Economics & Political Bloggery
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There may still be life in the WTO as wealthier nations agreed to end farm subsidies by 2013 last night in Hong Kong. This decision means that nations with cheaper labor will finally be able to compete in a food market that has hitherto been closed them. This means cheaper food for everyone!
Some uplifting thoughts for finals week.
Behold the creepiness of Sam.
Is Ariel Sharon a modern day Teddy Roosevelt? In 1912 Roosevelt split the Republican party in half because he felt conservatives were holding the country back. The centrist Progressive party he then formed faired betterthan the Republicans at the polls, but failed to attract enough Democrats to win because that party's candidate, Woodrow Wilson, co-opted much of Roosevelt's platform. After this failure the Progressive party disintigrated and Roosevelt eventually returned to the Republicans, where he would have been a shoe-in for the 1920 presidential nomination if he hadn't died at the age of 60, younger than most presidents when they take office. Today Ariel Sharon announced he is leaving Israel's right wing Likud party because he believes religious conservatives are holding back the country, especially the peace process with the Palestinians. Sharon, however, is no stranger to forming new political parties - he helped found the Shlomtzion party in 1977, which brought him back into the Knesset, but eventually merged into the Likud. The great irony is that back then he was considered to be an archconservative in the party! Only time will tell if Sharon's new centrist party can succeed, but it will no doubt enjoy a long life in Israel's fractured political spectrum where 13 parties now hold seats in the Knesset.
Charles Martel is rolling over in his grave, for after 12 centuries the Muslims have finally conquered France. In 732 Charles led the Franks to victory at Poitiers and forced the invading Muslim armies back across the Pyrenees. To quote one of Edward Gibbon's most memorable passages, "A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammed." (Christians didn't begin the wholesale circumcision of males until WWI, when the governments of the Us and other instituted it in the army to prevent the spread of venerial disease). The battle was equally important in the Muslim world - the Arabic word for Europe is roughly "France". It was the place they could not conquer - never getting further than Poitiers in the west or Vienna in the east. Muslims conquered most of the rest of the world from western Africa to The far eastern islands of Indonesia where a sultan still rules. We'll never know if they could have conquered China, because the Portuguese and British got there first. Until this past century, Islam has only been spread by conquest. European technology prevented the further spread of Islam until Muslims learned a new trick: migration.
Today marks the twelfth night of Muslim riots which have spread across a country which has allowed its Muslim population to soar above 10%. Islam is a religion with one purpose: the subjugation of the world. If its eradication is an unrealistic goal in today's world, the we should at least strive for containment. When the Muslim population reaches a critical density they will always try to take control by violence. The Qu'ran demands no less. Islam is a religion rooted in violence; old world, my-god-is-better-than-your-god violence. Its founder, Muhammed, was a conquerer, subjugating the cities of Arabia who refused to submit to his will. The world today is left with those choices: submit or resist. In France they have chosen, in the name of multiculturalism, to submit.
It seems to be a fad these days at universities to emphasize safety. Well lighted areas, emergency phones, and more university policemen are turning college campuses into police states. In a recent email to the student body of the University of Tennessee (UT) Dean Maxine Thompson outlined the schools safety plan and talked about the evils of drinking. Even mere possession of alcohol on UT property by anyone is a crime. This is the real reason for the campus police state: to "protect" the students from alcohol. Insensed, I wrote the following letter to the Dean:
Dear Ms. Thompson,
I was disappointed to see you single out drinking as a contributing factor in sexual assaults, injuries and deaths in your recent safety email. I wonder how many such mishaps would have been prevented if 18-21 year olds, the majority of college students, could drink legally. What if instead of going out to some place where people will break the law to supply them alcohol these adults had the opportunity to drink on their own terms at a place of their choosing? How many of these mishaps would be thereby prevented? How many UT students, legally old enough to drink, have been forced to leave the safety of their dorms to enjoy a drink at a bar where they might be slipped a date-rape drug or be hurt in a brawl? Why take the safe brightly lit walkway back to your dorm where a University official might see you and catch you for drinking illegally when the darker, less travelled path is available. The probability that you trip in a poorly lit area or be abushed by a criminal are small, but these things will happen to someone. The rules of this University and the laws of this country are the major contributing factors in creating dangerous environments where people are injured, sexually assaulted or killed. Adults have been drinking for all of recorded history. Coersion by the state or the University will not stop this, only push it into more dangerous places. Your highlighting of these rules endangers every UT student because they will risk the small probability of being hurt by a criminal in a dangerous place rather than face the likelihood that they will be caught drinking in a safe place like a dorm room.
I hope that gives you something to meditate on.
|However, at my alma mater, Georgia Tech, things are even worse. Theodore Hollot is a freshman there with an interest in chemistry. Recreating an experiment he saw in chemistry class using carbonation resulting from a mixture of dry ice and water to cause a plastic drink bottle to explode resulted in the Atlanta Police Department (APD) closing down a block because they saw it as a "terrorist act". He bought the dry ice at the Kroger on Northshore - a regular supplier of this subtance to Tech students. In my future-darwin-award-winner way I have touched this ice with my bare hands while shopping there. When a substance transforms from a liquid to a gas it expands quite a lot. Put it in a confined space like a coke bottle and it will go pop.|
I remember one and only one event from my tour of the Georgia Tech campus when I was a prospective student. Passing a fraternity house a pinball machine smashed into the ground not far from us. We looked up to the roof of the fraternity where two men were standing. Knowing we were a tour group, one of them shouted "We break things ... so we can put them back together again!" That brazenly nerdy event cemented my decision to go to Georgia Tech more than statistics about the school ever could. But that was before Wayne Clough took over. Clough has done his best to stamp out all that was once great about Tech. Police guard the "T" at night during football season so it can no longer be "borrowed" off the Tech Tower. Liberal arts and Business programs have been expanded so that those who can't hack it as scientists and engineers don't have to leave Georgia Tech. Once almost anyone willing to work hard could get into Tech, but only the strong survived. Now the only barrier to a Tech degree is a good SAT score and high school GPA. Furthermore, money has been pumped into the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) and Muslim student groups in order to foster campus "diversity" while the College Republicans have been all but kicked off campus. Clough must go if Georgia Tech is to remain an "Institute of Technology"; if he stays he will complete it's transition into a University.
The man who's to replace Greenspan.
|President Bush today nominated Ben S. Bernanke to replace Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan when he steps down in January. Is he a serious economist or a political hack? Beranke is a Keynesian, anti-supply-sider, and thinks the gold standard was a bad thing. In his academic work, he is wont to refer to his ideas as "unconvential" and not in line with "most economists". Most recently he has been working for Bush at the White House brandishing the idea of a global savings glut. He actually thinks too much saving is the reason for the US trade deficit! No, Bernanke, who seems to still believe that the government can spend our way into prosperity, is not a worthy replacement to Greenspan. Don't be fooled by Bernanke lining up behind Greenspan on most issues during his stint (2002-2005) on the Federal Reserve Board; he has clearly been aiming for Greenspan's job since leaving Princeton. His earlier academic work, which politicians will doubtlessly ignore, shows Bernanke's true colors. Bernanke believes in targeted inflation rates, and will no doubt institute one upon his assumption of the Fed chairmanship. At first this may sound like a good idea, trying to keep inflation below a certain level, but Bernanke also means to avoid letting it get what he considers "too low". He believes a 1% inflation rate is dangerously low.|
Sustained inflation is a 20th century invention, instituted by the Fed since 1913 (although they didn't get really good at it until after WWII). In the 19th century there were periods of inflation and deflation. America's industrial revolution was a long period of sustained deflation, as competition and industry brought down the prices of just about everything. Imagine if everything you bought at the store today was cheaper than it had been the previous year. Savings appreciated in value at an incredible rate allowing the many rags to riches stories of that era. Companies, however, were often forced to cut wages to compete with the lowered prices of their more efficient competetors. This led to labor unrest. Debtors, especially farmers who mortgaged their land, found that they got less every year at the market for their goods but were still required to make the same payments on their debts. This led to defaults, foreclosures, and the Granger and Populist movements. So in 1913 the US government institutionalized inflation. The real value of wages goes down every year, but the workers don't notice because the dollar value stays the same. Debtors pay off their debts with inflated currency. Savers have to take risks to keep up with inflation, and the prices of many of our goods, while dropping in real value, stay the same or increase. Inflation is a wealth transfer from the savers to the debtors and was institutionalized to prevent the civil unrest concommittant with deflation. As with all such government wealth transfers, those giving up the wealth have little choice in the matter.
Here is yet another reason why I support drug legalization. The state of Florida put a wheelchair-bound, paraplegic man with multiple sclerosis in prison for 25 years on drug-trafficking charges for his pain pills. His story is being played out over and over again as the war on drugs targets doctors who prescribe pain medication, making them understandably reticent to do so. For those in chronic pain, it is becoming harder and harder to get the medication that makes their lives livable.
There is no such thing as a victimless crime. Drug use, suicide, chronic pain, etc. are health issues, not criminal activity - destroying peoples lives through the legal process and prison will not alleviate these health issues. Targeting doctors who try and help people with their health issues is even worse. The principle is so general and fundamental that it ought to be enshrined in the constitution to limit the power of a federal government which has completely ignored the amendments regarding non-enumerated rights of people (IX), and the "delegated powers" of the US government (X). The text could read something like this: "Congress shall make no law prohibiting people from taking actions involving only their own bodies; or doctors from providing their patients with the care and implements said doctors see fit."
