-style liberalism? Brooks spins a modern Dr. Faustus trading his soul to the devil:
"First, I would like the nation to be hurled into an economic crisis caused by Wall Street greed and recklessness. This will discredit free-market fundamentalism once and for all...

"[F]ind the smartest Democratic politician in the land and make him president...

"Then I would like you to create a political climate so he can immediately enact an $800 billion spending package... [and] a universal health care law. This will show a grateful nation that government can provide basic security."

"Just to be sure, I would like a multinational oil company to cause the biggest environmental disaster in American history."
Shouldn't Democrats be utterly ascendant right now? In crises of economy and environment, isn't the 'Mommy Party' favored? With Big Business looking worse than Enron, and regulations apparently missing all over the place, isn't the Party of Regulation in great demand?

Apparently not.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

No Fault?

New York is considering a unilateral no-fault divorce law. This law essentially eviscerates the contract of marriage before law, and should be fought by Christian conservatives more vociferously than gay-marriage laws. A thoughtful review of the issues by Stephanie Coontz is posted on NYTimes.

Bilateral no-fault divorce will always occur. Coontz discusses how cooperating couples can easily work around any law requiring fault. While no-fault divorce is unacceptable in orthodox Christianity, it is unavoidable in a tolerant society. New York's current system is healthy: a no-fault divorce requires a signed separation agreement, 1 year, and mutual consent.

Unilateral no-fault divorce is another story. In a unilateral no-fault, one spouse decides to abort the marriage over the objections of the other spouse. Unlike the bilateral case, it essentially involves one party seeking to break the contract of marriage despite no breach by the other party. This is monumentally unfair to the faithful partner, especially if he or she gave up other avenues of advancement to invest in what has been called "marriage capital". It gives a legal thumbs up to abandonment and strips the legal commitment of marriage of meaning.

A better alternative to the proposed law would be a unilateral divorce in which the abandoning party rescinds any claim to jointly held assets. That is, the house, bank accounts, cars, and any belongings normally subject to division would instead go to the faithful spouse. All outstanding debts would follow the divorcer. Thus, the law would enforce the contractual nature of marriage by making default costly. This would buttress the existing child-support system to enforce at least financial responsibility on spouses who do not take their commitments seriously.

Christians, this is your political battlefront. This already passed the Senate and is headed for the Assembly. Write your representative, and let him or her know that you want the state to respect marriage contracts.

Introducing: Indexed

Hat tip to STW for linking to a brilliant webcomic, Indexed. It'll stay on the blogroll until I get bored of the concept.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Obama Takes Action!

The President is not just talk,talk,talk on the oil spill crisis (now in Day 58). He's taking action, and has volunteers taking action all across the Gulf Coast.

In all seriousness, President Obama needs to tell his political handlers to shut up and let him focus on the actual business at hand. He's flying down to the Gulf every time there's a perceived need for him to appear involved. And - unlike Bill Clinton - he's not convincing. Even some of his most loyal, liberal supporters were sharply critical of his latest speech. It had all the trappings of decisive authority, taking place in the sacred Oval Office, but lacked substance.

America is not as foolish as Washington thinks it is. Obama, Pelosi, and friends constantly bemoan their "failure to communicate" (on health care, on cap and trade, on the oil spill). The real problem is that they have succeeded in communicating. They've communicated their priorities of politics over substance, they've communicated their unwillingness to make hard decisions. Above all, Obama has communicated his own helplessness to stop the oil leak. I can't stop it either, of course, but I don't compound my weakness by pretending that I can.

Osh Burning

If you can find Osh on a map, you're special. It's in Kyrgyzstan, near the Uzbek border, and is - or was - an ethnically mixed city. News reports are filtering out; here's a firsthand email from a Russian living in Osh:
"We are in the center of a war in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. It is impossible to imagine the horror of the situation here!! The news is only reporting a small portion of what is actually going on. It is ethnic cleansing if you can call it that. Whole blocks of Uzbek homes have been torched and burned. Women and children are being mercilessly killed. Many bodies and injured people are lying in the streets without anyone to help. Kyrgyz youth under the influence of alcohol and drugs are running wild in the streets killing anyone and burning whatever lies in their paths. This ethnic tension (between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks) has existed under the surface for many years but recently has been stirred up for political purposes. Because of this, it appears that authorities are doing nothing to stop the conflict and are silent. It seems that the whole situation was planned out in advance and that no one planned to put a stop to it.

