URLs du Jour

2009-04-29

  • Continuing the Pun Salad tradition of commenting on breaking news long after it's actually broken: my favorite comment on Arlen Specter switching to the Democrats was from Jonathan Chait:

    When a politician switches parties, it's customary for the party he's abandoned to denounce him as an unprincipled hack, and the party he's joined to praise him as a brave convert who's genuinely seen the light. But I think it's pretty clear that Specter is an unprincipled hack. If his best odds of keeping his Senate seat lay in joining the Communist party, he'd probably do that.

    This is via Betsy Newmark, who has much more analysis and reaction.

  • The University Near Here is now posting at Granite Geek about research going on under its auspices. Which I wouldn't necessarily mention all by itself, but the first story is headlined:

    UNH Research: Prima Donnas Stir the Pot More at Work

    … but I missed the colon at first glance, so what I read was:

    UNH Research Prima Donnas Stir the Pot More at Work

    … and I said to myself: yeah, I've noticed that's true.

  • Amy Kane went to California and (among other things) saw Pixar's premiere of Up. I'm one envious blogger.

  • Cracked brings you "10 Retarded Money Saving Tips (People Are Actually Trying)". As usual with Cracked, it's R-rated.

    One of the brightest ideas refers to an actual book, Knitting With Dog Hair: Better A Sweater From A Dog You Know and Love Than From A Sheep You'll Never Meet. The reviews at Amazon are pretty amusing as well:

    As fun and quirky as this is, perhaps a dog hair sweater isn't that great an idea. Imagine what you'll smell like if you get caught in the rain.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:43 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-04-28

  • Genius Harvard Econ Prof Greg Mankiw knows where the economic bodies are buried. So, for example, when President Obama promises to increase spending on scientific research and development, Mankiw can easily pull an embarrassing quote from Obama economics adviser Austan Goolsbee that contends that the primary effect of increased R&D spending is to raise salaries for R&D workers. (In short: it's much more likely that the result will not be a cure for cancer, but nicer cars in the NIH parking lots.)

  • OK, so that's evidence against a central tenet of the Statist faith, that spending (or "investing") taxpayer money is an effective method to achieve worthy goals. At Cato@Liberty, Andrew Coulson provides more evidence by noting "a productivity collapse unparalleled in any other sector of the economy": the performance of government schools as revealed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress:
    At the end of high school, students perform no better today than they did nearly 40 years ago, and yet we spend more than twice as much per pupil in real, inflation-adjusted terms. I can't think of any other service that has gotten worse during my lifetime. Our school system has failed alone.
    But the cars in the teachers' parking lot are nicer.

  • Via Dartblog, a story about specialty license plates, specifically those that bear the "Choose Life" slogan. States are getting sued when they refuse to issue such plates; they're also getting sued when they do.

    There's a Granite State connection, because the last time the Supreme Court ruled on a license plate issue, it concerned a New Hampshire driver who taped over his "Live Free or Die" slogan. (That's kind of ironic isn't it?)

URLs du Jour

2009-04-27

  • La Shawn Barber notes that Bucknell students will be spared from unauthorized criticism of racial preferences, in the form of an Affirmative Action Bake Sale. (Different-genomed students are charged different prices.) And of course the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has the story as well, with a pointer to video.

    On the video, an administrator shows up at the event and demands that it be shut down. Apparently, the bake sale prices were not exactly the same as those the group originally put on its approval forms (the group actually charged less than it said it would), which the administrator used as a reason for shutting them down. The administrator actually says that because of this discrepancy, "we have the opportunity to shut you down." (Emphasis ours.) Some opportunity! When the group offered to change the prices on the sign in order to keep the protest going, the administrator refused to allow it. Who knew that charging lower prices for baked goods was such a heinous offense?

    I know it's a rhetorical question, but I'll answer anyway: anyone who's had any experience with university administrators.

  • I posted before on the intelligence-insulting 90-day $100 million budget cuts ordered by President Obama. But this clever YouTuber has done a fantastic job of visual representation.

  • Forsythia. Raven's not a fan.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:43 AM EDT

Tell No One

[3.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A French movie, filmed with a shaky camera. (Although the DVD has an English dub track, we didn't use it. We should have.) It's based on a novel by American mystery/thriller writer Harlen Coben.

Alex and his wife Margot nip off to a small lake with romance in mind, but after a small spat Margot swims off. Chasing her, Alex gets knocked unconcious. When he wakes up days later, everyone's convinced that Margot was a victim of a serial killer.

Eight years later, however, two bodies are discovered near the original scene of the crime, and Alex gets an e-mail from someone claiming to be Margot. Pretty soon, Alex gets framed for another murder, goes on the lam (there's a pretty good chase scene), and falls in with some shady characters, some on his side, most not.

It's a fantastically complex plot, and (for English-speakers who stupidly forego the dub) some important stuff is only revealed in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it subtitles. Things aren't as they seem, of course, and it turns out that what we thought was the beginning of the story was actually somewhere in the middle. In short, this isn't a movie where you can let your attention lapse.

François Berléand plays a smart French police detective here; I recognized him from the Transporter movies, where he also plays a smart French police detective. Typecasting: it's not just done in America.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:43 AM EDT

That's Odd. Damned Odd.

Specifically: the number of socks I got out of the dryer.

URLs du Jour

2009-04-24

  • You can, and probably should, read Charles Krauthammer's column today in which he purports to figure out the grand vision behind all the Barackrobatics. Or you can read Tom Smith's short summary at the Right Coast. For example:
    We can either use markets to ration care, giving subsidies to the poor if we reckon that's kind, or use the government. That means, some bureaucrat who probably hates life himself will decide according to some byzantine, opaque and deeply arbitrary set of crypto- pseudo- rules whether or not you get your chemo, your hip replacement, your eye surgery, your bypass. If you don't get it, you'll die sooner. But look at the bright side. You'll want to.
    But until then…

  • Cathy Young at Reason describes the recent shoutdown of a conservative speaker at UMass-Amherst. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has more, including a victory (at least for now) against efforts to censor a conservative campus newspaper.

    Maybe UMass should dump the Minuteman mascot, and change it to something else.

  • Speaking of which, I love Jackie Chan, but I guess he's not a candidate for a Chinese version of Patrick Henry:
    "I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," [Chan] told an audience at a regional economic forum in southern China Saturday. "If you're too free, you're like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic." He continued: "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we're not being controlled, we'll just do what we want."
    Or maybe he was being sarcastic. Yeah, that's probably it.

  • Not that I'm anxious or anything, but the new Star Trek movie is a mere 14 days away. Perhaps I'll wear this tasteful red shirt to the theater.