Here's something that should scare every reasonable parent in the country. We all know that states get federal money based on how many people they can enroll in Medicaid, but did you know that states get cash for every kid that they take from their parents? Passed in 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) grants states $4000 for each child they put in foster care and a further $2000 if that child is adopted. Seriously. You'll find it in section 201 on page 9. This Orwellian statute is driving the erosion of parental rights as petty bureaucrats work to generate the most revenue for their department.
I am happy to say, however, that Tennessee is bucking the trend. To quote a Tennessee Surpeme Court decision affirming parental rights, "[I]n a contest between a parent and a non-parent, a parent cannot be deprived of the custody of a child unless there has been a finding, after notice required by due process, of substantial harm to the child. Only then may a court engage in a 'best interest of the child' evaluation in making a determination of custody". Nevertheless, our federal government has eye toward controlling the rearing of our children which has caused many grief.
|What, might you ask, could be more linguistically exciting than a film in Aramaic and Latin? Mel Gibson thinks the answer is filming an action movie in Mayan. Awesome. We have reached an important milestone in historical cinema that big budget movies are now being shot in the languages that the characters would have actually spoken. Gibson is leading the way, but if his new film "Apocalypto" does a tenth as well as "The Passion" did you can bet there will be many who'll jump on the bandwagon.|
For the next five days two Chinese astronauts will be orbiting the Earth in Shenzhou VI, the second time China has sent a man into space. The first was a one man, one day shot two years ago that made China only the third country in the world to launch a man into space. The Chinese, however, did not invent their own technology like the Americans and Soviets, but instead borrowed the Soyuz design from the Russians.
Angela Merkel will become the first Bundeskanzlerin, female chancellor of Deutschland that is. The CDU/CSU and SPD have joined in a grand coalition, and surprisingly Schroeder didn't emerge victorious yet again. We'll see how long this odd couple lasts.
Yesterday began a race of 23 robotic vehicles across the desert in the DARPA Grand Challenge. There was a $2 million purse for the winner of this contest designed to help the Department of Defense (DoD) achieve its goal of having one third of vehicles in combat unmanned by 2015. All vehicles competing in the race had to be completely autonomous, that is, nobody was allowed to have any communication with their robot during the race. Stanford University's Volkswagon "Stanley" completed the 132 mile race in 6 hours 54 minutes, and was awarded the purse today. This is the second time DARPA has held the race, but last year no one finished.
While I understand the DoD's goal of reducing combat casualties, building robots to kill humans is more dangerous to our species than anything else. While a human soldier might have qualms about slaughtering unarmed civilians or having the army turned against the general populace, what's to stop a future president from turning these things loose down the streets of any American city? Or is it so hard to imagine an army of robotic vehicles with Chinese flags on the side chasing the remaining Californians across the same desert 50 years from now? And let's not forget that the development of AI is an inevitability. Do we really want an army of human-killing robots at their disposal? Robots represent more of a threat to mankind than climate change, a meteor, or an especially virulent disease, and yet we're spending millions to develop them. Mankind's bane may yet be of its own creation.
Nota Bene: For those who may be fans of von Mises and the Austrian school of economics, I have noticed that they seem to be more interested in morality than reality. For example, reading what von Mises thinks about Mathematics. Where as Keynes embraced newer innovations like statistics and statism, their natural conservatism led the Austrians to associate the two and shun both. Now that mathematical economics has advanced to a point where state control is in many situations demonstratably quantitatively bad, this association seems silly but persists none the less. The mathematical illiteracy of the general population and sociologists loose and incorrect usage of statistics (Wallerstein for example) doesn't help the problem either. Libertarian minded individuals drawn to the Austrian school by its philosophy are then led astray from the difficult but rewarding path toward a quantitative mathematical understanding of economics by the closemindedness of this group. Mathematics is the shorthand language of logic and its understanding is necessary for a rigorous discussion of anything. So when reading conservative or Austrian economics, caveat lector!
The week before last week gas prices in Knoxville were hovering just under three dollars a gallon. Last week I went to California and found them to be the same there - a strange occurance no doubt. That is until I returned to Knoxville to find gas up to $3.29! It's an upside-down world when gas is that much cheaper in California.
The levees have already failed again in New Orleans. If Louisianans want to rebuild it, fine. But don't give them $200 billion from the taxpayers, because in another 50 years the next big huricane will hit.
Did you know they retire hurricane names for big & devistating storms?
In Deutschland wird die Zweiparteisystem töt...
Today the Deutsch went to the polls, and the CDU/CSU did much worse than expected getting about a third of the electorate. A further third went to the SPD, but the final went to the smaller parties, the FDP, the Greens, and the new party of excommunists, the Left party each getting about ten percent. Similar to the Fair Tax plan here in the US, the leader of the CDU, Angela Merkel, had proposed a revenue-neutral shift of some of the tax burden from corporate and income taxes to the VAT. This alienated many among her base who had hoped for a lifting rather than a shifting of the burdensome taxes that keep unemployment in Deutschland so high. Similarly, Schröder's small reforms alienated the left-leaning, tax-everyone-into-equality base of the SPD and led to the formation of the new Left party.
...aber wann hatte Deutschland eine Zweiparteisystem?
Only in 1960-1961 and 1982-1983 has Deutschland been ruled by a single party, and in neither case was the rule stable as the short durations show. The CDU/CSU and SPD have traded rule back and forth depending on who could curry the favor of the largest minority party. This has been important for the SPD, which has only bested the CDU/CSU at the polls in one election, in 1998. This year, however, the major parties have so alienated the electorate that neither can ally with even the largest minority party (FDP) to form a majority. The options remaining are many, but none good for conservatives. To put the parties on a political spectrum from conservative to communist:
Schröder is left holding all the cards as it seems Merkel's only reasonable option is a grand coalition of the two major parties. He can ask for almost anything in such a coalition, because the ace in Schröder's hand is the possiblity of forming a red-green-pink coalition. That's if the Left will have him. The new Left party has already come out against such a coalition and may be more interested in ideological purity than ruling. The long shot in all this may be a possible CDU/CSU-FDP-Green coalition which Merkel has already hinted at, giving the Greens a continued role in ruling as a junior partner rather than facing the SPD as an equal partner. The latter, as proved during the last grand coalition in 1966-69, is only a recipe for stagnation.
Okay, so the title might be a little over-dramatic, but a team at Dartmouth's Microengineering Laboratory have succeeded in lowering the size of free-moving, remote controllable robots by three orders of magnitude. That is, whereas the smallest robots were once in measured in millimeters (mm), the Dartmouth team's robots are only 80 micrometers in length, about the width of a human hair. Watch the publicity video (obviously directed at potential funders). In the writup of their results, the team humbly claims to have merely created manipulanda. Manipulanda are the parts by which something can manipulate it's world, like your hand or mouth, or a robot's foot. These devices move by bending like an inchworm across the surface, but can break or turn by using a silicon steering arm. To characterize as them as mere manipulanda is being overly modest, but upon further reading one realizes that this writeup predates the invention of the steering arm, so technically they were correct. A newer writeup including the development of the steering arm will be presented in October, but I managed to find the above-linked preprint for it.
Tomorrow is election day in Japan. Junichiro Koizumi, the current Prime minister, wants to privatize the post office, which also happens to be the world's largest savings bank with around $2 trillion in deposits. The post office bank is also the biggest source of pork funds in the form of loans for public works projects. This helps explain its sacred cow status among the politicians.
Koizumi was first elected 5 years ago on a platform of reforming Japan's stagnated economy, and his freeing up of private enterprise has apparently led to some growth, but some of the more conservative members of Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) think he's gone too far. To them trying to reform Japan's post office was like crossing the Rubicon, and it was they who submarined Koizumi's privatization legislation in the Kokkai's upper house after it had passed the lower house. This led Koizumi to call a special election in which he is specifically aiming to defeat those 37 members of the LDP who defected. Three have already given up and gone into retirement.
Considering the widespread support for Koizumi it is likely his plan will succeed. Unfortunately, as prime minister Koizumi could only call an election for the lower house where the postal legislation passed even with the resistance of the conservatives. This means that a victory in tomorrow's election can be only symbolic, unless the LDP manages to win a two-thirds majority, which although unlikely would give the Koizumi controlled lower house the power to overrule the upper house of the Kokkai. However, since he's effectively made it a referendum on post office privatization, members of the upper house can only ignore the vox populi at their own political peril; upper house elections are only 2 years away.
Google has a new Beta out called Google Earth which is phenomenally cool. Basically, they've patched together satellite footage from all over the globe (some places more detailed than others) and you can search, zoom in, etc. The age of the pictures varies, that of my house being at least 5-10 years old, but that of New Orleans only days old (you can compare before and after pictures from hurricane Katrina). Play with it soon, because I'm not sure that it's legal - one can look at very detailed pictures of military bases, dams, and other potential terrorist targets.
|In response to growing criticism about the number of soldiers who have died in Iraq, the Pentagon has stepped up use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). I cannot emphasize enough what a bad idea this is. Iraq is developing into a vibrant, messy democracy despite the efforts of the Sunni terrorists. The violence there does not warrant developing robots to kill humans and then testing them against well-armed humans. Moore's Law hasn't flattened out yet; computers still have quite a bit of developing to do. Silicon is the 2nd most abundant element in the Earths crust, but carbon represents less than 1% of crustal material. Do we really need to develop the technology for silicon-based life to eliminate carbon-based life?||
A Predator UAV packing a Hellfire missile.