"One of my relatives went out today at great risk to get groceries for his household. On his way he saw an old man badly injured who was lying in the street. He wanted to help him and turned him over onto his back. Immediately a group of young men ran up and starting kicking the old man fiercely. My relative heard one of these youths say, "He's Kyrgyz" Another said, "No he's Uzbek, let's set him on fire." When my relative returned the old man lay burned to death. Officially the government has issued an order to shoot to kill anyone with a weapon but in reality no one is carrying out this order. These horrendous acts are continuing to take place. Police and soldiers are patrolling the streets but doing nothing to stop the violence. Last night bandits broke into an army storage facility where weapons, helicopters, tanks, etc were stored. We couldn't imagine where these simple people had obtained so many weapons before and now they have even more weapons, plus army equipment! On top of all of this there is a shortage of food as the stores have been vandalized. When our food supply runs out we will go hungry. The news is reporting that humanitarian aid is getting in but the supply is very limited. Not long ago bread was given out but for some reason they refused to give it to the Russians. We are not concerned about humanitarian aid, we simply want to live!

Some news reports are saying that things are getting more stable but the truth is it is getting worse. My goal in writing this is to the get word out to the world about what is actually happening here. We are afraid that we will be forgotten and alone in this crisis with no one coming to our aid. Presently they are not coming against us as Russians but we believe it is only a matter of time before they turn on us. People have "tasted blood" with no consequences and will not stop the killing. We are living in a state of fear.

Please send this information out to as many people as possible. This is our urgent plea for help."
Our prayers go out to those living in and fleeing from Osh.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


The Netherlands held parliamentary elections today. It looks like a center-right coalition with a mandate to curb deficits will emerge. If I were a Dutchman, I think I would vote for this niche party.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Some excellent readings for this week:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Celtic Drumbeat

Boston is getting hyped up for Celtics v. Lakers XII. Ian Rider has the best soliloquy. An excerpt:
This team doesn't have a bandwagon, they take prisoners. There is no hopping on and off. They batter you into submission, tie you up, and toss you in the back with the rest of their victims. This team does not campaign for your votes. This is a coup d'etat, not an election. Just ask the swing states how they feel about the new Green Party. The citizens of Florida and Ohio can testify.

Friday, May 28, 2010


AidWatch sums up a cool episode of This American Life which follows an NGO trying to help Haitian mango farmers sell more fruit by using plastic milk crates. It's harder than it sounds.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Even Worse on Health

Obama has done a terrible job attempting / failing / pretending to reform the U.S. health entitlement system. Now he's put the worst man possible in a key job. Michael Tanner from the Cato Institute has the rundown:
Obama’s pick, Dr. Donald Berwick, is an outspoken admirer of the British National Health Service and its rationing arm, the National Institute for Clinical Effectiveness (NICE)...

The one thing the NHS is good at is saving money. After all, it is far cheaper to let the sick die than to provide care. At the forefront of this cost-based rationing is NICE... With the creation of NICE, the U.K. government has effectively put a dollar amount to how much a citizen’s life is worth. To be exact, each year of added life is worth approximately $44,305 (£30,000)...

To Dr. Berwick , this is exactly how it should be. “NICE is not just a national treasure,” he says, “it is a global treasure.”
I can stomach someone who believes that NICE is a necessary evil, or part of a larger scheme working for the good. But to consider "a treasure" a body whose core work is to remove the power of life and death from doctors and patients and give it to bureaucrats... scary!

See earlier post for more on NICE and its prescient double in literature.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oil & Hypocrisy

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and other Republicans shrilly blaming the Federal government for its slothful response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are accused by big-government proponents as hypocrites. You've spent your career calling for smaller government, and now you want the government to act for you? On the right, Jindal and others take flak for being sharply critical of BP. Don't criticize Big Oil, they're on "our side"! You're becoming a lefty.

But Jindal is exactly right. There's a massive environmental disaster going on, and he's calling to account those who had responsibility for the spill. Dealing with the consequences of ones own actions is the heart of conservatism, no? Perhaps offshore oil drilling regulation ought to devolve from the Department of the Interior to the states, but that's a matter for the future. As it is now, MMS employees were "captured" by the companies they were supposed to regulate. They and their bosses ought to face blame and take responsibility.

Even more so, BP should be fully accountable and should fully pay for this error. Every last cent of the cleanup should be billed to the company. After all, they kept all the profits when the well was pumping black gold up from the ocean floor, right? Conservatism defends the right to turn a profit, but it must also defend society against absorbing mistakes made by businesses. Bailing out Freddie, Fanny, Wall Street, Detroit, and now potentially BP (a foreign firm!) grates against the conscience of any true conservative.

If BP fails to pay for the cleanup from this disaster, it should be barred from doing business in the United States until its debt is paid. This isn't an anti-business stance, it's a pro-business stance. The long-term viability of capitalism depends on rights to property and responsibility.

Likewise, calling government to account for its responsibilities is a key aspect of small-government conservatism. There's a pragmatism behind small government: nobody is good at doing a little bit of everything. Better for Washington to do its core missions well than to do some of everything (sell cars, educate children, rebuild Afghanistan, etc) poorly. Regulating the competitive marketplace to prevent monopoly and to enforce contracts is a fundamental mission of national government. Holding bureaucrats, regulators, and politicians accountable for the "public service" they were hired to do is right in line with small-government beliefs.

