Two Memes I Doubt Our Readers Buy

Some here may be interested in the task Cafe Hayek sets its readers:

a contest to find examples from the web or the media that make the claim that our standard of living is stagnant or that the middle class can’t get ahead and so on. Or better yet that the middle class is falling behind. Or that all the gains of the last x years have gone to the top 1% or the top 20%.

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It Is Literature Nonetheless

The Chicago Boyz like to discuss the books we read. Usually these are tomes that concern History-with-a-capital-Aitch or Literature-with-a-capital-Ell. I thought I’d do something different.

io9 is a group blog where sci-fi geeks discuss their obsession. One of the recent posts that I found interesting was entitled The Twenty Science Fiction Novels That Will Change Your Life.

These sort of “Best Of…” lists are always ultimately unsatisfying, since the author will always deviate from your own tastes sooner or later. In this case, I agreed with the list of books that had been printed prior to the mid-1990s, and then pretty much disagreed with every choice that had been printed afterwards. Even so, it was astonishing that the author of the post and I would agree even that much.

One example of divergent sensibilities is the endorsement of Cryptonomicon (2000) by Neal Stephenson. This is a rich and multilayered book, certainly a worthy addition to anyone’s collection of science fiction, but it isn’t what I would have picked. Instead I would have gone with Snow Crash (1992).

Why is that? Because Cryptonomicon concerns itself with cryptography, data havens, international finance, and the genealogy of a very strange family. The book was interesting enough, but I really don’t concern myself with any of those subjects in my everyday life. It is rare that something happens to remind me of the tome.

Snow Crash, on the other hand, dealt with massive multiplayer online entertainments, music, physical security, sword fighting, and the eternal love and loyalty of a stray dog that is shown some kindness. These are things that I do spend time on during my daily grind.

Your mileage will almost certainly vary from mine, of course.

In closing, I would like to say that the science fiction I started to read as a young child has certainly increased my appreciation for being alive in this amazing time and place. Advances in technology and culture that have appeared in my own lifetime are readily apparent due to my constant exposure to speculative fiction, and I have embraced them with a great deal of delight instead of bemoaning how things change.

My car still can’t fly, though. Someone needs to fix that.

Quote of the Day

When it comes to things like NAFTA, there seem to be only two possibilities. Either Obama’s anti-NAFTA talk is a ruse to fool the rubes, or his coterie of distinguished economic experts is a ruse to fool a different batch of rubes.

Glenn Reynolds

(I usually don’t quote Reynolds, because I assume that almost everyone who reads this blog reads Instapundit, but this line was too good not to quote.)

UPDATE (2/29/2008): One of the reasons this quote hit home for me is that I watched Larry Kudlow interview Austan Goolsbee, one of Obama’s “distinguished economic experts,” a couple of times. On both occasions Goolsbee came across as a partisan hack, trying to square the circle of Obama’s socialist and populist economic policies by pointing out marginal pro-business positions Obama had taken — e.g., Obama favored accelerated depreciation or whatever. But on the big issue of marginal income-tax rates Obama favors raising tax rates by, at first, repealing Bush’s tax cuts. He also favors raising or eliminating the income cap on the Social Security payroll tax. Why would a competent economist such as Goolsbee favor such anti-growth policies? The obvious answer is that Goolsbee is a partisan. He may also be interested in a government position if Obama wins. Caveat voter in any case.

Features I’d Like to See in Blogging Software

How do you deal with disruptive commenters without transforming the comments section of your blog into what TMLutas called “bonsai comment trees” — overly controlled exchanges from which unruly digressions that might have led to unexpected insights have been trimmed?

I don’t think the laissez-faire approach works with current software, because forcing readers to view all comments gives too much power to jerks and trolls who monopolize threads for their own purposes if given a chance. (The perverse incentive for bad behavior increases with blog traffic, which is why blogs with more than a few thousand daily readers usually moderate comments, if they allow comments at all.) But centralized comment moderation, which I recently experimented with, is too burdensome even for the moderator of this modestly trafficked blog, and also for the vast majority of commenters, who are not jerks.

