Division of Labour: Culture Archives
March 13, 2013
My wife and I have been reading and enjoying young adult literature with libertarian/dystopic themes for many years. It started with The Giver books, then The Shadow Children set, and of course lately The Hunger Games trilogy.
It’s the year 2034. Terrorists with chemical weapons are about to attack the United States. But don’t panic—the government is distributing an antidote, and three drops a day will keep you safe. Taking that daily dose is a small price to pay for your safety, right? It may seem that way, but soon Careen Catecher and Tommy Bailey will discover the truth...
You can download a chapter by joining her "fan club". If you like, help her out by sharing with your friends, re-blogging, etc..
October 13, 2012
This is my life
Billy Joel's classic "My Life" was released 24 years ago this month, peaking at #3 on Billboard in January of 1979.
This is one of my favorite rock songs, because, although I doubt that Joel intended it as such, the lyrics are a great summary of the libertarian philosophy. This includes the importance of voluntary social institutions. Indeed, my favorite line is when the singer notes "I still belong, don't get me wrong" - getting it wrong is what the statist left routinely does, assuming anyone who wants control of his own life or who opposes state coercion is somehow anti-social.
Got a call from an old friend
I don't need you to worry for me cause I'm alright
I never said you had to offer me a second chance
They will tell you, you can't sleep alone in a strange place
April 24, 2012
On duty and bravery c. 1912
From the April 23, NYT comes a story concerning the engineers of the Titanic who, as witnesses attest, kept the lights burning almost to the very moment the ship finally sank:
"It is seldom that an engineer is saved in the wreck of a great vessel," said the Rev. G. McPherson Hunter, Secretary of the American Seamen's Friend Society, who is said to be the only clergyman in the country holding the certificate of a Chief Engineer. "Their conduct calls for the same kind of bravery which is exhibited by the skipper, who stands on the bridge and goes down with the ship. when the call of danger comes their duty is down in the bottom of the vessel instead of up on deck. In the case of the Titanic it is impossible to estimate how many lives were saved by their faithfulness. how many would have perished who are now saved had the lights on that great liner gone out? The engineers kept them burning almost to the last minute.
April 23, 2012
On what matters c. 1912
The April 23, 1912 NYT has an obituary for one Bram Sroker. It is interesting what the folks of the time thought was important about Mr. Sroker's life:
Bram Stoker, author, theatrical manager, close friend and adviser of the late Sir Henry Irving, died in London last Sunday. For twenty-seven years he was business manager for the famous English actor, in charge of the Lyceum Theatre during Irving's tenancy of that house....
April 15, 2012
Marriage advice c. 1912
The April 15, 1912 NYT provides a list of "don'ts" for husbands of the time:
The Rev. Dr. W.W. Bustard, pastor of John D. Rockefeller's Euclid Avenue Baptist Church, in a prelude to his regular sermon last night gave these ten "Don'ts" for husbands as a solution of the divorce evil:
Heart Wrenching c. 1912
The April 15, 1912 NYT has three articles concerning the disaster unfolding on the HMS Titanic. The first is optimistic but, in retrospect, very heart wrenching:
At 10:25 o'clock to-night the White Star line steamship Titanic called "C.Q.D" to the Marconic wireless station here, and reported having struck an iceberg. The steamer said that immediate assistance was required.
April 12, 2012
Navel-gazing c. 1912
The April 12, 2012 issue of the NYT:
Secretary Benjamin R. Andrews of the School of Industrial and Household Arts at Columbia says that household economics was taught in the young women's seminaries of this country as far back as 1835. Now 132 schools give collegiate degrees for proficiency in the courses of home-making.
March 27, 2011
Lanny Friedlander, R.I.P.
Lanny Friedlander, the founder of Reason, the flagship magazine of libertarianism, has passed away. Nick Gillespie has a nice memoriam here.
March 14, 2011
On Moving Pictures c. 1911
From the March 14, 1911 NYT:
TWO-SIDED ATTACK ON PICTURE SHOWS
No mention about content of the movies - that agenda will come later.
March 10, 2011
On legislating fashion c. 1911
Today we worry about baggy pants, in 1910 and 1911 there were concerns about hat pins and, evidently, the harem and hobble skirt. The social stigma associated with the Harem Skirt [or new-found popularity for those women who chose to wear one] was enough to merit a 1911 movie short movie about the issue.
From the March 10, 1911 NYT:
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Harem and hobble skirts were the subject of a bill presented in the House to-day by Representative Murphy of Chicago. "Hobbles" measuring less than one and one-half yards and not more than three yards at the bottom are prohibited. An absolute ban is placed upon the "harem skirt" by the bill, which prohibits any women appearing in public in the garb.
December 28, 2010
My son Kevin gives us the scoop on hipness: it's costly signals. Makes sense, though, 'cause EVERYTHING is about costly signals.
Check it out. Article starts on p. 110.
December 25, 2010
The Greenwood Lake Philosopher c. 1910
From the Dec. 25, 1910 NYT:
- Hustle is the yeast that causes a man to rise in the world.
The Gentle Cynic c. 1910
From the Dec. 25, 1910 NYT:
- The man who borrows trouble never gets out of debt.
On the customer is always right c. 1910
An amazing story from the Dec. 25, 1910 NYT:
St. Louis - Enraged because a steak he had ordered in a restaurant was not served promptly, John Bennett, aged 18 years, a newsboy, this afternoon drew a revolver and killed James Costas, an employe of the restaurant.
December 21, 2010
Christmas Extravagance c. 1910
A letter to the editor in the Dec. 21, 1910 NYT reminds us that the "Buy Nothing Day" folks are nothing new:
It is astonishing to see what lengths some people will go to in giving presents at Christmas. I am told they will borrow, go in debt, or even steal to gratify their desires. The ladies get the worst of it, of course. It requires great skill to manage the whole business successfully and economically. I was told by a lady friend not long ago that in her exchanges last Christmas one of her friends returned, through a mistake, the gift she had sent to her the year before.
File this in the "things never change drawer:" Complaints about over-indulgence in materialism during Christmas and the horrors of re-gifting are nothing new.
December 09, 2010
Anti-Obamacare c. 1910
A letter to the editor in the Dec. 9, 1910 NYT provides something to think about:
In a recent editorial article you state: "Just now the Government at Washington, in seeking to direct too many affairs in widely scattered portions of the confederation of States, has permitted its own affairs to be managed extravagantly. It is to-day in as bad a condition as any of the States - in worse condition, even."
December 03, 2010
On Journalism c. 1910
From a short bit in the December 3, 1910 NYT:
JACKSON, La: A decided novelty in the way of newspaper publication is soon to be introduced at Jackson. It will be issued by inmates of the State Insane Asylum here. The paper will be called the Bulletin, and will be published "Every Once in a While."
September 24, 2010
Herbert Spencer on Fashion and Freedom
While consuming Daniel Leonhard Purdy's nice anthology of 18th and 19th century writings on fashion, The Rise of Fashion (2004), I stumbled upon this passage by Herbert Spencer, highlighting one of the many intersections between fashion and politics.
As now existing, Fashion is a form of social regulation analogous to constitutional government as a form of political regulation: displaying, as it does, a compromise between governmental coercion and individual freedom. Just as, along with the transition from compulsory co-operation to voluntary co-operation in public action, there has been a growth of the representative agency serving to express the average volition; so has there been a growth of this indefinite aggregate of wealthy and cultured people, whose consensus of habits rules the private life of society at large. And it is observable in the one case as in the other, that this ever-changing compromise between restraint and freedom, tends towards increase of freedom. For while, on the average, governmental control of individual action decreases, there is a decrease in the rigidity of Fashion; as is shown by the greater latitude of private judgment exercised within certain vaguely marked limits.
From "Fashion" by Herbert Spencer in The Principles of Sociology (1902).
September 17, 2010
You Mean She Wasn't There Already?
August 09, 2010
Police: Man had beer in pants
That's the headline on the website of the local fishwrap. I was going to wonder aloud which of my friends/co-bloggers might be the culprit until I saw this paragraph in the article:
Police said Whitehead took a 12-pack of Budweiser Light valued at $9.69 and hid it in his pants leg.
Wow, I'd like to see those pants.
June 16, 2010
A Book I Look Forward to Reading
Jeffrey A. Tucker, Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo.
June 07, 2010
Why is Hollywood Anti-Capitalist?
Alex Tabarrok offers a nice three-fold explanation at the WSJ Online here.
Hollywood's anti-capitalism is not accidental. It stems from three sources: the rage of directors and screenwriters against their own capitalist backers, the difficulty of using a visual medium to depict the invisible hand, and an ethical framework which Hollywood shares with most of our culture that regards self-interest as inherently immoral or, at best, amoral.
On the first point, Alex says filmmakers need investors (i.e. capitalists) for financial support and get resentful when they have to compromise artistic imperative for market gains. I imagine a director shouting, "I hate you Mark Cuban for making me make movies that will actually sell tickets!" Perhaps this is one-directional, though. I certainly buy Alex's constraint argument. But why would capitalists systematically keep returning to directors who portray capitalists negatively? The most obvious answer to me is they don't care how alternative economic systems are portayed. They care about profits.
Yet if profit is the driving force, we also have to ask why viewers keep coming back. (If viewers were really turned off by a filmmakers anti-capitalist ways, that would hurt the bottom line and Mark Cuban would put his money elsewhere.) This is a more nuanced question since viewers' objectives are not as cleanly captured as are producers' with the profit motive. Interestingly, Alex's second and third arguments help point the way.
Behavioral economics has established that we all give in to several forms of cognitive biases. There are anchoring effects and informational cascades. There is confirmation bias. And so on. For moviegoers, who presumably go to movies to be entertained, this gives an advantage to simple narratives as carried by pre-fab characters.
This guy is evil.
This guy is good.
By this reasoning, you don't necessarily have to be an anti-capitalist filmmaker to portray a capitalist negatively. Actually, your producers might want you to if doing so sells more tickets! "Don't make me think too much at the movies, that messes up my being entertained!" If this explanation holds water, one interesting implication is that viewers can see through Hollywood's biases. They just don't care. What's that phrase, "suspension of disbelief" is it?
A related though broader issue is why the intellectual class tends to be anti-capitalist. Robert Nozick offers a brief response in this Cato Policy Report: intellectuals resent that their talents are not rewarded in the marketplace. In "The Intellectuals and Socialism," F. A. Hayek famously attributes the bias of intellectuals to their beliefs that human institutions can be scientifically designed as can physical systems (pdf here). Ludwig von Mises, in The Anti-Capitalist Mentality, says intellectuals become envious of capitalists because they rub elbows in the same social circles but don't have any of the money.
May 26, 2010
In a a new TED talk on fashion copyright, Johanna Blakely poses an interesting question: what is the ownership model that will promote innovation in an age where everything is digitized? Anticipating ongoing work on fashion, mostly by legal scholars rather than economists, she suggests that fashion is a good place to start looking for answers. In my view the association is a powerful one for two sets of reasons. First, fashion designs are not protected by copyright yet the industry is highly innovative and possibly even more so as the medium has become increasingly digitized (in terms of design and communication tools, not wearing of course). Second, fashion is a market process of entrepreneurship in two stages -- there are design originators mostly at the high end, and then there are design imitators who not only copy but also adapt designs to be more palatable for wide audiences on the one hand, while innovating cost-reducing production methods on the other hand. It is the market process of fashion, these two forms of entrepreneurship that feed off one another, which makes fashion innovative without intellectual monopoly. More research is needed to discern what ways these features generalize to other "digitized" media.
This summer I will be working on a related book, currently titled Fashion Econ: How Fashion Cycles and Knock-Off Designs Help Make the World a Better Place, while I'm a visiting scholar at Bowling Green's Social Philosophy and Policy Center.
May 13, 2010
The compound interest of "compound interest" c. 1910
From the May 13, 1910 NYT:
CHICAGO - The old familiar dates of history and the old problems in compound interest and compound fractions in arithmetic are to disappear from the curriculum of the Chicago public schools.Maybe, maybe not. An interesting parallel to today's curriculum debates.
May 11, 2010
Those darned kids c. 1910
From a letter published in the May 11, 1910 NYT:
In my many years' experience as a district nurse I have found no children as ill-behaved as the children of to-day, and the reason for this lies, I believe, in the lax discipline of the public schools. But it is not the fault of the teacher. The pupil "sasses teacher back," and rather than keep the child and herself in after school she must overlook it.
May 07, 2010
Just Say NO c. 1910
From the May 7, 1910 NYT:
Mrs. J. Rechtin, wife of a well-known business man, has set out to do away with the bacteria-spreading kiss through the World's Health Organization, of which she is president. "Kiss not," is the motto of the W.H.O. It is emblazoned in red letters on a white button worn by the members. Hundreds of circulars are being sent through the mails, one part of which reads:
April 30, 2010
Sport c. 1910
From a short article in the April 30, 1910 NYT:
SARDIS, Miss. - The Rev. Dr. Mitchell, Methodist minister and father of Robert Mitchell, State University pitcher, who has just agreed to a trial offered by the Chicago Nationals, says baseball is a "cold-blooded money-making business nowadays, and that no element of sport lies in the game of to-day." For that reason he will forbid his son to enter the professional field. "Bob" is touring with the Varsity squad, and it is not known whether he will abide by his father's decision. He is over 21 years old.Money-making indeed. Given this attitude, poor Dr. Mitchell would be apoplectic today.
April 28, 2010
Best Recent Addition to My Google Reader Feed
The I Love Memphis Blog (HT: Doctor J). First, it's a great source of information about our adopted home. Second, the daily updates really contribute to our assessment of the Bluff City's sense of place. My contribution to the "I Love Memphis" photo album is below the fold.
Read More »
April 22, 2010
Correlation vs. Causation c. 1910
From a letter to the editor printed in the April 22, 1910 NYT:
Mr. Schaefer of the New York Brewers' Association states that "insanity has not diminished where the liquor traffic is supposed to be driven to the wall."
The temperance movement, at this time, has been making considerable progress around the country. One argument offered for banning alcohol was the reduction in "mental disease" - however roughly that was defined in 1910. This letter tries to show that where the liquor traffic still persists that there is "more insane" individuals.
The letter writer relies upon the reader to do some mental computations to determine the correlation between the number of liquor dealers per capita and the number of "insane" per capita. Luckily, I have Stata.
Assuming the letter-writer's data are correct, the correlation between the number of liquor dealers per-capita and the number of "insane" per capita comes out to be 0.88. Here's a scatter plot of the data:
April 17, 2010
"Freedom means freedom to be stupid"
So says Penn Jillette in his excellent essay, "An Homage to the Hummer," in today's WSJ. A snip:
Hummers are stupid and wasteful and if they go away because no one wants to buy one, that'll be just a little sad. It's always a little sad to lose some stupid. I love people doing stupid things that I'd never do—different stupid things than all the stupid things I do. It reminds me that although all over the world we humans have so much in common, so much love, and need, and desire, and compassion and loneliness, some of us still want to do things that the rest of us think are bug-nutty. Some of us want to drive a Hummer, some of us want to eat sheep's heart, liver and lungs simmered in an animal's stomach for three hours, some us want to play poker with professionals and some of us want a Broadway musical based on the music of ABBA. I love people doing things I can't understand. It's heartbreaking to me when people stop doing things that I can't see any reason for them to be doing in the first place. I like people watching curling while eating pork rinds.
April 13, 2010
Tween pregnancy crisis c. 1910
From the April 13, 1910 NYT:
Officers of the Juvenile Court to-day began an investigation of the case of Annie Epps, 10 years old, who gave girth (sic) to a girl baby at the County Hospital several days ago. It was reported to-night that the young mother and her child were doing well.
From the February 3, 2010 Daily Mail:
A nine-year-old Chinese schoolgirl has become one of the world's youngest mothers after giving birth to a healthy boy.
April 05, 2010
Americana the Beautiful: "Memphis IS Music"
I'm working on our taxes, and I was looking for a soundtrack when Doctor J's latest post came across my Google Reader feed. She hosted a radio show a couple of years ago called "Americana the Beautiful," and apparently the shows are now online; I'm listening to "Memphis IS Music," which is all songs about or featuring Memphis.
If you're looking for good music at a price of $0, here's a post from the vault with a couple of links.
March 10, 2010
The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History
That's the title of a new book by Bridgewater College history prof Jason Vuic. Yesterday, Prof. Vuic gave a lively talk at Berry about his book. The book is reviewed in the WSJ and The Economist. BTW, he doesn't think the Yugo was actually the worst car in history. The communist bloc offered up several other gems.
March 05, 2010
Local radio station WEVL is having it's annual Spring Concert at the Hi-Tone at 10:00 PM on Saturday night. Family responsibilities will prevent me from attending, but the lineup sounds pretty good based on what I heard on the drive home yesterday (Jack-O and the Tennessee Tearjerkers, Mouserocket, and The New Mary Jane). In taking a break a minute ago I looked to see if The New Mary Jane has an album I could buy solely on the strength of their song "Murder is Easy." I couldn't find an album, but you can listen to them at their Myspace Music Page. Here's are the Myspace Music Pages for Jack-O and the Tennessee Tearjerkers (European readers, they're coming your way in May and June) and Mouserocket. I can't find anywhere to buy any of their music online, so a trip to Goner Records might be in order this weekend.
February 28, 2010
Music to My Ears: Johnny Cash's American VI: Ain't No Grave
I thought I got a great deal on Johnny Cash's new album American VI: Ain't No Grave for $10 at Walmart yesterday (I visit Walmarts and other retailers when I'm on the road--since I've been studying retail, I figure it's a good idea to follow Coase's advice and look out the window every so often). Lo and behold, it's $8.99 on Amazon. Was I ripped off? No: WM had it at a price I was willing to pay in a store in rural New York, and I could listen to it on my drive to the airport. At $10 plus tax, it was a great deal. At $8.99 without tax, it's an even better deal. It's a fantastic album from start to finish, and the title track is one of the best if not the best track in his later "American" catalog: it's expertly and beautifully produced--haunting in some places and inspiring in others. The American recordings were not the ones that made Cash a superstar, but they were a fitting and reflective end to a great career and a great life.
The Man in Black would have been 78 this past Friday. Here's Dr. J's take.
February 27, 2010
I recommend "The Crisis of Islam"
I just completed Bernard Lewis's The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. Read one short, quick book and you, too, will be better informed than 95 percent of the non-Muslim population. The book is under 200 pages, and Lewis' elegant writing will let you breeze through it in a matter of hours, despite the volume of information and analysis the book conveys.
There is enough in the traditional culture of Islam on the one hand and the modern experience of the Muslim peoples on the other to provide the basis for an advance toward freedom in the true sense of that word.
The war against terror and the quest for freedom are inextricably linked, and neither can succeed without the other. The struggle is no longer limited to one or two countries, as some Westerners still manage to believe. It has acquired... a global dimension, with profound consequences for all of us."
If freedom fails and terror triumphs, the peoples of Islam will be the first and greatest victims. They will not be alone, and many others will suffer with them.
February 08, 2010
New Light on the Star Wars Saga
R2-D2 and Chewbacca: long-term Rebel agents (HT: Mike Ray). I've wondered about what I see as a hole in the plot at the end of ROTS: first, since it's clear that Palpatine is very, very strong--too strong for Obi-Wan alone--and that Anakin is strong and getting stronger, why didn't Obi-Wan and Yoda team up to take out Palpatine and then hunt down Anakin? Given Obi-Wan's experiences fighting Count Dooku and the fact that Palpatine very quickly dispatched the Jedi who had accompanied Mace Windu to arrest him, this looks like a pretty serious tactical blunder. Comments are open.
February 07, 2010
Those are the only words appropriate for describing today's cartoon by the AJC's Mike Luckovich. I don't know what promted the GA Senate to pass a bill opposing the forced implantation of microchips nor do I know why anyone would even want to force people to have microchips implanted. But somehow finding a bill opposing forced implantation objectionable means Luckovich has about as illiberal attitude as one could possibly have. (I bet he also considers himself, without recognizing the irony, to be "pro-choice.")
UPDATE: This article explains that the Senate passed the bill 47-2 and that if the bill becomes a law GA would join states including CA and WI in having such a law. It's hard to fathom why Luckovich could consider such a bill to be harmful.
UPDATE2: Maybe there's a good reason to fear forced implants. After all: The government has your baby's DNA.
February 03, 2010
Markets in Everything: Tiger Mistress Golf Balls
January 13, 2010
Bet You Didn't Know That ...
... at UNC-Chapel Hill one can earn a minor in social and economic justice without taking an economics course. See for yourself here (scroll down)--the minor includes some economics courses as electives but does not require even a single principles course.
January 12, 2010
I had a very interesting conversation at lunch today with someone who wanted to discuss a paper he had written for the meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society. I learned a few things about eschatology (the study of the Biblical end times) that I didn't know before, and I want to make a further study of premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. I just read an interesting essay by Gary North on the eschatological schizophrenia of the American right, and I want to learn more. In my limited understanding, the premillennialist view that things will get progressively worse and progressively darker doesn't square with the global spread of Christianity or the explosive growth in prosperity that we've seen in the last two hundred and fifty years. If you have any reading suggestions, I would be grateful.
December 21, 2009
Here's a recent cartoon from the Rome News-Tribune's Mike Lester.
December 14, 2009
The public perception of conservatives (and I have to lump libertarians into this category, which I think is accurate here, and there's not really separate polling data for libertarians - see below), fostered by Hollywood and TV, many major media publications, and of course liberals, is that conservatives are uptight, unhappy, nasty people.
I have noted in this space that these perceptions are not true - polling data has consistently shown that conservatives are more likely to say they are happy with their lives; they are more active, both in terms of hobbies and sports and in terms of volunteer activities; they are more likely to be satisfied with their sex lives (and to have sex more often), than are liberals.
The latest part of the mantra from the cultural elites is that conservatives are also anti-science. Remember how Barack Obama even promised to restore science "to its rightful place."
Well, now comes an interesting survey from Pew that debunks the idea that liberals are more science oriented, too. In fact, it turns out that liberals are nearly twice as likely as conservatives to believe in astrology (30% to 16%), "spiritual energy" (35% to 18%), or reincarnation (33% to 18%). It's interesting to note that while conservatives and liberals are equally likely to believe in the "evil eye" (17% each), Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe in the evil eye by 19% to 12%.
Maybe all those "Reagan Democrats" of a generation ago were just fans of Nancy, who was said to have an interest in astrology. But clearly the rejection of science for superstition knows no ideological boundaries.
December 12, 2009
Two random things
Apropos of exactly nothing, two links that caught my fancy:
2. "Let me google that for you!" Along with GIYF (google is your friend), the new insult sweeping the interwebs. Let me google that for you, as perhaps everyone but I already knows, requires you to fill in the search field in this URL:
Suppose someone in comments says, "Ludwig von Mises! Who is Ludwig von Mises?" You would say, condescendingly, "GIYF!" (In other words, the doofus should use Google, not use you as a research assistant.)
But you could also just give them, http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=Ludwig+von+Mises" (TRY IT!)
The implied insult is even clearer, and LOTS more fun. Try it at Christmas parties. If you read DoL, you likely ALREADY don't have any real friends, so what harm can it do?
December 08, 2009
Raising costs or raising benefits?
The State of North Carolina today announced a new website for bank robbers in the state. No, the web-site doesn't provide tips and FAQs about the art of the heist. Rather, the website provides CC photos and descriptions of bank robberies.
Luckily, I didn't see any family or friends on the site.
I wonder if, all else equal, this raises the costs of being a bank robber, which is expected to reduce bank robbing (on the margin), or if this adds to the cache of being a bank robber, again on the margin, which might lead to an increase in bank robberies (on the margin).
I might file this one away for a potential masters thesis idea.
I found this one interesting. The bank robber, er, withdraw expert, is on the phone - I wonder how that conversation went.
December 03, 2009
Informal survey of the day
My undergraduate sports class is wrapping up and it has been one of the best group of students I have had in almost 15 years of teaching. They are bright, energetic and intuitive. I have a renewed hope for the undergraduate corps, at least at my institution.
Given the events surrounding one professional golfer, I held an informal poll in my class this morning.
"Who has heard of Tiger-gate?" 30 of 30 or 100% of those in attendance.
Regardless of whether climate-gate is true or not - that won't be decided for some weeks, months, perhaps never - the fact that these kids had heard nothing about a potential scandal surrounding international public policy but had heard about the actual scandal surrounding what ultimate comes to a non-issue in our lives was an eye-opener.
I have not finished my magnum opus "Robust Inference on One Observation," (which when finished will assure me the Nobel Prize), so I hesitate to generalize too much from my one data point, but I wonder if other informal surveys would have the same result.
December 02, 2009
One Of The Benefits Of Being At A Liberal Arts College ...
is to be able to hear wonderful lunchtime presentations by fellow faculty members across the curriculum. Today, retiring English Professor John Rosenwald (co-editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal) read ten poems. All were beautiful, but "Declaration" by the Chinese poet Bei Dao really struck me because of its pro-freedom message. I could not find a copy on-line, but it is well worth the effort to look up.
Two of my favorite parts:
I'm no hero
I will not kneel
Bullet holes are like stars:
November 25, 2009
On feeding the poor c. 1909
There are some problems that seem to persist no matter how much money, time, or other resources are thrown at them. This suggests that either the problems are systemic and cannot be resolved or we haven't thrown enough money, time, and other resources at the problem. However, I find the latter to be less credible than the former because for far too long we have, as a society, tried to help the poor in various ways.
The Nov. 25, 1909 NYT reports on private charity efforts to provide Thanksgiving dinners to those who could not afford to purchase the items necessary (another story in the NYT reports that the ingredients for a generic meal was around $4.25 or around $103 in 2008 dollars, which is perhaps not far from the mark for today's meal):
There was much bustle at the Little Missionaries' Day Nursery...last night for between 900 and 1,000 baskets containing Thanksgiving dinners for families averaging five to eight members each, were sent out, or were called on by those for whom they were intended. Last year nearly 700 dinners were given away, but last night saw the biggest free distribution of dinners which the nursery has managed since its organization in 1896 by Miss. Sara Curry.One wonders how many, in today's world of processed and prepared foods, would turn down such a basket today - not so much because they didn't "like" what was in the basket but because they wouldn't know what to do with the items in the basket.
Another article describes other private efforts in the city:
November 12, 2009
Libertarian moments in the movies: "I wanna smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section."
November 11, 2009
Being rich enough to afford not being greedy
It strikes me that the film industry is a decent example of a competitive industry. Granted, states like mine (LA) provide tax credits for companies filming here, but there seems to be a highly competitive labor market, no salary caps (though the SGA seems to enforce wage floors), and lots of substitutes available to consumers.
So why are the most successful employees in this industry typically the most anti-capitalist? To wit, Jim Carrey:
I was thinking about it this morning, how this story ties into everything we’re going through...Every construct we’ve built in American life is falling apart. Why? Because of personal greed and ambition. Capitalism without regulation can’t protect us against personal greed.
Way ahead of you Jim; many of my students proudly eschew personal ambition.
Capitalism is not intended to protect against personal greed, any more than it is intended to protect us against pride, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, or sloth. Last I checked, capitalism was a way of organizing an economy most efficiently, not a system of morality. Two fallacies: 1) association is not causation ("there are lots of jerks in our capitalist system, so capitalism causes jerks"); and 2) I'd bet you don't have to look too hard to find personal greed in non-capitalist or even highly regulated capitalist economies. The "capitalism=immorality" or "socialism/regulation=morality" argument is seriously lacking logical or empirical support.
A successful businessman/entertainer who hates capitalism. Almost as hypocritical as a state employee who hates big government.
Libertarian moments in the movies (in honor of Veterans Day)
November 10, 2009
The plural of anecdote is data, Campbell
Well, I don't know how common comedies were in the old USSR, but one comedy, Mimino (1977), is famous throughout the old empire. The story tells of a simple Georgian and Armenian who meet up in Moscow to pursue their varied dreams. Antics ensue.
My Georgian friends will sit around quoting this movie like we quote Airplane or the Blue Brothers.
For you Russian speakers out there you can see it all here apparently:
November 03, 2009
Jayson Blair Gives Ethics Talk at W&L
I understand the argument that having a speaker who committed ethical trangressions might provide valuable ethics lessions for aspiring journalists. Still, as a W&L grad, I think this is an embarrassment to the university.
October 15, 2009
Man vs. Beast c. 1909
From the Oct. 15, 1909 NYT:
Overexertion while whipping a balky horse caused the death of John Duffy, a wealthy farmer of Elmsford, to-day. Duffy was driving up the State road toward East View when his horse balked. He took out the whip and hit the horse a few times and then fell over the dashboard dead.
October 14, 2009
My hometown makes the Associated Press!
October 13, 2009
On the squirrel c. 1909
A letter to the editor in the October 13, 1909 NYT:
On a trip through the northern part of the Bronx Park on Saturday afternoon I discovered that the squirrels are in an actual state of starvation. The parasite that has destroyed the chestnut trees has left nothing for them to live on. They are not fond of acorns, except in a pinch, and the boys are seen gathering those up in bags, which they cart away to their homes, leaving the squirrels actually without food to go through this Winter.
September 24, 2009
End-of-the-world festivities c. 1909
The Sept. 24, 1909 NYT follows up on yesterday's story concerning the sect planning for the end of the world tomorrow (Sept. 25, 1909):
Three hundred men and women of the Free Christian Society, at their camp five miles from here [DUXBURY, Mass], began at 10 o'clock to-day their final preparation for the end of the world, which they are convinced will come tomorrow night. The service, which consisted of prayer, penitence, and baptism, was observed with fanatical enthusiasm. It is to be kept up until tomorrow night.Okay, so the
Practically all of the 300 adherents of the queer sect have disposed of all their worldly goods in anticipation of the ending of all things. The cause of all this was the revelation that came to Eva Brown of Pawtucket, who declares that the destruction of the world was foretold to her in a dream a year ago.Yes, there is no reason at all to be suspicious of the claim that whatever Supreme Being there is would choose a generic person in Pawtucket to get the word out.
Was there any specifics on the end of the world? Oh yes:
Believing, as they do, that the top crust of the earth will peel off and that the damned souls will be hurled into a cauldron of boiling fire, the intensity of their closing services may be imagined.I wonder how the physics of this particular scenario was imagined to play out.
September 23, 2009
Option value lost c. 1909
Life is full of options. Generally speaking, options have value. Thus, the amazing fits of charity by those predicting that the world is going to end in the near future would seem to violate economic reasoning. After all, if the world truly ends when predicted, what use to anyone are the goods given away? If the world happens not to end then life can continue as before with little loss in material well-being (although the mental state of the individual who is let down that the earth didn't dematerialized is beyond the economist's purview).
However, showing up to the end-of-the-world rally with all your possessions in tow, or not being able to credibly signal that the possessions are no longer yours, doesn't send a strong signal of solidarity with the rest of the
De gustibus non est disputandum.
Giving it all away seems like a silly way to go about preparing for the end of the world. However, if the primary reason for doing so is to be accepted by the group then it might actually be consistent with economic reasoning. It would seem much better than drinking the (poisoned) kool-aid, which definitely removes all future options.
The Sept. 23, 1909 NYT reports on such an event:
Wonder what the faithful did on Saturday?
Deterrence vs. Retribution c. 1909
From the Sept. 23, 1909 NYT:
VALENCE, Drome, France - A triple execution by guillotine took place in this city at daylight to-day.How would such an event be viewed today? Oh my.
August 24, 2009
Expanding My Musical Horizons Bleg
I'm trying to expand my musical horizons a bit and have asked friends and students for recommendations. Several have come in so far, and one of the clearest indicators that the modern world is a uniquely great place to live was the phrase "Swedish jazz-swing-hip hop sensation" that appeared in one recommendation. Last summer, I posted about a friend's defunct-but-not-forgotten band Poor Yorick, and I've enjoyed listening to them and reliving the halcyon days of college (you can download their stuff at the link!). You can also download some of TEDster Jill Sobule's stuff here. Comments are open if you have any (preferably free) music suggestions.
August 20, 2009
New season, new city, new network: Project Runway is back
Evidently I will be watching the Lifetime channel this fall (at least until college football season starts--then I'll DVR it). Slate's Troy Patterson dishes hints at what to expect:
In moving from New York to Los Angeles this season, Project Runway has gone Hollywood in order to get to middle America. The initial challenge finds the 16 contestants whipping up dresses appropriate for an awards show. I'll take this as a sign that PR, already increasingly celebrity-infested, is trying to broaden its reach by cultivating an US Weekly populism and making its take on the grammar of chic more approachable. Every good American, after all, knows how to eyeball a girl in a gown on a red carpet. "Here, it's as much about who you're wearing as who you are," says Heidi, dashing off a fashion-semiotics line while the local sunlight enhances her smile and vice versa.
Email me if you'd like a working copy of my paper, "Of Human Action and Human Design: Adaptive Entrepreneurship and the Marketization of Fashion."
July 28, 2009
She can dance for me but not for thee c. 1909
The July 28, 1909 NYT reports on the arrest and arraignment of one Gertrude Hoffman who:
was arrested last Friday evening at the theatre after giving her dance, on the charge of offending public decency, [and] had a second hearing of her case. The merits of the case were not gone into yesterday, however, as most of the lawyers concerned seemed anxious to get away on vacations...One result of yesterday's proceedings, however, will act as a limitation to the original unadorned act such as Miss Hoffmann gave before Police Commissioner Baker interfered and ordered her arrest after witnessing the performance from a front seat. The dancer will have to put ...Wait, what? The Commish saw the dance and then decided to arrest her AFTER she was finished? I am sure the Commissioner was only doing his job by making sure that all counts of offending the public's decency had been accounted for. I am sure, as well, that the Commissioner had NO idea about Ms. Hoffmann's act. Yep, it's good to be the
The temporary solution to reestablishing public decency in the case of Ms. Hoffmann is outlined in the story:
The dancer will have to put on her stage costume in her dressing room every afternoon and evening hereafter under the watchful eye of Mrs. McMahon, the probation officer of the West forty-seventh Street Station. The police insist that Miss Hoffman wear tights that come down well below her knees, until the court shall decide otherwise, and the Magistrate ordered Mrs. McMahon to see that long tights are used.
In an eerily similar manner one might suspect people to act today, the word had spread that Miss Hoffmann might show up to her court appearance in her dance costume, the prospect of which generated considerable interest:
The news had gone forth that Miss Hoffmann would probably appear in court in her flimsy dancing costume, thus allowing the Magistrate to decide at first hand just wherein the alleged immorality consisted, and the courtroom was thronged. It was observed that the crowding for good seats down in front was not confined entirely to the court attendance. Well-dressed men, apparently from the Rialto district, were on hand early, but they left hurriedly when Miss Hoffman appeared in an automobile costume of purple, which reached from head to foot.To discourage such lewd behavior, the Magistrate could have insisted that once an individual was seated they had to stay until the end of the court's business that day. It would have been interesting to see whether a glipse of Miss Hoffmann would have commanded such a price.
July 16, 2009
Need an indulgence? There's an app for that
Next time you're thinking of skipping church.....
HT my boy Phil Duncanson, taking the photo with his iPhone of course.
June 30, 2009
Mike Lester on the Media Coverage of Michael Jackson's Death
From today's Rome News-Tribune:
June 12, 2009
High Culture Friday: The Art of Economics and the Economics of Art
This is really, really impressive:
And here's the "making of" video that shows how the ultra-intricate social division of labour helped make it possible:
HT: A.J. Roach.
June 11, 2009
In a pinch?
The homosexual movement seems to be gaining small and medium size victories with relatively little fanfare. One wonders how much of the outrage we witnessed over the past eight years was purely political rather than principle - and I am casting aspersions at both sides.
Now there is evidence that while the self-described left has not waned in its support for openly homosexual men and women serving in the military, the self-described "conservatives" have increased their support for the policy by 12 percentage points over the past five years.
I question whether this is more to do with the shadow costs of allowing homosexuals in the military than a great change in heart. As the GWOT (or whatever we want to call it this week) seems to be perpetual, either more volunteers need to be allowed to volunteer or the threat of a draft of some form might become more real. On the margin, how much is the principle of keeping openly homosexual men and women from serving worth? If it isn't worth re-instituting the draft, this might explain the increased support on the part of the "conservatives."
On swimming upstream c. 1909
The June 11, 1909 NYT reports on the attempts of the city council of Seney, Georgia (located near Rome, GA) to fight the tide of history:
The little town of Seney, near here [Rome, GA], has declared war on automobiles. At a meeting of the Town Council recently, after a spirited discussion, an ordinance was adopted prohibiting the use of automobiles within the city limits.
