Monday, October 30, 2006

El Jefe, In a Nutshell: A Fine Video

Apparently, from an actual product: Make SURE you watch the video. One of the finest pieces of cinematography ever. Best moment in the video: A tie, between when the poor high school girl has to hold up two baseballs to show that they are hard, and then again when Mark Littell announces that he has "real cajones. I'm not a transvestite!" I was unwarily drinking tea when I first heard that, and I spit tea on my keyboard. Watch the video, please.

But even the ad copy is worth reading:

The Nutty Buddy is a revolutionary athletic cup designed by a pro baseball player for superior protection of your most valuable assets. The Nutty Buddy is stronger, more comfortable and more protective for athletes in any sport.

Pre-Order Your Nutty Buddy TODAY
* Comfortable Design
* Complete Protection
* Ergonomic shape
* Prevents Pinching
* Fits any athletic supporter

The Nutty Buddy provides complete protection so you can play hard and protect the family jewels!

The Nutty Buddy' comfortable design actually fits a man's groin area to avoid pinching and chafing during athletic activity. Traditional protective cups are dangerously fragile and have awkward shapes that force the genitals into small, cramped spaces.

Select Size "The Boss" - Medium
"The Hog" - Large
"El Jefe" - X-Large

El Jefe? That's art. (Nod to MM)

Three Things to Watch for If the Dems Take the Congress

Six months ago, the idea of a Democratic House seemed far-fetched; taking the Senate was impossible.
How things have changed. The odds of a House takeover are 60-40; taking the Senate would only require that the Dems: (1) hold on to leads against GOP incumbents in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island (nearly certain); (2) turn out their base in Maryland, Missouri, and New Jersey (very possible); and (3) get lucky in either Tennessee or Virginia (could happen).
What will happen, after the election? Three things:

1. It’s raining subpeonas! Committee hearings and subpeonas will be the number one non-legislative priority of a Dem-controlled House. If they take the Senate, given its star power and prestige, we will have a new reality TV show: “Survivor: Oversight!”, with lots of Republican officials voted right off the island. The Dems argue, with cause, that Congress has failed to monitor thousands of administration activities. Expect hearings on administrative rule-making, wire-tapping, detainees, health care for veterans, too much corruption and not enough armor in Iraq….I could go on. If you are an attorney with Democratic connections, dust off the resume. Hundreds of lawyers needed, right away.

2. It’s the Congress, stupid! The center of power and focus for the Dems moves even more to the Congress. Nancy Pelosi will raise $50 million this election cycle, Democratic Senate fundraising chief Charles Schumer is likely to raise more than $100 million before election day. And that is partly because both their organizations, the DCCC and the DSCC, have worked hard. But much of the reason is the grating ineptitude of National Committee Chair Howard Dean, and the apparent belief that “Presidential timber” means candidates made of wood. Except for the anomaly of Bill Clinton, the last Democratic presidential nominee with leadership ability was John Kennedy. Congress is where the Dems feel comfortable ruling.

3. Fiddling while Ramala burns. Having control of Congress means that the Democrats will have to govern, instead of criticize. They are going to need something besides the old standard, “vote for us, and we’ll give you other people’s money!” But their first legislative priority is (drum roll, please)….a new minimum wage law. They claim they will pass this legislation within the first “100 hours” of a new Congress, invoking Roosevelt’s whirlwind “100 days.” Are you serious? You take power in a nation at war, after 12 years wandering in the political wilderness, and your first priority is a symbolic gesture that restores the minimum wage to its inflation-adjusted level when you lost power? The Dems aren’t just mad about 1994; they think it is 1994!
Let’s be honest; the reason the Dems will focus on hearings, and symbolism, is that there is no party consensus on the problems in Iraq. Sure, they didn’t create those problems, but they say they want to rule. They won’t, not on Iraq. The Democrats will dither, criticizing the administration from a newly powerful perspective, but not offering a solution. John Kerry told the truth, in 2004: the Dems think Bush lied, and made a mistake, in Iraq. But at this point they wouldn’t do anything different. And they won’t. Let’s work on that minimum wage thing, instead.
Still, there may be hope for ending the war, in the kind of paradox often found in politics. A Democratic majority could not call for an immediate exit from Iraq, without hamstringing the campaign of their next wooden presidential nominee, in 2008. But the Republicans would have to pull out of Iraq, or at least have a plan for doing so, for their candidate to have a chance in 2008. Iraqi insurgents will be cheered by what they rightly see, in a Democratic takeover, as a voter rejection of Bush’s war. Even if the Dems dither, the administration will have to advance some sort of plan for bringing the troops home, or the Republicans will lose the presidency in two years.