  • Joe Cocker @ Woodstock, with subtitles and helpful illustrations. If you don't laugh out loud, you are not easily amused. (Via Viking Pundit.)

URLs du Jour

2009-04-23

  • Politico devotes an article to the theory that my own Congressperson/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter might be vulnerable to a GOP challenge in 2010. Lots of local quotes, including one of my favorites, where she defended her rubber stamp voting record:
    In an April 2007 interview with the Concord Monitor, Shea-Porter explained her views: "And so far I have voted, I think, 100 percent of the time with [Democratic leaders] because frankly I think they're 100 percent right," she said.
    (Via Drew Cline.)

  • The Game On! blog interviews Mr. Dave Roberts.
    If Terry Francona called today and said he needed you to go 90 feet, could you do it?

    Absolutely. I can make it for Terry Francona. I could steal a base for Terry Francona right now.

    Mr. Roberts just might be, as Surviving Grady asserts, the Greatest Human Being Ever.

  • You might have been stunned, or perhaps even shocked, by news stories claiming that the Four Corners National Monument marker showing where where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico borders meet at a point was off from the true location by 2½ miles. It's especially distressing to those of us who thought it was so cool to put one extremity in each state.

    But today: never mind.

    "Where the marker is now is accepted," [Dave Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for the National Geodetic Survey] said. "Even if it's 10 miles off, once it's adopted by the states, which it has been, the numerical errors are irrelevant. It becomes the legal definition" of the Four Corners.
    Ah, so I'm still cool.

An Offensive Rant

Jonah Goldberg's column appears occasionally in my local newspaper. Today, George Romoser, a Political Science professor retired from a University Near Here, took Jonah to task in a letter to the editor.

The article by one "Jonah Goldberg" in the April 14,2009 issue of the Citizen ("President Obama's Bailout for Despots") amounts to an offensive rant by the author. It substitutes unconvincing accusations and distortions for even halfway solid arguments. It substitutes undocumented and unacceptable accusations of anti-Israeli sentiments against the United Nations and its branches, simply because Goldberg disapproves with [sic] some UN procedures.

Venom and distortions are no substitute for coherent or fair discussion.

This letter's publication was entirely unworthy of your newspaper.

Whoa. Well, fortunately, you can judge for yourself: Jonah's column in question is here. Although you wouldn't know it from Prof Romoser's letter, it's about the Obama Administration's decision to undo the US's previous boyott of the United Nations Human Rights Council [HRC]. Read the whole thing, and make your own call about who's making an "offensive rant", using "unconvincing accusations and distortions" and "undocumented and unacceptable accusations". A summary of the main points made in Jonah's column:

  • President Obama has given the HRC undeserved credibility and respect by un-boycotting it, validating its despicable record.

  • The HRC replaced the older UN "Commission on Human Rights", which the UN itself disbanded; it was a "Petri dish of moral decay and political corruption." The HRC, however, continues in the sad tradition of focusing solely on Israel while ignoring or wrist-slapping abuses in other countries (e.g., Sudan, Zimbabwe, Somalia, and a host of others).

  • Among current HRC members are a host of rights-abusers: e.g., China, Cuba, Egypt, and Russia.

  • When it joins, the US will get the one of the seats reserved for the "Western Bloc", so there will be no net gain in representation for rights-respecting nations.

  • The Obama Administration's belief that they can improve things by US participation in the HRC is naive and illogical.

Now, really: does this sound to you as if Jonah's simply disapproving of "some UN procedures", as Prof Romoser claims?

Of course, Jonah's a well-known conservative voice. But do you have to be a conservative to think there's a problem at the UN HRC? You might want to check out this editorial, which deems the HRC "highly dysfunctional" and an "international embarrassment". Specifically:

The council frequently and unsparingly condemns Israel, but when it comes to Sudan's genocide in Darfur or the murderous crimes of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, it has cynically and shamefully pulled its punches. Last month, it endorsed an ill-considered Pakistani resolution against defaming religions that could easily be used to justify censorship and official persecution of unbelievers.

The council's weakness is part of a larger problem at the United Nations. Rather than risk criticism of their own policies, members all too willingly enable each other's excesses -- and call it respect for national sovereignty. And like too many other United Nations bodies, the council apportions membership on the basis of regional bloc politics, not merit or performance. As a result, countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Cuba -- all current members -- sit in judgment of others' human rights performance, while routinely abusing the rights of their own people.

Echoing many of the same points Jonah makes, the editorial comes from that well-known right-wing extremist rag, the New York Times.

You can also visit the HRC's website, an entertaining mix of anti-Israeli venom and stultifying bureacratic bafflegab. For example, its 9th "Special Session" earlier this year was titled "The Grave Violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including the recent aggression in the occupied Gaza Strip". With nary a pretense of even-handedness, they passed yet another condemnation of Israel, 33 in favor (including China, Cuba, Egypt, Russia…), one opposed (Canada), and 17 lily-livered abstentions.

And you can read for yourself (doc) the "defaming religions" resolution mentioned by both Jonah and the New York Times, passed by the HRC last month. The vote was 23 to 11, with 13 abstentions; on the winning side were well-known beacons of religious liberty: China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Egypt, Russia, and Malaysia, all of whom, for good reasons, are under various degrees of scrutiny by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. As noted, it's widely expected that the sole impact of the resolution will be to provide cover for governments to quash dissent or criticism of Islam, aka "free speech".

Summary: when comparing the arguments of Goldberg vs. Romoser, Romoser doesn't come off well. In fact the criticisms Romoser makes are more applicable to his own letter than Jonah's column. Funny.


Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:43 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-04-22

  • The NH Democratic Party's effort to respond to people who expressed concerns about increased spending and taxes via last week's tea parties:
    "They looked like they lost their minds," said Ray Buckley, Chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party of the protesters.
    Also Mr. Buckley referred to partygoers as an "unhinged mob."

    I was at the Manchester event, and it didn't look like an unhinged mob to me.

    Although, according to Mr. Buckley, I've lost my mind, so you might not want to take my word for it.

  • Granite Staters should take note of this post from Genius UCLA Law Prof Eugene Volokh: it is illegal in the state of New Hampshire to posess or control an "infernal machine."

    I have, on occasion, referred to the computer systems under my responsibility as "infernal machines." I think I better stop doing that now.

    (Exact statute wording here in case you want to make sure yourself. Actually, the whole section of the NH code is full of stuff you might not have known you couldn't do, like take movie film on a train ride or sell low temperature flashpoint stove polish. )

  • In other news, I got 13/16 on the BBook of Geek Internet Quiz. It was hard!