Around 27% of the oil we use in the US comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Just under 50% of our refining capacity is along the Gulf Coast. The laws of supply & demand are taking effect. A few days ago we heard of shortages in Georgia made worse by Gov. Perdue's executive order against price gouging. Slowly the wave of shortages is making it's way across the country. Yesterday it came to Knoxville. On the morning drive to school I noted the gas price at the Exxon near my house was still at $2.99, obviously trying to stay below the $3 threshold. At lunchtime in the city gas was $3.45 a gallon, and then it started to run out. Slowly the higher price worked it's way out of the city. Passing the Exxon again in the late afternoon gas was up to $3.29. Later we went out to grab a couple pizzas for dinner, and the price at the Exxon was $3.45 and driving toward the city I realized that other gas stations closer in had run out of all but premium. My curiousity arosed by the power of these market forces I went out early this morning to take some more data. At the nearby Exxon there was gas, and the price was still $3.45, but closer in supply had caught up with demand. The price had gone down to $3.39 and there appeared to be plenty of gas for the taking. It's times like these that I'm glad to drive a Honda. Last week I filled up for what I thought at the time was the ridiculouly high price of $2.49 a gallon. Hopefully next week when I need to fill up again the price will have gone down. With all the people coming into town for the UT football game today and Boomsday tomorrow, I think we may see $4 a gallon gas in Knoxville before the weekend's up.
As you may have heard, about a month ago the US Congress passed the biggest porkloaded highway bill ever. Notwithstanding that in the early years of our Republic federal expenditures for highways were considered decidedly unconstitutional, a power grab in the 1950's began with the construction of the interstate highway system. The highway bill this year contained 6000+ pork projects. Herefollows a list of pork awarded to my congressional district, courtesy of my Congressman Duncan, who sent it out in a braggardly manner.
* $20 million for the University of Tennessee Joint Institute for Advanced Materials;
* $17.5 million for construction of the Foothills Parkway;
* $12 million for Tennessee statewide bus replacement and implementing Intelligent Transportation Systems;
* $11.027 million for construction of the Central Station Transit Center in Knoxville;
* $8 million for the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Highway Cultural and Visitors Center in Maryville;
* $8 million for transportation research at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville/National Transportation Research Center, Inc.;
* $6.5 million to widen State Route 62 in Knox County;
* $6.5 million to widen and improve State Route 33 in Knox County;
* $6.5 million to construct an overpass at U.S. 321 and U.S. 11 in Loudon;
* $6 million for improvements to the Blount/Sevier Corridor in Knoxville to support the South Waterfront Redevelopment project;
* $5 million to widen a railroad underpass and make access improvements to the Interstate 275 industrial business park in Knoxville;
* $5 million to construct and widen State Route 33 in Monroe County;
* $4.606 million to widen State Route 30 from Athens to Etowah;
* $3.6 million to construct a new exit on Interstate 75 and connect U.S. 11, U.S. 411 and State Route 30;
* $1.7 million to construct a transportation and heritage museum in Townsend;
* $1.6 million to construct streetscape improvements near the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville;
* $1.44 million to widen Campbell Station Road in Knoxville;
* $1.2 million to construct a shoulder and turn lane on State Route 35 in Seymour;
* $1 million to construct a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 129 in Alcoa;
* $920,000 to replace Unitia Bridge in Loudon County;
* $753,600 to improve 11 railroad crossings in the Second District;
* $740,000 to improve streetscape and repair pavement in McMinn County;
* $548,560 to construct Second Creek Greenway in Knoxville;
* $395,440 to construct an underpass at Boyd Station, Harvey, and McFee roads in Knoxville;
* $240,000 to improve streetscape and repair pavement in Monroe County;
* $240,000 to construct park access and trails in Athens Regional Park;
* $240,000 to improve streetscape and repair pavement in Loudon County;
* $240,000 to improve streetscape and repair pavement in Blount County;
* $200,000 to improve streetscape in Greenback;
* $200,000 to construct lighting on the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Loudon;
* $80,000 to construct intersections in Niota;
* $80,000 to construct a visitors center on the Cherohala Skyway in Monroe County;
* $16,000 to restore the historic L&N Depot in McMinn County.
It's the item at the top of the list that shames me the most because most of it is being thrown at the Physics Deptartment at UT of which I am a part. It was rather galling to receive an email from the department head Soren Sorenson congratulating every in the department for their hard work that led to this success. Hard work? Not to say that we Physicists don't do an obsessively large amount of hard work, but I think the $20 million has alot more to do with Bill Frist being Senate majority leader than anything anyone's done here at UT; there was no peer review in the awarding of these monies.
Another example, this one of blatent waste, is further down the list: $6.5 million to widen SR 62. I live less than a mile from SR 62, or Oak Ridge Hwy as it's more commonly called. Oak Ridge Hwy represents most of my 20 minute drive to work every day. A drive which I usually take between 7:30 and 8:30AM - Rush hour! There is little to no traffic and very little building going on off of the Hwy. Why then does it need to be widened? Planning ahead? Look, we broke a window - that created some jobs...
||Wow ... isn't Nature incredible. One of these days we need to learn to start planning for events that are unlikely to happen within a human lifetime. Not building cities below the local sea level might be a good start. Events that happen only every 100+ years still happen, even though it's unlikely to happen during a person's lifetime.|
Back in 1848 when the Mexicans surrendered to General Winfield Scott, they offered him the entirity of México. Scott, however, took only the Northern portion that the US wanted. A recent poll of Mexicans by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 46% wish that Scott hadn't refused the offer. Okay, so they didn't phrase it that way, but that 46% percent did say they would move to the US if they had the means. A whopping 54% said they would like to come work in the US. A smaller percentage, 21%, said they would gladly do so illegally. Those are incredible numbers! It is quite obvious that the debate we ought to be having is weather or not we ought to finish what NAFTA started, and annex the rest of México. No, I don't think we ought to send the American army to do the job, but I do think we ought to invite the Mexicans to join our Union. The flag follows trade and all that.
It is a sad sight to behold, the pictures from Gaza. On the one hand you see defiant Israeli youth clad in orange T-shirts and yarmulkas; on the other machine gun wielding Palestinian youth with ski masks. Yahweh promised us this land! Allah will help us defeat the infidels! Nine thousand out of a quarter of a million Jewish settlers in occupied territories are being evicted. One side would have you believe it's a second Holocaust, and the other a great victory resulting from the Intifada. Perhaps this is Ariel Sharon's great success. No doubt the remaining nearly quarter of a million settlers in the occupied West Bank territories are smirking; with this much broohaha over so few, they can sleep soundly without worrying too much about seeing eviction notices on their doors. They have that brand new wall to protect them, right?
I remember when I was a kid and that Spencer's store in the Mall was the only place to find really cool T-shirts . . .
and just plain funny.|
Actually, I must admit to alterior motives. Since the "tips" jar has gotten, well, no response since I introduced it almost a year ago, I've decided to switch to advertising to fund this political blog. This change in business models goes along with the generally capitalist bent in what you'll find written here, and conforms to the more successful venues in the industry. The tips jar will, of course, remain open.
Read this book! The Fair Tax looks to be just that, a fairer way than the current system which penalizes achievement. Basically, the idea is to replace all income, Social Security, FICA, corporate, estate, capital gains, and gift taxes with a 23% inclusive consumption tax. Furthermore, everyone will receive a monthly "prebate" of all the money they would spend on this tax up to the poverty level. My only qualm with the plan is that it's merely tax reform and not tax elimination. Nevertheless, if you don't have time to read this short book (it took me about 3 hours), at least take a moment to visit the movement's website: FairTax.org. The FairTax bills are HR 25 and S 25 if you want to reference them when writing your representatives.
Well, the campaign for the election is going badly for Gerhard Schroeder, but not in the way I had hoped. Neither the SPD/Grüne nor CDU/CSU/FDP coalitions is polling a majority even though the latter conservative coalition is rather close. Why, might you ask, is this the case? The Ostdeutsch have returned to their old Communist ruling party, reformed after 1989 as the PDS, in droves. In the East the PDS is polling higher than either the SPD or the CDU according to the most recent Sonntagsfrage by Tagesschau. Basically, this means that Schroeder may be able to stay in power if he forms a coalition with the Communists.
|Apparently he is a wilier politician than many realized, and he has already taken a hard left turn in his campaigning. He has also adopted the Clintonesque technique of chosing his opponent. While the German voters have to chose between him and the CDU's Angela Merkel, Schroeder is campaigning against George Bush. Of course, Bush-bashing is nothing new for Schroeder, but since Bush will surely respect international decorum and not campaign for Merkel, this is a rather low technique. Chances are it will not give him enough traction in the polls for another Rot/Grüne victory, but it could prevent a Schwarz/Gelb one. Then Schroeder is holding all the cards - the CDU/CSU will never work with the Grüne or Communists. Schroeder could form a socalled Rot/Rot/Grüne coaltion with the Communists, but the SPD and CDU/CSU have formed a grand coalition before and this may be his goal. Fear of the Communists in a ruling coalition might even make him Chancellor again. The two party system has completely broken down in Deutschland.|
Here is the text of the first amendment to the US Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
|This woman, Judith Miller, is a reporter for the New York Times. She is a member of the press spoken about in the above amendment, and she is currently very unfree. Miller refused to testify to a federal grand jury investigating the Plame affair, and so they locked her up last month for being in contempt of court. Surprisingly, after a failed appeal, the Surpreme Court, the final interpreters of the Constitution, refused to hear her case. A reporter named Cooper for Time was thus cowed into testifying. Robert Novak is also under investigation and blew up today at the CIA because while he is constrained by law against saying things about the CIA, the CIA can say whatever it wants about him. How did we reach a state where the freedom of the press is so completely disregarded? How is a government agency shielded from criticism by the law? Are Constitutional protections any good if they are ignored by the federal judiciary? Maybe more people need to look back to 1735 to understand why freedom of the press is so important.|
CAFTA finally passed the House in the wee hours of this morning by a slim margin (217-215). Enough Republicans (27) voted "no" that it only passed because of the 15 Democrats who said "aye". Not surprisingly, many of the Democrats have names like Ortiz or hail from heavily Hispanic districts. However close the vote may have been, it's a victory for free trade and will hopefully result in the same swell of prosperity México has experienced over the past 12 years.
