Friday, August 31, 2007

Number one on the Pareto

First, pictures of the "Water Bug" are coming soon. Hopefully Tuesday.

Next, I'm struck by something very interesting. Let's look at the really big problems we have in our society, things like breakdown of families and neighborhoods, failure to learn morals and crime, failure to learn basic life skills, lack of aesthetic sensitivity, and general health travails like obesity linked to diet and a failure to exercise. If you look at statistics on crime, medical costs, and welfare costs, these are the big issues we have to face.

In my life, I've become aware that a certain kind of person does incredible work to mitigate these problems by cooking meals, hosting block parties, contributing to church potlucks, disciplining children and training them in the truth, educating children and ensuring they do their homework, and telling them to get away from the television and go outside to play. What does our society do with such a person?

It tells her that staying at home with her children and doing all this is demeaning, but it's admirable if she spends all day away from those she loves in a cubicle.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

If you doubt

...that peer review of academic work and earned doctorates are becoming very poor indicators of quality, take a look at Mike Adams' series on the academic travails of some Mormon students at Purdue University-Calumet's "Marriage and Family Therapy" program. A quick summary of Adams' findings; those who are religious face fairly systematic discrimination in all areas of the program, and the field of "sex therapy" places great stock in "desensitization" via the viewing of pornographic films.

Are these the people we should be looking to for our mental health, or some very lonely people whose practice of logic is more than a little bit rusty? Hopefully my home state will get a hint and de-fund this group.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chutzpah defined as either a man who kills his parents asking the court for mercy because he's an orphan, or a man with a 28,000 square foot home who flies in private jets virtually every day chastising average Americans for driving a sport utility vehicle. Of course, this is the same guy talking about predatory lending and excessive medical costs while gaining huge sums of money from subprime mortgage companies and medical torts. I'm not sure, but I'd have to guess that the definitions for "chutzpah" and "hypocrisy" have been torn out of his dictionary.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Surreal on Sunday

My family & I took our homemade flat-bottomed rowboat "Water Bug" to the lake this weekend, and as I rowed two of my daughters back to the shore, I was surprised to see a group of young people in a $30,000 ski boat admiring my $200 johnboat. Evidently I was not only getting more exercise than they were, I was also in a cooler "ride."

If you need to look cool at the lake, let me know. A small gift will suffice to rent the "Water Bug." Just promise to wear a life vest in case gawking teenagers accidentally run the little craft over.

Equally surreal to me would be anyone who is able to read this book (which I'm reading now) and not have some desire to take part in the great conversation.

And a final surreal thing for the day--and very encouraging--is Michael Vick's apology for his crimes. Whether he means it or not, I cannot tell (I'll assume he does mean it), but it's really nice to see someone offer a real apology these days.

And sad to say, also surreal in a way.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Refereed journals

If work done by Steven Milloy is indicative, parents may be able to relax about letting their children watch "Baby Einstein" videos, and the Journal of Pediatrics and the AAP may have some apologizing to do to Disney.

Apart from illustrating the limitations of peer review and applicability of data, it unfortunately illustrates something I've noticed with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Specifically, they've been willing to publish articles that probably should never have been published--at least without major revisions and qualifications of their conclusions.

Some examples? Sure. On the basis of a discredited study claiming you were more likely to be killed than saved by your own gun (the victims in the Kellerman study were actually killed with someone else's gun, by and large), they've come out against firearm ownership by parents. The proper conclusion of the Kellerman study is that you shouldn't live in a bad neighborhood and have criminals among your friends.

Also, on the basis of a few dozen reports of "failure to thrive" among babies subjected to Gary Ezzo's "Babywise" feeding schedule, they've issued a warning about this program. I am no fan of Ezzo or "Baby-Foolish", but I took a look at the actual data, and there is no significant difference; the overall % for "failure to thrive" is about 1%, so a few dozen cases would be statistically significant only if a few thousand people used his schedule.

Finally, the AAP came out recently with a recommendation against parents sleeping with their babies on the basis of one study that did not attempt to separate different variables related to SIDS and baby smothering. Unfortunately for the AAP's credibility, there are dozens of other studies that do control for these variables (smoking, couch vs. bed, intoxication, etc..) and demonstrate that co-sleeping is not a significant hazard.

Now don't get me wrong; I appreciate pediatricians and their work, and I'm very glad that they are good at recognizing diseases common to children. I just think that when they start telling parents how to live, they're in deeper than they can swim.

