Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hey, Progressives...

are you a little bothered by Obama ordering hits on US citizens, and that, as Greenwald notes, "not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality"?

The Idea of a Pciture

Staring out the frames of the windows at my campus library yesterday, I wondered, "Did we get the idea of a picture from staring out of a cave and seeing a 'snapshot' of the world framed in the cave entrance? Is it a coincidence that the first painting appear amongst people who dwelt in caves?"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Do You Know About...

the Battle of Plassey, in which a private company fought the ruler of Bengal and used its victory to gain rule over the subcontinent of India! But... but... I thought private companies only engaged in voluntary transactions, and only governments conquered territories!

Might and Meaning

Might and Meaning

The mood took me over the hill,
Giving me some suchness to consider,
But I didn't. Fuck suchness, and fuck
The almighty God-worn meaning.

I honor those who study meaning;
That is a lost cause, for meaning
Cannot be rectified, no matter what
Your lexicographers are telling you,

O mighty one. Speaking of meaning,
I didn't mean this to be an appeal
To you for support, O mighty one,
But now that it is, please give generously.

Can we not describe this differently,
O mighty one? I shall of course
Lie however blatantly you desire,
O mighty one. But, if I may presume,

Think of your subject public: it may not matter
What they think, but their collective fear
Is like smog, and, as for smog,
Can be wiped away with good rule.

Why We're Fat

Jim Henley explains that it's the scum at CNN.

What Is So Austrian About Austrian Economics?

I'm really starting to like Emerald Publishing -- it seems like they're intending to publish several papers of mine per week. Today, we have The role of ideal types in Austrian business cycle theory.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Malthus and Sismondi Were Thinking re a General Glut

So, now that I think I understand what these folks were thinking about, thanks to Thomas Sowell's On Classical Economics, let me describe the sort of scenario I believe that they had in mind.

Imagine Bob Murphy, Silas Barta and I are living on a desert island. First Bob and I set Silas adrift at sea on a small raft while he's sleeping. (Just kidding, Silas! We love you, man.) Then we set about catching fish from the island's lagoon with our rough-hewn spears. In three hours a day, we each catch about five or six fish, enough to feed us well. Then we spend the rest of the day discussing teleology.

One day, Silas says, "Guys, we don't work that much. We could really increase our productivity if we worked six hours a day." Bob and I reluctantly go along. That day, we each catch a dozen fish, but are too tired to discuss teleology.

We each eat six of the fish and feel decently full. We eat three more each, and now we're stuffed. We take our last three and bury them in the sand, thinking perhaps they'll make the soil more fertile. Then we talk about the increased work load, and all decide, "Man, that just wasn't worth it! It was better when we had more leisure time to discuss teleology."

We just had a general glut. Now, according to Sowell, Malthus and Sismondi understood that we could get rid of all of our production at some price, for instance, the "price" we receive in more fertile soil for burying some of the fish, i.e., we sold our all of our product, but at a loss. The problem is that price isn't sufficient to prompt us to continue that level of production. They also both realized that with better technology, a new production possibilities frontier would emerge, and what once represented a glut would no longer do so. (For instance, if Bob, Silas and I had pans for extracting sea salt from the ocean through evaporation, we might have salted four or five of the fish we caught, and eaten our preserved catch later when we spent a day making fishing nets instead of fishing.)

Does this really happen in an advanced economy? Good question. But, at the least, it's now clear to me that Malthus and Sismondi were not talking theoretical nonsense, as Mill and later Rothbard contended. A general glut, as they defined it, is certainly a theoretical possibility.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

There's Thinking, Then There's Thinking...

I was watching The Visitor (a movie that starts with an economist leaving Connecticut to present a paper at NYU -- at first I thought it might be a movie about Bill Butos), which turned out to be a very nice movie, despite being about feelings. But there was one scene where the younger Syrian drummer who is a major character is giving the economist drum lessons, and he says to him: "Walter, you're a very smart guy, but I have to tell you, don't think. Thinking only gets in the way of drumming."

