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  • Archive for September, 2005

    Picasa

    Posted by demimasque on 21st September 2005 (All posts by )

    I’ve heard some really good things about both Flickr and Picasa, and as I’ve been trying to migrate myself off my old CSUA account, which I’d have to secure FTP to (a bit of a hassle, that), I finally decided to start looking around and evaluate these two on their merits. They’re both very well received, and score very well with PC World’s reviewers. In fact, Flickr gets 4½ stars, while Picasa/Hello gets 4 stars. However, since Picasa also serves as an editor, it won out, since I’ve been interested in getting a replacement for ACDSee Classic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great program, even if ACD Systems no longer hawks it; but I wanted something a little more modern.

    My research showed that Picasa really had the best features between the two. According to their guided tour to features, these are just a few of the things Picasa can do:

    • Make a label.
      Use labels to tag your photos into quick groupings inside Picasa. Viewing and sharing the pictures you grouped under a label is easy – they make great slide shows and movies or you can email them to friends.

    • Add a star rating.
      Give a gold star to any photo you love: it turns your favourites into visual standouts at a glance. Picasa even has a star search that reduces your entire photo collection to the best of the best in less than a second.

    • Keep one picture in multiple albums.
      Picasa creates a new “instance” of each photo you label without taking up more space on your computer, so you can put the same picture into multiple albums.

    • Password-protect collections.
      Have photos you want to keep to yourself? You can add passwords to any of your Picasa collections (this does not affect which pictures you and others can see on your computer’s hard drive).

    • Write captions that stay with the picture.
      Picasa makes captions the way journalists do – using the IPTC standard. That means your captions are saved within their pictures and stay with them, whether you export as a web page or make a CD presentation. Picasa captions are fully editable and searchable, and you choose whether to display them or not.

    • Know how to use a camera in manual mode?
      Photography aficionados can now fine-tune their photos with Picasa’s EXIF display. This window shows you all the camera data that is stored in a picture’s original file – such as camera model, date the photo was taken, even if a flash was used. The EXIF display also has a RGB histogram, a real-time graph that shows the intensity of colors in your picture and how they change when you make edits in Picasa.

    • Turn your photos into a movie.
      It’s so easy to play filmmaker with your pictures. Select your best shots, then adjust the delay time, dimensions, and video compression settings. That’s it – Picasa will render a movie, complete with title graphics, that you can play and share.

    • Make a personalized desktop picture or screensaver.
      Your best pictures are now on display. Pick a favorite photo as your desktop picture or add several into your screensaver rotation. What better way to enjoy your photographic genius at your desk?

    • Create a poster.
      Picasa can tile any picture you select, allowing you to print each part and reassemble them at poster size – up to 1,000% larger than the original.

    • Make picture collages.
      Select a group of pictures, choose one of the beautiful templates, and Picasa will create a collage that expands your creative horizons. Picture pile it. Make a multi-exposure image. Create a contact sheet. Done? Simply save your collage to a folder, as a new desktop background or as a screensaver.

    I especially like that individual files can be used in multiple albums. I’m not particularly worried about disk space; I’m more concerned about the hassle of having to remember where a source photo comes from. I have a pretty straight forward way of naming my picture files: yyyymmdd[_nn]_[x]xx.jpg, where yyyy is the year, mm is the month, dd is the day, and xx is the series. The formulation allows for different events. (Signified by nn, an “event” simply acknowledges the fact that some days, there will sometimes be more than one distinct group of pictures.) While this is great for archiving, it can be a bit daunting when it comes to creating albums. For example, if a given picture portrays the family on a vacation to Hawaii, should that picture be categorized under “vacation”, “Hawaii”, or “family”? The most basic categorization is, of course, the year, but the filename already covers that. What if I want that picture also to be part of a collection of pictures of my brother? With Picasa, I can create albums without having to manipulate the underlying files. Thus, each file can have more than one reference. Simple database concepts brought to life!

    Finally, the opportunity to use the IPTC standard for captioning digital pictures, which means that captions, which is one way I’ve been implementing “albums” in ACDSee, will now travel with my pictures, instead of requiring the transfer of icky Windows “hidden files”.

    I’ll post again when I’ve had a chance to really take this for a test drive. If I forget, remind me.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Diversions | 4 Comments »

    Prediction Markets and the Papal Election: A Post-Mortem Analysis

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Chris Masse has posted a long and very thoughtful analysis of the recent election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Papacy. He is appropriately critical of journalists and prediction-market promoters who now claim that the markets accurately predicted Ratzinger’s election. In fact the markets were almost useless, since meaningful public information was not available.

    Chris also points, in Section 5 of his essay, to a string of other prediction-market failures, and argues that they too were difficult calls because of limited public information. I think that he is right; prediction markets aren’t crystal balls. At best they distill public information into the most accurate predictions possible. However, when information isn’t publicly available, the best prediction may be no prediction.