Cards Win! ISMU to blame....

Very pleased about Cards' win in World Series.

Friend from Netherlands points out novel explanation for otherwise hard to understand collapse by Los Tigres.

This is hard to say, but the Tigers suffered from....well, from ISMU, right at the top.

As you probably know, if you have watched those ads on TV, ISMU stands for "Inconsistent Sports Metaphor Usage," and it can be heartbreaking. Sports figures lose control of their metaphors, and sometimes it takes several large towels to clean up.

Here is what happened: Regarding Kenny Rogers' 'it's only a wad of dirt on my hand' incident, Tigers manager Jim Leyland had this reaction:

...Leyland declined to get involved in the debate, saying, "I'm not going to chew yesterday's breakfast."

And then, as we learn in the same article, Tiger first coach Andy Van Slyke, trying to follow suit with his boss Leyland and disregard the controversy as irrelevant, gives up his own breakfast metaphor, but ends up messing things up, badly:

"...I'm not accusing Kenny of cheating, that's not what I'm saying. To me, it's like yesterday's breakfast. I want to throw it back up."

Poor Tigers never had a chance after that. ISMU at the very top of the organization, a rot that must be cut out and cleaned.

Friday, October 27, 2006

FAN Event: Good Liberal, Here's Biscuit!

The John Locke Foundation sponsored a Faculty Affiliate Network event here at Duke on Wednesday, October 25.

Here is a clip of all four speakers.

It was pretty fun. Thanks to JLF, and to Karen Palasek in particular, for all the hard work setting up everything.

No More Mr. Nice Prof.

So, happy students are bad students.

I must be a great teacher! My "C+ median grade" has been making students sad for two decades.

WASHINGTON - Kids who are turned off by math often say they don't enjoy it, they aren't good at it and they see little point in it. Who knew that could be a formula for success?

The nations with the best scores have the least happy, least confident math students, says a study by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

Countries reporting higher levels of enjoyment and confidence among math students don't do as well in the subject, the study suggests. The results for the United States hover around the middle of the pack, both in terms of enjoyment and in test scores.

In essence, happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless.

"We might want to focus on the math that kids are learning and just be a little less obsessed with the fact that they have to enjoy every minute of it," said Loveless, who directs the Brown center and serves on a presidential advisory panel on math.

"The implication is not 'Let's go make kids unhappy,'" he said. "It's 'Let's give kids better signals as to how they're performing, relative to the rest of the world.'"

Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math. They consider their peer group to be star achievers.

Even efforts to make math relevant may be irrelevant, says the study, released Wednesday.

Nations that try to teach math in terms of daily life have the lowest test scores.

All this is not easy to compute. Math teachers typically don't avoid enjoyment, confidence and relevance in their math lessons. They strive for those things.

Speaking on behalf of those teachers, one educator took exception to the study's conclusions.

"If I'm a math student and I don't perceive myself as confident, you think I'm going to major in it? The answer is no," said Francis "Skip" Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and another member of the federal math panel.

"Is enjoyment important? You bet it is. Is confidence important? You bet it is," Fennell said. "If we don't have those variables, we can't compete."

Yet Loveless says pleasing kids has comes at the expense of mastering skills.

His findings come from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a test of fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the globe. Along with answering math questions, students were asked whether they enjoyed math and whether they usually did well in it.

The eighth-grade results reflected a common pattern: The 10 nations whose students enjoyed math the most all scored below average. The bottom 10 nations on the enjoyment scale all excelled.

Japan, Hong Kong and the Netherlands were among those with high scores and lower enjoyment or confidence among students.


(Nod to MAG. Nobody EVER thought HE was nice)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Knowledge Problem

One of the most memorable nights of my sports life was this past week. Championship game for the city baseball league, 14-15 year olds. My younger son's team is down one run, bottom of the seventh (last) inning.

First guy up gets walked, bad pick-off throw sends him to third. Next guy gets walked.

My son Brian comes to bat. Takes a strike, fouls off a low pitch, probably out of the strike zone. Pitcher throws next pitch just off the outside corner. Brian takes it, ump calls it a ball (could have gone either way). Pitcher starts yapping, jumping up and down.

