URLs du Jour


  • Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: the frog from Hell.

  • I try to remember to capitalize Hell. "Because it's a place. Like Scarsdale."

  • One relatively fresh kind of Hell is the Security Question. Josh Levin wrote an excellent Slate article a few weeks back on the topic.

    Verizon wants to know my favorite ice cream flavor, Google's got designs on my library card number, and Wachovia needs my favorite all-time entertainer. Yahoo! is asking where I met my spouse, and Bank of America wants the details of the honeymoon. Like those squiggly pictures of letters and numbers, weird personal questions have become ubiquitous totems of online security. If you tell the bank your favorite grade-school teacher or cartoon character, the thinking goes, it'll be easy to confirm your identify when you misplace your account number. This thinking is dumb.

    Go read to find out why it's dumb. Alternatively, you can read Lore Sjöberg's take on the matter here here. "It's funny because it's true."

  • And, speaking about funny-but-true things, Jim Geraghty transcribes a bit of Michelle Obama's speech:
    Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.
    Jim asks: "Does anybody on the left side of the aisle find this rhetoric a little creepy?" I'm not on that side, but, yeah.

    I'm not sure why, but it also reminds me a bit of the ad for Happy Fun Ball.

    Yes, it's Happy Fun Ball! The toy sensation that's sweeping the nation! Only $14.95 at participating stores! Get one today!

    Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly, and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to Happy Fun Ball.

    Caution: Happy Fun Ball may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds.

    Happy Fun Ball contains a liquid core, which, if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at.

    Do not use Happy Fun Ball on concrete.

    Exercise for the reader: interchange "Barack Obama" and "Happy Fun Ball". Those of you who wish to play it the hard way, stand upside down with your head in a bucket of piranha fish.


Seen at Joel Achenbach's Achenblog today:

Here's a depressing piece in the NYT about fishermen in Jamaica poisoning a stream. It's tragic, and it's not really just a Jamaica story: It's a tale of what happens when you have a completely unregulated free market.

Now you can click over to the NYT piece; somehow missing is any indication that the Jamaican fishermen were acting under the nefarious influence of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. They're harvesting shrimp from Jamaica's Rio Grande river by dumping in agricultural pesticide, and grabbing whatever rises to the surface. (The article notes that they sometimes also use an American favorite, dynamite, to the same effect.)

This is not a result of an "unregulated free market" of course; Jamaica doesn't have an "unregulated free market." Heritage's Index of Economic Freedom ranks Jamaica at number 45 out of 157 countries, with relatively poor scores on "Property Rights" and "Freedom from Corruption."

Instead, it's yet another instance of Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" where free access to a communal resource results in over-exploitation and pollution. It happens under all types of economic systems; ask any Russian. My bet would be that relatively free-market societies tend to handle such problems better than others through a mix of property rights, torts, and (when necessary) law and regulation. (This (different) study on comparative economic freedom seems to bear me out on that.)

The NYT article quotes Kimberly John of the Nature Conservancy, and there's more from her at the Nature Conservency site.

Both articles make it clear that what's failing in Jamaica isn't the "free market". In fact, the Nature Conservancy article mentions that stream monitoring is being conducted by "national park rangers"—this is not happening in Galt's Gulch, but a national frickin' park.

River-poisoning is as illegal in Jamaica as it is in America, but enforcement and punishment is lax. One allegedly-ex poisoner interviewed for the article was released the first time he was caught; on his second offense he got a "community service" sentence. Again, not particularly a "free market" problem.

I've been a Joel Achenbach fan for a long time, own some of his great "Why Things Are" books, but this drive-by shooting at the free market is just ignorant and disappointing.