Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bananas Foster Hysteria

WPTF poobah, and News and Observer columnist, Rick Martinez is quite a tough guy.
But it turns out you can make him shriek like a baby who has dropped its baba.

Just use Maker's Mark as the flammable in "Bananas Foster."

Daoj Mot

The title of this post is "Tom Joad" backwards.

And it seems to be happening!

(Angus, with thanks to Tyler C)

Buchanan Blvd : Four Years Ago Tonight....

My pal Bob Lee writes a retrospective on the N&O and coverage of Duke Lacrosse.

The article by Ruth Sheehan (can't find a link, may be in gated archives) started like this:

Members of the Duke men’s lacrosse team: You know.

We know you know.

Whatever happened in the bathroom at the stripper party gone terribly terribly bad, you know who was involved. Every one of you does.

And one of you needs to come forward and tell the police.

Do not be afraid of retribution on the team. Do not be persuaded that somehow this “happened” to one or more “good guys.”

If what the strippers say is true — that one of them was raped, sodomized, beaten and strangled — the guys responsible are not “good.”

She does say "if," but she means "since." Because "we know you know."

Her later thoughts. And, as Bob Lee says, fair enough. A commentator comments. Sometimes s/he will get it wrong. When they get it wrong, they apologize.

When you remember, remember the biggest idiot in the world, Nancy Grace. No apology from Nancy Grace. What an idiot.

The Grand Game: Show Me State Edition

Wow. This guy is quite a piece of work. Nice article.


People depend on government assistance, subsidies and protection. Business depends on the flow of funds from food stamps, rent subsidies, Medicaid and other government cash. The local grocery store, paving contractor, property management firm, nursing home, hospital and many other businesses rely on the government to provide a fair market and a dependable customer base.

... our society has evolved a successful symbiotic relationship between people, private business and government. It is not the way it was, it is the way it grows; it is a work in progress. But it works -- business thrives, people are better off and freedom triumphs.

Government is the goose that lays golden eggs. We can choose to nurture the goose or starve it. I am patriotic. I am willing to make the sacrifice and fight to sustain and even improve our government.

"Government assistance"? Just change that to "heroin" in the above, and it changes his point.... not at all. Getting citizens addicted to government-provided heroin would have all the same effects he is claiming for welfare. Increased sales for business, subsidies, protection...

This fellow doesn't want freedom. He is very clear: His vision of America is one where every citizen is dependent on something called "government." What he means is "politicians," of course. He wants all of us to be dependent on politicians for our daily bread, not on our own efforts or talents. And once we are hooked, the politicians will come around with their heroin-welfare to keep us hooked.

It's the Grand Game! Please discuss....

Friday, March 12, 2010

Panning Planning?

Longtime KPC friend JS writes:

Many Transportation planners are bemoaning the lack of increase in the federal gas tax for the past 15 years, and the infrastructure industry has said it is doubly bad because not only do we have inflation, but we now have electric vehicles/hybrids and in general more fuel efficient vehicles. The planners add on observations the new steep decline in driving shown on page 9 of the VMT trends. Therefore the Transportation/ Industrial complex is banging their chest for new funding.

I have been reading the New Geography blog with Wendell Cox as a major contributor, HT to the Reason Foundation Out of control blog. New Geography published this Hampton Roads Lightrail blog where Cox cites:

“Tide” light rail line has now escalated to nearly $340 million. This is up nearly one-half from the estimates made when the project was approved by the Federal Transit Administration. According to federal documentation, the line will carry 7,100 daily passengers in 2030. This means that the capital cost alone will amount to an annual subsidy of approximately $6,500 per daily passenger (using Office of Management and Budget discount rates), plus an unknown additional operating subsidy.

Translating $6,500 into per trip and generously applying the full trip length that results into 365 days and the full 7.4 mile rail corridor yields, a $17.64 per rider and $2.40 mile for just the capital cost, compared to the $1.50 proposed fare per trip. It would seem that this huge market distortion cannot be increasing welfare when taking into account taxes or monetary devaluation needed to pay for this monument.

So my point? The payers into the highway trust fund must notice the numerous diversions that are changing the “user fee” into “general tax” distributed by the politician. The road users are also asking themselves each day if they think that an increase in user fees will change their driving experience. Transportation planners need to look more at the markets than the micro mechanisms that are failing their current product lines.

Cows With Guns

UPDATE: This reminded Angry Alex of this Dr. Demento Song, in this video....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fair Trade Coffee? No, Thanks!

Chicago just passed a stupid law.

Article on why it was stupid, according to me.

The City of Chicago passed a resolution this month supporting fair trade efforts in the city, but critics say there’s more to the fair trade story than most consumers realize.

Mike Munger, chair of the political science department at Duke University, said the concept of fair trade – which certifies businesses for paying workers a living wage and observing social and environmental criteria -- isn’t always successful. “It probably succeeds close to half the time,” he said.

People don’t want to hear that because they want to feel better about themselves, Munger said. “It’s just not true, the premise is not true.”

One problem is an imbalance when too many companies go for certification in one product – say, coffee – and that drops the price and also keeps farmers from growing other crops.

Another problem is where the money goes.

Several studies demonstrate that a middle man may be the real winner, Munger said. Consumers are paying middle men more, not the worker. The money can be dissipated somewhere before it gets to the worker, he said, possibly in paying bribes for certification.

Obtaining fair trade certification is expensive, and there’s no way to prove that the workers are the ones reaping the benefits of the premium prices the consumers are paying, Munger said.

Check this. Unbelievable.

A podcast on Fair Trade

An article in England, with a remarkably self-hating man commenting.

A guest blog post, and also my best shot at explaining why Fair Trade is idiotic.

"Fair trade" raises costs to consumers. Worse, it enslaves the people it claims to help, with the invisible chains of artificial subsidy, and arrested economic development. If it pleases you to think of happy natives, living primitive lives, just go rent a BBC documentary, and let the market work.

Sufjan Stevens

A few years ago, sufjan Stevens promised 50 albums for the 50 states but quit after Michigan and Illinois. Now with the publication of his latest book, it appears that Paul collier has taken up a similar challenge. He's got B and P covered so let's help him out people! How about "Dithering Democracies"? Or "Failed Fatwas"?

Call me at the station, the lines are open.

Angus (on the lam)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Much Does It Cost to be TBTF?

How Much Did Banks Pay to Become Too-Big-To-Fail and to Become Systemically

Julapa Jagtiani & Elijah Brewer
Federal Reserve Bank Working Paper, December 2009

Abstract: This paper estimates the value of the too-big-to-fail (TBTF) subsidy. Using
data from the merger boom of 1991-2004, we find that banking organizations were willing to pay an added premium for mergers that would put them over the asset sizes that are commonly viewed as the thresholds for being TBTF. We estimate at least $14 billion in added premiums for the eight merger deals that brought the organizations to over $100 billion in assets. In addition, we find that both the stock and bond markets reacted positively to these deals. Our estimated TBTF subsidy is large enough to create serious concern, since recent assisted mergers have allowed TBTF organizations to become even bigger and for nonbanks to become part of TBTF banking organizations, thus extending the TBTF subsidy beyond banking.

(Nod to Kevin L)

Sweet Strange Stories

What I like about these stories is not that they are so strange (though they are), but rather that they are so sweet.

Since he was reported to be 8 feet, 4 inches tall, everybody looked up to Al Tomaini – especially his wife, Jeanie, who measured 2 feet, 6 inches. She was born with no legs.

The Half Lady and The Giant met and fell in love in 1936 when their separate shows chanced upon each other in the same place. Six months later the couple eloped, believe it or not, in Ripley, N.Y. The Tomainis went on to work with Ringling Bros. and eventually ran their own sideshow.

In 1950, the couple settled in Gibsonton, Fla., where they raised a family and opened the Giant's Camp restaurant and fishing camp. Al also organized the town's first fire department and served as its chief.

The Giant passed away on Aug. 30, 1962. Jeanie continued to operate the Giant's Camp for decades, living there until she died on Aug. 10, 1999, just weeks before her 83rd birthday.

Their adopted daughter, Judy Rock, never thought there was anything unusual about her parents. "Our home life was wonderful," she remembered. "It was what everybody wishes theirs was: no talk of divorce, no big fights, no drinking, no smoking. Just a family."

(Nod to Angry Alex)

The Takeaway

NPR radio show this morning, "THE TAKEAWAY."

Some commenters think I should be taken away....

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Consensus, or Census-Con?

Remarkable. You can't make this stuff up....

A Georgia man accused of killing two people used an innovative legal strategy Monday in an attempt to get his murder charges dismissed. Call it the Census defense.

Floyd Wayne Williams Jr. wants the charges dropped — or at least his trial delayed — until the 2010 Census is done so that a jury more accurately reflecting the county's racial makeup can be chosen. Williams, who is black, is to be tried in the south Atlanta's Clayton County, which has seen a surge in African-American residents since the 2000 Census.

Jury pools in Clayton County, like many other jurisdictions, are drawn from voter registration lists, driver's license data and utility records. The list is then balanced by race and gender from the Census to reflect a cross-section of the population.

(nod to the LMM)

Tracked it down....

I have been told several times an anecdote about Marx despairing of ever seeing a revolution in Germany. He supposedly recalled an incident where German workers failed to attend a demonstration because they had trouble with their tickets.

The joke being, if you are going to start a revolution against capitalism, WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' TICKETS!

Well, I tracked down the reference. It was STALIN, not Marx, in an interview with an unctuous German writer in 1931. Here is the money quote:

Ludwig: Do you not think that among the Germans as a nation love of order is more highly developed than love of freedom?

Stalin: There was a time when people in Germany did indeed show great respect for the law. In 1907, when I happened to spend two or three months in Berlin, we Russian Bolsheviks often used to laugh at some of our German friends on account of their respect for the law. There was, for example, a story in circulation about an occasion when the Berlin Social-Democratic Executive fixed a definite day and hour for a demonstration that was to be attended by the members of all the suburban organizations. A group of about 200 from one of the suburbs arrived in the city punctually at the hour appointed, but failed to appear at the demonstration, the reason being that they had waited two hours on the station platform because the ticket collector at the exit had failed to make his appearance and there had been nobody to give their tickets to. It used to be said in jest that it took a Russian comrade to show the Germans a simple way out of their fix: to leave the platform without giving up their tickets.... But is there anything like that in Germany now? Is there respect for the law in Germany today? What about the National Socialists, who one would think ought to be the first to stand guard over bourgeois legality? Do they not break the law, wreck workers' clubs and assassinate workers with impunity? I make no mention of the workers, who, it seems to me, long ago lost all respect for bourgeois legality. Yes, the Germans have changed quite a bit lately.

Nic Tideman and I are working on our Public Choice paper, and are writing about meta-rules. And this passage is interesting, because it shows that the same group of people can be constrained, and not constrained. It's all about the meta-rules.

Old School Reference: J. V. Stalin, Talk With the German Author Emil Ludwig, December 13, 1931. First Published: Bolshevik, April 30, 1932, No. 8. Source: Works, J.V. Stalin, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955, Volume 13, pp. 106-25.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Is the Census Mandatory? And is THAT constitutional?

A letter from a reader:

I've been getting a lot of questions on this subject from fellow students.

As both a Libertarian and a military veteran, I find the numerous, intrusive questions asked by the Census greatly disturbing. Are the questions, besides the ones directly related to the number of people in your household, unconstitutional? Personally, I believe that they are. If I refuse to answer questions other than those pertaining to the size of my household, what, if any, legal consequences could I face? I ask because I can't seem to find any concrete information on the subject. Also, if I may ask, how do you all plan on approaching the Census?

Dear Reader: Yes, I happen to know the answer to that.

The American Community Survey is conducted under the authority of Title 13, United States Code, Sections 141 and 193, and response is mandatory. According to Section 221, persons who do not respond shall be fined not more than $100. Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 and Section 3559, in effect amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221 by changing the fine for anyone over 18 years old who refuses or willfully neglects to complete the questionnaire or answer questions posed by census takers from a fine of not more than $100 to not more than $5,000. The U.S. Census Bureau may use this information only for statistical purposes. We can assure you that your confidentiality is protected. Title 13 requires the Census Bureau to keep all information about you and all other respondents strictly confidential. Any Census Bureau employee who violates these provisions is subject to a fine of up to $250,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years, or both.

Here is the reference for Title 13, if you want to read it

Now, you asked if the law making responses mandatory is constitutional. You could mean, "where is it in the Constitution?" The fact is that there is SOMETHING there, about the Census, but of course not the intrusive questions. But Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 does have a provision that a counting be done, "in such manner as [Congress] may direct."

Or you could mean, "What Supreme Court case contains the decision that justifies the law?" In that case, here is a legal history

Hons Dons and Two MA Smoking Oxons

"Oh, KerEIST! This is a PhD in Political Science! How am I ever going to fence that!"

Virginia is NOT for Lovers

Virginia is only for STRAIGHT lovers, it appears.

(Nod to Ed Cone As Ed notes, "Old times there are not forgotten." Old times like Leviticus....Leviticus 18:6 reads: "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female. It is an abomination." A similar verse occurs two chapters later, in Leviticus 20:13: "A man who sleeps with another man is an abomination and should be executed." Of course there is also DEUTERONOMY 22:13-21--"If it is discovered that a bride is not a virgin, then she must be executed by stoning immediately." I think perhaps we SHOULD forget old times.)

Mrs. Munger's Class: "Passed What?"

Nemo to world: Greece WILL default

"The only questions are (a) when and (b) who will be left holding the bag."

In a great post on the blog "Self Evident", Nemo breaks down Greece and their crisis

Highly recommended.

Here is the ending:

"On the bright side, this is just entertainment; the entire Greek economy is a rounding error. The real show begins in a few years when major countries face the same problem."


Greatest Comparativist in History

On the scabrous PSJR site, the questions was raised, "Greatest Comparativist Ever? Living or Dead?"

Usual names. Someone suggested Marx. My response is here:

Marx is plausible as an answer to the "Best Comparativist."

But he was a student of Aristotle. And, Aristotle's work on comparatie constitutions is still widely cited.

I think you have to go with Aristotle, then. The problem is that none of his work was refereed, and even his books were not published by major presses. That may be why he didn't get tenure, after Plato deeded the Academy over to his nephew Speusippus. Of course, Ari had to go look for another job, even though he had great teaching evaluations and had been doing all the busy work for Plato for years.

Fortunately, having ivy league background gave Ari a leg up when he moved to Asia Minor, but who wants to have to teach in one of those "directional countries"? Ari ended up hiring out to teach some rich brat, who left to fight wars before they got to the more advanced stuff.

Ari went back to Athens, but got snubbed AGAIN for the TT job at the Academy. That brown-noser Xenocrates got the job, leave Ari to work as a VAP. Ari started his own school, the Lyceum, and did some of his best work, including two big NSF grants and attracting some excellent grad students. (And I mean, EXCELLENT. I think one of Michael Ting's ancestors thought about going to the Lyceum, but ended up staying at Columbia)

But then there were student riots after Alexander the Great died. The students were pissed off about core requirements, and of course the hegemony of "dead Macedonians" in the curriculum. Ari was accused of impiety, and loudly making that motorboat sound whenever he saw a hot undergraduate wearing a low-cut peplos. Some deans threatened to put a committee together to study some of the contingencies of toughening their rhetoric, and Ari had to go live with his mom on the island of Euboea.

Moral of the story: Publish in refereed journals, and get a tenure-track job. Otherwise, even if you are the greatest comparativist who EVER lived, you may have to go live with your mom. Oh, and don't make that motorboat sound.

Bad news for Everyone

Mark Linkous, AKA Sparklehorse is dead by his own hand. Here is the story from Pitchfork, and here is another from Rolling Stone.

For those of you who don't know Sparklehorse's music, the 2001 album, "It's a wonderful life" (God, what a horrible title that is now) is, in my opinion, their best and one of the very best works of this new, blighted, century.

What does it say about a person when his artistic heros keep killing themselves?


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Underground hotel: Not Much of a View, but Quiet

Null Stern (Zero Star) Hotel.

In a bunker.

You Think Joe Stiglitz is Funny? NYT is funny, too!

The New York Times, apparently now the "Pay Lady of News," is busy whoring out to the "don't worry, be happy!" crowd.

Check this article....

The concern, of course, is that one day rates will inevitably go up, which means interest payments will too. According to this school of thought, as our debt grows, lenders will be willing to take the risk of giving more money only if they can get more in return. And yet with the rise of China, India and Brazil, the world is awash in money looking for safe places. Even with the U.S. economy weak, the dollar remains one of the few truly safe havens, and that means interest rates could stay low for a very long time, which in turn means that our debts — however big — can be managed.

Indeed, though eliminating deficits might seem wise, it could actually be fatal to future prosperity. China is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure, while America can hardly repair its bridges. The U.S. has to invest and spend to build a future, to help re-create a workforce, and for now debt is a means to that end — provided Washington shows it can effectively channel that money.
(See the best business deals of 2009.)

Like home mortgages, much of the debt never has to be paid down. Half of the debt of trillions of dollars is owed by the federal government to itself, and a quarter more is owed to the American public. Because of the unique role of the dollar as the global reserve currency, the debt the government owes itself can simply be rolled over endlessly. Only the interest payments are a must. As long as the dollar remains central to the global system — and there is little chance of that changing in the next decade — the U.S. will have the latitude to borrow more than most other countries.

Worrying about debt is like gaining too much weight and worrying about the size of your clothing.

Okay...first, it's NOT "like gaining too much weight and worrying about the size of your clothing." The US debt is like gaining too much weight and saying it's okay to gain more weight.

Second, if you want to make that bizarre analogy work, you would have to say, "Eating 5,000 calories a day would be okay if you are training for a marathon. But if you are sitting around watching curling, eating 5,000 calories a day is disastrous."

I accept, as Angus did before, that debt might be okay if we were investing it. But we are not. We are using debt to fund pet projects that have no purpose other than re-electing Senators, or paying to put more people on the public employment roles so they will reliably vote Democrat.

Third, the dude actually says, "According to this school of thought, as our debt grows, lenders will be willing to take the risk of giving more money only if they can get more in return. And yet with the rise of China, India and Brazil, the world is awash in money looking for safe places." That's not a school of thought, that's accounting physics. Further, if either the Eurozone or Chinese get their act together, our complacency ("sure we suck, but they suck worse! Eat that pie!") will be hammered.

Yes, I realize that the author is in fact some shill, not the NYT ed page itself. Still, this is pretty funny. Almost as funny as Joe Stiglitz.

(Nod to Kesav)
Bondage dungeon in Devon.

One guy showed up during the search. He was questioned. But he claimed, "But I have an appointment!" Perhaps he thought all the burly men in police uniforms were a new wrinkle in the show?

And check this list of contraband:

The sex dungeon was then found in a converted room filled with "hundreds" of items including whips, gas masks, wooden bats, handcuffs, clothes pegs and shackles.

Police also discovered bondage chairs with straps, straight jackets, sex toys, gimp masks, S&M outfits, shackles, cattle prods and car batteries used to power the toys.

Um, that's "straitjacket," please, unless you are some illiterate product of the failed British school system.

(Nod to Tommy the Brit.)

Joe Stiglitz is a funny dude

He says we shouldn't worry about the deficit because of all the valuable assets we are acquiring by spending the money!

Here, check it out:

"Most economists also agree that it is a mistake to look at only one side of a balance sheet (whether for the public or private sector). One has to look not only at what a country or firm owes, but also at its assets. This should help answer those financial sector hawks who are raising alarms about government spending. After all, even deficit hawks acknowledge that we should be focusing not on today’s deficit, but on the long-term national debt. Spending, especially on investments in education, technology, and infrastructure, can actually lead to lower long-term deficits."

Sweet fancy Moses! Shall we count our valuable investments? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Entitlement spending? Farm subsidies? Putting billions into acquiring failing companies?

Hey Joe! We are not running over a trillion dollar deficit because the Federal government is making big investments in education and technology. 

And by all means, let's focus on the national debt and not on the current deficit. Didn't it just double under the last President and isn't it slated to almost double again under the current one?

My, what amazing valuable assets we must have built up with that spending binge. 

Now he does go on to discuss how the business cycle affects the deficit and to opine that it is too soon in the recovery to consider spending cuts or tax increases for short term deficit reduction, which is perhaps a defensible point of view.  