Next pitch is grooved, belt high down the middle. Brian hits a fly ball.

Now, atmospherics: I am so nervous I am hiding behind some bushes just outside the fence in center field. The night has gotten cold, and there is a thick mist rising in the outfield. Two feet thick, ghostly, roiled by passage outfielders. I see the ball go up, and think, "Oh, thank goodness, Brian did his job." Because in that situation, down one, no outs, man on third, you just have to hit a fly ball, or else a grounder to the right side of the infield. You MUST do this, as any ballplayer older than 8 knows. You fail, there is one out, still down one, and you may lose. Double play or a strikeout gets them out of it.

So, I'm watching to make sure the runner is tagging up at third. The coaches and fans are doing this, too. That runner is important.

The center fielder takes a step back, then another, to be in position to make the throw after he catches it.

Now, here's the cool thing: as soon as Brian hit it, he KNEW he had crushed it, and that it would in fact carry well over the center fielder's head. There was at least a full second when he was the ONLY ONE, out of more than 100 people present, who knew this.

The 2nd to realize it was the center fielder. He took another step back, then turned, then ran, then ran really hard, and then dove toward the fence. The ball still fell more than six feet out of his grasp.

I was the third person to know the ball would fall, because of my secluded position, about 15 feet from where the ball fell.

Fourth person to know was our third base coach, who was watching to tell the runner when to leave the base after tagging up, to run home. He starts jumping and shrieking, waving not just that runner on third, but the runner on FIRST to score.

Ball game over, we win the championship.

At McDonalds, afterward, my very interesting son focuses on the surreality of being the only one to know. "It was like it was totally silent, and all the world was in that little ball, getting higher and smaller. I knew it would carry, but no one else knew yet. It was like time stopped. I felt sorry for the center fielder. There was no way he could catch it, but he didn't know that yet."

The sort of thing you dream will happen someday, when the nurse tells you, "It's a boy!" Not just the game, but the conversation afterward. Pure bliss.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Driving Conventions II

I wrote a bit earlier about driving conventions.

Another MM, a friend of mine, now a Nederlander, responded:

Allow me if you will to chime in on a recent post regarding the questionable driving habits of Europeans. Here in Holland it’s white knuckle and a prayer time driving anywhere on the highways—dense, speeding traffic, tailgating at over 100k; lanes about as wide as a car and everyone, it seems, not seeming too care one wit about the other fellow. Belgium worse. Shameful. You get a sort of sick feeling in your guts after surviving a spin through there. My wife has to drive to Brussels every month or so for her job. ‘Dear God,’ I say outloud, ‘please bring her home alive. Amen.’

We live in a small Dutch village between Amsterdam and Utrecht. There are 8000 of us in this postcard pretty village that dates back to medieval times. We’ve got cow pastures and horse stables and grazing sheep; the swans glide easily through the canals past coots and ducks and docked little boats; we’ve got two churches: the new one is Catholic and dates to the 1850s; the old Protestant one is from the 1400s; if you could afford to take your eyes off the road for more than a split second you could see both church spires from the highway. (The Catholic one is a tad higher.) Cherry trees line a lot of the narrow streets and there’s a lot of birch about everywhere else; everyone makes their postage stamp sized gardens into a bit of paradise; the place looks good in snow. When the summer tour buses come through town you know the bus driver is inching toward the microphone and cutting loose with, ‘look folks, a postcard pretty Dutch village. Ain’t it grand?’ But don’t look too close good people—pay no mind to those speeding cars wiping around blind corners and tearing down narrow streets past the rugrats standing outside the daycare houses; ignore that SUV slurving between the cars parked on either side of the street, the one righting itself a foot or two from the uncurbed sidewalk where a kid and his oma (grandma) are walking; close your eyes when you see a car mounting the sidewalk to get around another car he has waited an entire 3 seconds for; just do what we do here and give a Dutch shrug and look the other way.

The speed limit through this old place is 30k throughout. That’s about 19 mph and you’re probably saying ‘you whiner, that’s fair for residential.’ But you all are out there in ‘elsewhere.’ This is Holland – 16 million of us, shoe horned into a place just a little bigger than New Jersey. And Dutch villages are cramped places, built with teeny weeny streets—streets where ‘curb’ parking is necessary and sidewalks are arm-width. The cars zip by, just a few feet from your toes. Think of alleys between rows of houses with a tiny sidewalk on either side—that’s a road here.

