Sunday, October 31, 2010

Natural Laws

What makes some laws worth obeying, while others demand to be overturned? Bill Whittle examines the difference between Natural Law and Political Law.

To emphasize Whittle's points, I include an excerpt from Walter E. Williams' essay Rights Verses Wishes:

True rights, such as those in our Constitution, or those considered to be natural or human rights, exist simultaneously among people. The exercise of a right by one person does not diminish those held by another. It imposes no obligations on another except those of non-interference. I have a right to ask a lady for a date, but I have no right to impose an obligation on her to actually date me. Similarly, I have a right to ask you to permit me to live in your house and dine with your family, but I have no right to impose such an obligation on you. Moreover, since I do not have these rights, I do not have a right to delegate authority to government to impose such obligations on another. In other words, from a moral point of view, one can delegate only those rights that one possesses.

To argue that people have a right that imposes obligations on another is absurd. This can be readily seen if we apply such an idea to my rights to speech or travel. Under that vision, my right to free speech would require government-imposed obligations on others to provide me with an auditorium, television studio, or radio station. My right to travel freely would require government-imposed obligations on others to provide me with airfare and hotel accommodations.

For government to guarantee a “right” to health care, or any other good or service, whether a person can afford it or not, it must diminish someone else’s rights, namely his rights to his earnings. The reason is that government has no resources of its own. Moreover, there is no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy giving the government those resources. The fact that government has no resources of its own forces one to recognize that for government to give one American citizen a dollar, it must first, through intimidation, threats, and coercion, confiscate that dollar from some other American. In other words, if one person has a right to something he did not earn, it of necessity requires another person not to have a right to something that he did earn.

NMA TV Parody of Chinese Professor Commercial

NMA TV from Taiwan parodies the Citizens Against Waste Chinese Professor commercial with their own take on Chinese world economic dominance.

Quantitative Easin'


How To Make Authentic Horror Movie Blood

BBC presenter Mark Gatiss, host of a series called A History of Horror, mixes up a goop called Kensington Gore, is just the type of hyperbolic hemoglobin that helps your costume cross over into creepy territory. Here's the ingredient list:

2 cups of Golden Syrup
1 cup of Water
10 teaspoons of Red food colouring
A few drops of Blue food colouring
A few drops of Yellow food colouring
10 tablespoons of Corn Flour
Mint flavouring—to taste

Happy Halloween!

Harvest Moon


Sunday Verse: Robert Service

The Spell of the Yukon

I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
   I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy—I fought it;
   I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it—
   Came out with a fortune last fall,—
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
   And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
   It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
   To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
   Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
   For no land on earth—and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
   You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
   And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
   It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
   It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
   That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
   In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
   And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
   With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer—no sweeter was ever;
   The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
   The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
   The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness—
   O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
   The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
   The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
   The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
   I’ve bade ’em good-by—but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
   And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
   And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
   There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
   And I want to go back—and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
   I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
   I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight—and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
   It’s hell!—but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite—
   So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
   It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
   So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
   It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
   It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

~ Robert Service


for the gold bugs

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Quote of the Day: Ayn Rand

So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

~ Ayn Rand, from Atlas Shrugged

A Vision of the Future?

As Margaret Thatcher said: "The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money." That thought could be amended to say: "If a nation keeps spending beyond its means to provide for its people what they should provide for themselves sooner or later their creditors will foreclose."

Happy Birthday, John Adams

John Adams was born on this day in 1735 in Quincy, Massachusetts. Taken from HBO's seven-part miniseries "John Adams," this scene captures the pivotal deliberations of the Second Continental Congress in the summer of 1776. As delegates face the inevitability of war with Great Britain, Adams makes a moving case for freedom and self-determination, stressing that the price of liberty can never be too high. America must be free, no matter what the cost.
“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”

~ John Adams

The Nastiest Campaign Season Ever? Not Hardly.

I'm growing extremely tired of all the attack ads on TV filled with half-truths, outright lies and vile personal insults. I guess I need to get TiVo so I can skip them. Mudslinging and politics just seem to go together. But this is hardly the worse campaign in the history of the republic. I've just hit the saturation point and the intense negative ads are having the opposite effect of what's intended-- I am starting to want to vote for the people being attacked.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Danger of Isms.... a 1948 Cartoon

This Cold War-era cartoon uses humor to tout the dangers of Communism and the benefits of capitalism.

Vote Smarter

Find the Candidate that Most Closely Represents Your Views.

Quote of the Day: George Washington Carver

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcast station, through which God speaks to us every hour if we will only tune in.

~ George Washington Carver

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Taming the Alaskan Hummingbird

I never would  have guessed there are hummingbirds in Alaska.

HT: to my wife for pointing this out to me

What is Moral Hazard?

Moral hazard is a term that was thrown around a lot during the financial crisis as commentators fretted and wrung their hands over government actions. But what is moral hazard? I doubt the average citizen understands the term. A short definition might be-- protecting people or institutions from the consequences of their bad behavior, and thereby creating the expectation that future bad behavior will be tolerated and bailed out again.

From insulating financial institutions from the consequences of their excessive leverage and lax loan standards, to the unsustainable business models of auto makers and the auto unions, to protecting homeowners from ill-advised overpriced purchases and a number of other things, politicians of all persuasions have seriously undermined the moral fabric of the country.

