Friday, July 28, 2006

a consumer reports!

Okay, I've never been a fan of Rolling Rock beer, but a beer crime is still a beer crime. Anheuser-Busch has bought the popular little beer's company and has closed down the plant. They'll be brewing it elsewhere. I am not a fan of the other company either, but I can only imagine the quality will sink to their level.

In news about products I do use, Dr. Bronner's has gone the way of the red-flagged devil and started buying free trade crapola. Everyone around here has probably already read the Reason article on "fair" trade practices. I'm completely horrified. If they were buying pepperhemp from the worst sweatshop in North Korea, I probably would never have found out, but they are blatantly admitting that they've been swindled by fair trade marketing scheme. They advertise it on their bottles like it's a great thing! Argh. And peppermint kills roaches dead in five seconds. Seized-up, legs-in-the-air dead dead. Where am I gonna find another product like that? Shoes and TNT don't work as well. Do they still make TNT? Maybe that makes for a decent soap?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tree Man

Have any of your ever tried getting a contractor to actually show up and do work at your house? Here's the lament I just composed based on the futile effort to do so:

Tree Man (To the Tune of Greensleeves)

Alas tree man you do me wrong
To blow me off discourteously
For I would pay you well and long
If you'd cut down my tree

Tree man I need your saw
Tree man please take my call
Tree man o schedule me
Oh who but my missing tree man

Your dates you've broken like my will
Oh why did you say you'd be by
Now I remain in a world of shade
And my roof remains all moldy

Tree man...

Thoughts on Israel/Lebanon

JIMB, this one's for you...

What's PUCK About?

I've had a lot of difficulty answering that common question, since to me it's about so many things. But I was up in Maine with TT Tom this past weekend (pictures not to follow, since I forgot to take a single one), and he summed it up beautifully: PUCK is about $18. So pay up.

Don't Let Me Down

The other day Bush declared he would never let the Iraqi people down. And he will kill as many of them as necessary to make sure those left don't feel let down.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Speaking of Retail

I was in Wendy's the other day. There was one person in front of me in line, and none behind. In fact, we were the only customers in the whole store, in line or not. When the cashier finished serving the man in front of me, she looked into the empty air about ten feet to the left of me and called loudly, "Can I help the next person in line?"

I felt so warm and fuzzy!

If Bob Marley didn't shoot the deputy...

...then who did? I can't prove it, but I strongly suspect it was the real father of Billie Jean's son.

The Ruling Class

William F. Buckley once had a funny line to the effect that he would rather be governed by people selected randomly from the phone book, than by the faculty of Harvard.

I totally agree with his stance, but not merely because Harvard profs would be terrible rulers. I don't think it would be wise to put any such homogeneous group in charge of the government. E.g. I can think of pitfalls if physicists, psychologists, professional athletes, etc. etc. were placed in charge. One of the benefits of the random selection approach is that there would be a diversity of views and areas of expertise. For those of us who don't like the government in general, there's also the added benefit of increased gridlock.

If I had to choose, my first reaction was that having a group of economists run the government wouldn't be so bad. After all, I thought, at least we'd get (relatively) free trade and market incentives in various things. The worst, most inefficient government policies would surely be curtailed. But then I realized that "expert" economists have been advising governments throughout the 20th century, and I don't just think it was a matter of the politicians perverting their recommendations. No, there is something seriously wrong with most economists, and it could be terrible if they had unbridled power to implement their schemes.

Ironically, the single worst group of professionals (classified by occupation) to be in charge aren't the economists or the art teachers but...the politicians. Too bad we live in a system--and love it so much that we actually invade other countries to share it with them--where the politicians are precisely the ones given power over the rest of us.

Israel's Disastrous Blunder

Israel today killed four UN peacekeepers. That'll teach Hezbollah a lesson!

Some good quotes:

"In fact, Israel's grossly disproportionate collective punishment of Lebanon and Gaza for the killing and capturing of a few Israeli soldiers will only fuel the anti-Israel fire in both places and the larger Arab world. When hatred has been stoked, lost fighters and weapons can be replaced -- and rather easily."