How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution

[Amazon Link]

A short book on a heavy topic: the history of how the "Old Court" method of constitutional interpretation gave way to the Progressive interpretation. Epstein's not a fan.

It's important because, as a result of this shift, all levels of government got lots bigger and more powerful in the ways they could legitimately regulate, subsidize, and expropriate previously private economic decisions and resources.

To get the full use of the book, it would almost certainly help to have had a recent course in Constitutional Law under one's belt. Or at least keep Wikipedia handy so that when Epstein starts talking about the Dormant Commerce Clause, you'll be able to quickly dope out what that means.

Things loosen up a bit in the final chapter which comments on cases that even a legal dilettante like your humble blogger is acquainted with: the medical marijuana case, Gonzales v. Raich and the eminent domain ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. (But even here, Epstein drags in a third case, the more obscure Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A, which ruled in favor of a rent cap on oil companies leasing gas stations in Hawaii.)

It's particularly interesting to read Epstein's take on Kelo since he became well known back in the 1980s for his book Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain. So much so, in fact, that then-Senator Joe Biden waved around a copy at the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, as a particular dangerous "natural rights" legal philosophy.

A depressing story for anyone who likes limited government, and quick fixes are, of course, unlikely. (Something similar to what happened to the Supreme Court during the New Deal, maybe? I wouldn't bet on it.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:45 AM EDT

President Obama Thinks You Are Stupid

The Washington Post reports:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, and he will order its members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official.
Many, many bloggers are posting this graphic in response, and why should I be any different:

[a very small drop in a very large bucket]

Clicking will take you to the Heritage Foundation. If you prefer illustrative words, Genius Harvard Econ Prof Greg Mankiw has them:

To put those numbers in perspective, imagine that the head of a household with annual spending of $100,000 called everyone in the family together to deal with a $34,000 budget shortfall. How much would he or she announce that spending had to be cut? By $3 over the course of the year--approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks. The other $33,997? We can put that on the family credit card and worry about it next year.
And don't forget: President Obama's giving his minions a mere 90 days—until mid-July—to locate where that little saving-dot might come from.

Many bloggers are also reposting this Washington Post graphic from last month:

[Whoa]

… noting that $100 million doesn't even shave a pixel off those red bars.

President Obama: always trying out new ways to insult your intelligence. What a scamp!


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:48 AM EDT

Monsters vs. Aliens (3D)

[4.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

On a day when I really should have been doing yardwork, I instead motored on over to our local stadium-seating multiplex and plunked down nine bucks for a pair of 3-D glasses and a ticket to Monsters vs. Aliens.

The 3-D effects were amazing; I haven't been to a 3-D movie in a real long time. I'd read an article in Slate by Daniel Engber warning that it might be an unpleasant experience. In all honesty, it wasn't! Modern 3-D glasses work off left/right differences in light polarization, instead of the old color difference. The results (I thought) were sharp and easy on the eyes. The 3-D "gags" themselves were clever, and in some cases jaw-dropping.

But the movie itself was good too. The main hero is Susan, about to get married to an idiot TV weatherman; instead, she's irradiated by one of those nasty radioactive meterorites. This turns her into a very, very, tall woman. It turns out that, unbeknownst to all of us, the US military snatches up monsters like Susan and imprisons them in a vast underground complex; Susan makes quick friends with four other creatures there. All well and good, except for them.

But then—you may have guessed from the title—there's an attempted alien invasion, and the military's weapons are ineffective. So Susan (now dubbed "Ginormica") and her buddies must work as a team to take out the alien menace.

Here's what I really liked: the general running the show is named "W. R. Monger": get it? I was prepared for one of the most tiresome of clichés: the aliens are really just misunderstood, but the path to peaceful reconcilation is blocked by the military man gone amuck.

Sorry for this minor spoiler, but the big surprise is: General Monger is actually a good guy, and the monsters really do need to kick alien ass to save humanity from destruction. Whoa, two thumbs up from this right-wing extremist!

There was also a pile of previews. Gut reactions to some of them:

  • Up, the new Pixar movie, looks as if it will be the usual Pixar masterpiece. It will also be coming out in a 3-D version.

  • On the other hand, Battle for Terra looks preachy and awful.

  • There was also Where the Wild Things Are, live-action based on a beloved Maurice Sendak book. Max in his wolf suit: right. Everything else: wrong, wrong, wrong. I could be mistaken, but it looks bad.

  • OK, you probably know how I feel about Star Trek, but this is the first time I saw a preview on the big screen. And, whoa nellie, it's even more awesome. Eighteen days and counting.

  • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is based on another favorite book from my kids' childhood. It's another 3-D animation (the preview was also in 3-D), and it looks great.

  • Imagine That is a Eddie Murphy movie from Nickelodeon, and so help me, it looks good. Mawkishly sentimental and predictable, but, jeez, Eddie Murphy is a funny guy, and it might be fun to watch. Unless all the funny bits were in the preview; that's happened before.

  • Land of the Lost has Will Ferrell playing a scientist sucked into some sort of time-space vortex thingy, winding up in a land filled with peril, and also dinosaurs. This also, so help me, looks good.


Last Modified 2014-11-30 3:10 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2009-04-19

  • Max Schulz, writing in the WSJ, notes a tale of "entrepreneurship" gone bad, appropriately near the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa:

    In September, ethanol giant VeraSun Energy opened a refinery on the outskirts of this eastern Iowa community. Among the largest biofuels facilities in the country, the Dyersville plant could process 39 million bushels of corn and produce 110 million gallons of ethanol annually. VeraSun boasted the plant could run 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the demand for home-grown energy.

    Today, however, VeraSun is bankrupt, although its managers no doubt still have fond memories of how Obama and the other candidates (except McCain) kowtowed to the industry during the Iowa caucus campaign. The Dyersville plant is shuttered, looking for a sucker buyer. A good article to keep handy when you read thinly-disguised press release "news stories" about your local Congresscritter pointing to the "green jobs" he or she has created with his or her most recent grant/subsidy/gimmick/boondoggle. Guess who won't be eager to accept responsibility when the bubble bursts?

  • For those of us who like to draw deep lessons from baseball: the Washington Nationals are (as I type) 1-10, already 9½ games deep in the cellar of the NL East. And they're not great at spelling either.

  • Which led me to wonder: why is it "Red Sox" and not "Red Socks"? Google, that great satisfier of idle curiousity, found me the answer to that, and a lot more. (Hm, I could have been a Porchclimber-hater.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:40 AM EDT

Australia

[4.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Not as many kangaroos as I would have expected, and no koalas. Australia is a real kitchen sink of a movie, something for everyone, two hours and forty-five minutes long.