    He also points out, almost in passing (Section 7), that current prediction-market exchanges make it bizarrely difficult for outsiders to obtain price data, even for expired markets — a sure sign, IMO, that the people running these markets do not fully understand their business (cf. eBay, which is similarly clueless).

    And he makes some excellent points about contract design, particularly WRT to contracts having excessively long duration. That’s exactly right. For example, instead of having several contracts with long duration, each predicting the price of gold within a particular price range, there should be fewer contracts having shorter durations, with prediction ranges that are closer to current price levels — like traditional exchange-traded futures.

    One of his suggestions that I do not find compelling is his recommendation (Section 8) to create a “think tank” of economists to evaluate specific prediction markets. I think the market will probably take care of such evaluations, as the exchanges learn with time how to create contracts that customers will be eager to trade. The exchanges have a big financial incentive to do that, after all.

    But that is a quibble. Chris’s post is excellent and perhaps will spur some useful discussion about the evolving prediction-markets industry.

    UPDATE: Chris has responded to my comments, in an addendum near the bottom of his post. Unfortunately he does not provide a direct link to his response. However, it’s easy to find if you scroll down to the bottom of his post and look for the update dated 9/21. [Fixed by Chris, thanks!]

    I may not have been clear enough in my post. I meant that the exchanges have a strong financial incentive to experiment with different contract configurations. My own trading experience suggest that a futures contract that expires in 1 year is likely to be much less interesting to traders than would be a similar contract that expired in three months. Most futures traders prefer to trade contracts whose expirations are a few months away as opposed to a full year or more away. The way for an exchange to cover a long time horizon is not to create only long-term contracts, but to create a series of relatively short-term contracts with staggered expiration dates — as is done in conventional futures markets. I suspect the prediction-market exchanges will figure this out for themselves, by trial and error, and probably do not need outside “experts” to help them.

    Posted in Markets and Trading | 3 Comments »

    Miller on Barone on Louisiana, and Kotkin on New Orleans

    Posted by Lexington Green on 20th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Jim Miller has a nice couple of quotes from Michael Barone’s biannual Almanac of American Politics, discussing Louisiana as America’s “banana republic”. This ties well into the discussion we have been having about the contrast between New York and Louisiana, cities founded by the Dutch and French, respectively (here and here). See also this post from Mr. Barone, which notes inter alia that “Louisiana ranks No. 50 among states in measures of social connectedness.” Weak civil society leads to high crime, low productivity and all kinds of social pathology. Katrina did not disclose some kind of universal American shame, it merely disclosed what many already knew, or should have — that Louisiana is a Caribbean-style culture and polity lodged onto the North American continent.

    And while I’m at it, Joel Kotkin discusses here the rebuilding of San Francisco after the earthquake and fire in 1906. He is not too optimistic that a viable New Orleans will rise from the slime:

    New Orleans today, sadly, does not much resemble the confident California city that arose from the 1906 quake. Instead, it is in a multi-generational, not too genteel decline. Public corruption and inefficiency — all too obvious in the preparation for and aftermath of Katrina — have been persistent problems.

    Kotkin anticipates that New Orleans will continue to shed its functional economy to Houston, leaving only a funky tourist zone, with poverty-line jobs in hotels and restaurants for what remains of the workforce.

    In this sense, New Orleans could be seen as a “Third World San Francisco” — an impoverished exemplar of the contemporary San Francisco model of an ephemeral economy based on cultural taste, lifestyle preference and tourism. Such an economy — with its emphasis on style over substance — tends to cut down the rungs of upward mobility by chasing away the middle class, particularly those with children, and exacerbates gaps between rich and poor, black and white.

    This all sounds plausible. But if the long-run destiny of New Orleans is to be a simulacrum of a city, with its pretty and its raunchy sectors so that all tastes are served, that won’t be much of a surprise, either. Katrina will only have accelerated a process that had been long underway.

    Posted in USA | 1 Comment »

    Anglo-Dutch wars

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 20th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Just to clarify, when I wrote in my post below that

    … for the rise of England and later the United States very likely wouldn’t have been possible if the Netherlands hadn’t destroyed the Spanish naval dominance in the mid 1600s …

    I didn’t mean to say that there was much harmony between these countries, especially not in the period mentioned in my quote.

    Indeed not:

    1652-1654 The first of three Anglo-Dutch commercial wars fought to control maritime markets ended in stalemate. The Dutch Republic had been the dominant commercial power for over a century, controlling the commerce of the East Indies, as well as western trade in slaves, sugar, and furs. Much of England’s mercantilist strategy over the next 20 years was designed to expand English trade and profits at the expense of the Dutch. The Navigations Acts imposed by the British government in the two decades that followed directly incited conflict between London and Amsterdam, and placed the American colonies at the center of a global war over trade.