What would be better? Here are some features that I’d like to see in WordPress, Movable Type, Blogger, etc.:

  1. A Slashdot-style comment-rating system that allows readers to rate each comment on a 1-5 scale and to display only comments whose rating is above a specified threshold.
  2. Or, per this comment on another blog, a YouTube-style or Amazon-style system that allows readers to see deleted comments, either individually or globally, by clicking a button. (Such a system should also provide a clickable button next to each comment to allow readers to flag problem comments for attention by a moderator.)
  3. A clickable “hide/display all comments from this commenter’s IP address” button next to each comment.
  4. A clickable “hide/display all comments from commenters using this name/pseudonym” button next to each comment.
  5. A clickable “display all comments from this commenter’s IP address in a new window” button next to each comment.
  6. Granular moderation settings for group blogs, so that each contributor can set his own moderation preferences and can moderate comments on his own posts only.

Not all of these features would have to be incorporated into each version of blogging software. I would prefer a combination of Features 2-6. The main things are to make it easy for readers to 1) hide low-quality comments and 2) detect sock puppetry. This could all be done without requiring commenters to register, and would reduce the moderation load on group-blog admins, as well as on solo bloggers who receive many comments.

Gosh, Is There Anything Bush Can’t Do?

Now he’s responsible for ignorant teenagers:

… President Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind, has impoverished public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics, but in no other subjects.

Really, what are these people going to do when Utopia fails to arrive next January 20th? What happens when you think all the world’s problems (and solutions) come from the White House?

ABC & the Violation of “A Clean, Well Lighted Place”?

Reporters, apparently having insufficient news to cover, have found that staged news is more easily controlled, requires little shoe leather, and reaches appropriate conclusions; I suspect it also reinforces the reporters’ sense of superiority. It does betray, however, a misunderstanding of the implied contract between a retail merchant and his customer – a more nuanced respect than merely (or even always) that the customer is right. Wretchard posts about ABC’s visit to the Czech Stop I’ve mentioned before. An actor behind the counter refuses to serve an actress in hijab. He is rude and disrespectful. Customers react – sometimes protective of the actress, sometimes critical, but always, of course, naively. (Update:  Wretchard’s commentors are also, as usual, insightful until somehow they become completely off-topic- I don’t understand how that can happen.)

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RIP William F. Buckley


I just heard the sad news.  Growing up I really didn’t know much about him, what he did or who he was, mostly getting my images of him from Saturday Night Live skits and other slapstic routines that made fun of his demeanor.  The last few years I have take a pretty good dive into some of his books and am very glad I did.  Thank you William for a life well lived.


Chicagoboyz love their toyz.  Jonathan makes a courtesy pass on medium throttle next to my tour boat last week just off of Sanibel Island, Florida.  Click photo for larger.

“Which Is Greener?”

Rand Simberg discusses discusses John Tierney’s NYT column in which Tierney compares the amounts of energy used in “green” and “not green” transportation. Tierney argues that green transportation methods may use more energy than do automobiles and other high-tech vehicles, whose use environmentalists want to discourage.

But really, most of these calculations are worthless because they do not take account of the value of people’s time. How can you compare the relative efficiencies of different processes if you don’t consider the value of a significant input in those processes? You can’t — unless you are homo antieconomicus, a modern environmentalist, and therefore place great value on every natural thing except humans and the things they create. But I digress. People using cars for short trips makes sense because people are productive, and the more productive they are, the more costly it is for them to be delayed by slow, cumbersome transportation. It does not make economic sense for Bill Gates to ride his bicycle to the office. Nor does it make sense for central planners to decide how different individuals should travel, because no individual or organization has enough information to make such decisions for others (see: communism, failure of).