Common sense and decency might be enough for a driver to ease off the gas a tad when they’re about to graze the ankles of their neighbors, but since the law says you can go 30k, well it’s their right to go 30k, no matter the situation they might come across. But deference is a sign of weakness here and believe me, the Dutchies will be sure to remind you of their entitlement to go 30k (and more if they feel inclined) even though good sense would dictate otherwise.

It’s about 6pm and I just returned from a beer run. I should have ridden my bike along the canal to the tiny snack bar near the bridge but opted to take the car. I parked the car near the snack bar and tried crossing the brick road to the other side, waiting for a break in the line of traffic coming on and off the tiny bridge over the canal. While standing there I noticed a woman riding with her toddler on a bakfiets* on the edge of the narrow road while cars that have waited for their turn to cross the ‘single lane only’ bridge come racing off, one after another, just inches from the lady and her kid. You’d have to see it to believe it.

*A long bicycle with a bucket like thing on the front to set your kid in...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Genius is never recognized in its own time....

Yobbo's YouTube effort. Genius. "All those flight attendants..." And PETA. Most excellent.

And, evidence that genius goes unrecognized in its own time....and blog.

A Promotion to Report

My friend for nearly 30 years, grad school roommate, and sometimes coauthor Brian E. Roberts has been named chief of IT services at the ginormous campus of UT-Austin.

According to the news release, he has been named "Vice President for Information Technology," and COO of IT. That's "chief operating officer."

Other places this would be called "CIO," or "chief information officer."

Of course, in South Carolina, the job would be "X", accompanied by "Important Guy, his mark" in crayon.

And in Nebraska, instead of CIO, it would be "EIEIO," just like all other jobs.

Congratulations, Dr. Roberts!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A bad equilibrium: better than NO equilibrium?

This from the WSJ, last week:

September 25, 2006

BELGIUM'S CULTURE OF CRASHES An old rule of thumb -- always yield to any vehicle coming from one's right -- coupled with a shortage of stop signs makes driving in Belgium a dangerous proposition, says the Wall Street Journal.

To make matters worse, cars on many of the smallest side streets still qualify for priority over those on major thoroughfares -- so long as they are coming from the right. That forces drivers on many boulevards to slam on their brakes without warning, causing some to get rear-ended.

Overall, failing to yield is the cause of more than two-thirds of the accidents at unmarked Belgian intersections that result in bodily injury and contribute to Belgium's relatively high traffic fatality rate, says Jacoby.

Last year, 11.2 per 100,000 drivers in Belgium died from driving accidents. Other countries have more stop signs and traffic lights; by comparison, deaths in the Netherlands were 4.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, 6.1 in Germany and 8.7 in France -- countries that border Belgium. Although the United States has a higher number of fatalities in absolute numbers --14.5 per 100,000 inhabitants -- there are more cars on the street in the United States, as a percentage of the population, than in Belgium; Americans also spend on average more time in their cars, traveling longer distances. When the difference in the number of cars is accounted for, Belgium has 22.4 traffic deaths per 100,000 cars compared with 18.1 in the United States. The government is trying to change the law in response to insurance company complaints and in an effort to encourage all drivers to slow down and pay more heed at intersections -- hopefully bringing Belgium's driving laws on par with the rest of the world.

ATSRTWT: Mary Jacoby, "As Cars Collide, Belgian Motorists Refuse to Yield," Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2006.

This reminded me of perhaps the most interesting single lunch I have ever enjoyed. It was up at VaTech, at a conference on public choice. I sat with Robert Sugden, Brit game theorist and just all around interesting guy. For 90 minutes, we talked about NOTHING but the problem of behavior at intersections. Bob knew every convention you could imagine, and could describe both the area of the world where that convention dominated (car on the right, car on the right unless one road is larger, dirt road turning onto gravel road, etc.) and the unanticipated consequences of using that convention. AND he knew of several fascinating instance of a stable convention collapsing in the face of even a relatively small number of people who used a different convention. Amazing person.

And THAT reminds me of the conversation I had with a Boston cab driver once. I told him I could never drive in Boston; too "chaotic", I said. He looked at me as if I were insane: "Chaos? Never. Let me show you." And he tried to tell me, from the "body language" of the cars (his phrase, an interesting one) what people were going to do. Clearly, the fact that Boston traffic has no lane markers or lights (those that exist are ignored) is NOT the same as chaos, though it may look like that to an outsider. The driver convinced me; Boston traffic had rules, though you had to be from Boston to know them.