    1664 In the second of three Anglo-Dutch commercial wars, the English annexed the only Dutch outpost in North America, New Amsterdam (renaming it New York), and effectively drove the Dutch from the continent.

    1673

    In the third of three Anglo-Dutch commercial wars, the English Navy succeeded in usurping Dutch supremacy in world trade, and effectively ended their dominance of the West African slave trade. Subsequently, English merchants were free to expand their private fleets and gain a dominant position in Atlantic Commerce. The Navigations Acts played a central role in enhancing Britain’s world position.

    Etc, etc, but the fact remains, without the Dutch the English would likely had taken a lot longer to overcome the Habsburgs’ Spanish empire. Spain would have fallen eventually, for the steady flow of gold and silver from the New World led to ruinous inflation, bleeding the country’s economy dry, but in the meantime some other players might have grown powerful enough to become serious rivals.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

    A history of the rise of the Dutch Republic

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 20th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Lex has written two fascinating posts about the Dutch origins of New York, to be found here and here.

    I think that this is of interest in this context: The Rise of the Dutch Republic (Complete 1555-84) by John Lothrop Motley

    From Motley’s preface to his work:

    The rise of the Dutch Republic must ever be regarded as one of the
    leading events of modern times. Without the birth of this great
    commonwealth, the various historical phenomena of: the sixteenth and
    following centuries must have either not existed; or have presented
    themselves under essential modifications.–Itself an organized protest
    against ecclesiastical tyranny and universal empire, the Republic guarded
    with sagacity, at many critical periods in the world’s history; that
    balance of power which, among civilized states; ought always to be
    identical with the scales of divine justice. The splendid empire of
    Charles the Fifth was erected upon the grave of liberty. It is a
    consolation to those who have hope in humanity to watch, under the reign
    of his successor, the gradual but triumphant resurrection of the spirit
    over which the sepulchre had so long been sealed. From the handbreadth of
    territory called the province of Holland rises a power which wages eighty
    years’ warfare with the most potent empire upon earth, and which, during
    the progress of the struggle, becoming itself a mighty state, and binding
    about its own slender form a zone of the richest possessions of earth,
    from pole to tropic, finally dictates its decrees to the empire of
    Charles.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A history of the rise of the Dutch Republic

    Holland on the Hudson II

    Posted by Lexington Green on 20th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Jim Bennett sent some comments about my earlier post about the Dutch influence in New York, which I pass along, slightly edited, with his permission.

    … I have just read [Lex]’s post on Dutch New York, etc., which is good timing since I had picked up [Russell] Shorto’s book (Island at the Center of the World) for on the road reading. I’m about halfway through. I very much agree that New York City is sui generis, outside of Fischer‘s framework, as Fischer himself admits. I also agree that it is a freestanding major influence on the US. Incidentally, another good treatment on this theme is Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America, which also treates NYC as an outlier.

    I also agree that FDR was more Hudson Valley patroon than New England Yankee. I suspect some of the paternalism of the New Deal comes from landlord-tenant relations in the valley; it’s almost like a Tory Wet paternalistic attitude. These are entirely distinct cultures. The difference between the Hudson Valley Dutch and the Yankees (and the “no love lost” attitude between them) was also the basis for Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with its hilarious caricature of the New Englander Ichabod Crane. (As for Brom Bones, he would be perfectly at home today with a muscle car and a backwards-turned baseball cap.)

    Although I have not finished the Shorto, I am continually annoyed by him. He acts as if William Penn and Roger Williams never existed. There are plenty of English-speaking sources of principled tolerance in colonial America. In fact, their tolerance was more principled than the Dutch, who were mostly tolerant out of opportunism, not that there’s anything wrong with that. And his treatment of the Puritans is simplistic. Shorto confuses Puritan and Victorian attitudes about sexuality. In fact most of Dutch tolerance as he discusses is boils down to religious indifference and toleration of prostitution. Has he never read a history of Virginia? Perhaps the latter is an example of toleration, but I suspect New England was less tolerant of prostitution primarily because women had some say in the running of the community there.

    Shorto’s point about the singularity of New York and the importance of the Nieuw Amsterdam archives is right on target. But his lack of corresponding knowledge about the Anglo-American colonies renders his speculations of little value. Not only is he making an apples-to-oranges comparison, but he is using a sort of rude sketch of an apple to do it with.

    What I also see is that the Dutch, unlike the English, had a great deal of trouble extending the self-governance of medieval constitutionalism to the New World, even though it existed quite healthily in the Netherlands itself. Compare this to the English experience, where just about every colony of settlement has some sort of assembly in short order. Perhaps this was because the English had a ready-made model of settler self-governing institutions dating from English emigration to Wales and Ireland. By the time they got to Virginia they were quite used to setting up counties and electing sheriffs and bailiffs. Whereas the Dutch tried to suppress settler self-governance both in America and in South Africa.