Monday, May 24, 2010

U.S. Airways Sucks

In related news, I drove to Ithaca last night to pick up my wife at the airport at 11pm. And yeah, I know, Ithaca has an airport!

US Airways is a full-price, unionized carrier. But they cancelled not just my wife's departing flight from Rochester (delaying her 3 hours) but also her return flight! The excuse? There were not enough passengers. So I'm sure she'll fly US Airways again, but only on the comp tickets they give us to make up for this sham of a travesty.

Also in related news, I <3 Rt. 96A.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Accidental Blueprint

The New York Times magazine has a heady article about education reform in the Obama Administration. It presents the "Race to the Top" program as a huge success in using just $4 billion in federal funds to create massive reform throughout the states.
By late March, when the first round of the Race ended, it was clear that [reformist advisor Jon] Schnur’s spin had worked “better than any of us imagined,” he says. Thousands of local news stories across the country speculated about how particular states were faring, some of them breathlessly referring to the “March Madness” as governors, state legislators and bureaucrats rushed to consider reforms that might improve their chances. Forty states and the District of Columbia entered the first round. Fifteen, including such union strongholds as California, Ohio and Michigan, passed laws or revised regulations aimed at boosting their chances. Before Duncan had dispensed a nickel, the country had seen more school reform than it had in decades. And still more is being debated as the deadline for a second round of proposals looms next week and states, including New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, hustle to do more to boost their scores.
Just as labor market competition makes better teachers, interstate competition creates better institutions. Governor Chris Christie convinced voters that New Jersey had become uncompetitive and was losing out to its neighbors. He's focused on reforming New Jersey's institutions.

At the Federal level, Schnur and Arne Duncan's "Race to the Top" has accidentally shown how powerful Federal dollars can be - if they are deployed competitively. Right now, earmarked projects for states are doled out on the basis of seniority and influence of each state's representatives. That's promotes incumbency and cronyism. Suppose comprehensive earmark reform took place. Federal projects would still need to take place somewhere, and it's not inconceivable that bids to host expanded Federal installations could be evaluated rigorously according to a formula that takes reforms and improvements into account and pushes states to adopt better institutions.

Of course, this approach could be abused: Federal power is only as incorrupt as those wielding it. The amazing results of Race to the Top really speak to the qualities of Schnur, Duncan at all, which the Times Magazine article is right to focus on. The best institutional approach would be to kick more and more aspects of government back down from the Federal to the State level, where they belong. That should start with earmark reform.

Friday, May 14, 2010


The GOP has long accused the Democrats of making America "more like Europe". In their more candid moments (typically involving Duvel or a Beaujolais), Democrats respond "Good! We ought to be more like Europe."

There's a real argument here, but politically, it's time for Republicans to make hay. The argument writes itself: Why not build a Euro-entitlement system? Because (a) you have to pay for it even in tight times and (b) people will burn down their own cities rather than accept cuts.

Some heads-up Republicans are seizing the opportunity. Rep Mike Pence (R-IN) headlines a crowd pushing to keep U.S. funding out of the IMF bailout of Greece and co. Democrats would be wise to agree. We have our own debt problems; why should we go further into debt to help bail out Greece, Portugal, and Spain?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mortgage-Backed Securities and Risk Magnification

Friend Andrew linked to an amazing Marginal Revolution article about how risk works in the creation of mortgage-backed securities. As Andrew said, this is mandatory reading. Here's the punchline:
Suppose that...we later discover the true probability [of a single mortgage defaulting] is not .05 but .06. In terms of our original mortgages the true default rate is 20 percent higher than we thought--not good but not deadly either. However, with this small error, the probability of default in the 10 tranche jumps from p=.0282 to p=.0775, a 175% increase. Moreover, the probability of default of the CDO jumps from p=.0005 to p=.247, a 45,000% increase!
The article links to the underlying math, but it's mindblowing just how sensitive these "low-risk" instruments are to the estimation of the underlying risk.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


President Obama was never going to appoint a Supreme Court justice in the Thomas-Alito mold, or even in the Kennedy-O'Connor style. Given that he's a liberal president, Elena Kagan is, on most counts, a laudable choice. She's got a pragmatic reputation, and has shown respect for conservative viewpoints. On substance, she's probably a loyal liberal, especially taking a leftist view of equal protection. But she seems more likely to make middle-of-the-court deals and less likely to hold out for extreme judgements or alienate average Americans with solicitude toward "protected" groups.

The one strike against Ms. Kagan is that she has never served as a judge at any level. Her legal expertise is beyond questioning, but jurists have been known to metamorphosize upon appointment to the high court (see: Souter, David) and those with short records are especially risky in that regard.

Republicans should give her a rigorous and respectful hearing, and make her go on record on the key procedural issues of the role of the high court. But using the filibuster or fulminating publicly about Kagan would merely show Obama that compromise and conciliation are worthless.