But the biggest bailout may still be looming on the horizon. We saw a preview of it with the stimulus program trying to save state jobs, such as teachers, policemen and firefighters. But this may be just the beginning. States face budget gaps somewhere in the neighborhood of $72B next year, with pension fund gaps of $1T just over the horizon.

While the recession has contributed to the gap, most states have failed to adjust their spending habits to match their revenue streams. It is no secret that costs for public worker healthcare and pensions continue to grow at rates significantly above inflation. It is also no secret that some states are less responsible than others. For example, New York and Florida have roughly the same number of people, but their budgets are radically different. New York spends $139B a year, more than doubling Florida's $67B. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why.

The state in the most trouble is California, the epicenter of progressivism. It faces a $19B budget gap, while furloughing employees to save money and issuing IOUs to creditors to avoid defaulting on their bonds.

Investors looking for tax free income need to be very careful where they tread in the field of land mines called municipal bonds.  The states and localities cannot just print money like the feds, and their outstanding debt has increased by 90% in the past decade.  No less investor than Warren Buffett was predicted a "terrible problem" for these bonds in the coming years.

The states in the most trouble include the usual suspects: California, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York.  The states in the best shape are: Virginia, Texas, Washington and North Carolina.  Those in deep dodo need to make tough spending and taxing decisions in the very near future.  But the real danger is that Uncle Sam will bail out the worst of worst, delaying the inevitable once again as the problems just continue to get worse.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

What thoughts go through your mind when you first view this photo?


Why Can't Chuck Get His Business Off the Ground?

How can Americans create private sector jobs?

The solution to America's jobs problem lies not with budget-busting federally mandated "stimulus" programs.

Instead, what is needed are specific reforms that wouldn't cost taxpayers, would create a broader tax base for cash-strapped cities and states, and would provide opportunity for millions of Americans who worry where their next paycheck is coming from.

As demonstrated by a series of eight new reports issued in October 2010 by the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, one of the principal obstacles to creating new jobs and entrepreneurial activity in cities across the country is the complex maze of regulations cities and states impose on small businesses. IJ's "city study" reports are filled with real-world examples of specific restrictions that often make it impossible for entrepreneurs to create jobs for themselves, let alone for others.

Chip Mellor, the president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, said, "If the nation is looking to the federal government to create jobs in America, it is looking in the wrong place. If we want to grow our economy, we must remove government-imposed barriers to honest enterprise at the city and state levels. Remove those barriers, and you will see a return to the optimism and opportunity that are hallmarks of the American Dream."

IJ's eight reports document how irrational and anti-competitive regulations block entrepreneurship. More often than not, these government-imposed restrictions on economic liberty are put in place at the behest of existing businesses that are not shy about using government force to keep out competition. The Institute for Justice's city studies examine regulations imposed on a wide range of occupations in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Benoit Mandelbrot, the Father of Fractal Geometry, On Efficient Market Theory

Benoit Mandelbrot: On Efficient Market Theory


Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, passed away last week at the age of 85. Near the end of his career he become interest in the financial crisis and stock. The above interview details his opinion of The Efficient Market Theory, which most modern investment practices are based off of to one degree or another. Needless to say, the data led him to question this theory.

Mandelbrot didn't discover the basic maths of fractals, but he took an obscure, unfashionable concept, that you can explore the space between two dimensions and three dimensions, and showed its fundamental role in the fabric of the world.

An insightful teacher, Mr. Mandlebrot brought The Mandlebrot Set to the public so that anyone with an interest in mathematics, from rank amateurs and beginner students to brilliant Ivy League geniuses, could study it. He was the Sterling Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences at Yale University.

While he coined the term "fractal", expended the concept's use and understanding, and won the hearts of the masses with his super cool computer representations -- it's good to remember that he stood on the shoulders of great mathematicians who came before him in the field, such as Weierstrass, Koch, Cantor, and Gaston Julia.

For most of his career, Dr. Mandelbrot had a reputation as an outsider to the mathematical establishment. From his perch as a researcher for I.B.M. in New York, where he worked for decades before accepting the position at Yale University, he noticed patterns that other researchers may have overlooked in their own data, then often swooped in to collaborate.

"He knew everybody, with interests going off in every possible direction," Professor Mumford said. "Every time he gave a talk, it was about something different."

Dr. Mandelbrot traced his work on fractals to a question he first encountered as a young researcher: how long is the coast of Britain?

The answer, he was surprised to discover, depends on how closely one looks. On a map an island may appear smooth, but zooming in will reveal jagged edges that add up to a longer coast. Zooming in further will reveal even more coastline.

"Here is a question, a staple of grade-school geometry that, if you think about it, is impossible," Dr. Mandelbrot told The New York Times earlier this year in an interview. "The length of the coastline, in a sense, is infinite."

In the 1950s, Dr. Mandelbrot proposed a simple but radical way to quantify the crookedness of such an object by assigning it a "fractal dimension," an insight that has proved useful well beyond the field of cartography.