I grew up in the far northwest corner of the great state of Georgia (Lookout Mountain, Georgia) about eighty miles from Rome, and always found the angst of folks in that part of the state interesting.
Given recent political trends, the folly of trying to stave off the automobile a hundred years ago might now be viewed as prescient policy. How long until towns and cities around the country today to follow the path blazed so long ago by little Seney, GA.
On substitutes c. 1909
The June 11, 1909 NYT reports on concerns similar to those voiced today by some social conservatives:
Speaking yesterday before the National Conference of Charities and Correction at Buffalo, Mr. [Joseph] Lee had this to say about the plan urged by some philanthropists to feed school children at public expense:The question of public schools providing meals for "less advantaged" children is evidently not new and opponents voiced the same concerns 100 years ago as they do today. It is likely true that an undernourished child is less capable of learning, all else equal. To the extent that the public education system is intended to help create productive individuals who provide positive externalities, or fewer negative externalities, and to the extent that proper nutrition helps that process along, there might be justification for public schools feeding children.
However, as the quote points out, there are few areas of a child's life that doesn't indirectly or directly impact the ability to learn. Once the education bureaucracy has taken it upon itself to ensure "quality of learning" then all areas of a child's life become fair game, including medical situations, home life, and, today, stretching to anti-bullying legislation and the like.
In one sense the mission creep seems to be a direct assault on the freedoms of both the child and the parents. To many there is no compensation for these lost freedoms that justify the mission creep of the education system. For others, the mission creep is worth the expenditure so that no child is left behind. Whether the increased expenditures provide net social benefits would seem to be an empirical question but one that might be impossible to accurately assess. However, Coasian firm theory would suggest that there are limits to what the education establishment (as a quasi-firm) can internalize efficiently. It might not be practical, efficient, or even desirable for the schools to be teaching the three R's, while simultaneously discussing homosexuality with kindergartners (as they propose to do in NC), making sure everyone is healthy, fit, prepared to remain morally uncompromised, prepared to be morally compromised, to make sure that no child is bullied, and on and on.
It is not in the nature of the bureaucrat, perhaps, to recognize the limits of efficient internalization. Thus it is incumbent upon parents and tax payers to at least suggest some limits. Alas, appealing to efficient firm theory is not likely to stir the emotions of the masses.
The story goes on to suggest, much as people do today, that once schools start feeding students and providing medical inspections the country is on the slippery slope toward Socialism, not because of the teachers union but because the state starts to offer cost-effective (if not child-effective) substitutes to the family unit. I have bounced this hypothesis off my colleagues during more than one lunch. If parents are rational economic agents, and it is dangerous to assume they are not, then they are likely to substitute into relatively cheaper inputs to their household production function.
Whether this constitutes State Socialism is a matter of opinion, perhaps, but it seems clear that the politicians and bureaucrats have figured out that some (most?) people demand, implicitly or explicitly, cheaper inputs to their household production function and the politicians/bureaucrats are all too happy to provide them. Unfortunately, when it comes to the care of children, the state's provision of care is what economists would characterize as a credence good - that is one where quality cannot be accurately assessed even after consumption. For example, how much better would Johnny have done in college if he had attended private high school? He can't repeat high-school so we will never know. Producers of credence goods get a little more scrutiny by industrial organization economists and policy (e.g., past limitations on lawyers advertising) but surprisingly not so much when it comes to education (and ostensibly health care in the future).
The NYT story continues on with a kernel of economic intuition coated in the spectre of Socialism:
My understanding of Socialist theory is that the claims of the story are generally correct. The family unit was destroyed under most (all?) of the implementations of State Socialism of which I am aware. Children were turned against their parents and other relatives and as a parent of three youngsters I am not sure there would be anything worse than such an event being caused by pure politics (rather than true criminal behavior).
It is an interesting thought experiment whether the State can survive without the Family. This has me thinking about an Econ Talk podcast from a couple of years ago (to which I recently re-listened) of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita on how politicians stay in power, and how his hypotheses mesh with the concerns of those who see the State achieving an agenda through the children.
May 19, 2009
Famous people in the NYT c. 1909
The title might not make sense, but let me explain. I find it interesting how many famous people are famous long after they have been mentioned in the NYT or other major media. For example, one can search the NYT for George Bush and find a reference to a 1967 article in which the future president is interviewed concerning hazing at his fraternity at Yale (Available here for subscribers to Proquest). A search for Barack Obama yields the first mention of him in a 1990 article in the NYT concerning his selection to the Harvard Law Review (Available here for ProQuest subscribers).
The May 19, 1909 NYT has a similar story concerning one Branch Rickey, who will later become most famous for assisting Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 (but who also led a most fascinating life and career beyond this obvious achievement):
TOLEDO - Branch Rickey, the well-known baseball player, former catcher for the New York Americans and for several years coach for both baseball and football teams at Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware, Ohio, has broken down in health and been compelled to go to Saranac Lake for a complete rest. Rickey, besides performing his coaching duties, has been attending law school at Columbus, each day teaching a beginner's law class at Ohio Wesleyan, and travelling over the country making speeches for the "drys" in the local option campaign.What if Branch Rickey had succumbed to his ill health?
May 13, 2009
"The Simpsons" does The Fountainhead
I did not see the episode, but Jonathan Freinberg at IHS forwards this segment, in which "Maggie Roark's" architectural genius confronts Ellseworth Toohey's brutish egalitarianism at the Mediocri-Tots Day Care.
May 12, 2009
On killing giraffes
The May 12, 1909 NYT publishes a letter to the editor concerning ex-president Roosevelt's hunts in Africa:
Another bull rhinoceros! five lions! a bag of thirteen big beasts! An ex-President who has dazzled a nation of eighty millions of citizens by the force of his imperialism and militarism and has led them up the ladder of glorious noisy monarchism - can such an ex-President do better than go thousands of miles to the wilderness, where he can give an example of how to murder God's creatures, his own fellow creatures? Is it not titanic and heroic to go with a staff of three hundred natives and hunt a poor lion? An animal that, if left alone, would not hurt anybody, and whose sporting ground will not be needed for many years to come by either white or black man. A Christian, too, is Mr. Roosevelt, preferring the religion of love, but also preferring to be a good shot and to excel in the art of killing. How civilized and how noble!
Best Sentences I've Read Today: 9:07 AM Edition
"One of the reasons that the elites loathe places like McDonald's, or Wal-Mart, or Target, or any of these places that cater to Everyman – and you might suppose that the champions of the workers and peasants would love these places – is precisely their capacity to rob the rich of their distinctive social markers. One day it was a sign of class and distinction to drink a latte; the next day, every construction worker is doing it."
"Yes, it is all about profits. Sorry socialists: this also means that it is all about people."
May 08, 2009
Hope springs eternal c. 1909
The May 8, 1909 NYT published the following letter to the editor:
In view of the remarkable achievements in aviation of the Wright brothers, may I not suggest the propriety of advocating an award to them of one of the Alfred Nobel Prizes? Their accomplishments come within the Department of Physics, and possibly also, within the Department of Peace. Public agitation seems to be necessary - vide the case of ex-President Roosevelt.I might grant the letter writer their appeal to a Physics award, but the Peace award? If offered in 1909 the award would most certainly have to be repealed only a few years later as the military applications of their invention matured.
May 07, 2009
On the M.R.S. c. 1909
A story from the May 7, 1909 NYT provides one anecdote of how less free we were in many ways one hundred years ago:
BERKELEY, Cal. - Startled by the announcement during the past week of ten engagements among the students of the University of California, the Faculty of that institution has decided to add a course in household economics to the curriculum of the coming Summer session. Several years ago there was an epidemic of engagements and secret marriages among the students of the university, and so serious was the matter considered that President Benjamin Ide Wheeler made a special address to the "co-eds," advising them against encouraging marriage until the men students had become wage earners.I am not sure if I would characterize any number of engagements an "epidemic." Nor would I, as a faculty member of a reasonably large state school, want the president (actually chancellor, here) to spend time providing a speech concerning the "appropriate" way to go about deciding who and when to marry.
More to the point, what business does a University's faculty and administration have in the area of freely entered contracts and arrangements between students? Indeed, discouraging the social or romantic interaction of students would seem to invite inefficiencies.
The college years provide many opportunities for economies of scale and scope. Obviously one dimension of economies of scale is the spatial agglomeration of a widely diverse faculty from which a student can take four or six courses a semester in a form of one-stop shopping.
One dimension of economies of scope is that an individual can gain an education at the same time that they are introduced to any number of similarly aged, and ostensibly similarly educated, individuals. I have never seen a mission statement that proclaimed a moral judgement concerning whether the introductions lead to romance, love, marriage, or co-habitation. Thus, the perceived or actual cultural pressure to "do something" must have been felt by the Faculty and administration, even if such pressure seems foreign to us today.
While it might be good advice for "co-eds" to hold off until their suitors have jobs, the same could have been said for the suitors, if society hadn't been busy restricting the employment opportunities through formal and informal institutions. Was there an assumption that individuals in their twenties were blindly entering marriage because of hormonal influences?
May 04, 2009
Non-PC Headline c. 1909
From the May 4, 1909 NYT:
ROOSEVELT GETS THIRD LION
The Umpire c. 1909
The May 4, 1909 NYT publishes the following poem:
May 02, 2009
Non-PC Headline c. 1909
From the May 2, 1909 NYT:
ROOSEVELT KILLS THREE BIG LIONSThis could have come from today's Onion and we would all laugh. In the pre-post modern society of the United States in 1909 this headline was evidently put forth with seriousness and applaud.
Temperance c. 1909
The May 1, 1909 NYT reports:
DETROIT - At midnight tonight 585 saloons and ten breweries in nineteen counties of Michigan which voted "dry" at the last election closed their doors. Thirty of the eighty-three counties in the State are now "dry." Stocks have been closed out at reduced rates in many instances.I wonder why the "stocks" had to be closed out if there are counties that are not "dry"? Perhaps there were limits (like today) on bars selling to other bars. If you were a bar owner in County A which was going dry, why not purchase a liquor license in County B and open a bar there? Perhaps there were limits on the number of bars that could be opened in non-dry counties?
April 26, 2009
Word of the Day: Environmysticism
After doing a bit of reading about green initiatives and the mystical fringes of the environmental movement, I propose a new word to describe ecocentric environmentalism: "environmysticism." A Google search turned up a couple of previous hits, but there's no definition. Environmysticism holds that environmental problems transcend human conflicts over property and the use of resources. The claim that the natural world is valuable as such and that we can violate the rights of nature is an environmystical claim. One has to wonder how the environmystic comes to this conclusion. Does the Holy Spirit tell us? Do we learn it by communicating with Gaia the Earth Mother through transcendental meditation? How is the right to use force to override over others' value judgments allocated?
As I have said before, I consider myself an anthropocentric environmentalist. I care about environmental problems because I'm an economist and because human happiness is important to me. There is a lot of low-hanging fruit out there: a lot of "green" policies are actually bad for the environment, and a lot of policies that would make housing cheaper will also reduce pollution. I see no reason to grant the premise that water, soil, and air have enforceable rights.
In the last chapter of "The Armchair Economist," Steven Landburg contrasts "the science of economics" with "the religion of ecology." It's worth reading often: http://www.shrubwalkers.com/prose/list/not.html.
Finally, here's the definition of environmysticism I sent to the Urban Dictionary:
1. A body of propositions claiming that nature has enforceable rights independent of human wants and needs.
2. The view that the natural world is valuable for its own sake.
3. The view that one can make definitive, specific, and actionable claims about the costs and benefits of environmental changes independent of the price system.
The essay was an exercise in environmysticism: the author claimed that no matter the costs, recycling is always right.
Really finally, here's the only English site I can find that uses the word: http://alchemistpq.livejournal.com/909.html.
April 17, 2009
Posting in which Bob Higgs discusses his lineage (and its relevance), the nature of political discourse in the era of The Uniter, and his hope for the future, to wit:
We can transcend this disgusting political spectrum, placing ourselves neither on the left nor on the right – nor even in the so-called "independent" zone somewhere between them – but rather rising above the entire line and insisting that red-state savagery and blue-state savagery are equally despicable and intolerable. I daresay that the future of our civilization hinges on whether a sufficient number of us will choose this transcendence.
April 01, 2009
What's in a name? Apparently self-selction, for one
From my Reuters "news of the weird" feed a couple of days ago.
Balls and Bottoms give way to Wangs in name game Thu Mar 26, 2009 11:02am EDT
Hmm. Seems there should be more to it than switching names or emigrating. Like procreating---unless you assume (or know) that the rate of non-procreation is evenly distributed across surnames. That doesnt' sound right, though. Wouldn't a guy named Smellie have more difficulty attracting women and having babies?
March 31, 2009
Quintomom c. 1909
From the March 31, 1909 NYT:
The wife of a farmer named Turner, residing near the Forsythe County [North Carolina] line, has given birth to five healthy children, three boys and two girls. The weights of the children range from four to six pounds. All of them are living and thriving, and the mother is doing nicely. The birth rate in this family heretofore has been normal.No new problems, just our problems.
March 24, 2009
Letting the cat out of the bag c. 1909
A story in the March 24, 1909 NYT reports on a shyster with a convenient last name:
Fritb F. Marx, who was arrested in Hoboken on Monday charged with swindling John Steneck & Sons, bankers, of 95 River Street, Hoboken, out of $44,250 by using forged letters on credit purporting to come from a Bremen bank, at first agreed to let John Steneck & Sons have the $7,000 in cash which was found on him...
So far so good. The story is one of a financial swindler who played a local bank for some cash but got pinched. The last paragraph of the story is rather odd:
Marx, who is only 22 years old, occupied a luxurious apartment at 363 Riverside Drive, employing a butler and several other servants. His young wife, who gave birth to a boy on Sunday, has not been told her husband is in jail. She thinks he is absent on a business trip.Being postpartum, I suppose she wasn't reading the New York Times either.
March 06, 2009
On the good old days c. 1909
The March 6, 1909 NYT reports on an inheritance tax proposed by a New York State Assemblyman. The graduated tax kicks in for estates valued at $500 or more. A proposed 1% tax on estates from $500-$10,000 with the highest rate being 25% on estates of more than $20,000,000 [$488,215,419.50 in 2008 dollars]. In justifying the tax, the Assemblyman, one Mr. Oliver, had this to say, as reported in the story:
Speaking of his bill Mr. Oliver said today that a little more than fifty years ago there were very few millionaires in the country...Sound familiar?
I understand there is an economics literature that claims to show that "wealth envy" is a real issue and that in some "games" people are willing to take less if that means someone else also has less (more here). However, I wonder about that finding.
In a mano-a-mano interaction the findings might play out. However, day to day, my bet is that most people do not think about the wealth or income of those that are far removed from themselves. This would play into Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. For example, I do not know Alex Rodgriguez, although I saw him play for three years in Arlington, Texas, and therefore do not think about him on a daily basis. More importantly, I do not think about his accumulated millions and I certainly do not keep myself up at night worried about how his millions have somehow deprived me of the ability to earn a dollar. If I was the first baseman of the New York Yankees, perhaps my sentiments would be different.
However, I have never understood how the government taking dollars away from someone else is supposed to make me FEEL better about myself. I might get some benefit from the theft in the form of government services, or in the case of Mr. Oliver's reckoning, a reduction in my rent bill. However, it would seem immaterial whether that subsidy is funded by import taxes, excise taxes, or an estate tax. In one sense, it is more "efficient" on the part of the government to take 25% of a $40,000,000 estate than it is to tax a dollar on 10,000,000 different transactions, but efficient theft is not a justification for theft.
Whether income concentration leads to social unrest seems to be an untested hypothesis. It is easy enough to create ex post narratives about how income concentration led to revolutions in the past. However, it is also plausible that egregious political behavior of those with the concentration of wealth led to social unrest.
I have no direct experience, but I wonder how many robbers, pick pockets, and muggers justify their theft with the "good old days" argument. Indeed, it seems that this argument is most often employed by politicians, many of whom might have been "more content" in that distant past than the average person (at least as measured by material goods).
Just another example of how our problems aren't new, they are just ours.
February 25, 2009
On vice c. 1909
The February 25, 1909 NYT has a number of interesting, and sometimes conflicting, stories from around the country concerning vice:
February 23, 2009
As a Bollywood (popular Hindi cinema) fan, I enjoyed seeing – for the first time ever on a prime-time American network television – Bollywood actors (Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan) on stage for Slumdog Millionaire’s Best Motion Picture victory last night. It was a bonus that I was rooting for Slumdog Millionaire.
Even more prominent was Bollywood’s leading film composer, A. R. Rahman, who won an Oscar for best score, sang a nominated song (though singing is not his strong suit), then won a second Oscar for the song. To my ears, the Slumdog Millionaire’s songs are not Rahman’s catchiest work. He has scored something close to 5 films a year (with 4-6 songs per film) for the last 15 years, so he has an amazingly large body of work to try to top. Of the soundtracks I’ve heard, his catchiest songs are for the films Rangeela, Lagaan, and Taal. The first two are worth watching, especially the anti-tax pro-cricket Lagaan.
My favorite CD of Rahman’s music, by the way, is the instrumental covers (with remixes) album Rahmania by London’s brilliant Bollywood Brass Band.
An interesting account of how Rahman’s creative process works (and incidentally of how an Andrew Lloyd Weber - produced stage musical is put together) is available in Salaam: Bombay Dreams, a making-of documentary (with hours of extras) about Rahman’s London smash (but Broadway flop) Bombay Dreams.
February 12, 2009
Customer-made Theatre c. 1909
In February 1909 there is a running theme in the NYT concerning indecency in the theaters. There have been several letters to the editor complaining about the license being taken by directors and actors, with some calling for censorship or at best a return to the "good old days." In the February 12, 1909 NYT there is a story reporting on a speech given by on Mr. Burnham, President of the Association of Theatre Managers:
Every self-respecting manager would like to be an Irving or a Daly," he [Burnham] continued, "but New York is a town of sensations. It runs wild after a reputation. Let but the word be passed that a play is broad or indelicate, and the town runs wild about it, while some play of merit, bright and entertaining, is laid on the shelf.We see the same thing today in movies, music, television, and the Internet, where the "indecency" seems to increase every year (although Gordon Tullock has an interesting take on censorship and how it might have the unintended effect of leading to more of the censored behavior).
The idea that the public drives the theatre might also apply to professional sports where doping is decried on the radio and in the halls of Congress (neither of which directly affect player/manager/team owner wages) even while revealed preference at the events or for telecasts (both of which do directly affect player/manager/team owner wages) show that the public appreciates the outcome of the doping.
February 05, 2009
The Best of the Beatles
A guy with lots of time on his hands has ranked every original Beatles song, from 185 to #1. His commentary on each song is fun, too. The guy knows a lot about the Beatles.
I'll just list my top 15, knowing they could change tomorrow:
15. Ob-la-di Ob-la-da
I'll allow comments for a little while if anyone wants to list or discuss favorites. I should note - to tie it to the theme of this blog - it pained me to leave off the Beatles great anti-tax anthem, the Taxman.
January 30, 2009
I Can't Tell if This is Funny...
...or if I should expect to see it in my lifetime. From The Onion's archives, here's "Child-Safety Experts Call For Restrictions on Childhood Imagination." Here are the last three paragraphs:
"Many of the suggestions are really quite simple, like breaking down cardboard boxes or sewing cushions to couches so they cannot be converted into forts or playhouses," McMillan said. "Blank pieces of paper, which can inspire non-reality-based drawings, should be discarded unless they are used in one of our recommended diagonal folding and unfolding activities. And all loose sticks left lying in the yard should be carefully labeled 'Not a Sword.'"
Unfortunately, removing everything from a child's field of view that could stimulate his active young mind is extremely time-consuming, and infeasible as a long-term solution, McMillan acknowledges. "To truly protect your children, you must go to great lengths to completely eliminate their curiosity, crush their spirit of amazement, and eradicate their childlike glee. Watch for the danger signs: faraway expressions, giggle fits, and a general air of carefree contentment."
Added McMillan: "Remember, if you see a single sparkle of excitement in their eyes, you haven't done enough."
January 28, 2009
An ode to C.Q.D. c. 1909
On January 23, 1909 the SS Florida collided with the RMS Republic off the island of Nantucket (I missed the original story). There was considerable response by other ships in the area after the call "C.Q.D." went out over the wireless. This collision was the first time the call had been used after it was standardized in February 1904 (which sounds like a long time to me).
Here's a poem commemorating the "first responders" in this accident printed in the Jan. 28, 1909 NYT:
January 13, 2009
On the paparazzi c. 1909
We like to think that the paparazzi today is something new but it is really more of an evolution over time. For instance, the Jan. 13, 1909 NYT reports on the marriage of one John J. Evers. That name probably doesn't evoke a lot of interest from the average person. Perhaps the name is more recognizable after a hint from the baseball refrain "Tinkers to Evers to Chance"?
John Evers, the famous Cubs second basemen got married on January 12, 1909 and merited a total of 17 lines of text in the NYT. Here is the entirety of the story:
John J. Evers, the second baseman of the Chicago Cubs, this afternoon was married to Miss Helen Fitzgibbons, one of Troy's most popular young women. The ceremony was performed at St. Joseph's church by the Rev. Father Leo O'Haire, in the presence of relatives. The pride was attended by Miss Ellen C. Evers, a sister of the groom. Edward Wansbro of Albany, a cousin of the groom, was the best man. The second baseman's gift to his bride was a pair of diamond earrings. He gave the bridesmaid a diamond brooch and the best man a diamond stickpin.Granted, this is a lot more information than was ever printed about my wedding, but I am not nor ever will be a famous second baseman.
An interesting question is why we have so much more paparazzi today than we did a century ago. Clearly there are influences on both the supply and the demand side. On the supply side there are two distinct influences: first the technology to distribute information about Britney and Paris is much more developed today than a century ago. Thus the costs of providing information about the rich and famous has declined. Ceteris paribus, we would expect a lower cost of production to lead to more coverage.
However, this is not guaranteed if those who are the subject of paparazzi focus truly wanted the paparazzi to go away. The rich and famous could lobby for legislation that would restrict the paparazzi snooping around their private lives, or they could continually sue individual paparazzi or their sponsors to drive up the cost of providing coverage of private lives. The fact that there are so few law suits in this area (regardless of the true legal standing of the claim), suggests to me that a) those who are the focus of paparazzi are resigned to their fate or b) are not that torn up about it. It seems, on the surface at least, that those subjected to paparazzi treatment often seek out the "coverage" in an attempt to improve their marketability, improve their image, or simply to "have a gas" at being in the magazines in the grocery store.
There are enough counter-factuals that suggest that famous people can keep a low(er) profile if they wish - I don't hear much about the daily goings-on of Clint Eastwood. Admittedly there seem to be times when famous people wish to keep a low profile and this desire is seemingly ignored, such as the case of Princess Diana. However, cases such as Princess Diana seem to be relatively rare. On the contrary, it seems the paparazzi provide a middle-man service to those members of the rich and famous who want to have some portions of their private lives exposed to their "fans." In return, the rich and famous pay for this service by suffering the "snooping." Perhaps the endogenously determined "price" between the paparazzi and the rich and famous leads to a natural limit for how far the paparazzi can go. If true, this would partially explain why the Diana-type scenario seems relatively rare.
On the demand side, there are a lot more people in this country who seem to have an insatiable appetite for other people's business. This is clearly not unique to the modern era, but the number of people and their willingness and ability to pay for information about where [insert name here] had a latte seems different than a century ago. Perhaps this is a function of affluence and increased leisure time which is filled with liviing vicariously through Tom Cruise rather than through Cousin Melba.
Another thought experiment is whether there is feedback between all-star salaries of athletes and actors and the interest people have in their daily lives. The feedback would arise if some/enough individuals feel a sense of "ownership" of their favorite athlete or actor, perhaps because they directly contribute to the athlete's/actor's high salary by attending games or movies. As interest in the private actions of the actor/athlete increases, this could cause an increase peoples' interest in the public/professional actions (such as games or movies) thereby increasing the salary of the athlete/actor.
While some condemn the paparazzi for invading the privacy of individuals, in many cases it is less clear whether paparazzi coverage is truly an "invasion." Both supply and demand-side effects seem to encourage more revelations of what might have been considered private or uninteresting behavior in the past.
January 10, 2009
The Musing Philosopher c. 1909
From the Jan 10, 1909 NYT:
On Mere Man c. 1909
From the January 10, 1909 NYT:
January 08, 2009
On progress c. 1909
The January 8, 1909 NYT has the following poem:
A CENTURY OF PROGRESS
It would seem that a new stanza should be added. Suggestions taken.
December 27, 2008
Of faith, aid, and development
And the greatest of these is ... ? Interesting essay:
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
December 16, 2008
Great Rant: I hate kids
November 13, 2008
President-elect Obama provided a short essay for "Teaching Tolerance," a website maintained by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Too bad that not all of his followers got the memo. This from the Chicago Tribune:
Catherine Vogt, 14, is an Illinois 8th grader, the daughter of a liberal mom and a conservative dad. She wanted to conduct an experiment in political tolerance and diversity of opinion at her school in the liberal suburb of Oak Park.
October 29, 2008
Bizarre medical advice c. 1908
The Oct. 29, 1908 NYT has two stories which deal with questionable medical conclusions:
Dr. L.E. Landrone...commended the modern corset. In an address before the members of the Women's Literary Club he declared that the stays were good for the reason that the torso muscles have been weakened for centuries through the generous support of the corset until now the average female form could not stand without its help...Exactly 42 fluids?
Another story is even more shocking:
ADVISES SMOKING FOR WOMEN
October 16, 2008
Virginia Postrel on Glamour
Here's a very interesting TED Talk in which Virginia Postrel talks about glamour. And here's one of my favorite books for a penny plus shipping.
October 13, 2008
On PDA c. 1908
From the Oct. 13, 1908 NYT:
Waterbury, Conn. - Dennis Burns of Bridgeport and his wife made themselves objectionable on a trolley car running from Bridgeport to Waterbury last night. Because the man insisted on hugging and kissing the woman dramatically to the disgust of the passengers he was stopped at Naugatuck and arrested under an old blue law which says a man may not kiss even his wife in such a public and ostentatious manner.
October 06, 2008
A limit to markets in everything? c. 1908
From the October 6, 1908 NYT:
A boy baby, six months old, will be raffled off at an Alton theatre Saturday evening. Commencing with this evening's performance a ticket will be issued to those in the audience, allowing one chance for the baby. No tickets will be issued to [African Americans] and bachelors.This sounds like a hoax - how can a random lottery, albeit among a population that self-selects into seeing an event at the theatre, assure a "good home" for a child?
This sounds like a form of viral advertising to get people to attend the theater, as I find it difficult to believe that such a raffle would be allowed to happen, even in 1908 United States.
October 04, 2008
The Gentle Cynic c. 1908
From the Oct. 4, 1908 NYT:
I might tweak the learning quip to read "A little learning is a dangerous thing, especially if it's about economics."
September 12, 2008
Japan Fun Fact #2
Searching in Tokyo's mammoth Tower Records for Japanese "eleki" ('60s instrumental rock n' roll) and contemporary Japanese surf bands, I discovered that CDs were organized alphabetically by band name, as usual, but alphabetically according to the Japanese alphabet. Bands whose names are in English beginning with R (e.g. the Royal Fingers) were shelved together bands whose names are in English begin with L. Apparently the same Japanese character is used for both R and L. That may explain the stereotypical conflation of the two sounds in English spoken by native Japanese speakers. (If I'm way off on this, please let me know.)
September 02, 2008
Creative Destruction: this is a really neat idea, but...
...if you're the kind of person who is likely to find yourself needing a hammer to open a bottle of wine, should you really be buying expensive wine? Steve Levitt offers evidence that could help us answer a better question: should you be drinking expensive wine at all?
Nonetheless, I find the idea inspiring. I'm the last person you would want to ask about wine, but instead of all the convoluted advice that you would get from an outlet like Wine Spectator or Bon Apetit, I propose the following parsimonious formula for willingness-to-pay for wine. The formula relies on proxy variables that should be highly correlated with individual type:
Willingness to Pay = f(time it takes to find your hammer, time it takes to find your corkscrew)
WTP is an increasing function of the amount of time it takes you to find your hammer and a decreasing function of the amount of time it takes you to find your corkscrew. If you could find your corkscrew blindfolded but aren't sure where to find a hammer (or aren't sure you even own one), you're probably a good candidate for expensive wine. If you know exactly where your hammer is but aren't sure where your corkscrew is (or if you even own one), you're probably better off saving your money. In either case, according to the research cited by Levitt, most of us who don't have extensive training probably can't distinguish between high- and low-quality wine.
If you're me, the formula breaks down because while I know where to find our hammers and while I think I know where our corkscrew is, I'm more or less incompetent with both. Therefore, I stick with coffee.
August 22, 2008
On National Anthems c. 1908
As of 1908, the United States didn't have a national anthem? This seems to be the case, given the discussion in the NYT during the Summer of 1908. Throughout that summer there were a number of candidates offered, but the odds favorite seemed to be the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The August 22, 1908 NYT has this opinion:
All recognized critics agree, I believe, in calling the "Battle Hymn" one of the few great poetical productions of America. The lyrical structure of the piece is simple, yet superb. It is a truly passionate appeal. I fear, however, that the unpleasant memories it brings up in the South will prove too strong an objection to overcome.It is somewhat ironic that, 100 years later, many universities in the South play the Battle Hymn during football games. Indeed, my two-time alma mater, and pre-season #1 ranked, University of Georgia's primary fight song is the
August 21, 2008
Music Review: Eve's Burden
A California band called Eve's Burden was kind enough to send me a digital press kit (I'm not sure why; perhaps somehow they saw some of my music posts). I felt obliged to honor their troubles and give a listen to the tracks that were available their website (www.evesburden.com). After a first listen, the songs are a little nondescript and the production quality seems a tad iffy on some tracks. "The Black Letter" has a good melody but I'm not really taken with the chorus. Their song "Love Keeps Me Hangin On" turns me off by rhyming "standing in the rain" with "tears of pain" immediately. One of my artistic pet peeves has been over-use of the cliched rain/pain coupling, but this is hardly unique to Eve's Burden--many bands I like do it a lot. It seems like space filler when the lyricist can't think of anything else to say. "Like A Wildcat" is rap-heavy, but Rage Against the Machine does it better. "The dogs are licking my face/I eat the leftover food from behind the pizza place" (followed by a second use of "face" as a rhyme) in "Peace to a Fool" doesn't really do much for me in a song that takes itself seriously. I'm pretty easy to please and a total skinflint, so the questions I would ask are as follows: is it worth a listen? Sure. Would I pay for it? No. But don't take my word for it. You can check them out at www.evesburden.com.
"I walk these streets, a loaded six string on my back
It's not nearly as good a question as the ones Steve Horwitz posted on The Austrian Economists a few days ago, but Josh et al. might find your answers useful for the "Abba to Zeppelin, Led" music site.
August 20, 2008
The t-shirt of gold standards
Celebrate "the original currency of kings". (A riff on the Original Kings of Comedy?) Available here.
HT: Peter Klein
August 17, 2008
Chez Schumpeter: Creative Destruction in the Kitchen
In the last couple of years I have developed an interest in food as a metaphor for economic and social progress. I don't have much to add to what Tyler Cowen and others have already written on the subject, but I can offer some personal case studies. Over the next few weeks, I'll be experimenting with leftovers and some of the provisions I bought during a Sam's Club buying spree a few months ago. I claim no expertise, particularly since I don't have any culinary training, but if these ideas can be improved on by abler hands I would be happy to hear about it. Experiment #1, which involves leftover noodle soup from Pho Saigon and barbecue from Germantown Commissary, is discussed below the fold (cross-posted at www.blog.mises.org/blog).
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Pho Saigon is a Vietnamese restaurant near our house that offers one of the best quality-per-dollar ratios we've come across. A large bowl of noodle soup is $6.49. The first time we ate there, we each got two meals each just from the leftovers. Some friends visited from Saint Louis yesterday, so a couple of us went to Pho Saigon to get take-out. Yesterday afternoon, some friends from our Sunday School class dropped off barbecue from Germantown Commissary for our dinner.*
This afternoon I decided to see how the barbecue would go with the leftover soup. Pork is, after all, one of the soup options at Pho Saigon, so I thought that perhaps the flavor of the soup and the flavor of the smoked pork would complement one another. I mixed together broth, noodles, and pulled pork and microwaved the concoction on high for a few minutes. I found that they went extremely well together, and I will probably try similar experiments with Ramen noodles after our leftovers run out. As I expected, adding barbecue sauce to part of the mixture decreased rather than increased the quality. Given that hoisin sauce, peanut sauce, and chili sauce improve a noodle bowl in my humble opinion, I'm not sure exactly what it is about spicy barbecue sauce that makes it unsuitable for inclusion in a noodle bowl.
Contrast the experimental nature of the market process to the centralized nature of economic (or cultural) planning, licensing, and regulation. Planners could argue for eons about whether pho noodles and pulled pork are really two great tastes that taste great together, but we can't know for certain unless someone has the freedom to try it. In her book "The Future and Its Enemies," Virginia Postrel writes about how Vidal Sassoon defied hairstyling conventions and was hounded by regulators and bureaucrats because of certification problems. This raises a question: if we had a government boards of culinary standards the way we have boards of cosmetology, would we get innovations like barbecue nachos with the speed that we do? I'm inclined to think not.
*People from our Sunday School class have brought us a few meals to help smooth out our baby-induced lifestyle inversion. It's been great: the food has been very good and very plentiful. I'll have more to say on social capital and risk-sharing later.
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August 09, 2008
George Orwell, blogger
George Orwell's diaries begin on August 9, 1938 -- so The Orwell Trust had the idea to post the entries online, one day at a time, exactly 70 years after they were written. You can read the first entry (and all subsequent ones, for that matter) here.
July 31, 2008
Here is a Van Gogh you haven't seen before
The deal is, scientists in Amsterdam have produced a "color X-ray" of Van Gogh's "Patch of grass" (1887) and found an earlier painting that the artist rejected. From the Reuters story:
"It is estimated that one third of Vincent van Gogh's early paintings have been painted on top of existing ones. Van Gogh literally recycled his own canvasses," scientist Joris Dik of the Delft University of Technology said.
Here is greater detail, including speculation that the rejected painting is tied to "The Potato Eaters."
Question: Why would Van Gogh "recycle"? Was canvas relatively expensive? Or was it driven by the artist's preferences? In Tyler Cowen's break out book, In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998), he writes on point (pp. 19-20):
Falling prices for materials have made the arts affordable to millions of enthusiasts and would-be professionals. In previous eras, even paper was costly, limiting the development of both writing and drawing skills to relatively well-off families. Vincent Van Gogh, an ascetic loner who ignored public taste, could not have managed his very poor lifestyle at an earlier time in history. His nonconformism was possible because technological progress had lowered the costs of paints and canvas and enabled him to persist as an artist.
Cowen's over arching theme is that the arts generally benefit from technological progress. French Impressionism, no less, would not have been possible without the invention of small lead tubes that allowed painters to take their studios outdoors, where the effects of different lighting were studied. But none of this directly answers why Van Gogh would recycle, much less why one-third of his canvases.
If the canvas isn’t right, Nozkowski simply reworks it. “I don’t like tinkering. Whenever I go back to a painting, I try to open up the entire surface—you know, run a wash of color over it, or I’ll scrape it down, or I’ll rub it off with a rag—so that everything is back in play,” he says. “They can change pretty radically. I’ve always felt that probably the good stuff will keep coming back.” (To avoid that “Oh s---” sinking feeling that can arise from erasing something good, Nozkowski keeps paper handy to quickly re-create images worth saving before they fade from memory.) Traces of what came before are often left visible, like haunting memories or jumbled-up dreams. “It’s like character in somebody’s face,” Nozkowski says.... “I believe that what I’m doing is actually very close to our normal way of looking at and thinking about the world,” Nozkowski says before getting up to stir the roasted red pepper and white bean soup he’s cooked up for lunch. “We slowly build up a whole web of associations and meanings.”
July 29, 2008
Review of Richard Land, The Divided States of America
I've written a rough draft of a review of Richard Land's interesting The Divided States of America? What Liberals AND Conservatives are Missing in the God-and-Country Shouting Match. Comments welcome.
