Quotulatiousness

December 31, 2011

A billion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you’re talking about imaginary money

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:35

Mark Steyn on the crossing of the psychological Rubicon:

At the end of 2011, America, like much of the rest of the Western world, has dug deeper into a cocoon of denial. Tens of millions of Americans remain unaware that this nation is broke – broker than any nation has ever been. A few days before Christmas, we sailed across the psychological Rubicon and joined the club of nations whose government debt now exceeds their total GDP. It barely raised a murmur — and those who took the trouble to address the issue noted complacently that our 100 percent debt-to-GDP ratio is a mere two-thirds of Greece’s. That’s true, but at a certain point per capita comparisons are less relevant than the sheer hard dollar sums: Greece owes a few rinky-dink billions; America owes more money than anyone has ever owed anybody ever.

Public debt has increased by 67 percent over the past three years, and too many Americans refuse even to see it as a problem. For most of us, “$16.4 trillion” has no real meaning, any more than “$17.9 trillion” or “$28.3 trillion” or “$147.8 bazillion.” It doesn’t even have much meaning for the guys spending the dough: Look into the eyes of Barack Obama or Harry Reid or Barney Frank, and you realize that, even as they’re borrowing all this money, they have no serious intention of paying any of it back. That’s to say, there is no politically plausible scenario under which the 16.4 trillion is reduced to 13.7 trillion, and then 7.9 trillion and, eventually, 173 dollars and 48 cents. At the deepest levels within our governing structures, we are committed to living beyond our means on a scale no civilization has ever done.

The Christian Post: No, you can’t be a Christian and a libertarian

Filed under: Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:27

The executive editor of The Christian Post explains why liberty is incompatible with the teachings of Christianity:

Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and executive editor of The Christian Post, said that “of course libertarians can be Christians — but so can racists.”

“If you are a Christian and a libertarian, you would have to basically ignore all of Romans 13 where God lays down a specific role that the government is divinely ordained to play which is to reward those who are right and punish those who are evil.”

“Libertarians are not being consistent in applying the Bible to their thought process,” Land contended The government not only has a right, he said, but is called upon by God to regulate societal morality.

“Slavery was outlawed by the government. Is that not a moral issue? There are laws against rape, murder, theft … all of these are moral issues that the government has and must regulate.”

The evangelical leader argues that libertarians compartmentalize their faith when their Christian faith must be first and foremost in every aspect of their life — even in politics and government.

Many Christian libertarians, for instance, argue that sin that is “victimless” — such as drug use — should not be made illegal because users knowingly chose to use the substance on their own accord, and by exercising their free will poorly, they will also have to suffer the consequences.

Conservative Christians, however, do not see any sin as “victimless” and argue that Christianity by its very nature affirms the idea of corporate solidarity. Therefore, every action, or lack of, has a ripple effect on society, which impacts the lives of others.

According to the Christian Right, libertarians put too much emphasis on individual liberties and not enough on the consequences those liberties could have on society.

Vikings start to assess their greatest needs in the 2012 draft and free agency

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:17

With the final regular season game tomorrow, the Vikings will close up shop until the run-up to the draft. John Holler looks at the current roster and points to obvious areas of need that must be addressed before the start of the 2012 NFL season.

(more…)

The “Reverse Pelzman” Effect

Filed under: Americas, Bureaucracy, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:35

A semi-serious discussion of a real-world experiment in getting rid of driving licenses:

Those of us who are econ geeks will know about the Pelzman Effect. Regulations that supposedly make us safer (say, seatbelts or cycling helmets) don’t actually make us safer as behaviour changes to take account of the new safety. Almost as if there’s what we consider to be an acceptable risk to take and reducing it in one manner just allows us to be silly in another so as to maintain that risk we’re comfortable with. What I didn’t know (but better econ geeks than I might have done already) is that there is a Reverse Pelzman Effect.

Exploiting an interesting natural experiment, the authors of that paper are able to show that we should abolish driving licences. The various States of Mexico found that bribery was impossible to avoid when attempting to gain a licence. So, to varying degrees, they changed their issuance system, some deciding simply not to have them any more. So, of course, death rates from car accidents went up, didn’t they?

Erm, actually, no, they didn’t. Those places that didn’t bother with licences any more, allowing absolutely anyone at all to get in and drive, saw no change in such death rates any different from those that had now (well, hopefully) incorruptible issuance systems.

