29 July 2009

New iPhone

I know I haven't been posting lately; I'm an indolent bastard.

This Onion article hit pretty close to home. I have certainly drunk the Kool-Aid.

28 July 2009

New Home Sales

There has been some breathless reporting that the sales of new homes shows that the economy is improving. You may want to hold off ordering the champagne.

The Big Picture recently ran this quote:
“National New Home Sales, on a monthly basis, don’t even add up to half of the total foreclosure activity in California alone in a single month.”-Mark M Hanson
I have no idea who Mark M. Hanson is. Jake at EconomPic offers a clarification.

The Boston Globe runs a photojournalism blog also named The Big Picture. I like both.

19 July 2009

Health Care Debate

This Op-Ed article at the New York Times, while obviously biased, raises important issues that need to be addressed, even if you don't agree with the author's conclusions. It's not a simple question, and you should be deeply suspicious of anyone who offers a simple answer.

Many Americans have a foolish conviction that everything about America is superior to anywhere else. Our health care system is superior to Nigeria's, but I'm not certain we should be so smug about its superiority to Canada.

18 July 2009


We finally found a bottle of Punt e Mes. That and the home-made brandied cherries make for a fantastic cocktail.

14 July 2009

She speaks again

This post was prompted by this quote from the Economist:
We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil.
Here is the full article at the Washington Post.

Ahem. Much of the economic growth of the past decade was a mirage, funded by mortgage equity withdrawals that were based on unrealistic property valuations. There is no evident pent-up demand that would fuel a rapid recovery.

The current recession was not brought on by expensive energy. Rising prices last year didn't help, but the problem was much, much deeper. This is not an ordinary recession. It is a correction, and I think it's going to take years, like ten, before we get back to, say, 2007 levels.

The Republicans are playing to a populist theme: carbon emission reductions will cost you more money. Well, duh! The point is that carbon emissions are a negative externality. Unsurprisingly, the Republicans are pandering by offering a free lunch (of which there is no such thing). Cap-and-Trade is a market mechanism to counter the negative externality, but any solution to reducing carbon emissions will certainly have a higher short-term cost.

Oh, and if we opened all known American reserves (including ANWR and the Florida coast), we'd still be importing most of the oil we use today.

The US produces about 5 million barrels a day, and imports about 9.5 million. ANWR is estimated by the Department of Energy to be able to eventually produce 0.9 million barrels per day (and wouldn't reach that for 15 years). A 10% reduction in imports would have a negligible affect on oil prices. And by the time 2015 rolls around, it could well be closer to 5%.

The US economy has long been addicted to cheap energy, and worse, considers it an entitlement. There are some bitter pills coming that we will have to swallow.

Another One

Must be mating season. I noticed this one on the side of the building
when I parked my car this morning.

13 July 2009

Hitch Hiker

On the way to Boy Scouts, Trevor noticed we had company. I had never seen a praying mantis live before. It held on for the whole trip. Shy little critter, about an inch and a half long.

Be there or be cubic?

We went back to Rojo Taqueria for dinner Friday and spotted this sign. I suppose I should at least credit them for trying to be clever.

09 July 2009

Stimulus: working?

We haven't spent most of the money, so the argument might be "let's see the impact when we spend what we've already allocated before allocating any more". But anybody who says the stimulus has proven ineffective is either telling a lie or not paying attention. It might prove ineffective (or it might prove to be not nearly enough), but even the projections of the proponents didn't show any stimulus-prompted improvement until the third quarter (which started all of nine days ago)

The chart is from the Washington Post, found via this post at The Big Picture.

Guess Who Said It

"I think on a national level your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out."
The Department of Justice, while part of the executive branch, is for the most part not in the White House. There might be a couple of liaisons there, but the department, including the Attorney General's office, is housed in its own seven-story, 1.2 million square ft building.
I would have imagined that knowing the department's proper name would be the sort of subtle understanding of the workings of the federal government that we'd expect of candidates to our highest offices. Guess not.

The reason I keep bringing her up is that tens of millions of people still don't recognize the patently obvious fact that she is incompetent. It frightens me that people cling so tightly to their fear of different viewpoints that they accept this vacuous attention-grabber as a leader. Anybody on our side must be better than anybody on their side.

I don't believe she will go away; I believe she quit so that she wouldn't be restricted to the small stage in Anchorage.

By the way, guess which state receives the most federal payments per capita, and the biggest federal subsidy (federal payments less federal taxes) per capita? The data is from 2005 (see Katrina). Even though Louisiana and Mississippi had devastated economies (and thus lower tax receipts) and massive (if nevertheless inadequate) federal spending, another state still managed to collect more federal money.