Over nearly seven decades, working with dozens of scientists, Dr. Mandelbrot contributed to the fields of geology, medicine, cosmology and engineering. He used the geometry of fractals to explain how galaxies cluster, how wheat prices change over time and how mammalian brains fold as they grow, among other phenomena.

His influence has also been felt within the field of geometry, where he was one of the first to use computer graphics to study mathematical objects like the Mandelbrot set, which was named in his honor.

"I decided to go into fields where mathematicians would never go because the problems were badly stated," Dr. Mandelbrot said. "I have played a strange role that none of my students dare to take."


A look at Mandelbrot the person and his life's work:

Benoit Mandelbrot: Fractals and Dimension


Fractal Zoom (Made using freeware program XaoS)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quote of the Day: Marcus Aurelius

Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you
can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more
tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, "Is this

~ Marcus Aurelius

Wealth Creation

Another excellent video from Bill Whittle. In it he dispels the notion that wealth is a finite thing, and shows how it can be created out of thin air.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Finally, When Everyone is Equal, Only the Outlaws will be Extraordinary

2081, A Movie Trailer, Based on Kurt Vonnegut's Short Story "Harrison Bergeron"

In this cinematic parable, the exceptionally skilled, beautiful, strong, and intellectually endowed are “made equal” with their average fellow men by means of a variety of restraining agents-- weights, masks, and taser-like devices that interrupt thought and impede movement. Anyone tested by the state and deemed to be above average is required by law to be fitted with one or more of these restraints or “equalizers.” The penalty for removing them is imprisonment

My Experience with Unemployment

On Sunday evening, the CBS show 60 Minutes aired a segment entitled Unemployment Benefits: The 99ers that got me thinking about my own recent stint with unemployment. Official US unemployment now stands at 9%, and when the discouraged and underemployed are counted the real number is around 17%, with an anemic recovery unlikely to reduce unemployment significantly.

My own unemployment began with a phone call, not even a face to face meeting, to let me know I would be RIF'ed in a month unless I found another job in the company. I had worked for this Fortune 15 company for 28 years and was competent enough to rise to a middle management position supervising the work and setting the work priorities for about 85 people.

My first reaction was denial, but that didn't last long. With the month deadline fast approaching, and a wife and three kids depending on me, I set to work trying to find another job inside the company.

My hope was to find a lateral move within the company, but soon found out my salary level was the specific target of this RIF and there were no openings to be found. Talk about depression setting in.... to bust my tail to get to this level only to be punished for my success.

My choices quickly became whether to accept a downgrade to stay employed, or to take the corporate severance package and seek employment elsewhere. Instinct told me to take the "safe" route and find a manager. Two possibilities quickly surfaced-- both dead end jobs that no one else wanted, using outdated technology. Should I take this "safe" route that would leave me in a less marketable position if I were to get laid off in a year in exchange for extending my employment a bit longer?

I sat down with my wife and went over the options with her in detail, looking at both the financial aspects as well as quality of life issues. Her position from the start was to take the severance package, which would amount to over half a year's salary, and take my chances elsewhere. She knew I would be miserable taking a lessor position with limited potential for growth and learning. Another deciding factor is that we had saved and invested a large portion of our salaries to prepare for the worst, and could survive several years if necessary without my income. We figured worse case I could always get a government job since I live in the D.C. metro area and the government is always expanding.

With this decision behind us, I began working with the career counselors provided as part of the severance package to polish up my resume, and learn how to market myself to potential employers. After two weeks of drafts, I came up with my final resume and was ready to beat the bushes for a job.

The first avenue I pursued was working my network of friends. They were all very concerned and sympathetic, and willing to help, but no one they knew was hiring. Next, I hit the typical internet job ad sites, the headhunters, and the government sites. In a three week period of time, I must have applied for a hundred jobs. The silence was deafening. Not even a phone call or an email saying "sorry, we don't want you." It was like wadding up my resume and dropping it down a black hole. Was I at that age, salary level, and skill set where no one would want me?

Finally, I got an interview through a headhunter for a position that perfectly matched my skills. What luck, the two key decision makers used to work for the same company I did and we knew many of the same people. This was too good to be true. I crushed that interview, and things were looking up. A week later I got a call from the headhunter saying the position I interviewed had been withdrawn due to financial problems in the company. I don't know if this is true or not, but I suspect the company found someone else for the position where they didn't have to pay the headhunter fee. Talk about being depressed again.

Next I started hearing back from some of the government jobs I applied for. In the bizare-o world of the government, I got turned down for a number of positions saying I either didn't have enough experience or education to qualify, as if 28 years and Master's degree is not enough for a GS-13 or 14, while those same agencies found me qualified for a GS-15. Go figure.

To keep a long story short, I went on several interviews with the government. I won't describe them in detail, but suffice it to say they were the most clueless and apathetic bunch of people I've ever talked with.

My break came when on a whim, I applied for a job with a company I never heard of. An hour after hitting enter, I was on the phone with their HR department answering the initial screening questions. A day later I did a phone interview with the hiring manager, and was brought in for a face-to-face the next day. The offer came two days later, a month and a half after I left my previous job. I was not going to turn it down in this economy.

My experience was similar to the people in the CBS 60 Minutes segment. But I was lucky. Even in the D.C. area jobs are very hard to get. I stumbled onto the right opportunity at exactly the right time. Not everyone is so fortunate.