Which is, by the way, one statistically significant thing they can tell parents that is more significant than the four things I've mentioned combined. Be careful around the water.

Why Michael Vick Signed that Plea Bargain

What is free trade?

If you read the papers these days, you'll see an abuse of the term "free trade." More or less, the assumption is that "free trade" means "no duties on imports" --unless those imports are "unfair" or dumped. It turns out, however, that the old economists meant exactly the opposite thing was free trade.

No kidding; when Bastiat mentions "free trade," he simply means that the power of the state is not used to prohibit certain items from being imported, and that duties are calculated to generate revenue, not to prevent items from being imported. Examples from Bastiat include French laws to prohibit the importation of British cloth, and duties designed to make Belgian iron cost more then French iron.

The moral argument behind this is simple; the circumstances of another nation, be it blessing or foolishness, do not require us to curse ourselves by refusing to accept the blessings that we are offered from abroad. At the same time, if a tariff is the most efficient means of raising revenue, by all means use it.

The bitter irony here, of course, is that supposed "free trade" agreements like NAFTA and GATT prohibit a revenue tariff, but endorse the use of heavy duties to prevent "dumping." With 28000 pages or so in GATT, would we expect any different?

Personally, I favor a return to free trade with a 15% revenue tariff on all items entering our country, accompanied by elimination of corporate welfare and a huge cut in income taxes. Good luck getting modern "free traders" to agree to such a scheme, though.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

If you like Walter Williams' work,'ll love the Mises Institute's free books, especially their two collections of the writings of Frederic Bastiat. Why?

One big reason why has something to do with something a pastor told me; all too often, religious people who get involved in politics lose their spiritual edge. I think Bastiat indirectly nails the reason why; too many have gotten so caught up in the "pragmatics" of politics that they forget that politics and economics are (Romans 13) at their heart a moral exercise.

Bastiat does this by predicating the arguments he makes against protectionism, high taxation, and government spending on the basic Biblical premise "Thou Shalt not Steal."

It's also wonderful writing, even in translation. I commend Bastiat to you, especially if you were corrupted by the likes of Rousseau and such when in school.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How not to show love for your wife

Whatever you do, don't buy her one of the DeLoreans that the guy who bought the company is making out of the spare parts. Granted, the early 1980s were not exactly a high point in the history of automotive styling, but the DeLorean is horrendous even on that scale.

Maybe I should go into rebuilding Yugos and Chevettes. Makes about as much sense as selling DeLoreans to people.

How bad is the mortgage crisis?

Take a look. Almost 180,000 foreclosures were filed in July. While certainly not all of these will go through, it is sobering to think that the rate per year is around 2 million homes annually, and even more sobering to think that this occurs when there are only 44 million homes with mortgages nationwide. In the local paper, several pages are devoted to foreclosure notices each week--and this for a town of only 20,000 souls.

Notice, by the way, the use of the wrong units in the article. It should not be foreclosures/households, but rather mortgages/ households with mortgages. Moreover, it's calculated on a monthly basis, not an annualized basis; this obscures what's going on by dividing it by 12.

Whatever units are used, it will hopefully become clear that a cartel of government with banks colluding to set money supply and interest rates has a downside.

Separating families?

One of the chief objections to enforcing immigration law is that, by sending home the parents of children with U.S. citizenship, we're breaking up families. What's not mentioned, however, is that these children also have Mexican citizenship. See Article 30, section 2 of the Mexican Constitution. Their parents are fully entitled to take them home when they are deported.

So who is heartless? That would be the parents, in my opinion.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Why do teens rebel?

According to Dr. Robert Epstein, as interviewed by the HSLDA, we train children to be rebellious by putting them into schools where they will be bored out of their minds, and more generally by refusing to treat them as the young adults that they are. Epstein notes in particular that his reading of the Scriptures (I don't know what faith, if any, he is) leads him to believe that the regime of limiting people by age, rather than by physical, spiritual, and emotional maturity, is not Biblically sustainable.

We might do well to consider not only where we put our children in school, but how we treat them at home, and what kind of children's programs our churches sponsor, if any.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Update on the shift in NASA warming data

It turns out that it wasn't NASA, but rather a blogger, who found the shifts in U.S. temperature data since 2000. Here is his site. It also turns out that NASA, when they learned that McIntyre was downloading their data in sequence (which is perfectly legal), blocked his IP to prevent him from taking a look at it. It was only the fact that his site has millions of readers (willing to send a note to NASA) that got his access to this data unblocked.