Five months until Alan Greenspan retires - do you know where your money is?
September 2001 - New York & Washington, USA:
Islamic terrorists hijack 4 airliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center buildings, which eventually fall, and one into the Pentagon. Passangers revolt against the terrorists on the fourth plane and it crashes in Pennsylvania. The death toll was over 3000. Many Americans considered this the opening salvo in the "War on Terror" which must be answered, but the Jihad had been ongoing for 1379 years before it so fiercely announced its presense on American shores.
October 2001 - Afganistan:
A US-led coalation topples the Taliban government, which had let Afganistan become a training ground for Islamic terrorists.
April 2002 - Djerba, Tunisia:
Islamic terrorists bomb a Tunisian synagogue, killing at least 17 people.
October 2002 - Bali, Indonesia:
Islamic terrorist bomb a nightclub on the island of Bali, Indonesia, killing nearly 200 people. It is considered the deadliest act of terrorism in the country's history. Most of the dead are foreign tourists from US coalition partners Australia and Britain.
November 2002 - Mombassa, Kenya:
Sixteen people die in a bombing at an Israeli-owned hotel.
March 2003 - Iraq:
A US-led caolition invades Iraq and ends Saddam Hussain's 26-year dictatorship to prevent him from making weapons of mass destruction for terrorists.
April 2003 - Tripoli, Libya:
Muammar Quaddafi renounces terrorism, invites inspectors to come to Libia, and promises renumeration to the victims of Libya's terrorist activities in the 1980s.
May 2003 - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia & Casablanca, Morocco:
Islamic suicide bombers kill at least 75 people in one week in several attacks in the two cities.
August 2003: Jakarta, Indonesia:
Islamic suicide bomber kills 12 people at the J.W. Marriott hotel.
November 2003 - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:
Islamic terrorists bomb a housing complex a few kilometres from Riyadh's diplomatic quarter, killing 17.
December 2003 - Istanbul, Turkey:
At least 50 people die in Islamic suicide bomber attacks on synagogues, the British Consulate and HSBC bank offices.
December 2003 - Tikrit, Iraq:
Saddam Hussain is captured and held for his eventual trial by a democratically elected Iraqi government.
March 2004 - Madrid, Spain:
A chain of suicide bombs on the Madrid train system kill more than 200 and wound more than 1,800. The socialist party wins the subsequent Spanish elections and removes Spain from the coalition fighting Islamic terrorism.
April 2004 - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:
Attacks in downtown Riyadh kill 10 people.
July 2004 - Iraq:
Islamic terrorists capture a Filipino hostage and demand that Filipino troops leave Iraq. The government of the Philippines acquiesces to this demand.
October 2004 - Afghanistan:
Elections in Afganistan mark a full return to civilian rule, although a strong coalition presense remains in the country.
December 2004 - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia:
Islamic terrorists attack the American Consulate, killing five.
January 2005 - Iraq:
Elections in Iraq mark a return to civilian rule, although a strong coalition presense remains in the country.
May 2005 - Lebanon:
Syria ends its 29-year occupation of Lebanon. Lebonan holds free elections.
July 2005 - London, U.K.:
Islamic terrorists explode a series of bombs in London’s public transportation system killing at least 50 people. A second attempt by the terrorists two weeks later is thwarted by police.
Indian cinema, popularly called Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood), is fast reaching a critical mass where it will challenge the reigning American film industry. While Bollywood movies are replete with singing and dancing, this is not unusual for a film industry at this stage of development. Just think about how many musicals Ronald Reagan was in! Starting in the 1980's the Bollywood pool of talent started to be used by Hollywood for movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gandhi, which still, of course, starred Ben Kingsley. Naturally, the expense of Hollywood actors precluded a reverse trade - until now.
Aamir Khan, whose Laagan was up for an Oscar in 2001, is starring in his next film Mangal Pandey against Toby Stephens. You might recall Stephens as the villian in the most recent Bond movie. Hoping for a wide release, they took the unusual step of shooting the film in Hindi and in English, and are calling the English version The Rising. Basically the movie follows the story of how the Indian Mutiny came about in British India in 1857. Surprisingly enough, in India they call it the First War for Independence and Khan is being chided for doing yet another patroitic film. We'll have to see how wide a release it actually gets here in America...
Continuing coverage of religious crazies today we look at the Israelis. During the 20th century a great exodus of Jews poured out of Europe fleeing persecution. This group bifurcated upon exit though, with those who valued freedom and religious toleration flocking to America and those who, bitten by the bug of nationalism, wanted to found a Jewish state heading to the historic location of Isreal. This has led to an incredible concentration of religious zealotry among the current Israeli populace.
Now there are 10,000+ Israelis trying to prevent the dismantling of Jewish settlements set up in the Israeli occupied territory of Gaza. They were set up after Israel conquered Gaza to try and legitimize the inclusion of this land in the Jewish state. You see, in the twentieth century the international community has said that gaining territory by conquest is wrong, so by transforming the demographics of occupied territories these settlers hoped to make the annexation of Gaza appear democratic. The Israeli government has tacitly, but not officially, supported this movement until recently. Now that Ariel Sharon's government has changed this policy from benevolent neglect to eventual destruction of the settlements, the Israeli crazies have staged a protest which may develop into an outright revolt.
Demographics, however, will eventually be the Jewish state's undoing. The sizeable Arab minority (~20% according to the CIA World Factbook) is reproducing at a much higher rate than the Jewish majority, which was created and maintained by immigration throughout the twentieth century. Now that there are no large Jewish populations under persecution left in the world, immigration has petered out. Unless the Jews of Israel can find some way to reverse this trend, it is not unforseeable to see a Muslim majority sitting in the Knesset in the next century or two.
For those whose remote also wonders to C-SPAN when there's nothing else on late at night, you're probably familiar with Tom Tancredo. He seems to have a monopoly on post-11pm debate in the House of Representatives. Here's a guy who's quite well informed and speaks his mind - especially about immigration. 21st century demographics will affect America in many ways most people haven't even thought about, but Tancredo has contemplated such possiblities in depth. While I disagree with alot of Tancredo's proposals for dealing with these issues, I cannot help but admire his prioritization and lucid presentation of them. Well, Congressman Tancredo's come up with a new plan to deter Islamic Terrorists - bomb Mecca.
For those of you unfamiliar with history, I'll back up a bit. When Mohammed went off the deep end and started talking to Allah in his dreams, the people of Mecca sent him packing. Naturally, as god's last prophet he sought to avenge this injustice, as there is a lovely shrine in Mecca for a meteorite found in the desert. Stones that fell from the sky seemed rather magic to pre-scientific people; the ancient Greeks also had a meteor they kept at Delphi which they believed was an oracle. After living in a cave for awhile and gathering followers, Mohammed trained an army powerful enough to capture Mecca and subjugate it's population to the rule of Islam. Such began the conquest, fortunately still incomplete, of the world by the forces of Islam.
Now the meteorite shrine in Mecca is at the center of the Muslim world and every devoted Muslim must make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj, at some point in his life. Blowing up this lovely little meteorite shrine might humble Muslims a bit (how could the great and powerful Allah allow this to come to pass?), but I don't think it would curb the fanaticism of Islamic terrorists, as their militancy is deeply rooted in the Qu'ran and the long history of Islam's jihad against non-believers. Islam itself, like communism, is the ideology which must be fought.
Forbes.com is doing a series on the "Twenty Most Influential Businessmen" this month. Since they're all dead, I thought it was a nice bit of history to peruse. It's a sad thing that most people probably couldn't name one person on list, considering that every one of these people have had a greater effect on the way we live our lives everyday than a hundred politicians one learns about in history class.
Having grown up at the end of the twentieth century, I always assumed that
inflation was the natural order of things. How great was my surprise then,
to learn that it is an artificial effect created by the controller of the
money supply - the government. Had I been born a hundred years earlier, I
would have thought deflation was normal. But deflation means falling
prices which lead to wage cuts in companies that want to stay in business.
While the average man no doubt appreciates cheaper goods,
the cuts in his paycheck were not often understood as a related effect.
This led to strikes, unions and such.
And though it is natural for money earned today to be worth more tomorrow, government chose to reverse this effect to pull the wool over the eyes of the wage-earners and debtors, who always outnumbered the employers and creditors. The Federal Reserve System was initiated in 1914. Naturally, it took some time to perfect the technique - runaway inflation and/or credit expansion can lead to disasterous effects - but eventually, after the mishaps in the 20's and 30's, they did.
Recently, I came across an excellent website on Francis Galton (galton.org) who was one of the many British scientists of the 19th century whose work broadened humanity's horizons. He is best remembered and vilified for his work in founding the eugenics movement to positively influence the evolution of humans. Why some believe that such aims are beyond the purview of science is a symptom of our overly-politically-correct age. Good genes should be a primary concern along with compatability when choosing a mate. Modern medicine has allowed many to survive who would not have in earlier times. Personally, I ought to have been a cripple because my bones grew faster than they could calcify during puberty and I broke my limbs many times. I would be lying if I didn't admit to still having doubts about my decision to reproduce. When choosing a mate I looked for three things: 1) Above average intelligence, 2) good family background (especially not divorced parents), and 3) Christian. While I would no longer assign value to the third criterion, the other two are still good. I did not purposefully seek out someone whose family tree's frailties were different from my own, but as I considered procreation this thought began to occur to me. My wife's growth pattern was steady before and during puberty, and hopefully will cancel out some of my genes' spastic growth pattern.
