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Thursday, May 31, 2007

A World Gone ... Sane?

There have been two claims that I've heard pretty much every day since I've been born: (1) the world has gone insane; and (2) the end of the world is nigh. I've learned over time that when someone claims (1), he or she really just means that the rest of the world doesn't agree with him or her, and for (2), there must be a definition of "nigh" that doesn't appear in the dictionary that means indeterminately far off in the distant future.

The following are some examples. In the 1960s, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were gonna destroy each other and all life on the planet in a massive nuclear war. Obviously, it didn't happen. In the 1970s, American competitiveness was on the wane and America would take a back seat to the rest of the leaders (like France) of the developed world. That didn't happen either. In the 1980s, crushing federal deficits due to Reagan's irresponsible economic policies would permanently devastate the American economy. Nope, didn't happen either. And so on and so forth.

Global warming is now on the hot list (so to speak) of a world gone insane and the end of the world is nigh. Those who think the world's gone insane are the people who worship some ancient Greek god (Gaia) and think the rest of us are insane for not joining their religion of anti-global warming. And, of course, since we don't take them seriously, the end of the world is nigh (what does "nigh" mean again?).

Fortunately, like most of these things, it's really only a small percentage of people (who, unfortunately, are impressively noisy and disruptive), who believe it. I've noticed that almost everyone I know and/or meet who thinks through climate warming who isn't religiously attached to the anti-warming movement comes to a very sane understanding of the situation (i.e. they agree with me). This includes scientists, humorists, bloggers, normal people, etc.

The following is a quick sampling of statements from three arbitrary sources (a scientist, humorist, and a blogger), all of which caught my eye this week.

NASA chief Michael Griffin:
"I have no doubt that...a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."
Humorist Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert comic strip):
"The earth is getting warmer, and human activity is an important part of it ... [but] ... The people predicting likely doom because of global warming have not made their case. Humans are incredibly adaptive. And technological breakthroughs happen in steps, not predictable straight lines. Every other predicted type of global doom hasn’t happened because of human resourcefulness. No climate model can predict human resourcefulness."
David Cohen (blogger):
"I'm willing to admit that it is possible that the globe is warming (mean global temperature is a completely meaningless concept), that it is our "fault" (although I can't imagine what difference that makes to anyone for whom the environment is not a religion) and that it is bad (although in actual human experience, warmer has always been better). The problem is that, once you've jumped through the hoops necessary to conclude that agw is happening and is bad, you're forced to conclude that it's inevitable."
In other words, yup, the world's probably warming, and nope, let's not worry too much about it (or at least let's not doing anything too stupid to try and change it).

Not only have these leading luminaries come to the same conclusion as me, but so has nearly everyone I've talked to. I think that most of the world has gone sane, at least with respect to this particular subject. My faith in humanity and democracy are restored.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tie Breaker

I've voted in virtually every single election for which I've been eligible to vote. So far, I've never cast the deciding vote. In other words, I could've stayed home for every one of those elections and the outcomes would have been identical. The probability of having one's vote be the tie-breaker in any significant election is, for all practical purposes, zero. Indeed, according to this (in the comments) by Don Boudreaux (economics professor at GMU), even the idea that someone's vote, from his or her perspective, might influence election results is ludicrous:

But just as surely, no one can deny -- or, rather, no one can deny with any intellectual legitimacy -- that in the act of casting a ballot, the outcome of the election from EACH VOTER'S perspective will not turn on how (or whether) he or she votes.

Anyone who insists that each individual vote matters is elevating romantic wishes above palpable reality.

Therefore, it seems irrational, perhaps even delusional, to ever bother voting. And let's take that to its logical conclusion: voters are therefore irrational (by definition). But who wants a bunch of loonies voting and directing government? Therefore, voters shouldn't be allowed to vote. Only non-voters should be allowed to vote, but unfortunately, they're too rational to do so.

But, wait a minute! As a brief interlude, we can prove that voting doesn't necessarily imply irrationality, even if the sole motivation for all voters is to affect the outcome of the election.

For a moment, assume that all potential voters are rational, as am I, and that there is no possible other motivation for voting except to affect the outcome of an election. At first I would decide not to vote since there's essentially no chance of affecting the election (i.e. being the tie-breaker). But then I would conclude that since all of the other rational potential voters would also decide to stay home for the same reason, that no one would vote. But since no one is going to vote, I ought to vote (and be well prepared) since my vote is guaranteed to be the tie-breaker (as the only vote). Of course, everyone else would figure this out as well, so they would also decide to vote after all. But that would make it pointless for me to vote. Everybody else would then realize it's also pointless for them to vote and stay home, making it imperative that I vote. And so on. A rather cute paradox really. On voting day, various segments of the population would be at different points in the thought process regarding this voting paradox, so some of them would vote and some would stay home. Therefore, choosing to vote is not necessarily irrational.

Anyway, back to "palpable reality." If voters are inherently irrational (either because they bother to vote or for any other reason), it would seem that democracy (and other relative forms of government with voters) are inherently bad forms of government.