For John Wayne fans, it's got explosions, cowboy stuff, war stuff, a bar fight, and nefarious villains.

For the ladies, it has the romantic saga of Lady Sarah (Nicole Kidman), English noblewoman off to Australia to retrieve her estranged husband from his foolish dalliance with cattle, only to find him recently murdered; her only hope is the mysterious Drover (Hugh Jackman).

For those looking for social commentary: there's the central saga of the young boy Nullah, product of a white father and aborigine mother, a nasty thing to be in 1939 Australia. The movie goes into detail on the social engineering efforts of the Australian government to remove kids like Nullah from their families. (This prompted me to look up the Wikipedia article on the topic; it's still a matter of controversy today.)

And for everyone else: well, there's Judy Garland. She gets more screen time than the kangaroos.

And, don't forget: it's Australia, so there's a lot of breathtaking scenery.

It got mediocre reviews, and was (given its budget) kind of a dud at the box-office, but I found it to be really a lot of fun. The filmmaker, Baz Luhrmann, is not shy about making an epic, with plenty of in-your-face grandiosity. Many reviewers faulted it for lacking originality, but I prefer to think of it as a grand homage to a lot of fantastic movies.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:40 AM EDT

Carol Shea-Porter Spends Your Money On Other People's Houses, Breaks Your Windows

Two recent stories in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, reported on the activities of my own Congressperson, Carol Shea-Porter. Both give me ample opportunities to plug Frédéric Bastiat.

The first headline: "Shea Porter gets look at couples' green dream home":

PORTSMOUTH -- Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter saw what going green is all about Thursday during a tour of Marc and Cheryl Batchelder's dream home on Lawrence Street.
Marc and Cheryl are building a "Platinum LEED" home in Portsmouth, very energy-efficient. I hope things work out for them, but why is Shea-Porter involved? You have to read down to the very end of the story…
Through tax credits and other financial incentives, Shea-Porter said the government will continue to try and help people as well as business owners that want to build similar homes and offer sustainable products.
Ah. This is another way of saying: we're giving these people tax breaks, because otherwise what they're doing would make no economic sense whatsoever.

Foster's, and Shea-Porter, present this as a Free Lunch. But, as we know, there ain't no such thing. I'm sure Marc and Cheryl are nice people, but they're paying less, so, inevitably other people—by which I mean: me, and probably you too—will have to pay more.

Shea-Porter, of course, is eager to make well-publicized visits to the visible recipients of the subsidies; I would bet she's staying away from the relatively invisible folks on the losing end of the bargain. She might even think they don't exist. She's a true believer in a fantasy government (in Bastiat's words) by which every one seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.

Foster's is oblivious to the issue, as usual.

The second article describes the next stop on the Shea-Porter Economic Illiteracy tour, "Rep. Shea-Porter visits two green businesses in Dover" is, if possible, even more fawning and less critical:

DOVER -- It's not just an elite idea anymore.

Green businesses are taking hold in regular neighborhoods and offering regular services, from filling up your gas tank and grabbing a cup of coffee to picking up some paint or supplies for a home repair job -- two concepts U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter learned are taking off locally.

Again, nice people doing nice environmentally sustainable things, and Shea-Porter is involved, why? I would imagine you can guess, but:
"I'm expecting to see a green economy creating new green jobs," Shea-Porter said. "This works. This creates jobs. More jobs come from those jobs and that's how you build a community."
Not to be harping on Bastiat or anything, but Shea-Porter's "green jobs" hype is just another instance of the broken window fallacy that he debunked long ago. "Creating new green jobs" via government expenditure is visible, and will earn you a Congressperson visit and newspaper coverage. But the jobs not created, or even destroyed, due to decreased private investment are invisible (except in statistics), and will go unpublicized, and unmentioned.
"We're getting to the point where Washington is looking at the big picture," Shea-Porter said. And that means grant funds for similar projects should soon be flowing into the hands of entrepreneurs who want to jump of [sic] the green bandwagon, she said.
These "entrepreneurs" are, of course, not engaging in true entrepreneurship. Real entrepreneurs attempt to provide new products and services that people would actually want to buy, seeking out private investors willing to risk their own capital to get a chance at a handsome return. It's a high-risk game with their own money, many fail, but the result is an increase in general prosperity.

The "entrepreneurs" Shea-Porter's talking about, on the other hand, are simply good at getting taxpayers to be venture capitalists for their boondoggles; taxpayers have zero chance of any return on their "investment".

Gee thanks. Just what we need.

The story's final paragraph I think may have made steam come out my ears:

"This really is just bringing back our frugal Yankee ways," Shea-Porter said.
Right, Carol. Those old-time Yankees were always on the lookout for Federal grant money handouts.

URLs du Jour

2009-04-17

  • Back in October, Reason magazine asked "a variety of policy wonks, journalists, thinkers, and other public figures" to say for whom they were voting. By my count, the contributors to that article gave Obama 13 votes, Bob Barr 11, "Nobody/No Answer" 10, McCain 3, "Anybody but McCain/Palin" one. Sarah all by herself got one.

    Which is relevant, because now Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com has a question for those 13:

    Question to the folks, including some of the libertarian persuasion (you fools!), who were bullish on Obama back when the alternative was John McCain, the Terri Schiavo of presidential candidates: When are you going to admit that Barry O stinks on ice? That for all his high-flying and studiously empty rhetoric he's got the biggest presidential vision deficit since George H.W. Bush puked on a Japanese prime minister (finally, revenge for that long run of Little League World Series losses in the '70s!). If you're the president of the United States and you're talking about goddamn traffic jams and you're proposing high-speed rail as anything other than an unapologetic boondoggle that will a) never get built and b) never get built to the gee-whiz specs it's supposed and c) be ridden by fewer people than commuted by zeppelin last year, you've got real problems, bub. And by extension, so do we all.
    I checked; back in October, Nick was torn between voting for Barr and not voting. Same as me.

  • Are you a terrorist? I suppose it's possible you might need help answering this question, so Reason has an easy quiz you can take, based on the recent report from the Department of Homeland Security.

  • If you need more information on that report, it's the subject of today's Jonah Goldberg coumn:
    The Extremism and Radicalization Branch, Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division of the Department of Homeland Security issued a report last week. It's called "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."

    I had no idea there even was an ERBHETAD of the DHS working on the RECEPCFRRR.

    Yeah, me neither.

  • This is Pun Salad, and I am a Star Trek fanboy, so linking to a collection of Star Trek puns is only logical, Captain. But beware:
    Question: What did Worf say when small ice asteroids began hitting the Enterprise hull?

    Answer: "Captain, we are being hailed."

    … that's one of the good ones. (Via Geek Press.)