    On the counterfactual question of what a Dutch-founded city would have looked like instead of French-founded New Orleans, Jim commented that “[a] Dutch New Orleans would probably have some of the flavor of Curacao. It would undoubtedly be better run than the current French version.”

    Jim and I were both a little tough on Shorto. The book is good and interesting when he is talking about the founding era of Nieuw Amsterdam. It gets weak when he tries to project the story down the centuries to the present, a much more difficult task. The book’s merits are real, and the need for someone to do a full-blown, scholarly study of the influence of the Dutch settlement is highlighted by Shorto’s effort.

    Posted in Anglosphere | 1 Comment »

    Arrrr!

    Posted by Lexington Green on 19th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy dogs.

    (See this, and this, and this. And also this one via Instapundit.)

    Posted in Humor | 3 Comments »

    Primer on the German election system

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 19th September 2005 (All posts by )

    The German election system is pretty complicated, those interested can find a primer here.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    Schröder still trying to hold on, delivers a strange performance after the elections

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 19th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Despite the losses his party suffered yesterday, Gerhard Schröder is still trying to hang on to office. Some of his supporters like to think that he is going to be successful, but it is far more likely than not to be nothing more than a bluff.

    Either way, his strange performance directly after the elections indicates that the last months were pretty hard on him. During the televised after-election debate of the various parties’ chairpersons, moderated by two senior journalists from the big two public broadcasters, he behaved downright appallingly. Throughout it all he grinned and grimaced, and when he spoke he petulantly insisted that he is Chancellor and will remain Chancellor. He also garrulously and somewhat incoherently attacked the media, accusing them to have conspired against him, in order to get Merkel into the Chancellery. All this is in stark contrast to his suave performances you usually get from the ‘Media-Chancellor’.

    One of the two moderators finally ran out of patience and rebuked him (transcribed from my memory, so the exact phrasing could be a bit different from this): ‘Mr Schröder, and I deliberately say Mr Schröder and not Mr Chancellor, you don’t have any business to make allegations against us, just as we don’t make any allegations against yourself.’ After that he simply turned to Angela Merkel, ignoring Schröder altogether. The Chancellor obviously sensed that he had gone too far, he just sat there and silently put up with this chastisement in front of a huge TV audience. The unusual harsh tone, very different from what he used to hearing from German journalists, likely also took him aback.

    Even so he dominated the debate when he spared with his political opponents – Angela Merkel was visibly disappointed by her party’s bad performance at the polls, and Edmund Stoiber from Bavaria was a weak candidate in 2002 and seems to have learned little since then. Both were no match against even a weakened Schröder. Their policies and programs are far superior, but they are pikers compared to him when it comes to politicking.

    Schröder can still brazen it all out, and build a new coalition government under his leadership against all odds, but no imaginable configuration will be stable for long. The various parties and their personnel simply are incompatible, and in one or two years there would be another reelection. With that in mind, some of the other parties might form some other, unexpected coalition that excludes the Social Democrats altogether. More on that in another post.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    A sudden economic downturn in Germany?

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 18th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Expectations for the performance of the German economy had improved in the last months, but they were based on the assumption that the conservative Christian Democrats and pro-market Free Democrats would form a coalition, an assumption that also led to an increase in foreign investment and a rise in value of German stocks.

    Since these expectations have now been frustrated, it wouldn’t surprise me if investors pulled their money out of Germany at the first opportunity. What with the next govenment being unlikely to be very stable, a sudden boost in additional unemployment might finish it off.

    If that would be enough to convince German voters that additional reforms are needed after all, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, at least not a bad as four more years of stagnation.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

    Quote(s) of the Day

    Posted by Lexington Green on 18th September 2005 (All posts by )

    [T]hese are the worst of the worst. And we have been very effective against them. They are associates of Zarqawi. They are some of the worst human beings on the face of the Earth. And it gives us no — there is no really greater pleasure for us than to kill or capture these particular individuals.

    [P]lease, everybody, just please tell the American people how great their soldiers are. You’ve got to tell them. I mean, it is unbelievable what they’re doing. I mean — and I know I can’t keep you any longer, but I just want to tell you, they’re fighting. They’re defeating the enemy. They are partnered with Iraqi security forces. They’re building Iraqi security force capability. They’re providing humanitarian assistance. They’re organizing reconstruction right now. They are taking care of the people of the city as they’re pursuing the enemy. I mean, it is extraordinary the quality of the young men and women who we have here pursuing the enemies of our nation and helping to secure the people of Tall Afar and western Ninevah. So you got to tell them.

    Col. H.R. McMaster, briefing on September 13, 2005 re: recent fighting in Tall Afar, Iraq. RTWT.

