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Yes, Kent, I would. Or at least Steven Hawking would. In a new documentary for the Discovery channel, he makes the worrying argument that

…extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact…

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

Things to worry about: What kinds of defenses can we use against non-carbon based life forms? What moral codes might aliens abide by? What are the rules of engagement for alien war? Are we obliged to abide by the Geneva conventions for alien prisoners of war?

I believe the appropriate response to this is for Obama to create a cabinet level position focused entirely on these issues; perhaps the Secretary of Alien Strategies. The question then is who do we put in charge of worrying about very unlikely, seemingly absurd, and yet potentially disastrous alien scenarios? What marginally sane person would be willing to dedicate their time and energy to constantly thinking about issues which will only matter with a vanishingly small probability?

A manager in the Personalized Plates Work Center reads through every application, putting any suspicious combination of letters and numbers into a computer program that analyzes the potential plate for hidden meaning. Questionable messages go to a 20-person Word Committee for review and a vote. Among the few printable examples of rejected license plates, according to Melanie Stokes, a member of the Word Committee, are “JERKA55,” “IPOOPD,” and “HORNI1.”

The 20 person committee certainly seems like an overkill. Even with all that though, as the rest of the article shows, identifying offensive plates can be tricky. Are vanity plates actually profitable for states?

Niklas responds to a broad based grassroots campaign. The results do not disappoint.


Bryan Caplan and his cloned son.

A friend writes:

I’m really glad you posted that piece on paternalism and salt in food. This strikes a personal chord with me, as you could imagine. Especially as someone who consumes pickles as much as most people consume cereal and bread, and as someone who regularly eats anchovies and puts mustard on potato chips. I could go on.

A friend from college recently posted a facebook message saying something to the effect of “about time!” in support of mandating a reduction in salt in food. Earlier this year he posted something about the dangers of vaccines.  I think he might be my greatest enemy.

I have personally witnessed him eat handfuls of cold meat at probably every single hour of the day, so I can vouch for the fact that salt regulations would disproportionately affect him.

Bryan Caplan wants to clone himself and raise the baby as his son.

Now that I’m finishing up Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, another controversial passage is on the chopping block.  In the current draft, this paragraph concludes my discussion of cloning:

I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally. Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet. Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son. Seriously. I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share. I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would loveto be raised by me. I’m not pushing others to clone themselves. I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream. I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone. Is that too much to ask?


Paging Niklas Blanchard.

Korby Kummer tells of his experience with horse meat:

…very much like lean beef or bison but with an almost candied overtone that is somehow disturbing, probably because you know you’re eating something your friends and cousins (or you) likes to ride and pet–the shibboleth against eating animals with names.

I’m probably just indulging several different offensive stereotypes here, but shouldn’t the universe of people who want to carry guns in public and the universe that want to shop at Starbucks look like a non-overlapping venn diagram? Apparently not:

Colorado gun-control activists are protesting Starbucks’ policy not to ban customers carrying weapons. Colorado Ceasefire says Starbucks Corp. should change its policy of letting customers carry guns where it’s legal. The coffee chain has said it does want to be put in the middle of a gun-control debate.

This strikes me as a little like protesting for the right to wear a burqa in a porno theater. Yeah, you could… but are you really gonna?

There has been a lot of very thoughtful discussion lately about the obesity epidemic facing this country. All I have to add to this insightful and informed conversation is a comment on and picture of a turn-of-the-century sideshow freak:

This is Chauncy Morlan, and around 100 years ago his obesity was so shocking that people would pay money to see him as he toured the country as a circus “fat man”. I find the unremarkableness of his size to be a telling sign of how we’ve pushed the limits of obesity in the past 100 years. Imagine, if you will, what society would look like if 100 years from now if what passed as spectacularly obese today would not even turn heads at the mall.

[Note from Karl: Adam is a phenomenal satirist but now that you’re here take a minute to read our other stuff on obesity:]

Yesterday I pointed out that given his belief that the social pressures you face as an Amish person don’t make you less free, Bryan Caplan would actually be more free as an Amish. The econblogosphere’s resident graphic artist Niklas Blanchard of CheapSeatsEcon cooks up the Caplan-counterfactual:

Thanks Niklas!