Ivan Eland (7/24/06)

"Unfortunately, Israel's campaign will deal a harsh below to liberal institutions of civil society and will likely make Lebanon ripe for the spread of extremism, Vargas Llosa argues: 'It is true that Lebanon in transition had many problems, including the political survival of many leaders who fought the war, a power-sharing arrangement entirely based on religious grounds and, especially, the incapacity of the political institutions to disarm Hezbollah. But Israel's reprisals are not making that right. They are punishing a moderately successful attempt at religious diversity in a climate of peaceful coexistence and modernization in the Arab world.'"

Alvaro Vargas Llosa (7/19/06)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Code Red at Home Depot

Over the July 4th weekend, my (then) 19th-month-old son, Clark, as well as my mother-in-law and brother-in-law, were trapped for over an hour in a Home Depot elevator. I should've written up all the details soon after it occurred, but maybe it's better this way since I'm not as angry.

Suffice it to say, there was plenty of idiocy displayed on many fronts. First and foremost, the fact that it took over an hour to get the elevator open, when there was an infant trapped inside. Second, the fact that they had been having elevator troubles before, and didn't bother acquiring the tool (a rod with a special something on the end) needed to unlock the door. (It was a Home Depot, for crying out loud!) Third, the fact that both the police and employees assured me that nobody would open the door without giving me notice--so that I could yell to my mother-in-law to hold Clark away from the door--and yet that's exactly what happened. Fourth, the fact that the firemen and police assured me that when they cut the power to the motor (standard procedure when the elevator is stuck between floors), the ventilation and lighting would stay on inside. (They didn't.)

You might be expecting an anti-government rant right about now, but I must disappoint. For all their flaws, the cops and firemen at least showed up. In contrast, the manager had called two separate private elevator service companies, and nobody from them showed up during the entire ordeal.

(Oh after I posted this initially, it occurred to me that in the interest of fairness, I should mention that most of the Home Depot employees seemed very concerned, including the manager. They gave us the stuff we had earlier picked out--a 10,000 BTU air conditioner and a long card table--for free.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Umm, Did Anyone Else Realize It Was This Bad??

Granted these numbers might be inflated--the story itself says it was unclear if they were limited just to deaths from killings--but even the more conservative AP counts have at least 1,500 Iraqi civilians killed...during May and June!!!!

I have a question for the supporters of the war, who think it is good for the Iraqi people. Is there any number of Iraqi civilian deaths that would render the invasion a bad idea, at least on the criterion of helping Iraqis? I realize there is an argument that it's not Bush's fault that insurgents are blowing up people, and I'm asking that, whatever your thoughts on that matter, surely there is some point at which no invasion would have been better.

So I wonder: If, say, one million people died in a single year--and not because of US troops or bombs but from terrorists--would Bill Kristol stop justifying the occupation as good for the Iraqis? Is there some number at which even he couldn't say that with a straight face? If so, what's the ballpark of the number?

So What's Israel Supposed to Do?

From CNN:
"Israel: 25 dead, including 13 civilians, Israeli military says.

Lebanon: 183 dead, Lebanese authorities say, with no breakdown between civilians and military personnel." (Although there are no reports of any Hezbollah casualties yet.

Every time I check these figures, Israel is killing Arabs, Palestinians, etc. at 5 to 10 times the rates they kill Israelis. The nitiwts who always say, "So what's Israel supposed to do, stand by while its people are killed?" don't seem to realize that their justification for violence against innocent people works many times as well for Hezbollah as it does for Israel.

Of course, neither side is justified in its continual murder of non-combatants.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Pucking A!