Don’t mess with Firefly (or the right to free speech)

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

December 30, 2011

Next up on the global agenda: the “soft” dark ages

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:20

Occasional commenter “Lickmuffin” sent a link to this article saying “Overly optimistic outlook here, I’m afraid. What good is digital storage when there won’t be any electricity?”:

We were discussing the dark ages, which not only were characterized by the disintegration of the Roman political order, but also the loss of an immense store of practical technological knowledge: agricultural practices and implements; construction techniques — it would take until the 19th century for Europeans to match the Romans’ road-building prowess — war machines; distribution and warehousing; science; art (which in Roman times was the realm of artisans, not self-absorbed “transgressive” pricks).

I said that I think we are headed for a “soft dark ages.” That took him aback. “How are we headed there,” he asked, “and how would they be ‘soft’?”

I answered his last question first. They would be “soft” because unlike what happened in Roman times, we have the ability to store gigantic amounts of information in small spaces. One person can carry around encyclopedic knowledge on a flash drive. Multiply him by the millions, and you have a vast repository of recoverable knowledge that is private, widely dispersed, and replicated many times over. No matter how determined or persistent this era’s barbarians — Marxists, Muslims, Democrats, unionists, academicians — they simply would not be able to track down and destroy all modern technological knowledge.

But beyond furtive individual efforts at hiding and protecting the knowledge we would need to create a New America or a New West, there would be vaster, more organized, more collective efforts to protect knowledge until better days. I suggested to Bob three institutions or concepts that would become the next dark ages’ hallmarks: The new castle fortress; the new monastic life; and the new Europe.

Are creative people also more likely to be “creative” with the truth?

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:51

Melissa Leong on a recent study:

Francesca Gino’s new study, which links creativity to dishonesty, opens with a quote from 18th-century French philosopher and art critic Denis Diderot: “Evil always turns up in this world through some genius or other.”

Gino is not suggesting, as some artists at the time complained, that creative people are evil. But she is saying that, according to her research, creative people are more apt to cheat, lie and justify their evil. Gino, associate professor of business administration at Harvard University, spoke to the Post about her study, co-authored by Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist at Duke University. (Their findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology last month.)

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:36

My latest round-up of Guild Wars 2 articles, blog posts, and community activities is now up at GuildMag.

Revolution driven by social media? How 16th Century . . .

Filed under: History, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:33

The Economist shows that there’s nothing new in social media as a catalyst for change:

It is a familiar-sounding tale: after decades of simmering discontent a new form of media gives opponents of an authoritarian regime a way to express their views, register their solidarity and co-ordinate their actions. The protesters’ message spreads virally through social networks, making it impossible to suppress and highlighting the extent of public support for revolution. The combination of improved publishing technology and social networks is a catalyst for social change where previous efforts had failed.

That’s what happened in the Arab spring. It’s also what happened during the Reformation, nearly 500 years ago, when Martin Luther and his allies took the new media of their day—pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts—and circulated them through social networks to promote their message of religious reform.

Scholars have long debated the relative importance of printed media, oral transmission and images in rallying popular support for the Reformation. Some have championed the central role of printing, a relatively new technology at the time. Opponents of this view emphasise the importance of preaching and other forms of oral transmission. More recently historians have highlighted the role of media as a means of social signalling and co-ordinating public opinion in the Reformation.

Now the internet offers a new perspective on this long-running debate, namely that the important factor was not the printing press itself (which had been around since the 1450s), but the wider system of media sharing along social networks — what is called “social media” today. Luther, like the Arab revolutionaries, grasped the dynamics of this new media environment very quickly, and saw how it could spread his message.

December 29, 2011

Even his detractors admit that Ron Paul raises questions for the GOP that need to be answered

Filed under: Economics, Government, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:26

Jonathan Kay, no fan of Ron Paul, points out that his campaign is forcing some otherwise unexamined bits of Republican belief to be hauled out into the light and re-examined:

None of this is particularly surprising given what we already knew about Ron Paul and his oddball views on metal coinage, Pearl Harbor, the Federal Reserve, and a dozen other subjects. The guy is basically your classic American crank. If he hadn’t gotten fixated on Austrian-School laissez-faire economics, Ron Paul probably would be spending his free time studying the Zapruder film frame by frame, or writing letters to local newspapers about water fluoridation.

Yet, for all his weirdness, Ron Paul deserves credit for at least one very real and crucial insight. Of all the Republican candidates, he alone has called out the fundamental contradiction between the GOP’s two dominant obsessions: (a) small government, and (b) American “greatness” (or, as Mitt Romney recently put it, America’s status as “the greatest nation in the history of the earth”). Critics dismiss Paul as an isolationist. But at least he understands that superpowers can’t maintain 11 carrier battle groups, win Afghanistan, protect Israel, take on Iran, out-educate China, and run a humane society, all while disemboweling government.

On many domestic issues, Paul’s views aren’t that much out of step with the his GOP rivals. Paul wants to shut down the Department of Education. So does Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Paul wants to close down the EPA. So does Bachmann and Newt Gingrich (and Herman Cain, too, if anyone still cares). Paul, like Gingrich, wants to privatize the Post Office. Paul also opposes abortion, supports the repeal of Obamacare, rejects the idea of man-made global warming, champions English as America’s national language, and strenuously opposes illegal immigration. His only major dissents on social issues are the war on drugs (end it), and gay marriage, which he thinks should be left up to the states (as opposed to being pre-empted outright at the federal level).

[. . .]

What Ron Paul is doing, for those who can ignore his crankish ramblings about the gold standard and Letters of Marque and Reprisal, is creating a debate about the fundamental meaning of American greatness. Personally, I believe that his ideas about foreign policy are unrealistic and unsettling. But at least he is doing something that neither Mitt Romney nor Newt Gingrich nor Rick Perry has the courage to do: Acknowledge that American global leadership carries a price tag that, ultimately, must be paid with higher taxes and bigger government.

Alternatives to ordinary houses: former missile silos

Filed under: History, Military, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:16

A former US Air Force missile silo (with a house and other buildings on the land above) was put on the market earlier this month at a low-low price of only $750,000:

Boing Boing has come across a cozy little place that any future super-villain would be happy to call home on Sotheby’s International Realty website. Situated in the scenic Adirondack Mountains of New York, this silo and air park were operational for a short time in 1961. Hundreds of these Atlas F missile silos were built across the U.S. in the 1960’s in anticipation of attacks on the country.

As if the promise of moving into your very own missile silo isn’t tempting enough, Sotheby’s has recently dropped the price from $4.6 million USD to a mere $750,000. Not a bad deal if you’re looking to save money on your lair so you can splurge on that death ray you’ve always wanted.

In addition to the house perched atop the missile, you may also be interested in the adjoining air craft hanger, seven buildings spread out over neighbouring acres of land and an additional log cabin with runway access. To get the whole package, it’ll cost you $1.76 million USD.

The article also linked to this related video:

Girls from single-parent homes “more resilient” at school than boys

Filed under: Britain, Education, Health, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:55

An article in the Guardian summarizes a recent study’s findings:

Girls appear to be more resilient than boys in preventing problems at home from affecting their behaviour in school, according to a study which aims to explain the educational achievement gap between the genders.

The tendency for girls to perform better in the later years of school has become increasingly pronounced in the UK in the past two decades. In 2011 the percentage point gap between the proportion of girls gaining A* or A grades in GCSE subjects and that for boys hit a record 6.7, up from just 1.5 percentage points in 1989.

Educational researchers have sought to explain the difference through a variety of factors connected to both physiology and environment, including theorising that boys are inherently more resistant to a formal educational system.

But the new study, based on detailed data from 20,000 US children over a decade, found no particular evidence of school-based factors being significant. Instead, it discovered that boys raised outside a traditional two-parent family were more likely to display behavioural and self-control problems in school and were suspended more often. The data ended when the children were about 14, but suspensions are seen as a strong indicator of subsequent poorer educational performance.

This finding, if validated by other studies, implies that the gender gap will continue to widen as more children are being raised in single-parent households now than ever before. Girls’ increasing share of university entrance will continue to grow — although the system will still likely consider girls and young women “more vulnerable” and in need of more systemic support.

December 28, 2011

Dan Savage not worried about anti-gay stance in Ron Paul’s newsletters

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:08

The man who perhaps single-handedly saved us from a Santorum presidency doesn’t think the anti-gay comments in Ron Paul’s newsletters matter:

In 2011, the press has discovered — for the third time — the newsletters Paul sold in the years between his failed 1984 Senate bid and his congressional comeback in 1996. They reveal Paul (or his ghostwriter) to be a scared cynic with paranoid thoughts about blacks, gays, and Israel. The comments about black men — including their supposed “criminal” tendencies — have attracted wide attention. But the newsletters were often just as vitriolic about gay people, saying they were “far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.” A “gay lobby” suppressed the truth about AIDS, the newsletters claimed. “I miss the closet,” groaned Paul-or-his-ghost.

Republicans aren’t supposed to survive comments like that. Gay activists have “glitter-bombed” Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, showering them with sparkles to shame them for their anti-gay rights stances. After Rick Santorum compared gay sex to “man on dog” sex, Dan Savage told fans to Google-bomb “Santorum,” propagating the idea that it’s a Latin-sounding word for “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.” That was six years ago. Santorum still gets humiliating questions about it.

Nobody grills Paul about this stuff. When I asked Savage about the ugly comments in old Paul Survival Reports, he shrugged them off. “Ron Paul can have the closet,” he said. “He might miss it, but we sure don’t. Maybe there’s room in there for his old newsletters?”

There is no comparing Paul and Santorum, said Savage, because Paul is a leave-us-alone libertarian. “Ron is older than my father, far less toxic than Santorum, and, as he isn’t beloved of religious conservatives, he isn’t out there stoking the hatreds of our social and political enemies,” he explained. “And Ron may not like gay people, and may not want to hang out with us or use our toilets, but he’s content to leave us the fuck alone and recognizes that gay citizens are entitled to the same rights as all other citizens. Santorum, on the other hand, believes that his bigotry must be given the force of law. That’s an important difference.”

The racist origins of the drug war

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:53

Back in the dim, distant past when Ron Paul was running for President on the Libertarian Party ticket, he outlined the reasons for the start of the war on drugs. Ryan Grimm summarizes the situation in the late 1980s:

Ron Paul’s presidential campaign has spent the last two weeks dealing with the political consequences of the reemergence of racist newsletters that went out under his name in the 1980s and ‘90s. During that same time period, however, Paul also laid out an historical analysis of the racist roots of the drug war that accurately and honestly reflects its origins.

In 1988 Paul made a presidential campaign stop at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws while running on the Libertarian Party ticket. “What was so bad about the period from 1776 to 1914?” Paul wondered, referring to a time in American history when drugs were legal on the federal, and, in many towns, local level. “In the 20th Century, the doctors, like all business people, decided that there ought to be a monopoly. ‘If you wanted a little bit of codeine in your cough medicine, it would be much better if you come to me so I can charge you $25 for a prescription.’”

Paul, in a speech aired at the time on C-SPAN went on. “Before the 20th Century there was none of that and it was the medical profession as well as many other trade groups that agitated for the laws. And you know there’s a pretty good case made that this same concept was built in with racism as well. We do know that opium was used by the Chinese and the Chinese were not welcomed in this country,” Paul said. “We do know that the blacks at times use heroin, opium and the laws have been used against them. There have been times that it has been recognized that the Latin Americans use marijuana and the laws have been written against them. But lo and behold the drug that inebriates most of the members of Congress has not been touched because they’re up there drinking alcohol.”

Uncovering the historical definition of “the press”

Filed under: History, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:35

Elizabeth sent me a link to this Dan Smyth post on what the US Founding Fathers understood the term “the press” to mean:

If the Founders wanted to protect in particular who today we call media, reporters, etc. with “freedom of…the press,” then surely the Founders could have written, for example, “freedom of … journalists” or “freedom of … newsmongers.”

Volokh describes how, with no significant exceptions, prominent writers the Founders often cited, including William Blackstone, Jean-Louis De Lolme, and George Tucker, connected press freedom with the right of every “freeman,” “citizen,” or “individual” to “write,” “print,” or “publish” his or her thoughts. This fact implies the Founders didn’t intend the press clause to protect the existing or future collection of “newsmongers” per se but rather to recognize the right of any person (or “freeman”) to use printing presses (Until 1694, England imposed licenses on publications, which the Founders abhorred). James Madison’s following first draft of the Bill of Rights’ speech/press clauses highlights this point: “The people [emphasis added] shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” According to Johnson’s dictionary, “people” had such definitions as “a nation,” “men, or per[s]ons in general,” and “the commonality.”

Volokh provides much more evidence for the press clause’s “the press” being the printing press, particularly his evaluations of U.S. court cases from the Founding to 2011 that demonstrate judges have consistently interpreted the press clause as protecting any individuals who use the printing press, including newspaper advertisers and authors of letters to the editor, pamphlets, and books. Volokh describes how it was only the 1970s when some lower courts began interpreting the press clause’s “the press” to be a collection of journalists and not the printing press as a technology.

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