URLs du Jour

2009-04-16

  • David Friedman's post is headlined "How To Get Smaller Government" and I will quote it in its entirety:

    Move election day to April 15th.

  • Went to the Tea Party in Manchester's Victory Park yesterday. Had a good time, save for parking. Said hello to the Granite Groksters (and event co-sponsors) Doug and Skip, also the Weekend Pundit Dale Eddy.

    Noted that Doug and Skip were wearing official Granite Grok sweatshirts. Pun Salad has got to step up its game. Real soon now.

    Amy Kane has posted a great collection of photos from the event; they'll give you an accurate picture of the crowd's diversity, and the unique mixture of anger and humor on display. (Darn it, Amy, I almost introduced myself, but I wasn't sure that was you.)

  • Some days we are of the opinion that we'll be happy to witness inevitable death of the mainstream media; other days, we're persuaded that we'll instead be frickin' overjoyed. Today is an example of the latter, as MSM coverage of the Tea Parties has revealed a whole pile of sins.

    • Hugh Hewitt is all over CNN's Susan Roesgen, who apparently thought her reporting job involved confronting attendees who bore Obama/Hitler signs she found offensive.

    • Philip Klein notes that a few years back, Roesgen thought a Bush mask with a Hitler mustache was the height of wit.

    • But it's not just one CNN reporter; Greg Gutfeld notes CNN heartthrob Anderson Cooper on-air joking about "teabagging", and if you need the joke explained—your innocent geezer blogger did—Greg will do that too.

    • Paul Chesser reports on the Boston Globe's reportage; although you'd expect Boston media to pay a little more attention to local events with deep local historic roots, the Globe story was datelined … Frankfort, KY.

    • There's also a Globe connection as Matt Welch looks at the "fawning coverage" of Ben Affleck's new movie State of Play, which features a newspaper reporter hero.

      "Ben Affleck says (print) media matters," went the headline at the Boston Globe online. (Apparently "He Likes Us! He Really Does" was considered too cliche.) The Globe's first two paragraphs on Affleck junketry are about, naturally, the Globe.

      Priceless.

  • In theory, I have little argument with the government paying attention, within Constitutional limits, to dangerous nutbags, whether on the left or right. But the Minuteman demonstrates that the recent Homeland Security report on "right-wing extremists" was shoddily researched.

  • In other news, Ron Paul has advocated that Congress issue letters of marque and reprisal to deal with Somali pirates.

    I have no clue whether this is a good idea or not (see Ben Domenech for that) but I do know that it is a very, very, cool idea. And, it would be a refreshing change from so many of the activities of your Federal Government, because it is explicitly constitutional.

  • As a one-time physics major who appreciated the beauty of dimensional analysis, I laughed out loud at the following paragraph from this Fox news story about deathtrap small-car collision tests:

    The tests involved head-on crashes between the [Smart] fortwo and a 2009 Mercedes C Class, the Fit and a 2009 Honda Accord and the Yaris and the 2009 Toyota Camry. The tests were conducted at 40 miles per hour (17 kilometers per liter), representing a severe crash.

    The story is credited to the AP, but as near as I can tell from the Google, only Fox News attempted the metric conversion. If they'd only thought about it for three seconds (or for 7.9 kilograms per square coulomb) … (Via Language Log)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:39 AM EDT

Slumdog Millionaire

[4.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This won the Oscar for Best Picture, and (as I type) is #48 on IMDB's list of the best movies of all time. So, yeah, it's pretty good.

In case you haven't heard about it: it follows three Indian slum youths, Jamal, his brother Salim, and Jamal's true love Latika, over the course of years. Jamal and Salim are orphaned early in the movie by religious rioters and, with Latika, fall in with a very bad crowd.

The whole movie is framed by Jamal's appearance on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, where he does surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that he's detained for fraud by the cops; his story is told in flashbacks, as his interrogation relates the experiences that led him to know the answers to tough TV-show questions.

There's a lot of violence and realistic depictions of the degrading conditions under which poor people live in Mumbai/Bombay. But there's also occasional humor. (A scene in a call center where Jamal calls on his knowledge of all things Scottish is flat-out hilarious.) And, overall, it's a great story of love, betrayal, perseverance, and suspense. (Yes, it's sentimental and contrived, but so what?)

Things I learned: (a) Indian cops are apparently fine with torturing suspects; (b) Indian movie gangsters are, in important respects, similar to American movie gangsters; (c) the Indian host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is an evil mutation of Regis Philbin; they could make a pretty good movie about him.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:39 AM EDT

Just a Reminder

Coming up tomorrow at 5:30pm. Be in Victory Park, or be a contradictory snark.

[T Party, dude!]

I understand that "the usual group of right-wing billionaires" will be paying attendees off handsomely, and, frankly, it's about darn time.

Let me plug (unpaid) (seriously, unpaid) one of the sponsors, the Portsmouth Tea Company. If you're in our neck of the woods, pay their cafe a visit; it's across from the Tri-City Plaza in Somersworth. Even if you're not a tea fan, they make a mean panini.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:38 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-04-14

  • It's a pretty rare day when I quote anything from the Nation magazine approvingly, but Greg Mankiw notes the following:
    Thanks to an obscure tax provision, the United States government stands to pay out as much as $8 billion this year to the ten largest paper companies. And get this: even though the money comes from a transportation bill whose manifest intent was to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, paper mills are adding diesel fuel to a process that requires none in order to qualify for the tax credit. In other words, we are paying the industry--handsomely--to use more fossil fuel. "Which is," as a Goldman Sachs report archly noted, the "opposite of what lawmakers likely had in mind when the tax credit was established."
    The Nation writer manages to pull the wrong lesson from the fiasco, however:
    Whether or not Congress gets around to turning off the spigot, the episode is a useful reminder of the persistently ingenious ways the private sector can exploit even well-intentioned legislation.
    To the modern "progressive" it's the intentions that matter, so Congress gets off the hook; it's those damned private-sector people who "exploit" the laws as written.

    Alternative moral: government is simply incapable of designing a complex system of regulation, tax credits, subsidies and other gimmicks to encourage good behavior for general public benefit. They shouldn't try.

  • Check out Wired's article on the Webby Award Nominees. Had I not done so, I could have gone the entire rest of my life without seeing Green Porno, featuring Isabella Rosselini expounding on … um, stuff.

  • Also Webby-nominated is FailBlog, and while browsing there, I noticed that one of their submitters is a fan of the Rochester (NH) Police Log.

  • The Webbys seem to be slanted to the political left, but that's OK. The Humble Libertarian has a list of the "The Top 100 Libertarian Blogs and Websites". New Hampshire is represented by Libertarian Leanings, from Tom Bowler. It's a well-deserved honor.