    (Via Belmont Club)

    Posted in Iraq | 4 Comments »

    First prognosis for election result looks bad

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 18th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Christian Democrats get the most votes at 35.5 to 37 %

    Social Democrats 33 or 34 %

    Free Democrats 10.5 %

    Greens 8.5 %

    ‘Left’ 7.5 to 8.5 %

    Even worse, the first extrapolation on the first results bear that out.

    Very bad news, no matter which possible coalition will govern – Grand coalition or Red-Left-Green – won’t push the urgently needed reforms through. It seems that my dear compatriots aren’t in enough pain yet.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

    German election results still highly uncertain, and might even be found invalid

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 17th September 2005 (All posts by )

    It shouldn’t be this close

    On Sunday, an estimated 69.1 million Germans — among them 2.6 million first-time voters — will head to the polls to elect a new parliament with 3,648 candidates vying for 598 seats. Polls will open at 8 a.m. CET and close at 6 p.m.

    Latest opinion polls show support for the conservative alliance of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) at between 41 and 43 percent and about 8 percent for their preferred coalition partners, the free-market liberal FDP.

    Schröder’s Social Democrats (SPD) came in second at 32 to 34 percent, while their junior coalition partner, the Greens could take six to seven percent of the vote.

    These numbers might not mean much, though:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Germany | 1 Comment »

    German-Turkish voters deciding the election outcome?

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 17th September 2005 (All posts by )

    While greater political particpation of immigrants is overall a good thing, I don’t really like this:

    More than a half-million German-Turkish voters are eligible to go to the polls in federal elections this weekend. They overwhelmingly support the Social Democrats, and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has put Turkish voters at the front of his campaign this week.

    This week, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder paid a visit to the editorial offices and printing plant of the Dogan Media Group, the German arm of Turkey’s largest media conglomerate. …

    It was one of Schröder’s easier campaign stops. After all, his challenger, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats (CDU), in contrast, has alienated Turkish voters with her aggressive opposition to EU membership for Ankara.

    But the most telling statistic is the growth in the number of Turkish voters in Germany. Slowly they are emerging as a powerful minority voting bloc. Since 1972, 666,000 of the former “guest workers” who came to help rebuild Germany during the economic miracle that followed World War II have become naturalized citizens. And that pharmacies number has surged in recent years under a new citizenship law that permits Turks born in Germany to apply for citizenship when they turn 18. By most estimates, more than half-million Turkish-Germans will be eligible to vote in Sunday’s election — a crucial voting block in an election in which 30 percent of Germans remain undecided. In its above-the-fold headline on Wednesday, the mass-circulation Bild newspaper asked: “Will the Turks Determine the Election?”

    The rest of the article is worth reading, too.

    What I like least about the whole issue is that the question of Turkish EU membership might end up deciding the outcome of German elections. Then again, at least Turkish voters are going to vote following direct self-interest or nationalism, and not out of allegiance to Islamist organizations. Rather, the relationship between Germany and Turkey is a lot like that between the United States and Mexico. While annoying, this is vastly preferable to having Islamic hordes flooding Europe, as some American commentators and bloggers claim is happening.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Just Another Country

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 17th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Via Blogdex, we find U.S. Deploys Slide Show to Press Case Against Iran, which may leave you wondering if we’ve been sleepwalking toward disaster for the past four years:

    The presentation, conducted in a conference room at the U.S. mission in Vienna, includes a pictorial comparison of Iranian facilities and missiles with photos of similar-looking items in North Korea and Pakistan, according to a copy of the slides handed out to diplomats. Pakistan largely supplied Iran with its nuclear infrastructure but, as a key U.S. ally, it is identified in the presentation only as “another country.”

    Just another country … whose ISI enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban, if it did not actually create the Taliban; where Islamists rule two out of four provinces, including North-West Frontier, where in all likelihood both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar have obtained refuge; and which has transferred nuclear technology to a sworn enemy of the United States. Just another country …

    Posted in National Security | 3 Comments »

    Scientists Pursue Happiness

    Posted by Ginny on 17th September 2005 (All posts by )

    A&L links to Johan Norberg who analyzes “The Scientist’s Pursuit of Happiness.” He criticizes Richard Layard’s study:

    To stop this ‘hedonic treadmill’ we should increase taxes, discourage hard work, and slow down mobility and restructuring, to give us more time to the things that really make us happier—family, friends and reading Layard’s books.

    Norberg, on the other hand, argues:

    Apparently, a sense of competence and efficacy gives us happiness—a sense of being in control in complex situations. This is not surprising since it is difficult to imagine a trait that has helped mankind to survive and procreate better than this, but the implications are interesting.

    U[date: This study might have been helpful at the Clinton Global Initiative..
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 1 Comment »

    C-SPAN 1 & 2 (times e.t.)