The sensible way to handle such issues is to allow prices to fluctuate, and by fluctuating to communicate the current relative values of various inputs. Then everyone can accurately evaluate his own unique set of costs and benefits and make the best decisions for himself and, in the aggregate, society. (Note that we’re not talking about externalities here, but rather about production costs for goods and services that we use in our travels from place to place. Most of these costs are fully internalized in the prices of the respective goods and services.) But such individual decisionmaking is anathema to the control freaks of the enviro Left, for whom your time spent walking to the store counts for nothing, so they create rituals of correctness to enforce their norms on everyone else. You must recycle/bicycle/carpool/use mass-transit/save energy/etc. And it’s all bullshit — or, more precisely, a con job to get you to follow someone else’s preferences which, too often, are unexamined.

Tierney’s argument is a step in the right direction. It would have been a much better argument if he had raised questions about whether cost/benefit comparisons of various transportation methods can be made without considering the value of people’s time, and about whether such analyses can even be made by anyone besides travelers themselves.

“Poaching” or “Exiling”

Megan McArdle at Instapundit describes another case of Lancet’s preaching that probably deserves the Shannon approach: apparently it is a “crime” to “poach” third world health professionals. While there is much to be said for a sense of duty and a sense of loyalty to one’s home turf, most of us consider the importance of those ties as the business of each doctor.

It does, however, make me curious about a phenomenon I’ve noticed locally but have no idea of its breadth. Some of our readers may have a context.

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Becker and Posner on Gun Control

Can Gun Control Laws be Effective? Becker

Gun Control–Posner’s Comment

I find their arguments here disappointing, mostly because they beg the question by assuming that the net effects of gun ownership are negative. Nonetheless the exchange is thoughtful and worth reading, as are the critical comments (particularly those of John Lott, who points out the error in the central assumption about costs).

The Spring of Smears – Unfortunately, Part 1

At Instapundit,  Althouse quotes Hoyt, the NY Times “public editor,” on the now infamous (but at least usefully fund-raising) investigation of McCain .   Keller defends the story “about a man nearly felled by scandal who rebuilt himself as a fighter against corruption but is still ‘careless about appearances, careless about his reputation, and that’s a pretty important thing to know about somebody who wants to be president of the United States.'”

Of course, we might question the paper’s carelessness about “appearances” and, indeed,  its “reputation.”   The defense seems to be that the nonexistent “sex” scandal was not important; the role of lobbyists and the earlier scandal were.  Such innocence on the part of the paper, such dirty mindedness on the part of its readers!  Ah, if we were only as serious as they.

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Wisconsin Primary Analysis

I am a very simple guy, and I ask simple questions. This political season I am asking a question to myself over and over and over – just how many conservative/libertarian folks such as myself have been crossing over and voting for Obama in open primaries? My initial guess was a bunch, and it looks as though I may have been correct.

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More on Communications Intercepts

On Friday, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey sent a letter to House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes. Note this sentence:

We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress’ failure to act.

My previous post on this subject is here.


I stopped moderating comments — too much negative feedback, too many hassles. I may reinstitute moderation if the blog starts to attract trolls, as happens from time to time.

My Investing Side Project

In addition to blogging I have some other side projects. One of my side projects is the web site (I’m not really plugging anything because there are no advertisements on the site and it is a simple, single page site with down loadable schedules) which describes the process of setting up a trust fund and the performance of the three trust funds that I have set up (so far) for my nephews and nieces.

The three portfolios invest in stocks. Portfolio one has a market value of about $16,000, Portfolio two has a market value of about $8500, and Portfolio three has a market value of about $1500. The size of the portfolio is driven by how many years of contributions have been made (7, 4 and 1 respectively).

About half way down the page (or you can use this link and jump there) each of the three portfolios has a single page that summarizes the key information. I put these schedules together manually from a variety of sources and have refined it annually.

How to Organize Your Stock Portfolio

It is actually quite difficult to put together a simple, single page worksheet that tells you what you want to know about your portfolio. While investing firms are getting better and better each year in formatting information and adding new organizational layouts (and of course it is so much better to download forms rather than have reams of paper), they still don’t easily tell you what you want to know, which is why (for now) I am creating my own formats. Here is what is contained:

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