After reading a speech by the head of the AFL-CIO about the decline of manufacturing jobs, Ezra Klein opines about class and creative destruction:

…consider the way elites have treated the decline of journalism jobs and the decline of manufacturing jobs. Both sectors are fundamentally suffering from the same thing… But where the decline of manufacturing was greeted with sanguine talk about “retraining,” the decline of journalism has been greeted with something akin to grief.

I have some friendly advice for journalists: if you find yourself thinking that anyone other than your co-workers and their immediate families give a whiff about journalism jobs any more than they care manufacturing jobs, restaurant jobs, or any other kind of jobs for that matter, then you need to spend more time outside the lunchroom of the Washington Post. Because nobody cares. This belief that journalism jobs in-and-of-themselves are somehow important isn’t an elite/non-elite divide, it’s a delusional journalist/everyone else divide.

People don’t care about the fate of the Columbia School of Journalism Class of 2014, what they care about is the output of quality journalism. If all the journalists in the country could be replaced by one sleepless blogger without suffering any decline in the quality or quantity of journalism, then we would be better off. Of course that’s not the case, and journalists are needed to supply quality journalism. But it is only to the extent that quality journalism requires journalists that we care about their jobs.

Another reason Ezra’s whole argument falls apart is his explanation for why people -I’m sorry, I mean” elites”- don’t worry about the decline of manufacturing like they worry about the decline of journalism. It’s not a class issue, it’s because the manufacturing output over time has gone up, continues to go up, and shows no sign of stopping. As seen in the graph below, which shows an index of the value-added output of U.S. manufacturing industry since 1947, even on the production side manufacturing in this country has gone up steadily over time.

And that’s to say nothing about the overall availability to consumers and businesses of manufacturing goods like cheaper washing machines, fridges, and inputs into other industries. Unlike quality journalism, I seriously doubt anyone thinks we are in danger of having a shortage of manufactured goods in the future. That, and not some sort of elitist bias, is why “elites” aren’t concerned about the decline of manufacturing; in short, it’s not happening.

George Soros’ new economics think tank, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, is employing a decent number of econ superstars. Interestingly though, it lists both Ken Rogoff and Joe Stiglitz as members of it’s advisory board. These two notoriously butted heads several years ago over Joe’s book “Globalization and it’s Discontents”, which heavily criticized the IMF, where Rogoff was Director of Research. In response to the book, Rogoff wrote an open letter to Joe that was, to put it mildly, a spirited rebuke. Here is a beautiful line from that letter:

…it is also important, before I begin, for me to quash rumors about the demolition of the former PEPCO building that stood right next to the IMF until a few days ago. No, it’s absolutely not true that this was caused by a loose cannon planted within the World Bank.

The World Bank being where Stiglitz had been chief economist, and Stiglitz being that loose cannon.

Let’s hope they share an office!

In an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer today about a new study on selling organs, George J Annas, a professor of health law, bioethics, and human rights who opposes compensation, had this to say about whether donors should be allowed to be compensated:

“I think it is out of bounds,” Annas said. “We know we can live with the system we have now. We have no idea about what another system would do.”

A few paragraphs earlier came these statistics:

Last year, 6,453 people in the United States died waiting for an organ. Nearly 92 percent of them died waiting for organs that living donors could have supplied – 4,456 needed a new kidney and 1,452 a liver.

I think Dr. Annas needs to modify his statement: some of us can live with the system we have now, but last year 6,453 could not.

One way criticize someone’s reasoning is by showing that if followed through it leads you to absurd conclusions. The occasional radical will simply bite the bullet and accept the absurd, often ridiculous, conclusion, but by and large people will change their reasoning, or just refuse to accept logic. Protectionists in the State of New Jersey have decided to eagerly bite the bullet.

A popular argument against protectionism is that if you follow the logic through, it implies you should have protectionism between states. Here is Russ Roberts laying it out:

If it’s true that theory and evidence in favor of protectionism are sufficiently strong to warrant economists abandoning their conclusion that free-trade policy is generally sound, then why shouldn’t economists… also start exploring the potential benefits of intra-national protectionism?  Surely a scholar not benighted with the free-trade “faith” ought to take seriously the possibility that, say, Tennesseeans could be made wealthier if their government in Nashville restricts their ability to trade with people in Kentucky, Texas, Rhode Island, and other states?