It is sometimes said that women are the weaker sex, and while this may be true for birds and dinosaurs, it is not true for men. Those of us with the Y chromosome have, quite literally, the short end of the stick genetically. While my son enjoys the intellectual fruits of his pedigree, he is burdened with the hereditary frailty of the Wogsland Y in the form of asthma and allergies. I am truly sorry to have burdened him so. My wife also has allergies, but they did not manifest themselves until adulthood.
In most societies throughout history, those in the upper classes, the rich and the educated, have reproduced the least. This always leads to their replacement by those moving up the social ladder. This was true in ancient Rome, Greece and India. I do not doubt that this is because the harsher life of poverty was more likely to cull the weak from the population. It is no accident of history that great empires fall to men from harsher climes. How many generations until we kill our Aetius and the Huns run among us?
Are you fed up about the recent Kelo vs. New London decision by the Supreme Court that allows the government to sieze your property and give it to another private entity? Due something constructive. Support the Lost Liberty Hotel Project. This private company is trying to use eminent domain to sieze Justice David Souter's home in Weare, NH. Souter was one of the five in the majority opinion that favored the city of New London.
I found an excellent website on Famous Trials throughout history. While focusing mainly on American trials, it is very well written with a singular caveat - these are famous trials, not ones that set important legal precidents.
More good news! Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schroeder lost a confidence vote Friday in the Bundestag. Schroeder is the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Deutschland. Actually he lost the vote on purpose to force elections. There is a great debate going on in Europe over the fate of the EU after the failure of two referendums on the new EU Constitution. On one side is Tony Blair, who is ready to limit the EU to an economic union. On the other side is Gerhard Schroeder, who wants to press forward with bringing uniform socialism to all of Europe. Schroeder wants a new mandate to press forward with this goal. Schroeder is playing a very dangerous game though, as a recent poll (June 22) by the news program Tagesschau shows Schroeder's party only has 28% percent of the electorate behind them. Even in coalition with the Greens there is only 36% who support the current government. This is compared to the 53% the opposition CDU/CSU and FDP coalition is now polling. I suppose Schroeder thinks he can repeat the feat of the last election where he came from behind in the polls to squeak through on election day. We'll see if he resorts to Bush-bashing again. Since German media has as of late been comparing Bush's policies in Iraq and Afganistan to Reagan's forsight in defeating the Soviet Union and thus freeing East Germany, one wonders if such tatics will fair as well as in the last election.
Lately I've been rather pessimistic about the state of the world, so it's nice to report some good news: the CAFTA treaty passed the Senate yesterday (54 - 45). It still needs to pass the House of Representatives.
Ever since I read Atlas Shrugged a couple years ago I've looked at the world ... differently. Watching the persecution of people like Martha Stewart and Hank Greenberg, I feel a swell of pessimism for the future. Today I took a little time looking into the life of Stephen Wolfram, who I have heard disparaged by physicists as having the morality of Bill Gates. Wolfram was a Wunderkind, getting his Ph.D. in Physics from Caltech at 20 after only a year of work. He then joined the faculty there, but had a spat with the Institute over who owned software he was working on and moved to Princeton. He made important contributions in High Energy Physics and Cellular Automata, but left academia after less than a decade to start a software company to market Mathematica, which, I must confess, I use. Wolfram made a pile of money and earned acclaim of Mathematica users and the business-minded as well as the contempt of some of his former physicist peers. The great disadvantage of being right so often is that it can be perceived as arrogance and even become it. SPIRES lists Wolfram as having "left Physics", but I think the parting was fairly mutual as the business-minded often do not fit in among politics of universities. And so Wolfram stopped publishing papers and focused on running his company and writing his magnum opus, which, twain from the review of peers (however few there may be to Stephen Wolfram), became a self-centered rant about the greatness of his discoveries. What can be said about the state of a field when it alienates great minds?
|I'm glad I live near a small, relatively unknown American city with this guy running loose. Here's the guy who started the group of young terrorists who took over the US Embassy in 1979. Some of the former hostages, like retired Army Colonel Charles Scott, have recognized him as their interrogater. Now he's president of Iran and openly declaring his designs for their nuclear program. Naturally, his website Mardomyar does not feature an English language version, but the marching music in this Revolutionary Guard member's flash intro says enough. I'm sure he's just jumping at the idea of negotiating his potential nuclear power away to the triumvirate of European foreign ministers. For some reason Bush seems ready to let them try and talk the Iranians to death while our window of opportunity to counter this lingering threat grows thinner. I guess that's a real disadvantage of having so much power concentrated in one man - he's so focused on tackling social security and tax reform that there's little time to deal with the Axis of Evil.|
Why oh why did Jefferson modify Locke's statement about "man's inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property" to the ephemeral "pursuit of happiness"? The US Supreme Court decision handed down this week (Kelo vs. New London) isn't so much of a watershed in the loss of private property rights as an unmasking of this government power. Long have local governments used the raising of property taxes to force residents off land desired for business development, but this could be a long and unsure process. The city of New London, CT just decided to streamline the process by using eminent domain to sieze the property outright. Naturally the homeowners resisted, but the theory of private property has fallen into such disrepute in this country that decision after decision fell against them and now the final word has also.
At the time when the United States rebelled against England, the King was seen as the ultimate owner and protector of property and so could sieze it on his whim. Hence he had the power to tax those he allowed to "own" land. This goes way back in English Common Law, even predating William the Conqueror, whose survey (for taxation purposes) of his newly conquered land provides us with a great historical record of the period. 18th century political thinkers like John Locke had the radical idea that an individual's property was the private property of that individual and did not fall under the King's eminent domain. While the US Constitution embodied many of the freedoms advocated by those political thinkers, the Framers felt that a government had to have the power to tax to survive. This was brought home by Shay's Rebellion in 1786. Thus Common Law eminent domain was retained, but limited by the 5th Amendment to include siezure only for "public" use.
The theory of eminent domain took a different turn in Europe, eventually passing over unweakened to the bureaucracies and dictatorships which replaced the kings. Only in Soviet Russia was it developed to its logical end though, where the State owned everything outright and private property was completely abolished. Obviously, it didn't work, but the memory of the evil that was the Soviet system is being lost as a generation whose earliest memory is the fall of the Berlin Wall reaches adulthood. On college campuses the hammer and sickle and CCCP have become fadish symbols as youth embrace the taboos of their parents.
And now a court which once saw private property as completely inviolate even when that property was another man seeking his freedom now sets the government free to sieze our property at its whim. Unlimited eminent domain power has completely returned to the government and the chief executive at its head - President George now enjoys the power we once fought to take from King George. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
At least for me, the internet is quite a time sink. The newest hole into which I purge my freetime is homestarrunner.com. If you are over thirty and not a bit of a computer geek you will find it very dumb.
I stopped today to ponder the true division of my blogs and realized that it was divided into history and polemic: The History of our Family and our Adventures through life, and Polemical Thoughts on Society. Of course, I keep my truly intemperate thoughts to myself. As many have doubtlessly gathered reading what's below, I am a Libertarian by political philosophy, but a Republican by party affiliation. I am a physicist who is also a student of economics, so when I think of human interaction I think in terms of energy diagrams and stable equilibria. Reading the family blog you may have gathered that I apply this theory of human interaction in our family dynamic. Children naturally develop a sense of lower energy states and gravitate towards them (so they can do less work), so all that is necessary is to set up hills (on the energy surface) and let the children roll down them. This allows a much more positive parent-child relationship than trying to push the child uphill. And when children get old enough, logic is all that's often necessary to point out lower energy solutions.
The same applies to larger societies composed of adults. In freer societies people pursue their desires and benefit others through the system of capitalism. People who see lower energy solutions to problems benefit monetarily when sharing that solution with society. The only natural role of a government in such a society is to protect the life, liberty and property of individuals from attack and to enforce contracts. Unfortunately, much of what governments does today is to attack and confiscate the property, liberty and lives of individuals. Fortunately the US government is one of the least offenders and confiscates only the first two (although it does very little to protect the lives of the unborn, which is an early stage of erosion in it's role of protecting life). Many believe that we can still avert a transition to imperial government, but, since American troops protecting much of the world already constitute the beginnings of an empire, I am not so optimistic. Read the history of Rome; it is our past and our future. There are only two ways to prevent an American Empire: willful inclusion of those States currently under our protection in the Republic, or a breakup of the Republic itself.
The Statue of Liberty has always been a metaphor for immigration to our country. It was a beacon that lit the way to the shining city on a hill. I visited Liberty Island the first time in late August of 2001, just before the scarring of the city. I bought a ticket, rode a crowded boat, and, when we got to the island, the line to go up into the statue was too long to wait. We could have, if we had wanted too, but we had other plans that day. I returned to the Liberty State Park in New Jersey this past month to find a fortress. There were not many visitors that Spring day. When we bought tickets, we learned that there were extra tickets available to go up into the monument - even though we had arrived in the late morning. There are many ironies associated with Liberty Island, and this was the first we encountered. "Monument" is their new euphemism for the Statue and it's pedestal, designed to trick dumb tourists like me into believing that one can actually go up into the Statue. I remained fooled for some time.
The first security check is before boarding the boat to cross to Liberty Island. On a day like ours with just few people it takes only about 30 - 45 minutes. People are brought into the secret tent (no photography) in small groups, where they encounter a scene like at any airport: uniformed idiots goofing off and pretending to check security. Backpacks and bags are allowed through this checkpoint. You walk through a simple metal detector after emptying your pockets and your bags go through an x-ray scanner which is monitered by a girl who is flirting with the one of the larger security guards as your bags through. These are the forces protecting "the national security".