There is a book that came out recently that seems to claim exactly that (though I haven't actually read it yet): The Myth of the Rational Voter. According to The New York Times Magazine, the author, Bryan Caplan argues that:
“voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational — and vote accordingly.” Caplan’s complaint is not that special-interest groups might subvert the will of the people, or that government might ignore the will of the people. He objects to the will of the people itself.
Well, I suppose democracy is the second worst form of government. What's the worst? All others!

If one objects to the will of the people, then how should government decide what to do? It uses experts, of course! This approach has its own set of problems nicely described by Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy:

For advocates of limited government, the rule of experts is like the vampire that refuses to die no matter how often we drive a stake through its heart. We've been fighting it for 2500 years, but have never quite managed to finish it off. Nevertheless, I'm going to put on my vampire slayer hat, and take a wee little stab at it.

As a solution to the problem of political ignorance, the rule of experts has major shortcomings relative to letting individuals make their own decisions with the help of markets and civil society.

First, it is essential to recognize that individual consumers don't have to rely on government for expertise. They can hire their own experts in the market or rely on more knowledgeable friends and acquiantances. When I get seriously ill, I go to a doctor. When I decide how to invest my money, I rely on the advice of friends who work in venture capital and investment banking. The real question is not whether we are going to rely on experts to help us make decision, but who gets to choose the experts and whether or not the experts will have veto power over the final decision on what to do. [...]

If instead of each individual choosing his or her own experts, there is a single set of specialists chosen in democratic elections, then the quality of the decision is likely to be impaired by political ignorance - the very problem that the rule of experts is supposed to stave off. Voters' choice of experts is just as likely to be compromised by rational ignorance and rational irrationality as any other electoral decision. By contrast, market participants generally have much stronger incentives to pick experts wisely.

Of course the experts could instead be chosen by nondemocratic means and insulated from political pressure. Yet, in the absence of democratic control, it will be difficult to ensure that the experts are actually serving the interests of the people as opposed to their own. By contrast, experts hired in a competitive market have better incentives; they know that if they pursue their own interests at the expense of the consumer's, they are likely to be out of a job. [...]

The second major shortcoming of government-appointed experts relative to those hired in the market is the fact that government coercion deprives the consumer of the right to make the final decision. If I hire an expert in the market, I retain the right to reject his advice and pursuing a different course of action. This is a vitally important option. Although the expert is more knowledgeable than I am about technical issues in his field, I am more knowledgeable than he is about my own values.

I also question the contention that voters are irrational. To be sure, they might have an irrational moment or two, but we're not looking for "perfection" here. "Good enough" will work just fine. The irrationality seems to occur at the margins, and while it has some cost, nothing comes without cost.

It seems to me we've done pretty well on the big picture. We're really pretty free in that we have a lot of choices and fairly little oppression by historical standards. We have a pretty good economic system in that it's pretty flexible and robust and it generates a lot of wealth (more than ever by historical standards). We have a reasonably stable civilization in that the vast majority of the people aren't particularly interested in revolution (or even change for that matter).

All in all, it seems to me that this democracy thing is working well enough. I think we ought to stick with it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Intentions Are All That Matters

Consider my environmental footprint.

I drive a Hyundai Elantra (gets nearly 40 miles to the gallon on the freeway) less than 10 miles to work and I often ride my bicycle. Our one and only house doesn't even have air conditioning and we rarely use the heat. And we don't travel very much.

Consider Al Gore's environmental footprint.

1. Gore’s [20 room] mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES). ... Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

2. And he claims he uses renewable energy credits to offset the pollution he produces when using a private jet to promote his film. [...] Humanity might be "sitting on a ticking time bomb," but Gore's home in Carthage is sitting on a zinc mine. Gore receives $20,000 a year in royalties from Pasminco Zinc, which operates a zinc concession on his property. Tennessee has cited the company for adding large quantities of barium, iron and zinc to the nearby Caney Fork River.

3. Turning now to the air, with the fuel Gore's private plane used for this trip, you could probably take your vehicle and travel back and forth between Vancouver and Halifax about four-and-a-half times. Gore chartered a Falcon 200, a twin-engine jet that seats nine. The distance travelled between Nashville, Regina, over to Calgary for an event Monday night, and then home to Nashville, totals more than 4,500 kilometres. According to local aviation experts, the Falcon 200 burns about 215 imperial gallons of fuel per hour. Based on distance and expected flying time, about 1,800 gallons of fuel will be used.

And so forth. Note that the above mentioned mansion is just one of the homes Gore owns and that he travels extensively.

Yet associates of mine who are ecofanatics think Al Gore is an environmental saint. These same associates consider me to be scum of the earth.

Why? Because intentions are all that matter.

My intentions are bad. I bought the Elantra, not because I wanted to save the planet, but because I couldn't find a car that I really liked at any price (I considered Lexuses and other luxury cars but didn't like them) so I decided to buy something inexpensive instead. Turns out it gets great gas mileage but that's not why I bought it. We live in San Diego near the beach where the temperature is generally fairly cool so there's no need for air conditioning. Of course, it doesn't get cold either so no reason to use the heat. San Diego is very nice, so why travel anywhere? And, of course, unlike Al Gore, I don't have a movie to promote.