So, he asked me where I was going, and I told him: "Shuttle to New York!"

He shook his head: "Now, THAT is chaos. I could never drive in New York. I'd have an accident. Those people don't know how to drive."

What he meant, of course, simply violated his own claim about Boston. Cab drivers in New York, I'm betting, have an analogous set of well-defined rules, conventions, and heuristics for knowing how to signal intentions and how to respond to those intentions. They are just different from those in Boston. It was interesting that the Boston driver did not see that ME saying "Boston is chaos" was the same as HIM saying "New York is chaos."

Does this mean Bob Dylan is ineffable?

Interesting story from JamBase.

An excerpt:

New album's extra features breaks rules
Beck's new album The Information has been banned from the UK chart
The record, which was released on October 2, has fallen foul of the rules set by the Official Chart Company.

The packaging of the CD, which includes a DVD feature and stickers that allow fans to design their own artwork, has made the album illegible in Sunday's (October 8th) countdown...

Careful readers will have noted that the typo: "has made the album illegible...." Clearly, they meant "ineligible." Now, I make too many typos myself to get all snarky about the typos of others. But that is not just a typo; the idea of Beck being illegible for a list....well, it made me laugh. I mean, given a choice between lots more sales and a list based on sales (except when an album is illegible), I'd take the sales.

Made me think of a whole suite of possible descriptions:

Beck is illegible
Michael Bolton is unpardonable
Bob Dylan is ineffable
Whitney Houston is divorced
Clay Aiken is unlistenable

Go ahead, on your own! It can be a new party game. First one to repeat an adjective, or to apply one that is clearly false (e.g., "Justin Timberlake is delectable!") is out of the game.

(Nod to MWT, who is indescribable)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Interesting Video from John McManus and JBS

A quick review of a DVD I recently watched on the plane, coming back from a conference in Montana.

It was “Overview of America,” produced by the John Birch Society and narrated by John F. McManus, President of JBS.

Mr. McManus has been President of JBS since 1991, and the organization has changed a bit from the more “in your face” tactics of the 1960s and 70s. McManus has worked for JBS for 40 years now, but his first career was electrical engineering. He still takes a careful, systems-based approach to understanding government and policy problems, and it shows in this short and well-executed video.

Don’t get me wrong; there is content here that dissenters will no doubt call “ideological.” Of course, for those people “social science” is simply whatever they happen to believe themselves, and “ideology” is what all those wrong people think. I don’t agree with everything Mr. McManus has to say here, but the systematic approach he takes, and the way he addresses issues of basic governance rather than small points of policy makes the video a very valuable tool for starting discussions.

The main claim that he makes, that there are in fact only a few viable forms of government, no matter how much we might wish it were otherwise, is both well-argued and persuasive. (Of course, I believe it myself, so persuading me wasn’t very hard!) The most stark part of the argument is likely also the most controversial: the only two forms of government that are viable in the long run are some form of totalitarian, or at least authoritarian, system or else a constitutionally limited republic. “Pure” democracies either don’t exist, or else lead quickly to Napoleon, or Stalin, Mao, or Castro. The fact that we can imagine a pure democracy is beside the point. I can imagine unicorns, but I don’t expect one to give me a ride to work.

(Overview of America, DVD and VHS, 2006; 32 mins., John Birch Society and available from American Opinion Book Services. Written and narrated by John F. McManus.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Dirty Davey: Once More, With Feeling

DD had some more thoughts on my screed from yesterday. It seems only minimally fair to post those thoughts without further commentary from me....DD in roman, my earlier gripes in italics, earlier still in bold/ital.

Oh, please. Stone-faced Joe's main job is to delay new drugs
to protect the profits of existing drugs.

I don't know that this is consistent with how the FDA works. Most importantly, the FDA approval process takes place AFTER the "patent clock" has started ticking. Quicker approval means a longer period without generic competitors.

Other branded/patented products represent much less of a threat to a drug than do the generics, so speed of approval is something the pharma companies really care about. (I am in pharma these days, so I have some notion whereof I speak.)

In fact, the entire concept of "intellectual property" is one
of government intervention in the market process... And yet
IP regulation is generally seen as an essential component of
a market which encourages innovation.