A quick note on the security people: they are 90% black and at least 50-60% immigrants whose native tongue is not English. Yet another irony. All wear blue gloves to avoid becoming infected by the travelers to Liberty Island.
It is a beautiful sunny day on the boat, and most of the other people on the boat are schoolkids on a fieldtrip. They get off to learn the history of immigration at Ellis Island, how our country was built by people looking for a freer way of life than their homeland offered; the massive waves which used to reach our shores every year.We do not get off at Ellis Island, because our tickets to go up in the monument, which we still think is the Statue, will expire.
We reach Liberty Island and disembark to the sight of fence protecting the Statue and another secret white tent filling the tree-lined avenue next to the Statue. There is another security check to go inside. Bags are not allowed, but you can check them into paid lockers if you give them your fingerprints. This security check is more serious, and therefore takes longer. First there is a monument-ticker-taker, who tells you that you can't take your bag into the monument. No one speaks of the Statue anymore, they only refer to the monument. "Wait here to go into the monument." "Do this to go into the monument." The first part of the tent where no photography is allowed is a waiting area completely open on one side with a nice view of trees and grass in the distance. There are large flat screen TVs everywhere showing you where you are relative to the detectors in the next room. Not the brightest people protecting "our national security". The doors into the next room are tinted glass and have several guards. A foolish American in front of me has made it this far with a sleeping daughter in a back carrier. Obviously this back carrier represents a threat to national security and cannot be allowed. The child must be awoken and removed and the back carrier placed in a proper locker. We empty our pockets and send them through the x-ray machine before stepping into the very expensive-looking G3 scanner. Obviously this will stop the terrorists. You stop inside and jets of air blow up all your clothes while an attendant watches you. Everywhere there are large flat screen TVs showing you where you are relative to the detectors, not you specifically, but a hypothetical person placed in front of where the TV is.
After the ordeal in the second tent we're getting a little peeved at the farce this whole thing makes of liberty, but we're still going to get to go up into the Statue, right? We are now at the base of the "monument" and now encounter a National Parks tour guide who tells us that we must now wait until the tour starts, and no, the tour tour does not go up into the Statue, just the lower part of the monument. I decided now would be a good time to video up at the Statue we will not be going in today. A security guard calls out from behind me. "um, so, you are videoing inside, yes?"
"You are videoing inside the tent, yes?"
"Back it up," he commands with an accompanying hand motion. So I rewind the tape a bit and then hit play and give him the camera. He looks at for ten seconds before giving it back and returns to the secret white tent. I look at it what's playing and see Alora on the boat to Liberty Island. I feel quite safe with that kind of national security and am not at all bothered by the concommittant surrender of liberty needed to provide it.
Once inside the monument we are herded from place to place by National Parks guides and everywhere there are large flat screen TVs showing you where you are inside the monument and the locations of the nearest exits. The guides in their wide brimmed hats look almost as out of place here as they do in the bad neighborhood of Atlanta where the house Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up in is a National Park. They also has useful things to say like, "Did you know that the French only paid for half the monument? Americans paid for the pedestal." Obviously, this is why the pedestal instead of the Statue is on so many postcards sold in the city. We also learned that the Statue has been closed since September 11th for "fire safty reasons". Riiight. There is a nice little museum on how this great beacon of liberty was designed and made. In context I found it more than a little disturbing. Next was the elevator up through the pedestal. At the top there is a glass window that shows were Liberty could once take us. For our own safety we are no longer allowed to reach such heights.
The EU project recently took two big hits with the rejection of the proposed constitution by the populaces of France and the Nederlands. I've read a bit of the contstitution, and it seems to cover the government's role in just about every facet of the governeds' lives from health care to sport. While I have no love lost on the Brussels bureaucracy, I do think that the four freedoms of movement (for people, goods, services, and currency) at the heart of the EU project have made Europe a freer place than many would have thought possible.
The EU Constitution also contains an important provision ours does not in article I-60, the freedom of secession for any state in the union. This is the greatest protection against the creep of federal power we have been unable to prevent here in America. Nevertheless, the EU Constitution gives so much power to Brussels it's hard to imagine the government needing more.
The EU is an odd mix of increased freedom and increased bureaucracy. Earlier, when added bureaucracy was the price of more freedom, the people of Europe were willing to swallow that bitter pill. However, the proposed constitution creates a great deal more bureaucracy while finally completing the usurpation of power from the state governments. While parlaiments in eleven states were willing to take this bargain, only in Spain has a referendum been successful.
The Eurocrats have no plan so far to deal with the no votes other than to have the referendums again, and again, and again until they get the answer they want. While this worked with the Maastricht Treaty in Denmark, the resistance to the the proposed constitution is more widespread. The populace of Great Britain will also probably say no if asked. Hopefully this will lead leaders of Europe to realize that they need to go back and write a better, simpler constitution which guarentees basic freedoms without becoming grandiose about minutiae and sets up a simpler structure for the government in Brussels. A constitution people can read and understand is much more likely to be read and understood by the people of Europe, and thus serve as a basis for the law there. Leave the minutiae, which is likely to change over time anyway, to the legislature in Brussels.
Take the EU Project back to meaning freedom and let the states worry about the social welfare of their people with the concommittant bureaucracy. Of course, as anyone who really understands a social welfare state knows, they don't exactly attract people who generate the wealth that funds the social programs. The populace of France is unhappy about the freer tax situtations in some Eastern European states because so much investment has flowed there. Some have speculated that the real reason the constitution was rejected by the French is that it didn't contain enough social protection provisions to level the playing field for investment. Personally, I do not believe that even the oft-disparaged French can be that vindictive. I better understand the position of the Dutch, who do not want to see their freedoms swallowed up in an enhanced Brussels bureaucracy. Many politicians in other European states are unhappy about the liberal Dutch laws which have created what they see as drug tourism, and would like to see it end. One cannot, however, rule out xenophobia as the Dutch are being swamped with Muslims.
Europe is at a crossroads.
The latest three Star Wars have dealt with the fall of a republic. It's interesting to listen to both Democratic and Republican party pundits find attributes of the dark side in their adversaries. Were it only that they were not both right. The American Presidency is perfectly prepared to transform into a dictatorship. All that is needed is someone to achieve the office with ambition to do so. Actually, I was surprised that Clinton did not do so when history presented him with the opportunity during the recount fiasco after the 2000 election. Whatever problems the man may have controlling his libido it was a real testament to his character that he did not involve himself in the decision of that question. Considering his expressed desire since to see a constitutional amendment that would allow him serve a third term this is truly amazing. Now we have Bush, who is doing a fine job increasing the power of government at home and abroad. He appears generally honest and well-versed in foreign policy, but runs the government like a CEO trying to expand his business. The lesson I think one can take from Star Wars is that the steps toward empire are often too small to be seen, and, unless we follow the arc of history, we may notice where it's going only when it's to late.
Here are three excellent articles which further discuss the politics present in Star Wars:
The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith
The Supreme Court took a stand for economic freedom today in the case of Granholm vs. Heald, stating that states didn't have the right to prohibit the shipment of wine to individuals within their state from wineries in other states. Not that that was really an enforceable law anyway...
I finally figured out where the name Karns is from. (Karns is the suburban community of Knoxville in which I live). In 1913 when the first high school was built near Beaver Ridge it was named for the second Knox county school superintendent, Thomas C. Karns (1845 - 1911). In the 1950's the community officially changed its name to Karns. Read more. It's a nice story, but I'm not sure I entirely belive it. There's a stone in the wall of the Karns Elementary School proported to have come from an older school building labeled "Karnes":
The first base closures in ten years were announced today by the DoD. Mostly it looks like juggling. No one seems to be talking about the dangers a professional standing army has historically posed to representative government.
Today I wrote the following email to my representatives in Congress. (Senator Frist especially encourages email instead of actual, possibly anthrax containing, paper letters). As you may or may not know, Congress has not exactly rushed to approve the CAFTA treaty signed earlier this year.
Dear Mr. Duncan, Mr. Alexander, and Dr. Frist,
I am writing to express my support for the CAFTA Treaty and my hope that you will also support this extension of free trade in our hemisphere. While the sugar industry in the US may stand to lose some profit through competition this is only to the benefit of us consumers. Futhermore, as we are now competing with two billion-person economies in China and India, it is not the time to turn into isolationists. It's better to learn a bit of Spanish now than a lot of Chinese later.
Free trade trade is a rising tide that brings up all boats. Consumers in all countries will find cheaper products. Central American countries will find their cheap labor is in greater demand, thus increasing it's value. This, in turn, will translate into more demand for products from the US. Long term, free trade will help the migration imbalence which currently exists as living standards rise in Central America. It might even reverse as US retirees seek the Florida-like climate of these countries!
Despite what the Commusists-cum-Antiglobalists may say, free trade is a win-win senario. I urge you to support CAFTA.
I don't know if all the emails I send get read, or if they just get catagorized into topics, but I do get nice form letters in the mail for my trouble. Cara thinks the FBI or Secret Service must have a file on me. She doesn't realize that I'm not that important.
I have acquiesced to the reality that economics and politics are both subsections of human interaction and too often overlap to preserve a separation of the two in my bloggery. As such I have merged the previously existing two blogs into this one. You will find the two blogs are now interlaced in date order, although my comments of Feb 6 seem a bit silly in this context. I will, however, resist the temptation to force such musings upon the readership of my family blog for the time being and retain that separation.