We have here a very nasty problem; NASA "scientists" are forgetting, evidently, that science is supposed to be reproducible. Refusing to share data in science meant for public consumption is more or less a concession that you're not doing science.

Worse, remember my earlier post about the "heat island" effect and global warming effects? Well, McIntyre and others have a decent estimate of the percentage of weather monitoring stations corrupted by this; 75% showed a jump in the year 2000. It is believed that our country does better than most others at monitoring weather and climate, so it would seem to follow that global climate estimates are even less reliable.

Remember this the next time someone tells you that global warming is "settled science," and remind them of this when they try to argue "consensus" to prove it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A gem from George Will

He defines "moral hazard" and points out that one of them is the Federal Reserve's habit of bailing out problem debtors. When you subsidize an activity, as the Fed clearly is doing here, you get more of it, and the Fed is doing this in the worst possible way; by buying mortgage backed securities.

Look for the housing crisis to deepen, and another one to occur in about a decade as another inflationary cycle persuades borrowers to contract risky debts.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More examples of how environmentalism can kill

Walter Williams provides the details.

And it's also noted that NASA has quietly revised their estimates of temperature in the United States, apparently by as much as 0.27F. The result?

Well, nobody "in the club" is admitting that uncertainty in temperature estimates might lead to uncertainty about the overall global warming hypothesis, sad to say. It's the same story we hear when it becomes apparent that many temperature monitoring stations are located near thermal anomalies and heat islands; "oh, that's just an inconsequential shift in the data."

In short, the researchers are either unable or unwilling to come to grips with the fact that when serious flaws in methodology like this are found, the consequence is not primarily in the shift in data when the flaw is corrected. The consequence is that the credibility of all the data is impaired.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Those toys made in China

....don't seem so cheap after you've paid $8 for a lead test to make sure that they didn't use lead paint on it, or after you give thousands to Underwriters Laboratories to make sure there are no other obvious hazards. Of course, if you brush your teeth with Chinese toothpaste after putting that bill on credit, you might not have to worry about it.

One wonders of Mattel and other companies have ever heard of "supplier quality engineers" who make sure that things like this don't happen.

Monday, August 13, 2007

#4 on the Pareto chart

This weekend, I saw two very interesting articles, and both of them had one thing in common; they were trying to look at #4 on the Pareto chart, more or less. For the uninitiated, the Pareto Principle states that 80% of a given problem can be linked to the top one or two causes. It derives from the fact that across most cultures, 20% of the population controls 80% of the resources.

The two cases? First, a study (done here in MN) claimed that a "Head Start Plus" program costing $5000/child-year was a success. Now, I checked the stats, and there is a real difference. However, when you're bragging about 71% high school graduation rates and 17% felony arrest rates (vs. 62%/21%) and such, it suggests that there are some bigger fish to fry.

Maybe, just maybe, we need to stop paying people to have children out of wedlock and telling them not to work? Maybe we need to remind kids that there are nasty consequences to unrestrained sexuality?

Just a thought or two...

Case #2 is a study of life expectancy, where the United States has apparently fallen to 42nd worldwide. The authors predictably discuss access to health insurance, but miss a far bigger issue; the big hitters in life expectancy are smoking, obesity, diet, exercise, and to a lesser extent, abuse of sexuality. It might do far more for life expectancy to stop subsidizing corn, sugar, tobacco, and so on than to get more on medical care.

How to love your wife, part new

Might be a decent idea to take a good picture of her with you to work. It's always bothered me at work when I see pictures of a man's children, but not his wife, around his desk.

Now certainly there are reasons at times for there to be no picture of his wife. Too many of my colleagues are divorced. That said, I must wonder if part of the reason they're divorced is that they spent too much time not thinking about their wives. I wonder if my married colleagues are doing their marriages a disservice--or showing a lack of respect for their wives--by featuring everything precious to them (children, cars, power tools) in their cubicles except for that which is most precious.

So use your best camera and take a few pictures of your best girl. Take some of the best ones and take them to work. It might be worth your time.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Economic post #3; the North Pole and China

News reports lately indicate that the Russians, Americans, Canadians, and others are in a race to claim sovereignty over the North Pole. I guess they're all tired of getting coal and nails for Christmas, and they figure lobbing a few rounds at Santa will remedy the situation.