If you think enforcing property rights is the same as
"regulation," then you think that having speed limits is the
same as having a cop drive your car.

By ignoring the word "intellectual" you changed my entire meaning. INTELLECTUAL property regulation is in fact government intervention in the market process... and is not "enforcing property rights" in the classic sense. IP protection would be the law telling me I had to take the main road and not the shortcut through the neighborhood because someone else had discovered the shortcut first.

It seems to me that regulation of commerce here can be seen
as an alternative to...
(1) Very strict regulation of commercial speech and
advertising to enable informed consumer decision-making
(2) A chaotic world in which liability lawsuits are the
primary response to bad behavior in the market

You don't think #1 involves the courts?

Oh no--both (1) and (2) involve the courts.

What I'm saying is that having a regulation saying "you must get FDA approval to sell X to treat condition Y" is an alternative to...

(1) Requiring the seller of X to provide consumers with precise clinical data on the safety of X and its efficacy in treating Y, plus possible side effects and their likelihood, plus enumeration of which advertising or marketing claims constitute contractual obligation on the part of the seller,


(2) Lawsuits from many buyers for whom X does not resolve Y, or for whom X produces unacceptable or unexpected side effects, claiming that the understood conditions of the sale make the seller liable for the product's failure to perform, or that the information provided by the seller was false, incomplete, or misleading.

One could in fact argue that--unless we say "caveat emptor" and say the seller has no contractual obligation whatsoever--the liability risk of selling drugs in a non-FDA world (or unapproved drugs in an FDA-optional world) would be so high that no one would rationally enter the business or push the frontiers of research.

(And pure "caveat emptor" would be a return to snake oil salesmen--nothing could be really trusted to have any positive medical effect.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Top Ten List: Bush to Hastert

A top ten list, for phone calls/msgs from President Bush to Speaker of the House Denny Hastert.

#10. "Who came up with your public relations strategy for dealing with pedophiles on the staff? Have you been talking to the Pope again?"

#9. "Have you noticed Hillary has been kind of quiet? I hear Hugo Chavez hired away her speechwriter!"

#8. (a text msg): "LOL! luv ur Sgt Schultz bit on Foley: 'I no nothing!' ROTF!"

#7. "Hey, Denny: Why don't Republicans from Florida use bookmarks? They just bend the pages over! Don't you love that one? Denny, are you there, man?"

#6. "Cheer up, Denny! Our telephone polls are going to go 'way up, as soon as the citizens realize we are probably listening in!"

#5. "Hey, Denny, how about this one: Didja hear that Foley's seat is up for grabs? Wait, isn't that what got him in trouble in the first place? You aren't laughing, Denny! Man, this is great stuff, you gotta loosen up!"

#4. "Denny, how about we change G.O.P. to stand for 'Gay Orlando Pedophile'? Whaddya think?"

#3. "Tell ya what, let's just this die down. We can transfer Foley to a different parish, right?"

#2. "Now I know why you were so upset by the FBI raid on William Jefferson, Denny! You were afraid we might find Foley in his office with a couple of pages stuck together!"

And the number 1 message from President Bush to Speaker Hastert:

"Denny, you're doing a heckuva a job!"

Dirty Davey Responds.....

My man DD responds to my essay on EconLib, excerpted here on The End. Original in italics, DD in roman, MM in bold.

But we still face the same basic problem: can I
decide, and risk just my money, for great reward if I'm
right? Or will we decide, and risk our whole future budget,
on things we aren't very good at deciding?

Many of these examples, though, presume that the individual (a) is risking "only" money and (b) actually can make a fair assessment of the risks.

Nonsense, DD. No reason to believe that people are good at assessing risk. The point is that if they lose, or win, they get all the loss/profit themselves. So
they have better incentive to be right. But no way would I claim that inventors are good at assessing risks. The whole point is that they are nutjobs.

The examples come thick and fast: should we have a uniform
ethanol standard in all gasoline, or should we let gas
stations (or individuals) concoct their own fuel mix

Ignoring individual petrochemists, for the moment, and focusing on sale through stations: what responsibility does a station have for being straightforward about what a mix is and where it works and doesn't work? What responsibility does a car manufacturer have for providing the owner with information on the limits and requirements of the engine? Will there be any sort of signage requirements, or will drivers away from their home stations have to pull into a station and read the fine print to figure out whether the formula is compatible with their car?