PUCK, my first novel, is now available for sale at

More Catholic Than the Pope

As usual, after I wrote my most recent article trying to advocate a moderate view of the relationship between religion and science, rather than the more popular, contemporary view of science as an angel of light having fought a long battle against the dark forces of religious superstition, I received letters from people who felt I was, e.g., letting Galileo off too easilly. A sample:

"And you should know that Galileo got just what he deserved because he harassed the Church into changing their interpretation of the bible based on his theories, which were impossible to prove at that time. They got tired of being shoved around, so they told him to get off their backs and be quiet."

("Telling him" this means, in this instance, threatening him with torture and imprisoning him.)

This letter was from a Catholic. The odd thing is that this isn't the authoratative Catholic position on this matter:

"Pope John Paul II issued a declaration in 1992 saying that the church's denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from 'tragic mutual incomprehension.' This is considered a close to the Galileo issue by the Church."

The phenomena of people like my correspondent above strikes me as very odd. (Other examples include those who declare Vatican II a mistake, Mass should be in Latin, etc.) They are trying to be more Catholic than anyone else, but, in the process, wind up dismissing the decrees of the Pope, and so, in fact, have become Protestants! Weird.

The Food Over There Is Terrible

I was at a family party on Saturday, and a cousin who knew I had been in London said the above to me.

I spent most of a year-and-a-half in England, and I am honestly befuddled by the ubiquity of this sentiment. The food in London sure was expensive -- I once saw a hamburger for 14 pounds! -- and there were good restaurants and bad, but I really didn't see any overall difference between the quality of the food there and here. Yes, an English construction worker's average fare -- bangers and mash, fish and chips, bubble and squeak -- is not high cuisine, but, then, are hamburgers, hot dogs, and potato salad? Sometimes people will say, "Of course, the Indian food is good," not realizing that curry is now just a standard part of the English diet.

Maybe the food was terrible at one time. Maybe everyone says it because everyone else says it. But I don't get it.

Pacifism: An Analogy To Torture

No, I don't mean I will give a tortured analogy in this blog post (a practice in which I excel, according to SilasX on the anti-state forum). Had I more time I'd write it up for an LRC article, but, well, I haven't the time.

The biggest objection to my pacifism articles (1, 2, and 3) was something like this: "Yes Bob, it would be nice to renounce violence as a tool, but that's impractical. There are people out there who would take advantage of your policy, and turn society upside down. Why, suppose someone had your wife and kids at gunpoint, was about to do all sorts of unspeakable things, and the only way you could stop it would be to..."

OK, rather than give my usual responses, let me just make an analogy. A lot of people (not all, in the Bush era) would probably agree that a civilized society never needs to torture for 48 hours straight and then desecrate someone's religious icons. In fact, some might go so far as to declare, "Torture in such a fashion is off the table. We ought never use it." When confronted with the claim that it is good for deterrence, they might reply, "Actually, I think that on net using torture in such a manner would cause more crimes against innocents. The very fact that we as a society condone it would show that such cruelty is an acceptable practice to get results, and in the long run that's not conducive to a just society."

Of course, the clever critic could say, "Oh, well what if terrorists held your family hostage somewhere, and you had an acknowledged murderer in custody, and he knew where your family was. You tortured him for 48 hours so far, and he won't talk. But you know he's a devout [whatever], and you suspect that if you threaten to do something that you find innocuous but would really upset him for religious reasons, he just might talk. Do you do it, or let your family die?"

Now at this point, the person who adamantly opposes torturing-for-48-hours-and-then-desecrating-religious-icons might wimp out and say, "Oh c'mon, how many times is that going to happen? Are we really going to condone systematic torture and religious desecration because of that scenario?"

OK...If you can understand why the person might cling to this repugnance at the specific torture practices--and not merely "on principle" but also for solid pragmatic reasons--then you can understand why I think a civilized society should renounce the use of violence altogether. It's just a matter of degree. If you think we could safely agree to never torture for 48 hours and then insult a person's religion, even if he's a "bad guy," then you can at least understand why I think we can safely agree to never put someone in a dungeon (we call it "prison" nowadays) even if he's a "bad guy."

