Friday, June 09, 2006

To Be Fair

The post below (whose "essential truth", as Dan Rather would put it, I stand behind), may very well give the wrong impression of my wife.

My wife is very, very pretty. She is also smart, top of her class in college and law school, an attorney for the U.S. Treasury Department. She has worked as a litigator for the IRS in bankruptcy court, and as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney.

And, lest you think I pick on her, I should describe an incident where the shoe was on the other foot.

We have a baseball field, as I have written about before, down in Chatham County.

I had built, spending about $100 for materials, and three hours of sweaty time with a drill, saw, or hammer, a "nail drag", for smoothing out the infield. This was actually the second version, because the first was too light and flimsy.

The new version, about 200 pounds of wood, steel, and chain, was ready to go. I backed up the van, and hooked up. My wife was watching. "Do you know what you are doing?" she asked, encouragingly.

Grinding my teeth, I pressed the accelerator. Perhaps a little harder than necessary. As soon as the chain drew up taut, the nails dug into the clay and the whole front crosspiece (three 5 foot 2x10s, with 8 inch nails sticking out) snapped right off like a slingshot. The rest of the assembly splintered, because without the support of the front brace the weight was too much. And the chained/nailed/2x10s flipped up and put a huge bash in the back of the van. It sounded like a cannon. Or so the neighbors assured me later. Inside the van, I was deafened.

I opened the door, looked back at the wreckage.

Then, I looked over at the wife. She has her hands on her knees, and is laughing her head off. "Perfect!" she yelled over to me. "Good job! You should patent that design!"

So...don't be feeling sorry for my wife. She can take care of herself. That's all I'm saying. Feel free to feel sorry for me, however.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Key to Marriage: Just Remember "Biggus Dickus"

Now, see: I can tell what you are thinking already, and that's just not where I'm going here.

For those who saw Monty Python's "Life of Brian", the Biggus Dickus scene was one of the classic set pieces, often recited in full at high speed by geeks like certain philosophy professors.

There was this one know the one. Remember this, with Pilate saying Roman names and the guard trying not to laugh?

Here is an excerpt from the script (scene 12):

PILATE: So, your father was a Woman. Who was he?
BRIAN: He was a centurion in the Jerusalem Garrisons.
PILATE: Weally? What was his name? BRIAN: 'Nortius Maximus'.
CENTURION: Ahh, ha ha!
PILATE: Centuwion, do we have anyone of that name in the gawwison?
CENTURION: Well, no, sir.
PILATE: Well, you sound vewy sure. Have you checked?
CENTURION: Well, no, sir. Umm, I think it's a joke, sir,... like, uh, 'Sillius Soddus' or... 'Biggus Dickus', sir. GUARD #4: [chuckling]
PILATE: What's so... funny about 'Biggus Dickus'?
CENTURION: Well, it's a joke name, sir.
PILATE: I have a vewy gweat fwiend in Wome called 'Biggus Dickus'.
GUARD #4: [chuckling]
PILATE: Silence! What is all this insolence? You will find yourself in gladiator school vewy quickly with wotten behaviour like that.

The fact is, situations like this happen all the time in marriage. Your wife is Pilate (if you don't understand that, you have BIGGUS PROBLEMUS). And you are Guard #4. You must not laugh, or reveal by facial expression that...well, consider two recent examples at the Munger house. (These are both verbatim truth, by the way).

1. My wife: "I saw Eric Clapton is going to be at the RBC Center in October. Do you think the boys (our sons) would like to go? I don't know if they know who Eric Clapton is."

Me: "Well, they like that 'Cream' album a lot. They listen to that all the time."

My wife: "Oh, is Cream playing too?"


Fortunately, I was driving, so I had an excuse to check the left mirror. For about 30 seconds. But you can't just leave the question hanging. "Well, Clapton played with Cream, and sang some."

Crisis averted!

The point is that, when you are about to burst out laughing, inappropriately, since it would result in you becoming abstinent for a week or more, just say to yourself, "BIGGUSDICKUSBIGGUSDICKUSBIGGUSDICKUS!!", and you will avoiding having to go to gladiator school.

2. All right, so there's the primary threat averted. But you have to be aware that you aren't out of the woods yet. You have to be on the lookout for the DEADLY TOPPER! Consider what Pilate said next, in the same scene:

PILATE: What about you? Do you find it... wisible... when I say the name...
GUARD #3:[chuckle]
PILATE: ...'Dickus'?
GUARD #1 and GUARD #2: [chuckling]
PILATE: He has a wife, you know. You know what she's called? She's called... 'Incontinentia'. 'Incontinentia Buttocks'.
GUARDS: [laughing]

So, let's illustrate the deadly topper. Another incident (also reported verbatim). Let's see how YOU do.

My wife comes downstairs in the morning, looking tired. Fortunately, I have made the tea. She gets some tea, and sighs, obviously upset. "I hardly slept. I had the worst dream." She looks at me, expectantly.

"I'm sorry; that's tough when you have a scary dream. It's so hard to go back to sleep," I say, smoothly, giving up on reading the paper.