In addition, I'm just not very reverent to the whole climate change apocalypse thang. I actually have the gall to poke fun at his saintness and other ecofanatics, and, well, write posts like this one.

So the scorecard is: Me - behaviours good, intentions bad, Al Gore - behaviours horrendous, intentions (supposedly) good.

Therefore I'm dogmeat and Al Gore is a saint.

I guess I should start learning to lie. Then I could just pretend my intentions are good. You don't suppose there's any possibility that Al Gore is doing just that, do you? If he were just pretending to have good intentions, but really had not so admirable motivations, how would we tell?

Friday, May 25, 2007

I Love Divided Government

I Love Divided Government! I really do!

This is a post about Iraq. I almost never post about Iraq. That's because I don't have a clear picture about what's going on over there and there are others who do a much better job hypothesizing about what's going on than I can.

But that doesn't mean I don't read about Iraq. It doesn't mean that I don't care. In fact, I read a lot and care a lot. Now that I've been reading about it for 4+ years, I think I actually have a better feel for it. On an absolute scale, I still don't have any idea where we stand. But I feel that I'm starting to get a feel for the direction things are moving in.

I read a wide range of sources, from very, very negative to totally glowing. The first thing I do is look for changes in the tenor of those sources. Some sources never change. For example, Daily Kos has never, ever, once written anything but ultra-negative reports and essays about Iraq. Therefore, when looking for changes in tenor, I simply ignore such sources since there's never a change. However, much of the media, while negative on average, does change the level of negativity over time. Much of the alternative media (the blogosphere, etc.), while usually more positive, also changes tone. The changes are very slow, and the changes are often swamped by noise and other variables (e.g. elections), but it is sometimes possible to detect a change.

The other thing I do to qualify sources is to see how well their predictions have held up. Some sources are much better than others. I can do nothing but rave about the predictive capability of Wretchard at the Belmont Club. Is he perfect? No, far from it. However, whereas most sources' predictions are nearly always wrong, his are occasionally close to the mark. That description may not sound impressive, but relative to everybody else, it really is.

So I have a measure of change and a measure of confidence. I've been informally forming these intuitive measures for more than four years.

The reason I'm posting about Iraq now is that the change meter is showing significant change. The mainstream media, while incredibly negative over the last few months, has printed some almost positive articles lately (and driving the anti-work crowd nearly berserk). Embedded hawkish journalists like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio, while usually more upbeat than most, are even more upbeat as of late. Wretchard has gone from gloomy to, well, somewhat less gloomy.

This doesn't mean much. Going from gloomy to somewhat less gloomy is hardly cause for celebration. But still, the change is unmistakable.

I have a hypothesis for a factor that may have helped the change to occur.

One of the reasons for pessimism was (and still is) that the Iraqis are just not getting their act together. They are just not making progress. They've been a bit too laid back in my opinion, reminding me of some of the surfers at the beach here. In fact I've had visions of ol' al-Maliki taking to his buddies: "Yo, dude, don't worry about the country, man, the Americans will make sure we don't screw it up to bad."

The threat of hanging serves to focus the mind. I was thinking that a good way to get the Iraqis to focus would be to tell them that we're leaving. Tell them that we're leaving soon. Very soon. And not only that, we're gonna place 20 million machine guns in the center of the country with 2 billion rounds of ammo and say, "hey, we're outta here, have at it, may the best faction win, and good luck!" I think that would get their attention. It would get mine!

Of course, I would never do that. Well, I would never do that, but our rather unscrupulous Congress might (minus the machine guns and ammo, I suppose). Not only might they do that, but it rather looked like they were gonna do that. And sure enough, the Iraqis (especially the Sunnis) seem to be noticing. And getting off their butts. At least a little bit.

I think that's why we're seeing a change in Iraq lately.

Congress ultimately backed down, but they put the Iraqis on notice first. That fact is that if there is no progress in Iraq over the coming months, we may actually leave and leave them to their own devices (and civil war, and mayhem, and genocide, and famine, and mass refugee migration, etc.).

My feeling is that the American people, in their infinite Wisdom of Crowds, correctly put the Democrats into office all so this showdown would happen and enable progress in Iraq. We're good, we are!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Site Additions

I have a cold. I'm all hyped up on sudafed so this post'll be a bit ramblin' and I'll probably cringe when I look back at it after the sudafed's worn off. It's been a long time since I last had a cold and I'd forgotten just how annoying they can be. This particular cold has the particularly annoying feature that without any notice whatsoever, my eyes completely tear up and blind me. As a result, I decided not to drive to work today, thereby saving the lives of many of my co-commuters. They should be eternally grateful.