July 28, 2008
Bush or Batman?
An interviewer challenges folks in the street: did the following anti-evildoer quote come from George W. Bush or from the 1960s TV version of Batman? Great fun, and harder than you might think!
July 25, 2008
On inventions c. 1908
Here's are the first and last paragraphs from an article in the New Scientist from May 2005:
A gun that spits out ball bearings after spinning them to extreme speeds is being developed by a US inventor. The novel design has already caught the imagination of some defence industry experts.
But Abrahams finds the idea outlandish. "Anything that seems so far beyond anything else is worth a moment's thought before you completely gulp it down," he told New Scientist. "It is way out on the side of the scale that deals with high levels of imagination."
All of this sounds intriguing until you read the July 25, 1908 NYT:
The science of war will be revolutionized and standing armies vastly reduced if a rapid-firing gun invented by William Patten of 270 West 136th Street can duplicate in the field the work of a ten-inch model which Mr. Patten has built and is demonstrating.
July 17, 2008
Colbert Report Online
July 14, 2008
Mrs. Carden and I saw Wall-E with my in-laws on Friday night. My take: very cute, visually spectacular, economically illiterate. Mike Hammock, who really liked it, offers a detailed discussion here. Writing for the Mises Institute, Gennady Stolyarov II is much less kind. The trailer for The Clone Wars was worth the price of admission.
A few questions and major, major spoilers are below the fold. Do not proceed unless you have already seen the movie or at least want to know how it ends.
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Let's run for just a second with Gennady Stolyarov's thesis that Wall-E is a critique of modernity. At the end of the movie, they show the captain demonstrating the wonders of farming (I warned you!!!). Laying aside for a second the fact that most of the people would be unable to walk if they have spent their entire lives in hovering chairs, I wonder whether there wouldn't be a massive return to the Axiom after it was discovered that farming is really, really hard. My thought during the closing credits was "90% of the population dies within a year," but they still have at their disposal a gigantic spaceship that apparently has the technology to provide them with whatever they want, whenever they want it. As the people are faced with a game of choose-your-own-dystopia, I wonder which one emerges: the anti-modern agrarian dystopia in which everybody dies, or the hyper-modern corporate dystopia in which people revert to their over-stimulated blobbery? Assuming that some go anti-modern and others go hyper-modern, will there be conflict between the two civilizations? Will these questions be answered in a sequel? The mind boggles.
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What I've Been Reading Lately*
1. Bill Hybels, Holy Discontent. We were in Birmingham over the weekend, and I picked this up yesterday at the bookstore at Gardendale's First Baptist Church. It was a very interesting book; my review (submitted to The Christian Century) is here.
2. My email, which included a notice that my paper "Sound and Fury: Rhetoric and Rebound After Katrina" has been accepted by the Journal of Business Valuation and Economic Loss Analysis.
July 08, 2008
Poor Yorick: Rockin' the Late-90s Tuscaloosa Scene
My friend S. Taylor Williams has an online archive of songs by her defunct-but-not-forgotten band Poor Yorick. A steal at the price of $0.00.
July 04, 2008
Celebrating Independence Day
We're spending the night in Bristol, VA on our way back to Memphis from Bryn Mawr. On our way down, we stopped at Bob's Shabu-Shabu in Rockville, MD for an excellent lunch with Tara Sinclair. There seems to be something appropriate about going to a restaurant with a multi-lingual, multi-cultural menu as part of our celebration of one of history's greatest experiments in liberty.
July 03, 2008
Exercising outside the box
The latest study, from researchers at Liverpool John Moores University, included six boys and five girls between the ages of 13 and 15. The children were fitted with a calorie-counting monitoring device while they played games on the Xbox 360 and the Wii. The kids burned up to 66 percent more calories playing the Wii than the Xbox, the researchers found. That translates to about 179 calories burned an hour playing Wii tennis compared to 107 calories on the Xbox. At rest, a child expends about 70 calories.
July 02, 2008
Pope Benedict's shoes: Not knock-offs
The Devil may wear Prada — but the Pope does not, according to the Vatican.
Full story here.
June 28, 2008
The Greenwood Lake Philosopher c. 1908
From the June 28, 1908 NYT:
June 23, 2008
Pour a little out for George Carlin, who died of heart failure Sunday. The link is to a long article carried by Reuters:
Known for his edgy, provocative material developed over 50 years, the bald, bearded Carlin achieved status as an anti-Establishment icon in the 1970s with stand-up bits full of drug references and a routine called "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television." A regulatory battle over a radio broadcast of the routine ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ordinarily I probably wouldn't blog this, but I recently invoked Carlin in a post on innovation and the environment that I titled after one of his lines, "The Earth...plus plastic." The Earth will miss you, George.... Or not.
June 17, 2008
South Park Online
I just gave a "Brain Candy" talk to students at the Rhodes summer Writing Institute on an economics lesson from the Simpsons episode in which Homer tries to gain weight so he can qualify for disability. At the end, I mentioned the fact that all South Park episodes are now available online, at no charge, with very short commercial breaks during the episodes.
The Division of Labor is Limited by the Extent of Tolerance
"In general, I think product differentiation expressive of differing values is a very good thing for a free, pluralistic society... If we can have 20 different brands of toothpaste, why not a few different conceptions of how pharmacies ought to operate?"
That's Loren Lomasky as quoted in a Washington Post article on the marketization of conservative Christian beliefs through drug stores that don't sell contraceptives and such. Indeed, as the article describes, an abundance of choice is apparently emerging in the marketplace.
Some pro-life pharmacies are identical to typical drugstores except that they do not stock some or all forms of contraception. Others also refuse to sell tobacco, rolling papers or pornography. Many offer "alternative" products, including individually compounded prescription drugs, as well as vitamins and homeopathic and herbal remedies.
Would that it were as simple as critics valuing a plurality of choice. One shrill critic:
"I'm very, very troubled by this," said Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center, a Washington advocacy group. "Contraception is essential for women's health. A pharmacy like this is walling off an essential part of health care. That could endanger women's health.". Another outburst: "We're talking about creating a separate universe of pharmacies that puts women at a disadvantage." And another: "Why do you care about the sexual health of men but not women?" asked Anita L. Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "If he gets his Viagra, why can't she get her contraception?"
Several states have passed or are considering legislation.
June 12, 2008
The Depravity of Modernity: Rocking Out to Pachelbel
With every passing day I become more convinced that we are in a cultural golden age: more artistic output of higher quality is available to more people at lower prices than ever before. I'm particularly interested in the processes by which knowledge and cultural forms are re-combined to create new cultural output. A friend showed me this video of someone giving a virtuoso performance of Pachelbel's Canon on electric guitar; it has close to 45 million Youtube views. So I ask: is it art? Comments are open.
June 07, 2008
Musings of the Gentle Cynic c. 1908
The June 7, 1908 NYT has the following quips:
and these from the "Dyspeptic Philosopher":
Irony: Internet Shopping
A few minutes ago I clicked an ad (?!) at www.adbusters.com for a really cool shirt, but the $34 price tag was way too much for me. The other shirt in the Adbusters shop was only $29, but it wasn't nearly as clever. By comparison, here's the Bureaucrash shirt store, with better selection, prices that are about half of what Adbusters is asking, and more sizes (I prefer XXL; Adbusters only goes up to XL). I might need to pick up something to complement one of my favorite shirts. If I actually make a few bucks with the futures market trading I mentioned yesterday, I might have to get this. I wonder what Ayn Rand would say?
May 30, 2008
On immigrants c. 1908
Just to prove that there are no "new problems" only "our problems" the May 30, 1908, NYT has a letter to the editor concerning Italian immigrants:
Italians come here to better the condition. They come here in response to demand for their labor. As long as these demands are made they will continue to come, and no missionary work in the world can stop them. Admitting this fact, it is desirable that they should become American in thought and aspiration in the shortest time possible. This can only be done by having them learn about American life and institutions through a knowledge of the English language. The danger Italians run here through the demonstration of the "Black Hand," as pointed out by "An American" [a previous letter writer], would therefore necessarily end, for of course no Americanized Italian would think of paying blackmail to a criminal countryman.
On Memorial Day c. 1908
Memorial Day 1908 was celebrated on Saturday May 30 (I suppose the labor movement had not yet lobbied for the National holiday). An editorial in the May 30, 1908 NYT shows two things: a) for statists, the 100 years war continues (indeed, with a few victories), and b) how far the editorial page of the New York Times has moved in the past 100 years:
Wow!! If there were more editorials like this, I might actually read contemporaneous newspapers. It is a shame that both major parties seem content going down the road many seem to have found troubling 100 years ago.
Cross-posted at Heavy Lifting
May 23, 2008
Verbing Weirds Language*
Regarding my earlier post about "thinkiness," co-blogger Bob sent me an email about one of Hayek's favorite words, "scientistic," which is not in the Urban Dictionary. The Urban Dictionary is a slang dictionary that strikes me as an opportunity for armchair lexicographers to have their voice. I checked and "scientistic" does have definitions in the unabridged Merriam-Webster dictionary, www.dictionary.com, and the OED.
For your weekend enjoyment, here's a fascinating TED talk by lexicographer Erin McKean entitled "Redefining the Dictionary."
May 22, 2008
Thinkiness: Adding to the Spontaneous Order
A few weeks ago I started using the term "thinkiness." In academia, one might say that something is very "thinky" if it is heavy on big ideas but light on precision. It's a quality I'm trying to expunge from my own work. I googled it this morning to see if there was a commonly accepted definition. Google helps us find out that there is indeed nothing new under the sun: I got 1100 hits, but couldn't find a clear definition after scanning a few entries. There was no entry at urbandictionary.com, so I proposed the following, which is under review by their editors:
cf. truthiness [NB: "truthiness" was Merriam-Webster's 2006 Word of the Year]
2. The ideas here are half-baked; cut down on the thinkiness and try to increase the substance.
etymology: 1100 hits in a Google search conducted on May 22, 2008, no immediate definition proposed.
May 14, 2008
Four lines c. 1908
The May 14, 1908 NYT has a four line "story" that would today generate hundreds of pages of print, hundreds if not thousands of hours of air time, and perhaps a march of several thousand in Washington:
The Senate to-day passed without amendment the House bill restoring the motto "In God We Trust" on coins of the United States.
May 11, 2008
Value of time c. 1908
From the May 11, 1908 NYT:
One night in jail was enough for Edwald Siebert. Rather than pay a fine of $10 and costs, assessed on a charge of being disorderly, Siebert, who is 60 years old and reputed to be worth $60,000, declared he would work it out in the county workhouse.$10 in 1908 was approximately $226 in 2006 dollars. It seems that Mr. Siebert had a mistaken impression of the net costs of jail. However, given that his information set had changed, particularly that the value of time behind bars was considerably less than the value of time not behind bars, at least Mr. Siebert had a buy-out option (for $418 2006 dollars).
May 06, 2008
1968: The revolution that wasn't
City Journal has a retrospective of of the 1968 student protests, most notably the May 1968 Paris unrest. Six accomplished contributors talk about the political, sexual, journalistic, and other cultural inheritances of the 60's. I don't pretend to know a lot about those days; I'm barely a sixty-niner myself (born with 33 days left in the decade). But these six essays leave me with the impression that the events of 40 years ago had an influence that was narrow and misdirected. See below the fold for my top three excerpts. The whole thing is worth a read. Hat tip, Emilio Pacheco.
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The most enjoyable essay, by Christopher Hitchens, is its best when he poignantly describes the revolutionary contradictions he witnessed in 1968 Cuba. But there is much more to the entry by Hitchens. In summary:
Looking back on that year of color and rage and excitement and (yes) hope, I can now see well enough to separate the different kinds of revolutionary with whom I became acquainted. Some of one kind went on to become victorious rulers, either of nascent dictatorships in Vietnam and Angola or of nascent democracies in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and South Africa. Some of a second kind would invert the hieroglyph “68” on the odometer and become the triumphant figures of the anti-Communist revolution of ’89. (For this particular irony, see Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play Rock and Roll.) And some of another kind wound up either dead or in prison, having tried to launch movements of “armed struggle” from Northern Ireland to West Germany. The first two evolved a sort of social-democratic modus vivendi that has some battle honors to its credit; the third lot mutated into the fans of Saddam Hussein and the apologists for al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood—in other words, into the most reactionary force on the planet. There are also soixante-huitards whose adventures are less well known and far from over. I have met them among the tiny minority, from Bosnia to Zimbabwe to Iraq, who have struggled to evolve a consistent antitotalitarian politics and to marry it to a thoroughgoing internationalism. One day, perhaps, their less glamorous story will also be told. The owl of Minerva, as Hegel put it, takes wing at dusk. Only at the close of an epoch can one begin to evaluate it.
The entry by Stefan Kanfer, who lived across the street from Columbia University at that time, shows that the main impact of those student protests, like that of recent anti-globalization protestors, may have been a lot of destroyed property:
My memories of the Columbia student uprising are somewhat different: I think of April and May 1968 as the Spring of Ralph. I was then Time’s cinema critic. My family and I lived at 520 West 114th Street, just across from Columbia’s Butler Library. The campus was our backyard. Every day, my six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son wandered around the thick grass and admired the lush floral arrangements designed by Mrs. Grayson Kirk, wife of the university president. It was like living in a botanical showcase. ...
Kay S. Hymowitz writes of the shamefully dashed hopes of a feminist movement gone awry.
This could have been a promising moment. Women might have taken stock of how the sexual revolution had ignored female preferences—love, fidelity, male solicitude—in favor of self-centered, male-friendly amusement. Instead, they translated the inescapable difference between the sexes into political and pop-scientific grievance. The reason that women were unhappy with the new order was not that low-commitment sex was an easier game for men; it was that men were intent on denying women’s sexuality. The patriarchy had promoted “the myth of the vaginal orgasm,” these younger feminists explained. Men got what they wanted, but all women got were those lousy faked orgasms.
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May 01, 2008
Spring Haiku - Bowling Green State U version
Sun- and keg-filled yards
April 28, 2008
Business as per Hollywood
In truth, movie plots operate according to a self-contained value system that has only an occasional relationship with the real. In movie-think, media figures, at least lately, tend to be much worse than they really are. (One hopes.) Think of Meryl Streep as the nightmare magazine editor in “The Devil Wears Prada,” or Katie Holmes as the skunky reporter in “Thank You for Smoking.”
April 27, 2008
Greed is Effective
Joseph Stalin is said to have screened the 1940 movie "The Grapes of Wrath" in the Soviet Union to showcase the depredations of life under capitalism. Russian audiences watched the final scenes of the Okies' westward trek aboard overladen, broken-down jalopies -- and marveled that in the United States, even poor people had cars. "Dallas" functioned similarly.
April 25, 2008
Dog mangles child c. 1908
The dog attack, shark attack, mountain lion attack, or, in general, the "fill in the blank" attack story is a prime example of how the media can generate a crisis even in the face of overall declines in such attacks. The lowly pit bull has been through a rocky patch for the past ten to fifteen years, although I understand that there is some inherent danger with those and other particular breeds.
The old adage "if it bleeds, it leads" is a common criticism of today's media, but the adage simply represents the form of competition in which local news outlets, especially, find themselves engaged. My guess is that the two, three, or four local news outlets find themselves in a prisoner's dilemma where all of them run with the "worst" of local incidents because the perceived (or actual) benefit of leading with the "good news" isn't as great.
Nevertheless, the "dog bites child" story is evidently not new (go figure), as the April 25, 1908 NYT reports:
ELIZABETH, N.J. - While playing with a pet bulldog near her home, 310 Morris Avenue, here to-night, Bessie Berglund, 8 years old, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gustave Berglund, was bitten so severely on the right thigh that she will probably have to have her leg amputated to save her life. It was necessary for Frank Scheer, a neighbor, to shoot the dog before he would release his grip.The story itself is sad, but on brief reflection I wonder how many law suits derived from this incident in 1908 relative the number that would accompany a similar incident today.
April 11, 2008
Visions of Paradise
Paul Koontz goes to North Korea:
April 09, 2008
Flawed experimental design c. 1908
From the April 9, 1908 NYT (if true):
ST. PAUL, Minn - Knute Ohnstead died here to-day from starvation, after an attempt to fast for forty days in order to demonstrate his theory that the mind controls the body and that the mind is mightier than matter.
April 03, 2008
Fans of CBS' "Moonlight" are so passionate about the vampire drama that they're willing to sacrifice their own blood to keep the series on the air.
I hope they succeed--my sister works on the show. Source.
March 11, 2008
Happy 400th to John Milton
By email from Emilio Pacheco, COO of Liberty Fund:
John Milton born in 1608 is celebrated in two exhibitions, at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, and the University of Cambridge Library. The links below will take you to the websites for these exhibitions.
The latter has a series of worthwhile yet breezy essays on Milton's influences. The little section on Milton's and today's pop culture is interesting. I found a nice connection to one of my favorite novels and novelists:
Several modern novelists have also drawn a lot of inspiration from Milton's work. Pullman aside, the poet has also deeply inspired the American novelist Paul Auster, whose postmodern New York Trilogy (1985-86), picks up several Miltonic themes including the nature of Paradise and the relationship between words and things (both works are haunted by the idea of a perfect language).
I first read Paradise Lost in its entirety for a Liberty Fund conference. A conference on Milton and Auster would be a good one. Hmmmm....
March 08, 2008
The Greenwood Lake Philosopher c. 1908
From the March 8, 1908 NYT:
March 05, 2008
School disasters c. 1908
On March 4, 1908 in Cleveland, Ohio, a fire at Lake View school in Collinwood killed 165 children and 2 teachers (one died while guiding some children to fire escapes). The entire student population was 310 children, thus more than half died in the fire.
The story unfolds much like we have come to expect. The fire started in the basement from an unknown source (perhaps arson), the fire gong was sounded but everyone acted as if it were only a drill. Thus, only those on the first of three floors were able to get out of the building in time. It is claimed that the doors opened inward and therefore the press of panicked students from the upper floors precluded opening the doors.
All drills had used the front door as the primary exit, but the front door was inaccessible by the time the kids from the upper floors reached the first floor. This, in turn, made progress to the back door of the school somewhat chaotic. Then, it turns out the rear door was locked. Those children who made it to the bottom of the stairs tried to return to the upper floors but were met with more students coming down the stairs. The article points out "[w]hat happened at the foot of that first flight of stairs will never be knwn...[a]fter the flames had died away, however, a huge heap of little bodies, burned by the fire and trampled into things of horror, told the tale."
The paper provides a list of those children who had been identified. In total, they listed 120 of which 100 had ages reported. Here are the descriptive statistics and a histogram:
Variable | Obs Mean Std. Dev. Min Max -------------+-------------------------------------------------------- age | 100 9.97 2.341781 6 15
Thank goodness these type of events are incredibly rare.
Wikipedia Entry (with pictures) here: The Wikipedia entry reports that the doors didn't open inward. The original NYT article suggests that the building was designed with doors that opened outward but that it was not clear how the doors had been installed.
February 28, 2008
Admittedly, I usually get creeped out most of the time while listening to NPR's Morning Edition. But today was especially creepifying. The headline on the website sounds great: "Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control." Unfortunately, the actual story is about stifling creativity:
In a normal preschool, playing bookstore would be a pretty casual affair. They would just pick up some books, set the shiny toy cash register on the table by the blackboard, and get down to business.
But this isn't a normal school. It's based on the Tools of the Mind program. In other words, it's a school where almost every moment of the day is devoted in some way to teaching the kids — mostly low-income children who live in the poor surrounding community — how to regulate their behavior and emotions.
So before Emmy and Zee even think about picking up a toy, they sit down with their teacher at a small classroom table and fill out some paperwork.
Basically, the kids write out a plan of what and how they are going to play. I know, the "plan" part seems to diminish the "play" part. Am I wrong to be creeped out by the idea that kids may feel obligated to get permission or seek assurance from an authority figure before they can satisfactorily play?
"Regulating behavior." "Play plans." I know Hayek is dead, but he did win a Nobel. I guess the idea of unregulated socities resulting in spontaneous order is passe.
February 27, 2008
The value of a concscience c. 1908
From the Feb. 27, 1908 NYT:
A $12,000 pearl and diamond necklace was reported to have been lost this afternoon in Poinciana Garden, and a $500 reward was this evening offered for its return to "Frank of New York."I wonder how that worked out. Perhaps it was not advisable to advertise the value of the necklace along with the substantially lower reward.
The alias might have been an attempt to avoid a black-mail situation, but revealing the value of the necklace [about $270,000 in 2006 dollars] would seem to have invited whoever has the necklace to ask for a higher reward or to fence the item at a value between $12,000 and $500.
February 26, 2008
As they say...
This is nothing new but interesting, I hope. I've recently been reading different sorts of parables. I'm struck by the economics and policy implications in many of them.
Some of my favorites:
Tyler Cowen's favorite Haitian proverbs offer similar implications.
Menken speaks to Art's post below about systematic voter beliefs.
A good Chinese proverb for the classroom:
A couple of Mexican proverbs I managed to retain,
The Bartleby Dictionary of Cultural Literacy has a nice introduction in its entry on Proverbs:
Well, back to work. As they say, it's best to make hay while the sun shines.
Do you have some favorites, comments open.
February 21, 2008
On Prohibition c. 1908
An article concerning the march of prohibition across the South from the Feb. 21, 1908 NYT includes the following poem:
Lay the jest about the julep in the camphor ball at last,
February 09, 2008
Musings c. 1908
From the Feb. 9, 1908 NYT:
February 07, 2008
Why Fashion? Paris gets clothed.
Would you wear this?
Okay, let me rephrase. Do you think you'd see anyone wearing this in public?
What you see is part of Carolina Herrera's fall 2008 collection shown Monday in New York. Here are some more moderate examples based on the same ideas. And here are some other design goodies of various wearability.
As Carolina Herrera said in a related interview, fashion week is not about every day life. For her it is about "fantasizing." Yes, mass market apparel has little resemblance to runway offerings, especially during the showcase that is fashion week. However, the experiments that occur at that high level of abstraction--those ideas--are crucial to the designs that appear in stores the following season.
High-level, abstract ideas can at first only be appreciated by niches of expertise and taste. Through analysis, imitation and reformulation, such abstract ideas can be diffused to broader and in some cases eventually mass populations.
I don't understand any of the programming that makes this blog possible. To me it's as difficult to comprehend as it would be to see a woman on her morning commute wearing Herrera's feather tweed hat. But the fact that programming-dummies like me click at the keyboard, as I'm doing now, is the sole motivator of the experts at MovableType. The consuming public doesn't think about spontaneous orders, but those abstract ideas matter to "how Paris gets fed." Cell phone users don't know the difference between a Becker-DeGroot-Marshak and a Vickery auction, but these made over 200 million cellular subscribers possible.
With fashion, we get a visual on the general relationship between the abstract and the concrete. Tracing ideas "from the catwalk to the sidewalk" offers clues for how ideas matter generally and for social change more broadly. Because fashion ideas enjoy little intellectual property protection, the imitative force is very strong. Many of the design ideas that are now appearing at fashion week will not take long to cascade down through the boutiques, department stores, and eventually big boxes. Even a modest income can afford to have a look that is both in taste and in fashion. Paris gets clothed, too.
Whenever I get the bright idea that I might want to write something, you know really write something real, not a journal article or book that no one cares about, but something interesting that real people might want to really read, I read something by James Lileks, and crawl sheepishly back into my dark cave.*
Hundreds of snippets of derisive snark. You can picture the satisfied little grins on the authors’ faces; you can imagine the whole tableau – the computer (which most people in the world will never touch, let alone use, let alone own) the TV in the corner connected to a network that has channels catering to every taste, the iPod stocked with music hoovered up free of charge without consequence, the fridge stocked with food – the light comes on when you open the door, too, unless it’s burned out, and then you go to the store and get another one; they always have another one. The soft bed, the coffee machine, the well-fed pet, the vast panoply of free information and unfettered opinion flowing 24/7 from the internet. You can drink alcohol without being sentenced to death; you can be a girl alone in a room with a man without earning a public stoning; you can stand up in a room and argue for the candidate of your choice without being arrested; you stand in a society that allows for astonishing amounts of freedom, comfort and opportunity. But.
*nice run-on sentence dontchathink?
February 04, 2008
According to a survey of 3000 UK residents taken by UKTV Gold television,
nearly a quarter think Winston Churchill was a myth while the majority reckon Sherlock Holmes was real. … 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. The same percentage thought Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale did not actually exist. … Meanwhile, 58 percent thought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Holmes actually existed …
Hat tip: Fleeman
February 03, 2008
Fashion Cycle, Business Cycle
When less is more.
Fashion is one of the greatest forces in present-day life. It pervades every field and reaches every class. Fashion leads business and determines its direction. It has always been a factor in human life but never more forceful, never more influential and never wider in scope than in the last decade, and it gives every indication of growing still more important.
I'd bet even the fashion statement-making New York Giants wouldn't guess what year those words were published. The quote is the opening paragraph of the preface of The Economics of Fashion by a Professor Paul H. Nystrom, published in 1928. A decade after the end of war, and nearing the end of a 21-month economic expansion on the eve of the depression. Any recession coming up is likely to be pretty mild historically. Our current expansion is going on 75 months and the one before that was 120. But still. Nystrom's words seem to ring pretty solid today.
Is the fashion industry procyclical? Of course it is. Fashion is a luxury good, so demand for it moves in the same direction with income. Everyone expects a recession. Consumer confidence is down. Job growth is dead in the water. Luxury brands are in for lean times, just like people are expecting lower spending on vacations, cosmetic surgery, and domestic help. So designers are competing for slices of a shrinking pie. But couldn't this easily spur even greater creativity and innovation, so that despite being in an economic slump the fashion cycle is booming? At fashion week, necessity is all that (!), plus the mother of invention.
Certainly, less business will be done than usual, and some designs will be muted, industry experts say. But at the same time, some designers will interpret the financial downturn as an excuse to turn up the fashion excess.... Just when you would think things would be more conservative, there are likely to be more lavish, extreme displays on the catwalk, Aguiar said. "If anything, people will be more desperate to get attention that they think is going to generate business,"...
Does anyone know what spending on fashion is annually, or maybe how cyclical it is?
January 31, 2008
Had too much stimulus? Not super psyched about football? Then grab your Manolos and give New York's fall fashion week a try beginning Friday through Feb. 8. New York's is the oldest, but dozens of cities globally now have fashion weeks. Wikipedia's list of cities with fashion weeks is good but incomplete. From the official website:
The international coverage of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week shines the spotlight on New York City and the many talented designers presenting on the runways in Bryant Park. Over 100,000 guests are expected to attend, including some 3,000 members of the press and fashion industry from around the world. The journalists, photographers, broadcasters and bloggers convening in the iconic tents, designed this season as a Greco Roman "Temple of Fashion," will bring the Fall 2008 Collections to fashion-lovers worldwide.
Emphasis added... Why should DOL readers care about fashion? I'll take a stab at that with a series of posts in the week to come.
January 23, 2008
On school shooting c. 1908
Okay - I admit to a misleading title. The Jan. 23, 1908 NYT reports:
RIFLES FOR SCHOOLBOYS
It is clear that any attempt to pass a similar bill today would flame out in about two seconds. However, here is an interesting thought experiment: Would state sponsored marksmanship increase, reduce, or have no effect on school shootings in which students and teachers are the victims rather than paper targets?
[Update: A helpful reader points out that up until 1996 this program existed as the Department of Civilian Marksmanship of the U.S. Army. In 1996, the program was privatized and renamed the Civilian Marksmanship Program.]
January 20, 2008
Local Rent Seeking
From the local fish wrapper,
With corporate and private donors stretched thin, taxpayers might be the best hope for solving the immediate financial problems of the Columbus Symphony.
Sigh. At least they're not selling it as an "economic stimulus package".
January 19, 2008
On holding parents accountable c. 1908
Contemporary threats to punish parents for childhood obesity sound novel and to many a bit of an over-reach by government schools. Yet, perhaps the idea isn't as new as we think.
The Jan. 19, 1908 NYT contains is a story concerning hygiene in the public schools:
This plan calls for the establishment of a Department of School Hygiene under the control of the Board of Education. This department would consist of a corps of physicians and nurses, under the direction of a medical expert skilled in the diseases of children. It would be clothed with the power, according to Dr. Maxwell [City Superintendent], not only to make physical examinations, but to prosecute parents who fail to put their children in proper physical condition to profit by the work of the school.Prosecute parents? Wow.
Education economists today discuss the "education production function" for which the inputs are the student, her teachers, her peers, and the infrastructure. This is the same intuition being offered in the 1908 plan, that undernourished and otherwise physically unfit children are not efficient inputs to the education production function.
The good Dr. Maxwell (of 1908) offers some reasons for why city kids are not physically fit:
Lack of exercise, city children seldom having to walk more than two or three blocks to school, and having little work to perform about the home that would develop muscles and breathing capacity; crowding in poorly lighted and poorly ventilated apartments, which results in various forms of tuberculosis; lack of space for free play; lack of interesting occupation outside of school hours; excessive noise; lack of sufficient sleep; insufficient or unwise feeding; uncleanly habits of person...Many of these reasons are now applicable to the suburban dweller as well, except, perhaps, the crowding in poorly lighted and ventilated apartments. After substituting asthma and other respiratory problems for tuberculosis, the list is almost exactly the same as we hear directed towards both city and suburban dweller. How many kids are washing dishes and cutting firewood in the suburbs today?
Dr. Maxwell then points out the effects of these maladies:
These conditions tend to produce various forms of nervousness, lowered vitality, defective eyesight, defective teeth, and probably growths in the nose and throat which restrict respiration and drive the child into reckless mischief and defiance of authority.Is the nervousness of yesterday the ADHD of today? (Note: Although my two kids are 3.5 and 1.5 yrs old, I have no experience with ADHD) Is the "lowered vitality" of 1908 the "couch potato" or "video game fatigue" of today? Is there evidence that the maladies of today lead to poor eyesight and teeth? If so, then it would seem that after dedicating untold billions of dollars (and the efforts those dollars represent) to these problems, we haven't come all that far.
If half a dozen parents were fined or imprisoned for failures, after repeated warnings to provide their children with necessary eyeglasses or to have adenoid growths removed, the example thus set would do more lasting good than any preaching on the subject.At least he didn't suggest throwing one or both of the parents up against the wall.
I would suggest that Dr. Maxwell's plan was just about 100 years ahead of his time, although perhaps his plan will be implemented for a radically different reason.
The Gentle Cynic c. 1908
From the Jan. 19, 1908 NYT:
January 15, 2008
Ode to the Constitution c. 1908
From the Jan. 15, 1908 NYT:
Perhaps Mr. Wilson was a bit optimistic?
January 05, 2008
The War on Smoking c. 1908
The Jan 5, 1908, NYT reports on a pending battle in the war on smoking, this time from Germany:
War has been declared by the German medical authorities against the familiar apparatus in use in cigar stores all over the world for cutting off the ends of cigars. It is said to be a prolific source of disease, especially tuberculosis and other infectious maladies whose germs are transmissible.It would seem that the personal cigar cutter would be a practical market solution, perhaps they weren't available at the time? Moreover, why weren't customers more demanding of their local tobacconists? I suppose there could be lack of information on the part of consumers, but are we supposed to believe that men (and women?) were generally okay with the status quo?
The Gentle Cynic c. 1908
From the Jan. 5, 1908 NYT:
December 31, 2007
Government waste c. 1907
The December 31, 1907 NYT reports a government outrage:
OKLAHOMA CITY - Twenty-three hundred barrels of beer, valued at $17,500 and belonging to the New State Brewery to-day were emptied into the sewers by Internal Revenue Collector Charles Howard.The horror.....the horror.
December 30, 2007
Smoking policy c. 1907
On January 1, 2008, the state of Illinois will ban almost all smoking in enclosed public spaces, including private restaurants and bars. Moreover, it will be illegal to smoke a cigarette in a car in which children less than 18 years of age are riding (enforcement issues would seem to abound with this one) [more state laws going into effect 1/1/08].
In the December 30, 1907 NYT there was a rather different policy concerning smoking:
On New Year's Eve "all ladies" may smoke cigarettes in any of the rooms of the restaurant [Cafe Martin], at Twenty-sixth Street and Fifth Aveneu, and this privelege may become permanent thereafter, if all goes well. With his shrewd eye on his guests, Mr. Martin will determine whether New York is ready to follow the precedent of Paris and London...
December 23, 2007
Christmas scams c. 1907
From the Dec. 23, 1907 NYT:
Residents of Newark, N.J. have been made the victims of a Christmas swindle in the last few days. The trick consists of collecting charges on worthless packages. Men appear at houses with bundles addressed to persons living at the addresses, and state that there is a special delivery charge of 50 cents of $1. The amount is nearly always paid without question, in the belief that the package contains a Christmas gift. When opened the box or pacel contains only old papers.It would seem a) the sender would pay the delivery fee; b) you wouldn't accept a package without some indication about who sent it. Perhaps it was much different one hundred years ago.
December 22, 2007
Corporal punishment c. 1907
From the Dec. 22, 1907 NYT:
According to a special committee of the Board of Education, which is investigation the advisability of restoring corporal punishment in the schools, there is a strong feeling among Superintendents, Principals, and teachers that the use of the rod should be permitted. Of about 1,000 opinions received by the committee, the majority take this view of the question.I wonder about the results of a similar survey given today.
December 20, 2007
What color is in your laundry chute?
When Baby New Year pops on the scene, what fashion statement will his swaddling garments make? That depends partly on color, at least if we can take seriously this New York Times fashion article, Pantone's Color of the Year Is....
At least one color authority, Pantone, has taken the plunge and announced its favorite color for 2008. [...] In a statement, Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said: “Blue Iris brings together the dependable aspects of blue, underscored by a strong, soul-searching purple cast. Emotionally, it is anchoring and meditative with a touch of magic.”
Uhm.... Okay. Somehow I sense that Pantone realized "hey, no one else is doing this" and took the opportunity. Which is cool. But so what?
It's nearly tautological that colors come and go with fashion. But it's empirically interesting to ask which colors and why? For starters, is Pantone actually the leader it's posing to be, or does the designation of blue iris reflect the net leanings of fashion's myriad of tastes and designs?
There has indeed been a surge of blue on the runways in the last year, beginning last February with Raf Simons’s dresses and pantsuits, in an Yves Klein blue, for Jil Sander and extending into the spring 2008 collections with Nicolas Ghesquiere’s explosive floral prints for Balenciaga. Mr. Elbaz used a deep lagoon blue in his spring Lanvin show, and one found lighter but no less robust shades in collections by Marni and Chloé, and in the men’s lines of Prada and Alexander McQueen. Dolce & Gabbana called its new fragrance Light Blue. And JWT, the advertising and marketing company, just named blue as one of the top 10 trends for 2008, saying that “blue is the new green”...
Never mind all the name dropping. I think this is interesting because it suggests (albeit mildly) a catallactic understanding of trends--that trends, like market prices, can be traced to the points where individual actors make choices among alternatives. More on this to come.
December 17, 2007
Getting a Liberal Education
Tyler Cowen gives a thoughtful list here. The gist is to learn to evaluate various forms of information, from marketing to information to knowledge to judgment. While Tyler gives some hard suggestions (date foreigners, for example). I would add:
1. Study logic.
If all else fails, remember the song "Not the Sunscreen"by Safran John, opening lines below:
Ladies and gentleman of the class of '98 people often ask me if I have any advice to offer and when they do, I tell them this:
Ahh, the heady 1990's....
December 13, 2007
"Christmas Cheer" recipes c. 1907
The Dec. 15, 1907 NYT has three recipes for "Christmas Cheer." I wonder if any of these really taste all that good?
To make a gallon of this eggnog will require a pound and a quarter of pulverized sugar, twelve fresh eggs, a quart of cognac, half a pint of champagne, two quarts of fresh milk, one quart of rich cream, and about a tablespoon of powdered nutmeg. Mix these ingredients thoroughly, then incorporate with them the yokes of the dozen eggs that have already been beaten to a froth. Stir persistently and steadily until the blend is perfect; pour the result into the well-chilled punch bowl.
Punch with a punch?
The "Van Cortlandt recipe" has been constantly used since 1775. It may, therefore, be said to have stood the test of time:
An "ordinary" punch:
If it is merely an ordinary punch that is to be prepared, however, here is a recipe that has been served by one New England family every Christmas for more than fifty years...