But why oh why oh why do so many excellent economists turn off their brains when they address the public?


My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

"For centuries, historians, political theorists, anthropologists, and the public at large have tended to think about empires in such cyclical and gradual terms... Yet it is possible that this whole conceptual framework is, in fact, flawed... Great powers and empires are, I would suggest, complex systems, made up of a very large number of interacting components ... somewhere between order and disorder -- on 'the edge of chaos'...A very small trigger can set off a 'phase transition' from a benign equilibrium to a crisis...Not long after such crises happen, historians arrive on the scene. They are the scholars who specialize in the study of 'fat tail' events -- the low-frequency, high-impact moments that inhabit the tails of probability distributions, such as wars, revolutions, financial crashes, and imperial collapses. But historians often misunderstand complexity in decoding these events. They are trained to explain calamity in terms of long-term causes, often dating back decades. This is what Nassim Taleb rightly condemned in The Black Swan as 'the narrative fallacy': the construction of psychologically satisfying stories on the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc...Perhaps the most famous story of imperial decline is that of ancient Rome...But what if fourth-century Rome was simply functioning normally as a complex adaptive system, with political strife, barbarian migration, and imperial rivalry all just integral features of late antiquity? Through this lens, Rome's fall was sudden and dramatic -- just as one would expect when such a system goes critical...What is most striking about this history is the speed of the Roman Empire's collapse. In just five decades, the population of Rome itself fell by three-quarters.

Archaeological evidence from the late fifth century -- inferior housing, more primitive pottery, fewer coins, smaller cattle -- shows that the benign influence of Rome diminished rapidly in the rest of western Europe...Other great empires have suffered comparably swift collapses...Ming China was the world's most sophisticated civilization by almost any measure...The transition from Confucian equipoise to anarchy took little more than a decade. In much the same way, the Bourbon monarchy in France passed from triumph to terror with astonishing rapidity...The sun set on the British Empire almost as suddenly...the United Kingdom's age of hegemony was effectively over less than a dozen years after its victories over Germany and Japan. The most recent and familiar example of precipitous decline is, of course, the collapse of the Soviet Union...In imperial crises, it is not the material underpinnings of power that really matter but expectations about future power."

[Niall Ferguson, Foreign Affars, ATSRTWT] [LA Times excerpt]

(Nod to Kevin L, who ill NEVER fall)

Icelanders: "No way, We won't pay!" Hey, We Don't WE Get to Vote on the Bailout?

So a bunch of goofballs in Europe put their money in a phony bank in Iceland, and lost a lot of Euros.

Then the European "We passed a law against risk" doofuses, (okay, the Brits and the Dutch)
decided that making citizens take responsibility for being goofballs is just too harsh, and used taxes raised at gunpoint from non-goofball citizens to pay off the goofballs.

Not surprisingly, the non-goofballs were miffed about this. Though I think in Britain and Nederlands there are laws against independent thought.... still, some people said, "why?"

So, the European government thugs decided to use extortion: Iceland, you can't play in our EU sandbox until you tax YOUR citizens to pay back OUR non-goofballs for having bailed out OUR goofballs who should never have invested in YOUR fake bank in the first place.

The Iceland government agreed, of course. It's not their money. The money belongs to the citizens of Iceland, who already took a giant hit because (as far as I can tell) every citizen of Iceland is a giant goofball in his/her own right.

But losing money because YOU are a goofball makes sense. Having to pay other people because THEY are goofballs....I don't see that. The Telfarssons and Helgotsdottirs of Iceland appear to agree, voting "NO" quite emphatically.

On the plus side, at least Icelanders get to VOTE on their dumb bailout. In the US, we are even worse: we don't have votes, just back room deals and payoffs to Democratic senators.

(Nod to Anonyman)

Hang up your cell phone, and drive a Toyota

People are going nuts over how dangerous Toyotas are.

And I suppose that it would be a bad experience to have your accelerator stuck. ("If your accelerator gets stuck for more than four hours, seek medical attention...")

But as Prof. Fischbeck points out, it is FAR (FAAAAAR) more dangerous to go for a walk, or to speak ("Hey, gurl! Watchoodoin'? Nothing, I'm jes drivin'...")