    Posted by Ginny on 17th September 2005 (All posts by )

    C-Span 1. Book TV. Book TV Schedule. After Words and Q&A.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Schedules | Comments Off on C-SPAN 1 & 2 (times e.t.)

    First & Last Defense

    Posted by Ginny on 16th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Mitch observes in a comment that his first responsibility was to his wife and children. Implicit in most of our assumptions is that rings begin with our nuclear family (if we don’t get that right, how can we be expected to get our larger responsibilities right). For those of us earthy types with whom this resonates, Rousseau’s theories don’t have a chance. We figure, well, hell, look what he did with his children – someone blessed with his extraordinary myopia/selfishness in such personal terms can not be taken seriously.

    This is what we keep coming back to on this blog: as nature (or the barbarians) break in a series of defense walls, the last one is the first – the protection with which we surround our family.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Morality and Philosphy | 1 Comment »

    A new low in an already disgusting election campaign

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 16th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Gerhard Schröder had already based his, until a couple of days ago seemingly hopeless, reelection campaign on personal attacks against Paul Kirchhof, the Christian Democrats’ tax expert, who formulated the proposal for a flat tax. It is extremely galling to hear Schröder dump on a man who is superior to him in every way, and that he could do it to the applause of the Social Democrat support base.

    Even worse, Schröder’s state minister in the Chancellory (roughly equivalent to the chief of staff in the White House), chose to use this as an election placard in his electoral district in former East Germany:

    The caption says ‘She would have sent soldiers’, i.e. Angela Merkel would have sent German soldiers to Iraq, some of whom would now also come home in coffins. It seems as if Schröder’s party simply won’t stop at any depravity.

    This also is a sign of how desperate the Social Democrats are. The newly formed ‘Linke’ threatens to take second place behind the Christian Democrats in former East Germany, leaving the Social Democrats in the dust in third place, with just 24 percent of the vote there. That would be an unmitigated disaster for a self-declared ‘Volkspartei’ (people’s party, as opposed to small parties like the Greens and pro-market Free Democrats).

    I seriously hope that the Social Democrats lose by wide margin. It might well be that the ‘recovery’ the Social Democrats allegedly enjoy in the polls is nothing but wishful thinking by the left wing part of the press.

    Some local reaction:

    The daily paper Bild Zeitung calls this ‘Wahlkampf pervers’, which means ‘A perverted election campaign’.

    The decidedly left-of-center, and usually reliably anti-American Spiegel Online, notes that Schwanitz has come under a lot of criticism over the last days, in the press and also by harshly critical letters and emails.

    PS: The website is right now getting redesigned, so the photo above is only visible here, SPON and at Bild.de

    Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 16th September 2005 (All posts by )

    The Department of Homeland Security appeals to those of the Intelligent Design faith. It was created under the theory that the reason that government failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks was that it was not centralized enough. What we needed was a larger organization, with more missions and less ability to focus. As a hard-core Intelligent Design believer, [economist Brad] DeLong believes that DHS could be effective with the right administrators. To skeptics (including many of its employees), DHS is a clusterf*** no matter whom you put in charge.

    Arnold Kling

    UPDATE: In the comments, Lex presents another good quote from Kling. I think it’s worthwhile to read the entire essay. Kling is consistently insightful about economics and the nexus between economic and political issues, and he writes engagingly.

    Posted in Political Philosophy | 11 Comments »

    Links to Speech

    Posted by Ginny on 16th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Update: Instapundit & Sensing are disturbed by the passage:

    It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces—the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment’s notice.

    I suspect their fears that such changes would endanger the power of the states is reasonable. I also suspect that they but not NPR are in a position to complain about such encroachments: the latter repeatedly accused Bush of not acting swiftly not powerfully enough. I don’t know much about federalism or disaster relief, but I do suspect the best policy will not be defined by the nature of one of the worst possible natural disasters that took place in our most lawless, most poverty-stricken, most racially-divided, and most corrupt city (is that unfair to New Orleans? Maybe).

    Bush’s speech, in blue in Jackson Square. Gerson tugs our heartstrings, but this often comes from the sweep of history with which he surrounds the present. The blue background was echoed in Bush’s shirt and the sense of big sky country – of a broad and hopeful horizon – went with the speech:

    In the life of this nation, we have often been reminded that nature is an awesome force and that all life is fragile. We are the heirs of men and women who lived through those first terrible winters at Jamestown and Plymouth, who rebuilt Chicago after a great fire, and San Francisco after a great earthquake, who reclaimed the prairie from the dust bowl of the 1930s.

    Every time, the people of this land have come back from fire, flood, and storm to build anew — and to build better than what we had before. Americans have never left our destiny to the whims of nature, and we will not start now. [italics inserted]

    But then, in conclusion, the trope became all New Orleans:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Speeches | 2 Comments »

    Who can learn lessons?