The blindness from tears was just frequent enough that I couldn't do any serious work from home either. So, instead, I hacked at this blog's template. The first thing I did was to finally update the blog links to include the Post-Judd Alliance, of which we're very proud and flattered to even be thought to be included in such a list of blogosphere luminaries. In the process of doing so, I discovered (I think?) that "Susan's Husband" is the same person as "Annoying Old Guy (aog)" at Thought Mesh. (Yes, I am sometimes embarrassingly slow on the uptake). Now I'm so confused that I'm wondering just who is Susan anyway (other than Susan's Husband's Wife's Husband's Wife's Husband) and just how old aog is anyway. He's got kids, so he can't be any older than me, and I'm not old. Am I? AM I?!?!?

Next, I noticed from David's Secret Blog that it's possible to subscribe to the comment stream of a blog or individual post so I added that feature as well. If you click on the subscribe to comments link, your browser (if it's reasonably modern) will probably add some sort of "feed" bookmark for you (at least that's what Firefox does). Nonetheless, I heartily recommend using bloglines instead. If you do use bloglines, then right click on the link, select "Copy Link Location" (or equivalent), and then paste it into the bloglines subscription form and then you'll be notified when any new comments come in for this blog. You can also do this on a post-by-post basis also, by clicking on the subscription link just above the comments on the post's individual page. We have low comment frequency here so I'd recommend just one subscription to all comments for this blog.

This ability to subscribe to comment feeds is very important to me. The problem this solves is that I tend to forget what posts across the various blogs I read that I'm currently commenting on. It's not that I'm commenting on all that many posts at a given time, but I just space it out. Ya know, with work and all kinds of annoying real life distractions. With the ability to subscribe to comment feeds, I won't have to do any work to keep track of it anymore. I'll be automatically reminded. A second advantage is I can feel more comfortable to take time and think about responses to comments and posts on other blogs without having to rush. Rushing often causes me to write something stupid. The reason I rush is that comment threads seem to die after a couple of days so I'm in a hurry to have my say before that happens. It happens partly, I think, because people move on to new posts, but partly because it's hard for everybody to keep track of everything . This will help. I think it has the potential to raise the level of discourse and extend discussions to new heights.

All of the Post-Judd Alliance except Thought Mesh and The Daily Duck have this capability (at the post level, anyway). Thought Mesh isn't using blogger and might not be able to add this capability easily. The Daily Duck is using blogger so I hope they add it soon, especially since there's four of them posting and they are relatively prolific.

Note that there is a substantial delay between when a comment is posted and when bloglines picks it up. This delay seems to be on the order of several hours so this method is mostly useful for the more extended, less frenetic comment threads.

The last addition to this site's template is the Recent Comments column, the idea again coming from David's Secret Blog. I'm not sure how useful it is, but I figure it's worth a try.

In closing, I'll note that we've just had our 10,000th page view since I installed the statcounter. Unfortunately, I can't remember when I installed it so I have no idea what rate of readership that implies,
especially since probably 9,000 of those views are Howard and I checking the formatting of our posts. It's admittedly rather feeble no matter how you look at it since Instapundit probably gets that many views every few minutes. Nonetheless, it's always fun to pass a round number, so I'm celebrating. A round of sudafed for everybody in the room on me! Let's Party!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Kid Lit

I must be entering my second childhood even though I haven't even reached the half-century mark yet. I'm finding modern adult fiction, both movies and books, increasingly tedious and unenjoyable. At the same time, I'm enjoying children's books and movies more and more.

Adult books and movies seem so repetitive, dull, and onerous to me. Lots of sex and violence, lots of weird relationships and lifestyles, plenty of pedantic bloviating, but little if any true creativity that I can detect (perhaps I just miss it). I know that this is a gross over generalization, but I'm just so tired of slogging through books that bring me no enjoyment whatsoever. I might as well stick to non-fiction if it's not going to be for pure enjoyment.

On the other hand, books for kids are just great these days (or at least I think so). The latest thing I've read to my daughters is Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson and its sequel, Peter and the Shadow Thieves. These books were startlingly enjoyable, intense fantasy adventures interspersed with humor and plenty of suspense. Total page turners - I ended up reading for four hours straight on Sunday to my seven year old to finish Peter and the Starcatchers. We just couldn't put the book down, right to the last page. Dave Barry was a humorist/columnist before he decided to start writing children's books. I've no idea who Ridley Pearson is, but the pair of them did a great job on this series. I hope they write another one.

Peter and the Starcatchers has lots of rave reviews on Amazon. The only negative reviewer wrote: "Many of the characters are one-dimensional." I would say that they're not so much one dimensional as not too overly constrained. In other words, do the authors really need to give an in depth description of all the characters? Or, by reading about the characters' actions, can we use our imagination and immediately build our own personalized understanding of that character and how they fit into the story? I greatly prefer the latter, but obviously different readers have different tastes.

There are also numerous other books I've read to my children that I've loved. Harry Potter, of course (I'm really looking forward to Book 7 which will be out in less than two months). The Bartimaeus Trilogy (which I've mentioned before on this blog) is a great series. Magyk, and also Flyte by Angie Sage (she also has a third one just out called Physik which we haven't read yet) are also wonderful fantasy adventures. And many more, all of which have been pure enjoyment.

Movies for kids? Same thing.

Are these stories for kids great literature or cinema? No, of course, not. But they're effortless enjoyment, unlike what's written and produced for adults.