For one thing, libertarian readers, notice that the State as we know it would be impossible in such a society. So when you contemplate all the horrors entailed by my ridiculous idea, keep in mind that there would be no drug war, housing projects, government schools, minimum wage, systematic police brutality, etc., all things that tend to encourage criminality.

The Cycle of Violence Continues...

...when I attack former colleague Victor Davis Hanson yet again. (Last time I jumped in to defend Gene's honor; I have no such excuse this time.) I say VDH is a former colleague because we were both teaching classes at Hillsdale at the same time. One thing I will say is this: People shouldn't dismiss him as a moron bully, like some other right-wing stars who come to mind. Even Rothbardian students at HC--who were horrified by his comments regarding "what we need to do in the Middle East"--would concede that he was a smart guy who knew a lot of military history.

Friday, July 14, 2006

More amateur ranting on Mideast

Here's a nice timeline of events for those of you as ignorant as me. No doubt this timeline has had some of the provocations edited out, such that Israel looks more aggressive than a sympathizer would believe. Nonetheless, you can't argue too much with things like "Israel invades with 60,000 troops..."

So, let's say you're a young, unemployed Arab male with no family. Your friends keep telling you the West is trying to take over the entire Middle East. You don't know if this is true or paranoid.

If by next month (say) Israel occupies Lebanon in the same way that the US occupies Iraq, might that give you food for thought?

And the biggest destabilizer of peace is...

...the United States! C'mon now folks, even if you're as antiwar and anti-US-foreign-policy as me, I bet a lot of you Americans (like me) haven't really wrapped your head around the fact that our country (a) spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, (b) invades other countries on the basis of lies and gets away with it, and (c) does not use its incredible influence to limit other conficts.

On this last point, look at what's going on right now with Israel and Lebanon. My understanding is, two people were kidnapped from Israel (and a handful of other soldiers were killed in the ambush), and in retaliation for this Israel has at least twice bombed the airport in Beirut, put a blockade on the entire country, and (as of the AP story I just read) killed at least 60 people. (Yes after the Israelis started bombing Lebanon, there were rocket attacks against Israel too.)

The Lebanese government asked Bush to ask for a ceasefire (NOT for him to tell Israel to back off, mind you, but a ceasefire) and Bush said no, because Israel had a right to defend itself. (If someone from New York kidnapped two people from New Jersey would the Jersey governor have the right to self defense in this fashion?)

Earlier the UN wanted to pass a resolution urging Israel to withdraw its troops and for Hezbollah to release Israeli prisoners, and the US vetoed it. The ambassador's reason? Such a resolution would "exacerbate tensions."

In 100 years people might read about that and laugh. (Why would they want to research this topic? Well, for all we know it's the start of the real third world war.) The sad thing is, they probably won't believe that a bunch of Americans read that in their newspapers or heard it on the news and just said, "Huh they thought it would exacerbate tensions. What's for dinner honey?"

(Oh just to anticipate one objection: If Bush called for a ceasefire and Israel respected it, and then Lebanon or Hezbollah violated it, it would be clear who was in the wrong. You can say, "Oh Israel has gotten screwed a million times in the past!" Well in this instance I think Israel is definitely in the wrong; you don't bomb an airport when two soldiers get kidnapped. And I don't just take it on faith when people inform me that Israel has been the unabashed victim vis-a-vis her neighbors. From what I see both sides suck: Arab nutjobs blow up shopping centers or busses, and Israeli tanks demolish other people's houses who look similar to the bombers.

Also, Bush's official reason for rejecting the ceasefire was that Israel has the right to defend itself, not that Hezbollah would never honor the agreement.)

Space Aliens from Luxemborg

A must read. Hat tip to Roderick Long.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I'm Good Enough, Smart Enough, and Gosh Darnit, People Worship Me

The other day I had to give two people directions (separate incidents). It was clear that they were totally lost and I was quite confident that my directions were correct and clear. After each incident I felt happy, and I realized it was because I had unambiguously contributed something to the world (assuming the people weren't assassins trying to get to the parade route in time).