The usual protectionist defense rejects this absurd conclusion via some argument about differences in laws and institutions… or something like that. New Jersey’s protectionists, on the other hand, have decided to bite the bullet and are actually embracing the idea that interstate protectionism can make them better off. State legislators are trying to pass a law that mandates that all public servants must be New Jersey residents. The impacts would be far reaching:

The bill would affect teachers, firefighters, police officers, and all other employees of state, county, and local governments, as well as public authorities, boards, agencies, commissions, and state colleges and universities. Both full-time and part-time employees would be affected.

What’s great about this is that it really illustrates the flaws of protectionism that are often unintuitive when it occurs between nations. The tradeoffs you face are much clearer when the town you live in can’t hire the most qualified firefighters and teachers, and instead you’re left less qualified individuals who wouldn’t have gotten hired if they didn’t happen to live on the right side of the state line. If you want protectionism in your schools and public services,  you’re going get lower quality schools and public services.

She composed songs – “Mississippi Goddam,” “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” – that spoke directly about the civil rights struggles, and she turned her act into a theater of the absurd in which she played the role of dominatrix to guilt-ridden white liberals in need of ritual humiliation.

The audience could expect her to show up late, sometimes by an hour or more. She would then offer a mixture of songs, insults, harangues and lectures, all delivered with what one friend called the attitude of a “benevolent dictator.”

Can you guess who it is? The answer is here.


This shocking and bizarre fact is the only conclusion once one assembles four pieces of information

  1. The Philosophical Musing of David Chalmers
  2. Some More Serious But More Creepy Work by Nick Bostrom
  3. The Unassailable Logic of Fuck You, Penguin
  4. My Own Google Images Search Results


First, David Chalmers suggests that we should attempt to create smarter than human intelligence by simulating natural selection. After all, natural selection created us, so its proof that something dumb can make something smart. We’re pretty dumb so that works in our favor.

Second, Nick Bostrom argues that at least one of the following is true:

  1. Most human-level civilizations will not advance to the point where they can create intelligent simulations
  2. Most civilization which can create intelligent simulations don’t want to
  3. We are probably living in a simulation.

Using Chalmers’ reasoning we can rule out both (1) and (2). That is, even a dumb civilization can create intelligence using natural selection and it would want to since that’s the best way to get to super-intelligence.

Thus, we are living in a simulation and we were created so as to be super-intelligence for some other life form

Third, Chalmers further argues that once we have created this super-intelligent simulation we should upload ourselves into its world rather than downloading it into ours.

If this is true then the creators have probably uploaded themselves into our world. How can we tell who they are?

Several clues:

First, they will probably try to manipulate us so as to use our (relative to them) super intelligence to their advantage. Fuck You, Penguin brilliantly documents all of the ways in which cute furry animals attempt to infiltrate our brains and get us to do their bidding.

However, we cannot assume that all furry animals are the creators. No, the creators are likely to be the most sinister, the most snide, the most self-important. They are likely to have millions of humans serving them while they give nothing in return.

And, most importantly once they realize that we are on to them they are likely to hit back with a public relations campaign that strikes adoration into the hearts of humans across the globe. They are likely to use our most powerful communications medium, the internet, to spread this propaganda.

You can see by now that I speak of only one thing. Below the fold, behold the face of true totalitarian oppression:

Read the rest of this entry »

The FBI’s “Most Wanted List” will turn 60 years old this sunday. It’s success rate had been impressive: 463 of the 494 fugitives on the list since 1950 have been caught, which adds up to a 94% success rate.

What does the future hold for the program? Social networking:

As technology progresses, authorities expect even more success from the “Top Ten” list, said Special Agent J.J. Klaver, a Philadelphia FBI spokesman. The list is everywhere, from newspapers and TV to digital billboards and online sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. There’s even a cell-phone application.

Here is the current list.

Pennsylvania State Police have recently taken to armed raids of bars offering an unregulated level of consumer choice:

As in armed raids conducted last week against three Philadelphia taprooms, the State Police alleged that the targeted beers were not properly registered with the state Liquor Control Board for sale in Pennsylvania – a process involving limited paperwork and a $75 fee.

The raids began a few days ago as police acted on an “anonymous tips” that three bars, all owned by the same people, were offering unlicensed beers. The embarrassing part, aside from the embarrassing existence of the law itself, is that many of the beers were in fact licensed:

Checking their inventories against the state’s official list of more than 2,800 brands, the cops seized four kegs and 317 bottles, totaling 60.9 gallons of beer, according to police calculations.