I don't know what I'm gonna do when my kids grow up. I guess I'll have to rent someone else's kids.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Tail of the Wife

I'll move on to some more interesting topics shortly, but I'm still participating in the discussions over at Cafe Hayek regarding the banning of trans-fats in restaurants in Montgomery County. Yesterday, I quoted Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia to lend support for my contention that Nozick (a libertarian luminary) would have no problem at all with a local community imposing restrictions on its members. Russ Roberts indirectly replied with the following very (in my opinion) cryptic post:
... Meanwhile, those of you invoking what is reasonable and not so reasonable to decide democratically (and those invoking Nozick's name to justify local regulation) might look at this. ...
I was the only one invoking Nozick's name, so that'd apparently be me. The "at this" is the Tale of the Slave (also in Anarchy, State, & Utopia) which follows:
Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.
  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master's whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.

    Let us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed monster can do this also.

  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.
The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?
I'm guessing that the inference I'm supposed to make is that everyone in a community is a slave if the community has the power to impose restrictions on any of its members, even (or perhaps especially) if the community is democratic. I think this makes light of the horrors and oppression that real slaves experience, but hey, I'm willing to go along with it. I pointed out that later in the book that Nozick supports individuals selling themselves into slavery (after all, if you're truly free, your free to do something as stupid as that as well), and so I still contend that Nozick would support the concept of a community, such as Montgomery County, imposing restrictions on its members, such as a ban on trans-fats.

For amusement, I've also rewritten the above parable. I call it The "Tail" [sic] of the Wife:

1. There is a husband completely at the mercy of his brutal wife's whims. He often is cruelly denied sex, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
2. The wife is kindlier and denies sex to the husband only for stated infractions of her rules (not fulfilling the honey do quota, leaving the toilet seat up, and so on). She gives the husband some free time.
3. Not applicable.
4. The wife allows her husband four days on his own and requires him to work only three days a week on her honey do's. The rest of the time (3 minutes per month) is his own.
5. The wife allows her husband to go off and work in the city (or anywhere he wishes) for wages. She requires only that he let her spend six-sevenths of his wages. She also retains the power to recall him to the plantation if some emergency, like a clogged toilet, threatens her land; and to raise or lower the six-sevenths amount required to be turned over to her. She further retains the right to restrict the husband from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten her financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking, flirting with other women.
6. Not applicable.
7. Though still not having the vote, the husband is at liberty (and is given the right) to enter into the discussions with the wife, to try to persuade her to adopt various policies and to treat him and herself in a certain way. She then ignores him and goes off and decides upon policies covering the vast range of her powers.
8. In appreciation of his useful contributions to discussion, the wife allows him to vote if she can't make up her mind; she commits herself to this procedure. In the eventuality that she can't make up her mind on some issue, she'll consider his vote and do the opposite (er, um, gee, I think the slaves do better than the husbands at this point). This happens nearly continuously.
9. The wife throws the husband's vote in with hers. If they are exactly tied her vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

Clearly, the first thing that libertarians should do if they ever get power is to outlaw marriage! Easily the most freedom restricting institution ever invented!!!

My belief is that most people have a need to be bound to a wife, to a community, even to a nation and are willing to put up with the resulting restrictions. I'm a great a fan of federalism, but for me libertarianism is more a direction than a destination. In other words, here we are, if we need to evolve in some direction or other, moving somewhat towards libertarianism is fine, but I don't think society would do well with a strict libertarian form of government. I certainly don't think that switching over suddenly to a libertarian form of government would work at all.

I think Hayek would agree.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tyranny of no Tyranny

update: oops, for some reason, comments were turned off. I've enabled them 'cause I know you're all just dying to post a comment :-)

Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek is apparently getting more negative feedback on his post condemning the trans-fat ban in Montgomery county than he expected. In today's post he writes:

I think it is a big deal for many reasons. But before I make my case, I'd like to hear you make yours on either side of this issue.

Here's my response...


I'm generally in complete agreement with nearly everything you write here at Cafe Hayek. However, in my opinion, your post regarding the Montgomery County trans-fat ban crossed into territory that I feel could lead to a sort of a libertarian tyranny.

This ban is a local community (Montgomery County) imposing a restriction on its members. The idea that all communities should never be able to impose even a relatively mild restriction on its members by duly elected representatives is too extreme for me.

I also consider it to be beyond the libertarian framework. Consider the following passage on page 320 of the paperback edition "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" by Robert Nozick (a prominent libertarian thinker):

"The operation of the [libertarian/utopian] framework has many of the virtues, and few of the defects, people find in the libertarian vision. For though there is great liberty to choose among communities, many particular communities internally may have many restrictions unjustifiable on libertarian grounds: that is, restrictions which libertarians would condemn if they were enforced by a central state apparatus. For example, paternalistic intervention into people's lives, restrictions on the range of books which may circulate in the community, limitations on the kinds of sexual behavior, and so on. But this is merely another way of pointing out that in a free society people may contract into various restrictions which the government may not legitimately impose upon them. Though the framework is libertarian and laissez-faire, individual communities within it need not be, and perhaps no community within it will choose to be so. Thus, the characteristics of the framework need not pervade the individual communities. In this laissez-faire system it could turn out that though they are permitted, there are no actually functioning "capitalist" institutions; or that some communities have them and others don't or some communities have some of them, or what you will."