I started ruminating on how, at least for me and for Bruce Willis's character in Unbreakable, usually when I'm feeling disgusted with myself it's because I think I'm not using my talents adequately, that I could be helping people or whatever and yet here I am blogging on Crash Landing or what have you. Then it occurred to me that perhaps part of the reason Jesus of Nazareth had such a model character was that, well, every day He helped a lot of people.

I mean, if it cheers me up and predisposes me to be a pleasant person after giving somebody directions to the G train, imagine how good it feels to raise your buddy from the dead, or to feed five thousand people!

Cool Perspective on Black Politics

This stuff is mostly obvious once you read it, but I had never seen such a persuasive explanation of why blacks tend to support the (federal) government.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Vacuums: They Don't Suck!

I've been reading nature books lately, since I'm spending the summer in the woods and want to figure out what's around me. In one, I read a description of how the low pressure in a tornado "sucks things in." Another mentioned that "nature abhors a vacuum."

But comparatively low pressure does not exert any sort of force on anything at all. After all, it's low pressure. This was an ancient error -- "nature abhors a vacuum" comes from the middle ages -- and was refuted by Pascal in a famous experiment. There is no "pull" from a vacuum or low pressure system -- there is a "push" from the higher pressure around it. That is why mercury does not rise as high in an evacuated tube on a mountaintop as it does at sea level -- the vacuum is the same in both cases, so if it "pulled," the mercury should go just as high in both places. It doesn't, because there is more air pushing it up at sea level.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cause for Concern?

My daughter was playing the Sims the other day. I hear the phone ringing, but when I get up to answer it, I realize it’s the Sims’ phone. What really worries me is that I have an Internet phoneline in the same computer. What if the Sims find it and start calling their Sim friends in Pakistan or Irkutsk?

Superman Needs an Agent

One could make a career applying the socialist calculation argument to various topics...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Happy Belated Fourth!

Sheldon Richman knocks the US Constitution -- and with good cause.

Also, see Roderick Long on Independence Day, and Julius Blumfeld on rubbish.

More Potty Language

So I'm in the bathroom at NYU's library, taking care of my business. While doing so I thought about the upcoming regressions that I would have to run for some projects. Now because I'm not a student anymore, the library has this dumb rule that I can't get the password to get online with my laptop. At the same time, the public-use workstations don't have the software for running regressions and so on.

Anyway, I thought that maybe I should ask the economics department if I could use their computer lab since it was the summer and not too many people would be around. I even toyed with the idea of asking my old econometrics professor if I could stop by and ask him some questions.

It was in the midst of such ruminations that I glanced over at the wall. In very small letters--the only graffiti in the stall--just above the toilet paper, someone had written "F*** ECONOMICS" (thought without the asterisks). I took this to be a sign, and added, "SCREW POLITICS" to the wall. (Okay, the last part I made up but everything else is true.)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Who Will Be the Ellsberg for Iraq?

A pretty cool LRC article, though I don't know how I feel about the voters' pledge. I suppose it would be consistent with my principles to promise not to vote for a war candidate. I also promise not to vote for a peace candidate...

DC versus Marvel

One of the main differences between DC and Marvel comics is that in the former, the good guys are loved by the masses while in the latter, very often the good guys are hated or at least viewed with suspicion. (Yes I've used the passive voice all over the place in that sentence.) When I was younger, I thought this a point in favor of Marvel, because its creators were sophisticated enough to realize that the public can be morons (just look at democracy).

However, after watching Superman Returns, I have to revisit that. I think the Superman movies very accurately depict the Man of Steel as a hero to the masses. (I don't want to spoil anything, but there's a great ending to the opening action sequence where Superman receives applause, and this is completely believable.)

What's the difference? I think at least two things: One, Superman doesn't wear a mask, whereas Spiderman does. Second, Superman can hang out with the masses if he wants; he doesn't need to run away quickly like Spiderman. This is because Superman (in contrast to just about all others) can choose to leave whenever he wants; even if the entire police force shows up to detain him, he can just fly away. In contrast, Spiderman has to skedaddle after foiling the bad guys, and so people can't be so sure of what happened.