Cynical Yuletide Musings c. 1907
From the December 15, 1907 NYT (I know, I am reading ahead a couple of days but I am heading out of town until next Monday and I will be off the grid):
December 03, 2007
You've come a long way, baby c. 1907
From the Dec. 3, 1907 NYT:
Women who smoke cigarettes in public are still generally accounted vulgar, if not actually wicked, in a land where the prejudices of Puritanism still survive...Customer-based discrimination may have been a reason to ban smoking (at least of women) in 1907, much like it seems to be a reason to ban smoking in 2007. However, the key statement is that the bans were voluntary on the part of the restaurant and hotel managers; the bans were not legislated by local, state, or federal officials.
I would wager that most of today's temperance movements, whether directed toward narcotics, cigarettes, smoking, or trans-fatty acids for that matter, would not admit to "Puritan prejudices." However, the similar outcomes of yesterday and today, i.e., limiting the actions of other people, offer food for thought.
Is there another source of temperance movements beyond "public opinion"? Or has it always been "public opinion" but this "opinion" is "formed" by different organizations or incentives in different eras?
December 02, 2007
Musings of the Gentle Cynic
From the Dec. 1, 1907 NYT:
November 29, 2007
There oughta be a law
My own daughter is twelve, has a myspace page, and this NYT article scared the $hit out of me:
DARDENNE PRAIRIE, Mo., Nov. 21 — Megan Meier died believing that somewhere in this world lived a boy named Josh Evans who hated her. He was 16, owned a pet snake, and she thought he was the cutest boyfriend she ever had.
I don't say this often, but there oughta be a law. Heck forget the law, this calls for an angry mob with torches and pitchforks.
UPDATE: No I am not joking.
November 25, 2007
On book reviews c. 1907
An interesting question is posed in an article in the Nov. 23, 1907 NYT:
I have often felt the same about movie and music reviews, as well as whatever the so-called news channels report. Interesting that the problem of relatively homogeneous reviews (perhaps a symptom of a principal-agent problem between publishers and reviewers?), doesn't seem to be a new problem.
November 19, 2007
More on Thanksgiving prices c. 1907
A follow up on yesterday's discussion of turkey prices, the Nov. 19, 1907 NYT reports the following prices for Thanksgiving staples (perhaps an undergraduate paper lies in these data?):
One dollar in 1907 is approximately $22 in consumer price index adjusted 2006 dollars.
November 15, 2007
On drug sentencing c. 1907
From the Nov. 15, 1907 NYT:
Convicted of selling cocaine without a physician's prescription, Charles W. Hitch, who has a pharmacy at Mott and Worth Streets, was sentenced yesterday to serve six months in the penitentiary by the Justices of Special Sessions.How times have changed. In 1907, those caught driving an automobile faster than the posted speed limit were immediately arrested, thrown in the holding tank, arraigned, fined (or released on bail), and given the perp-walk treatment, as I have pointed out here and here
November 14, 2007
At long last …
A courageous town government steps forward to rescue our culture.
November 12, 2007
"Tootsie" in reverse c. 1907
From the Nov. 12, 1907 NYT:
Trinidad, Colo. - Miss Catherine Vosbaugh, who for nearly sixty years passed as a man, died at a hospital to-day.Somehow I don't think her sex was "discovered" at the hospital.
I don't know what it all means, except that perhaps the movie "Tootsie" wasn't all that original.
November 09, 2007
Dennis Miller, unfiltered and overexposed
Dennis Miller has a three-hour daily syndicated radio show, which I listen to if I'm driving between 10am and 1pm. On it he’s libertarian some of the time, witty much of the time, but occasionally half-witted when he cheerleads for the Iraq war or Rudy Giuliani.
On Tuesday night, Miller debuted a weekly one-hour sports-themed TV talk show, Sports Unfiltered with Dennis Miller, on the Vs. cable channel. The first show wore me out, with Dennis on camera for the entire 60 minutes, starting with a 15 minute (!) monologue. (See a more detailed critique here.)
Now come reports that Miller will host a new game show on NBC-TV, "Amne$ia". No more than once a week, I imagine. But still, with all this on-air time, how many hours a day will the poor man have left to watch old movies and vintage TV shows? How will he continue to keep his obscure pop-culture references fresh?
November 03, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the Nov 3, 1907 NYT :
Another list of quips from the same issue:
October 28, 2007
Musings c. 1907
From the October 27, 1907 NYT:
October 20, 2007
Musings of the Greenwood Lake Philosopher c. 1907
From the Oct. 20, 1907 NYT:
October 14, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
A few of the days I did not get a chance to read the NYT from a hundred years to the day contained the musings of the anonymous "gentle cynic." Here are a few of his/her(?) better quips:
October 07, 2007
King of Bollywood
In the New York Times today, Charles Taylor reviews Anupama Chopra’s new book King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema. As Taylor notes, it’s remarkable that a book on a foreign movie star, virtually unknown in the US outside the South Asian community, is being published by a major US press (Time Warner).
Taylor writes: “At the moment no one represents Bollywood more than Shah Rukh Khan. It’s not just that this epitome of Hindi cinema is a Muslim, which makes Khan an unusual star. Part leading man, larger part buoyant goofball, Khan looks something like the offspring of John Stamos and Jerry Lewis.” I agree with the first and third sentences. But a Bollywood star being Muslim isn’t so unusual. It's less unusual than (say) a Hollywood star being black. Consider just the list of other leading men surnamed Khan: Aamir, Feroz, Saif Ali, Salman, Sohail, Zayed.
This is a matter of taste, but I think Taylor also errs in calling SRK’s most famous film, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), “wonderful”. It’s a sappy romance with far too much mugging by Khan and pouting by his co-star Kajol. The most vital films in Bollywood, for my money, are the gangster flicks.
Anupama Chopra was the author of Sholay: The Making of a Classic, a well-written book that I had to import from India (via eBay). Even though I’m not a fan of SRK, I look forward to being able to buy her new book domestically.
September 20, 2007
OJ Trial: On two, ready break
There will soon be another O. J. Simpson trial. He is going to plead not guilty on all charges. Get ready for a huge shift in what the American public debates talk about.
August 31, 2007
Michael Jackson Dies
No, not, freak show Michael Jackson--beer hunter Michael Jackson:
“He was simply the best beer writer we’ve ever known,” said Tim Hampson, chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers. “He told wonderful stories about beer, breweries and far away places. He told the story of beer through people, and he was humorous and erudite at the same time,” Hampson told The Associated Press.
Jackson especially loved Belgian brews. His books “The Great Beers of Belgium” and “World Guide to Beer” introduced them to many export markets, including the United States.
By identifying beers by their flavors and styles, and by pairing them with particular foods and dishes, Jackson helped give birth to a renaissance of interest in beer and breweries worldwide that began in the 1970s, including the North American microbrewery movement.
His TV documentary series, “The Beer Hunter” — which popularized his nickname — was filmed around the world and shown in 15 countries.
He worked as a beer critic for more than 30 years, writing in newspapers and gastronomic magazines, holding seminars and giving speeches, appearing on U.S. talk shows and writing books about beer and whiskeys published in 18 languages.
Jackson knew he would never be as famous as Michael Jackson the rock star, and that was reflected on the beer critic’s Web site. “Hello, my name is Michael Jackson. No, not that Michael Jackson, but I am on a world tour. My tour is in pursuit of exceptional beer. That’s why they call me the Beer Hunter,” it says.
July 31, 2007
Bollywood star sentenced on weapons charges
The New York Times reports that Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt, son of 1960s Bollywood stars Sunil Dutt and Nargis, was sentenced to six years today for his conviction on illegal weapons charges from 1993. Dutt obtained the illegal weapons from Muslim gangsters who were setting off terror bombs in the city of Bombay. He said he was worried about defending his family against Hindu rioters who were targeting Muslims in retaliation for the bombings (his mother was Muslim). After a long trial Dutt was convicted of the possession charges in November 2006, though cleared of involvement in the bombings.
Dutt rose to stardom playing gangsters in such (recommended!) movies as J. P. Dutta’s Hathyar (1989) and Mahesh Manjrekar’s Vastaav (1999). In recent years (out on bail pending conclustion of his trial and sentencing), his biggest hits came playing a gangster who becomes a medical student in the comedies Munna Bhai, MBBS (2003) and its sequel Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006) (I haven't seen either one). He also played a gangster named Munna Bhai in the (not recommended!) comedy Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin (2002), a Bollywood adaptation of Hollywood’s Analyze This.
July 29, 2007
Say it ain't so, Bear
There's also some questioning about his real service in the "British Special Forces", his being airlifted off Everest after his successful summit, and some of his survival advice.
July 24, 2007
Call your Congressman c. 1907
From the July 24, 1907 NYT:
WASHINGTON - Members of Congress receive many strange requests from their constituents, but probably the most curious one ever received came to a representative from Minnesota recently from Capt. J. F. Allen of St. Paul. Capt. Allen asked the member to look up his arm, which he had lost at the battle of Antietam.
July 23, 2007
On the bookshelf c. 1907
From the July 23, 1907 NYT:
PRESENT LITERARY DEMAND From the London Times:
Harry Potter (no spoilers)
I spent all day (12 straight hours) reading the book yesterday. My wife read it all day Saturday. We spent most of the evening going over the twists and turns.
Now the kid has it but will take a few days I'm sure for her to finish it.
All this for $35!
Frankly I feel guilty that J.K. Rowling didn't get more from us--we would've paid much, much more! Bottom line: She deserves every penny she has. Maybe I should send her some more money? Nah.
July 19, 2007
Easy bake ovens recalled again
Toy ovens + children = burned fingers. Who would have suspected?
July 17, 2007
Bad history in Charlotte c. 1907
As I relocate to the Charlotte, NC area, this story from the July 17, 1907 NYT caught my attention:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The trial of twenty citizens of Anson County, this State, charged with lynching J.V. Johnson, a white man, which was begun yesterday at Monroe, continued to-day.
Intolerable losses c. 1907
One wonders how the world would respond if a story similar to this one from the July 17, 1907 NYT was to occur today:
Returns of deaths from the plague in India show the appalling total of 1,060,067 for the six months ended June 30. The monthly total is at present decreasing, however, the death roll for June being placed at 69,064.
July 09, 2007
Once upon a time I was into board wargames (especially Squad Leader) but haven't played in years. Still it was great fun to see all the new games and game systems that have come out in recent years.
By the way, if you want to feel normal and socially well-adjusted I suggest a few minutes at a gaming convention.
I spent the weekend in Chicago absorbing some culture, specifically Polynesian decorative arts and the indigenous folk music of Southern California. In other words, tiki collectibles and instrumental surf music. The occasion was a music fest called Exotica 2007. 2 bands / 3 sets on Friday night, 8 bands / 9 sets on Saturday, 2 bands / 2 sets on Sunday. Exhausting but fun. Highlight was Saturday night’s headlining appearance by the legendary Trashmen (of “Surfin’ Bird” infamy). For “gramps with amps” they sounded great!
July 06, 2007
On to-be famous ships c. 1907
The July 6, 1907 NYT reports:
The Lusitania, the new liner of the Cunard Line, has been carrying out her experimental trials this week. The results are regarded as extremely satisfactory. The steamer twice covered a measured mile in 144 seconds, giving her a speed of 25 knots. Considering the fact that the Lusitania was not running under full pressure and has still to be dry-docked, her performance is considered remarkably promising.
July 03, 2007
Tie a quirky flavor variation on a well-known candy bar to a revered dead celebrity? Yes! It’s the new Reese’s Collector Edition Elvis Peanut Butter and Banana Creme Cup!
Elvis, as every pop-culture otaku knows, loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Collect all four Collector Edition packages: Leather Jacket Elvis, Crooning Sweater Elvis, Vegas Jump Suit Elvis, and Hawaiian Lei Elvis!
June 30, 2007
Demand curves are downward sloping c. 1907
The June 30, 1907 NYT has the following story:
A newspaper published in Suffolk has somehow become the vehicle of a discussion of the Rev. Mr. Campbell's so-called new theology. It seemed as though every man and woman in England who could write had turned theologian and was sending letters for publication in this paper. The editor got very tired of these effusions, but did not dare say he would have no more of them. His wife told him what to do, and now there is a notice running in his paper that whoever wishes to express his opinions on the new theology must pay five shillings an opinion, the money to go to a local hospital. It is almost needless to say that the hospital is not getting rich.Now that's a smart wife...
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the June 30, 1907 NYT:
June 24, 2007
Lindsay Lohan Moment c. 1907
From the June 24, 1907 NYT:
Can you explain why Mark Twain, while visiting London to accept a complimentary degree from Oxford University, whould consider worth while to make such a spectacel of himself as he appears to have done by appearing in the foyer of one of London's best hotels in bath gown and slippers...As a reasonable American I should like to know what treatement would be meted out to any Englishman behaving in a like manner in the Waldorf-Astoria or Astor Hotel. Every newspaper in the city would howl its indignation at the insult offered our beautiful city, especially if it it occured, as it has done in London, during the season. Is it any wonder our manners are sometimes called into question.Today, we celebrate such behavior. Oh, how times are changed.
June 23, 2007
Musings of the gentle cynic c. 1907
From the June 23, 1907 NYT:
June 16, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the June 16, 1907 NYT:
June 10, 2007
Rosa Parks c. 1907
The June 8, 1907 NYT reports on an early attempt to kill "Jim Crow":
Whether railroads have the right, under the law, to provide separate cars for white and colored passengers in Inter-State traffic practically is the question which was argued to-day before the Inter-State Commerce Commission.I am so glad that I did not grow up in a Chattanooga (and country in general) characterized by such blatant racism, although the practice surely still exists today. The whole separate but equal argument was such a farce it is amazing to me that it worked for so long. How much further along would we have been if Georgia Edwards was remembered the same way as Rosa Parks?
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the June 8, 1907 NYT:
June 06, 2007
Curious headlines c. 1907
Given our advantage of historical perspective, stories from 100 years ago in the New York Times often merit a little extra interest based on who is being described in the story - a few days ago I mentioned a baseball story with the headline claiming that Cy Young had beaten St. Louis.
In the June 6, 1906 NYT:
The Brothers Wright, whose negotiations for the sale of their airship to the German Government were announced exclusively in the cables of the New York Times, left Paris to-day for Berlin to conclude arrangements for the construction of a number of airships.In 2005 dollars, that's $250,000 each.
June 02, 2007
Musing of the Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the June 2, 1907 NYT:
May 31, 2007
On Memorial Day c. 1907
Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 until 1971. May 30, 1907 was a Thursday, whereas May 31, 2007 is a Thursday. Therefore, the May 31, 1907 paper reports on those activities that took place on the day of the week if not the day of the month as in 2007.
Now that I have confused everyone, two articles concerning the 1907 Memorial Day celebrations were noteworthy.
The first concerned activities south of the Mason-Dixon:
RICHMOND, Va. - The twelfth annual reunion of the Confederate Veterans began here to-day. Gen Boiling called the convention to order. Gen Stephon D. Lee was the presiding officer and delivered his annual address.
The second concerned activities north of the Mason-Dixon:
May 28, 2007
On Memorial Day c. 1907
From the May 28, 1907 NYT:
Next Thursday is Memorial Day, and if you will permit me, I would like to express a little sentiment regarding the day and its observance through your columns...in an attempt to rouse a little more thought and patriotic zeal in the reverence and honor which all true Americans should feel for the American soldier, and especially for those gray-headed veterans who are yet with us of the Grand Army of the Republic.
May 26, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the May 26, 1907 NYT:
May 25, 2007
On income inequality c. 1907
File this in the "things never change" drawer.
In the May 25, 1907 NYT is this nugget:
There is no prejudice in this country against honestly acquired wealth, however large - Judge William J. Gaynor, speaking in Kansas City.
May 23, 2007
Mmm, the Apple Pan
The LA Times brings back culinary memories for those of us who spent four years in the Westwood area on a grad student's income.
Hat tip: Craig Newmark.
May 08, 2007
You know the lyrics: “Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me …”. But did you ever stop to wonder: how can anyone be expected to play a song melody on a tambourine?
April 30, 2007
Crime of passion c. 1907
The April 30, 1907 NYT reports the following:
PHILADELPHIA - Miss Martha Korais, a Prussian girl, was killed here to-day by Franz Endrukat, who then mortally wounded himself.Amazing. The term "crime of passion" has come to mean a crime commited in the heat of the moment and one that, implicitly, the offending party regrets. Yet the more sinister "crime of passion" would seem to be the kind Mr. Endrukat undertook.
April 28, 2007
The gentle cynic c. 1907
From the April 28, 1907 NYT:
April 16, 2007
Thoughts on "Harrison Bergeron"
Kurt Vonnegut passed away last week. I am no Vonnegut expert, although I've read some of the novels and found much of it disturbingly delicious and deliciously confounding. DOL readers are probably familiar with the short story, "Harrison Bergeron" (text here), which I first read as an undergrad in Eric Schansberg's poverty and inequality class at Texas A&M. An futuristic dystopia, the story rivals Anthem and 1984 in its overtly favorable comparison of liberalism (respect for the individual) over radical egalitarianism (reverence for the collective) as political philosophies.
The opening paragraph sets the tone:
The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
How was this equality achieved? Hilariously, by the use of mental and physical handicapping equipment that people were forced to wear. In the first scene, we go to the living room of George and Hazel Bergeron (parents of the protagonist) to witness the mundane existence of a perfectly average couple. George is naturally smarter and stronger than average, so the Handicapper-General has fitted George with a 47-pound bag of bird shot to hang around his neck, plus an ear implant set to blare thought-disrupting noises at the moment George thinks above average thoughts. The more profound the thought, the louder the burst.
This is the kind of world into which Vonnegut brings us. In this world, there is no individuality, no excellence, no merit. None of the things that libertarians believe to be inherent rights and predicates to prosperity. The ethical backwardness shown to us in this world, and the story's tragic and dreadful conclusion, suggest a negative commentary on egalitarianism. Hence the story is seen as a libertarian favorite, even among libertarians critical of Vonnegut more broadly (like this Cato blog entry).
A few observations that make me think the story is more than its appearance:
1. Of what use is the story to libertarians?
a. Expresses a logical-conclusion critique of egalitarianism. It's not just folly (weighing down better than average ballerinas) but a trampling of individual rights that is anathema (seizing one's thoughts) to the classical liberalism ideals that gird the American founding.
But the point of my post is that "Harrison Bergeron" is more than it seems, especially with regard to the libertarian theme. A few more observations on this.
2. In other aspects the technology is remarkable and subtle. For example, with the ear buzzing implants the state can literally read minds, in real time, and almost in anticipation of the individual's thoughts. The state can also apparently control the weather, having taken "springtime" out of the month of April. (That sure beats our capitalist society's control over the climate!) Vonnegut doesn't mention the technology required to accomplish this degree of control. It's left to back story in this incredibly lean tale. But it's there.
3. I've always wondered why Vonnegut framed the setting, story, characters and dialogue in such blatant terms. It is a plain, almost in-your-face story, as though Vonnegut donned himself with creative weights to use language "as good as anybody else" could. By comparison, I've found his other works (Hocus Pocus, e.g.) to be cryptic, though perhaps no darker. Extending this point of comparison to Rand, her style in Anthem is more poetically subtle than in her other novels.
4. Vonnegut's protagonist/hero is no libertarian. Unlike Anthem's protagonist, who dreamed of becoming a scholar, Harrison Bergeron wants to be emperor. When he breaks out of prison, he violently storms into the television studio (maximum exposure) with the following:
“I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook. “Even as I stand here –” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened – I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!”
In a peek of how he might rule, Harrison bribes the musicians to play their best, promising royal favors
“Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.”
The secondary characters also have aspirations, though not of the individualist sort. Harrison's mother, for example, says she wants to be Handicapper General.
“I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”
These characters aren't independent achievers, they're meddling tyrants.
In all I have always found Vonnegut to be a dazzler, his tales a seeming refuge for readers with various types of self-deception in tow but with deep counter currents. In Vonnegut the profound is wrapped in the mundane. It's genius. But I don't think it's at all libertarian.
April 14, 2007
Dyspeptic Philosophy c. 1907
From the April 14, 1907 NYT:
April 13, 2007
Creating on/off the hooch
From this CNN story, Ozzy's forthcoming new album has an unprecedented twist:
NEW YORK (Billboard) -- Ozzy Osbourne's first new studio album in almost six years is also the first he has ever recorded sober.
Tobias Wolff's 2003 novel, Old School, has become one of my enduring favorites. In a relevant scene, Ernest Hemingway has just judged the school boy protagonist's short story as the best of the 1961 class, and writes with advice about writing:
Advice... Don't take advice, I never did. And don't get swell-headed. Writers are just like everyone else, only worse. Did he [the school boy] rewrite the story forty times? He could throw away some stuff, I've thrown away enough in my time. The kid knows what he's writing about and that's good, now he should go out and know some other things to write about.
The amazing fictional tirade goes on, but for now Hemingway via Wolff has made his point. BTW, the censored [----] is in the novel and becomes a sticking point between characters.
Side note: Ozzy was once banned from my hometown, San Antonio, for giving in to micturating on the Alamo. I wonder what Papa would do if the Ozz called him a coward....
April 11, 2007
The broadband jukebox
Apparently this device has been around for a couple of years, but reading about it this morning was news to me (I guess I haven’t been hanging around in the right bars, and I let my subscription to Wired lapse). It’s the broadband-enabled jukebox, able to play any of hundreds of thousands of requested songs within a few minutes. Just think:
Now you can dial up some obscure Frank Zappa song from 1982 that nobody else in the room has ever heard before except you.
Another cool feature: the bar owner can program the jukebox so that it won’t play the wrong music, e.g. the Village People’s “YMCA” in a country-western bar. Or vice-versa.
April 10, 2007
If It's Good, Can It Be News?
So, I'm a little sick of the whole "we hate Duke!" movement in the U.S. Fact is, the big D is a WHOLE lot more open to alternative viewpoints, and real education, than we get credit for. The fact that most faculty are unwilling to take public positions, or to pretend to represent the university, on matters of pending litigation does not make us complicit in the activities of a clinically insane legal system. But it seems that Duke has become a lightning rod for anger about universities and their intellectual insularity and ideological monochromaticity.
Excerpt below the fold....But the entire report is worth reading. The author, Russ Nieli, did a remarkable job in setting the context of the decline, and partial rise, of intellectual pursuit in American universities. A terrific piece of work.
Read More »
EXCERPT FROM REPORT:
The Gerst program grew out of the perceived need to
“I was unhappy with the extreme left attitude reigning
And while he was not tied to the idea of a Great Books
The Gerst program was set up with one overarching
...What the Gerst and Focus programs show is that
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April 02, 2007
Bollywood fact of the day
Business of Cinema reports:
2006 was a record-breaking year for Hindi films at the US box office, with seven of the 14 foreign language films that grossed over $2 million, being Hindi films.
The Bollywood box-office authority, ibos.com, lists six 2006 Bollywood films each with a >$2m US gross:
Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, $3.1m – another Karan Johar weepie
In seventh place was Krrish, at $1.4m – Hrithik Roshan superhero flick, sequel to Koi Mil Gaya.
By either measure, a record-breaking year indeed. Also a year of remakes and sequels -- which may have helped the overseas box office. Of these seven I’ve only seen Don (which was pretty good), but I’m planning to rent Dhoom 2.
April 01, 2007
On speeding c. 1907
The April 1, 1907 NYT reports on a day's worth of arresting automobile drivers who were "caught" speeding on Manhattan Island. The story sounds much like This November (1906) story concerning the arrests of drivers in Peekskill, NY. However, the price of a speeding ticket in New York City was considerably higher:
Bicycle Policeman Gibney took Waler C. Martin of 344 West Seventy-seventh Street to the 157th Street Station. He had been timed as going at the rate of twenty-four miles an hour on Broadway...He was released on $100 cash bail. Frederick Lauterback...had been timed as going at the rate of twenty-five miles an hour on Broadway...he was compelled to deposit $100 cash bail before he could proceed.
The story goes on to mention others caught for speeding at 18 mph, 18mph, and 20mph. This might imply a speed limit of 15 mph, but I haven't been able to confirm that.
In November, 1906, a fine for speeding in Peekskill was $10-$25 or $225-$575 in 2005 dollars. The bails in NYC were around $2,100 in 2005 dollars - plus you were embarrassed with the NYT perp walk, which seems eerily similar to the rehab, divorce-court, murder-trial perp walks today's Who's Who endures.
March 31, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the March 31, 1907 NYT:
March 21, 2007
March 12, 2007
According to this article by Stephen Pinker,
Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth.
The other major challenge posed by the decline of violence is how to explain it. A force that pushes in the same direction across many epochs, continents, and scales of social organization mocks our standard tools of causal explanation ... No one knows why our behavior has come under the control of the better angels of our nature, but there are four plausible suggestions.
I suspect (3) is the major player, but who knows?
On the value of a reputation c. 1907
I have previously mentioned lawsuits filed by women because of slights to their reputation. In Nov. 2005, I mentioned a 1905 case of a woman suing for $10,000 ( $208,000 in 2005 dollars) because of a stolen kiss. In November 2006, I mentioned a 1906 suit filed for a broken engagement and damages of $25,000 ($560,000 in CPI adjusted 2005 dollars) and property of $2,000.
In the March 12, 2007 NYT is another reported stolen kiss, this time in Newburg, New York:
John J. Scannell...is to be sued for $15,000 by Mrs. Laura White of Central Valley, N.Y.
$15,000 in 1907 would be $321,570 in 2005 dollars.
Read More »
All that follows is, of course, tounge-in-cheek.
We now have three observations on the cost of reputation:
1905: kiss = $208,000
At least as far as kisses go, the damages incurred seem to be falling. Assuming all reputations are equal and all stolen kisses are equal, the two year reduction on the damages incurred by a kiss was approximately 51%.
This "trend" would put the damages of a stolen kiss at a penny by 1950.
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March 10, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the March 10, 1907 NYT:
March 05, 2007
Listen to Milan Kundera
From Russell Banks' NYT review of Milan Kundera's The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts, the next book I'll buy.
...reading “The Curtain” is like spending a long desultory afternoon into the evening sitting over coffee and cigarettes in a pleasant cafe listening to Milan Kundera hold forth on history, literature, music, politics, large countries versus small, East versus West, the lyric versus the novelistic, Paris versus Prague and so on into the night....
March 03, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the March 3, 1907 NYT:
February 23, 2007
On family values c. 1907
The Feb. 23, 1907 NYT reports on the first wave of divorce statistics being gathered by the Bureau of the Census (the data collection started in Summer 1906):
Applications for divorce filed throughout the United States in the two decades up to 1907 number 1,400,000. Upon these applications, 1,000,000 were granted, as against only 328,000 divorces granted in the preceding twenty-year period. For the earlier period the number of divorces averages 33 per 100,000 of population, and 70 per 100,000 for the later period. The average annual ratio of divorces for Chicago has risen from 73 to 107 per 100,000 during the two decades; for Boston from 40 to 63 per 100,000, and from 22 to 63 for Philadelphia...Divorces for the whole country have more than doubled, and they are increasing in the rural districts as well as in the cities.
February 21, 2007
Hear me on Weekend America
This afternoon I went down to my campus radio station's studio to be interviewed. Not about economics -- I was there in the guise of my alter ego, the surf music and spaghetti-western maven. The subject was the CD "For a Few Guitars More" (Dancing Bear, 2003), which I co-organized, on which a variety of surf bands pay tribute to Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western themes. The interview is for a segment to air this weekend on the public radio show "Weekend America". They're also planning to interview a guitarist (Ferenc Dobronyi) from one of the bands (Pollo del Mar) that contributed.
From what I gather, one of the show's hosts was looking for a different hook to the story about Ennio Morricone finally getting an Oscar. She found the website that has my liner notes for the CD and a link to a news article about it. The radio show will play from clips from the CD intercut with me and Ferenc talking about Morricone and the CD. I was interviewed for half an hour, but I'm guessing they'll boil it down to 5 minutes.
February 17, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the Feb. 17, 1907 NYT:
February 10, 2007
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the Feb. 10, 1907 NYT:
February 08, 2007
Anti-smoking laws c. 1907
A factoid in the back of my brain suggests that colonial Wilmington (?) banned smoking in the late 1600s. The ban wasn't intended to reduce second hand smoke or reduce health care expenditures. Rather, because everything was made of wood and straw, the ban on public smoking aimed at reducing the probability of a fire which could raze large swaths of the town very quickly. In other words, the negative externalities of public smoking have been around for a while although the natures of the externalities have changed over time.
While we pat ourselves on the back for our progressive and enlightened attitude toward smoking, both in public and increasingly in private, the Feb. 8, 1907 NYT reminds us that we are not doing anything "new" today:
SPRINGFIELD, ILL - The Senate passed a bill to-day prohibiting persons under 18 years of age, pupils in schools, and students in universities from smoking cigarettes in any public place.
January 30, 2007
A war on drugs c. 1907
The Jan. 30, 1907 NYT reports on the bizarre incentives (and extremely wishful thinking) embodied in the "War on Cocaine" in India:
Consul General William H. Michael of Calcutta advises the Bureau of Commerce and Labor that the Government of India has prohibited the bringing in of cocaine by means fo the post, and has restricted its importation by any other means to cases in which it is imported by persons, or by their authorized agents, who have been especially permitted to import the drug by a local Government or administration. In consequence of this order the Government has also empowered certain postal officials to search for any cocaine in course of transmission by post and to deliver all such to the nearest excise officer.At least India singled out a particular drug with which to go to war. However, the particular form of warfare would seem ripe for corruption and one wonders how long before it was "reformed."
January 24, 2007
Appeals for help c. 1907
Over the past two years of reading the NYT from 100 years ago, I have mentioned multiple instances in which disasters struck and there was little inclination for the Federal government to provide extraordinary aid nor was there an expectation for the government to do so. Admittedly, this was pre-income tax, pre-New Deal, and I am sure there was a much different attitude between the citizenry and their governments.
Because of this general attitude, the following article in the Jan. 24, 1907 NYT caught my eye:
A COLD AND HUNGRY TOWNGranted this is the telegraph age, and telegraphing words was (marginally?) more expensive at that time. Yet, how austere is the appeal. The lack of emotion and exported guilt is striking.
Given recent events in the Dakotas, and the lack of cries for help, demands for FEMA directors to step down, and for Pres. Bush to "do something," perhaps the reputation for heartiness among the people of that region is well deserved.
Today, the web-site for New Rockford proclaims the city is up to 1,600 inhabitants. If I have worked my solar calculator correctly, that implies an annual population growth rate of 0.0083.
January 23, 2007
Eiffel Tower decision c. 1907
From the Jan. 23, 1907 NYT:
The Eiffel Tower, one of the marvels of the Paris Expositions of 1889 and 1900, will become a permanent institution as a result of the decision of the Government to use it as part of the army wireless telegraph system. From its great height, 900 feet, the War Department, during the Fall army manoeuvres was able to maintain communication with the eastern frontier along the Vosges, and since then the Eiffel Tower station has communicated with Berlin and London. New installations are being made by which regular communication with Algeria and Tunis, the French African colonies, is expected to be assured.There was actually a movement to take down the Eiffel Tower? Aesthetics might gasp at the idea that a primary reason the Tower was saved was its ability to help the military (which tends to destroy great architectural monuments, either on purpose or by accident) communicate with far-flung reaches of the French "empire."
Marriage counseling c. 1907
From the Jan. 23, 1907 NYT:
A young couple who gave their names of John C. Rea of Bloomfield and Miss Katheryn Ready of Glen Ridge appeared at the office of Justice of the Peace George W. Cadmus of Bloomfield [New Jersey] about ten day s ago and asked to be married. The Justice quickly tied the knot, and they went away happy.And we wonder about television shows with Judge X or Judge Y offering advice. Perhaps our society has been seeking guidance from the bench for longer than most of us realize?
January 22, 2007
Markets in everything c. 1907
In the early 1900s, social drinking by women was still a bit frowned upon. Regardless of social mores, there were obviously those who wanted nip from time to time.
From the Jan. 22, 1907 NYT:
The cocktail bracelet is the latest for women. There are fashionable women of this city who wear circlets on their wrists which sometimes contain a Martini dry or a Manhattan. The bracelets have one drawback, it is said, and this is they will not accommodate the cherry that goes with the fairy cocktail. The other night a Pittsburg attorney observed a woman of fashion place her lips to her bracelet. He thought that she was paying tribute to her own loveliness, but learned later she was merely refreshing her inner self with a mixture of cordials....With one of those graceful movements which appear to be natural with a woman the drink may be imbibed without fear of detection...A Broadway goldsmith sells numbers of the bracelets every week, and as most of the purchasers prefer secrecy in connection with the transaction they pay a pretty penny for the dubiously useful trinkets.
January 16, 2007
Excuses, excuses, excuses...
Today's Chronicle of Higher Education includes an article concerning student excuses. Sometimes I wonder how much though the student actually applied to their particular excuse. Often I suggest recording the excuse before bringing it to my attention. The student can then listen to themselves, or better yet have someone else listen to them, to determine if the excuse has any plausibility. A lot of headaches on both sides of the desk could be avoided with this self-check.
The article points to this blog concerning both sides of the excuse market.
January 13, 2007
On Christmas debt c. 1907
One thing you learn from reading the paper from 100 years ago is that our modern-day problems are, for the most part, not new problems they are simply our problems.
The Jan. 13, 1907 NYT has the following ditty:
The Gentle Cynic c. 1907
From the Jan. 13, 1906 NYT:
January 08, 2007
The War on Drugs c. 1907
I have returned from the AEA's in Chicago where I caught up for a chin-wag with co-blogger Frank Stephenson. It was a long but productive weekend.
The Jan. 8, 1907 NYT reports on the increasing plague of Cocaine Fiends and society's response:
[F]ive boys escaped capture last night by plain-clothes policemen sent to the place by Capt. Russell of the West Thirty-seventh Street Station. The Captain had been informed that a gang of boys who had become addicted to the cocaine habit frequented the cave. He said he would investigate for the purpose of getting evidence against certain druggists who, it was alleged, had been selling cocaine to boys of tender age.The interesting point here is that the police want information on who is selling the drug, and do not necessarily seem intent on arresting the drug user.
The story goes on to describe the plight of a mother whose two sons were heading toward addiction. The eldest son allegedly pawned his clothes in order to purchase cocaine and "after learning this...she caused the boy's arrest." The story is less clear on what, exactly, the son was charged with.
However, similar to today's meth problem, the article reports that
[w]hile is was a criminal offense for a druggist to sell cocaine to any one who did not have a physician's prescription, the boys managed to get it at first by buying catarrhal and toothache preparations which contained the drug. Under the pure food law the makers of these catarrh cures were compelled to print on the label the fact that the powders contained cocaine.There's one of the unintended consequences of an otherwise reasonable law (as far as laws go).
The story goes on:
Dr. Gregory, the chief of the psychopathic ward of Bellevue Hospital, said that unless something is done to put a stop to the manner in which some druggists sold cocaine, the hospitals would soon be filled with cocaine users. Many hospitals now had a cocaine ward set aside especially for the treatment of cocaine fiends.
December 30, 2006
The Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the Dec. 30, 1906 NYT:
December 29, 2006
Is it that good to be a Dane?
This paper titled "Why Danes are smug: comparative study of life satisfaction in the European Union" published in the British Medical Journal, investigates the phenomenon of why the Danish are always so happy.
The paper includes this graph showing the percentage of survey respondents who admit to being very satisfied with their life. The Danes consistently come out on top (BTW, what's up with Portugal?):
The authors posit a number of reasons for why the Danes are so much happier than the rest of Europe:
The article is written in what starts out as serious tones and ends up sounding like one of Preston McAfee's "tounge-in-cheek, but hey there is something important here" pieces. It is hard to tell if the journal and the article are meant to be taken seriously - I leave it to the reader to decide. The article concludes:
The causes of the stolid depth of Danish wellbeing are undoubtedly multifactorial. We are satisfied, however, that in the end and against all odds we have contributed to comprehension of the conundrum of Danish contentment. We doubt that further research would lead, in the foreseeable future, to deeper understanding, but decades of effort might possibly result in some incremental advance. Optimism is unwarranted.
This is the type of research I want to perform.