    Posted by ken on 15th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Even today, after thousands suffered on live TV for want of water and other supplies (along with security), it’s a sign of “confusion” in the Administration that it appointed as head of FEMA the man who mentioned that a stockpile of emergency supplies, including but not limited to duct tape, would be a useful thing to have if disaster struck.

    Apparently, the idea of having individuals prepare themselves to be cut off from civilization for a few days, and even to be able to reduce their exposure to airborne nastiness, is too ridiculous to even consider. Combine that with the criticism the Federal Government received for its “slow” response to a problem that wouldn’t have existed if the non-evacuating population had recourse to such a stockpile along with competent security forces, and you see the underlying premise:

    People cannot be expected to take care of themsleves in any significant way. People who are allowed to vote cannot be expected to stockpile food and water in any amount; if they go without in a disaster, it’s some government’s fault. (And if they go without because a state government turned the stuff away, it’s the Federal government’s fault for not bringing replacement supplies faster).

    Of course this continues an old pattern. A new medicine has unexpected side effects? We can’t rely on the idiots out there to catch on to the idea that new medicines might have unforeseen side effects – we’ve got to keep it out of their hands for several years, and then let them have it only with a permission slip from their doctor. All under the direction of Federal regulators, the only people in the country capable of learning from other people’s experience.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

    Plenty of blame to go around

    Posted by ken on 15th September 2005 (All posts by )

    If by “around” you mean from Gretna all the way to Baton Rouge.

    We were told that this disaster shows the utter folly of small government philosophy; analogies between Grover Norquist’s “bathtub” and the city of New Orleans are everywhere. All this from a delay in delivering supplies that came about when a private organization (the Red Cross) ready to deliver those supplies early on was prevented from doing so by the State of Louisiana. And evacuation on foot was blocked by the Gretna police (although it seems that Airline Highway to the west was open to foot traffic all the way to Baton Rouge; too bad no one on the scene seems to have pointed this out to many desperate would-be evacuees.). This isn’t quite the slam-dunk refutation of libertarianism that we were promised ever since the levees broke.

    We are told that the resulting suffering is somehow the fault of the Bush Administration. While it would make sense to fault the Administration for delays caused by failure to anticipate some aspect of the disaster or the aftermath, I find it difficult to blame the Administration for failing to anticipate that the State of Louisiana would cut off the victims’ supply lines. Perhaps the Admininstration should have assumed that the State Government of Louisiana is a potentially hostile power that may blockade an American city, but no one in any party at any level of government or anywhere else came close to predicting that beforehand.

    But the Administration obviously doesn’t take its disaster relief responsibilities seriously; the head of FEMA during the disaster was a political hack with no relevant experience (well, except for being head of FEMA during four hurricanes in Florida – when the response went so well that the Administration stands accused of currying favor with Florida voters through its extra-well-done response).

    And Administration officials showed their complete ineptitude by saying that the breach of the levees wasn’t anticipated (except that it wasn’t – what was anticipated was the storm surge going over the levees during the storm and leaving a much smaller number of people needing relief and evacuation, not a breach of the levee leading to gradual flooding and lots of stranded survivors). The idiots at FEMA didn’t even know that there were thousands of people at the Convention Center (of course, according to the plan, there weren’t supposed to be thousands of people at the Convention Center, and the rest of the country didn’t know it either until a few hours earlier, not a whole day. What idiots those FEMA guys are for not spending their whole day watching TV!)

    Well, now the Administration is set to show its real ineptitude – its problems with public relations. The President seems to be planning to “take responsibility” for the problems that came about in the aftermath – problems caused at the state and local level. Problems that only went away when the Feds showed up in force on the scale and timeline promised. Some will say that it’s only right, that the buck should stop with him. This would even make sense – if he were Blanco’s boss. He isn’t. All he’s going to do is leave people with the impression that the Feds are supposed to be responsible for anything and everything that happens the first few days, and that they failed in this responsibility.

    So what can we take away from this? First, the withdrawl of occupation forces from Louisiana in 1877 seems to have been a bit hasty. Second, always keep 3-4 days worth of food and water and other supplies on hand. And third, when our friends on the left and in the media assert (as they do every time anything of significance happens) that the incompetence of the Administration is on display before any real information comes to light, it’s best to ignore them (a lesson that yours truly will take to heart).