Ted Stevens, a Republican and until recently only figuratively a criminal, was responsible for this (you-know-who was between the Wasilla and Anchorage gigs at that time). Still, the "miracle" of Alaska is that the rest of us are subsidizing them. I am not sure how one could repeat that at a national level. Arguably, the use of the dollar as foreign reserves by China, et al had been doing much the same thing. As long as others are willing to fund it, you can live beyond your means. After that, well, things could be less pleasant.

06 July 2009

Gone Baby Gone

The third act was uneven, and unworthy of the film, but the final scene rescued it. In the end, Ben Affleck did a creditable job in his major motion picture directorial debut. Ed Harris was wonderful (but I pretty much expect wonderful from him). Morgan Freeman was excellent as always, and Michelle Monaghan, Casey Affleck, and John Ashton were very good as well. Amy Ryan offers a fairly unflinching performance of a fundamentally unlikable character.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit this movie has flaws, but at its best it is compelling and even at its worth it is worth watching. Rotten Tomatoes liked it better than me, its rating today was a very impressive 94. See it.

04 July 2009

Brandied Cherries

I feel a Manhattan coming on.
Posted by Picasa

03 July 2009

Palin Quits

When she ran for office, she knew the term was four years. There was no ambiguity about how long she would serve. Even deciding not to run for re-election, she has an explicit obligation. Quitting with a year and a half to go is a betrayal of those who entrusted her with their votes. Quitting is better than keeping the job with her heart not in it, but make no mistake. She quit.

I hope that she follows in the footsteps of Jimmy Carter: retire from politics and be far more useful to the world than when in office. But I wouldn't bet on it.

02 July 2009

Opinions are usually worth what you pay for them

Disclaimer: Some of you may be offended by this; I honestly do not mean offense. If you're likely to get worked up on the subject of evolution, you might want to skip this one.

When I read something like this, I despair for the future.

A couple of points: the survey was conducted by an explicitly creationist organization and, more importantly, whether evolution occurred naturally or through design is not a matter of opinion. Opinion is irrelevant to the truth in this matter; public opinion could be 100% for one answer, and it could still be the wrong answer. Five hundred years ago, nearly everyone was certain that the sun revolved around the earth.

As I understand it, the fundamental position of intelligent design is that life is too complicated to have happened by chance. Leave aside the fact that finding something incredible or incomprehensible does not preclude it being true (and especially does not prove it to be untrue). My position is that life is to complicated to have been designed by a supreme being; surely in that case the design would have been simpler and more elegant. My objection does not disprove intelligent design. It is a speculative position without a testable hypothesis (see method, scientific). Just like intelligent design. Saying "Because God says so" is their prerogative, but it does preclude any claim to science.

But that's just my opinion.

Life is good

Eighty degrees, sunny but dry witha breeze. First day of a four day weekend. I
lead a charmed life indeed.


Today's human population relies on industrially-produced crop fertilizer, made using hydrocarbons extracted from the earth's crust. The good news is that you and I get to be alive; I'm not so sure about you, but I'm pretty happy about that prospect. The bad news is that as the population grows to match the supply there is less slack in the supply of food.

Disruptions due to industrial accident, terrorist attack, climate (whether human-caused or natural), or something I hadn't even considered could mean that we can't feed everyone. Some nations will fare better than others; the US might not be able to feed the world without fertilizers, but I imagine it could feed most of its own; Japan, probably not. Much of Africa struggles to feed everyone with fertilizers. Katrina demonstrated what I already believed: civilization is a thin veneer over a species capable of brutal behavior. Only a skin of cultural norms keeps others from killing you for what you have and they want. I have another post to make on this subject, but there has likely been little if any evolutionary change in our species since we were hunter-gatherers making our way across the planet with flint spear heads the apex of technology.

A World War over food or oil doesn't seem impossible to me. Even if not, the death by starvation of tens of millions seems to me to be nearly certain, if not in our lifetimes, eventually.

Enjoy the barbecue this weekend <wink>.

Paul Krugman precipitated this post with this brief article. The graph of living standards over the course of the last six thousand years is pretty darned interesting.

01 July 2009

Quotes for July 4th

The USA will celebrate the 233rd anniversary of its Declaration of Independence this weekend. I think America is one of many wonderful counties in the world. On the other hand, many of my fellow Americans, never having been abroad, nevertheless maintain a conviction that America is superior to the rest of the world in nearly every conceivable way. They have drunk the Kool-Aid. Here are some quotes.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Samuel Johnson
, Quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).

“With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I beg to submit that it is the first.”
Ambrose Bierce
, in his Devil’s Dictionary (1911).

“Patriotism, as I see it, is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.”
George Jean Nathan
in Testament of a Critic (1931) .

(hat tip: Fred Shapiro)