Lenovo closed the deal buying IBM's PC division today. Maybe it's time to start learning Chinese...中国
The greatest lie foist upon men of science, especially mathematical science, is that economics belongs not among their number, but with history, sociology and english. Economics is the scientific study of human interaction, and it is written in mathematics, the language of science. As von Mises once put it, the study of economics is the "civic duty" of every member of society.
Something one hears mentioned increasingly among the tech-savvy is a rather obscure economic theorem called Coase's Law: "As transaction costs decrease, the complexity of the firm diminishes. A firm tends to expand till the cost of organizing that extra transaction within the firm become equal to the cost of organizing the same transaction from the open market." Basically, this means that as transaction costs become small, so do companies; e.g. the virtually non-existant transaction costs involved in telecommunications is what's driving the outsourcing of phone centers and software development to India.
For some time now I've been trying to understand why open source software development works, that is, how software companies can expect to make money with an open source product. It seems inherently uncapitalistic. Let me back up a little . . .
Open Source software is software with "open" source code - that is the source code is available to anyone and can be freely distributed, modified, etc. The movement began with hackers in the sixties but didn't really take off until the advent of the internet. In the early 80's Richard Stallman started work on GNU (recursive acronym of GNU's not Unix) and started the Free Software Foundation which soon became a center of development in the free software movement, developing software like Emacs as well as the GNU free software liscense. In the early ninties Finnish grad student Linus Torvalds brought the movement into the mainstream by using the internet to harness the creative power of hundreds of programmers to create Linux. At this point the free software movement started to call itself the open source movement to be taken more seriously by the business community. The Open Source Initiative was founded in the late 90's to standardize software liscenses and promote the movement.
One question frequently asked is why programmers will work on software without getting paid. Programmers are motivated to fix or add features to a product they use to make it more useful to them as well as the satisfaction of a job well done. An open source product can thus utilitize all of its users for testing and product development. People work to fix problems that they run into with the software or add features they need and get the direct benefit of better software as well as the indirect benefit of notoriety among the users of the software. This constitutes the gain, which it clearly not monetary, for the programmers who build the software.
But how can a software company make money if their product is free? Obviously, there is alot less money to be made because the software's sourcecode is freely distributed. This means big savings for the consumer! The big issue here is complexity. Redhat, which sells a version of Linux, offers customer support as its main service. Installing and running servers and a large number of workstations is still a complicated job, and they're happy to help. It seems that in the past year they've even started turning a profit doing so. Big complex systems will always have problems, so there will always be a market for the services of those with intimate understanding of their inner workings. Basically, except for niche markets, software will become a service industry over the next decade.
That open source software has been consistantly gaining market share over the past decade is a result of good old-fashioned capitalism. When faced with the choice of two basically equivalent products it makes good business sense to choose the one that is vastly cheaper. (Some would further argue that some open source products are better than the closed source competition, but most I use are basically equivalent.) This turn of events is not good news for Microsoft, who has long riden atop the wave of high software prices. They'll soon have to choose between being priced out of the market and going open source.
Personally, I'm still straddling the fence. I'm very happily running Windows XP, but I use Open Office. The one clear example of a better open source product which I've found is the Firefox webbrowser. It had its genesis in Netscape Navigator, which Netscape took open source in 1998. Firefox, unlike Internet Explorer, allows truly pop-up free browsing. This also highlights the difference between "open source" and "free" software. Both can be downloaded for free, but you can also download Firefox's source code.
The open source movement is complicated, having no clear (to me) analogy anywhere else in the free market. Nevertheless, it seems that as usual capitalism has delivered to us consumers a better product at a cheaper price.
Other good essays on the subject:
The Cathedral and the Bazaar
A Brief History of Free/Open Source Software Movement
Who else thinks John Ratzenburger would make a great pope?
With the glowing success in Iraq, the fight to reform Social Security, and the speculation about who's the next target in the Axis of Evil (Iran's my bet), some of the Bush administration's most historically important achievments have been neglected by both the leftist media like CNN, as well as the rightwingers like Neal Boortz. George Bush has kicked the free trade movement into overdrive, much to the chagrin of the anti-globalization crowd. Since the appointment of Robert Zoellick as US Trade Representative (USTR) in 2001, the US has signed free trade agreements with numerous Latin American countries working toward the eventual goal of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The most recent success along this line was the signing of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) treaty earlier this year. Zoellick and Bush have also begun the establishment of free trade areas in southeast Asia (ASEAN) and the Middle East (MEFTA) through bilateral free trade agreements. The following table gives an idea of the progress made:
|Jordan FTA||Jordan||24 October 2000|
|Singpore FTA||Singapore||6 May 2003|
|Australia FTA||Australia||18 May 2004|
|Morocco FTA||Morocco||15 June 2004|
|Bahrain FTA||Bahrain||14 September 2004|
|CAFTA-DR||Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatamala, Honduras, Nicaragua||18 February 2005|
|Andean FTA||Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador||Under negotiation|
|Panama FTA||Panama||Under negotiation|
|SACU FTA||Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland||Under negotiation|
Most of the treaties have ten year periods over which certain sensitive tariffs are phased out and some treaties have caveats, such as the one with Isreal still allows non-tariff barriers to trade like quotas. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the Bush administration's success is quite clear from the above. The Castro-Chavez axis, terrorists, and the anti-globalization movement must be none to pleased with the results.
Many gas stations in the southeast did not plan for gas to cost more than $1.99 per gallon. Some have lighted signs that can now only show the first two digits of the price because to save space the first number can only be 1. This was in Clinton, SC of course - such a special place. However, when the price got up to $2.22 a station here in Tennessee was force to use a backwards 5 because they ran out of twos. I can only imagine what troubles will befall them when gas prices top $4 a gallon. Imagine paying $50 - $60 dollars to fill up a tank of gas, too! There's talk lately that we've reached peak oil production worldwide, much as we reached it in the US 30 years ago. Doomsayers have been saying this for many years now, though oil production continues to go up. Nevertheless, it's a scary thought I'm sure I'll have to face at some point. Hopefully I'll have tenure by then.
I like reading on the beach, so this week at Hilton Head I picked out a book on the Guggenheims to while away the hours. Starting it at McDonald's tonight (we'd stopped to get my pregnant wife her evening's ration of ice cream sunday), I found it somewhat ironic that the staff represented this generation of immigrants, from Latin America, while the book I was reading represented the immigrants of a bygone geneneration, from Germany. America is great country.
As a physicist, the word stochastic conjures up for me a specific set of ideas: Brownian motion, the renormalization group, etc. It was with this in mind that I signed up for a class this semester across the street in the Math department entitled "Stochastic Modeling". Naturally, when the course's name changed to "Stochastic Finance" the week before the semester started I considered trading it out for something else. However, I have always wanted to be rich and I figured maybe a graduate level mathematics class was a good place to start. This leap of faith did not go unrewarded. Economics is as richly mathematical a subject as physics, and, like quantum mechanics, quantitative prediction must always be given in a statistical sense. While putting derivative pricing on a mathematically rigorous foundation requires a bit of work, the main ideas can be summed up rather quickly with an appeal to basic calculus. I have done so in this short paper.
If one encountered the Black-Scholes formula in a physics class, it might be called "quantum wierdness" because the formula for the option price is independent of the expected rate of return of the underlying stock. This familiar (to me) quantum regime and the economic one are both special cases of the more general theory of probability. To reach a better undertanding of reality in both cases it has been fruitful to give up exactitude and substitute probabilities. Economics is misplaced among the humanities. It is a science.
I have a love/hate relationship with George Lucas, which is, of course, one-sided. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Willow, etc. - he's made some great movies and characters. He is also an übercapitalist. No bit of anything he's created can be had for free. Toys, books, games, etc are all spun off from his ideas. I think I hate George Lucas because I love his characters so much. Any other movie by a major studio would have their trailer freely available online, most likely at Apple.com. Not George Lucas. At StarWars.com you need to pay $39.95 to join "Hyperspace" before you can see the Episode III trailer. Now he has every right to do that, but I still feel violated by such a barrier because Darth Vader was such a big part of my childhood. As a matter of principle I shall not support Lucas' slick merchandizing, no matter how much I want to see that trailer.
What bothers me even more is Lucas' continual redoing of the original Star Wars movies. I am so glad that I have the original versions on VHS, because I am quite sure he will never let them see the light of day again. I am not alone in this disgust, either. It is so prevalent among my generation that satirists Trey Parker and Matt Stone devoted a whole episode of South Park to arguing that Lucas should leave the Indiana Jones movies in their original form when he released them on DVD. Fortunately they were. It's rumored that Spielberg wants to make another Indiana Jones movie, but he can't without George Lucas' okay. I can see it now: Tom Cruise as Indiana Jones with Ahmed Best as his annoyingly wacky sidekick.
A fan of Andrew Jackson I am not, usherer-in that he was of the era of political spoils. Nevertheless I must pass along an interesting bit of geneological history I found in the Powell News. (Powell is the town to the northeast of Karns.) Andrew Jackson, as you doubtlessly know, was a resident of the frontier state of Tennessee. Andrew Jackson felt himself an honorable man and married a woman named Rachael to protect the honor of her name, she being reputed to be of ill-repute. Later, when Jackson was president and she the first lady, Rachael was often snubbed on the Washington scene for this history, particularly by Mrs. John C. Calhoun - one reason among many for the falling out of their respective husbands.
Although Rachael and Andrew had no children of their own, they adopted Rachael's nephew and named him Andrew, Jr. This Andrew had four children, the youngest of which he named Andrew III. Andrew III and his son Andrew IV both had two sons, naming the eldest Andrew. Andrew V also named his first son Andrew VI. Andy Jackson VI is, surprisingly enough, a lawyer, Knoxville resident and Republican. Andy VI thinks the original Andrew would have been a Republican too were he alive today, which was the main point of the Powell News article. Maybe he would be. I don't really care.