In fact, according to Maida, more than half the beer removed by the State Police was properly registered – but the cops couldn’t find it on their lists because of “clerical errors” or “blatant ineptitude” between the police and the Liquor Control Board, with whom the officers were conferring by telephone.

She estimated the total value of the confiscated stock at $7,200, representing about 20 brands, some of which go by multiple names.

Apparently, the raids are aimed at wiping out this dangerous trend:

Registration is further complicated by the growth of under-the-radar one-offs: unique, limited-production, highly sought-after draft beers that appear briefly – perhaps as quickly as an hour – on tavern taps. While they pay the necessary state and federal taxes, breweries sometimes do not bother to register the brands because they are produced in extremely small amounts.

Among the brands that the State Police reportedly sought during its raid was Pliny the Younger, recently named the No. 1 beer in the world by Beer Advocate, a popular online beer-rating site. The ale is made once a year by Russian River Brewing, in California.

Yes, I can see why this is a legitimate use of police force and public dollars. Imagine if the poor patrons of these bars didn’t have a $75 fee and some paperwork protecting them from cheap, unregulated swill like the world’s best beer.

I was searching for a post at Marginal Revolution, and I entered “how to” into the search box. This provided an interesting sample of the eclectic advice giving of Tyler Cowen (sorry Alex, it appears you do not write about “how to” do things often enough”). Here are the top 20 search results:

  1. How to help Haiti
  2. How to fall six miles and survive
  3. How to avoid stale or sour milk
  4. How to improve basketball
  5. How to win in Afghanistan
  6. How to disappear
  7. How to capture an idea
  8. How to avoid being fooled by a menu
  9. How to limit filibusters
  10. Excellent blog on how to help poor countries
  11. How to boast without looking bad
  12. How to travel in the U.S.
  13. How to flip a coin
  14. How to sell a dollar for more than a dollar
  15. How to sign your emails
  16. How to learn everything
  17. How to praise your kids
  18. How to unemploy immigrants
  19. How to cite a blog
  20. How to save the New York Times

Ask and ye shall receive. Courtesy of econoblogger Niklas Blanchard:

Cafepress has apparently seen a surge in the demand for items featuring the above image. It makes me laugh and shudder at the same time. Can somebody please make a James Buchanan version of “Miss Me Yet?”?

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

That is from a very entertaining and interesting story in the New York Times today that is ostensibly about the “My Way Killings” in the Philipines, but really covers the worldwide phenomenon of karaoke related violence and also the culture of the Philipines, and all in an amazingly short space of words too.

It goes without saying these murders are all very sad and tragic, and that these crimes are all disturbing… But you can’t help find some twisted humor in the absurdity of John Denver driving someone into a murderous rage:

Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Karaoke-related assaults have also occurred in the United States, including at a Seattle bar where a woman punched a man for singing Coldplay’s “Yellow” after criticizing his version.

Was that . . .

Via Sullivan

Osama bin Laden’s personal collection of hundreds of audio tapes, obtained by CNN from neighbors of the Bin Laden, reveals sometimes interesting, sometimes mundane details about his everyday life. As the Chronicle of Higher Education details, the FBI decided they contained no relevent security information, and the 1,500 tapes are now being translated by linguistic anthropologist Flagg Miller. He finds bin Laden’s poetic skills disturbingly good:

On the tapes, the world’s most-wanted terrorist can be heard speaking at a wedding and, in another case, reading his own poetry. In his poems, Mr. bin Laden paints himself as a cosmic warrior, transcending time and distance, slaughtering infidels in the ninth century. He’s a good poet, Mr. Miller says, though that fact troubles him, the idea that poetry could be a vehicle for such ugly, violent thoughts.

From Economic Logic comes an interesting paper on what may be the world’s oldest existing government debt: a French annuity dating from 1738 for which 1.2 euros are currently distributed to 58 individuals every year. Francois Velde, author of the paper, sums up his tale:

The Linotte rente, with its pitiful return of €1.20, is nothing but the value of an eighteenth century servant’s loyalty, adjusted for all the misfortunes that befell France in the intervening two and a half centuries.

I don’t know what Obama said in his State of the Union to piss Larry Summers off, but he was clearly trying to make Obama explode using his mind in this picture:

1. Justin Fox responds to my post on the Supreme Court decision (see Karl’s take below). The best so far on this issue are Julian Sanchez and Eugene Volokh. Julian writes:

Why is it that so many people who clearly do think books and magazines and talk radio shows enjoy unambiguous constitutional protection, despite being corporate funded or operated, are simultaneously absolutely sure that paid broadcast spots are in an utterly different category?

2. In what culture is it not a sign of disrespect to throw a shoe?

3. Hitchens on the word “like”:

People who can’t get along without “um” or “er” or “basically” (or, in England, “actually”) or “et cetera et cetera” are of two types: the chronically modest and inarticulate… and the mildly authoritarian who want to make themselves un-interruptible.

4. Strange maps. H.T. James Fallows.

5. Oh those tolerant French:

Parliament will now have to debate whether to adopt the nonbinding resolution suggested in the report, stating that the full veil was “contrary to the values of the republic” and asserting that “all of France is saying no” to the veil. Then Parliament will decide what if any legislation should be passed.

6. David Henderson on the problem with small banks:

Because banks during the Great Depression were so small, they were undiversified. So when the agriculture sector went under, in part because of the Smoot-Hawley Act that attacked free trade, many rural banks failed. Call it “too small, so we failed.”

History shows us that you don’t need “too big to fail” banks to have a devastating financial crisis. It’s important to remember that.

1. Wal-Mart employees know every product’s profit margins, and think their job is preferrable to working at Target and way better than working at a mom-and-pop grocery store. What it’s like working at Wal-Mart, and other rebuttals to Barbara Ehrenreich here:

One of the secrets to Wal-Mart’s success is that it delegates many judgment calls to the sales-floor level, where employees know first-hand what sells, what doesn’t, and (most important) what customers are asking for.

H.T. Carpe Diem

2. Krugman v.s. DeLong on Bernanke. Does Brad’s rule no longer hold in this decade?

  1. Paul Krugman’s analysis is correct.
  2. If you think that Paul Krugman’s analysis is incorrect, see rule number 1.

3. A hilarious painting.

4. Nick Rowe offers a novel explication of the ideas behind Stiglitz and Grossman’s “On the Impossibility of Efficient Markets”:

The downward-sloping (hence “demand”) curve shows the extent to which EMH is true as a function of the extent to which people believe EMH is true.

5. Richard Thaler on mortgage defaults, and the decision to walk away:

Some homeowners may keep paying because they think it’s immoral to default….But does this really come down to a question of morality?… A provocative paper by Brent White, a law professor at the University of Arizona, makes the case that borrowers are actually suffering from a “norm asymmetry.” …they think they are obligated to repay their loans even if it is not in their financial interest to do so, while their lenders are free to do whatever maximizes profits. It’s as if borrowers are playing in a poker game in which they are the only ones who think bluffing is unethical.

6. Curious George as narrated by Werner Herzog:

“nothing in the brutal primeval jungle could prepare George for the terrible, vast, uncaringness of the sea.”

In a recent speech against capitalism (South Americans must never get tired of them) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lambasted Playstation videogames because they encouraged violence, which is, uncoincidentally, just what capitalism wants. According to the babelfish translation of the spanish language article, Chavez warned that:

In those electronic warlike games “cities are bombed, pumps are thrown”, and are promoted by “Capitalism” to seed the culture of the “violence” that, is saying, guarantees that soon it can “sell arms”.

I’m going to assume that “pumps are thrown” is not a mistranslation, but rather some strange Venezuelan violence phenomenon. The best part of the article though is the picture juxtaposing it:

Those must be the kinds of subtle barbs a reporter can make when living under dictator who does his best to control the media.

1.  Is the efficient market hypothesis so widely objected to because many people are just viscerally reacting against the word “efficient”?

…if people just called the thesis that financial markets are unpredictable the “unpredictable markets hypothesis” then I doubt that people outside the Department of Ketchup would be very interested in arguing with them, and the likes of your humble blogger would certainly lack the quantitative chops to pursue the argument.

Perhaps economists should do away with the phrase “efficient” altogether. Life might be a lot easier if they replaced it with “pareto-atized”.

(H.T. DeLong)

2. What was once just immoral, inefficient, regressive, and stupid is now extremely immoral, and still inefficient, regressive, and stupid.