December 27, 2006
On curriculum reform c. 1906
To be filed in the TNC (Things Never Change) drawer, the Dec. 27, 1906 NYT reports on "College Reform". The President of Yale, speaking to a convention of teachers and principals:
We have to-day a great many more elective courses of study than we need, and we have multiplied them without any definite principle or clear understanding of the purpose for which the elective systems exists. Its true object is to find out the lines of work a boy [or girl] is good for. To do this it is not necessary to have as many different studies as there are different kinds of human interest...There are three well-defined types of mind - the scientific, the literary, and the practical. If you have arranged your courses so that you can find out to which of these types a pupil belongs...you have done all that is needed. The work of the school will be more efficiently and economically accomplished if this adaptation is made with a few subjects instead of a great many.
December 26, 2006
Quote of the day
Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. --Peter De Vries
HT: usemycomputer dot com
December 25, 2006
James Brown, RIP
When I was young, Brown once appeared on TV wearing an outfit with the initials GFOS spelled out in sequins on his cummerbund. Contrary to the joke at my junior high the next day, the initials did not stand for “Go $#@! O’ Self”. They stood for “Godfather of Soul”.
Brown was best known as a vocalist, but he was also an amazing bandleader and organist. For his best instrumental work, check out the 2-CD set Soul Pride: The Instrumentals.
December 24, 2006
To be a record holder or to be alive? c. 1906
From the Dec. 24, 1906 NYT:
[S]everal stories underground, underneath the Hotel Astor, Times Square, the coalpassers had some tests of endurance yesterday afternoon. One of these men, John Faulkner, of 400 West Fortieth Street, tried to break the record for the number of shovelfuls of coas passed in an hour.
100 x 40 lbs = 4,000 lbs/ min = 2 tons of coal/min.
Before technological change, such a record might have been impressive - at least enough to get a couple of beers at the Pub. Perhaps the competitive spirit took over to the extent that he gave his life for a record that no-one would remember until someone with strange habit of reading the paper from 100 years ago would come across his feat. Notice today that watch feats of strength such as Mr. Faulkner's on ESPN's "World's Strongest Man."
Faulkner's record was very impressive, but, alas, didn't come with an endorsement from a body-building enhancement.
December 21, 2006
Christmas materialism c. 1906
Occasionally the paper from 100 years ago reveals, in a subtle way, that many of the problems we face today are not new problems, they are just our problems.
From the Dec. 21, 1906 NYT:
As Christmas Approaches
December 19, 2006
Know thy enemy c. 1906
The Dec. 19, 1906 NYT contains an argument for allowing women in the jury pool:
In breach of promise cases the presence of female jurors among the male jurors would certainly benefit the men, as they would at once see through the wiles of their own sex, disconnect the picture hat and the pretty gown, and disclose the hussy at heart in the pleading innocent betrayed one.
December 16, 2006
Dyspeptic Philosophy c. 1906
From the December 16, 1906 NYT:
December 14, 2006
English 1, Teddy Roosevelt 0 c. 1906
The Dec. 13, 1906 NYT reports that President Teddy Roosevelt was abandoning his "simplified English" executive order:
President Roosevelt has surrendered gracefully to the English language, and Noah Webster is to-night receiving congratulations from Samuel Johnson, Worcester, and all his chums on the other side of the Styx. Representative Landis of Indiana, Chairman of the House Printing Committee, is authority for the statement that the President will issue an oder complying with the House's wishes on the subject, not waiting for Senatorial action, and that this order will regulate thru, clipt, and dropt to Skibo Castle and other places where the air is more congenial than in Washington.Thk gdness.
December 12, 2006
On Africa c. 1906
From the Dec. 12, 1906 NYT:
"The dark places of the earth are full of horrible cruelty." That is a saying a great many centuries anterior to either the existence of sensational newspapers or the formation of the Congo Free State. But it seems to have an impressive modern instance in the case of the Congo Free State...The evidence of "horrible cruelty" has been so abundant and so shocking that it has penetrated to Belgium.Belgium was, at the time, the "administrator" of the country.
December 09, 2006
Humor, and the lack thereof
If you want to stir up some discord in your household, I recommend Christopher Hitchens's "Why Women Aren't Funny."
Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.
Hitchens follows Kipling in attributing the relative lack of humor to childbirth:
She who faces Death by torture for
The Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the Dec. 9, 1906 NYT:
December 06, 2006
Set your Tivo®
The ABC Family cable network will air “The Year without a Santa Claus,” the original Rankin-Bass puppetoon (stop-motion-animated; similar to but not quite the same as Claymation because it uses hard puppets rather than modeling clay), this Saturday (9 Dec.) at 5pm Eastern (4pm central). And again on Friday, 15 Dec., 7/6c; Weds. 20 Dec. 7/6c; and Sun. 24 Dec. 9/8c.
Sure, you’ve seen (or deliberately skipped) it every year since in debuted in 1974; why see it again? Because you’ll need to refresh your memory before you tackle the new live-action version, which NBC will air Monday, December 11th at 9/8c. John Goodman plays Santa, Delta Burke plays Mrs. Claus, Chris Kattan (naturally) plays the devious elf Sparky. Carole Kane is Mother Nature, Harvey Fierstein (!) is the Heat Miser; Michael McKean is the Snow Miser. In case you think I must be making all this up, here’s the IMDB link, and here’s a YouTube clip.
December 05, 2006
On college slobs c. 1906
From the Dec. 5, 1906 NYT:
The tailor whose shop is located near Columbia University sighed as he regarded a crowd of students passing his doorway. "The college boy is the worst dressed young man in America," he announced. "Why so?" inquired the customer to whom he was talking.
December 01, 2006
This I already knew...
From the movie, Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, comes this wonderful, and very crude song, "The Government Totally Sucks." Lyrics and a link to listen are found below the fold. WARNING: very foul language!
Read More »
"Government Totally Sucks" [Listen here]
The government totally sucks
Ben franklin was a rebel indeed
Now let me tell you something about the government (uh huh) They're fucking up the environment (say what?) They're taking all the fucking beautiful animals (yeah?) And making them fucking extinct (oh no!)
The government totally sucks
Cos the land of love and freedom,
The USAAAAAA YEAAHHH
Government totally sucks!
« Close It
Clueless on Immigration
No, this isn't a rant about anti-immigration economists. I just wanted to share the following clip from the movie Clueless that I've showed in class to introduce my discussion of immigration. It helps to reinforce to my students the importance of the argument that led to a conclusion. To often they think because they got the right answer they deserve 100 percent, even if everything leading them there was wrong.
I've placed the clip below the fold.
Read More »
November 30, 2006
Bernard Shaw on Religion c. 1906
While Richard Dawkins makes a name for himself today criticizing religion and those who are religious (Youtube clips here), Bernard Shaw had similar comments 100 years ago. In the Nov. 30, 1906 NYT:
Bernard Shaw lectured to-night in the Essex Hall, in connection with the Guild of St. Matthew, his subject being "Some Necessary Repairs to Religions." Mr. Shaw said we had a great many pressing social problems to solve, but lacked a religion which would impel us to tackle them.Those are some tough words in just the first two paragraphs of the story. Yet, the third paragraph is even tougher:
If the great congregation of cowards called the human race were to be got to disregard their own safety and interest, they must be made religious. A religious man was not one who belonged to the Church of England or who did not...[n]or was he a man with a special creed. A religious man was one who had sure knowledge that he was here, not to fulfill some narrow purpose, but as an instrument of the force which created the world and probably the universe. Religion made a man courageous, and if he was not intelligent it made him extremely dangerous. In the absence of religion a coarse man had the most courage, but with religion the most fragile and sensitive became enormously courageous.
No Such Thing as Bad Publicity
THE K-K-Kramer scandal murdered Michael Richards' career - but it's doing wonders for sales of the latest "Seinfeld" DVD.
Season 7 of the popular sitcom is outselling the Season 6 set (released on the same day last year) by more than 75 percent, and more than 90 percent over season 5 at some online DVD retailers, according to TMZ.com.
November 29, 2006
Self-citations and selection bias
The Annals of Improbable Research (home of the Ig-Nobel Prize) recently directed a "challenge" to its readers - "If you know of a published academic study that surpasses Werner-Michael Kulicke’s record of including 23 self-references, please send us a copy."
Today's email contains at least one contender, and it's Nobel winner James Heckman. In this 110 page working paper, Heckman (and two co-authors) cite 30 Heckman papers (that's only two fewer than my entire resume).
Now, I respect Heckman for his contribution, but 30 self-cites? As the AIR points out:
One of the studies he [Heckman] cites is:No small irony there.
November 28, 2006
A matter of semantics?
The valuable NCPA Policy Digest passes along this observation:
In France, growing numbers of couples are choosing to raise children, buy homes and build family lives without religious or civil approval of their partnerships, says the Washington Post.
Do they mean civil approval or approval by the state? Later in the cllipping this appears:
The result is massive migration to urban areas, where young adults are more independent from their families; and a society that has become not only tolerant but supportive of personal choice in lifestyles.
If "society" is both tolerant and supportive of these unions, doesn't this constitute civil approval?
November 26, 2006
On cigarette smoking c. 1906
I recall the famous picture of Rep. Henry Waxman swearing in the tobacco executives before asking them what they knew about the dangers of cigarette smoking and when they knew it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the general public knew of a correlation between cigarette smoking and illnesses of certain types long before the Surgeon General reports in the 1960s.
From a letter to the editor of the Nov. 26, 1906 NYT:
I want to say a word or two against cigarette smoking. Every place one goes a man or a boy is seen smoking a cigarette. It is bad enough to see boys smoking this poison, but when it comes to men over 50 years old it looks silly. In fact foolish.
November 22, 2006
World's best beef
Due to excessive travelling, I won't be back home with family on Thanksgiving. So this holiday I will do the untraditional and dine at Harris, a San Francisco institution, with my wife (to be) and her sister. On the menu is a Kobe Wagyu boneless ribeye. After reading this story, "the world's most expensive steaks," I know what I'll be ordering:
It's a steak with the texture of foie gras, and it comes from cattle that, according to legend, are fed beer and massaged by human hands. In its raw state, the meat is pale--almost white--packed with what Chef de Cuisine David Varley of Las Vegas' Bradley Ogden restaurant calls "an ungodly amount of fat."
Now THERE'S the beef. Happy Thanksgiving, all.
November 15, 2006
Sixes are Sevens: California edition
This article reports that San Francisco plans to place marijuana enforcement near the bottom of the list:
Legislation approved Tuesday afternoon by San Francisco's Board of Supervisors will have police put the enforcement of marijuana laws on the bottom of the priority list, although prohibitions remain for marijuana sales in public, possession by minors or use by motorists.Good for them, I suppose, but 22.37 miles away, Belmont, CA, plans to ban smoking of cigarettes everywhere except for single-family detached residences.:
“We have a tremendous opportunity here. We need to pass as stringent a law as we can, I would like to make it illegal,” said Councilman Dave Warden. “What if every city did this, image how many lives would be saved? If we can do one little thing here at this level it will matter.”Is government supposed to pass ordinances so that a single citizen can sue his neighbors? That doesn't sound right.
Freedom goes 1-1 this round?
November 12, 2006
Speed traps and perp walks c. 1906
From the Nov. 11, 1906 NYT:
PEEKSKILL, N.Y. - A number of arrests were made here to-day for automobile speeding. Fourteen prisoners were held and all pleaded guilty when arraigned before Judge Travis. Fines ranging from $10 to $25 were imposed.If only Einstein's Theory of Relativity had been around, a good lawyer might have been able to get the speeders off the hook.
The folks at EH.net suggest that the range in fines was approximately $225 to $575 in 2005 CPI adjusted dollars. Ouch.
Why were speeders arrested rather than simply given a ticket and sent on their way? Perhaps the (marginal) cost of arresting a particular speeder was less because there were fewer cars on the road? On the other hand, perhaps the marginal benefit of arresting a particular speeder was greater. At the time, only the rather well-to-do drive cars, so perhaps there was a bit of scandal involved that would titillate the common man and "make an example" of someone?
Indeed, the article describes several of the people stopped:
Among those stopped for exceeding the speed limit was a man who said he was the ex-Gov. Robert L. Pattison of Pennsylvania....Another said he was George W. Morgan and persons in the court room said he was the Superintendent of Elections in New York....Elben Van Cott, who said he was the son-in-law of Isaac N. Mills, the newly elected supreme Court Justice.The perp walk (whether on Court TV or in the columns of the NYT) might have held as much fascination in 1906 as it seems to today?
The Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the Nov. 11, 1906 NYT:
November 01, 2006
Cultural commentary c. 1906
A snippet from the Springfield Homestead repeated in the Nov. 1, 1906 NYT :
There need be no misgivings anywhere or at any time over the usual good sense of the people of the United States or of any State thereof. This is a democratic Government of a well-intending and fairly intelligent democracy, and a Government by it and for it. Out of our scares the Government has gone on to better things. The American public is not a mob. It is a sane and self-controlled Nation.This is something to mull over.
The value of a reputation c. 1906
From the Nov. 1, 1906 NYT:
PHILADELPHIA - Miss Bella Blum, daughter of Israel Blum, a wealthy resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., instituted suit in the Common Pleas Court to-day to recover $25,000 damages from Abraham Press, charging breach of promise of marriage. Press is a jeweler. Miss Blum, who is 19 years old, is seeking to recover jewelry worth over $2,000, which, she declares, Press gave her but afterward obtained on the pretext of having it repaired.The folks at EH.net suggest that $25,000 in 1906 is approximately $560,000 in CPI adjusted 2005 dollars. Was the reputation of the jilted bride-to-be damaged that much? What a difference 100 years makes.
On a similar note, last year I "reported" on the alleged value of a stolen kiss in 1905 - approximately $208,000 in 2005 dollars. It is interesting(?) that a stolen kiss wasn't worth as much as being left at the altar, so to speak.
Read More »
October 28, 2006
The Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the Oct. 28, 1906 NYT:
October 27, 2006
The value of a finger c. 1906
From the Oct. 27, 1906 NYT:
LONDON - Thomas Henry Morris has been fined 2£ 10s by a Chester magistrate for squeezing a woman's hand so that her little finger was broken. The woman had lost her husband, and the man had called to offer condolences. It was as he was leaving her that he broke her finger. He put altogether too much muscle into his sympathetic handshake.EH.net suggests that the fine is equivalent to £179.07 using the retail price index. At today's exchange rate, that would be about $340.
October 26, 2006
Priorities alignment c. 1906
From a letter to the editor in the Oct. 26, 1906 NYT:
Our citizens should not lose sight of other public matters of interest just because we are to have an election next month, i.e., pushcarts are just as much a nuisance as ever and should be driven off the streets. Likewise stands on all sidewalks and in the public parks, at the Brooklyn bridges, under "L" stations should be removed and never permitted again.A platform for the ages.
Conspicuous consumption c. 1906
From a letter to the editor in the Oct. 26, 1906 NYT:
I am sure that Grossmutter Knickerbocker would have held up her hands in amazement, as I did the other day when I saw three articles of lingerie in a new dry goods shop on Fifth Avenue that were market to cost $2,000.
In 2005, $2,000.00 from 1906 is worth:
October 24, 2006
Grounds for divorce c. 1906
A story in the Oct. 24, 1906 NYT reports on the "Divorce Congress" which is in session to try to revamp divorce (and in the process marriage?):
[One] enactment prohibits the solicitation of a divorce case by advertisement, circular, or otherwise, and prescribes for such an offense a fine of not more than $1000 and imprisonment of not more than one year.Here in the DFW area, and I am sure elsewhere, different divorce lawyers advertise during different radio and television shows. During late night sports talk, one law firm advertises it's focus on the man's side of the divorce proceedings.
The story goes on
Annulment of the marriage contract, as distinguished from divorce, will be made for the following causes: Impotency, consanguinity, existing former marriage, fraud, force or coercion, insanity, and illegal age.At least today's ED medication might solve the first problem.
Divorce, it is provided, shall be of two kinds - absolute, or divorce a vincule matrimonii, and divorce from bed and board, or divorce a mensa et thoro. Under the first classification the grounds shall be adultery, bigamy, conviction and sentence for crime followed by two years' continual imprisonment, extreme cruelty, willful desertion, and habitual drunkenness for two years. The same causes will prevail for the second class with the additional cause of "hopeless insanity of the husband."
October 05, 2006
Mass diagnosis c. 1906
From the October 5, 1906 NYT:
LONDON - The delightful forecast of the world gone made is held up to us by Dr. Forbes Winslow.Indeed, good doctor, indeed.
Walmart v. My Space
And the winner is? One guess.
During the past week it has become abundantly clear that the culture and innovation on the web is progressing far faster than folks over, say, 25 years of age can maintain. When folks in Congress, the media, and on the street can't or won't distinguish between email, text messages, and instant messages, one fears that whatever legislation being written concerning the net is mis-informed.
Rant ends. We return to regularly scheduled blogging...
Evidently Walmart initiated a myspace-type system aimed at teens. Why Walmart would think this is a good idea seems a bit strained, but nevertheless Walmart invested some scarce resources in a failed experiment. Advertising Age reports that Walmart pulled the plug after three months.
That seems like a short amount of time for an Internet startup nowadays - how long did Amazon make "negative" profits? On the other hand, give credit to Walmart that it recognized its mistake.
The article provides some insight as to why teens would not flock to Walmart's version of myspace:
"The Hub" was designed by Wal-Mart to allow teens to "express their individuality" but it screened all the content, informed parents when their children joined and forbade users to e-mail one another.Let's see. Express your individuality as far as I will let you, I will inform your mom and dad about you are saying and seeing on the Wally-world network and no, Virginia, there are no emails. Yep, that sounds like a winner. In fact, it sounds exactly like the responsible type of social networking parents and congress people would applaud.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the target audience said "Nyet!."
Anti Walmart folks might sleep better tonight knowing that, at least in one instance, Walmart did not have "lower" prices and lost a battle in convincing fashion. How convincing? The article goes on to say:
In August, the site attracted 91,000 unique visitors, according to ComScore Networks. Social-networking giant MySpace.com garnered 55.8 million unique visitors the same monthOuch!! Granted, 91,000 hits is more than I get at my personal blog, but I wonder how much more than DoL?
October 02, 2006
For a fistful of gold bugs
Here's a video clip of Ennio Morricone himself conducting "The Ectsasy of Gold," the best piece of music ever written about the yellow metal.
October 01, 2006
Cultural comparisons c. 1906
From a letter to the editor in the October 1, 1906 NYT:
We have reached a time in the history of this country where every department of our social, financial, and political life is rotten to the core, and even more so than Rome was in the last days of the empire. We desire a change before it is too late, and the people who are going to bring it about are the solid rank and file, the pride and backbone of every progressive country.
September 30, 2006
The Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the Sept. 30, 1906 NYT:
September 29, 2006
If you get the AZN channel on cable, set your Tivo to record "Ab Tak Chhappan" tomorrow morning at 9am Eastern, 8 am Central. It's a ruthlessly unsentimental cop/mafia drama, the best Indian movie of 2005. (I'd call it Bollywood, but there are no songs. There will be subtitles.) Nana Patekar plays an "encounter specialist" whose assignment is to shoot gangsters and then make up a story about how he did it in self-defense. I thought the premise was a bit over the top until I read Maximum City, which has a chapter about a real-life Bombay cop whose job is exactly the one depicted in the movie.
On wealth c. 1906
From the Sept. 29, 1906 NYT:
"Wealth has its disadvantages," said the philosopher.Yet, if you don't care if you win or lose, why place the bet in the first place?
September 26, 2006
I want my L-TV
Until now, the only self-identified libertarian among fictional TV characters has been “Penn Jillette” on the Showtime series “Bull$#@!”. But on Sunday’s season opener of Desperate Housewives on ABC, we got this exchange during a bedroom scene between Bree and her new boyfriend Orson:
"I don't do that," she says. "I'm a Republican."
Hah! Too bad they made the libertarian character not only a creepy control freak who murdered his wife and put Mike into a coma, but a dentist.
September 13, 2006
Those who can do, those who can't?
Norman Wain, a Cleveland-based former radio executive and investor in Air America, says he hadn't heard about any financial difficulties. "I know nothing about it," he says. "They don't communicate with investors very well. They only come to us when they're looking for more money." The last time that happened, he says, was "three or four months ago."
One Book Meme
I've been tagged so here goes:
1. One book that changed my life: Although it is overly dramatic to say it changed my life, when I read Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom in college I realized that I had left behind my liberal Democrat upbringing (when I was a child my father had a McGovern pin on the visor of his car) and embraced liberty.
2. One Book I've Read More Than Once: Steve Landsburg's The Armchair Economist. A bit contrarian but a fun read.
3. One Book I Would Want on a Desert Island: I'm tempted to say The Wealth of Nations so I'd finally have an opportunity to read all of it, but the depressing circumstances of being stuck on an island leads me to choose something humorous. My choice--Parliament of Whores by O'Rourke.
4. One Book that Made Me Laugh: I've used O'Rourke already and it's tempting to choose an early offering from Tom Wolfe, but let's go with A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. My hiking buddy Chris gave me a copy and it's a stitch. Although Bryson is a bit crunchy for my taste he also ridicules the Forest Service for its ineptitude.
5. One Book that Made Me Cry: I haven't read any 9/11 books but one of those would almost certainly do the trick. The sheer evil of 9/11 upsets me more than most tragedies; I remember taking my son (then about 4 months old) home that afternoon and wondering what sort of world my wife and I had brought him into. (BTW, like Brad, I am offended by folks--like here and here--who think 9/11 is some sort of government conspiracy. There's a difference between favoring limited government and being just plain nuts.) As for a book I've actually read--All But My Life by Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein.
6. One Book that I Wish Had Been Written: Something by me. I don't mean to sound flippant or narcissistic; I mean it as an indicator of respect for people who have written books.
7. One Book I Wish Had Not Been Written: Instead of serious answer like The Communist Manifesto, I'll offer a somewhat whimsical one--my father wrote a chitlin cookbook. A truly awful concept; fortunately, I had left home before he started trying these out on the family. My father has also written several local history books, perhaps similar to the one on Granville OH that Brad is reading. I only wish he'd stuck to history and left the stomach churning cooking to someone else.
8. One Book I'm Currently Reading: The Shackled Continent by Robert Guest. The human misery inflicted by predatory African governments would actually make this book a good candidate for the made me cry category.
9. One Book I've Been Meaning to Read: I have a draft of JC Bradbury's forthcoming The Baseball Economist that I've been meaning to read. Technically it probably shouldn't be considered a book yet since it hasn't yet been published. Instead, I'll go with Bees in America by Tammy Horn; I hope to have a bout of nostalgia thinking about the fun I had keeping bees as a kid.
Now to pay the tag forward--I'll tag Aeon Skoble, George Leef, and co-bloggers Tim Shaughnessy, Michael Munger, and Mike DeBow.
September 11, 2006
One book Meme
I've been tagged in the one book meme game.
Here are my picks:
1. One book that has changed your life: Anarchy, State and Utopia, by Robert Nozick. I remember reading this book as a college sophomore with growing excitement: why, the things I felt in my gut actually had intellectual heft and support behind them. People much younger than me will often not realize difficult it was to grow up libertarian in the 1960s and early 1970s.
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No Reason, no Reason Foundation, no Cato Institute, no Free to Choose. Samuelson was the day's economics textbook, and Keynesianism the orthodoxy, in an era when a "conservative" Republican president imposed wage and price controls. Into this came Nozick, handsome, a card-carrying member of the establishment, easy to read, funny, intelligent, blasting statists off the stage. I thought, "Yes. Now I understand."
I wish I could choose more, but it is the one book meme.
2. One Book that You've Read More than Once: Shelby Foote's three volume history, The Civil War: A Narrative. The American Iliad.
3. One Book that You Would Want on a Desert Island: Assuming this means I'll be stuck there for a while, I want something long: "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare."
4. One book that made you laugh: Anything by P.J. O'Rourke. It's hard to pick a favorite, but today, at least, I'll go with Holidays in Hell .
5. One book that made you cry: Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I rarely read fiction, but this is my favorite.
6. One book that you wish had been written: A serious biography of John McCain. All of the biographies so far are fawning hagiographies. McCain is the most fascinating political figure of our time, and deserves a more serious, balanced account.
7. One book that you wish had never been written: Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. There are so many possibilities, so many books that have been influential, and whose ideas have created misery and destruction when put into practice. Yet one realizes that many really bad books of bad ideas are the product of their times: had they not been written, someone else would probably have come along with a similar book. But I am not sure that anyone else could have equalled Marx, and while I think the Russian revolution would have occured in some form anyway, and probably resulted in some dictatorship anyway, Marx is what made these dictatorships so virulent and enduring and damning. I'll choose the Communist Manifesto over Capital, as it came first.
8. One book you're currently reading: Like many, I tend to have several books going at once. I'll go with Granville, Ohio: A Study in Continuity and Change. What a remarkable little town I live in. The Granville Historical Society had the foresight to commission this work so it would be ready for the town's 200th birthday in 2005.
9. One book you've been meaning to read: About 18 months ago I started Gibbon's classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, so I guess this could go in answer to the previous question. But I haven't picked it up in several months and will probably start over when I do. It was great, by the way; what wonderful prose. I just got distracted. As Rufus Fears says, Gibbon never uses one adjective when two will do.
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Headlines c. 2001
As a reference, here are some random headlines from the 9/11/2001 NYT:
The last article is about how the administration is beginning to "panic" about the economy and criticizes the proposal to reduce the capital gains tax from 20 percent to 15 percent.
The Biden article starts out:
Washington, Sept. 10 - Declaring a profound difference with President Bush, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., said today that plans for missile defense sacrifice national security for the sake of a "theological" belief - and that the effort to make such a system work would cost astronomical amounts of money...Mr. Biden said the administration would create greater insecurity than at any time since the 1960s if it went ahead [with the plans to test a limited national defense system]...
September 09, 2006
I've been Tagged!
Yes, tagged. More to come.
Musings of the Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the September 9, 1906 NYT:
September 05, 2006
I have yet another namesake
This one demonstrates remarkable talent with little physical capital.
What's in a name?
Advertising Age reports that Taco Bell is having a hard time convincing Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, to eat at their restaurants.
Taco Bell's fast-food version of Mexican food isn't playing very well with Hispanics, who contributed just a half-percent to the company's same-store-sales gain of 7% in 2005, despite making up 20% of Taco Bell's core 18-to-34-year-old target market.
If native Mexicans choose not to eat at TB is it because of the advertising or because the food isn't really Mexican food? According to one Carl Kravetz, who handles advertising for El Pollo Loco (The Crazy Chicken?!?), it's the food:
"If they say they deliver good Mexican food to [Hispanics] they won't be believed. If they say they have good, filling, cheap American food, they may have a chance."Ouch.
September 02, 2006
Musings of the Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the September 2, 1906 NYT:
September 01, 2006
"You're Fired" - Who me?
I quit watching "The Apprentice" a few years ago, but I did find it somewhat intriguing for a while. I especially liked Carolyn. Alas, Carolyn may not be on the show any more as The Don cracks the whip:
"Being on 'The Apprentice' went to her head. She was no longer focused on business. She was giving speeches for $25,000 and doing endorsements," said a person quoted in the New York Post as an "insider."
I wonder why Trump didn't incorporate this into the show. Instead of firing one of the apprentice-wanna-bes, he could have fired Carolyn on the show and shocked the world. As it is, it seems like The Don might be concerned that focus stays on the middle chair in the boardroom.
I wonder if she received the news via email?
August 29, 2006
The Duke Rape Case Fraud
Stuart Taylor has this excellent column at Slate, on the alleged - and it now appears almost certainly false - rape of a stripper by members of the Duke Lacrosse team. It's a story of dishonest, politically ambitious prosecutors; crooked cops bent on making the evidence fit the crime, ideologically driven academics, and mostly, the shameless, ideologically charged reporting of America's most influential newspaper. It's long, but well worth a read - a real life Bonfire of the Vanities.
On spelling reform c. 1906
Filed in the things don't change drawer is the 1906 movement to reform spelling in American. Teddy Roosevelt passed an
In the August 29, 1906 NYT is an article announcing that Webster's Dictionary would not include the new spellings simply because Roosevelt said so. The company had this to say:
"English is a lively enough language without a wholesale change such as that which is now being agitated. Snipped particles, like `stopt' for stopped are particularly undesirable, and hideous, and will not come into good use for a long time."How long? Perhaps until text messaging? What was that, 2003 or 2004?
In another article there is concern that Congress will try to block the President's move by requiring that Congressional documents be printed using standard English with the President's/Executive branch documents being printed in reformed English. This leads to the following concern:
[I]t may easily produce a vexatious mix-up in requiring two sets of employes at the printing office. It will be practically impossible for one set of men to follow both styles alternately without making frequent blunders in each, and two sets of men means two sets of salaries.
As an aside, you might notice that there seem to be typos in the 1906 articles I pull from. There might be some typos, but fortunately for me many of what seem to be typos are accurate. For example, employe and to-day and per-cent are typed as they were spelled in 1905/1906. Thus, it is apparent that English does evolve and "reform" although it is interesting that the President of the United States would attempt such a reform unilaterally (consider if Bush tried to change nuclear to nucular and strategy to strategery? Although some of these Bushisms are already creeping into the language even if only in jest.)
The simplified spelling movement is still rolling along.
Heck, with my bad primary education you would think I'd be a life-time member.
On disaster's aftermath c. 1906
An amazing letter to the editor in the August 29, 1906 NYT:
We had an earthquake that scared us all up to our full capacity to be frightened, followed by a conflagration which devoured all the business section and about one half the resident section, reckoning in point of population, (not area.) The loss of life will never be known, I might say three thousand, or again five thousand. Each would be simply a guess. The property loss likewise may have been $500,000,000 or again $700,000,000. I don't know, nor does any one else. Discomforts were plenty; actual suffering not at all. My family and I dined off a can of corn, eaten cold out of the can, this being our sole dish the evening after the earthquake...I carried wood and water, cooked in the streets, stood in the bread line for four hours, and with thankful heart received, in the shape of two hard-boiled eggs, my share of the millions the country at large had contributed.
Wow. And this not five months after the SF earthquake. Something to think about amidst the carping sure to fill the airwaves today and the rest of the week.
August 28, 2006
Vintage turf battles
To put it mildly, the vintage base ball community has been fairly cold to the idea of the new Vintage Base Ball Federation previously blogged about my Mike. (A taste of the responses I've seen floating around the listservs is pasted below the fold.)
I have nothing against people making money with vintage base ball. Doing well and doing good are not incompatible. Also, I have nothing against marketing the game aggressively. My first reaction was, "Great, vintage base ball is going to get some attention here."
But after reading more about it, my thinking was, "Oh no..."
I have a problem with the idea of using "hyrbid" rules from the 1860s to the 1880s. In the last decade the vintage base ball movement has worked very hard to research and portray different time periods as accurately as possible. To combine some aspects of early 1860s base ball (for example, a ball caught on one bounce is an out) with 1880s base ball (for example, the use of gloves) is simply inaccurate.
Of secondary concern, I am not thrilled with the general thrust toward more aggressive competitiveness in vintage base ball. Winning is good. But one of the main attractions of vintage base ball for both players and fans is that it eschews the worst aspects of modern life. There are few insults in vintage base ball worse than calling someone a "softballer". I realize that in real life the relatively genteel game of the 1850s gave way to the more aggressive game of the 1880s so it does matter what era you're trying to recreate. But I do hope the game remains a game for people interested at least as much in history and accuracy as in winning.
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While I haven't time at the moment for a lengthy reply, I want to add
I've also stayed quiet the last couple days over this just to see
This will give the public an inaccurate view of 19th century base
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August 26, 2006
Musings of the Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the August 26, 1906 NYT:
Eulogy for Maynard Ferguson
This came to me from my friend, Mike Stroup, and I reprint with permission:
Some of us follow the careers of fantastic athletes. Others admire movie superstars. “Different” people like me admire incredible jazz musicians. Maynard Ferguson, jazz trumpeter extraordinaire, died this week. He was 78.
August 23, 2006
From Forbes.com a list of the drunkest cities in the country, although dictionary.com has no entry for the word "drunkest."
I suppose Forbes means the cities with the most drunk populations - can a city be drunk?
Here's the top five:
Party Schools c. 1906
As a follow up on Frank's post concerning party schools, I wanted to mention my pride that my alma mater (UGA) is gaining on the party school dimension even as we gain on the academic and intercollegiate football dimensions. However, I not the considerable inflation in drink specials. In the late 80s and early 90s the drink specials ranged from penny drinks through nickels and quarters.
A little tidbit from the August 23, 1906 NYT suggests that Princeton might have been near the top of the list of party schools 100 years ago:
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union has taken a step in the right direction in its decision to attempt the reform of the students of Princeton University...It is well known that smoking, which I believe is the more prevalent of the vices mentioned, retards and stunts the growth, and may very possibly be responsible for the lack of athletic supremacy referred to.
The know not what they missed
It seems every fall there is at least one article that lists the differences between the freshman class of this year and the freshman class of, say, 1987 (mine). As we roll into the new fall semester (we start next Monday), here's another - it includes 75 items. Wow things are changing fast!!
Here's the top eleven:
1. The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.I included #11 because a) it is true and b) it represents the 85th seal of the Apocalypse.
The list seems a bit strained at times as I remember getting lost in the old big-box stores such as Treasure Island and K-Mart and I wonder how many freshman (and non-freshman) even know who Manuel Noriega is and why we care(d).
[Update: Frank Stephenson emails me: "I was going to add a comment that my colleague Gary Roseman brought to my attention—items 1, 2, 4, and 6 (and perhaps others down the list)—are not literally correct. While a child the age of, say, your cutie with the DOL bib doesn’t know or remember much, she would have been alive while GWB is president. The same can be said of the items on the list."]
August 18, 2006
How things change c. 1906
From the August 18, 1906 NYT:
Gompers, with his counsel, appeared at Washington to advocate a bill prohibiting the Federal Courts from issuing injunctions in any case between employer and employe, except to prevent irreparable injury to property or to a property right. But its atrocity consisted in the proviso that "for the purposes of this act, no right to carry on business of any particular kind or at any particular place, or at all, shall be considered or treated as property, or as constituting a property right."
August 14, 2006
Personal privacy concerns c. 1906
From the August 14, 1906 NYT:
A force of clerks from the Department of Commerce and Labor at Washington invaded the Surrogates' Court on the ground floor of the County Court House yesterday morning for the purpose of making up records of all divorces granted in this city for the last twenty years...The records, when they are completed, will be used for purposes of information by Congress, when it takes up the question of a uniform divorce law...In each divorce case the clerk is expected to find out and fill in the answers to these questions:
The article points out that the data are included in the divorce decrees but that these decrees are under seal.
All of this sounds eerily similar to the DOJ requests for search history from ISPs and search engines. Many privacy advocates suggested that even anonymous data concerning Internet searches could be used to back-track to an individual. This has been proven a couple of times using the AOL data that was "released" to the public and then "un-released."
In a similar fashion, could government clerks of 1906 be trusted to keep quiet about their knowledge that certain society types had a drinking problem that led to a divorce, or that a certain divorcee receives alimony?
August 12, 2006
Musings of a Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the August 12, 1906 NYT:
August 08, 2006
Perhaps it was worth it? c. 1906
From the August 8, 1906 NYT:
UNION CITY, Tenn - After deliberating for more than three hours the jury in the suit of Miss Lola Walker, who is said to have formerly been a society girl and who was later a chorus girl, returned a verdict this afternoon awarding her $21,000 damages against Col. Richard Edwards, a wealthy young clubman, whose residence is in Union City and who is well known in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis...Miss Walker brought suit for $50,000, alleging breach of promise of marriage. An appeal will be taken to the Supreme Court by Col. Edwards.
I am not sure what the characterizations such as "society girl", "chorus girl," and "wealthy clubman" specifically indicate as these terms are not used today. However, one gets the feeling that they are not intended as complements.
Notwithstanding the expected appeal, an interesting question to ponder is whether the $21,000 was a reasonable price to avoid matrimony to Miss. Walker.
August 05, 2006
On cynicism about the media c. 1906
Current-day cynics about the U.S. media are perhaps less novel and less clever than they think. From the August 5, 1906 NYT:
[O]n one occasion she [Queen Maud of Norway] was with her sisters at a public gathering in London, and noticed a curious reporter gazing at their every movement. Accordingly, she wrote something on a piece of paper, and, making a pretense of handing it to one of her sisters, dropped it. The reporter, of course, in great glee picked it up, expecting to get a scoop for his paper. Imagine his chagrin when he fond written on it the commonplace remark: 'My new boots pinch me terribly.'"