Man, the errors one can fall into through a lack of study of British Idealist philosophers! You hear the same thing regarding athletics, and its equally wrong in both areas. Having had some minor success as a musician and a swimmer, I can say you perform best when you are thinking intensively, exclusively, about your playing or swimming. But you have to be thinking musically or swimmingly, and not thinking abstract, verbal thoughts about playing or swimming. That's what's really meant by these admonitions "Don't think!" It is confusing thinking tout court with abstract, verbal reasoning that leads to this mistake. If only these people had read more Oakeshott, they wouldn't make these errors. In fact, perhaps they should read Oakeshott while drumming, since they don't need to think while playing!

Say What, Murray?

I am reading Thomas Sowell's On Classical Economics, which I have thoroughly enjoyed so far. He was describing the debate between J.B. Say, on one side, and Thomas Malthus and Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi, on the other, over Say's Law. Sowell notes that these critics of Say's Law never suggested the possibility of a "permanent glut," but merely that there is an equilibrium level of aggregate income, and production might overshoot that at times. But John Stuart Mill never bothered to read Malthus or Sismondi on this point (he thought his father and Say had decisively refuted them, so there was no need), and he falsely attributed to them the idea of the permanent glut.

"Hmm," I said to myself, "a vulgar, popular distortion of the ideas of economists who might appear to be market critics? I bet I know who gleefully repeated that!" So I pulled Rothbard's Classical Economics off of the shelf, and... man, I think I'm four-for-four in these bets now. Not only does Rothbard attribute the permanent glut idea to Say's critics, but he goes further in doing a little character assassination of Sismondi. He calls him a "socialist" -- Sowell, who has actually read Sismondi, reports, "While Sismondi accepted laissez-faire as a principle, he opposed it as a dogma" -- in other words, he was some sort of mild interventionist. Rothbard then relates a little tale to make Sismondi appear "dotty": he says that to guard against over-production he deliberately employed very incompetent workers on his farm. Now, that smells like the kind of tale a critic makes up to satirize an opponent's views, not like reality. So where did Rothbard discover this? There is no reference at all! As long as it makes Rothbard's target look bad, who needs references?

But I've saved the punchline for the end: Rothbard describes how Say's counter-arguments crushed Malthus and Sismondi, so that since that time, Say's Law has been "challenged only by cranks and crackpots." So, guess who one of those cranks (whom Rothbard does not mention) was?

J.B. Say! That's right: in his later works, as Sowell documents, Say admitted that Malthus and Sismondi were correct, and a general glut is a possibility.

I'm starting to think that, since Rothbard claims Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, I'd better double check that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Well, You Get Wabulon, Don't You?

As explained here.

Instituting a Government of Laws, Not Men

Is an attempt to replace human beings with "political machinery."

The Private Security Guard Is Not Your Friend

There has, of late, been a spate of Internet writing maintaining that "the policeman is not your friend."

Well, a listen a what me a see. I was book shopping at Waterstone's in Cardiff, checking out the "Staff Picks" near the front of the store. I noticed a couple of security guards furtively peering out upon the public square beyond the storefront and talking on their Secret-Service headsets. This got my attention. I paid for my book and went out and took a seat in the square. I sat down and pretended to read while I watched the action. There were three 12-year-olds being plenty furtive themselves, hiding behind trees, peeking at some bicycles. (I had heard security say, "They're going to take the orange one," and there was, indeed, an orange bike, so I knew I had my "men.") I stared at the obvious ringleader and shook my head a bit. Rather than getting my message, that he'd been spotted and should back off, he stared back and said, "What the fuck you lookin' at?" I shrugged my shoulders and thought, "You, getting arrested."

A minute later, with a fairly smooth move, he used the orange bike as a lever to break its own chain, and hopped on it to ride off. Well, he was going for about 20 feet when security converged on him from three different shops. (That's how stupidly, obviously suspicious these kids were acting.) The first guy who reached the kid was about 6'2'' and 200 pounds or so. He hooked the 5'2'', 100 pound pre-teen under the chin with his arm, lifting him off the bike by his neck. Then he slammed him into the pavement. Another guy jumped on the kid's back and shoved his face against the tarmac. He then dragged the kid's hands behind his back, as if he were about to handcuff him, perhaps forgetting that, being private security, he had no handcuffs. Finally, realizing the absolute pointlessness (in terms of an arrest, anyway) of holding someone on the ground in the place-the-cuffs-on position when you have no cuffs, he and a couple of other of the "arresting officers" dragged the kid off.