3. A recent ABC poll says that 81% of Americans think medical marijuana should be legalized, and 46% think it should be legal in small amounts for recreational use. So whose holding the country back? Grandma and Grandpa:

Age is a factor. Just 23 percent of senior citizens favor legalizing marijuana for personal use; that jumps to 51 percent of adults under age 65.

4. Arnold Kling calls for a wage freeze for government workers:

As far as I can tell, any argument for more government spending to reduce unemployment in this recession can be turned into an argument for lower salaries for government workers.

5. I’m glad Conan is losing the tonight show, his talents are wasted there. I doubt if anything he’s done as a talkshow host has yet to match anything like this or this in quality. I’d like to see what he can do when he doesn’t have to put out 5 hours of programming a week and spend half his time interviewing celebrities. Maybe he could write a Simpsons movie.

1. University of Chicago Nobel Laureate James Heckman talks with John Cassidy of the New Yorker about, among other things, how Milton Friedman’s true legacy is, ultimately, as an empiricist in search of explanations that fit the data, and not as a dogmatic theorist (H.T. Ryan Avent):

When Friedman died, a couple of years ago, we had a symposium for the alumni devoted to the Friedman legacy… One woman got up and said, “Look at the evidence on 401k plans and how people misuse them, or don’t use them. Are you really saying that people look ahead and plan ahead rationally?” And Lucas said, “Yes, that’s what the theory of rational expectations says, and that’s part of Friedman’s legacy.” I said, “No, it isn’t. He was much more empirically minded than that.” People took one part of his legacy and forgot the rest. They moved too far away from the data.

2. Leigh Caldwell offers a very evenhanded and reasonable assessment of how the general empirical beliefs of left-leaning and right-leaning economists differ. I would only add that you could agree with many points on one side of the debate, but also find them trumped by one important single point from the other side:

If you think the problem of government knowledge is less important than the problem of sticky prices, you’re more likely to tend leftwards. If you think transaction costs are less important than labour incentives, you may tend right. At our current level of understanding of economic theory, I’d argue that these are basically empirical questions.

3. Felix Salmon argues persuasively that you should not donate money to Haiti. I am convinced:

The last time there was a disaster on this scale was the Asian tsunami, five years ago. And for all its best efforts, the Red Cross has still only spent 83% of its $3.21 billion tsunami budget — which means that it has over half a billion dollars left to spend. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s money which could be spent in Haiti, if it weren’t for the fact that it was earmarked.

4. Libertarians for the bank tax.

5. Highly unpersuasive arguments in favor of temporarily exempting unions from the Cadillac health tax:

The argument for temporarily exempting union plans makes sense, at least in principle. Many unions really did accept generous health benefits, in lieu of wage increases, on the theory it was worth more to their members.

It makes sense “in principle”?… What principle might that be? The principal that no policy should ever harm union members?

These are from respective website front pages. Notice any difference in rhetoric?

New York Times:  Accord Reached on Insurance Tax for Costly Plans

Washington Post: White House, labor reach deal

Wall Street Journal: Unions Cut Deal on Health Taxes

New York Post: Unions will dodge O’s health tax

That last one is just to take the take rhetorical trend to it’s natural conclusion, obviously they’re not in the same class of paper as the other three.

When your job is the facts, you’d better bring the facts. Twitterer @OMGfacts has not done so; tweeting:

“Every U.S. president with a beard has been a Republican.”

In fact, according to historian of presidential illnesses, Kenneth Crispell, President Woodrow Wilson grew a beard to hide the paralysis in his face he was suffering as a result of a stroke…. So there you have it; a sitting U.S. president who was a Democrat and had a beard.

1. The Institute for Justice says occupational licenses are hampering entrepreneurship in Texas, and particularly, it seems, in eyebrow plucking:

In addition to the report, the institute and eight Texas entrepreneurs who pluck eyebrows using a process called threading filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Travis County District Court over licensing regulations.

2. Chile joins the OECD (H.T. Arnold Kling), while Argentina sees it’s president attempt to grab $6.6 billion foreign currency reserves from it’s Central Bank. To this I say two things: “R.I.P.” to him, and “eat it!” to her:

TO SUSTAIN its expansionary fiscal policies, Cristina Fernández’s government has developed an insatiable hunger for other people’s cash. First she ramped up taxes on farmers, then last year she nationalised private pension funds. Now she is trying to lay her hands on the Central Bank’s foreign-currency reserves.