I learned a number of things from this experience I won't forget. No job anywhere is secure. No matter how great your past achievements are, companies have no qualms about laying people off and don't consider the long-term consequences of brain-drain on their business. You need to keep your skills up-to-date with what the marketplace wants. You need to plan for the worse case scenario with an emergency fund that will allow to weather an extended period of unemployment. You need to break your emotional attachment to your company and your job. You work for Me, Inc, not that other corporate name, and you should manage your career as if you are an independent contractor whose contract could be terminated at any time without cause.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Move Over Fantasy Football Enthusiasts the Law Offices of Norman Tugwater are After You

Norman Tugwater and Adrian Peterson work their fantasy football magic together. Tugwater launches a tirade against fantasy team owners, demanding compensation for Peterson's fantasy football rights. Appearances by Shaquille O'Neal and America Olivio.

Taiwanese TV Pokes Fun at US Public School Achievement

Does anyone else find this video disturbingly true? I'm not mad at NMA TV for producing the video, but I'm surprised how well they have the weaknesses of our education system nailed. Being #1 in self-esteem isn't exactly something to brag about.

Sunday Verse: Gary Snyder

Hay for the Horses

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
Behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
Sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

~ Gary Snyder

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to Choose Strong Passwords

Those who have difficulty selecting passwords for internet sites or pick weak passwords will benefit from this video.

This is What Happens When a Government Runs Out of Other People's Money

Ah, Paris, the city of love and the entitlement generation.

Masked youths clashed with police and set fires in cities across France on Tuesday as protests against a proposed hike in the retirement age took an increasingly radical turn. President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to crack down on "troublemakers" and guarantee public order, raising the possibility of more confrontations with young rioters after a week of disruptive but largely nonviolent demonstrations. More than 200 protests and one-day strikes by workers in sectors across the French economy were planned around the country over a bill raising the retirement age to 62. In many cities, protesters were being joined by young people who appeared to be seizing an opportunity to lash out at police. Protests turned violent in the central city of Lyon, where rioters smashed several store windows and torched rubbish bins and cars. Police used tear gas in an attempt to disperse trouble makers.

Is the US headed toward similar protests as we necessarily cut entitlement programs to preserve the financial integrity of the country?

A Brief History of Government Spending

Politicians of both parties are engaged in reckless, unaccountable, out-of-control, spending. The Story of Spending tells the true story of government gone wild.

It would be very interesting if an economist did a study on the rate of inflation in the areas where third party payers, particularly the government, comprise the majority of purchasing volume--  such as healthcare, education, and housing-- and compare the results to a basket of goods where people must shell out their own dollars.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The World According to San Francisco

Click to enlarge this humorous view of the left coast.

from Tigerhawk

Bill Gross's Worst Trades: Character Counts, Not Flash

Bond king, Bill Gross, recalls the worst trades of his career-- in 1974, two sins of omission with Wal-Mart and Berkshire Hathaway, and one sin of commission with Itell.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The War on Salt in the Big Apple

Chefs are increasingly worried about government intervention. "It's my career," said Michael Ferraro, Executive Chef of The Delicatessen. Jason Hall, Chef de Cuisine of Gotham Bar and Grill, recognizes the threat to culinary freedom advocates of the Bland New World pose. "I don't know how they would police it," said Hall. "Are they going to come in with salt probes?"

Why should governments care about how much salt their citizens consume? Do public dollars being doled out for healthcare give bureaucrats the right to dictate what people can and can't eat or drink? Is government healthcare a license to regulate and control people's bodies?

Quote of the Day: Warren Buffett on Gold

My first question, as I sit there on the couch in his office, is: "What about gold? Is this a classic bubble or what?"
"Look," he says, with his usual confident laugh. "You could take all the gold that's ever been mined, and it would fill a cube 67 feet in each direction. For what that's worth at current gold prices, you could buy all -- not some -- all of the farmland in the United States. Plus, you could buy 10 Exxon Mobils, plus have $1 trillion of walking-around money. Or you could have a big cube of metal. Which would you take? Which is going to produce more value?"

~ Warren Buffett, interviewed by Ben Stein at Yahoo Finance

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Motor City Light Rail: Boondoggle or Beginning of the Detroit Renaissance?

Is this the "Field of Dreams" kind of thinking-- if we build it, they will come? Do the politicians really believe using taxpayer money to build the light rail will trigger surge of economic activity in the motor city?

Economic Cooperation vs Trade Wars

Milton Friedman's famous talk on the lessons of the pencil illustrates how the free market price system promotes cooperation and harmony among those with no common interest. In contrast to that is the current chatter among politicians about Chinese currency manipulation and trade retaliation. This type of thinking is illustrated quite nicely in this quote from Cafe Hayek:
If governments fought real wars like they fight trade wars, here’s how the transcript of the communiqués between the leaders of two warring nations would read:

Leader of Absurditopia (A): I say, leader of Stupidia – we demand that you stop occupying that contested strip of land. If you refuse, we’ll have no choice but to shoot our own citizens.

Leader of Stupidia (S): You don’t scare us! That land is ours. And if you do kill some of your own people, make no mistake that we will immediately – and just as cruelly – commence to killing our own people. Courage is our national motto!

(A): Ha! You’re bluffing. But I’m not. I’ve just courageously ordered my troops to mow down in cold blood ten percent of my fellow countrymen. Take that!

(S): How dare you attack you like that! You leave us no choice but to attack us. I am ordering the Stupidian army to slaughter 15 percent of innocent Stupidians here in Stupidia. How do you like them apples?!

(A): You are cruel and inhuman to damage us by killing your people. I hereby instruct all of my fellow Absurditopians to commit suicide! Only then will you nasty Stupidians get your proper comeuppance and we Absurditopians the justice that we are due!

(S): You can’t beat us, you Absurditopian you! Listen up. I’m ordering all of my fellow citizens – Stupidians all! – to commit suicide. We’ll see who emerges victorious!

The Grouch: Why should Americans be upset if the Chinese government keeps the Yuan undervalued? The usual explanation is that China's cost advantage is an artificial government manipulation. But if the Chinese government wants to subsidize the US consumer, why should we fight it? It is the Chinese worker who is being punished by selling their labor for below market value. Devaluing the dollar may raise the level of exports, but punishes the American worker by subsidizing foreign consumers. If a weak currency is an advantage we should devalue the dollar by 75% immediately.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Quote of the Day: Nick Rahall

Climate change — to deny it exists, to just put your head in the sand and, ‘oh no, it doesn’t exist, what are you talking about,’ is about like standing on the floor of Macy’s during the month of December and claiming Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
~ Nick Rahall, Congressmen from WV (no extra points given for stupidity)

Have the Trillions Given to Charity Solved Anything?

In a Bloomberg article, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world is quoted as saying: "The only way to fight poverty is with employment. Trillions of dollars have been given to charity in the last 50 years, and they don’t solve anything."

 This stands in stark contrast to the stance taken by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who have challenged other billionaires to give the majority of their fortunes to charity.  They recently complete a trip to China where they challenged Chinese billionaires to give at least half their wealth away.

Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Microsoft Corp. cofounder Gates have signed up more than 30 philanthropists, including Larry Ellison and Paul Allen, to their Giving Pledge initiative.

Slim counters: "To give 50 percent, 40 percent, that does nothing. There is a saying that we should leave a better country to our children. But it’s more important to leave better children to our country."

Who do agree with?  Is it better to create jobs than donate to charity?  Is exhibit A in this argument the over $9 trillion spent in the war on poverty that has failed to end poverty?

Monday, October 18, 2010

East Germany Before and After Reunification


From an article in Der Spiegel: "During a trip to East Germany in 1990, photographer Stefan Koppelkamm discovered buildings that had survived both the war and the construction mania of the East German authorities. Ten years later, he returned to photograph the buildings again. The comparison threw up some unexpected contrasts."

"Neither housing associations nor private owners had the money to renovate the older buildings. From the end of the war onwards the government had fixed rents in the GDR and in practical terms they remained constant -- at between 0.40 and 1.20 East German Marks per square meter. On average the estimated cost of restoring an old building in East Berlin was 75,000 Marks, the equivalent of 80 years' rent for a GDR citizen. Many owners preferred to pass their dilapidated buildings onto the state to avoid the cost of the repairs. But the state wasn't in a position to save the buildings either."

"When Koppelkamm was once again standing on a street in Görlitz in September 2001, a man told him: "You can move into a new apartment every week here. They're all empty." His words sounded bitter. The buildings had been renovated, but just like in 1990, the photographer was once again almost completely alone on the street. Many locals had left Görlitz in search of work. This time, they left for good."

The Lod Mosaic

I became fascinated with Rome both from having read the accounts of Rome in the Bible and from reading Robert Graves' books I, Claudius and Claudius the God as well as watching the PBS series.  Recent interest was revived by the cable series Rome, which sought to capture the political intrigue of Rome through the eyes of two of its soldiers who serve the ambitions of the noblemen. I don't view Rome as an ancient civilization, but just on older version of ourselves, schemers balanced by the occasional wise man.

Roman floor mosaics and wall paintings were the usual fashionable decor of the time, and typical for the homes of the prosperous. Floor mosaics are much better preserved than wall paintings. Just a reminder--- this is decor, not fine art; think of them like rugs in our time. The Lod mosaics are a recent find. They are currently on display in NYC. Here is there story:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Verse: César Vallejo (1892-1938)

Black Stone Lying On A White Stone

   I will die in Paris, on a rainy day,
on some day I can already remember.
I will die in Paris--and I don't step aside--
perhaps on a Thursday, as today is Thursday, in autumn.

   It will be a Thursday, because today, Thursday, setting down
these lines, I have put my upper arm bones on
wrong, and never so much as today have I found myself
with all the road ahead of me, alone.

   César Vallejo is dead. Everyone beat him
although he never does anything to them;
they beat him hard with a stick and hard also

   with a rope. These are the witnesses:
the Thursdays, and the bones of my arms,
the solitude, and the rain, and the roads. . .

~ by César Vallejo
translated by Robert Bly

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fact of the Day: Medicare

Medicare loses seven times as much money in fraud every year than the combined profits of the 14 health insurance companies on the Fortune 500.

The Problem with Elitism

Do you agree or disagree with Bill Whittle?

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Bit of Political Propaganda and Fun: Donald Duck, Glenn Beck and Mickey Mouth

I'm growing pretty tired of seeing all the negative political attack adds on TV. I offer these two videos as an alternative.

Donald Duck meets Glenn Beck in Right Wing Duck

I'm not sure what to make of this video, but there is no doubt about the message.

Mickey Mouth for Anaheim City Council

I find this highly amusing.

Quote of the Day: Frédéric Bastiat

The State is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

~ Frédéric Bastiat

The Google Price Index

For those disappointed they will received a 0% cost of living increase from social security this year and suspicious the government in understating CPI, Google plans to use its vast database of web shopping data to construct the ‘Google Price Index’ – a daily measure of inflation that could one day provide an alternative to official statistics. Official CPI data are collected by hand from shops, and published monthly with a time lag of several weeks. The GPI (Google Price Index) is still a work in progress, but shows a very clear deflationary trend since Christmas. I don't know what comprises the index, but my guess is electronics are overweighted. I wish I could see that deflationary trend in the grocery store, and hope the GPI will eventually include seasonally adjusted food and gas prices.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Are Cyborgs Now Real: The Rat-Brain Robot

Is it possible to get brain cells from a rat to control simple wheeled robots? A team of researchers at the University of Reading has been working on getting neural networks to control machines, and created an actual cyborg.

The scientists extracted brain cells from the rats, cultured them, and then used them as a guidance control circuit. Electrical impulses go in, and the responses that come out then drive the device's wheels. The cells are living. They can form new connections, meaning that the robots can learn.

The rat-bots currently just skitter around the floor, just like a rat would, with the neurons helping them to avoid walls. The team claims that the obstacle avoidance shows improvement over time, but one creepy facet of the research is that different rat brains behave differently. As each set of brain cells only lasts three months, several brains have been used and each exhibits different behavior patterns to the others.

While none of the robot-cyborgs look like The Terminator yet, there’s the possibility that some point in the future the scientists will create a cultured set of brain cells that rival the size of simple mammalian brains. At what point will these robots become "alive", let alone "intelligent?"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nazi Ballot Influencing

I came across this historical oddity the other day that illustrates how politicians subtly and not so subtly attempt to influence behavior.  The text of this 1938 voting ballot reads roughly: "Do you agree with the reunification of Austria with the German Reich that was enacted on 13 March 1938 and do you vote for the party of our leader; Adolf Hitler? Yes No.”  The different sizes of fonts and size of the yes/no circles speak for themselves.  We all know the outcome of this ballot.  I've not seen anything this overt in elections in the US.  But, since we are in the silly season, the ballot does remind me of the distortions seen in the political commercials now filling the airwaves before the mid-term elections.  Too bad these commercials don't come with truth detectors.

Move Over Obamacare Here Comes Disruptive Innovation

While the creators of Obamacare chose to disregard any market-based solutions in favor of a government command and control system, it is an encouraging sign that private companies are continuing to innovate using the market to make healthcare more available and affordable. Some examples are:

  1. CVS has invested heavily in its walk-in MinuteClinic medical clinics, and plans to double the number of locations to 1,000 by 2015. Retail clinics represent a new channel to deliver primary care services more conveniently and at lower cost to consumers. As a new entrant, retail clinics represent a threat to many traditional health care industry stakeholders; however, to consumers, health plans and employers they offer an important care alternative with a strong value proposition. They provide convenient health care 7 days a week, with affordable, transparent low prices.

    Minor illness exam $69
    Minor injury exam $69
    Skin condition exam $69
    Wellness & physical exams $19-$104
    Health condition monitoring $69-$114
    Vaccinations $29.95- $147

    Not to be outdone, Wal-Mart is creating their own retail clinics, partnering with local healthcare providers to offer a similar cash for services concept.

  2. Similar in concept to, is an "online marketplace connecting healthcare providers with consumers looking for medical and dental procedures. PriceDoc enables consumers to compare and negotiate pricing on medical procedures in a given location in the U.S. while providers receive the benefit of generating patients who are willing to pay directly, out of pocket to the provider for their services. Featured within the web site are "Make Offer" and"Name Your Price," opening the door for consumers to negotiate with providers for the cost of their procedures."

  3. The No Insurance Club: Innovative Prepaid Medical Plans That Restore the Doctor-Patient Relationship. For an annual fee of just $480 for singles ($580 for couples and $680 for families) The No Insurance Club offers affordable pre-paid health care plans that cover basic medical services from a participating board-certified physician, with no deductibles, no additional premiums, and no co-payments. Services vary slightly depending on your location, but a $480 individual plan the typical physician covers 12-16 annual office visits, flu shot, pregnancy testing, EKG, an annual checkup, one sports physical, vision test, among other services

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Better than the iPad? The Blackwing

Is there anything better than this analog input device? The feel of it in your hand, the way it glides smoothly across the papery screen with its proprietary blend of wax into the graphite shaft. The way it captures every thought in buttery smooth fashion. Only one other thing can rival it.

The USB Typewriter
Thomas Edison, please save some incandescent bulbs for me.  I can't see a damn thing in this faint light.

Secretariat: The Movie -- A Symbol of Hope

One the items on my to-do list is to see the movie Secretariat. It opened on Friday, October 8th. I've never been much of a horse racing fan, but Secretariat is no ordinary horse, and the story surrounding Secretariat is no ordinary tale. For those too young to remember, Secretariat was The Triple Crown winner in 1973.

For a glimpse of the real Secretariat absolutely dominating the field at the 1973 Belmont Stakes in New York:

The Google Car

Street View Google Car from Cantagalli on Vimeo.

Google has successfully road-tested self-driving automobiles.  Seven robot-cars, manned by engineers and drivers with spotless records, drove more than 140,000 miles with very little human control, The New York Times reports. The cars drove all over California, including heavily trafficked Hollywood Boulevard and San Francisco’s Lombard Street, known for its tight zig-zag turns, according to the Google blog.

Only one accident happened when a Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light, engineers told New York Times.

The high tech autos are specially designed Toyota Priuses. They look like regular cars, except for a cylinder-shaped sensor, or the vehicle’s “eye,” attached to the roof, according to the Daily Mail. Built-in video cameras, radars, sensors and Google’s map database navigate the cars, the Google blog said. The mobiles, developed by engineers from DARPA, or the research and development office of the U.S. Department of Defense, will supposedly reduce car accidents and carbon emissions.

Although automated vehicles are far from being mass produced, they raise perplexing questions when it comes to driving law, based on the idea of human control. “The technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” Bernard Lu, a senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, told the New York Times. “If you look at the vehicle code, there are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.”

It appears the future is starting to look like the science fiction of yesterday.

Monday, October 11, 2010

87 year-old Professor Hal Lewis: Climate Change is the Greatest and Most Successful Pseudoscientific Fraud I Have Seen

Professor Hal Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California-Santa Barbara, formally resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) last Wednesday after 67 years as a member. His resignation has received much attention on the internet.

To quote from Professor Lewis' resignation letter to Curtis G. Callan, Princeton University, President of the APS:
"For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.
It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. I don't believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.
APS management has gamed the problem from the beginning, to suppress serious conversation about the merits of the climate change claims. Do you wonder that I have lost confidence in the organization?
Your own Physics Department (of which you are chairman) would lose millions a year if the global warming bubble burst. When Penn State absolved Mike Mann of wrongdoing, and the University of East Anglia did the same for Phil Jones, they cannot have been unaware of the financial penalty for doing otherwise. As the old saying goes, you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Since I am no philosopher, I'm not going to explore at just which point enlightened self-interest crosses the line into corruption, but a careful reading of the ClimateGate releases makes it clear that this is not an academic question.
I want no part of it, so please accept my resignation. APS no longer represents me, but I hope we are still friends."
Do you agree with Professor Lewis, or have the news media, the politicians anxious to create a crisis and the scientists hungry for grants indelibly influenced your opinion?

Career Politician Gets Schooled on How to Create Jobs

Normally, I try to stay away from politics as much as possible because it is such a lightning rod issue for many people. But I couldn't resist this video clip. For those who look to the government for job creation, pay special attention. The government can't create a single job without extracting that salary from the private sector through taxes or borrowing--  a concept most career politicians can't grasp.  But it can stifle job creation by pursuing anti-growth policies and through excessive regulation. Entrepreneurs and capital will go where they are treated the best.

Should You Invest According to Demographics?

Country19502000 2015 20252050
World2,519,4956,056,715 7,207,361 7,936,7419,322,251
Dem. Rep. of the Congo12,18450,94884,045114,876203,527
Philippines 19,99675,65395,881107,073128,383

The above chart details the United Nations Population Fund's estimate of population growth throughout the world. By 2050 India is estimated overtake China the world's most populous country, with the US ranking third. The surprise in this list is the countries that make up some of the remaining slots. Also note the estimated population shrinkage in Japan and Russia.

What's an investor to do with this information? I've always believed that capital should go to countries with growing populations, increasing economic freedoms and sound currencies. It's not always easy to find countries that satisfy all three criteria, or to have a crystal ball that can predict the future. These demographics point out the importance of being diversified overseas to harvest the growth of these economies. However, population growth alone is not the main determinate of stock market returns. Economic freedom is, and excessive controls and regulations by governments inhibit growth and innovation.

Since I am not clairvoyant, I split my equity investments 50-50 between the US and overseas, and attempt to indexes that cover as many countries as possible, both developed and emerging. Each individual will have to determine the appropriate investment mix for themselves based on risk tolerance. But the US will not be the world's growth engine like it has in the recent past. Increasing affluence and a rising middle class in many of the listed countries spell great opportunity for those willing to invest.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Verse: Pablo Neruda (1904 - 1973)

A Dog Has Died

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea's movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean's spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don't now and never did lie to each other.

So now he's gone and I buried him,
and that's all there is to it.

~ Pablo Neruda

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Breaking News: Postal Union Election Delayed After Ballots Lost in the Mail

The American Postal Workers Union has extended its internal election after thousands of ballots appeared to have gotten lost . . . in the mail.

The union's election committee was supposed to be counting those ballots this week in downtown Washington, D.C., following a tradition mail-in election. But the union announced that only about 39,000 ballots were turned in -- and that "a large number of union members had not received their ballots."

Is there any wonder why Fed Ex, UPS and others are enormously successful?


In a somewhat related video, Bill Whittle explains the basics of Tea Party Conservatism. In this segment, Bill talks about the advantages of small government and free enterprise using the Post Office as an example.

Father and Son Film Outer Space, DIY Style

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Like many youngsters, and those young at heart, seven-year-old Max Geissbuhler and his dad dreamed of visiting space — and armed with just a weather balloon, a video camera, and an iPhone, in a way they did just that.

The father-and-son team from Brooklyn managed to send their homemade spacecraft up nearly 19 miles, high into the stratosphere, bringing back some impressive amateur space footage.

The duo housed the video camera, iPhone, and GPS equipment in a specially designed insulated casing, along with some hand-warmers and a note from Max requesting its safe return from whomever may find it after making it back to solid ground. All told, father and son spent eight months preparing for their homemade journey into space, in hopes of filming “the blackness beyond our earth.”

Then, one day in August, Max, his father, and his friend Miles Horner headed out to a nearby park to see their dreams realized. After attaching their equipment to a 19-inch weather balloon and switching on the camera, they watched as their simple craft disappeared high into the sky.

After a little over an hour, the craft reached the stratosphere, 100 thousand feet overhead, and captured some incredible footage of space before the balloon popped and fell back towards earth. They found their spacecraft 25 miles away from where they had let it go — stuck up in a tree.

Tinkernut's Super Simple Webcam Surveillance System

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Bureaucrats Should Behave

Switzerland's finance minister collapsed into a fit of giggles as he tried to read the unintelligible bureaucratic language in his report while answering a parliamentary question about imports of cured meats. Wouldn't it be refreshing to see more bureaucrats who can't keep a straight face when defending their ridiculous regulations?

Mario Vargas Llosa, Winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature

Congratulations to Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, whose deeply political work vividly examines the perils of power and corruption in Latin America. In 2005, he gave a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, “Confessions of a Liberal,” in which he said:
For example, there are liberals who believe that economics is the field through which all problems are resolved and that the free market is the panacea for everything from poverty to unemployment, marginalization and social exclusion. These liberals, true living algorithms, have sometimes generated more damage to the cause of freedom than did the Marxists, the first champions of the absurd thesis that the economy is the driving force of the history of nations and the basis of civilization. It simply is not true. Ideas and culture are what differentiate civilization from barbarism, not the economy. The economy by itself, without the support of ideas and culture, may produce optimal results on paper, but it does not give purpose to the lives of people; it does not offer individuals reasons to resist adversity and stand united with compassion or allow them to live in an environment permeated in humanity. It is culture, a body of shared ideas, beliefs and customs--among which religion may be included of course--that gives warmth and life to democracy and permits the market economy, with its competitive, cold mathematics of awarding success and punishing failure, to avoid degenerating into a Darwinian battle in which, as Isaiah Berlin put it, "liberty for wolves is death to the lambs." The free market is the best mechanism in existence for producing riches and, if well complemented with other institutions and uses of democratic culture, launches the material progress of a nation to the spectacular heights with which we are familiar. But it is also a relentless instrument, which, without the spiritual and intellectual component that culture represents, can reduce life to a ferocious, selfish struggle in which only the fittest survive.

Thus, the liberal I aspire to be considers freedom a core value. Thanks to this freedom, humanity has been able to journey from the primitive cave to the stars and the information revolution, to progress from forms of collectivist and despotic association to representative democracy. The foundations of liberty are private property and the rule of law; this system guarantees the fewest possible forms of injustice, produces the greatest material and cultural progress, most effectively stems violence and provides the greatest respect for human rights. According to this concept of liberalism, freedom is a single, unified concept. Political and economic liberties are as inseparable as the two sides of a medal. Because freedom has not been understood as such in Latin America, the region has had many failed attempts at democratic rule. Either because the democracies that began emerging after the dictatorships respected political freedom but rejected economic liberty, which inevitably produced more poverty, inefficiency and corruption, or because they installed authoritarian governments convinced that only a firm hand and a repressive regime could guarantee the functioning of the free market. This is a dangerous fallacy. It has never been so. This explains why all the so-called "free market" Latin American dictatorships have failed. No free economy functions without an independent, efficient justice system and no reforms are successful if they are implemented without control and the criticism that only democracy permits. Those who believed that General Pinochet was the exception to the rule because his regime enjoyed economic success have now discovered, with the revelations of murder and torture, secret accounts and millions of dollars abroad, that the Chilean dictator, like all of his Latin American counterparts, was a murderer and a thief.
The Grouch: For Americans, the liberalism Vargas Llosa refers to above would translate in our culture to classical liberalism, or somewhere between conservative and libertarian.  He is not the stereotypical left wing socialist/communist Latin American writer, which makes his selection all the more remarkable. In an interview with The NYTs in 2002, Mr. Vargas Llosa said that it was the novelist’s obligation to question real life. “I don’t think there is a great fiction that is not an essential contradiction of the world as it is,” he said. “The Inquisition forbade the novel for 300 years in Latin America. I think they understood very well the seditious consequence that fiction can have on the human spirit.”