Oops, just kidding. What the contestants really want is full rights to whatever minerals might be there, and quite frankly, I'm perplexed that there is that much fighting to be done over it. Reality is, economically speaking, that whoever might develop whatever resources are there is going to benefit the whole world by developing them.

So boys, quit fighting over it and let's figure out how whether it's even possible.

And then there is concern that the Chinese might try to "get" our country by having a fire sale of dollars--over a trillion of them--they now own. As if they can outdo the Fed in inflating the dollar. :^)

More seriously, what would they achieve? Well, they'd reduce the dollar's value, and in the process throw away several hundred billion dollars in equity they currently possess--causing a deep recession or even a depression in China, because they rely on those dollars to purchase western capital for their new industries.

In the short and long run, it would be penny wise and pound foolish, to use another currency as a picture. My hunch is that the saber keeps rattling in the scabbard this time.

Thoughts on the gold standard

One interesting position taken by many of the Austrian economists is that either a 100% reserve requirement ought to be held by banks, or banks ought to be considered insolvent by definition.

Now, I thought about the former idea, and certainly it would tend to prevent monetary inflation--meaning both increase of the money supply and also increasing prices. This would be a good thing.

On the other hand, I appreciate the convenience of putting my money in a bank, as well as the interest I get on my accounts. If the bank required 100% reserves, could it loan out any money?

Think about it; if it hands out gold, it no longer has 100% reserves. If it hands out notes--my passbook and the debtor's bank notes--it also no longer has 100% reserves. I fail to see how loans would be possible in such a scenario, unless banks were eliminated. Am I missing something here?

If I understand this properly, I think the Founding Fathers got it right when they allowed fractional reserve banking. Yes, let's have a reserve requirement (and make it known) to avoid devastating losses with runs on a bank, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, either.

Also, a thought on what commodity/real money does; since gold has other uses besides money, holders of gold can take it elsewhere if its value as money isn't high enough. However, with fiat money, we have a more or less fixed supply at any given time, no matter what it buys.

This will tend to exacerbate volatility in prices, as the supply cannot adjust to a shifting demand curve to provide more or less.

Utter cruelty

by those who claim to "help" was shown in my local paper last night. More or less, the local "affordable housing committee" was telling the world how our city needs more affordable housing with some pictures of housing was become unaffordable for many in our community. Here are a few of them, along with my comments on why this is so appalling:

1. A teacher earning starting teacher's pay is currently unable to afford the average two bedroom apartment in our area. (exactly why does a teacher just out of college need a two bedroom apartment all to himself?)

2. A policeman earning starting pay is currently unable to afford an average home in our area. (see comments on new teacher)

3. A family earning 80% of the median income is unable to get a 100% (no down payment) mortgage on a house of average (mean) price. (two big mistakes here; not having a significant down payment, and buying a house of mean price, not around 80% of median price)

In short, those who are trying to "help" the poor with "affordable housing" have completely unrealistic expectations for what kind of housing is appropriate, and if they pass these expectations on to their clients, they're signing them up for a lifetime of debt slavery. This, in turn, may prevent many of them from moving on to higher paying jobs.

Some kindness.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The trouble with our discourse

All too often, we find ourselves in a place where no amount of evidence will persuade someone of a point, no matter how obvious. Perhaps we ought to consider who is the one being unwilling to consider evidence, and make sure that as we present our positions, we know what kind of evidence would undermine or overturn ours.

For example, if it were revealed that hybrid car owners were going to be paid thousands of dollars when their batteries were recycled, it would change my view that hybrid cars are a waste of money for all but inner city taxi drivers and couriers. So would a rise in the price of gasoline to $10 or so.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Book review and China's Yuan

Just finished Murray Rothbard's America's Great Depression, and it deals what should be a death blow to the idea that DC didn't interfere with the economy during the 1920s, and especially during the Hoover administration. Agree or disagree with the hypothesis that monetary and other intervention caused and sustained the Depression (I tend to agree), any honest man reading the evidence ought to admit that the "roaring 20s" were not a time of laissez-faire in our country.

Great work, and free thanks to the Mises Institute.

On a similar note, J. Roosh notes that China might respond to American diplomatic bullying by selling dollar reserves, dealing a serious blow to our economy. More or less, many Congressmen (and manufacturers) desire a stronger yuan to make American exports more competitive--much like the monetary manipulations of the 1920s to help manufacturers, farmers, and so on described by Rothbard.