In other words, while Nozick just spent the previous several hundred pages of his book explaining why the "central state apparatus" must morally be libertarian, he's very quick to agree that communities themselves, need not be at all.

Many people simply want to have restrictions imposed on themselves and others. To insist that every community such as Montgomery county not impose restrictions is paradoxically, in my opinion, the tyranny of no tyranny.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Libertarian Poison - Part II

In the previous post on this subject (Libertarian Poison), I asked if government intervention was appropriate if restaurants hypothetically added a poison to foods to make them taste better without the patrons of those restaurants knowing they would be poisoned. In the comments, Oroborous immediately nailed it - the situation isn't actually hypothetical. Poison is actually being added to foods at some restaurants and the patrons have no way of really knowing whether or not they're being poisoned. However, I realize that there's easily room to disagree on whether the particular substance I have in mind actually qualifies as a poison. That's why I wanted to keep it in the hypothetical realm to start the discussion.

The poison (as revealed by Oroborous) is partially hydrogenated oil. I believe the health risks are sufficiently established to call partially hydrogenated oil a poison, albeit a mild one, without being too hyperbolic (maybe just parabolic). Restaurants can add this substance to food (or use foods where it's already been added) without bothering to tell you. I happen to be particularly sensitive to it, so I often ask, when at a restaurant ,whether or not they use it. The response is usually a blank, uncomprehending stare, or an "I dunno, beats me".

The answer to whether or not the government might intervene in this case was a resounding NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! from the libertarians at Cafe Hayek. I was completely skewered in the comments section for saying that I could see both sides of the issue (always interesting commenting in an echo chamber as the lone dissenting view). Indeed, it was put forth that if I could support the tyranny of government to ban trans fats, then, well, it would lead to, and I'd support, the tyranny of government to perform all kinds of atrocities! Here is a somewhat typical (though slightly more hysterical than average) comment in response to mine:
Now that you've opened the door [by banning trans fats], what is to prevent government from flinging it wide open? It's already busy seizing private property under "eminent domain" laws ala Hugo Chavez. Do you think you'll be asked for special permission if we were to, say, send the Japanese to "special" camps for any reason? In thinking about public policy, it behooves you to think beyond stage one.
Wow, talk about an exceedingly slippery slope!

In response I asked:

Each situation requires its own analysis. Are strict libertarians really not allowed to consider each situation individually?

To which a commenter named Matt C. responded:

Smart libertarians don't.

Well, there you have it. A smart libertarian (according to Matt C. anyway) is not willing to distinguish between the level of tyranny required to ban trans fats at restaurants in a single county and the level of tyranny to "send the Japanese to special camps". Obviously, this is an extreme view. It seems at least as rigid and extreme as any of the views on the democratic underground. And smart (and extreme) libertarians wonder why their candidates get almost no votes and they have extremely limited political influence.

The thing is, I'm moderately (slightly?) libertarian in my viewpoints and voting record. I usually opt for the free market to do its job. I usually don't support legislation like this. But that's because usually the information is distributed and at least a significant subset of consumers are making at least adequately informed choices. Free markets are the best aggregator of information in that case and provide the best choices to consumers.

However, in this case, the consumers do not yet have the information regarding trans fats. The information is relatively new. Before about ten years ago, it was assumed that there were no problems with trans fats. Indeed, once upon a time, things like margarine (which is pretty much pure hydrogenated vegetable oil) were thought to be healthier than their natural equivalents (in this case butter). As a result, the vast majority of consumers are going about making their consumption choices with incorrect information. In this one case, I think that the information (that I happen to believe is correct) is concentrated and that allowing a centralized authority (i.e. government) to act upon it is going to be superior to letting the markets take their course.

I agree that I may still be wrong. There may be disastrous unintended consequences that result from this ban. However, the ban is being enacted in only one county in the entire country. This is a small local experiment. We can see how it goes and learn from it. Because it's so localized, if the overall effect due to unintended consequences are net negative, at least they will be limited. Because of this limitation, I'm very comfortable taking this gamble.

I just wish San Diego (where I live) was where this experiment was taking place.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Libertarian Poison

Let's say that there is a hypothetical poison that makes food taste great. It's not a very strong poison, so it mostly doesn't kill anyone immediately, rather it takes repeated doses over a period of time before it kills. Let's say restaurants use it regularly to flavor the food. The poison is slow enough acting so that no one ever dies while still in the restaurant.

Let's also say that the effects of this poison aren't widely known: the patrons of restaurants don't know that the restaurant is using this poison and aren't even really aware that this substance is a poison; the restaurants and the employees don't really know that this substance is a poison either, just that it tastes good.

Finally, let's say that it's difficult to disseminate information about this poison throughout society because of naturally occuring constraints on communication of this sort (which I won't describe in this post).