August 01, 2006
Cornerstones c. 1906
From the Aug. 1, 1906 NYT:
The cornerstone of the new Senate office building facing the Capitol plaza was laid at noon to-day [July 31]. The exercises were informal. In the stone a sealed box was placed containing a Bible, copies of the Declaration of Independence, and of the Constitution, photographs of President [Theodore] Roosevelt, Vice President Fairbanks, and of several public buildings, and copies of a number of official documents.
This was the cornerstone for the Russell Senate Office Building.
Talk about mission creep. The official RSOB webpage states the following:
Today 36 senators and 5 committees occupy space in the Russell Building, which in 1958 housed 96 senators and 10 committees.
I wonder what the Bible was for? Perhaps a symbolic gesture that the country is founded on something contained therein? I wonder if the Senators and committees that have offices in the building know or would even care about such symbolism.
July 30, 2006
Palestine c. 1906
I am slowly wrapping my brain around the Middle East situation and its long history. Most people are familiar with the Biblical history of the Jewish people in the region, but what is less familiar (at least to me) is what has been going on over the past two-hundred years or so.
A lot of talk show hosts insist that there was nothing called "Palestine" before the 1940s. Perhaps that is true in some sense. However, from the July 30, 1906 NYT comes this interesting one-paragraph story lifted from The British Weekly:
Some twenty years ago Palestine meant little to the majority of Jews. Now all is changing. Nearly every year fresh colonies have been established till now they number of thirty, and time is adding to their number and extent. One-third of Palestine proper is once again Jewish soil. So anxious are the Jews to again get possession that they endeavor to purchase all that comes into the market.The last sentence is so very important. If it were true, it would suggest that the beginnings of the Jewish state had its roots in the free market. If Jewish settlers properly and legally purchased the land on which they were forming their settlements/colonies in the early 1900s, it is entirely possible that the two groups (Palestinians and Jews) could have peacefully co-existed even as the Jewish settlements/colonies grew.
On the other hand, much like there is concern in this country about foreigners "buying up" too much land, there could have been confrontations over time. One wonders if the first and second world wars hadn't occurred, along with the ever expanding pogroms and massacres of Jews around Europe (and European Russia) during the first half of the twentieth century, whether there would be a completely different situation in the Middle East today.
July 27, 2006
Is that whiplash?
The BBC reports that Metallica will make their songs available for download on iTunes and other music sites. This is a 180 degree turnaround from the six or more years that the band has refused to do this for fears that the pirates would make it impossible to ever sell a digital song again.
I suppose 40 million iPods might indicate that the whole music biz is changing - for the better? - and a band like Metallica, which will likely have less new music relative to their old music, might be smart to allow folks to buy their music one song at a time.
From the BBC story:
July 23, 2006
Nigerian email c. 1906?
Printed on page 6 of the July 23, 1906 NYT:
Sir: As an old experimentalist I have discovered a way to increase the speed of marine vessels indefinitely, making them the fastest means of transport in the world. I cannot afford to get wide patent rights, nor can I exhibit a model, without divulging my secrets. Do you think that any of your readers would be able to tell me how to get the matter taken up?
July 22, 2006
Potentially interesting history book?
Occasional tidbits in the paper from 100 years ago are suggestive of what might prove interesting history books (or dissertations? gasp!). How about this one from the July 22, 1906 NYT:
RICHMOND, Va - Frederick Smith, colored, one of the panel of twenty-four jurors summoned to try Jefferson Davis for high treason against the United States died in the city home here to-day. He was nearly 90 years old.
I wonder about the stories of the 24 jurors. They would prove more interesting (to me at least) than a book about the O.J. Simpson jury.
Musings of the gentle cynic c. 1906
From the July 22, 1906 NYT:
July 19, 2006
Too busy to care? c. 1906
From the July 19, 1906 NYT:
The Statue of Liberty on Bedloe's Island is to be painted. The goddess is to receive a coat within as well as without. In the eighteen years during which she has borne aloft her torch, she as been exposed to the salt winds of the Atlantic, and their action has begun to affect her bronze plates. A coating of verdigris has spread over them, and it is feared that unless something is done quickly they will be seriously weakened and the statue itself endangered....Congress appropriated $62,800 for the project (about $1.3 million in 2005 CPI adjusted dollars).
I wonder if the lack of concern about the Statue of Liberty was because the U.S. was not yet the superpower it was to become. While Roosevelt is doing his part to extend the influence of the United States, not until WWI and, perhaps especially, WWII will the Statue of Liberty come to mean something different?
It is interesting to read about the rather blase attitude taken concerning what today would be considered by many one of the best symbols of the United States. However, it should be noted that the statue didn't become a national monument until 1924.
July 15, 2006
The Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the July 15, 1906 NYT:
July 14, 2006
The Font Wars
I know almost nothing about typography, so I found this article from Sunday's International Herald Tribune, "Quirky serifs aside, Georgia fonts win on Web," to be very interesting and informative. From the opening:
Log on to The New York Times's Web site, and you'll see it there. Just as you'll spot it on the Web sites of London's Frieze Art Fair, the architecture magazine Metropolis, the artist Damien Hirst, and on blog, after blog, after blog.
Of course, I immediately logged onto the NYT website and found the font recognizable but pretty so-so IMHO. (I also discovered that Bruce Arena had been fired.)
Clicking back to the Tribune article, I finished reading it with zest. How often we take for granted all the talent and resources that go into producing things just so we can take them for granted. And how crucial spontaneous capitalist order is to supporting the innovation of things we value without even realizing it. It made me wonder in which font "I, Pencil" was originally published.
When designing my website I chose, with Kirznerian ignorance, to use Verdana. It just looked the cleanest. So I was pleased to read the story of this font in the Tribune article. The passage is also revealing of the many issues with electronic typography that readers can essentially take for granted.
By the mid-1990s, as more and more people were using Internet and e-mail, we were spending so long reading information on screen that legibility became a critical issue. Concerned that none of the existing digital fonts were easily readable, Microsoft commissioned a collection of screen-friendly typefaces to be given away free with its Windows software. [Matthew] Carter [who developed Georgia for Microsoft in 1996] was asked to produce two, a serif and sans serif.
I would shout two cheers for Microsoft except I'm posting this on IE7 Beta 3 and it is terribly buggy. So just one cheer for now.
Another curiosity. Recently while drumming up some faux letterhead to use in soft copy, I was drawn to Sylfaen. I searched it and found that it is popular in Latin, Greek, Armenian, Georgian, and the Cyrillic, among others. Perhaps that's because Slyfaen supports many of these languages' characters.
I perceive something bigger than style, fashion and legibility in the font wars. Each font is a collection of a particular set of ideas--a claim with which the talented and hard-working Matthew Carter and most typographers would probably agree. How widely a font is used represents a measure of success for the ideas embodied in it. Social critics (especially economists) like to say "ideas have consequences," but too few economists pay attention to how ideas propagate. Often, I think, idea propagation relies heavily on the subtle. I regularly read stuff from the New York Times, but only today did I bother to recognize and appreciate the font. How many dead fonts are there, lying as heaps of rejected, forgotten ideas?
On a final note, two questions.
July 13, 2006
Advertising restrictions c. 1906
From the July 13, 1906 NYT:
The National Billposters' Association to-day decided to stop advertising Satan. Devils in all forms, whether with hoofs, horns, and tails or the more refined creations in evening dress are to be eliminated from advertising matter distributed by the association.
Sad days a century apart
There are so many similarities between the news of today and the news of a century ago. Perhaps it would be the same if I were reading the paper from 76 years ago or 123 years ago. Consider these two stories of horrible tragedy:
From July 11, 2006:
BALLWIN, MO. - Five children -- four of them siblings -- drowned during a church outing when they were caught in a river's current, apparently while trying to help a sixth child who was rescued, authorities and the victims' relatives said Monday....Witnesses said the children -- ages 10 to 17 -- were swept away in the Meramec River on Sunday evening.
From the July 13, 1906 NYT:
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Seven girls were drowned to-day in Cedar River, only three blocks from home, while wading. The smallest child slipped into a deep hole and in trying to rescue her six others were drowned. Ruth Klersey was the only one of the party to escape. The dead...ranged in age from 7 to 16 years.
July 11, 2006
Looking at the four submissions for Ohio, I can't complain about City Barbecue being on the list. It's become a small chain now but they've maintained high quality and a certain shabbiness that is a necessary part of the BBQ experience. On the other hand Montgomery Inn in Cincinnati is AWESOME, but doesn't really qualify in my book as BBQ. I seriously love the place but it's apples and oranges to compare Montgomery Inn with a real BBQ joint.
Now if you're ever in Bowling Green, Ohio. (I know. Why would you be?) Go to Ebony's on Wooster Ave. This guy's got the best NC style 'cue outside of well NC.
July 07, 2006
On immigration c. 1906
From the July 6, 1906 NYT:
Last year 850,000 [immigrants] landed here, the previous greatest number having been 788,289 in 1905. It was in that year that Hungarians displaced Italians as the greatest contributors to the dilution of the Anglo-Saxon race....The arrival of Austro-Hungarians at the head of the list is unwelcome for several reasons. Their illiteracy and disregard of law are high, and they are among the races which settle in the East, only one-fourth going West. They are not skilled workers, contributing hardly anything but crude muscle to the country of their adoption. And worse yet, they do not assimilate any more than the Chinese. Part of this is due to their alienage being in higher degree than that of the arrivals from Western Europe, but more of it is due to a settled policy encouraged from home...There is but cool welcome here for those who emphasize their differences from us, and hold themselves aloof from our assimilating influences.
Wow. In general, there was a definite lack of "political correctness" in the writing of 1906, but it is amazing to me how similar the language concerning the Hungarians in 1906 is to contemporaneous language describing immigrants.
Perhaps the NYT of 1906 reflected the thoughts of its readership, just as the NYT of 2006 likely reflects the thoughts of its readership. Regardless, the article points out that fear of `them furners,' depicted so well in Gangs of New York (set during the 1850s-1860s), is not new.
June 29, 2006
Say it ain't so: Harry's Toast
Professor Bainbridge makes a good case that Harry Potter is a goner in the 7th and final book.
Indeed, most great stories end with the world being redeemed by the hero followed by the death or departure of the hero. Moonglum's sacrificial death to allow Elric to blow the Horn of Fate followed, of course, by Elric's own death. Frodo's departure to the Undying Lands. Anakin Skywalker's redemptive death.
I might add King Arthur to the list.
I have been saying for some time that Harry's undoing is going to come at the hands of his best friend, Ron. (Think Lancelot.) Ron's increasing jealousy of Harry's fame and especially his money is going to get the best of him. It may even be unintentional but something Ron does (probably for money) is going to be Harry's ultimate undoing. In the end Ron will be a hero as he realizes the error of his ways. Or I could be wrong. :-)
I know I'll cry when (ok, if) Harry dies.
June 26, 2006
NYT editorial page c. 1906
At one time the NYT was a champion of individual liberty. Try this editorial from the June 26, 1906:
When those employed in any profession, trade, or calling through their accredited representatives make the rules and regulations under which they are willing to work no other authority should be recognized.
June 24, 2006
"Serious Study: Immaturity Levels Rising"
That's the headline of this story, which I found irresistible. Money excerpt:
Specifically, it seems a growing number of people are retaining the behaviors and attitudes associated with youth.
I'd read the study itself, but I'm going out to play now.
The Gentle Cynic c. 1906
The June 24, 1906 NYT reports the "Musings of the Gentle Cynic"
June 22, 2006
Best jobs in America
College professor is #2. Here is the list and lots of other fun stuff, from Money and Salary.com. Now I gotta get back to work. Heh heh. Yeah right!
June 19, 2006
The Searchable Bard
On workman's comp c. 1906
From the June 18, 1906 NYT:
The [man] had the job of poking his head through a hole at the end of a short target range, and submitting to a bombardment of baseballs by any one who chose to pay 5 cents for three throws. He was supposed to dodge the balls. This feature of the circus proved popular, and few persons visited the circus without taking a try at the dusky animated mark. The [man] had a sort of head protector for the more sensitive parts of his cranium, but on one occasion, when a particularly husky young man threw a ball with great speed, the protector slipped and the [man] received a blow that laid him out and sent him to the hospital tent for treatment. He was so badly hurt that he resigned the job, and that part of the circus was discontinued.
There were rumors that the man had died of his injuries, but that had not been confirmed. The custodians of the Bayonne Hospital, for which the circus was held, wonder if they will be liable for the man's injuries.
June 10, 2006
Happy Birthday DP
The Dublin plant is unique in that it produces DP with the original cane sugar recipe.
June 07, 2006
I was too scared to post this yesterday
As the number of the beast (Rev 13:17-8), 666 holds a special place amongst things scary. Yet June 6, 2006 went by without spooky mention here on DoL. As a logophile, I think that's a missed opportunity because the fear of this number has a name. Folks, the word of the day (for yesterday) is "hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia," which means "I have to rest my tongue now." That's a whopping 14 syllables packed into 29 letters. Wow! And you know what I just realized? When you add 29 to 666, you get 695, which is what I paid for my lunch buffet yesterday! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!
On a calmer note, WikiPedia has some cool mathematics of the number 666. For example, I didn't know that 666 is an "abundant number," or that 666 is a prime reciprocal magic square based on 1/149 in base 10. Most curiously of all, the Roman numeral for 666 contains every Roman numeric symbol for 500 and less in the exact reverse order.
BTW, hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia does not appear to be an official English word. It has entries on answers.com (here) and urbandictionary.com (here), but not on Merriam-Wesbster Online or dictionary.com. My Webster's unabridged is back in California so no word from that source either...
Anyway, happy June 7th everyone. Glad you made it.
June 02, 2006
50 Greatest Libertarian Songs
As Bob Lawson noted a few days ago, John Miller of National Review has run a piece on the 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs. Click the link for the whole list, but here are the top 5:
1. The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again
You can read Miller's article for commentary on why he chose the songs he did. Several of them are libertarian in orientation (e.g. the aforementioned Taxman, Rush's The Trees and Red Barchetta), but many are more traditionally conservative. Some of those songs, though, such as the Raiders anti-drug anthem Kicks (#19), dwell heavily on the idea of personal responsibility. But The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (#37), or Wake Up Little Suzie (#40) are more about traditional conservative values.
Omitted entirely from the list is my favorite libertarian pop hit,
Read More »
Billy Joel's My Life. Have more libertarian lyrics ever crept into a pop song?
I don't need you to worry for me cause I'm alright
I never said you had to offer me a second chance
They will tell you, you can't sleep alone in a strange place
Another song with excellent libertarian lyrics that didn't make Miller's list is The Greatest Love of All, by Linda Creed. This was a minor hit for George Benson in the late 1970s, before Whitney Houston did her typically melodramatic version a decade later.
I decided long ago
So what are the 50 greatest libertarian songs? You can sponge some libertarian stuff from Miller's list - for example, how can you not have at least a couple songs by Rush, or of course Taxman on the list? But what else?
I've enabled comments.
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May 31, 2006
Flavors come and flavors go
A communique from reader Thomas Edwards, posted here with permission:
The most important issue is the elimination of Diet Vanilla Coke, which I have noticed has also led to a parallel reduction in the distribution of Diet Vanilla Pepsi. DVP is basically only available in large grocery stores now in the Washington, DC, metro area. Before DVC was eliminated, DVP was available in most convenience stores as well.
Btw, Co-blogger Craig wondered whether I'd noticed Coca-Cola Blak. Yes, I mentioned it here in December.
May 30, 2006
John J. Miller at NRO gives us the 50 greatest conservative rock songs.
[HT: Dave Reed]
May 29, 2006
More on soda
Following up on Larry's post below, living here in the heart of DP country we have had the Berries and Cream DP for a few months.
My suspicion is that the Berries and Cream Dr. Pepper is likely to be a short-run production. Why? Because it's not good, at least for this Diet Dr. Pepper fan. Of course, there's no accounting for taste, so my prediction may be wrong.
As for increased competition for shelf space, Larry failed to mention Coca-Cola Black [I think] coffee laced soda, and all the new "low calorie energy drinks" that somehow defy the first law of thermodynamics.
Here in Arlington, the soda "aisle" is now augmented by pallets of 12 packs of Coke or Pepsi products positioned in the prime real estate at the end of the aisles. One of the two is "on sale" for $2.50 a 12 pack every week, but never both. That is an interesting equilibrium.
May 26, 2006
The soft drink aisle is running out of shelf space
Dr. Pepper has recently introduced a Berries and Cream flavor, to go along with its regular and Cherry Vanilla versions. Pepsi has announced that this fall it will bring out Dole Sparklers, “an entirely new line of sparkling juice drinks,” and Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash.
Media induced violence c. 1906
The link between media violence and youth violence is tenable, yet it is intuitively appealing, and evidently has been for some time.
From the May 26, NYT:
No more are German youths to read of the adventures of Jack Harkaway among the Indians; no longer will they be able to spend their pfennings on translations of "Texas Jack" and "Nick Carter." Even if international complications come, the Prussian officials are determine that these pernicious influences shall be removed. A decree has just been issued by which the police forbid the street sale of American dime novels. The declare that the case of Wilhelm Klein was only the latest of a long series of similar cases, and they have made up their minds that the influence of the dime novel is responsible for a deplorable outbreak of juvenile crime.An antique example of America exporting its culture to the rest of the world?
May 25, 2006
On bribery c. 1906
From the May 25, 1906 NYT:
Frederick Vrooman, an assistant trainmaster, told the commission that he had received gifts of money in amounts from $5 to $20 from various coal companies, which he named.
Perhaps this is what Rep. Jefferson was thinking? If Congress-people were more honest about their corruption, both "legal" and "illegal," perhaps their poll numbers would actually increase.
It takes a village c. 1906
In the May 25, 1906 NYT is a bizarre story:
OSHKOSH, Wis. - Complaint has been made against a farmer living about five miles southwest of Neenah that he has been hitching four of his seven children to a corn plow or cultivator which he compelled them to drag through a ten-acre truck garden while he guided it....The farmer, it is alleged, was rearing them [the children] in ignorance.
May 21, 2006
Nicotine Fiends c. 1906
Alas, this poor bloke didn't think to sue Big Tobacco. From the May 21, 1906 NYT:
AMSTERDAM, N.Y. - Louis Allis, a young man of this city who has been smoking sixty Turkish cigarettes a day, is to be taken to the Utica Insane Asylum. Last night he became violent and it was necessary to summon two policemen to take him to the station house.
Wow, Turkish smokes can be strong, and sixty a day would be 5 per hour in a twelve hour day? That's a lot of chain smoking and I imagine one's nervous system might be effected. Nevertheless, the Insane Asylum?
In the bizarro world that is the current culture surrounding cigarettes, private individuals sue Big Tobacco, governments sue Big Tobacco, and governments depend on said individuals purchasing cigarettes for tax revenue to fund their projects.
Thus, we find ourselves in the strange predicament that the state and cigarette companies want us to purchase cigarettes - and three packs a day (60 smokes) would do wonders for the tax revenue of a state and profit for a cigarette company - but not smoke them (at least not in the workplace, not in a restaurant, not in a bar, not within 50 feet of an entrance, not in your car, not around kids less than 10, not within 100 feet of a school).
Just last week, the great leaders in Austin, TX, passed a $1 per pack tax to fund primary and secondary schools here in Texas (bold prediction: actual tax revenue will be less than projected, and promised property-tax reductions will be short-lived if they are not stillborn).
May 19, 2006
With friends like these
I occasionally find myself wanting to defend my Christianity and/or Catholicism to other libertarians who seem to believe that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. Indeed, one of John Paul 2's later encyclicals is entitled Faith and Reason, where he argues the two are compatible and reinforcing, since both faith and reason are ordered to the truth.
However, there are always fellow believers who succeed in making the rest of us look like buffoons to the rest of the world. (This is still one of my favorite posts.) There is a group called PrayLive that has decided to pray for world peace...no, wait, for an end to poverty...no, wait again. They are praying "for the lowering of gas prices." Official site here, news report about a DC rally here, news report about a Hollywood rally (big surprise) here. I would blog more about this, but I have to go to the cathedral to pray that God will reduce my mortgage payment to $100 a month.
May 11, 2006
This just in from the monkey research front (selected excerpts):
Drunk Monkeys Mirror People By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Look for Bush Administration officials to invoke the new evidence as further support for ethanol subsidies. "I'm workin hard to give Americans a comprehensive energy policy, one that's funnier than a drunk monkey."
May 09, 2006
Must Love Dogs
"No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session," goes an old saying. But now and then a legislature does something right, even if it is only correcting something the legislature did before.
The Florida legislature closed out its session last week by passing legislation allowing dogs to join their owners in outdoor seating at restaurants. The law had formerly prohibited their presence, even in these outdoor areas. Yeah! One thing I always liked about living in Ecuador many years ago was the ability to take my dog into restaurants. This is the kind of thing that really has little to do with public health, and that the market is perfectly good at regulating. This small step to increase freedom will make the lives of thousands of Floridians just a little bit more enjoyable.
And note, too, that the legislature also did away with a per drink tax on alcoholic beverages, and named a state pie - the former being an objectively good thing, the latter a better use of time than many other things they could have done. They provided for voter registration at bait shops and gun shops, which for some reason the St. Pete Times doesn't like - presumably, the paper is all for easier registration, just not of gun toting, fishing yahoos.
On bigger things, the legislature's record was mixed. But allowing dogs into restaurants - well, I'm thinking of moving south.
Posted by Brad Smith at 01:44 PM in Culture ~ in Funny Stuff ~ in Law ~ in Misc. ~ in Politics · TrackBack (0)
May 05, 2006
Cheers! New wine blog from USA Today
First, happy Cinco de Mayo. When you're done with your Corona (worst beer in Mexico) hangover, check out the new wine blog from USA Today.
On May 12, we will launch a wine blog on usatoday.com called Cheers.
Very cool, IMHO. My only complaint is, why restrict it to $15? In my humble, limited experience, bottles in this range can be difficult to distinguish and so I usually don't put very much effort into making selections. However, in the $20-$30 range, there is....well....quite a range. I would be a lot more interested to hear an expert's daily take on bottles where careful selection can really make a big difference.
But this is very cool, nonetheless.
A barrier to cultural free trade falls
Ending a 40-year ban, the government of Pakistan is now allowing Indian movies to be shown on television. Bollywood films have long been popular in Pakistan through under-the-counter distribution of videos and DVDs.
One private Pakistani channel will be airing a "Festival of Amitabh Bachchan" films this month. Bachchan was the biggest Bollywood hero of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and is still a popular star. The curious selection of films to be broadcast includes
May 02, 2006
Marriage reform c. 1906
From the May 2, 1906 NYT:
ALBANY - By a vote of 27 to 19 the Senate to-day passed Senator Cobb's bill providing that marriages in this State shall be illegal unless a license has first been secured from the regularly constituted authorities.
There is no other explanation for why the New York state government felt obligated to interject itself into the marriage business - whether it was for revenue enhancement or moral oversight.
May 01, 2006
Watch a Pulitzer in the Making
As the drug war and immigration debates heat up, the Fort Worth Star Telegram gets entrepreneurial.
Amid protests over illegal immigration and heated debates in Congress, the Star-Telegram decided to get a firsthand look at life along the border that divides us.
From Brownsville to Tijuana, you can follow Root and Pennington's journey through a series of cool maps, cogent photos, and diary-style reports of the people and places they encounter. View the report here.
The journalistic duo's most recent report is from Boquillas, Mexico. Boquillas is culturally and economically part of the greater Big Bend area (which, for some strange and tacit reasons, is one of my favorite places on earth). Boquillas is isolated from Mexico and was connected to the world only through an informal border crossing that supported the local economy (including tourism) that knows no political boundary. I've paid $1 each way to be rowed across the narrow river, notwithstanding a free rocky crossing by foot yards away. You used to be able to pay $1 to ride an ass up the hill and into town from the crossing. Since closing the border after 9-11, Boquillas has virtually disappeared.
For its grander appeal, this journalistic project has much to offer and deserves due attention, IMHO. Hat tip, my buddy Steve Dieterichs.
April 28, 2006
13mm vs. 1/2 in. plus epsilon c. 1906
From the April 28, 1906 NYT:
WASHINGTON - The House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures to-day voted down a motion to report the Littauer bill establishing the metric system of weights and measurement.
April 26, 2006
Disaster aid fraud c. 1906
From the April 26, 1906 NYT:
Wholesale grabbing of supplies by elements of the people, while others are in want, has caused the military authorities to order a new system in the distribution of food. Beginning tomorrow kitchens and mess rooms will be established, where meals will be supplied to all who apply, but no food will be given out to be carried away...
Hmmm...items of value without well defined property rights tend to be accumulated by the unscrupulous or the "powerful." Sounds about right.
In the case of disassociated children, similar to what happened in the aftermath of Katrina, there are kids travelling with complete strangers in the aftermath of SF:
SALEM, Ore - Gov. Chamberlain sent this telegram to Gov. Pardee of California today:
April 25, 2006
Post-disaster aid c. 1906
Two other articles from the April 25, NYT offer an interesting comparison between the reaction to the need for aid after the 1906 SF earthquake and the need for aid after the 2005 NO/MS/AL hurricanes. For instance, without a large Federal Aid apparatus, private donations are the primary source of aid for the city. Without the federal government's apparatus, cities and states vie for the "honor" of having contributed the most.
The first article contains paragraph after paragraph of the amounts of money and in-kind contributions raised in cities across the northeast. This is somewhat similar to what we saw after Katrina - people delivering food, diapers, and clothes to the local Salvation Army post - but I don't recall seeing the same "running tally" for cities.
Could we expect to see such a statement in 2006?
Adolphus Busch of St. Louis, who gave $100,000 for the relief of San Francisco, declares that his city must toe the mark in better shape in the matter of financial assistance to the sufferers.Now, we point the finger at the folks in Washington, DC, and yell "Stingy! Stingy!" as the federal government has substituted their largess for what was once primarily privately funded. The political economy of this redirection of scorn is interesting.
The second article has the following headlines:
The not so subtle inter-city rivalry displayed in the headline was almost completely absent during the Katrina aftermath. The 14 million is approximately $293 million in 2004 dollars - and this is less than one week after the event!
The article actually lists the names and amounts of contributions by individuals, companies, and associations. These numbers, if accurate, might provide for an interesting empirical piece. I have my TA coding the data, but here is a small snippet:
The incentives such reporting provide for those who want to see their name listed in the paper, or who might fear repercussions from those who DO NOT see their name in the paper, is also interesting.
One Week Post-disaster c. 1906
On April 18, 1906 a massive earthquake hit San Francisco. The April 25, 1906 NYT has several articles about the aftermath of the quake and the state of the city and its citizens.
There is a decidedly different slant towards the aftermath of the disaster relative to the anticipated/expected response by the state and federal governments after Katrina and (to a lesser extent) Rita. Without the DHS and FEMA and the entire welfare/disaster relief apparatus erected in the United States over the past sixty years, individual citizens, politicians, and local associations were left with the task of cleaning up their city and, more importantly, taking care of those who had been displaced. Moreover, there seems to be a similar diaspora from both SF and NO.
Katrina's aftermath was clearly a bit different because the flooding of the city made it nearly impossible for trucks/buses to get into the city. However, the question remains whether the expectation of relief from outside ultimately caused a lack of action on the inside.
April 19, 2006
San Francisco Earthquake c. 1906
As many now know, on April 18, 1906, a terrific earthquake hit San Francisco and the surrounding area. In terms of destruction, it rivals Katrina and might more resemble Galveston, and in terms of total fatalities it rivals 9/11. The NYT of April 19, 1906 is naturally filled with stories from the stricken city, and all sorts of interesting tidbits that are eerily analogous to the Federal government's response to Katrina.
To the mayor:
"I share with all our people the horror felt at the catastrophe that has befallen San Francisco, and the most earnest sympathy with your citizens. IF there is anything that the Federal Government can do to aid you it will be done."
Although water has been secured to the firemen in many sections, the fire is by no means under control. It is raging around Pine and Montgomery Streets, and the Western Union Building has been abandoned to its fate. At the Oakland ferry house, where the company [WU] has established an office, it is difficult to obtain information concerning current events.
This entry will likely evolve as I make my way through the numerous articles from this important event.
April 14, 2006
Let's see. Curvature of heavenly bodies inspires Newton's calculus in 1687. Fast forward 320 years, and curvature of heavenly bodies inspires this:
A team of British academics has developed a mathematical formula to determine just how perfect your posterior is.
Two comments. First, hat tip to tenure. Second, does the formula work? Dare I say, this could tantalize even an a priorist to do empirical work...
April 06, 2006
Seal of approval c. 1906
From the April 6, 1906 NYT:
Dewar's Scotch. Proved as to purity. Mellowed by great age. Recommended by doctors - Adv. [emphasis added]
March 30, 2006
Free entry in journalism, and...?
I'm as delighted as the next press critic or blogger to catch journalists making things up, plagiarizing, taking bribes or giving them, deliberately libeling people, blackmailing people, lying to sources, or forging documents. I approve when newspapers and broadcasters assign internal reports or external investigations to get to the root cause of the perfidy. But I think the profession needlessly exhausts itself trying to figure out why journalists misbehave. You might as well as ask why people cheat and steal.
So let me see if I got this right. We can't regulate morality, but instead must let people make their own mistakes, while we rely on competition, reputational capital, and consumer discretion to monitor quality of public discourse. Sounds pretty good. So a humble question: is what's good for journalism good for the rest of private society?
March 24, 2006
Life Imitates Film--A Day Without a Mexican
ATLANTA -- Members of the Latino community plan to protest against new state legislation aimed at illegal immigrants in Georgia.
Protesters say they will neither spend money nor report to work Friday. An estimated 800,000 Hispanics are expected to take part in Georgia's "Day For Latino Dignity."
March 23, 2006
Markets in Everything--Porn Star Wine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - It seemed like the perfect gimmick: a celebrity porn star would launch her own wine, with her alluring picture on the label.
Savanna Samson did just that, ...
"I never wanted to just do gimmick. That would just happen with me being a porn star, me having a photographer shoot the label, how risque could I get on the label -- all those things," Samson, the stage name for 31-year-old Natalie Oliveros, said in an interview.
The seriousness of the idea was lining up a respected wine maker. So she convinced Italy's Robert Cipresso ....
Samson went to Tuscany and tasted dozens of Cipresso's Italian-grown varieties, then she selected a mix of 70 percent Cesanese, 20 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Montepulciano. She ordered over 400 cases.
Hints of blackberry and licorice, aftertaste of ... Kidding aside, wine guru Robert Parker gave the wine a score of 90.
HT to MR for the markets in everything concept.
March 15, 2006
Profiles in courage: Dr. Wafa Sultan on Islam and modernity
In an interview on Al Jazeera last month, which has reportedly been downloaded more than a million times, the Syrian-born psychiatrist (now living in California) condemned radical Islam for its barbarism:
Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them. …
Dr. Sultan has since received numerous death threats.
Hat tip: NKB.
March 13, 2006
The War of Ideas
Do you remember the powerful impact the first time you read The Wealth of Nations, or Human Action, or The Law? Now imagine the impact of spreading these to the world's 200 million plus native speakers of Arabic. Jonathan Rauch's March 6 column tells the fascinating tale of the anonymous Shiite translator from southern Iraq who, with the help of Tom Palmer at Cato, is working secretly to produce first-time translations into Arabic of great works in liberty.
Odd though it may sound, somewhere in Baghdad a man is working in secrecy to edit new Arabic versions of Liberalism, by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and In Defense of Global Capitalism, by the Swedish economist Johan Norberg. He is doing this at some risk of kidnap, beating, and death, because he hopes that a new Arabic-language Web site, called LampofLiberty.org—MisbahAlHurriyya.org in Arabic—can change the world by publishing liberal classics.
Continue reading here for much more on this important, extremely long term project.
HT and major props to Virginia Postrel, who recently donated a kidney to a friend.
March 11, 2006
Genius bank robbers
Tarrant County, Texas (home to Arlington and Ft. Worth, among other cities) has experienced a large increase in bank robberies since October of 2005. Today's Star-Telegram has a front page story that discusses the recent spike in bank robberies and the possible reasons why. Not totally in defiance of setting marginal benefit equal to marginal cost, our local experts claim that a) most bank robberies are spur-of-the-moment deals, b) many folks robbing banks are drug users in need of some quick cash, c) bank robbers know that bank tellers are trained to cooperate and "hand over the cash," but that d) bank robbers think they are going to get away with it.
Part (d) is where most bank robbers are seriously mistaken as 73% of all bank robberies in Tarrant County are cleared.
Why such a high clearance rate? The surveillance cameras are very good at taking clear pictures of bank robbers, which are then run, say, on the front page of the Star-Telegram!! The print paper had a collage of twelve bank robbers looking just as pretty as you please. The on-line version of the story provides the pictures but not in the nice collage (check out the pictures from the link within the story).
March 09, 2006
A must see
HT: CFG Blog
Kite Aerial Photography
I've heard of kite surfing, but kite aerial photography was new to me.
Kite aerial photographers, KAPpers for short, are hobbyist/artists who rig kites with suspended cameras that can be remotely operated from the ground. Hovering kites can be guided into spots that a helicopter or plane could never go (at least not legally). Using a variety of lenses, panning devices and other homemade gadgets, good KAPpers take some downright amazing pictures.
Full story including links to great pics here.
March 06, 2006
A possible explanation for why Hollywood revenues are down?
I watched the majority of last night's award show, although I have not been to a movie for about two years. The only 2005 release I saw all the way through was "40 Year Old Virgin" and I actually picked up a book midway through that DVD.
I am a fan of hip hop (especially old school), but the song awarded Best Song might provide some insight as to why revenues are down at the box office? Uncensored lyrics here
Another thing that struck me was how little I had heard about the nominees for best picture. I am out of the market for movies, but I still have two ears and I still read. Perhaps this explains why I hadn't heard anything about these movies:
The box office totals from Boxofficemojo.com:
Wedding Crashers $209,255,921 Release date: 7/15/2005 ($29.89m/month)
Nominees for Best Movie:
Total Revenue of Nominees for Best Movie: $235,568,359
There is no particular reason for the best movies to be the most profitable or most successful at the box office. However, while Munich and Brokeback were comparable in monthly earnings to The Wedding Crashers, I wonder if either of the two nominees has the staying power (in terms of weeks run in theater) as The Wedding Crashers (another movie I turned off in the first five minutes). The other nominees were watched by a little less than one million people per month. Obviously the movies didn't have the draw of Harry Potter or Star Wars, and while revenue isn't a gauge of quality, shouldn't it be correlated in the long run?
March 03, 2006
Blogosphere: Revolution or Reinforcment?
Matt Welch, the outgoing associate editor at Reason magazine, has an insightful (and fun) column in the April print edition (pp.16-7, not yet available online). The set up: in the early days of blogs (post-9/11), Welch expected blogs to democratise public discourse and improve quality. Quoting his own earlier essay, Welch writes:
"'What do warbloggers have in common, that most pundits do not?' I enthused. 'I'd say a yen for critical thinking, a sense of humor that actually translates into people laughing out loud, a willingness to engage (and encourage) readers, a hostility to the Culture War and other artifacts of the professionalized left-right split of the 1990s...a readiness to admit error [and] a sense of collegial yet brutal peer review.'
Laugh out loud, all right.
Welch goes on to describe how blogs have become powerful tools for the most partisan of opinion dishing and mutual bashing not to be bohthered with standards of logic, fact checking, or grammatical competence. He continues:
So what's wrong with a bunch of human beings using technology to organize themselves into political groupings? Absolutely nothing. The purpose of enhanced freedom is to enhance people's ability [sic] act freely in the ways of their choosing, and we shouldn't be surprised when they choose to do the same stuff they were doing before, only more efficiently."
Indeed. I think it's without controversy to say that current events blogs have democratised American (and world) debate, moving it outside the major media outlets, AND reinforced whatever status quo, partisan-based polarization existed (and exists) in American debate, AND much more. Blog on.
February 28, 2006
My older son has not been reading enough lately. He is 16, just started driving, plays quite a bit of video games, and thinks that young women are very quickly becoming worth looking at.
Idle hands....The devil's workshop, and all that.
So I bought a copy of Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, gave it to him.
He read it in an afternoon (which isn't hard; it is ONE LESSON, after all).
He comes up to me the next day, and that, "That book really seemed simple."
I was a bit miffed; "Those are complicated ideas...."
He interrupts: "I didn't say simple-minded. I meant simple like...inarguably true."
Happy sigh for ol' Dad. I'll die someday. But good ideas, the really good ideas, are immortal.
February 26, 2006
Lunacy in New York c. 1906
In the Feb. 26, 1906 NYT is an article concerning lunacy in the state of New York. Now, I am no expert in the area of mental health and wouldn't claim to be. Nor am I making light of the obviously complicated problems of the human mind. However, the article points out that the State Commission in Lunacy (perhaps what we should be calling most state legislatures these days) had been carefully following the trends in lunacy and had found "there was a constant increase in the ratio of the insane to the general population."
Unfortunately, the commission data confuse supply and demand side influences. The Commission reported that in 1892 there were 17,275 "insane" people in all of the state institutions and the state population was 6.51 million (for a ratio of 1 in 377). By June of 1905, the Commission reported there were 27,300 "insane" people in state institutions and the state population was 8.06 million (fora ratio of 1 in 299). The commission went on to estimate that there were an additional 6,000 insane persons "being maintained in their own homes."
Of course, in 1892 there were considerably fewer state institutions in operation, and therefore it is impossible to determine whether the increase in per-capita lunacy is from the supply side (more people were crazy) or the demand side (the state needed more "lunatics" to justify the expenditures). Moreover, as science evolved over the 13 years between studies, it is entirely possible that a deeper understanding of the human mentality would naturally lead to more people being categorized in lunacy.
Perhaps there was a moral hazard problem in that public institutions, ultimately run by individuals (regardless of their intentions), were funded by the state. There was an average daily population of 25,280 patients in 1905 and total spending was $4.593 million. The article reports that $4.95 million would be requested in the coming year (a 7.7% increase!).
Yet another excellent quote from the article:
A similar increase [in lunacy] is reported by the Commissioners in Lunacy of Great BritainBeautiful wording...
February 08, 2006
Censorship on the Internet
Censorship on the Internet is a growing concern, so much so that I wrote a paper on it a number of years ago that economists, sociologists, demographers, and political scientists had/have no desire to publish (burried amongst my working papers somewhere).
J-walk blog had an interesting comparison on the search term "tiananmen" on images.google.com versus images.google.cn.
In the spirit of his search, I went to both sites and searched the term "Craig Depken" and obtained 4,280 hits on google.cn and 23,800 hits on google.com (although I am shocked that I would have that many mentions on the net!).
I also tried the term "Division of Labor" and obtained 3,010,000 hits on google.com and 469,000 from google.cn.
Thus, the two searches yielded an 18% google.cn-to-google.com ratio for Depken and 15.5% google.cn-to-google.com ratio for the term DOL. It would prove interesting to know exactly what is not being included on Google.cn - although the two searches suggest that the "censorship" might be more broadbased than initially reported?
Nevertheless, the image search is an eye-opener. Here in the States the majority of the censorship efforts have been directed towards bomb-making instructions and dirty pictures, for the moment at least.
[Update: 2/8/2006 - From today's Chronicle of Higher Education:
The government of Thailand has blocked access in that country to the Web site of Yale University Press. The move is in response to the site's publicity material for The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej, a book in which the author criticizes the king of Thailand.]
February 07, 2006
What is it about modern liberalism (not classical liberalism) that has made its adherents such boors?
At the Coretta Scott King funeral, with the President in attendance, Joseph Lowry has just gone off on "weapons of mass deception" and an attack on the President's politics. This has nothing to do with the President's policies. What ever happened to basic manners? Respect for dead?
February 06, 2006
Blame it on the courts?
From the Feb. 6, 1906 NYT:
COURT AT LAST DEFINES PRACTICE OF MEDICINE
Whew! Thank goodness we got that put down on paper.
Why did the government (specifically the court) have to specify a definition of medicine? It was evidently central to the case of one Madame Mee who advertised in a local paper:
Acute and chronic diseases cured. Madame Mee, 76 East 104th Street.
Evidently. Mme. Mee examined some "women agents," diagnosed their trouble as "nervousness" and administered message treatment as a curative measure. She charged $2 for her services, and was subsequently charged with "unlawful practice of medicine."
On the surface, this seems more like a rent-protection scheme on the part of the "real doctors" rather than a patient-health concern, although I realize there were instances of actual injury/death that came from early medical contraptions/practices. At least one justice dissented with Judge Green, declaring "that diagnosis and the regulation of the diet and finger-tip manipulation did not constitute practicing medicine."
Summer Camp U
Arnold Kling compares going to college to going to summer camp. He's onto something. Bascially I think a lot of people go to college because it's a fun thing to do. And unlike summer camp, you can drink and have sex!
We college professor types like to debate what it is that we're doing here. It's obvious that 99% of our students don't give a damn about what we're teaching so why are they here? (For our own mental health we prefer not to ask ourselves why we're here.) Yes, yes, they want better jobs. There is certainly something to the signalling model that says we're here as an elaborate obstacle course to help employers separate the wheat from the chaf. But...
Ultimately I've concluded that colleges are all about selling an experience. Football in the fall; basektball in the winter; frats and sororities; bad food in the cafeteria, and even boring professors, are all part the image that people find appealing. Basically, they're buying idea of a college education. It's an identity thing. They want to say "I went to college at _______."
As an aside, this is one of the reasons why I'm not too concerned about distance education replacing me. Sitting at home staring at a computer screen or listening to a podcast doesn't offer the same kind of college experience.
February 04, 2006
On church fires c. 1906
The church fires in Alabama are disturbing. The Feb. 4, 1906 NYT contained an article describing the threatened burning of a Long Island church. The pastor of that church had an interesting response to the threats (of which Dr. Coase might have approved?)
Threats made against Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Huntington, L.I., by certain persons of that place have drawn from the Rev. Albert Long, its pastor, a statement.
Such a transaction would have been odd, to say the least, but would have avoided destruction and dead weight loss. One reason markets are so much better than violence and anarchy - voluntary transfer of property rights ensures that both parties in the transaction are made better off.
An example of "Markets in Everything" ?
February 02, 2006
What? We can't hear you
An owner of Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod music player filed a federal lawsuit against the computer maker, claiming the device causes hearing loss in people who use it.
Damn. My kick-butt 1GB mp3 player (which runs for 10 hours or so on 1 AAA battery) was made by some "company" in Japan, but I couldn't tell you which one as I purchased it for $120 on e-bay two years ago.
Alas, in the Age of the Lawyer, strategic purchasing, embodied in the act of paying more for a lower quality product that, after all, is made by a deep-pocket Fortune 500 company, might actually make sense if the ability to sue is deemed necessary.
The status of the whipping post c. 1906
Back in December I pointed out that in 1905 Pennsylvania Representative Adams wanted to institute the lash and whipping post for those found guilty of domestic violence, what the NYT termed "wife beaters." At the time, Pres. Roosevelt evidently gave the idea his full suport.
The 1905 version of the bill died a quiet death but this evidently did not dissuade the honorable Mr. Adams. The Feb. 2, 1906 NYT reports that Mr. Adams had successfully moved his "whipping post" bill out of committee and to the House for a vote, and the story mentions that the President was still on board. The bill would provide the whipping post as the punishment for "wife beating," but would pertain only to the District of Columbia.
I suspect that the bill did not pass, however the rhetoric surrounding the vote must have been interesting.
January 31, 2006
Life imitates art: “Hans Brix! Oh No!” edition
Fans of Team America: World Police will remember the scene (profanity-laced video clip here) in which the weapons inspector Hans Blix threatens to write a stern letter to him if Kim Jong-Il won’t allow Blix to inspect Kim’s palace for weapons of mass destruction. Apparently the real Hans Blix found it funny too: in the video clip from a news conference linked here, he comments on the scene (even quoting KJI’s use of the f-word).
Hat tip: Reason Hit & Run
Does Anybody Really Care....About Time?
Do you set your watch ahead, on purpose?
You are the enemy. Here's why.
January 26, 2006
S.P.C.A. c. 1906
In the "learn something new every day" category, the Jan. 26, 1906 NYT reports that the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was pressuring companies that contracted to carry the mail to not use lame/older horses.
A letter to the editor from one W. Franklin Brush states:
I think it right to state that I have twice during the past month reported to the society the fact that I had seen a lame horse attached to United States mail wagon...I should think from what I have seen during the past few years of the horses which are used in the mail service that an Inspector of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals might very often hold up a mail wagon without undue suspicion of graft.
First, who knew the SPCA had been around for one hundred years? I figured the SPCA started in Hollywood sometime during the 1970s with the whole "no animals were harmed in the making of this movie" claim. Second, I wonder about the odds of a lame-horse delivery wagon for the U.S. Postal Service (albeit out-sourced to a contract) versus a lame-horse delivery wagon for, say, Sears-Roebuck or Marshall Field.
January 20, 2006
The Man Who Would Be King
Alex Tabarrok at MR asks himself, "Would I be a Good Dictator?" (Alex, if you have the humility to ask the question, you probably would make a good dictator.)
If you haven't seen it or haven't seen it in a while, I recommend it. Among other things the cinematography is awesome for any era much less 1975.
In the film Sean Connery's character, an British ex-soldier in India, is made the god-like king of the land of Kafiristan (think Afghanistan). He goes power crazy and in fact doesn't escape with his life.
There also a great scene in which Connery orders all the villages to give 10 percent of their harvest to him so that he can use it to help villages who have had bad harvests. A welfare state in the making!
January 18, 2006
Religion in the classroom c. 1906
There are a few interesting stories in the Jan. 18, 1906 NYT. From the "things never change" department, there is the "trial" of a public school principal in Brooklyn. The article calls the hearing a "trial," but it is held by the school district/union(?) so I am not sure if the word is actually appropriate.
Nevertheless, Mr. Frank Howard had been accused, through a petition signed by sixty residents of the school's neighborhood, that he was engaged in "systematic Christianization." He was accused of commenting on "the Scriptures in school; that the children had been countenanced in singing Christian songs; that the Principal permitted the display in the classrooms of pictures of the Madonna and Child, and that at Christmas exercises on Dec. 19 he had made particular references to Christ."
The complainants were not secularists - evidently Mr. Howard's school was in a predominantly "Hebrew neighborhood."
January 17, 2006
A legend passes c. 1906
The Jan. 17, 1906 NYT reports the death of Marshall Field. There were likely those who felt that Marshall Field's (the company, not necessarily the man) was destroying the small mom-and-pop retailer, that Marshall Field stores eroded true American values such as the living wage, high-cost health care, a responsibility to buy American first and so forth.
From the NYT story, however, such sentiment was not apparent. Indeed, from the first paragraph one receives a completely different vibe about the paper (and society's?) view of Marshall Field :
Marshall Field of Chicago, the richest merchant in the world, the largest individual taxpayer in the United States, and, perhaps, the third wealthiest citizen in the country, died at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon...Nearly all of the great merchant's relatives and friends were with him at the end.
Later on in the story there is a sub-headline "How he rose from farmer's boy to be one of world's greatest merchants." Let's see if these rules are taught in any business schools today:
Perhaps the best epitome of the rules of his life is furnished in his own words. He wrote:
The story goes on
And Mr. Field did more than make himself rich. He made his associates rich. One man after another has stepped out of the house of Marshall Field & Co. and retired with a fortune.
This sentiment seems all to rare in today's society. Yet, while Bill Gates and Michael Dell are very wealthy individuals, they have enabled thousands of others, directly and indirectly, to become wealthy as well. One can only hope that by the time the giants of our day pass on, society is more ready to praise and honor than denigrate and condemn.
January 14, 2006
“Sarkar nikamma hai!”
… is my favorite line from the now-on-dvd Hindi film Apaharan [Kidnapping]. It means roughly “The government doesn’t work!” or “The government is useless!”. The film's official website is here.
Overall, though, the film is a disappointment. It wastes a great performance by Nana Patekar as a corrupt politician/ kidnap ringleader. Having dispensed with the usual song-and-dance filler, comedy, and romance subplots (while retaining the action and family-melodrama elements of the classic masala formula), the film could have been a taut 100 minutes long instead of a numbing 160. The plot puts the main character through too many implausible changes (e.g. he becomes a kidnapper so that he can afford the bribe required to enter the police force?!), and star Ajay Devgan can’t make them believable – he looks as baffled on the screen as the viewer feels in front of it.
January 13, 2006
The state of New Jersey has decided that its new advertising slogan will be "New Jersey: Come See for Yourself." The also-rans?
New Jersey: Expect the Unexpected.
Given their recent political scandals and history of corruption, I wonder what other slogans could have been proposed.
January 11, 2006
Alternative monopoly rules
These alternative rules for the game Monopoly seem interesting. In many cases they make the game more like competition than monopoly. Does anyone know if there is a "libertarian" set of rules for Monopoly?
Perhaps there is a teaching paper here?
January 10, 2006
NFL to EDS: Adios
A great line in This is Spinal Tap goes "there's a fine line between stupid and clever." One wonders if this pertains to the agencies that have been making the oh-so-subtle advertisements for EDS drugs - the football through the tires, the bathtubs on the hill in France, and so forth. It seems they might have underestimated the moral fiber of the NFL.
From Ad Age Daily:
The national football league plans to cut its ties with erectile-dysfunction drug ads, highlighting growing concerns about increasingly risque creative [sic] in the category and leaving manufacturers with a dearth of major sports marketing platforms for their brands.
January 09, 2006
I love the '90s, special surf music edition
Hey kids! This rave review of the Space Cossacks' best-of CD, "Never Mind the Bolsheviks," kindly mentions the liner notes by yours truly ...
January 04, 2006
Independent confirmation c. 1906
There will be a lot of navel gazing after the latest media flub last night. After last year's flubs one would think that the cable media would be less prone to reporting rumor/gossip as real news, much less putting the news in a "ticker" that ran across the Orange Bowl - and actually induced me to change channels to Fox to see what was going on!!
Perhaps the words "unconfirmed reports" or "rumor has it" would be enough to limit the euphoria and subsequent crash to reality?
The cable news channels are arguably stuck in a prisoner's dilemma in some sense. If CNN breaks the story first, Fox looks bad, and vice-versa. Hence, everyone wants to be "first" and in attempting to do so sometimes play fast and loose with the facts. However, if there were reputational costs (that ultimately showed up as monetary costs) for being wrong and, perhaps, playing with people's emotions a bit too much, the strategy of "wait and see" might become more valuable, although perhaps not valuable enough to preclude the "be first" strategy.
The fact that the one or more of the news channels has not decided to take a more somber, wait-and-see, "let's get the independent confirmation we need"-approach suggests one or more of the following:
1. There is no (or not enough) reputational/monetary cost from being wrong;
The first two points are not terribly disconcerting. I might personally like to hold members of the media a bit more accountable for being wrong, and perhaps there will be a lawsuit after this episode, but existing laws are likely sufficient to deter most libel/slander. Reporting false information might cause mental anguish or pain, as the reporting last night assuredly did, but I wonder if reporting false information in a general way is as damning as libel/slander. The create-your-own-story-by-being-wrong scenario seems to pertain to Katrina and West Virginia, but I don't think it is a viable long-run strategy for ratings and advertising revenue.
Number three is the one that gets me. I have no problem with reporting rumor, heck, isn't that what Entertainment Tonight and People Magazine do? My issue is that the news channels purport to be reporting news when it seems more and more of the "action" has to do with the reporter (think Geraldo and Anderson) who is "reporting the story" rather than the story itself. This might be a natural outcome of how the cable news market has evolved - because all of the stations are reporting the same thing, the only differentiation is on who is doing the reporting (how they look, sound, project, etc).
On the flip side, I likely couldn't pick ANY New York Times reporter out of a lineup, or any other newspaper's reporters for that matter. Perhaps print news reporters do not compete in the same way as on-screen reporters and therefore are less likely to pull a "thousands dead in the Super Dome" type of mistake? Perhaps print reporters are more prone to try to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, which might cause plagiarism, fabricated sources, and leaking of classified information?
Back to my original point that a little bit of "wait and see" or "unconfirmed reports" might be a good idea at times. The Jan. 4, 1906 NYT has the following ditty that made me chuckle (a little bit):
It is stated on the highest authority that there is not the slightest authority for Admiral Rojestvensky's aspersion on the neutrality of Great Britain.
I will do little blogging for the rest of the week as I head to the ASSA's in Boston (bhhhrrrrr).
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Aside: Why are economists so cheap that we get to go to great city's like Boston, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia (IN JANUARY!!) while the finance folks go to Key West? I will be stuck in a hotel room interveiwing the whole weekend, but I might try to stick my head out a couple of times.
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December 31, 2005
New Year's Celebration c. 1905
New Year's Eve 1905 was, evidently, one of the first to be celebrated in and around Times Square. From the Dec. 31, 1905 NYT:
On the stroke of 12 to-night the figures "1906" will be flashed from the tower of the Times Building in letters of fire that will be visible several miles away...Election night, with its vast and merry crowds, showed conclusively that the center of up-town activity had moved north to Times Square, and there is no doubt, therefore, that the biggest outpouring in the city's history will see the birth of the new year from the streets and avenues immediately surrounding the Times Building.The last bit sounds like a Dick Clark sound bite.
In another article we learn that they could party hard in 1905:
The customary New Year's Eve celebration, for which practically all of New York turns out, was pushed more than a day ahead this season, and began practically soon after noon yesterday, when the offices downtown closed for the last time in the old year...The old custom of giving away New Year's wishes in quart bottles was revived with a vengeance. Some years ago the Retail Liquor Dealer's Association, by resolution, put a stop to this form of gifts to patrons, but the saloon keepers objected, insisting that they lost business by adhering to the rule. This year there was no attempt to restrict the gifts.
News flash: Dick Clark has finally gotten old
The once-ageless Clark, now 76, had a stroke last year, but he’s back – at least to some extent. He’ll be co-hosting “New Year's Rockin' Eve” tonight with Ryan Seacrest. Reports the NY Times:
"I don't think he is 100 percent," Mr. Seacrest told Associated Press radio this week, "but he will not be in a wheelchair on the telecast."
Well, that’s reassuring.
December 25, 2005
Bollywood 2005 in review
Where most Bollywood films feature 5 or so songs, two of the top four films for 2005 (Black, Sarkar) had zero songs. An anomaly or a trend? Perhaps a bit of each. Film songs are so deeply embedded in Bollywood film culture and marketing – the soundtrack is typically released about a month in advance to generate publicity for the film opening – that songless films will continue to be rare. But with the successes of Black and Sarkar, perhaps less rare in the future. Sarkar was directed by India’s most stylish director, Ramgopal Varma, who has gone songless before (Bhoot). Black was directed by the very mainstream Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose previous hit Devdas relied heavily on songs.
It was an okay year for my favorite Bollywood subgenre, the underworld flick, led by Sarkar. Also worth watching: D. I’m looking forward to Apaharan, a movie about the kidnapping racket in Bihar, which recently opened strongly. It stars Nana Patekar, the most consistently compelling actor working in Bollywood today, star of my 2004 favorite Ab Tak Chappan. I haven’t seen Mumbai Godfather; it got bad reviews.
December 21, 2005
Blogging is...addictive, or seductive?
A "friend" of mine noticed that I had broken my (never credible) promise to eschew blogging back on M.E. Last week I posted this....
Thanks, man. I think.
Some people claim that blogging is addictive. Maybe I just want to put it more romantically, but I think that blogging is seductive.
Check this post, and the comments, for some insights....
December 20, 2005
Cause or Effect?
Google Zeitgeist has posted its 2005 report. The graphs are very interesting and if the raw data were available, there could be some interesting empirical research in combining Google search terms and what's being aired/printed in the mass media.
For example, here is the graph on Avian Bird Flu. Are the searches the cause of the increased media awareness and alarm or are the searches the effect? The king-maker version of the MSM suggests that the searches are the effect of the media hype, but I wonder.
How about this one dealing with WMD or Weapons of Mass Destruction? Does this mean the topic wasn't important after the election or that the matter had been settled (which might explain why those who keep arguing "there were not WMDs" don't seem to get a lot of traction)?
A minor complaint: The vertical axes have no scale (which is likely done on purpose to protect Google's information) so the best we can glean from the graphs are relative changes.
Little blogging by me over the next week.
Cultural globalization personified
Seen recently on AZN-TV’s Showbiz India Extreme: DeLon Jayasingha, an LA-based Sri Lankan – American performer whose music mixes hip-hop, salsa, and reggae, with lyrics in English, Spanish, and Sinhalese …
December 15, 2005
Moral Authority c. 1905
File this in the "we've come a long way" category. From the Dec. 15, 1905 NYT is this little story on Page 1:
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - Representative Adams had a conference with the President to-day at the White House on his bill providing for the erection of the whipping post in the District of Columbia for wife beaters [emphasis added]. He told the President that he desired very much to have his moral support, and believed that Mr. Roosevelt could create a sentiment that would pass the bill this session.
December 12, 2005
Can you imagine?
At one time the New York subway system had no maps in the stations? So indicates a letter to the editor of the Dec. 12, 1905 NYT:
Allow me to suggest that it would be well if the management of the Subway were to place in a conspicuous position at the entrance of each station a map of New York showing the route of the Subway, its branches, and the different stations at which the trains halt.
December 10, 2005
A plug: the perfect stocking stuffer
Ripping surf-instro music CD out now: The Space Cossacks, "Never Mind The Bolsheviks: The Best of". Compiles the most intense and melodic recordings of the celebrated ‘90s band fronted by ace guitarist and Hillsdale College economics professor Ivan Pongracic, Jr. (The only band that compares is his current band, The Madeira.) Added bonus: liner notes by yours truly! Order here.
Useful quips c. 1905
From the Dec. 10, 1905 NYT:
December 09, 2005
Jeff Spiccoli, Public Choice Scholar
Sorry for being a few days behind, but in reply to Bob's What are your favorite missing quotes?, I think the list should have stuck to slapstick. The genre is much more conducive to one liners (think Airplane!, The Three Amigos, Cheech&Chong--although the latter may more appropriately be called smokestick). All this aside, we have to bow to Jeff Spiccoli, public choice scholar.
"So this Jefferson dude was like, 'Look, the reason we left this England place is 'cause it was so bogus. So if we don't get some primo rules ourselves--pronto--then we're just gonna be bogus, too."
December 07, 2005
Which is more demeaning?
The Native American mascot, such as The Fighting Sioux or The Fighting Illini, or the Native American-themed amusement park?
The polling around here, even though the University closed at 1:30 because of the threat of snow (no laughing if you are above the Mason-Dixon!), overwhelmingly supports the Native American-themed amusement park.
Is this an example of "De Gustibus" or "Cui Bono"?
December 06, 2005
How about Joan Jett for 24 hours?
Larry's post (below) reminded me of a rock station in Chattanooga during the 80s (Rock 105), who thought it would be clever to play Joan Jett's I Love Rock And Roll without commercial interruption for its first 24 hours. After about the fourth time in a row the station was turned off.
Like a bad liquor experience, my Pavolvian response to "I Love Rock and Roll" is to recoil in horror.
Where is the FCC when we need them?
I’m being forced to reconsider my view that the FCC shouldn’t restrict broadcast content. Why? Because while I’ve been driving around town Christmas shopping, KEZK-FM in St. Louis has subjected me to Josh Groban’s version of “O Holy Night” three times in 24 hours. There ought to be a rule! (Specifically: Groban no more than once per day; if the station wants to play that song again, play Eric Cartman’s version.)
Sure, I could always turn the radio off or avoid the channels I don't want to hear -- but as FCC Chairman Kevin Martin asked about offensive cable TV, why should I have to?
Immigration concerns c. 1905
In what would have likely shown on C-SPAN 3 or some such channel, in the December 6, 1905 NYT, is a story about the
first National conference held in this country, beginning today in the Concert Hall of Madison Square Garden. The sessions will continue through to-morrow and Friday. The conference was arranged for by the Civid Federation, and its purpose is to find out whether immigration at the present rate is a benefit or a menace to the prosperity of the country [emphasis added].
The more things change, the more they stay the same. I think we can safely state that there was a net benefit to the immigration waves of the early 1900s, even if assimilation didn't happen overnight. Today's wave of immigration evokes similar concerns about quick assimilatoin and the future of our prosperity. However, one hundred years it is likely that we will have a similar conclusion as we do today.
December 05, 2005
More Missing Movie Quotes
Me, I’m disappointed that the AFI list of 100 movie quotes failed to include any of these memorable lines from Pulp Fiction:
JULES: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
"Who are these guys?"
"Who are these guys?"
And my personal favorite:
"You just keep thinkin' Butch. That's what you're good at."
What are your favorite missing quotes?
December 02, 2005
World’s most popular actor hospitalized
Amitabh Bachchan, 63, is recovering in Mumbai from surgery Wednesday evening to repair intestinal perforation due to diverticulitis.
Who? If you’re not a fan of Bollywood you probably haven’t heard of The Big B, but the tall baritone-voiced actor has been far and away the industry’s leading star since 1975. There is no doubt that world-wide his movies have sold more tickets than those of any other actor -- from any country -- over those 30 years. (Revenue product is another question: Bollywood films sell about as many tickets but do about 1/20 the real box office of Hollywood because tickets in India go for the equivalent of 50 cents rather than $10.)
Bachchan co-starred in the greatest Hindi film of all time, Sholay, in 1975. He has appeared in four hits so far this year: Bunty Aur Babli, Black, Sarkar, and Waqt , respectively 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 8th in adjusted All-Indian net box office for 2005. If you want to sample his recent work, the best of these films overall is Sarkar (an Indianized version of The Godfather from Bollywood's best current director, Ram Gopal Varma), but Bachchan’s acting impressed me even more in Black (an Indianized version of The Miracle Worker), where my ability to appreciate his talents was helped by the fact that his character speaks about 80% in English.
Although he now plays patriarchs rather than the “angry young man” roles that made him famous, Bachchan continues to work steadily. Two new Bachchan films are due out this month. Reports the Deccan Herald:
According to industry sources here, Bachchan is starring in at least a dozen films which are scheduled to be completed next year. He has also signed on for various commercials which were to be shot this month and early next year.
AB also hosts India’s most popular television show, “Kaun Banega Crorepati?,” the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Bachchan was recently in New York to promote the show, and was interviewed about it last week on Showbiz India (a US program on cable's International Channel). Filming for the revamped KBC-2 will now have to be suspended. Bachchan is expected to be out of action for a month while recuperating.
With a title like that
The Dec. 2, 1905 NYT hypes a new book on "Easy Mathematics" by one Sir Oliver Lodge that went by the title:
Now that's a title to titillate the mathematically curious.
More on Oliver Lodge:
November 29, 2005
Forget smoking and loud stereos, how about 12 satellite dishes on your neighbor's front porch?
Evidently he can dial in 5,000 channels, which puts channel surfing in a new perspective. On the other hand, he probably got to watch the Georgia-Georgia Tech game last Saturday - we got stuck with ND-Stanford (even though the ND-Stanford game was exciting, and the GA-GT game wasn't).
Happy birthday pong
How far we have come since November 29, 1971. Ah, the good old days of Pong. The simple game didn't elicit Congressional investigations and parental ratings. Did pong cause a lot of sleepless nights? Were there bleary-eyed sophomores stumbling into class the next day? .
November 28, 2005
Umm Ali or O'Malley?
On my recent trip to Oman, I had a middle eastern dessert called Umm Ali which means "Ali's Mother". It's a sort of middle eastern bread pudding, sweet with nuts and raisins; it is much tastier than the bland Northern European version.
Anyway, my host told me the dish originated with an Irish woman named O'Malley who lived in the region in the past. I tried to find some verification of this but couldn't come up with much except what I found on this page.
Anyway, if true, this would be a great example of Tyler Cowen's basic view of how trade occurs between cultures.
November 23, 2005
Link Wray, RIP
Last night on Letterman, the band played guitarist Link Wray’s song “Rumble” as the show went to a commercial break. This morning I discovered the sad reason why (hat tip to Jeff A. Taylor at Reason Hit & Run): Link Wray passed away earlier this month and was buried on Friday. He was 76. Here is the official Link Wray site; here is a fan tribute site; Rolling Stone has an obit here.
You’ve heard his menacing instrumentals even if you don’t know the songs by name. Among other placements, two of his songs play in the background of the Jack Rabbit Slim’s scene in Pulp Fiction. He was a huge influence on the surf instro music of the 1960s (Dick Dale et al.) through to today’s post-Pulp Fiction bands.
I saw Link play in Atlanta seven years ago, and in St. Louis in April this year. Both times in small clubs. This April's was an unpolished show, since it was early in a tour with a pick-up drummer and bass player who didn’t know the material yet. But the guitar-playing was timeless. I hope I’m as cheerful and energetic at 76 as Link was.
November 22, 2005
This [blank] for sale
From Advertising Age:
The 2005 Time Person of the Year is brought to you by ... Chrysler.I want to sell sponsorship of my exams (as well as sponsorships for hints), but somehow I think that is not allowed.
Does Chrysler already know the person of the year? What if it were Osama or some other non-desirable (at least among Chrysler's target consumers)? Oh, the article states that the "finalists" have been determined to be: "Steve Jobs, Bono, the Google Guys, Valerie Plame, Lance Armstrong and rumored front-runner Mother Nature.'" Okay, this time it doesn't look like such a bad bet - and the value of the Time Person of the Year is arguably higher when there are fewer "wildcards" in the list (Plame is not really an issue of such magnitude is it?).
Likely no future "Adolf Hitler" will be a (sponsored) person of the year...
Virtual Tiebout model and spam
The Nigerian emailers received the Ignobel for literature last month. Perhaps the sunshine this provided has made the spammers scurry to other countries. More likely a sufficient number of spam filters have been set to filter out the word "Nigeria" and other African countries where hidden loot can be released upon the signature of a single U.S. citizen.
As far as markets go, I am not sure where this falls - virtual Tiebout? - but in my email box I just received another promise of instant riches, this time from the U.K. (heads up?)
The usual litinany of explanations and assurances follows. There is actually a confidentiality disclaimer at the end, making it look somewhat legit, but now I have to readjust my spam filter.
November 06, 2005
Deepa Mehta’s Water opens (in Canada) to mixed reviews
Deepa Mehta’s Earth (1998) is the best movie ever made on the India-Pakistan partition of 1947, so I’ve been looking forward to her long-delayed Water. It’s the third in an "elements trilogy" (the stories are unrelated) that began with Fire (1996). The first attempt at filming Water in India was shut down by Hindu fundamentalists in 2000. The new version, with a new cast, was filmed secretly in Sri Lanka. Water is the story of several widows living in an ashram in 1938, confined by Hindu religious customs that gave them few other options. It stars Lisa Ray, who was surprisingly good (given what I’d seen of her in the Telugu cowboy film Takkari Donga) in Mehta’s comedy Bollywood/Hollywood. Seema Biswas, who played the title role in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994), and Indian-male-model-turned-Bollywood actor John Abraham also star.
Water has played a few film festivals in Canada (Mehta lives in Toronto) and New York, and opened commercially in Canada on Friday. For some reason it won’t play in the US until April 2006. (How long before bootlegs become available in Indian video stores in the US? I give it two weeks.) Reviews seem to be mixed: some find the film uncompelling or heavy-handed, but one reviewer calls it “an exquisite drama brimming with life and laughter and great tenderness and wrenching tragedy.”
October 31, 2005
Population growth in NYC c. 1905
Some interesting information in the Oct. 31, 1905 NYT concerning population growth in the five NYC boroughs between 1900 and 1905 (and 1890-1900).:
Over at the U.S. census the population data for the same five boroughs from 2000 through 2003:
Manhattan: 2000 - 1,537,195 2003 - 1,564,798 (1.8% growth)
What a difference 100 years makes. Granted there isn't much room left in the five boroughs (see page 11), but is NYC a less attractive place to live for other reasons? Could a lack of growth be associated with the fact that NYC has the highest cost of living in the United States? Could it be the severe unemployment losses after the terrorist attacks of 2001 (more here)? Could it be that NYC is too cold?
October 27, 2005
Name Game, and Sowell on Parks
I'm the first "Tim Shaughnessy" that pops up in Google.
Thomas Sowell discusses the passing of Rosa Parks in his most recent column. Why was the bus segregated in the first place?
It was politics that segregated the races because the incentives of the political process are different from the incentives of the economic process. Both blacks and whites spent money to ride the buses but, after the disenfranchisement of black voters in the late 19th and early 20th century, only whites counted in the political process.
Were it left private, no business owner in his right mind would alienate a large customer base by segregating. Of course he could, but his profits would suffer.
On common names
Following up on Larry's post on name confusion, as far as I know there is only one other Craig Depken. He too has a doctorate, although in mechanical engineering. I have never been accused of being him, but the reverse has happened. This is likely because he has only a handful of mentions on the net whereas Craig Depken Mark II has (perhaps) hundreds.
Having a relatively uncommon name has the somewhat pleasant outcome that the self-google is much less time consuming, and is perhaps more informative, than with a more common name. On the flip side, I don't have plausible deniability when it comes to certain Google hits. Whether this becomes more important in the future - either in the private sector, government, or in academia - is an interesting question (sounds like a Hal Varian paper topic).
History in pictures
A fascinating archive of WWI pictures (some are somewhat graphic). The comments are also interesting.
October 20, 2005
Goo Goo Google
I like Google, but this kind of appreciation seems to be a little bit too much.
Story here: A Baby Named Google
October 16, 2005
Trying to not be repetitive
My last post was a little hard on a wacky Christian Senator (I still laugh at the second picture). I guess I'm still on the same topic.
A Catholic high school principal cancelled the prom. The reason? The story, the principal, and the headline all seem to indicate that the drugs, sex, and alcohol were getting out of control. But, the real reason was:
"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake -- in a word, financial decadence," Hoagland said, fed up with what he called the "bacchanalian aspects."
So a Catholic Church, reeling from sex abuse scandals, doesn't really see the main problem with prom being drunken orgies amongst its students. No, the real problem is Veblenian. And here I thought liberation theology was passe.
Seriously, I usually tell people I will refuse to send my kids through public schools, but if these are typical antics of Catholic school principals, I guess I'll have to homeschool. This story grates on both my somewhat orthodox beliefs on Catholic social thought and on my libertarianism.
BTW, Bob and fellow marathoners, I've sort of gotten into this guy's exercise mentality. He calls that sort of running LSD-long slow distance. Doesn't have much good to say about it.
October 14, 2005
Exercising is the Source of the Obesity?
Our nation's obesity "problem" - some countries would love to be so cursed - has caused a number of navel-gazers to suggest all sorts of public policies ranging from "fat taxes" to compulsory physical education for the overweight.
This little nugget came across my desk today:
73 percent of residential kitchens contain over a million calories of food.
If true, all you can say is Wow. However, I'm not sure if I am buying into this one.
The average adult needs about 2000 or so calories a day to comfortably survive. Let's let the average household have three such people in total. If the 73% figure is to be believed, these kitchens have enough food to feed three adults for 166 days!?!
With so many calories sitting around the kitchen (even if the estimate is off by twenty or thirty percent) it is likely that food spoilage is a common, almost continuous, problem. Food spoilage represents the expiration of an option - the option to ingest the food/calories.
In our kitchen food options expire continuously - perhaps to the detriment of our bank account but not to our waistline - but there is no reason to assume this would be the case in other kitchens. Obesity may be an unintended aggregated consequence of the wrong exercise?
October 06, 2005
Finance 'n' Roses, or is it Guns 'n' Finance?
Duff McKagan, bassist for Guns 'n' Roses and Velvet Revolver, used his down time between bands to pursue a finance degree at Seattle University.
This just sounds very refreshing:
So I bought a house in Seattle and got into Seattle University, which was pretty good for someone who didn't graduate high school. I went for almost four years. I was a quarter away from getting my bachelor's degree, but then this band started. But I learned a lot. I have an accounting minor, and I learned the meat and potatoes of what you've got to know to get around in this business, and a lot more about my personal finances. I'm real happy with the knowledge I gained for my own sake.
I don't think I'll see him one day on "Behind the Music" saying he's flat broke.
September 30, 2005
Fear and loathing c. 1905
From the Sept. 30, 1905 NYT:
The anti-automobile movement that developed a few days ago in the organization of the Anti-Mobile Association of North Branch seems likely to spread throughout New Jersey....The speaker's at last night's meeting declared that the laws concerning the use of the highways of the State must be remodeled, so as to throw as many restrictions around automobile travel as possible. It was decided to oppose every candidate for the State Senate or Assembly who owns or has ever been known to ride in an automobile (emphasis added).