  • Does every guy wish he could be an astronaut? A quick show of hands confirms the answer: yes. So the story of John Grunsfeld, about to make his fifth spaceflight, the final mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, filled me with wonder and jealousy.


Last Modified 2009-04-16 6:16 PM EDT

Joel, Meet Chuck and George

I like Joel Achenbach, longtime Washington Post writer and current blogger. He's funny and very smart on a wide range of issues. When he gets political, he's more liable than not to run off the rails. For example, an entry from last week begins:

Did you hear about Obama's trip overseas? He apologized. He groveled. He bowed to the Saudis!!! He said America is a bad place, and he spouted all that rhetoric he learned at the feet of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. I know this because I've been reading and watching the Fair and Balanced media. Like last night, I caught a little bit of "Hannity," which is named after the host, Sean Hannity, who is so smart that he can discern stuff that didn't even actually happen.
Joel goes on, at great length, quoting selectively from Obama's European speeches, aiming derisive barbs at Hannity and his guest, Newt Gingrich. As usual, the tone is pretty much: How dare they?!

As for the bowing: you can believe White House denials, or alternatively, your own eyes.

As for the grovelling: as it turns out, in the very next day's edition of Joel's own paper, Charles Krauthammer noted:

Our president came bearing a basketful of mea culpas. With varying degrees of directness or obliqueness, Obama indicted his own people for arrogance, for dismissiveness and derisiveness, for genocide, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantanamo and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world.
Alternatively, George Will, another WaPo writer, in Newsweek, a WaPo property:
During Barack Obama's trip abroad, during which he praised himself by disparaging his predecessor and deploring America's shortcomings, he took pandering to a comic peak, combining criticism of America with flattery of Europe, when he deplored America's "failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world." Actually, as the crisis of aggression and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans demonstrated a decade ago, Europe plays almost no leadership role, even in Europe, which remains a geographical rather than a political denotation.
Joel, meet Chuck and George. They will inform you, if you want to listen, that it wasn't just a matter of style and symbolism, but also of substance.

Joel approvingly cites a commenter who draws a parallel between Hannity/Limbaugh and the Lonesome Rhodes character from the old movie A Face in the Crowd. Lonesome, played by Andy Griffith, was a sociopathic snake, thrust into the limelight by the 1950s starmaking machinery. He turns into a TV demagogue, lusting after political power, only to doom himself when a disillusioned Patricia Neal causes his contempt for his mass audience to be broadcast nationwide.

Yeah, sure. Hannity and Limbaugh are just like that; if you're playing by Joel's rules, that's an assertion that needs no evidence.

Joel's capper, though, is bad enough:

Man, I miss Bill Buckley.
… an increasingly popular, although transparently phony, gimmick: let us praise safely dead conservatives in order to trash living ones.

Nights in Rodanthe

[2.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another chick flick night at Pun Salad manor.

Diane Lane plays Adrienne, who's temporarily in charge of a friend's beach-based bed-and-breakfast on a North Carolina barrier island. She's at one of life's crossroads: her estranged husband has taken the irritating kids off to Disney World, but not before asking that he be forgiven for his infidelity. There's just one lodger at the B&B: Paul, played by Richard Gere, who's on a mysterious mission to the local village, Rodanthe. He's all moody and dark; coincidentally, he's also at a turning point, having just sold his gigantic house.

You'll never guess what happens next! Unless you you peek at the DVD box over there on the right. Yes, Paul turns out to be a deranged killer who specializes in removing the heads of his unsuspecting female victims! He puts his hands like so, and …

Well, no, not really. What happens next is a nasty storm, and a whole bunch of mawkish dialog.

It's not awful, Mr. Gere and Ms. Lane are decent actors, and the setting is picturesque. I unexpectedly failed to doze off in the middle, which I found surprising.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:37 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-04-10

  • Riding to the rescue of beleagured New Hampshire citizens in a time of economic crisis, the New Hampshire House … voted for $200 million in new and increased taxes.

    Seriously, NH: you voted in the Democrats, what did you think was gonna happen?

    (Although I suspect it's running on a Commodore 64, the NH General Court server will cough up how your reps voted on HB2, if you're persistent. It took a couple tries for me, but eventually it admitted that all five legistators from Strafford 02 voted in favor.)

  • The coveted Pun Salad Read the Whole Thing Award for today goes to Ramesh Ponnuru's NYT op-ed column talking sense on health care reform:
    America's dysfunctional health care financing system needs to be reformed. But the goal should not be universal coverage. Reform should simply aim to make health insurance more affordable and portable.
    Especially recommended if you've been seduced by the "universal coverage" mantra.

  • Exurban League has a sneak peek of President Obama's remarks on the Somali pirates:
    For too long, America has been too dismissive of the proud culture and invaluable contributions of the Pirate Community. Whether it is their pioneering work with prosthetics, husbandry of tropical birds or fanciful fashion sense, America owes a deep debt to Pirates.
    Arrr!

  • Virginia Postrel detects glamour in Star Trek.

  • Dogs are saints.

Not Vouching for Arne Duncan

Last month, your U. S. Congress pulled funding for the modest "Opportunity Scholarship" voucher program in the District of Columbia, which kicked in up to $7500 per year for about 1,700 low-income D. C. kids to attend private schools. The deed was done via a amendment from Illinois Senator "Dick" Durbin inserted into the $410 billion "Omnibus" spending bill.

Even a small program like this is anathema to the government-school establishment, who rely on having a lot of economically-captive "customers", and (probably correctly) see competition from private schools as an economic threat. (One of the compassionate Senators that followed teacher-union orders to vote against the program was NH's own Senator Shaheen.)

Things got more interesting after the vote; a legally-required study of the effectiveness of the voucher program was released last Friday (traditionally a day to dump news to which you don't want people paying a lot of attention). According to the Washington Post's Saturday article:

A U.S. Education Department study released yesterday found that District students who were given vouchers to attend private schools outperformed public school peers on reading tests, findings likely to reignite debate over the fate of the controversial program.
Of course, that news came way too late to affect any congressional votes; it would have made it very embarrassing for those who pledged to support "education reform that works" to vote against—y'know—education reform that works.

Some—specifically, some who thought about it for more than a few seconds—questioned the timing. The WSJ pointed out the "scandalous" fact that the results of that study had been known for months.