Wife: "Well, I dreamed that I kept going from room to room, looking, looking. I looked in all my closets." (NOTE: not a dream, entirely. She does have three closets in our house.)

"What was wrong?" I asked.

Nearly crying, she said, "I couldn't find that cute little black top I like so much. I kept looking and looking, but I couldn't find it. How could I sleep after a dream like that?"


But, again, you have to respond. I am barely under control, but I keep it together.

"That's a bad dream, when you can't find something. It is upsetting. I'm sorry, dear."

She is studying my face intently, fully aware of her Pilatian power in this case. Then, the topper (and I am NOT making this up): "Well, I was also distracted, because I was being chased by a wild boar. I think it killed me."

WAH! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I lose it. And, of course, staying sympathetic through the "I couldn't find the cute black top" tragedy gets you no credit, BECAUSE YOU LAUGHED AT THE "I was killed by wild boar" topper. WATCH OUT FOR THE TOPPER.

And, for the next week, move over nice dog. A mean old dog is moving in.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Queering the Results was Not Specifically Prohibited

On the problems of electronic voting....Where will Alex go to school?

An excerpt:

As for the question at hand -- Where will Alex go to school? -- the will, chutzpah, and bodacious craft of the voting public will be respected. A careful check of the applicable rulebook indicates that queering the results was not specifically prohibited. And by tradition, engineers, hackers and techfolk will assume that in a problem-solving situation of this nature, there is no box out of which they are not expected to climb. The Doonesbury Town Hall thanks all those who took the time and trouble to vote, even those who voted only once.

Ms. Doonesbury will be attending MIT.

(Nod to RL, who after all went to Rochester)

Podcast Bears Fruit: Opportunity Cost is Not An Easy Concept

A note from a loyal listener (actually, a loyal listener to Russ Roberts' terrific PODCASTS, of which I was privileged to do one).

I found your podcast discussion of ticket scalping pretty interesting. I particularly enjoyed the part of the conversation where you two discussed the mystery of gift-giving;, why do people prefer to receive a gift rather than money, even though the standard econ model might lead one to believe that the recipient can be made no worse off by the money, and probably better off?

That particular puzzle reminded me of something that happened to me about a year ago. My Mom had asked me to pick her up and take her to the airport, as she didn't want to pay to leave her car parked at the airport for 3 days. I thought about it and realized that I valued my time more than the cost of parking her car, so I offered to pay for her parking, rather than drive her. I thought that was a perfect solution, though my mom didn't quite agree. She was pretty offended. I started thinking about it, and realized that a lot in life is like that. Most of us think little of asking a friend to help us move, but would never ask a friend for the money to hire a mover (even if our friend would *prefer* to hire a mover, rather than help himself!).

I wonder what's going on in these situations? Steven Pinker has referred to two distinct types of exchange - one refers to impersonal market-type exchanges, and the other refers to familial-type exchanges. I wonder if the conflict is caused by a confusion of the mores that govern each type of exchange?

I love the podcasts...they're the only thing keeping me sane during my long drive from Akron to Cleveland. Thanks!


Michael Stack

That really is interesting, and very true. My parents had no conception of their time having any value, because it really didn't. Raised in the depression years, ANYTHING they could do to save money was worth it.

But if my time has a value of $50/hour (and it surely does, or more), then it costs me $100 or more to drop off my wife and pick her up at the airport. (She travels quite a bit on business). So, she takes taxis. The accounting costs are higher ($50 for round trip taxi from Munger castle to RDU, compared to nearly zero for the MM shuttle), but the real costs are less.

You just can't help some people.....

From THE HILL, the DC publication

A Foxx in the luxury world
By Jeff Dufour

One of the most egregious examples of abuse that came to light last year during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was displaced people and other victims spending their government-issued debit cards on Louis Vuitton purses and other luxury goods.

And Rep. Virginia Foxx, the grandmotherly freshman Republican from North Carolina, has had enough. Foxx has introduced an amendment, known as the "Louis Vuitton Amendment," to the homeland-security appropriations bill that would specifically restrict that type of misuse of funds.

It reads, quite simply, "None of the funds made available to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in this act may be used to purchase a Louis Vuitton handbag."

Foxx spokeswoman Amy Auth explained that the language is designed to "highlight the abuse that occurred with the debit cards last year so that it doesn't happen again."

A spokeswoman for Louis Vuitton did not return phone calls. Perhaps she's offended that anyone would pay for one of their bags with a debit card. How déclassé!


An interesting question, from an economics/libertarian perspective: suppose that a destitute person thinks that an LV handbag is THE most important possession of all, and would spend food money to get said bag. Should the state outlaw this? The debit cards were not food vouchers, but rather are simply subsidized cash.

So, is the problem the LV handbags, or the debit cards themselves? Libertarian minds want to know....

(Nod to JP, who rumor has it wears Louis Vuitton boxers)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Hoax? Or Is the Left Just Phoning It In Now?

Greenpeace's fill-in-the-blank public relations meltdown

Before President Bush touched down in Pennsylvania Wednesday to promote his nuclear energy policy, the environmental group Greenpeace was mobilizing.