Pollution is a classic example of an externality; given that some ethanol requirements are to reduce petroleum emissions, should a market with less regulated fuel mixes have a more complex tax structure to capture these costs?

Private institutions would post recipes on the internet within just a few hours. It is easy to get information about things like this. Why do YOU think that the Department of Motor Vehicles has your best interests at heart? That is what always amazes me: people who don't trust markets, where there are incentives to take care of customers, assume the DMV and the Post office would do a better job. Why?

And if you are worried about pollution, yes, tax the hell out of the relatively more-polluting component. That is hardly "complex", compared to the current insane system of taxes and subsidies on fuel. We could actually simplify the tax system: tax petro-gas at another dollar a gallon. You liberals just don't want to have to pay more for gas, so you come up with psychotic schemes like CAFE.

Why not allow terminally ill, or even mildly ill, people to use whatever drugs they want, regardless of whether Median Joe (working through his stone-faced employee, the FDA) thinks that drug has five chances in a million of giving you a stroke?

Of course, we can't write off Joe at the FDA too quickly. Even if you argue that the individual consumer has a right to choose to take (or not to take) the five-in-a-million risk rather than delegating the choice to Joe, that argument presumes that the probability is known to the decision-maker. History, and observation of the market, indicate that the average pharma company is motivated to offer the sick a one-sided sales pitch rather than a sober assessment of safety and efficacy.

Oh, please. Stone-faced Joe's main job is to delay new drugs to protect the profits of existing drugs. If you think that the FDA cares about patients, you have just lost it. There are plenty of rank and file FDA-ers who want to serve the public, yes. But the FDA leadership more or less works directly for the drug companies.

Sure, shorten the patent period on drugs, and sharply cut the time required for development. The drug companies have nearly stopped developing new drugs for all kinds of diseases, because the FDA makes it so easy to make huge profits on little fiddles, small changes. ALL regulation is either designed, or soon comes to operate, to benefit the profits of the industry it regulates.

If you are saying that FDA performs some of the same functions as the (private!) Underwriter's Lab or Consumer Reports, okay. But why not let the FDA just do the research on the probabilities, rather than assume that everyone has the same risk preferences?

Markets, and market processes, are themselves a pretty important innovation,

But the innovation is actually a "regulated market" rather than a simple market of transactions... So the question is one of the optimal level of regulation. While one can argue that the FDA approval process restricts the entry of new drugs to the market, one could similarly argue that the patent system prevents new drugs from becoming widely and cheaply available.

In fact, the entire concept of "intellectual property" is one of government intervention in the market process... And yet IP regulation is generally seen as an essential component of a market which encourages innovation.

If you think enforcing property rights is the same as "regulation," then you think that having speed limits is the same as having a cop drive your car.

It seems to me that regulation of commerce here can be seen as an alternative to...

(1) Very strict regulation of commercial speech and advertising to enable informed consumer decision-making


(2) A chaotic world in which liability lawsuits are the primary response to bad behavior in the market

You don't think #1 involves the courts? The chaos is in the AL courts, under the FTC Consumer Protection Division. The only question is whether we have independent courts and open processes (#2), or closed iron triangles. Companies prefer #1 because (this will sound familiar) regulation is run to benefit the regulated, not the public. Stigler had this right, no matter how much you might wish it were otherwise.

Imagine that airlines could compete based on the level of security they provide. Let passengers choose their own security, along with a mix of price and inconvenience that some entrepreneur thinks would increase profits.

The obvious market response--that would undoubtedly be profitable and make many passengers feel far more secure--would be the "no brown people" airline. And yet I can't help but think that particular innovation violates the social contract. (I would also argue that a recipient of significant governmental support like an airline has a much greater obligation in such matters than does a private citizen.)

So when I say "compete based on security," you hear "in addition, repeal existing laws about discrimination on public accomodations." An odd ear you have.

It takes government to enforce real discrimination. The TSA guy standing there in all his thuggish glory is the one who does cavity searches on "brown people."

You think that because you can imagine a society without discrimination that a real-world government could do that. It can't, and it doesn't want to. Markets are color-blind, because greed is color-blind.

(Note from The End: Dirty Davey and I are old friends. And he really doesn't give a damn what I think. So this public battle is pretty much typical of our private, friendly conversations. I just thought I would share, because he raises some important points. And my responses are flippant because I don't have anything better than that to say)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Glock Airlines

I have a new piece on EconLib, the Liberty Fund forum hosted by my main man, Russ Roberts.