3. This is exactly why we need The Daily Show With Brad DeLong.

4. Lawmakers want the health care bill to include a ban on deals where name-brand drug makers pay off generic drug companies to stop them from making one of their drugs. If a monopoly can buy off a limited pool of potential market entrants, is there any scenario where they wont? I see this as just a way to allow generic makers to extract rents from monopolists:

…the F.T.C. is suing the drug company Cephalon, claiming that it illegally induced generic challengers to delay marketing generic versions of the stay-awake drug Provigil to protect the product, which had sales in the United States of about $925 million in 2008.

…The generic companies agreed not to market a generic form of the drug until 2012, and Cephalon agreed to pay the challengers at least $238 million for 13 side deals…

FYI I’ll be posting morning links and quotes temporarilly to make up for light blogging due to a very busy work schedule the next few weeks. I’m aware that there is a surplus of links in the blogosphere.

1. Many of the jobs lost during the recession aren’t coming back (WSJ):

In November, there were 36% fewer people working in record shops than two years earlier, according to the Labor Department. There were 23% fewer people working at directory and mailing list publishers, and 46% fewer at photofinishing establishments. Those are jobs that, with the advent of mp3 recordings, Google and digital photography, were likely disappearing anyway.

2. The Chronicle of Higher Education on “green guilt” (H.T. The Browser):

Instead of religious sins plaguing our conscience, we now have the transgressions of leaving the water running, leaving the lights on, failing to recycle, and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper. In addition, the righteous pleasures of being more orthodox than your neighbor (in this case being more green) can still be had—the new heresies include failure to compost, or refusal to go organic. Vitriol that used to be reserved for Satan can now be discharged against evil corporate chief executives and drivers of gas-guzzling vehicles.

3. Obama weighs a tax on banks, but apparently not the auto industry, to recover bailout money (NYT). I think I could be convinced this is a good idea:

The administration previously rejected two ideas that have received much attention in recent months: a transaction tax on financial trades and a special tax on executives’ bonuses.

The most likely alternatives would be a tax based on the size and riskiness of an institution’s loans and other financial holdings, or a tax on profits.

4. When it actually happens, the results are not as hilarious as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would have us believe:

Federal safety officials fined a Camden chocolate plant $39,000 yesterday for safety violations following the death of a factory worker who fell into a vat of chocolate last summer.

Some interesting statistics about the adult film industry here. I’d be curious to know what the 90% confidence intervals are around these estimates, because many of them seem surprising. For instance, the claim that the San Fernando Valley produces 90% of all adult films and releases 20,000 adult movies a year seems unrealistically large. It is also claimed that the total worldwide revenues to the industry are $97 billion. So if 90% of that flows to California, where the San Fernando Valley is located, then it contributes $87.3 billion to California’s GDP. This would be 4.7% of California’s $1.8 trillion GDP, which would be twice the direction contribution to the economy of agriculture, and 65% as large as total exports. Does that sound believable? Are there better numbers on this?

H.T. Digg

“The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it’s time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!” ~Homer Simpson

As long as we’re discussing where gambling regulations lie on the spectrum of paternalism, I would be curious to know if there are any reasonable people who actually think online gambling should be banned? If such people exist, do they think it’s important enough of a reason to justify keeping the Treasury department understaffed during a recession? Senator Jon Kyl is apparently blocking the nomination of the following six Treasury officials because the Obama administration is delaying the enactment of new internet gambling regulations:

  • Under Secretary for International Affairs
  • Under Secretary for Domestic Finance
  • Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Development
  • Assistant Secretary for International Economics and Development
  • Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets
  • Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy

Those sound like important positions to me. Who are the constituents with horrible priorities that Senator Kyl is trying to please here?

(H.T. Yglesias)

It’s not too late. With precious few hours left to shop you can still get horrible gifts for people you hate. Allow me to make the following suggestions:

Psychic Healing: Using the Tools of a Medium to Cure Whatever Ails You by Sylvia Browne – Nothing says “I hate you” like buying someone a book of health tips by a madwoman that if followed may lead to serious bodily harm

Rat Beef – Depending on how much you hate the person, you may want to go with something as little as a sack of rat giblets, or something as extreme as 100 pounds of whole skinless rats.

A generous donation to SarahPAC: Nothing will brings a sane person down like knowing $100 went to Sarah Palin in their name. Every time they see a “Palin for President” ad in 2012 they will know a piece of it belongs to them.