Voucher recipients were tested last spring. The scores were analyzed in the late summer and early fall, and in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year.
The WSJ also asserted that they tried, without success, to get Education Secretary Arne Duncan to answer questions about the timing of the report's release:
Mr. Duncan's office spurned our repeated calls and emails asking what and when he and his aides knew about these results. We do know the Administration prohibited anyone involved with the evaluation from discussing it publicly. You'd think we were talking about nuclear secrets, not about a taxpayer-funded pilot program. A reasonable conclusion is that Mr. Duncan's department didn't want proof of voucher success to interfere with Senator Dick Durbin's campaign to kill vouchers at the behest of the teachers unions.
Ouch.

But wait, it gets better. Arne Duncan sat down with the editorial board of the Denver Post a couple days ago. Unfortunately for him, David Harsanyi was among those present.

When I had the chance to ask Duncan--at a meeting of The Denver Post's editorial board Tuesday--whether he was alerted to this study before Congress eradicated the D.C. program, he offered an unequivocal "no." He then called the Journal editorial "fundamentally dishonest" and maintained that no one had even tried to contact him--despite the newspaper's contention that it did, repeatedly.
Harsanyi did his own checking:
When I called The Wall Street Journal, I discovered a different--that is, meticulously sourced and exceedingly convincing--story, including documented e-mail conversations between the author and higher-ups at his office.
Oops! Harsanyi's understandably irked at being lied to by a public servant.

Also weighing in, and worth reading, are two Cato@Liberty bloggers, Neal McCluskey and David Boaz, who find Duncan's anti-voucher arguments lame and fallacious. I liked this, from Boaz:

But note also: Duncan says that he wants to "help all those kids . . . by . . . coming back with dramatically better schools." But he ran the Chicago schools for seven years, and he was not able to make a single school good enough for Barack and Michelle Obama to send their own children there.
McCluskey's post is long and thoughtful, and it's hard to disagree with his conclusion:
Barack Obama and Arne Duncan are guilty of too successfully portraying themselves as something different, as people above political reality who can and will implement enlightened policies no matter what. For this they deserve to be taken to task. But they are not, ultimately, to blame for yet more empty promises; political reality almost requires such deception. No, government education itself - and too many people's blind fealty to it - is the root of our education evil.

URLs du Jour

2009-04-08

  • How does your state rank in terms of five major personality traits? Here's a map of "Extraversion":

    [Extroversion Map]

    New Hampshire is next-to-the-bottom in extraversion, beaten out only by Maryland. Of course, if you were that close to Maine, you'd be introverted too. We also rank relatively high in "Openness"—hey, that's good, right?—and "Neuroticism"—hm, maybe not so good. We're low in "Conscientiousness" and at best mediocre at "Agreeableness".

    Other maps and discussion here; actual PDF research paper here.

  • I've been a Star Trek fan since—gulp!—September 1966, so I'm more than a little excited by the upcoming movie. A bunch of Trekkies in Austin, Texas got transported to Geek Heaven last night: a surprise showing of the movie, introduced by some guy named Leonard Nimoy. Cool amateur video at the link; I'm insanely jealous.

  • I got a perfect 16/16 on the BBook of Geek Hardware Quiz, and I had a good time doing it.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:37 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-04-07

  • If you're a Granite Stater, and you think might be done with your taxes next Wednesday:

    [T
Party, dude!]

    Click for a big version; the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition is here. If you are not in NH, the national Tea Party site is here.

    Ma Belle Michelle has more links, and notes sneers and smears directed at the Tea Partiers by the usual suspects, and at least one unusual suspect.

  • One issue that comes close to ruining my libertarian credentials is "warrantless wiretapping" as it was practiced by the Dubya administration. Democrats were once happy to scaremonger the issue. But now that they have to deal with reality

    In a stunning defense of President George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, President Barack Obama has broadened the government's legal argument for immunizing his Administration and government agencies from lawsuits surrounding the National Security Agency's eavesdropping efforts.

    In fact, a close read of a government filing last Friday reveals that the Obama Administration has gone beyond any previous legal claims put forth by former President Bush.

    Lefty meltdown in 3… 2… 1…

  • The Boston Globe presents a slideshow from a local Netflix warehouse. Impressive!

  • And just when you think things couldn't get any better, along comes a product that fills a hole in your lifestyle that you didn't even know you had:

    Available via Think Geek.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:44 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-04-06

  • A bit over a week ago, we url-du-joured a Jeffrey Sachs article describing the Geithner-Summers plan for financial system bailouts as a "thinly veiled attempt to transfer up to hundreds of billions of dollars of US taxpayer funds to the commercial banks." Now, after much reflection, Sachs finds it necessary to describe the situation more accurately:
    In fact, the situation is even potentially more disastrous than we wrote. Insiders can easily game the system created by Geithner and Summers to cost up to a trillion dollars or more to the taxpayers.
    Missing, according to Sachs: transparency, meaningful oversight, and a willingness to consider alternate proposals. Why, it's almost as if they were … arrogant or something.

  • P. J. O'Rourke content at the Weekly Standard:
    As April 15 rolls around let us take a moment to recall why we Americans pay taxes: Because some of our country's good-for-nothing bums are too chicken to rob us at gunpoint. That would be members of Congress and the executive branch. How come we keep electing politicians who will tax the bejeezus out of us? Especially Democrats? At least Republicans are smart enough to lie about it.
    The answer may surprise you.

  • It's Opening Day, and there is another good reason for us free market fans to hate the Yankees.
    In dimensions and decor, the new [Yankee] stadium, handsome and comfortable, is meant to evoke the old one. But the resemblance is only concrete deep. This is not history, but a costume party, a rigging of familiar geometry. It disguises a radical departure from New York's baseball history: the embrace of public subsidy -- around a billion dollars when all the costs are added -- for private wealth.
    Via Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy who has further comments.

Find Me Guilty

[4.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This comedy/drama, directed and co-written by Sidney Lumet, was a box office flop, but I found it very enjoyable.

Vin Diesel—with hair!—plays gangster Giacomo "Jackie" DiNorscio, part of the Lucchese crime family. He's swept up in a mass RICO indictment and becomes one of the 20 defendants in what turns out to be the longest criminal trial in the federal courts, almost two years. DiNorscio is kind of a loose cannon. He fires his ineffectual attorney, and, rejecting plea deals, decides to represent himself.

The movie turns the gangsters into the "good guys" by showing their loyalty and camaraderie, persecuted by an ambitious, scruple-free prosecution given to anti-Italian slurs. The gangsters' nefarious deeds aren't hardly shown, just talked about by the sleazy self-righteous prosecutors. Lumet's deck-stacking is blatant, but effective.