Most interesting, I think in my oh-so unbiased opinion, is the genealogy. For six generations Jacksons have lived in East Tennessee and named their sons Andrew, but Andy VI, who is 49, has two daughters. What will East Tennessee be like without an Andrew Jackson? It's never been without one before...
Our student newspaper at UT, the Daily Beacon, is generally a good source of information for some things going on around campus, but often badly written and annoyingly liberal. The exception to this is Sukhmani Singh Khalsa, who is well informed and generally holds agreeable opinions. Surprisingly he is from Massachusetts. As he is deserving of a wider audience, I've linked his articles below:
UT caters to liberal thought|
Play falls short of ‘empowerment’
Random thoughts stem from trip
Intent of Constitution's welfare clause debatable
Prohibiting certain behavior wrong
Exportation of jobs examined
Political correctness stifles speech
Free trade protestors criticized
Kerry distorts armament issue
World observations offered
Respect among nations questioned
Best way to promote morality found in culture, not government
Group mentality fails to foster individual merits
More understanding may close rift
Living Wage No :Pay increases spur unemployment
Drug legalization allows freedom
'Godzilla' Wal-Mart reexamined
Random thoughts posed
Affirmative action not necessarily productive
Anti-war protesters exemplify 'American arrogance'|
World teeming with ridiculous occurrences
'Trapping' of poor questioned
Jokes help lighten political mood
Protection violates liberty
Candidate's views examined
Universities celebrate diversity in all but ideology
Election issues cultivate musings
'Passion' column criticized
Issues Committee e-mails, structure questioned
Liberal Issues Committee desperately needs changes
Columnist questions feminists
E-mail provides array of entertaining responses
Bush lied crowd ignores facts, exists in fantasyland
Founding Fathers ideas misrepresented on campuses
Strengths, value of 'greatest country in the world' outlined
Tonight brings historic event
Today's racial preferences thwart colorblindness
Anti-war crowd 'consistently, collectively wrong'
Universities celebrate diversity in all but ideology
And, no, the Daily Beacon doesn't have such an index available on their website.
It looks like the honeymoon might be over for political blogs like this one. A US district court judge in the District of Columbia, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, has recently said that internet blogs fall under the purview of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). The Memorandum Opinion was written for the civil case Emily's List v. FEC. While no love of mine is lost on Emily's List, the wider implications are disturbing. Assuming I had somehow already donated the maximum contribution to a candidate and then I provided a link to their website on this blog, I would be liable for prosecution for making an illegal contribution. That's right, a hyperlink on a personal weblog is a government-regulatable campaign contribution according to Judge Kollar-Kotelly.
Are we realizing campaign finance reform is a bad idea yet? I am fortunate enough to have a sieve to catch many of these good-sounding-at-first bad ideas: I took a sociology class in college. My professor thought that the regulation of campaign finances was vital to making elections fair again. How else could one explain that the candidate he had worked so hard for, Jesse Jackson, hadn't even made it past the primaries? (Ironically enough, Jackson spoke at Presbyterian College just last week.) Fortunately, I had my dad around to make me feel like an idiot every time I got convinced one of these socialistic ideas was correct . Nevertheless, I will always be in Dr. McKelvey's debt because he told me I did not in fact belong at PC, but somewhere more like Georgia Tech. But I digress...
|The finding of Judge Kollar-Kotelly against Emily's List cited an earlier finding of the judge's in the case of Senator McConnell v. FEC in which the Republican National Committee and the California Democratic party among others also stood as plaintiffs against the FEC. This case is really somewhat more important in general because it was the case that went to the Supreme Court in 2003 wherein the constitutionality of BCRA was upheld. The funny thing is that the Senator who's name will be memorized by history students of the future, Mitch McConnell (Republican senator from Kentucky since 1984 and majority whip), enjoys the distinction of having voted for Campaign Finance Reform in the Senate before attacking it in the courts.||
Mitch McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
What part of "Congress shall make NO law" does she not understand? How does the constitution get reinterpreted to include that unless clause? We have truly entered an era when fixed laws are becoming meaningless. The average American can't go through a normal day without breaking some law, so only those who are a nuisance to someone with power get prosecuted. (This is why I am not personally so worried about my blog, it is not important enough to be stamped out of existance.)
As for the details of the case at hand: Basically, what Emily's List wanted was an injunction against the FEC for a policy that went into effect Jan 1, 2005 that said they had to use more than 50% hard money to pay for political speech. In her opinion Kollar-Kotelly enjoyed expressing a great deal about what she thought the word "contribution" actually meant (communications are included) and what she thought about the 1st Amendment before getting to the point that Emily's List already uses more than 50% hard money to pay for political speech, and so would not be harmed by the FEC's new rule - i.e. no good reason for an injunction. Nevertheless, the widening scope of what a "contribution" constitutes gives one pause. How long before a "W" sticker on the back of your car counts as a contribution that is a function of the number of miles you drove, or a speech you gave counts as a contribution that is a function of the people who heard you? Fortunately, the current valuation of a blog contribution is the cost of maintaining it, not its readership, but the FEC has the power to change this at a whim!
Ever been interested in exactly what chemicals companies near your house are releasing into the environment? NIH has produced a nice toxmap that shows, in more detail than you could ever want, exactly which companies release how much of what. Usually this is very specific, like toluene, sodium hydroxide, lead, 1,1,1-tricloroethane, etc., however, the Y-12 facility near us in Oak Ridge releases a great deal of "other chemicals".
Der Spiegel is comparing Bush's trip to Germany to Ronald Reagan's in 1987, when he gave that speech at the Berlin Wall. Apparently the Germans still get surprised when aggresively attacking evildoers pays off. Here's the link:
Cara's grandfather, whom we call Papa, is someone who I think embodies the American entrepreneurial spirit. He has started a number of businesses and is always looking for a new idea. As someone with a training in sociology many of these are for the betterment of society as well as to turn a profit. The Amish are known for their community spirit - raising barns and that sort of thing. Papa hatched an idea to capture some of that spirit in homebuilding (one of his fields) by having people in the community help to build a house and then printing certificates for all the helpers that would obligate the homeowner to help them in the construction of any future houses they might build. I pointed out to him that he was printing money, attempting to say that such a medium of exchange already existed for a much wider range of services. He, knowing more about the system, first thought of that circumnavigation of the IRS he would be creating and the ire of that institution for those who try to avoid it. It really brought home for me the disservice that taxes do to the transparency of our medium of exchange. We seek to avoid using money because there is always a loss in doing so. From the corporate scandels with stock options to the black market trade in cigarettes it is clear that trade is seeking other avenues. Witness also the explosive growth of internet trade that is unburdened by sales tax. This is a disturbing development considering that our money has no intrinsic value - if confidence in it erodes below a certain threshold, then it could take a precipitous decline to worthlessness. While this may seem far-fetched in the near term, on the scale of 50 - 100 years (i.e. within the lifespan of a good portion of the people on the planet) it is not so.
In the summer of 1720 a bubble similar to the recent dotcom one popped. The novel refinancing of government debt in France and England in the form of publicly traded companies, the Mississippi and South Sea companies respectively, led to speculation that snowballed as the directors of the two companies got rich inflating the share price. In France the Mississippi Company's director, John Law, also had control over the money supply, which was valued in livres that could be and were arbitrarily devalued with respect to the specie also in circulation in France. Monsieur Law was also a convicted murderer who escaped from prison in England to avoid the gallows - a perfect finance minister to be sure. In England the directors of the South Sea company enjoyed the conviviance of bribed MPs but received only a cold shoulder from the Bank of England. Naturally, this meant that when people realized that stock probably shouldn't be valued at several times a company's assets the English were not as overstretched as the French, who saw their livres, whose exchange for specie had been mandated by law, several times devalued. Such tales should serve to chasten the modern investor.
Welcome to my new flavor of blog. It's entitled "business", but a better name might be "random thoughts unrelated to politics or my family". Perhaps I will think of a better name as time progresses (suggestions are welcome).
My first comment herein relates to the billboard industry. It seems that billboards, where they are not independently owned, are owned by two different sorts of companies: 1) entertainment companies such as Viacom (owners of CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount, etc) and ClearChannel (owners of about a bazillion radio and TV networks), and 2) just billboards companies such as Lamar (who also makes the blue signs that tell you where you can eat or buy gas at the next exit). On a recent drive through north Georgia and East Tennessee we wrote down all the different billboard companies we saw. Alas, we did not record any frequency data, but the three companies listed above seemed to have the most. The others were Douglas, Wall, S+H Outdoor, Eller, Hall, Volunteer, Vista, Elevation, EastWest, TriState and Outdoor Displays. The outdoor advertising industry is about $5+ billion dollars large in the US alone, mostly in billboards. For more info check out oaaa.org.
In Deutschland since shortly after WWII it's been quite illegal to give a Fascist salute or a Sieg Heil!. Similarly, in France you can't sell any Nazi merchandise. After the third in line for the English throne appeared in Nazi garb this past week there's talk of making such silly prohibitions EU-wide. Dumb idea. Hitler's been dead for almost sixty years. The Nazis have been permanently branded by history as bad. Dressing up like a Nazi comes from a desire to be naughty. Making it illegal only makes it naughtier. Stupid people should be granted every opportunity to show their true colors - that makes it easier for the rest of us to spot them and steer clear. Oh yeah, and cut the monarchy loose from the government trough. No need to seize their wealth or anything like that (I'm sure they'll squander it away after just a couple generations anyway), just cut them off.