It is hard for me to imagine that this kid wouldn't have had a far less violent arrest if it had been a couple of bobbies in the square instead. I suppose if you entirely ignore the behavior of private security forces, like the gangs of mercenaries that roamed the countryside in the Middle Ages, like private security in Iraq, the actions of bar bouncers, such as the one who murdered Jaco Pastorius, the drug cartels terrorizing Mexico, the Mafia, etc., etc., then you might be able to convince yourself that the problem all comes down to "the State." (Make a suitably frightening noise here.)

But if it becomes difficult to sustain this willful blindness, here, I think, is a more reasonable summary of our situation:

1) Society needs a warrior class.
2) That warrior class easily can itself become a danger to society, whether that class is paid through public or private funds. It's just the nature of the beast. These are people with a propensity for violence, after all.

Easy answers? Ain't no easy answers, not even precisely obeying the precepts of Spencer, Mises, and Hayek.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Winning Reliever Signs Adam's Ball

Adam Interviewed by NY1

Stupid Willow Tree

Stupid Willow Tree

Stupid willow tree, your branches hang
Down upon the muddy swampland,
And I thrust myself into the situation,
Wondering what it means
To look like a shower of rain.

In this dark water, like ghosts,
Willow trees and their kin
Add to the beautiful confusion
Where no one can know
What actually happened.

Who cares? The sight is seen, the shallow
Green water conceals nothing. And then?
Onward into the next bayou. And then?

One Kiloyear

One Kiloyear

One millisecond = one kiloyear divided by twenty-nine trillion four hundred and ninety-one billion two hundred million.

One centisecond = one kiloyear divided by two trillion nine hundred and forty-nine billion one hundred and twenty million.

One decisecond = one kiloyear divided by two hundred and ninety-four billion nine hundred and twelve million.

One second = one kiloyear divided by twenty-nine billion four hundred and ninety-one million two hundred thousand.

One dekasecond = one kiloyear divided by two billion nine hundred and forty-nine million one hundred and twenty thousand.

One hectosecond = one kiloyear divided by two hundred and ninety-four million nine hundred and twelve thousend.

One kilosecond = one kiloyear divided by twenty-nine million four hundred and ninety-one thousand two hundred.

One myriasecond = one kiloyear divided by two million nine hundred and forty-nine thousand one hundred and twenty.

God Visits Hell

God Visits Hell

God, in the Person of Jesus,
Harrowed Hell. Does He ever go back?
If He doesn't, what's the difference
Between a billion and a trillion?
Stupid priests: After awhile, how can
Longer and more be worse?
That's hardly eternal suffering;
That's just eternity--not the same.
Here's suffering: God calls down,
"Can you meet Me for dinner?"
Once every millisecond,
Or every thousand years, for ever
And ever. That's suffering. Stupid priests,
May your drabs be dragged in God's mud.

Good news!

Our financial masters have finally succeeding in stopping the loss of low-wage jobs to India, China, etc. By making the population of the US rust belt as poor as third-worlders, they can now practice near-sourcing!

Friday, September 10, 2010

It Don't Mean That!

It's amazing how many people have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that you can criticize an argument independently of whether you think the conclusion is sound. If someone says, "I believe the earth is round, because I like round things, and I like the earth!" they've presented a terrible argument. If you point that out to them, it's nonsense for them to come back with, "Ah, so you believe the earth is flat!"

Racial Feud

Is perhaps an alternate name for the TV game show Family Feud, since every single time I've seen it, it features a black family against a white family. I even caught the French version the other night, and the French, not reluctant to follow us in this regard, also had a white versus black match.

Silence Is Goulden

Just finished Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life, his description of the Cambrian explosion and what he sees as the philosophical implications arising from those distant events. The science writing is very good, although I understand his conclusions are still disputed.