Behind the Bell by Dustin Diamond:  The bitter, exaggerated, biography from the guy who played Screech on the 1990s TV show Saved by the Bell. The awfulness is self-explanatory here.

Good luck with your enemies this Christmas.

Here’s a disturbing fact: plants scream and feel pain… well, sort of:

Just because we humans can’t hear them doesn’t mean plants don’t howl. Some of the compounds that plants generate in response to insect mastication — their feedback, you might say — are volatile chemicals that serve as cries for help. Such airborne alarm calls have been shown to attract both large predatory insects like dragon flies, which delight in caterpillar meat, and tiny parasitic insects, which can infect a caterpillar and destroy it from within.

All I can say is thank goodness we don’t hear it. Eating a salad would feel like a massacre, and mowing the lawn like genocide.

What someone thinks about Christmas can often tell you something about them: people with inflexible or extreme beliefs are prone to apply those beliefs rigorously and fully to the institution of Christmas, sometimes with comical and Scrooge-like results. In this way, Christmas is a litmus test of ideological rigidity.

So who fits this bill? Think to yourself: if you were a child, who is the last person in the world you would want telling you Christmas stories, or explaining Christmas to you? Any clear thinking person should immediately think of Christopher Hitchens.

Imagine a small boy on Christmas eve, with a boozed up, clammy Hitchens sitting at the foot of his bed, swirling a scotch and a meditatively smoking a cigarette. “Mr.Hitchens,” the boy asks innocently, “what’s the meaning of Christmas?”. To which Hitchens would grumpily reply “My dear boy,…

I never cease to be amazed by how little the Bible-believing Protestants, who constitute most of the soldiery in the Christmas wars, know about their own tradition. Under the rule of the Puritan Revolution in the England of Oliver Cromwell (ancestor in many ways of the Pilgrim Fathers) the celebration of Christmas was banned outright. This was for three reasons: the December fiesta was actually the honoring of Paganism in disguise, and a descendant of the old rites of the Winter Solstice. Then, it was also a manifestation of Popery and superstition (the “Christ-Mass”). Finally, it was an excuse for the riff-raff to get drunk and over-indulge in general. Only the last part seems to have truly survived into our present day…

…None of the four gospels gives any notion of what time of year (let alone in what year) the supposed Nativity occurred. Only two gospels mention the virginity of Mary and only one has any mention of a “manger”. Nowhere is there any record of a “stable”. Wise men and shepherds are likewise very unevenly distributed throughout the discrepant accounts….Moreover, the erection of this exhibit near the turn of the year is actually a placation of the old Norse gods of the winter solstice – or “Yule” as the pre-Christians sometimes called it.

He would probably top that off with a diatribe about how we’re all better off that Santa Claus does not exist; “he knows when your sleeping, knows when your awake, keeps a list of enemies and allies labeled ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’; I should rather not live under such a totalitarian regime, thank you very much!”

Or if Hitchens were unavailable, imagine having the atomistic and uber-logical mind of Robin Hanson explain Santa Claus to you as a child. Think of poor Robin’s child when he asks “How does Santa deliver all those toys in one night?”. Of course the child would not receive the standard fairy tale explanation, but rather a realist analysis of what it would mean if a man could deliver all those toys in one night, and, given that a man can do that, the morality of his decision to do so:

consider what you could accomplish with such capabilities. Toward the naughty side, you could achieve a military takeover of most of the world, and maintain totalitarian control thereafter. Cooperative homes get good stuff; uncooperative homes get bombs; pretty soon they’d fall in line.

On the nice side, you could deliver food, medicine, tools, and self-defense weapons to a bottom billion of the world’s poor, sick, or oppressed. You could also identify and punish the world’s corrupt and criminal, and reward the innovative and generous…

…So what does Santa actually do? He gives toys to billions of children, mostly ignoring adults. He gives far more to rich kids than to poor kids, and he greatly favors cultures that celebrate his name over others..

…he prefers to help high status folks who celebrate his eccentric contribution. Apparently even in our dreams this is about as much as we dare hope for from a human, no matter how powerful. Deep down we know human charity is not about help, even if it does sometimes help.

“…Goodnight, son” he might end, leaving a terrified child to lay awake and wonder about the immorality and totalitarianism of Santa, and what that means about the ultimate shallowness of human charity.

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