Would a libertarian support any government action to try and stop the poisoning of the populace? An example of a possible action might include banning the use of the poison. There are other possible actions as well. However, assume that education of the populace (another possible government action) would take many years.

Would you support any government action to try and stop the poisoning of the populace?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Reading Glasses

I bought my first ever pair of glasses. The final straw was that my youngest daughter had a splinter in her foot that I just couldn't get out. After 25 minutes of hacking at it with needles, tweezers, razor blades, scissors, a chainsaw (just kidding), and a magnifying glass, I had to admit defeat and took her to an urgent care facility where the doctor had the splinter out in about two minutes. The doctor, of course, had several advantages. The most important advantage was that he knew what he was doing. Other advantages included a local anesthetic so she stopped squirming so much, a very sharp scalpel to cut through my daughter's impressively tough calluses on the bottom of her foot, and, last but not least, he had cool stereo magnifying glasses.

My main problem was that I just couldn't see what I was doing. Either I could hold the foot far away and see it clearly, but tiny with limited help from stereo vision, or I could hold it close and then it was blurry (even with the magnifying glass). That's why I bought the reading glasses.

The glasses aren't doing me much good though. My vision is still razor sharp at three feet and fortunately I have very long arms (I think I'm part Ape) so when I read I just hold the book (or the menu or whatever) far away. My computer monitor is set to 1600x1200 using the smallest possible font, but as long as I put the monitor on the other side of the room, I can see it just fine. It's just those first few feet that are a problem, but I've adapted to not needing to see anything in that range. Except splinters in children's feet.

So I'm now the proud owner of reading glasses for which the only use I can think of so far is to remove splinters from my children's feet. Unfortunately, I'll probably lose the glasses by the time I need them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Drug by Longs Drugs

Update: Longs Drugs ultimately reimbursed us for the towing fees. My wife kept climbing the management ladder at Longs until she talked to the director of Longs for California (or something like that) who said that it really wasn't Longs' policy to tow customers' cars who wandered off the premises for a few minutes and had the towing company refund the charges. Cool!

Drug around the parking lot and then stomped on is more accurate.

My wife and a friend (in the friend's car) with children drove to Long's Drugs, parked, went inside, shopped, bought some stuff, put the stuff in the car, went across the street to another shop, bought some more stuff, came back, and ...

... the car was gone.

The Long's employee who watches the parking lot came over and said, "I saw you put your stuff in the car and leave. You're only allowed to park here while shopping at Longs so I had you towed." My wife was informed by the store manager that it was indeed their policy to have customers' cars towed if the customers left the premises, it had been their policy for twenty years (amazing, since this particular store had been open less than ten years), and that they could do anything they damn well pleased with our car since it was parked on their private property.

The manager pointed out that there are signs posted warning us we would be towed if we left the premises. Indeed there are: little tiny signs with little tiny print that are nowhere near where my wife happened to park. So we did technically violate the warning on the sign.

Four hours and $300 later, my wife and her friend retrieved the car from Western Towing.

I'm left wondering a number of things:

1. Why the parking lot guy couldn't have told my wife and her friend that he would tow their car if they left the premises? He admitted that he saw them leave and called the towing company the second they left. It wouldn't have been any trouble at all for him to have let them know his intentions. Wouldn't you think that actual customers would deserve at least that much?

2. How it makes economic sense for Longs Drugs to tow customers' cars from a mostly empty lot? I know that my wife, her friend, my two traumatized children, and I intend to never shop at Longs again. Since we've previously spent hundreds of dollars a year there, to make economic sense either: (a) the five of us are the only (ex)-customers who would be put off by having their car towed after buying something; or (b) the parking spot (in a mostly empty lot) was extraordinarily valuable for reasons I can't fathom.

3. I wonder why the towing company "only" charged us $300 for a 5 mile tow? I've had cars towed before because they broke down, and it didn't cost nearly $300. Wouldn't they better optimize their revenue if they charged the value of the car minus a little bit? For example, they could charge $50,000 for towing a nice BMW. After all, I think in these circumstances both Longs and Western Towing have lost a (potential) customer. Why not max it out?

Anyway, be careful if you park at Longs Drugs.

Monday, May 14, 2007

She Teed That One Up

I have a set of very obscure puns in the back of my mind that I inject into conversation whenever possible. With some of them, they are so obscure that I only get a chance to use them less than once per decade. My enjoyment when I do finally get to use them is immense.

My sister and I were talking about a mutual acquaintance who is a professional cellist. We had both been sent a recording of one of the cellist's performances and I was pretty unimpressed. I mentioned that to my sister which led to the following conversation:

Sister: Well, I think she was playing a baroque cello, and I think those are hard to play.
Me: Of course a broke cello would be hard to play, why doesn't she get it fixed?

My sister then emitted a noise that sounded like a cross between choking and moaning. I hope she's okay.

It'll probably be another ten years before the opportunity comes up to use that particular pun again. I'm sure I'll enjoy it as much then.

Does anybody else have some good, but really obscure puns, that I can file away?