An excerpt, on Glock Airlines:

[The basic problem is this:] can I decide, and risk just my money, for great reward if I'm right? Or will we decide, and risk our whole future budget, on things we aren't very good at deciding?

The examples come thick and fast: should we have a uniform ethanol standard in all gasoline, or should we let gas stations (or individuals) concoct their own fuel mix formulas? Should the government subsidize hydrogen fuel cell cars, or let people at the extremes, perhaps two Mikes in some garage, work on the problem? Why not allow terminally ill, or even mildly ill, people to use whatever drugs they want, regardless of whether Median Joe (working through his stone-faced employee, the FDA) thinks that drug has five chances in a million of giving you a stroke?

Markets, and market processes, are themselves a pretty important innovation, one not always approved or understood by Median Joe. Why not let the market work at an even more radical level, one that many people might think goes too far? Imagine that airlines could compete based on the level of security they provide. Let passengers choose their own security, along with a mix of price and inconvenience that some entrepreneur thinks would increase profits.

And we could go further: imagine a security line at the airport where the guard looks at your boarding pass and asks, "Are you carrying any weapons?" When you say no, he gives you one, a 9mm Glock. "All passengers are required to carry these, sir. Airline policy." Not all airlines, mind you; only "Glock Air" (motto: "We just flew in from Cleveland, and boy are our arms locked and loaded"). You might choose to fly Glock. They have never had a terrorist incident, and if you push the flight attendant call button the guy comes running.

Or, you might not fly Glock. You don't have to. You might choose some other airline with a unique combination of services, safety, and schedule. In the current regulatory environment, too many decisions are one-size-fits-all, because we don't recognize the possibility that it could be different.

We have become too accepting of the views of the middle, in too many aspects of our lives. Worse, we have fallen victim to a soft but encroaching political paternalism. In many cases, it isn't even the median citizen who enforces his views on everyone. Instead, special interests and "public" lobbyists dominate the making of rules and decisions that force all of us to act as if we all had the same views on risk, taste, and service.

The thing to keep in mind is that market processes, working through diverse private choice and individual responsibility, are a social choice process at least as powerful as voting. And markets are often more accurate in delivering not just satisfaction, but safety. We simply don't recognize the power of the market's commands on our behalf. As Ludwig von Mises famously said, in Liberty and Property, "The market process is a daily repeated plebiscite, and it ejects inevitably from the ranks of profitable people those who do not employ their property according to the orders given by the public."


Do Batteries Fit Inside Prescription Bottles?

Chuck Brodsky put it best:

Philly fans, they’ve been known to get nasty
When Joe must go, they’ll run him out of town
I saw Santa get hit by a snowball
And then get hit again when he was down

On the return of T.O., from ESPN's cap of Monday Night Football:

Philadelphia scored on its first four possessions of the second half and, by early in the fourth quarter, much of the partisan crowd had departed, likely to plot nefarious strategies for The Return of T.O. Rumor is that the always sensitive Philadelphia crowd plans to greet Owens next Sunday with a shower of prescription bottles. One fan who did stay until the end of Monday night's game held up a home-made placard which read: "T.O. -- Get Well Soon So We Can Hurt You."

(nod to RN, who should know)

Never Mind....Senate is Vulnerable to Take-over

I have confidently predicted that there is no way that the Repubs can lose control of the Senate.

But it appears that was quite wrong.

Who knew that the Repubs would act like a bunch of Catholic Cardinals, and protect their resident pedophile child-abuser? At least the cardinals weren't SUPPOSED to have any political sense. Foley is an incredibly evil hypocrite.

A culture of corruption, indeed. I am surprised at how hard I am rooting for a Democratic tsunami in November. The Republicans are vile, corrupt, morally bankrupt demogogues.

And I say that in a loving way, mind you. What happened to my G.O.P.? Many might say I was always wrong to be a Republican, ever. But something has changed, something deep down inside the party. Rotten to the core.

Playing to Mixed Reviews

I have used this line, in one form or another on three radio shows in the last week:

"Have you noticed how quiet Hillary Clinton has been? I guess Hugo Chavez refused to return her speech-writer, after he borrowed her."

Plays to mixed reviews. One interviewer said, "Who go who?"