(Granted, you can say DC is unrealistic because Superman really would need to wear a mask if he wanted to be Clark Kent.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Does Irony Really Protect You from Uglineess?

I have several friends who like collecting cheap, kitschy items like the sort of things Burger King or McDonald's will give away during various promotions. They know these objects are tacky, low-brow, and not very attractive looking. The defense they offer when anyone points out the unappealing character of their collection is that they aren't taking the objects seriously, as their creators intended them to be viewed, but are regarding them ironically, showing their superiority to the mass consumer culture.

The difficulty I've always had with that answer is that, sure, seeing those things ironically may indicate more acuity than believing them to be corporate gifts of free art for the masses, but, nevertheless, they've still surrounded themselves with a pile of butt-ugly crap. I don't see how irony can negate the ugliness.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

World's Most Powerful Substance

As anyone who has tried to wash them off of his or her car has suspected, it's bird droppings.

More Weird "Averages"

In a book called The Wild Woods Guide, the authors present a table of cloud types with some characteristic features. Stratus clouds are listed as having an average cloud height of "0 -- 450 meters." Well, first off, how can a cloud be zero meters in height (not zero meters from the ground -- its own height is the average here)? Wouldn't that be no cloud? Or when it looks perfectly clear, is the sky actually filled with zero height stratus clouds?

What's more, what kind of "averages" are they giving in the table? (They are ranges for all cloud types.) The mean, median, and mode all give you a single number, not a range. And this is not an isolated instance, I see these "averages" all the time, e.g.: "Joe Smith averaged between 15 and 30 home runs a year during his career."

Well, for Some People It Will Be...

We were watching The Last Waltz the other night, and one of my favorite songs ever, "The Weight," came on. Levon Helm sang:
"Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say
It's just ol' Luke, and Luke's waitin' on the Judgement Day."

My seven-year-old daughter looked at me and said, "Dad, when is Judgment Day? Is it a holiday?"

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Let's stop the individualist nonsense and fight like men!

In Victor Davis Hanson's latest NRO piece, he displays his usual love of warfare; I count at least seven different "wars" that he discusses (you'll see what I mean if you read it). But what is he saying here?

Nascent democracy is the reason that Afghans and Iraqis, alone in the Middle East, get up each morning and risk their lives to hunt down Islamic terrorists. For all the mess on the West Bank, it was only the free elections that brought in Hamas which offered the Palestinians the opportunity of self-expression. And now they alone suffer the responsibility to live with the economic and military consequences of their disastrous decision. Perhaps they may wish to reconsider next election.

Arafat’s pernicious fa├žade of a “legitimate” government that “sincerely” tried to rein in “rogue” elements is now shattered in both Europe and America. After the Palestinians willingly voted a terrorist government into power, the Hamas politicians are simply fulfilling campaign pledges and doing what terrorists always do: rocketing civilians, murdering, and kidnapping. And now, since there is no more shady, so-called “Hamas,” but only the Hamas-led legitimate government of Palestine, there may be soon a conventional struggle at last, between two sovereign and legitimate states. Such are the wages of moral clarity that accrue from democracy.

Is Hanson saying that it's good Palestinians are now voting, because they have consolidated into a State that Israel can now defeat in open battle?

(I seriously don't know what he's saying; if I'm wrong please explain.)

Protect Yourself! Log Out

I have been using the NYU library's computer lab for several weeks now. This morning I went to check Crash Landing, er, do some studying, and I realized someone (Neo I think) was still logged in to Facebook. I explored only long enough to convince myself that it was real, and not some clever ad to get me to read about Neo's "hot stock tip" that he was sharing only with his 16 closest acquaintances.

This is at least the second time this has happened; before somebody had navigated away from gmail without closing the account. C'mon now, kids, not everyone is as virtuous as me. LOG OUT!!

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...