By the way, I'll probably move on from these personal anecdotes after a few more posts. These are just an easy way to warm back into the blogging thang.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day all, especially to my own mother!

Unfortunately, I'm reminded each Mother's Day of a quip by a friend of mine on my wife's "first" Mothers Day about fathers' (or at least his) point of view regarding wives becoming mothers: "before your first child is born you're sleeping with your lover - after the child is born you're sleeping with someone's mother (if you're lucky)!" That thought takes some of the specialness of the day away from me personally. Oh well...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Funniest Headline Ever


Zimbabwe to lead [UN] Commission on Sustainable Development

As they note:
Zimbabwe is enduring the world's highest inflation, at more than 2000%, mass unemployment, and there are widespread accusations of civil rights abuses. On Wednesday it was announced that households in Zimbabwe were to be limited to four hours' electricity a day, between 1700 and 2100 local time.
I mean, you just can't make this stuff up. At The Daily Duck, Hey Skipper calls the invention of fake dog testicles the stupidest idea ever. Sorry Skipper, not even close!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Seventy Miles

As I mentioned in the last post, I was surprised to see, after taking several months off from reading the news (or much of anything), that global warming and climate change are still hot topics (so to speak). I rather thought that it was just another fad and that by now, it would be time to cycle on to the next passing fancy. Isn't it time to lambast some other global evil like the World Bank or something like that?

These topics really have legs! And while I think the overall topic itself (meteorology) is a real snoozer, I do find it fascinating that climate change has such perseverance in the media, especially since it's fairly clear to me that we're really not going to do all that much about it. You know, everybody's an environmentalist unless it costs them something.

I think this is case of an irresistible force meeting and unmovable object. The irresistible force is the combined efforts of the climate change fanatics and the unmovable object is the general population that just doesn't much care.

Why doesn't the public care? Because warmth is perceived as a good thing. Americans are continually moving to warmer climates. They're voting with their feet for global warming.

All other things being equal (like altitude, for example), moving south 70 miles causes the average temperature to increase approximately one degree Fahrenheit (I know climate change is usually specified in degrees C, but I'm a Fahrenheit kind of guy). I've personally moved about 15 degrees worth of distance south in my lifetime, and if I hadn't run out of country (I'm in San Diego), I would've probably gone a few degrees worth even further south. Global warming? I say bring it on! If it gets too warm, we'll all just start moving north. Canadian and Siberian property values will skyrocket! I'm intending to go buy a few acres in the great frozen north next week as an investment vehicle.

I've been told that in my lifetime, the average temperature has risen about one degree (Fahrenheit, of course). It's a good thing I've been told that, because otherwise, in all honesty, I would've never noticed. One degree over nearly a half-century isn't much. One degree over a decade isn't much either, and that's what they tell me will be approximately the rate of change this century. If we just move seventy miles north each decade, then global warming won't be noticeable at all to us.

Over local distance and short time horizons, global warming doesn't mean much. Most people, I think, live in the here and now. I certainly do, at least with respect to the weather. That's why the population as a whole is an unmovable object.

The irresistible force is just caused by the usual True Believer/State of Fear phenomena. Most people have to believe in something with religious intensity. If not one of the typical religions, then radical environmentalism will do. In this case, we'll all be in global warming hell if we don't carry the tune of the climate gods. I find it rather funny that the climate change fanatics refer to earth as Gaia, who is some random Greek god (goddess, I suppose). They apparently all subscribe to ancient Greek mythology in addition to radical environmentalism.

The good news is that I now know what happens when an irresistible force meets an unmovable object: nothing much happens but there's a lot of noise for a long time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I'm Back!

Okay, not quite completely, absolutely caught up, but getting there, with enough time for an occasional comment on my favorite blogs to read (known as the post-Judd Alliance over at The Daily Duck).

Not only did I not post or comment anywhere for the last five months, but I didn't read any news at all either. Now that I've started looking at the news again, I'm amazed at how little I missed. We're still in Iraq, we haven't invaded North Korea or Iran yet, Peter Burnet hasn't posted in months, the economy is still pretty decent, global warming is still a hot topic - life goes on.

Even the news that happened elicited such utterly predictable responses. For example, the Virginia Tech shooting resulted in gun control proponents claiming that if only more strict gun control had been implemented, it would have never happened, and pro-gun folk claiming if that only concealed weapon permits were easier to obtain, the carnage would have been greatly limited. The instant I heard about the shooting I knew such bloviations would result. What I would've like to have heard was something like the following: yeah, the shooting is a shame, but the odds of dying in a shooting spree by a madman with a gun is several orders of magnitude less likely than dying in an automobile accident, so perhaps this sort of thing should not instigate any further policy actions since such actions are about as likely to cause harm as good.

I don't get a daily newspaper and I haven't had one for at least ten years. In fact, other than Technology Review, which seems to arrive complimentary because of a small annual donation I give to MIT, I haven't gotten any dead tree media for quite some time. You'd almost think I was an environmentalist or something.

Given that nothing seems to happen when I miss months of news, I feel pretty confident in the decision not to worry about news on a daily basis.