But when Gould goes to draw the "implications" of the events he describes, what we get is typical scientistic nonsense. For instance, Gould contends that the very long time life has existed on Earth compared to the very short time, relatively speaking, that humans have existed demonstrates that the telos of life cannot been to have create humans. Yes, and I suppose if we can show that a composer spent twenty years composing, and then comes out with a one hour symphony, this demonstrates that the purpose of all that composing could not possibly have been the symphony, since the composing lasted so much longer than the symphony!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Source of Science

"There is but one source for science: It must come from the Medieval insistence on the rationality of God." -- Alfred North Whitehead

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Judgement Goes with Instinct

"True eloquence has no time for eloquence, true morality has no time for morality. In other words, the morality of judgement has no time for the random morality of mind.

"For judgement is what goes with instinct, just as knowledge goes with mind. Intuition falls to the lot of judgmement, mathematics to that of mind." -- Pascal, Pensées

UPDATE: I think Pascal is basically correct, but I would put this a little differently: I would say that instinct is a form of thought, and what he calls "mind" I would term "abstract thought."

Those Curious French Folks

In my hotel room there are two sinks and a shower. Both sinks are next to dispensers of hair and body wash. The only hand wash I can find is... in the shower!

Also of note: The handles by which one opens the shower doors are not knobs but... holes. Now, I´m not one of those freedom fries people, but this is clearly an instance where, say, a Brooklyn construction manager would have come in handy: "Listen, Jean Pierre Avantgarde, do you realize the purpose of them friggin doors is to keep the water in the shower, and if youse cuts holes in em, youse defeatin the point?"

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Positive Externality...

from trying to speak French in Paris: Lots and lots of free language lessons!

The Global Position of English

Who could have predicted, in, say 1300, that English would be the most widely spoken language in the world in a few hundred years? At that point the language was not only spoken on just one medium-sized island. It was also just one of the four major languages of that island (which included Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish), and it was not even the language of the rulers of the English people themselves. (They spoke Norman French.)

Insomniac TV News

* The UK seems to have a show on that consists entirely in showing people sleeping. It was on two channels throughout much of the night.

* An announcer on the BBC show Breakfast said, "And in disturbing news, it seems that four out of every ten victims of domestic violence are men." I was very unclear about what he found "disturbing" -- is it more women or more men he thinks should be victims?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Internet Explorer: It Still Blows!

I am forced to use Internet Explorer 8 right now, because that is what Manchester Metropolitcan University has installed, and man, is it still awful. Crash Landing's new fonts look miserable. Both Crash Landing and repeatedly crash the browser. runs like molasses. I have used Firefox, Safari, and Chrome at all these sites, and none of them crash, and they all run snappily. I am stunned that the eigth version of a Microsoft product can be so bad.

But I shouldn't be: Word after 20 years still can't get styles right, and, as far as I know, Microsoft still hasn't figured out that the command line window should have scroll bars!

The Battle of the Historical Myths

One guy writes that Glenn Beck teaches "his viewers the much-debunked idea that America's creation was rooted in Christianity." In response, another guy writes that it was so founded on Christianity.

But no serious scholar of the period agrees with either of these disputants. The American Founding was along-simmered stew containing a variety of ingredients, amongst which 1) classical republicanism, 2) non-conformist Protestant ideology, and 3) Deist-tending Enlightenment philosophy were the most potent. Of course, any partisan can dig up a bunch of quotes from 2) and "demonstrate" that we are a Christian nation, or, from 3), to "debunk" that claim.

And neither side, I'd guess, has any interest in hearing the truth. "Well, it's complicated," is not a position that can easily be turned into propaganda to hurl at your political foes.

A Confession

I, too, thought of sacking Gordon Brown in 2004, and began drinking to put up with him.

What Further Evidence Could One Want?

From the front page of today's Metro:

"This picture of a cuasually dressed [British Foreign Secretary] Mr. Hague with adviser Christopher Myers fuelled rumours of an affair."

He was dressed casually while he was with the guy?! Well, that's that, then.

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...