The most hilarious thing about this--and it does not make me proud of many of my elected officials--is that the claim is made that China is manipulating its currency to help its exports, when the reality is that China has pegged its currency to the dollar for years. In other words, whatever China is doing, it's not "manipulating" its currency, but has had a consistent policy of "hands off."

It's not quite a gold standard, but probably a step in the right direction.

As summer winds down,

....many out there are probably eager for the start of football season. So here's George Will's perspective on that sport:

"Football combines the two worst features in American life; it is violence punctuated by committee meetings."

Add "rampant crime and fathering of illegitimate children by players at all levels" and "theft of private funds for lavish temples to this idol", and yes, Will is right.

For all its faults, soccer at least gets rid of most of the violence (except by the fans) and the committee meetings.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Great moments in logic, or not.

Someone tried to tell me that the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic (Germany between WWI and WWII) is a powerful argument for fiat currency and central banking.

(what actually happened; the central bank of Germany ran the printing presses red hot and moved the decimal points producing fiat money so fast you could trade a wheelbarrow full of the stuff for a loaf of bread...not exactly a decent argument for either fiat money or central banking)

The animal kingdom FIGHTS Jihad!

H/T FratersLibertas.

It'll be interesting to see what KingDavid makes of this one! Apparently, officials in Iran have captured four dangerous agents serving the "Great Satan," specifically four squirrels which had been outfitted with espionage devices.

I take it that there are regularly squirrels in attendance at Mahmoud Ahmadinnejab's (sp?) cabinet meetings, so our spies could sneak in undetected? And that our evil CIA is so effective, they can not only put a listening device on a squirrel, but also get a dumb rodent to find its way into Ahmadi-nut-job's offices?

At least we know, though, that some of the rodents are on our side.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why government-led "homeschooling" doesn't work

The HSLDA has been warning parents about an interesting trend in charter schools; the government provides texts and a bit of teacher consultation to those who otherwise might homeschool. What are the results? Well, they're not exactly pretty.

How is this possible? After all, most other studies reveal that home education decisively beats the government schools in virtually every measure.

The answer is simple; government sponsored "homeschooling" takes the weaknesses of both methods and combines them. Take "whole language" reading texts, "new math" mathematics texts, and then provide them to an instructor who doesn't know how to instruct with these methods, and let things come out as they will.

But, but, might argue, isn't it a fact that home education succeeds despite the training, or lack of training, of the parent? Absolutely, but the vast majority of home educators use phonics reading instruction and real math based on drill in arithmetic. The ugly reality here is that whole language reading instruction is not used because it is more effective, but rather because it requires a degreed teacher to implement it.

My great aunt taught school very effectively in the 1930s with a high school diploma because the right methods were used. Teachers today have difficulty with a master's degree because the methods used go against the nature of the subject at hand.

As Ronald Reagan noted, the scariest words in the English language are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you." Parents beware.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Academic hero Jim Harbaugh

Not that my status as a Michigan State alumnus has anything to do with this, but my new favorite Michigan grad is Jim Harbaugh, current coach of Stanford. What did he do? He pointed out that the University of Michigan keeps its football players eligible by enrolling them in lightweight courses.

Now it's not surprising that Michigan players and administrators today would take offense to this, but the ugly reality is that it's true. When I was at State, everyone knew that football players who couldn't make it academically went to Comm. Arts, and Michigan players went into "general studies." Neither group was especially likely to get a decent job upon graduation. Or graduate at all, for that matter.

Read the article carefully. They're not arguing the allegations are false. They're arguing that it's somehow "elitist" to refuse to give someone a useless "general studies" degree. They're arguing that telling the truth about Division 1 football is somehow a betrayal.

Pathetic. You would figure that a university that likes to call itself the "Ivy League of the Midwest" would teach enough logic to let them know that they're engaging in base personal attacks. However, it appears that "logic" is not offered in the "College of General Studies."

Thanks, Jim. This makes up for a lot of what I saw when you were playing for Da Bears.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How to learn genre

Now that I hope someone has had fun with ways we can avoid understanding genre in literature and music, howzabout some ways of learning genre?

Suggestion #1; heed C.S. Lewis' admonition that we do well to read a large number of older books, not just the ones of today; he who is wed to the spirit of this age soon finds himself widowed, or something like that. Apply the same to music.

Suggestion #2; read Douglas Wilson's comments on satire. If you don't get a good belly laugh--or even if you do--you need to go back to suggestion #1. He draws (IMO) a beautiful picture of what Christian communication should be, even though the direct comments are about satire and a review of one of his books.