It must be fall: pumpkin beer is here
Big news from St. Louis: Anheuser-Busch launches “a series of seasonal beers available on tap”. This fall’s offering is Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale, whose flavor the AB product manager describes as “a wicked blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and real delicious pumpkins." Seriously.
The pumpkin beer will also be available in stores as part of the Michelob Special Sampler Collection, “a seasonal package of bottled specialty beers”.
No word yet on the flavoring of the winter brew that AB will make available in December. Cranberry? Sugar cookie? Peppermint candy cane?
September 28, 2005
Jerry Springer households c. 1905
From the Sept. 28, 1905 NYT:
Alleging that her husband had compelled her to go around their home on roller skates and had done other strange things, Mrs. Emma Kopp appeared before Justice Garretson in Special Term of the Supreme Court, Brooklyn, and opposed his release from the Long Island Home for the Insane in Amityville...Mrs. Kopp in her affidavit said that he had for some time taken fifteen or twenty drinks of whisky each day, and on some days had consumed two quarts.
Poor guy. Today he would have had an all-expenses paid trip to Chicago or some other city to be the object of ridicule or fascination (depending on one's take) on one of the daily shows. Of course, fifteen to twenty snorts of whisky a day will make just about anybody "crazy."
September 26, 2005
Blockbuster...not, but still
There is a documentary coming out this fall, an extension of the short film, "Brainwashing 101."
It is described here.
The main film should be out in the next few months. And in THAT FILM, you will see (ahem), well....me. Kgrease, speaking truth to flowers. I'm giving it two thumbs up, way up.
September 09, 2005
Cato on TV
In the summer of 1976 (I think it was), I was commissioned to write a biographical essay on Cato the Younger, also known as Cato the Utican (the adjectives are to distinguish him from Cato the Elder, aka Cato the Censor), as a backgrounder for his then-fledging namesake the Cato Institute. I’m not entirely sure how I got the job; probably via someone who’d heard that I’d had four years of high school Latin.
With that personal history, forgive me for registering the following complaint about HBO’s new series Rome: the actor who plays Cato is too old. Marcus Porcius Cato was born 95 BC. Gaius Julius Caesar was born 102 or 100 BC; so in real life Cato was 5 or 7 years younger than Caesar. Cato was 46 when Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC. In the HBO series, the actor playing Cato (Karl Johnson) looks about 60-65 years old, about 10-15 years older than the actor playing Caesar. (I haven’t been able to find out Karl Johnson’s actual age.)
Otherwise, I like the series so far. The writers have done their historical homework. (E.g., Cato was in fact known for oddly wearing a toga without a tunic underneath.) I especially like Indira Varma (from Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra) as Niobe.
HBO’s Rome is like HBO’s Deadwood in its multiple interweaving plot lines and generous helpings of violence and nudity (though without as much cursing), but it places them in exactly the opposite political setting. Deadwood is a cynical take on a stateless society. Rome is a cynical take on a state-dominated society.
September 02, 2005
Civil War Sites vs. Katrina
Those interested in the status of Civil War sites, both in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast, can go to The Present Past blog. It has reports and links to pics and video of what Katrina did. It seems to be written by historical preservation folks, so it is on point.
Here is an overhead pic of the damage at Beauvoir.
August 28, 2005
Comments on Fox News
I turn on Fox News to see what's happening and the only news in the world is that a hurricane is heading for New Orleans. Now, NO is one of my favorite cities - what with the Hotel Moteleone (killer hotel bar), Clover Grill, the Napolean House, Cafe du Monde, (for tourist watching), and more kick-butt restaurants and bars than you can visit, how can you go wrong?
However, Fox News (and I can only assume the other channels, although I don't watch them) reports that NO is "under seige" and runs banner headlines such as "walls and roofs of well-built houses may collapse" and "people and pets exposed to winds may die" and the such. This is not news!! This is hypothetical sky-is-falling rambling which is neither news worthy nor entertaining (at least to me).
The marginal cost to Fox for being "wrong" about their dire predictions is essentially zero. The marginal benefit for having hyped the hurricane for the entire weekend if the hurricane event is catastrophic must be pretty high - I suppose Fox could then claim in the future that they "were there."
The anchors have interviewed the requisite weatherman who will ride out the storm, but have also interviewed "experts" on electric power line repairs, cholera and West Nile virus (evidently there is potential for an epidemic), they have discussed the long lines to get into the Superdome (which haven't been clearly explained), the possibility that the entire city will be under twenty feet of water (allusions to the "Lost City of Atlantis" have been made more than once), and that too many people think the storm might miss NO and that is a shame.
Fox News now anticipates what will happen in the future, and reports such anticipations as news, even while it reports in real time what is happening and then reports on what happened in the past. News used to be past and present tense - primarily past tense. Now, news seems to be past, present, and future tense. The trend of pulling news from the future to the present is wearing on me, which is why I don't often watch cable news.
August 23, 2005
People are Stupid and Markets Don’t Work
That’s the attitude of this Republican administration. How else do you explain the new fuel economy standards? You are too stupid to buy a high mileage fuel efficient car and the auto producers are too stupid to respond to any increase in the demand for high mileage cars, so the government comes to our rescue by legislating standards. Without the government telling me what to do, I just might buy a muscle car or a V-8 to pull the boat. Thank god, they saved me from that stupidity. Better I should buy a Smart Car.
Congress is also thinking of changing daylight savings time. At the western end of the Eastern Time Zone that means we will have to go to work and school in the dark. Can’t Congress just legislate that the sun remain in the sky longer? Surely Congress has the power to do that.
Any other smart things the government has done lately?
August 20, 2005
Annie Get Your Gun
Archie Bunker's solution to airline hyjackings was to give everyone a gun as they entered the plane. Using a similar approach the N.C. legislature has passed a law requiring that the courts provide battered spouses with information on obtaining a handgun. Good idea? If so, why not provide the same information to all victims of crime.
August 19, 2005
We've come a long way
This one is making the rounds. A board game from the sixties promoting various careers for young girls.
More evidence of how far we have come in such a short time.
August 18, 2005
Evidence of what?
Aug. 18, 1905, Page 7 of the New York Times brings the following story (repeated here in its entirety):
OSWEGO, N.Y. - Boatmen gathering driftwood in Lake Ontario today discovered the headless body of a three-year-old girl near Four Miles Point. The body was wrapped in an old dress and placed in a sack.It remains to be "seen" whether this story will generate more headlines, investigatory reporting, and so forth in the next few days. However limited the information at the time, you would have thought the story would merit more than four lines in the NYT.
Alternatively, we know what would happen in today's environment - sales tax revenue in Oswego would increase dramatically as the media converged. Stories about how many headless three year olds are found each year, that this year the number is down/up dramatically, the psychological significance of the finding, the agrieved parents, the local minister, etc.
I wonder if this is evidence that we value life significantly higher in today's U.S., which we obviously do but is it a cause of such media coverage, evidence of fewer pressing issues of national concern (which I don't think is true), or a symptom of our twenty four hour news cycle.
What is the appropriate balance to a news story such as this - what the NYT did 100 years ago or what we would see today? Something to mull over.
(Update: In today's Star Telegram is a short story about a decomposing body found near a highschool. On the web, the story is three paragraphs, 74 words)
August 10, 2005
When in doubt, please ask?
Don't know where this is from (perhaps not suitable for work), but it's funny.
Grumbling in Hollywood
Here in the States, Hollywood has been grumbling because of the flat or falling year-over-year earnings at the boxoffice. There are plenty of excuses for why people aren't going to the movies as much as they once did, including DVDs, pirating, video games, and alternative uses of scarce time. Such concerns were also voiced about television and radio. From what I have seen, not too many people have admitted that remaking Herbie, the Bad News Bears, and the Longest Yard is not likely to set everybody agog.
Here's a quick and dirty picture of year-over-year percentage changes in the top 12 grossing movies domestically. Perhaps this is caused by piracy and DVDs but I bet it has much more to do with the quality of the movies relative to the quality of alternative uses of time.
This story suggests that the movie industry is taking it in the shorts in Asia as well. Some blame piracy, but still others admitted two things. First, the quality of the movies is down. Second, comparing to 2004 is misleading because 2004 was a big year in the movies.
What is in common between the market for movies in Asia and the U.S.? Piracy and the quality of movies. Which is more likely to be causing the dramatic drops in revenue?
Stunning statistic of the day?
So far this year, China's top boxoffice earner is "Sith," which by July 10 had earned 75.23 million yuan ($9.09 million) nationally. However, the current "blackout" of foreign releases through to the end of August could affect overall 2005 results.Perhaps government regulation might keep the revenue at an artificially low level, but $9 million? For the entire country?! Can anybody offer the going price in yuan for a movie in Beijing?
August 06, 2005
Bollywood summer movies
Best Bollywood movie I’ve seen so far this summer: D.
Still looking forward to seeing: Sarkar, The Warrior, and The Rising.
Read More »
D is a pretty good Mafia drama, very much in the style of Company.
Sarkar is directed by the industry’s most creative director, Ram Gopal Varma (fan site here), who did amazing work in Company and Bhoot. The story is said to be inspired by Coppolla’s The Godfather, transposed onto an Indian politician (said to be loosely based on Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackery) and his son. The “godfather” is played by Bollywood’s greatest actor, Amitabh Bachchan, who was great in “Black”. The son is played by Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh’s actual son, the first time they’ve played father and son on screen. It’s gotten good reviews.
The Warrior is in Hindi, but isn’t technically Bollywood because the production company is British (it won the 2003 BAFTA for best British picture, but is only now being released in the US). It’s the story of a mercenary in ancient Rajasthan. It stars Irfan Khan, who was great in 2004’s best Bollywood picture (in my view), the Macbeth-based mafia flick Maqbool.
The Rising is the first film in four years for Aamir Khan, star of the popular and Oscar-nominated Lagaan. It’s the historical tale of Mangal Pandey, who led the failed Indian uprising against British rule in the 19th century. Last week I was in the Indian shopping district in Jackson Heights, Queens (enjoyed the buffet at the Jackson Diner, as always), and posters for The Rising (Hindi title: Mangal Pandey) were everywhere. Official site here.
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July 27, 2005
Interesting rejoinder to Sen. Clinton
Sen. Clinton wants a "study" of Grand Theft Auto and other games and their effects on the children. I have "played" Halo - I played Doom and Quake in grad school, but nothing like the games of today. I didn't have the patience to spend hours understanding what Halo was all about, so I had my buddy put the settings to "kill all and never die" and spent an hour or two blowing the heck out of everything that moved.
Did I understand how to shoot one weapon or another, sure, but I had no idea of what the game was all about.
Enter this opinion by Steven Johnson in the LA Times, and I have to agree with a lot of what he says. At the very least, his ideas are observationally equivalent to what Sen. Clinton claims is going on.
I especially agree with the football story. I played NCAA 2004 on an X-box last year and got roundly trounced. What exactly is a red-dog 44 scat back blue (or whatever the play was called)? American football is a blast to watch (especially my Dawgs!) but it is an extremely complicated game when you are the coach. The intellectual side of games is probably not recognized enough by those who have not played them. Also, when the technology allows us to wage war remotely from six thousand miles away, we will have an Ender's Game generation.
July 26, 2005
Payola in radio
Eliot Spitzer, your state attorney general of New York, went after Sony for allegedly paying radio stations, and radio station personnel, for air-time for their music. Sony has now settled. Evidently this was taboo in the radio industry thirty years ago, but it is not surprising to me that money was exchanging hands. Sony wants air time, which is scarce, radio stations have air time, which is scarce, and it is hardly surprising that mutually beneficial trade would take place.
Evidently, taking such "payola" is against state and federal law. This seems odd, seeing as how Coca Cola pays television and radios for precious advertising time. If listening to the radio is a form of sampling, then paying to have a song played seems no different than advertising. I suppose there is the appearance of impropriety because the payola isn't announced or widely recognized as implicit, as in the case of regular advertising.
However, the attorney general of New York goes a little further and suggests that consumers interpret a song played on a radio as a signal of quality, rather than listening to a song and deciding on their own if it is a quality piece of music or not. This sounds like the Kaldor argument against advertising: advertising alters tastes and preferences rather than the Becker/Stigler argument presented in "De Gustibus."
It seems rather simple for most music listeners to decide on their own if they like Cold Play, Jessica Simpson, or Nat King Cole. But Spitzer's office claims that, to some, playing a song on the radio signals that it has some artistic value. This seems to be a rather condescending view of the consuming public (I might excuse the youngsters who might not know better, yet).
"Our investigation shows that, contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees," Spitzer said.So where is the inefficiency? Where is the economic damage? Some claim that the payola keeps a good, local/smaller bands off the radio, but this has never set well with me. The claim is that small labels and smaller bands do not have the resources to buy their way onto the radio. However, why would Sony spend their money on artists that are of lower quality than others? If Sony has the choice of signing a low-quality artist and having to pay to get their music played versus signing a high-quality artist and not having to pay to get their music played, the problem seems trivial. When you add the complications of multi-media crossovers and marketing, such as is the case with Jessica Simpson, then the music might just be a loss-leader. Sony ignores the high-quality, non-sexy, performer for the sexy, low-quality performer.
I quit listening to FM radio years ago because during my ten minute commute I could never find any music - just ads and dj's yapping. Hence, switch to AM and catch some Joe Q. Public or hit the MP3 disk in the deck. The future of broadcast music radio is probably irrevocably damaged by satellite and MP3 services. Thus, instead of banning what is a natural market, why not just require full information /disclosure?
If everyone knows that the music they hear on the radio is paid for, they can take it or leave it, just as they do with paid advertising in the rest of the matrix.
Is the payola illegal? perhaps. Is it immoral? That is less clear.
July 25, 2005
In an act of conspicuous consumption, the Lawson clan bought two copies of the new Harry Potter book so we wouldn't have to compete as much on the first weekend. The wife finished on the first night; I finished on the second; and little bit is almost done now.
Great book. Perfect. I love Harry.
Damn that woman for taking so long between books! I want to know what happens to Harry NOW. NOW. NOW. If we had central planning, we could MAKE her write for us. Of course, what she would write would suck if we had central planning, so....
Oh well, the next movie comes out at Thanksgiving.
I don't get the purported anti-Americanism. British-centric yes, but anti-American? Nah. The world doesn't actually revolve around the good ole U. S. of A. much as we'd like it to. (Btw, as I recall, there were American
Is it the actor or the director?
Ewan McGregor stars in The Island, co-produced by DreamWorks and Warner Bros., that opened this weekend to a tune of $12 million dollars in 3,122 theaters. His previous movie, Revenge of the Sith opened with $108m in 3,661 theaters.
This makes me wonder if it is the actor or the director that causes such dramatic changes in box office totals. Opening totals are often misleading because a movie might only be in two or three theaters in the opening weekend. However, the Island (which I had not heard of until Thursday evening when I saw a brief commercial for it) opened in the number of theaters consistent with a blockbuster.
I am out of the market for movies, but Box Office Mojo seems to put the failure at the feet of the director.
McGregor's films have displayed significant variance (although whether more or less than other actors/actresses I haven't gathered the data to say): His average opening is approximately $15m with a standard deviation of $30m. However, this includes only four films that have opened with more than $15m, the three Star Wars movies and Robots.
McGregor's films average $78.5 million in total gross revenues during their domestic theater run. The average is not too bad. However, The Island cost $122m to make and will probably not earn anywhere close to McGregor's average, much less turn a profit.
The lack of profit is surprisingly common in Hollywood. Like venture capitalists, oil wildcatters, and other similar industries, it seems that the studios throw money after a lot of projects that end up not panning out - even while it would seem that the "formula" for making a successful movie is fairly well understood at this point.
I understand the studios taking a shotgun approach to the industry, but what about the actor/actress? It does seem that some stars go through oscillations in their quality of work, such as Keanu Reeves and John Travolta. Perhaps a movie that doesn't generate a lot of revenue satisfies some part of the actor's idiosyncratic artisitic desires - Battlefield Earth comes to mind. On the other hand, perhaps actors agree to the script before knowing how bad the production will be, but with sufficient reputation at stake might purchase insurance against a flop? Finally, in the case of McGregor, I wonder if he really is an actor that can generate Revenge of the Sith type revenues on his own.
I think Box Office Mojo is right - the lack of excitement for The Island is likely not the fault of McGregor.
July 15, 2005
The Wrath of Khan
Bollywood hunk Salman Khan, whose poor acting was previously noticed here, is now at the center of an ugly fracas over off-screen dialog that seems to have all India in a tizzy. The Hindustan Times has released transcripts of a 2001 phone call, reportedly from a police tap on Khan’s phone during an investigation of his underworld ties, in which (allegedly) a nasty drunk Khan curses at his then-girlfriend, actress Ashwariya Rai, and threateningly boasts about his underworld connections. Khan’s lawyer says the tape is “fabricated”.
Here’s a choice excerpt (and yes, most of the "conversation" is in English):
SK: Don't you dare f**k with me, Ash. I know Abu Salem, Chhota Shakeel, Dawood Ibrahim, Guru Satam... Underworld people call me up here. I am their main man in Bombay. I do all that s**t.
Groups of activists calling Khan a “traitor” have disrupted screenings of Khan’s latest film, which opened today, throughout India. (The film plays tomorrow night here in St. Louis; presumably calm will prevail.)
According to one report:
In Mumbai, nearly 100 activists of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha were arrested, when they staged demonstrations in front Salman Khan's residence in suburban Bandra, police said.
A legislator member of the nationalist Shiv Sena party has called for Khan to be arrested and tried for having underworld ties. Leaders of the BJP have joined in the denunciations.
Why all the furore? The news accounts don't mention this explicitly, but Khan is Muslim, as are many in Bollywood, and as are some of the gangsters he names on the tape.
Trinamool Congress Students Union president Baiswanar Chatterjee said the protest was not against the star or his films but against "a man who supported anti-nationals and their activities."
Meaning: Khan is linked to the Mumbai underworld, which is allegedly linked to enemy Pakistan. Thus it’s a pretext for Hindu nationalists to go on the political offensive.
July 14, 2005
Trailers of Historically Significant Films
At the Digital History site you can find trailers for many popular films. The trailer for the original War of the Worlds reminded me that we attempted to stop the aliens with nuclear weapons in the first film. The are no weapons of mass destruction in the Spielberg version. What happened to the weapons of mass destruction? Would it be pollitically incorrect to use nuclear weapons against space aliens?
July 05, 2005
On top of spaghetti
In a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose available on the Pulp Fiction bonus dvd (an excellent Father’s Day present I was watching the other night), director Quentin Tarantino told Rose (transcript here) that his three favorite movies of all time were Brian De Palma’s Blowout, Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. More recently Tarantino (along with several other directors) gave the Independent (UK) a list of his ten favorite movies. (Hat tip: Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.) The top three: 1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, 1966), 2. Rio Bravo (Hawks, 1959), 3. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976). Blowout isn’t even among the new QT top ten, although De Palma’s Carrie comes in at #8.
I’m guessing that Tarantino today better appreciates his debt to Leone’s work after making the spaghetti-western-inspired Kill Bill.
July 01, 2005
If (like me) you were disappointed by the attempted fusion of Bollywood and Hollywood in Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Predjudice, get ready for Willard Carroll's Marigold, set for a January 2006 US release. B&P paired a leading Bollywood beauty (Ashwariya Rai) with a no-name western actor (Martin Henderson). Marigold pairs a leading Bollywood hunk (Salman Kahn) with a no-name western actress (Ali Larter). I see a problem: Salman Kahn is a star (especially among NRI teenage girls) for his dancing and physique, not for his acting. (He was truly awful in Baghban.) So I’m keeping my expectations low.
June 30, 2005
How Stella lost her groove again
According to the official web site for How Stella Got Her Groove Back, the 1998 film
is based on Terry McMillan's best-selling novel of the same name - the story was inspired by McMillan's real-life romance with a young Jamaican who indeed was twenty years her junior.
McMillan, 53, is now divorcing her husband Jonathan Plummer, 30, saying he has admitted being gay and only marrying her to get a green card. Plummer has filed for spousal support and royalties from the book. According to one news report
Plummer says he didn't know he was gay when he met McMillan in June 1995 when, recuperating from her mother's death, she visited the Negril resort where he worked.
Let this be an object lesson to women who might otherwise get carried away with “Stella’s Top 10 Reasons to Date a Younger Man”.
June 24, 2005
In the '60s, surfers drove woodies. As a post-ironic consumer of ersatz surf culture (surf music especially, but I even once subscribed to the short-lived lifestyle magazine Beach Culture) since my grad-school years in LA, I drive a "woodie" version PT Cruiser (complete with custom-made surfboard-styled wood rear shelf, surf stickers on the rear windows, and a hula girl wiggler doll on the dash). But for the truly obsessive-nostalgic, only a genuine vintage wood-bodied car will do. You can witness their fetish-objects (some with surfboards on top) at the noteworthy fan site www.oldwoodies.com
June 23, 2005
Calvin and Hobbes
The complete Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is now available in a nice three volume hardbound set. $89.50.
UPDATE: This is an example of Ralph's post on "dynamic pricing". The link above is the one I received in my inbox (as a subscriber to the daily comic strip service). The $89.50 price I got is lower than the $94.50 price advertised on the regular web site.
June 22, 2005
Howl's Moving Castle
Little bit and I went to see Howl's Moving Castle last night (see also the Disney site). I give it 4.5/5.0 stars. We are big fans of Hayao Miyazaki's work. As usual, this one was visually stunning, beautifully scored, and filled with the fantastic. As we left, we just kept saying "Wow!" to each other.
The anti-war message was even more obvious than in Castle in the Sky (1986), but was not overpowering. Also, the story line was perhaps not as tight as his other movies and I felt less sympathy for the characters than usual, but these are minor complaints. I think we're going to go back to see the subtitled version (instead of the dubbed version) next.
June 21, 2005
Liberty Film Festival
The 2005 Liberty Film Festival, which bills itself as “Hollywood's premier event for conservative and libertarian film,” will be held October 21-23 in West Hollywood, California. It’s a counter-Sundance, you might say. And they do say:
The Liberty Film Festival showcases films that celebrate the traditional American values of free speech, patriotism, and religious freedom.
The festival is co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, who also have a conservative film blog called LIBERTAS. Murty recently appeared on American Movie Channel’s “Film Club” discussing the (not-to-be-missed) supermarionation comedy Team America -- which by the way is now available on dvd with restored marionette-sex footage.
June 20, 2005
My last five movies
On a zero-to-four-stars scale:
Madagascar (2005, dir. Eric Darnell) ** Cute. I didn't find it as funny as Shrek or Toy Story, but the six-year-olds down the row whooped it up.
Reshma aur Shera (1971, Hindi, dir. Sunil Dutt) *** Basically a Romeo (Sunil Dutt as Shera) and Juliet (Waheeda Rehman as Reshma) story set among the proud and violent desert folk of Rajasthan. Remarkable cinematography. Amitabh Bachchan is excellent in a supporting role.
Touch of Evil (1958, dir. Orson Welles) **** The film noir classic, with Welles as the corrupt US cop, a tanned Charlton Heston as the honest Mexican cop, and Janet Leigh once again finding trouble in a low-rent motel.
Shatranj ke Khilari [The Chess Players] (1977, Hindi, dir. Satyajit Ray) ***
Destry Rides Again (1939, dir. George Marshall) ** Light comedy with Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.
June 17, 2005
What are the last five movies you've seen?
Here are mine (all recommended):
Million Dollar Baby (2004) Surprisingly good movie. The ending was disappointing though. If you're on a respiratory and can communicate, can't you just tell the doctors to unhook you?
Millions (2004) Excellent film about two kids who find a bunch of money. British film.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994) Very good movie made in Taiwan. Chick flick basically (not that there's anything wrong with that.)
June 15, 2005
What Mira Nair is up to these days
Her Vanity Fair starring Reese Witherspoon was a bit of a disappointment, but anything by Mira Nair -- the director best known for the marvelous Monsoon Wedding -- is worth watching. The BBC reports that Nair is now making The Namesake based on the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. The cast includes Tabu and Irrfan Khan, the same pair that starred in Maqbool, in my view the best Bollywood film of 2004. It also includes – incongruously – Kal Penn, the Indo-American comic actor who played Kumar in the stoner comedy Harold and Kumar visit White Castle, not to mention Van Wilder’s sidekick Taj in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder.
For her next project, Nair plans to make Gangsta MD, which (as previously mentioned here) is inspired by the Bollywood comedy Munna Bhai MBBS. The BBC says Nair “plans to cast Chris Tucker in the lead role”. I guess Chris Rock wasn’t available. And I guess she’s disregarding Chris Rock’s own advice at the Oscars, which is to shelve any movie project if you have to settle for a second-stringer in the lead role.
June 10, 2005
Bad News for the Backstreet Boys?
The Backstreet Boys are offering two lawn/mezzanine tickets for every two reserved seat tickets you purchase for their upcoming tour. The pricing scheme is a multi-corporation collaboration, but I wonder if this is good news or bad news for the band? (Note: I do not listen to the Backstreet Boys, but I don't condone or condemn doing so. My little girl is blissfully unaware of BB and other boy bands.)
From the band:
"We're thrilled to be collaborating with Clear Channel Music Group and AOL with this fantastic promotion that's all about giving back to our fans who have always been loyal to us," the band said in a statement.
Hmmm..."giving back to the fans?" Weren't they doing that already through their "music"? The whole mutually beneficial trade thing seems to get lost in statements like this.
My immediate reaction was that the Backstreet Boys must be in trouble - or perhaps concerts in general? - and therefore the "four-for-two" pricing is a signal of weakness. On the other hand, the pricing scheme could work out for the band.
Mom and dad might buy tickets for the kids if they can go sit on the lawn while the daughter(s) go watch the show in the regular seats. Family "togetherness" is ensured but more importantly, perhaps, mom and dad feel a sense of safety - they didn't let their daughter go to a concert "alone." In the end, perhaps the band shifts demand using the "four-for-two" pricing rather than sliding down the demand curve.
June 09, 2005
South Park Libertarians, Self-image department
Picture yourself -- create your own likeness -- as a South Park character!
Now if anybody can tell me how to save the image, I'd be grateful.
Hat tip: Suitably Flip.
June 06, 2005
If only we paid them more
Community college professor accused of stealing student IDs to secure store credit cards. The CNN.com article is pretty short (mainly because there isn't much editorial interjection), and I haven't tracked down any follow up stories.
However, I would be surprised if the salaries paid the community college teachers doesn't become an issue. The idea would be: pay them more and reduce their "need" to steal. As if community college teachers (a) aren't paid a decent wage for their efforts, or (b) could be dissuaded from stupid behavior by simply "paying them more."
May 27, 2005
Hate groups in the USA
In the "for what it's worth" section, the Southern Poverty Law Center has the scoop on who's hatin' in the USA.
In Texas there are supposedly 40 active hate groups. The count is probably a little low because I don't think they consider that in Texas Aggies hate Longhorns, Hornfrogs hate Ponies, and Owls hate Cougars. I am not trying to belittle the work of the SPLC, I guess it is worthwhile keeping a "private" eye on these groups to make sure they don't act crazy, but I have lived in the Dallas area for nine years and I haven't heard of any of the groups they mention as "active" in the Dallas area. I suppose you can be an active hate group and not do anything newsworthy - perhaps that's the point nowadays?
Anyway, it is good to know that the SPLC doesn't find any active hate groups in Arlington, although I know some Cowboys' fans who really don't like the Washington Redskins.
My home state of Georgia has 41 active hate groups, with Black Separatist groups being the largest single category with 14 groups (although combined White Separatist/Supremist groups still outnumber the Black Separatists - 27 to 14).
Florida, New Mexico and South Dakota are hate group free? Isn't La Raza active in New Mexico?
The website also has a list of hate incidents here
Sunil Dutt, RIP
Veteran Bollywood actor Sunil Dutt, 75, died on Wednesday. He had amazing range: he most famously played an embittered poor young farmer in the classic 1957 melodrama Mother India, and – at the opposite extreme – a clueless rich young urbanite in the classic 1968 comedy-romance Padosan [the title roughly means Girl Next Door].
His last appearance was a cameo in Munna Bhai MBBS, a popular 2003 comedy starring his son Sanjay. It has been reported, by the way, that -- in a reversal of the usual pattern in which Bollywood borrows plots from Hollywood -- director Mira Nair will be remaking Munna Bhai MBBS as a Hollywood movie entitled Gangsta MD.
May 18, 2005
Old braodcasters never die, they just fade away
After being relieved of the Evening News, Dan Rather was supposed to continue on with the Wednesday Edition of 60 Minutes. This allowed both CBS and Dan Rather to save face. With the cancellation of the Wednesday Edition of 60 minutes it is clear that this was a convenient was of easing Dan's departure.
See: NY Times
Now that the program has been canceled, Mr. Rather will probably be given a slot on the Sunday edition of "60 Minutes" through 2006, according to two people familiar with his contract.
Don't hold your breath Dan. This is only wishful thinking by the New York Times.
How appropriate that this comes on the heels of the Newsweek episode, another case in which the media over relied on anonymous sources. When the media report on anonymous sources, they are implicitly vouching for the reliability of those sources. There was a brief time when the media would not repeat charges that could not be verified. The media was not in the business of spreading rumors. Unfortunately, that time has passed.
I do believe the media should be able to use anonymous sources. They must recognize, however, that when they use unnamed sources, they are gambling on their credibility. Merely spreading vicious lies, lowers their informative value. With named sources there is no such responsibility. Knowing the source, the reader can independently assess the source’s credibility.
May 17, 2005
Intellectual Diversity, NO; Social Diversity, YES
Summers announced a $50 million program to promote social diversity at Harvard. Maybe now the Left will let Larry stay at his post. Is it worth the price?
Story at Baltimore Sun.
May 11, 2005
Podhoretz Pans Star Wars
The business of the news media is not the news; it is selling eyeballs. The more they hype the news, the more they sell. But what’s the business of movie critics? John Podhoretz at the National Review thinks their self interest lies in good reviews.
This seems about right to me, but his argument is much too elitist. The whole point of movie reviews is to convey information. But it is subjective information, not objective information that the reader wants. The reader wants to know whether he will find the movie enjoyable. Therefore, he wants a movie reviewer whose tastes are either highly positively or negatively correlated with his own. Therefore, the survival of a movie critic depends on reflecting the tastes of his audience.
If Star Wars is going to make a jillion dollars, then movie critics in a press that appeals to a mass audience should generally have a favorable opinion of the movie. Therefore, the discerning movie viewer needs to find a critic who writes for a niche audience that shares his or her tastes. The Wall Street Journal seems to print reviews that generally reflect my own tastes; although, the relevant correlation coefficient is probably no more than a .8. Joe Morgenstern at the WSJ, like most critics, liked the Lord of the Rings. I thought it was awful gibberish.
May 04, 2005
Duluth, Georgia - Fashion Center of the World?
From e-bay is a Jennifer Wilbanks inspired masterpeice for the ladies.
May 03, 2005
Ugly Child Discrimination
The New York Times article “Ugly Children May Get Parental Short Shrift,” (free registration required) cites studies indicating that parents take better care of handsome children. Do parents discriminate against ugly children? As one research states in the article,
Obviously, we need an Office of Equal Opportunity for Ugly Children. Similar to Kurt Vonnegut’s equality masks, good looking children could be forced to wear ugly masks. With every child equally ugly, parents are more likely to provide an equality of attention. Ugly masks, however, will not make up for past neglect. For some temporary period we will need affirmative action for ugly children and a temporary ban on beauty contests.
We might first, however, take a critically closer look at these studies. Has the ugliness of the parents been held constant? Casual observation leads one to believe there is a high correlation between ugly children and ugly parents. It may be that ugly parents take poor care of their children. Were this the real problem, ugly masks would be an ineffective solution. Ugly masks on all children in the family would have no impact on the allocation of attention. This would be a societal problem rather than the result of an intra-familial allocation of resources. Parenting clinics for ugly parents would be the preferred solution.
We might also want to know why ugly parents take less care of their children. It may be that ugly people have more children. (Casual observations of large families at theme parks seem to support this hypthesis.) They may opt for quantity over quality. Given the greater number of children, per capita investment and per capita attention are likely to decline. The real problem may be that ugly people are having too many children. The sterilization of the ugly would be a draconian solution we would most likely want to avoid. However, government subsidies for Planned Parenthood to undertake a special outreach program aimed at ugly families might be favored.
In a world of all ugly children or all handsome children, all will receive an equal share of mother’s love and there will be no ugly ducklings. With efficient social engineering, we may someday all have a Happy Mother’s Day.
Note: The author has four children, all of whom are quite good looking.
May 02, 2005
Stick shifts and safety belts have all got to go
There is an audio clip available (scroll down) on Amazon.Com.
Stick shifts and safety belts
When I'm driving in my car
I need you here with me
I need you to be here with me
But when we driving in my Malibu
I say "Baby scoot over please"
I need you here with me
I need you to be here with me
Well a lot of good cars are Japanese
I need my baby, I need my baby next to me
Stick shifts and safety belts
When I'm driving in my car
I need you here with me
I need you to be here with me
April 29, 2005
Movies about left-wing conspiracies?
In the new cinematic explosion-fest “XXX: State of the Union,” according to this morning’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
It's not long before Stone [the protagonist, played by Ice Cube] runs afoul of George Deckert (Willem Dafoe), the secretary of defense, who may be involved in a right-wing conspiracy to overthrow the moderate President Sanford (Peter Strauss).
Ho-hum. Right-wing conspiracies to overthrow the US government are a familiar plot device, e.g. "The Manchurian Candidate". Are there any movies with a left-wing conspiracy to overthrow the US government? (In last year’s second-funniest movie, “Team America”, there is a left-wing conspiracy, but not to overthrow the US government.) I can't think of any. Can anyone help me out with titles of movies on each side, so we can get a sense of which list is longer? I’ve enabled comments.
April 28, 2005
South Park Libertarians
A few days ago (April 25) the author of the book South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias visited the MSNBC show “Scarborough Country”. (You can view video of the discussion: go here, then enter “South Park” into the search bar. Hat tip: Ivan.)
Much as I admire the marketing chutzpah of the book’s title, the tv show South Park is not – culturally or politically -- conservative. It is the opposite of culturally conservative: it goes out of its way to be outrageous. Cultural conservatives are oblivious to popular culture, but South Park is entirely clued in. (Scarborough shows a clip of Barbra Streisand as MechaGodzilla, defeated by Robert Smith of the Cure as Ultraman. Genius.) Would cultural conservatives create a talking piece of feces (“Mr. Hankey”) to represent the spirit of Christmas? Give a fourth-grade teacher (Mr. Garrison) a leatherbound gay lover (Mr. Slave)? Lampoon church doctrine that the mentally handicapped can’t get into heaven? If you’ve watched the show, you know the list goes on and on.
More than anything else, South Park’s politics is libertarian. In my favorite episode, “Underpants Gnomes” (unauthorized script here) from Season 2, the owner of a local coffee shop (Mr. Tweak) wants to keep a giant coffee chain (“Harbucks”) from opening a shop in South Park to compete with him, so he writes an anti-globalization screed for our gradeschooler heroes to pass off as their own term paper. The lesson, as Kyle and Stan spell it out when they come clean:
Kyle: Big corporations are good! […] Because without big corporations we wouldn't have things like cars and computers and canned soup. Stan: Even Harbucks Coffee started off as a small, little business. But because it made such great coffee, and because they ran their business so well, they managed to grow and grow until it became the corporate powerhouse it is today. And that is why we should all let Harbucks stay!There’s also a subplot, involving gnomes who steal underpants, the lesson of which is: you can’t make a profit without a coherent business plan.
The key comedic insights of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park and Team America, are that (1) nothing is funnier than deflating the sanctimonious, and (2) the most sanctimonious people these days are mostly liberals.
Pirate radio remixes from the 1980s
April 22, 2005
Sirico on Pope Benedict XVI
Fr. Robert A. Sirico writes,
We have already heard a thousand times or more that the new Pope is a conservative. As counterintuitive as this may sound, I believe that insofar as the new papacy has implications for economics and politics, it is in the direction of a humane and unifying liberalism. I speak not of liberalism as we know it now, which is bound up with state management and democratic relativism, but liberalism of an older variety that placed it hopes in society, faith, and freedom.
April 20, 2005
Let's make it even easier.
Theorem: Benedict XVI will be a good Pope.
Proof: The secularists are insisting he will be a bad Pope.