URLs du Jour


Aieee! August already?!

  • Understandably contrite after passing a farm bill that makes most of us a little poorer, Congress is set to … pass another bill to make most of us a little poorer still by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports.
    Retaliatory tariffs on China are tantamount to taxing ourselves as a punishment. Worse, such a move will likely encourage China to impose its own tariffs, increasing the possibility of a futile and harmful trade war. American consumers and businesses would pay the price for this senseless war through higher prices, worse jobs, and reduced economic growth.
    This, from a petition signed by 1.028 kiloeconomists. At the link, Dan Drezner is pessimistic that economic literacy will suddenly bloom at the US Capitol as a result.

  • Speaking (again, sorry) of the farm bill, there's a correction to one of the items I linked to, wherein it was claimed that the support of the Congressional Black Caucus was purchased by a "promise to spend $1.1 million on settling racial discrimination claims from the 1990s."

    It now turns out that the actual purchase price was more like $100 million.

    Which reminds me of the old joke:

    George Bernard Shaw was at a party once and he told this woman that everyone would agree to do anything for money, if the price was high enough.

    `Surely not,' she said.

    `Oh yes,' he said.

    'Well, I wouldn't,' she said.

    `Oh yes you would.' he said. `For instance,' he said, `would you sleep with me for... for a million pounds?'

    `Well,' she said, `maybe for a million I would, yes.'

    `Would you do it for ten shillings?' said Bernard Shaw.

    `Certainly not!' said the woman `What do you take me for? A prostitute?'

    `We've established that already, madame.' said Bernard Shaw. `We're just trying to fix your price now!'"

    As any economist will tell you, accurate price information is a must.

  • The current issue of The New Yorker has a pretty good article on the history of spam. No, the e-mailed kind. Two things from the article I didn't know:
    • The first known spam was sent by an employee of the Digital Equipment Corporation in 1978 on the Arpanet; he invited about 600 users to attend a product shindig for the DECSystem 20. He got a lot of hostile reaction for his unsolicited marketing pitch, but the company "sold more than twenty of the computer systems, for a million dollars apiece." Richard Stallman makes an appearance in the controversy.

    • And here's a variety of spam I haven't gotten yet (as far as I know; I don't read all of it):
      In May, death-threat spam began to appear. The message comes from a "hit man" hired to kill the recipient. "I have been hired to assassinate you," the mail typically begins. "I do not know why they want you dead, but you are now being watched." Any user scared or gullible enough to respond will be asked to wire money to save his life. The amount varies.
      I think spammers are generally despicable, but that makes all the Viagra spam look respectable in comparison.

  • You might have seen one of the many news stories about Oscar, a cat who lives in a Providence, RI nursing home, and (it's said) "seems to know when people are about to die." Under his own volition, Oscar jumps up on the patients' beds a few hours beforehand, and stays until the bucket is kicked.

    I hadn't see a skeptical take on this until Daniel Engber's Slate article today.

    It wouldn't be that amazing if Oscar really could tell when someone's about to die. After all, we're not that bad at figuring it out ourselves. Since Dosa's essay was published, other researchers have argued that the cat might be using its acute sense of smell to detect a patient's organs shutting down. But you don't need a superhuman nose to suss out the bouquet of death. Kidney or liver failure can cause waste products or acids to build up in the bloodstream, and patients with these conditions sometimes have a noxious or sweet aroma on their breath. A nurse who knows what he's doing can sniff out a dying patient, too.
    Also, Engber refers to Oscar as the "grim reap-purr." Good for a "heh!"

Last Modified 2012-10-17 3:50 PM EDT