"This volatile and dangerous source of energy" is no answer to the country's energy needs, shouted a Greenpeace fact sheet decrying the "threat" posed by the Limerick reactors Bush visited.

But a factoid or two later, the Greenpeace authors were stumped while searching for the ideal menacing metaphor.

We present it here exactly as it was written, capital letters and all: "In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]."

Had Greenpeace been hacked by a nuke-loving Bush fan? Or was this proof of Greenpeace fear-mongering?

The aghast Greenpeace spokesman who issued the memo, Steve Smith, said a colleague was making a joke by inserting the language in a draft that was then mistakenly released.

"Given the seriousness of the issue at hand, I don't even think it's funny," Smith said.

That's their defense? "I don't even think it's funny"? Where's Michael Mooore? It was HIS thesis that scare-mongering is the tactic of the right.

It strikes me that the left is becoming more and more reflexive, and formulaic. They LOVE having GWB as President. They don't have to do anything but feel smug. And every time unemployment goes up, it makes the left happy. It just means the revolution (which the left plans to watch on TV) will come that much sooner.


(Nod to JP)

Self-interest is malleable, but the pursuit of it is not

Nice article by Russ Roberts, at EconLib.

Towards the end of the 18th century, England began sending convicts to Australia. The transportation was privately provided but publicly funded. A lot of convicts died along the way, from disease due to overcrowding, poor nutrition and little or no medical treatment. Between 1790 and 1792, 12% of the convicts died, to the dismay of many good-hearted English men and women who thought that banishment to Australia shouldn't be a death sentence. On one ship 37% perished.

How might captains be convinced to take better care of their human cargo?

You might lecture the captains on the cruelty of death, and the clergy from their pulpits did just that. You might increase the funds allotted by the state provided to the captains based on the number of passengers they carried. You might urge the captains to spend more of those funds for the care of their passengers. (Some entrepreneurial captains hoarded food and medicine meant for the convicts and sold them upon arrival in Australia.) You might urge the captains to spend the money more carefully. Shame them into better behavior.

But a different approach was tried. The government decided to pay the captains a bonus for each convict that walked off the boat in Australia alive.

This simple change worked like a charm. Mortality fell to virtually zero. In 1793, on the first three boats making the trip to Australia under the new set of incentives, a single convict died out of 322 transported, an amazing improvement.

I don't think the captains got any more compassionate. They were just as greedy and mean-spirited as before. But under the new regulations, they had an incentive to act as if they were compassionate. The change in incentives aligned the self-interest of the captains with the self-interest of the convicts. Convicts were suddenly more valuable alive than dead. The captains responded to the incentives.


Munger's "Fundamental Human Problem": How do we design, or maintain, institutions that make self-interested individual action not inconsistent with the welfare of the community?

Marcuse's rules for journal editors: Speech be free, be it agree with me!!

From the FREAKONOMICS blog (excerpt):

Your editor is deeply distressed by the style of the TSSM. In particular, consider the following incident: Several weeks ago, I encountered a thin-skinned scholar, who was driving in his car as I walked to my own car in a parking lot. Apparently unimpressed by the writings of Miss Manners, this scholar opened his car window, loudly and repeatedly declared strong views about the composition of my head and the phylum in which I should be classified, and rapidly drove his car so close to me that it did, on the third such maneuver, brush against my pants. I wonder still, is this thin-skinned scholar just a talented and kind-hearted stunt-driver with unusual ideas about parking? Or does he reveal true malice, a will to evoke fear and a willingness to use his car to damage a pedestrian? These are questions that I cannot answer. But answers are suggested by his emailed statement (with copies to others) that he would be pleased to see my body lifeless and in pieces. More to the point, these are questions that no editor should have to consider. This thinskinned scholar has wasted great volumes of an editor’s time and effort, reviled the editor in numerous hostile email letters (with copies sent to a variety of others), delayed publication of Sociological Methodology, wasted hours of time by talented and highly-paid lawyers, and badly strained relations between an editor who sought to uphold the principles under which scholarly journals are published, and the ASA executive officer, who sought to save the ASA the expense and trouble of a lawsuit by an enraged scholar.


I did have one incident so far as Editor, of Public Choice. I had turned down a paper, with perhaps more of a flourish than was required. I suggested, without sending the paper out for review, that the paper was so far beneath the standards of the journal that no reviewers' time should be wasted. It was just worthless.

Inexplicably (perhaps because the author was cited by someone else, a fecund setting for finding new referees?)(*), three weeks later I asked THIS SAME ABUSED AUTHOR if s/he would review a paper for PUBLIC CHOICE.

Abused author replied, in hurt but humorous terms: "Is there not a contradiction in the claim that my paper was so bad it could not be reviewed, followed by an invitation for me to review the papers of OTHERS? I would be flattered, if I were not simply confused." Yes, well, bother. I apologized, and pledged not to trouble the aggreived amore.

*In which case, NOT inexplicably, since this would be an explicabation.

(thanks to JAR, who is thick-skinned. thank goodness.)