Vin Diesel is kind of a marvel here, if you're used to his borderline antihero/thug roles: he's actually funny in the comedic parts of the movie, and effective in the dramatic bits. The late Ron Silver is great as the trial judge. Also impressive is the 4' 5" Peter Dinklage as one of the defense attorneys, whose chemistry with the 6' Diesel is fun to watch.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:36 AM EDT

Fantasy Mission Force

[0.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Mrs. Salad, knowing my guy-love for Jackie Chan, picked this out of a remainder bin at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, it's not good. Jackie has just a small part. It's very painful to watch.

It has a Wikipedia article, though, which claims:

A number of reviews consider Fantasy Mission Force a movie that is "so bad its [sic] good."

I'm ordinarily sympathetic to those kinds of movies, but Fantasy Mission Force punches right through "so bad it's good" and marches into "so bad it's bad again" territory. The script seems to have been written by a nine-year-old, bright but with some serious psychological problems. Costume design: his 11-year-old sister. Poorly dubbed by people that I think were just guessing at what the actors might have been saying.

To give you a flavor of the plot, here's one paragraph from Wikipedia:

As they continue on, Don Wen is seemingly killed in a surprise ambush by spear-wielding tribesmen, and soon the group is captured by a tribe of cannibalistic Amazons led by an effeminate man in a tuxedo. After obliterating the Amazon tribe the group spends the night in a haunted house full of hopping vampires (a traditional Chinese supernatural creature) before reaching their goal.

I know, that may sound promising. But trust me, it's not very good at all.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:35 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-04-02

  • Some people are noticing a particular Barackrobatic rhetorical tic: setting out two positions, and saying they represent a "false choice". An example, as recounted by Mark Steyn:

    "But I also know," [Obama] wrote, "that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve our people or any people."

    In this case, Obama presents two poor options (although, I gotta tell you: the "capitalism" choice, "chaotic and unforgiving" as it may sometimes be, is looking better and better to me every day). But Obama says: Hey, don't worry. You don't have to make that choice. You don't need to have either. Whew!

    Ben Shapiro recalls the inaugural line:

    As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

    Here the choice is between two good options. But again: Hey, don't worry. You don't have to make that choice. You can have both! Again, whew!

    And Ben has another:

    "Throughout our history," Obama recently stated, "there's been a tension between those who have sought to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations, and those who have sought to profit from these resources. But I'm here to tell you this is a false choice."

    Here we have (apparently) a good option, conservation, poised against "profit." I'm not sure whether Obama views profit as a good or bad. Doesn't matter, though: Hey, don't worry. You don't have to make that choice. You can have your cake and eat it too.

    The rhetorical advantages are obvious: when you can label choices as "false"—especially when you can make up the choices yourself—you can avoid further discussion, and obfuscate any areas where choices—hey, maybe even tough choices—might have to be made.

  • If you feel the need to read some sensible words on the ongoing crisis, Rand Simberg has two good links and quotes. Here's Richard Epstein:

    [When we attempt to bail out failing enterprises] we take them away from bankruptcy judges, who are experts, and give them to a collection of congressional individuals who are charitably called clowns. When you bring commercial decisions to Congress they become politicized, and politicized decisions become destructive decisions.

    Drew Cline kind of made fun of me for choosing an Epstein book over others when I won a recent trivia contest. But I'm a huge fan.

  • Correlation is not causation.

    [no it's not]

    Or maybe we should drastically increase our fresh lemon imports from Mexico. I mean, if it saves just one life

    (Via Megan McArdle and Derek Lowe, from an article by Stephen R. Johnson in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:46 AM EDT

A Free Lunch Served On Dirty Dishes

Via Dartblog comes the sad story: residents of Spokane, Washington are resorting to smuggling illicit goods from across the border, from that exotic hotbed of black-market activity, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. It's just 30 miles east, on I-90.

Specifically, many Spokanites are bringing home phosphate-laden dishwasher detergent, like Cascade or Electrasol, since it's been banned for sale in the Spokane area.

You probably know the argument: phosphates go into your wastewater, which goes into lakes and rivers, which causes increased algae growth, which smells bad, looks bad, and sucks up oxygen from the water, suffocating fish. Which, in turn, look and smell even worse.

Advocates minimize the cost of a phosphate ban. For example, this cheerful article from the Sierra Club reports:

Consumer Reports in its March 2005 publication concluded that phosphate-free products work as well regular brands, noting it is the enzymes and not phosphates that get dishes clean.
Unfortunately, the story linked above contradicts:
Many people were shocked to find that products like Seventh Generation, Ecover and Trader Joe's left their dishes encrusted with food, smeared with grease and too gross to use without rewashing them by hand. The culprit was hard water, which is mineral-rich and resistant to soap.
(My experience has been the same at Pun Salad Manor. I used the old Palmolive low-phosphate detergent for years, and it worked OK. They recently swithched to a new formulation 'eco+', which seemed to actually make dishies dirtier. Life's too short. We're now using Cascade Complete.)

In this generally positive Forbes article, a supporter of the (upcoming) Maryland ban sounds chipper, but unconvincing:

In Maryland, scientists estimate that the change on the household dishwasher front will reduce phosphorus pollution to the Chesapeake Bay by 3%. "Every little bit counts," says Jennifer Aiosa, a senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Md.
Here's the problem: every little bit almost certainly doesn't count. Three percent less algae growth is still a lot of algae. This smells very much like regulation that is based on feelgood symbolism; nobody's bothered much with figuring out actual costs and benefits. (I sometimes think that a lot of environmentalists get a major thrill up their leg when a successful mandatory ban on some despised product goes into effect, irregardless of actual merit.)

Consider the costs of rewashing dishes that didn't get clean the first time. Consider the costs of all those good people firing up their fossil fuel vehicles to schlep Cascade from Coeur d'Alene back to Spokane. Is it really a win?

For further reading: a 1984 article (low-quality scan PDF) from Regulation magazine from W. Kip Viscusi titled "Phosphates and the Environmental Free Lunch". He notes the costs of an outright ban, and argues that it's cheaper to treat phosphate levels by modifying existing wastewater treatment. So:

Why then does the expensive free lunch of a phosphate-detergent ban remain so popular? The reasons are not hard to find. The cost of wastewater treatment facilities are visible and therefore are political as well as economic. By contrast, the costs of a phosphate-detergent ban are not easily attributed to the ban, so the political costs are correspondingly slight. In addition, a ban hits that most popular of political targets, the out-of-state corporate villain. Direct controls on a much more important source of phosphates—the fertilizers used by in-state farmers—would reduce phosphate levels more effectively but at a far higher political cost.
A lot of things have changed since 1984; for one thing, some people have gotten a lot more sophisticated in detecting regulation costs. Other than that, Viscusi's analysis seems on-target.

Last Modified 2017-12-04 6:28 PM EST