    Update: Bush noted that the overall response was unacceptable (without any detail on who was responding when), and promised a comprehensive review of emergency procedures along with a greater Federal role in future. Of course since the next disaster will probably happen in some state other than Louisiana, where competent officials exist, this will most likely do more harm than good overall. He’s also promised to shower lots of money on the evacuees and on Louisiana state and local governments to help rebuild the city and the levees (has he learned nothing from dealing with those people? Any Federal money put in the hands of Louisiana officials would do slightly more good if it were set on fire instead. And working with Louisiana officials is not a good way to get a stronger levee!), to build the city bigger and better and stronger, to encourage evacuees to rebuild their lives better than ever back in New Orleans (he apparently hasn’t learned anything from dealing with those people. The best way for most of the evacuees to build better and more prosperous lives is for them to stay the hell away from Louisiana), and of course to conduct those reviews and gear up for a quicker and more massive Federal response to disasters. Not too surprising overall, sad to say.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Images from 19th Century Crimea

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 13th September 2005 (All posts by )

    Some time ago I found these images while googling about the Crimean War:

    The first picture is full sized in this post, the full sized version of the second one is here (you still might have to enlarge the picture manually)

    They are from the website of the Library of Congress, but unfortunately they seem to have changed the URLs, so that I can’t provide a proper link to where I got them from. They used to be here, but there now are images of people I’m taking for Crimea Tartars instead.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

    The proposed ‘Flat Tax’ dominates the German election debates

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 13th September 2005 (All posts by )

    This is from last month

    KEHL AM RHEIN, Germany (UPI) — Germany`s possible next finance minister Paul Kirchhof wants to radically simplify Germany`s complex tax system. His Christian Democrats have termed him a visionary, and some experts believe his plans for a flat tax might help Germany`s struggling economy by attract long-lost foreign investments.

    “His model would be a very good solution in comparison to everything all the parties have so far introduced,” Alfred Boss, senior economist at the Kiel Institute for World Economics, said Tuesday in a telephone interview with United Press International.

    Kirchhof is a figure the CDU/CSU has long wanted. Until chancellor candidate Angela Merkel introduced the bloc`s “competence team,” and Kirchhof as her senior finance adviser, the party was battling a popularity decline in the polls.

    Then came Kirchhof, a Heidelberg University professor and former constitutional court judge who has no party affiliation, and his plan of a flat tax: All Germans, he argues, should pay a quarter of their income to tax authorities, and then, they should be released into “the garden of freedom.” To finance his visions, he wants to get rid of all the 418 myriad allowances and multiple tax bands of Germany`s complex fiscal system.

    “Instead of needing 12 Saturdays to fill out a tax return, under the new system one would need just 10 minutes,” Kirchhof said last week. “I want to give back voters their freedoms by letting them decide what to do with their money.”

    Kirchhof initially looked like the Christian Democrats’ star and vote winner, but the flat tax has since then become the dominant issue of the current election campaign. The German tax system is the most complex in the world, so that reform is urgently needed, but each of the hundreds of tax exemptions have been hard won and fought for by various special interest groups, like farmers’ and miners’ associations, trade unions, industries dependent on subsidies for their survival, well connected individuals and corporations who pay no taxes at all thanks to the exemptions, ect, ect. Unfortunately Kirchhof’s proposed flat tax has manged to unite all those groups against the Christian Democrats, and not just because they fear for their tax privileges, for they also fear that the funding for subsidies they currently receive will vanish if Kirchhof’s plans will be put onto practice. On top of that said plans have been widely mis-characterized in the press, increasing those fears.

    The Christian Democrats also haven’t looked very good. Once Angela Merkel realized that the flat tax wasn’t going over well with the voters, she quickly relabeled Kirchhoff as a harmless academic without any real influence. This backtracking on the former star of her ‘competence team’ has disillusioned those who know how urgently Germany needs reform, without placating those Christian Democrats who fear that their various clienteles might lose billions of pork barrel spending.

    Right now the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats (a small pro-market party) on the one hand, and the Social Democrats, Greens and the new ‘Linke’ (an amalgam of the former East German communist party and former Social Democrats) on the other are even at the polls, at 48.5 percent each. If there aren’t any big changes in the last five days, a ‘Grand Coalition’ of Social and Christian Democrats is the most likely outcome. While less popular than a coalition of Christian and Free Democrats, voters prefer it over a continuation of the current Red-Green coalition, leave alone a Red-ReallyRed-Green coalition.

    Either way, right now Germans aren’t desperate enough for quick and effective reforms, so that Merkel can’t hope to emulate Margaret Thatcher just yet:

    she may have the same determination as Thatcher, but she has a much harder job. By the late 1970s the British were really desperate. They were prepared, in the final analysis, to accept any medicine if it would revive the “English patient”. Do Germans feel the same way now? Probably not. There is widespread concern about unemployment, but one doesn’t get the feeling that chaos is around the corner. During the British “Winter of Discontent” of 1978-79 bodies were left unburied, garbage was not collected, and transport did not run. Civilization appeared to be breaking down. The British electorate at that time was seriously prepared to take a gamble on Thatcher and her exciting, somewhat terrifying vision for Britain.

    Sooner or later they will become desperate enough, though, and the pain will be the greater the longer it takes.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »