Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Why Drug Reimportation Can't Work

Drug reimportation is a hot idea these days. It doesn't work. Here's why.

Say you are a textbook publisher. You have a line of college textbooks that you produce. This is a complex and expensive process; you hire high-level scientists and academics to write the books, editors to fix their dreadful writing, fact-checkers to make sure it doesn't say "e=mc3", artists to create the thousands of diagrams and charts and pictures. You pay for printing and warehousing and distributing. You pay IT companies big bucks to maintain your catalog and run your online order system. In short, every textbook represents quite a large investment of resources on your part.

You sell these books for $65 apiece to university bookstores across America. You make decent money; some years you lose a little, most years you make a nice profit. All is well.

Then one day you get a call from a university in Australia. They've heard about your line of textbooks, which it turns out are better than the textbooks that they can print in Australia. The university wants to buy books from you. Hooray, you think. Now, the problem arises that the Aussies don't have as much money sloshing around their public university system as we do. There's no way, in fact, that they can afford to spend $65 per book. They can give you $30 per book, no more than that. You talk things over with your accounting folks, and they tell you: good news. It turns out that the marginal cost of producing another textbook and shipping it to Australia is $27.50. Selling books to Australia won't make you a fortune, but it will improve your bottom line somewhat without hurting your core business. Everybody wins, and so the freighters loaded with copies of "Sociology And You" start steaming for Perth.

Until one day you come into your office and on your computer screen there appears a web ad offering copies of "Sociology And You" for $45. You click on the ad, and it's a company in Australia that is buying the books from you wholesale, and then reselling them to American college students over the Internet retail.

Is this a problem? Well, it's not much of a problem if these folks are moving 10 books a week. It's a huge problem if they're selling 10,000 copies a day. As you're preparing to address this problem, you turn on the TV and hear presidential candidates saying that the high cost of textbooks in America is an outrage, and that what we need to do is reimport these books from Australia, where they're cheap.

But they're only cheap in Australia because you are selling them to Australia as a marginal, peripheral business. The main market for your product is the one subsidizing all the fixed costs of book production; those Aussie dollars are just a little bit of icing on the cake.

So what happens if the government follows through on its promise of cheap textbooks for everyone? Well, they pass a law making it legal and easy to reimport these books directly without tiresome Internet runarounds. Eager wholesalers line up to make a fortune on this book bonanza...only to discover that there aren't any books available from Australia. Why are there no books available from Australia?

Because you, not being a complete idiot, have stopped selling Australia textbooks for $30 apiece. Every book you sold to Australia would end up costing you a sale here in the US, and the US sales are where you make your margin. Since the Australian sales are jettisonable from the point of view of your core business, you jettison them to save what's important, the U.S. market.

Drug reimportation works the same way. The issues about safety and provenance are purely side issues. The core of the problem is an economic question: what does it cost to get this particular product? It may be that the price is different in one place than another. Price differentials do create a potential for arbitrage, but they don't create a reality that the lower price is somehow the right price, or that everyone can get the lower price. Attempts by government to get the lower price for everyone will simply end up removing the lower price option for the people who had it before.

All drug reimportation laws can do is hurt the availability of American pharmaceuticals in other countries. You won't sell textbooks to Australia when those textbooks are destroying your profit center in America; Pfizer isn't going to sell drugs to Canada if the Canadian drugs are going to destroy their profits here. It's as simple as that.

(This "classic" post is brought to you courtesy of my old archives and lack of time.)

Real Economic Education

People on the low end of the economic totem pole - the Sears clerks, the delivery boys, the Mexicans working hard in the factories for $5 an hour - any worker on the mucky end of the stick - should probably be thought of as ready to revolt at any time if not for two mitigating factors. Those factors are a) the reasonably-often-satisfied hope that step-on-the-ladder economic progress will come for those who work hard, and b) the expectation that the brilliant or the lucky can jump to the top. We might encapsulate these promises as "functionality" and "freedom" - the system will work for you if you work for it, and if you can get ahead on your own hook, God bless ya.

Without these, the system is a rip. I can't get ahead if I work? I can't get ahead if I luck out? I can't get ahead if I invent Viagra? A system with these characteristics would suck. A system with these characteristics is about as good as we're going to get in this imperfect world.

I have some unease deriving from a fear that both prongs of this two-prong test are decaying in the current situation. There seems to be a profoundly anti-wealth sentiment sweeping both the chattering and the ruling classes, one that seems informed by a kindly egalitarianism but no sense of the hard-headed economic realities - trustafarian socialism. The idea that wealth can be legitimately attained or kept seems to be dwindling.

This endangers the freedom prong. (Wouldn't "Save the Freedom Prong" make a great t-shirt?)

Much more dangerous in the long run is the strain on the prong of functionality. I think that for a long time we have been able to "coast" in many ways economically, and our citizenry has learned very bad economic habits (dependency, dissolution, divorce). The 21st century is not likely to be a time of placid social adaptation to centrally-planned trends, but instead a brawling chaos as the planned trends snap back on their nitwit originators. We've got a workforce that to an extent expects hierarchy and stability in a world where they need independence and flexibility. Most painful is going to be the fact that parts of the population have seen the light and are doing the 'right' things (or at least the things that will later get them complained about by the less fiscally successful), and others are stuck in well-meant but ineffectual paradigms and can't or won't succeed under the real rules. This is going to cause more and more gaps. Add in state policies that favor the rich - more accurately, that reward wealth-building strategies - and the perception, if not the reality, that the system is broken spreads further. A previously-functional system with dysfunctional people in it won't work for long, especially when a perception (and reality) is created that hard work is for suckers.

I think part of the source of the problem is that kids have to be educated for life in a materialist and capitalist culture, but that we instead saddle them with a load of wouldn't-it-be-nice stories. This is beneficial for the 5% of the kids whose ruling class parents re-inculcate them with the proper capitalist martial virtue, but dooms the other 95%. The 95% are easy meat for the 5% in the hunt. If the 95% got the same factual education as the 5% (by which I mean the same essentially correct economic outlook, not the material circumstances of the education) the economic picture would look different, because the distribution of information between the participants would be different. By the time reality kicks in at age 35 or so, it's a bit late to forego the class on French romantic poetry in favor of "Statistical Thinking In a Numerate World."

(This "classic" post brought to you courtesy of my slamming deadlines this week.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Alito Reaches Cloture: Game Over

But from the frothing on the left, the circular firing squad is just warming up.

It's a relatively simple political calculus:

If nominees should be judged by competence, not by ideology, then Alito (who received the highest rating that the ABA bestows) is clearly qualified, and there is no legitimate reason to oppose him.

If nominees should be judged by ideology in addition to competence (my own position), then we must recognize that ideology is political. In which case, voting ought to be partisan and party-based - which it largely has been. In which case, Alito wins because the political/ideological complex that he represents is more popular than its opponent.

It is perfectly sound to pressure members of one's own party to live up to a particular ideological set, but the vows to punish Dems that didn't agree with the ideological critique is just self-destructively stupid. People who declined to spend their political capital in a battle that had already been lost aren't disloyal, they're rational. The Kos philosophy appears to be: the union rep couldn't get us the $20/hour raise we hoped for, even in the face of the slowdown in the industry and the lack of profit for the company; let's kill him, and find someone who CAN get us that raise! That approach doesn't make money fall from the sky; it just makes it damn difficult to find another union rep.

Balloons To Provide Low-Density Cellular Access

This is a brilliant idea. I've often toyed with the idea of putting a network of dirigibles up, 24/7, across the US to provide a telecomm or Internet backbone. (Not doing it personally - my dirigible launch capacity is booked solid for the next two decades putting spycams over topless beaches - just the notion in general.) North Dakota is thinking of doing the same thing on the cheap.

Run, Cindy, Run!

Karl Rove's control of the moonbat left continues, as a movement to draft Cindy Sheehan to run against notorious right-winger Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) gains momentum.

Are these people really this stupid? Apparently so.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Good Problems to Have

A small list of blessings disguised as irritations.

1. Glenn Reynolds keeps linking to BNN...on Sundays, or as updates to posts back in the archives. I know, boo hoo.
2. Stephanie wants to spend more time with me than I have, at the moment.
3. There's more delicious rice and teriyaki beef in the fridge than I can possibly eat.
4. More paying work than time to do it in.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Garrison Is Funny

Garrison Keillor actually reaches funny, as he occasionally manages, in this evisceration of some French blowhard's bloviation on America. (Hint: when you think that anybody gives a rip about Abner Doubleday, it's time to get back on the plane.)

Shorter version: "This guy is an idiot, and his book is crap."

(H/T Althouse.)

New Blog Tenant

Featured on the sidebar, On The Left Tip. I like her site graphic because, well, oink oink. Looks like a progressive-politics blog written by a Kos commenter; go over and either give her props in the comments or harass her with anti-liberal viewpoints, as you wish.

Abolish Campaign Finance Reform

Since I think the first amendment means what it says, I think that there should be no limitations of any kind on contributions to political parties, movements, or candidates. If George Soros wants to give the DNC $10 million, or $100 million, why shouldn't he be able to?

I also think that the integrity of our political system requires that we know who and what is behind each candidate, so everybody should have to disclose every cent of every contribution, and should have to disclose their volunteer labor as well - the FEC could easily run a web site listing every contribution. If George Soros wants to secretly give $10 million to Bush to hedge his bets, he should not be able to do that. Everything should be on top of the table.

Total freedom, total disclosure. What's wrong with that?

Proponents of campaign finance reform say this position is terrible, that it leads us away from being a democracy and makes our political system more like an auction. There are two problems with this position.

The first problem is that it is very difficult to stop money. Fine, George can't write a check to Kerry because it's against the law. He can write a check to CBS, and to a production company, and to an "independent" ad agency, and run massive pro-Kerry ads himself. Are you going to stop him from doing that? You are? OK. He can hire 100,000 unemployed people to go door to door and say "please vote for John, he's a swell fellow." Are you going to stop him from doing that? You are? OK. He can send up a rocket and have it skywrite "John Kerry Is God" in letters 1000 miles tall over the continental US. He can send direct-mail to every household in America. He can do all sorts of things, and the laws will always be playing catch-up.

At some point we have to lean back and recognize that people can spend time and money to support candidates they like, and there isn't much to be done about it without turning into a police state. There are no ways to stop people from spending their money that don't end up relying on massively-bulked up state power.

Secondly, the auction objection applies at ANY contribution size.

$100,000,000 gets you a gigantic nationwide ad campaign - and the side with more of those has an advantage. $1,000,000 gets you a citywide news blitz - and the side with more of those has an advantage. $1,000 gets you a big Web ad push - and the side with more of those has an advantage. $100 buys you a vote in Chicago - and the side with more of those has an advantage.

Whether we like it or not, money is part of the system - as are volunteer labor, intellectual rationalizations, and media popularity. All of these things are resources - and we have to decide whether we want a system where people can use their own resources as they choose, or whether we want a system where the state decides how resources are used.

Saying that allowing money contributions makes an election an auction is like saying that allowing volunteer labor makes an election a referendum on whether labor unions like you, or that allowing media outlets editorialize makes an election a popularity contest in the newsroom. Those are all valid points. Elections ARE auctions, and referendums on what social groups support you, and popularity contests among the chattering classes, and a few other things. They are a way of letting the society decide who it wants in charge - and short of imposing fascism, we aren't going to be able to keep people from expressing their preferences in ways other than the direct ballot. I thought Kerry would make a terrible president, and I said so - and whether the audience was my wife and kids, the people who read my blog, or the millions of viewers who see my (hypothetical) TV ads, I have a right to say what I think, and to use my own resources to propagate that point of view. It doesn't bother me that people with more resources and different opinions also have that freedom - and it shouldn't bother me.

People will work for who they want, and they will give money to and for who they want. Trying to restrict those transactions simply forces dishonesty and concealment into what ought to be a transparent process.

We should abolish our entire campaign finance "reform" system, and simply require full and immediate disclosure so that the electorate can determine who is backing who. That's all that is necessary for us to be free.

(This "classic" post is brought to you courtesy of me having WAY too much other stuff to do.)

Developing Buster Bunkers Still a Good Idea

Weapon systems are, in the end, about one of two things:

1) Creating a capability for your side, or extending a capability that already exists;

or

2) Removing or degrading a capability that the other side has.

It is possible for a weapon system to fill multiple slots in this capabilities analysis; submarines, for example, create a capability of sudden surprise strikes, while also degrading the enemy's capability to send surface shipping without military escort.

We can currently remove any dictator in the world by invading his country, marching to and encircling his capitol, and smashing his military to flinders - then it's just a matter of finding the spider hole. However, this form of combat is very intensive in terms of logistical deployments, in terms of straining alliances and diplomatic relations with other countries, in terms of time expended, and in terms of human lives lost. If the only goal of the war in Iraq had been to capture or kill Saddam Hussein, we could have done that - but it would have cost a couple hundred American and who knows how many thousand Iraqi lives.

Bunker-busters create a powerful capability for US forces. They will permit us to remove enemy leadership - bypassing his conventional military - without having to engage in ground combat. They permit us to strike rapidly, without a costly and vulnerable military build-up. They permit us to strike unilaterally, without begging the permission of neighboring countries to use their territory for staging.

They also remove a powerful enemy capability, albeit not one that is purely military. Right now, tyrants like North Korean's Kim Jong Il have the ability to hide behind their civilians. We could eliminate him in a week, after the necessary deployments; the cost would be horrific. Five or six South Korean or Japanese cities A-bombed during the lengthy buildup, thousands of American and South Korean soldiers killed in huge battles - it would not be pretty. It wouldn't be pretty to drop a bunker-buster on him, either, but it would be a lot better for Seoul and Tokyo.

More important than the use of such a weapon is the credible threat of its use. Right now, Kim Jong Il knows that we cannot remove him without unacceptably high collateral casualties, and so his diplomatic position is accordingly intransigient. With buster-bunkers in our arsenal, however, and a President who has shown that he will not flinch from military action, Kim's ability to bluster and stonewall are massively reduced.

In short, nuclear buster-bunker bombs add powerful capabilities to our arsenal, and greatly degrade the ability of our enemies to defy us. There is no reason not to avidly pursue their development.

[This "classic" post brought to you courtesy of my stacking deadlines.]

Friday, January 27, 2006

Stephanie's Story

Stephanie (age 3) "read" me the following story out of a Hello Kitty diary that her older sister gave her with some writing already in it. And I'm going to post it, and you're going to say "aww", and there's nothing you can do to stop me.

"The Very First Christmas

One winter's day a mouse came into the house at midnight. The storybook came in at midnight and tells lots of lots of letters. Lots of them, lots! Now one day, a mouse came in the house by midnight and it was almost late.

The end. "

Now say aww! SAY IT.

Go Away Ann

Some days I just wish Ann Coulter would go away.

I don't suggest poison. I wish she'd just, I don't know, find a man and go have babies or something.

Where's My Invitation?

I want to go on a luxury trip to Europe too!

Darn it, people, I can't sell out if you don't make an offer.

The Democrats Are Doomed

Stephen Green has words that should send a chill down the spine of every Democratic strategist out there:
I'm pro-choice. I support gay marriage. I think porn is OK and that drugs (which aren't OK) ought to be legal. My taste in music and movies and entertainers are a lot more New York and LA than they are Nashville or Branson.

But with the exceptions of maybe Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman, there's not a Democrat today I'd vote for without first chewing through my own forehead.

Stephen is a national-security Democrat. There are millions of them, and they think it's more important to stop Iran from getting nukes than it is to make sure nobody's listening in on Osama's phone calls without filling out the proper form.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Our Long National Nightmare Is Over

Eggagog has returned.

(H/T Althouse.)

See? I'm Not THAT Partisan

Sometimes you just have to laugh, even when the joke zings someone on your own side. This one ought to have milk shooting from the noses of my lefty friends. This is a screenshot from Google News as of early Friday morning:



Perhaps Google should put in a leetle more coding time on that picture-choosing algorithm.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Partisan Beliefs Shut Down Reason Centers in the Brain

Man.

(Of course, this applies only to people who disagree with me.)

(H/T, and joke theft, to Cathy Young.)

Jails, No - Beatings, Yes

[A classic from the archives as I unbury myself from deadlines too-long deferred.]

In spite of what is taught at universities or online schools for criminal justice, I stand by the belief that jails and prisons are largely useless, and most should be closed.

There are two things we can do with someone who violates social norms by committing crimes. If the crimes are sufficiently vile that society can never re-accept the individual, then the individual has to go away. That can be death or life imprisonment or exile. In any case, there is no need for rehabilitation; society is rejecting and expelling the person, not trying to fix them. If we decide not to kill these people (I can't imagine why we would make that decision, but apparently other people feel differently), then we will need to keep some prisons around to warehouse them until they die of natural causes.

Those folks are a fairly small minority of all criminals, of course. For the people whose crimes are of a lesser magnitude, we want to do five things. First, we want to provide a disincentive for that particular individual to engage in the same act - "knock that off!". Secondly, we want to deter other people who may think that engaging in that act is a rational course of action - "don't be like Bill". Third, we want to be as fair as is reasonably possible in matching the severity of the punishment to the severity of the crime. Fourth, we want to rehabilitate the offender - to convince them to change the course of their life. Fifth, we want to satisfy the sense of justice of the community so that they continue to buy in to the social order we have established. If they don't feel justice is done, they will withdraw their support for the instrumentalities of justice and simply take care of business themselves. That's not an entirely undesirable outcome (direct democracy!) but we have collectively decided that it's better to have cops and courts than lynch mobs.

Prison is not entirely worthless at these tasks, but it is not very good at them. It often fails the first two tests - it is not a strong disincentive or deterrent. Being in prison isn't fun and games but it is often not much worse than the offender's basic milieu. When you live in purgatory, a trip to Hell isn't something you tremble at. Prison almost always fails the fairness test. Prison rape, gang violence, all the rest of it - these things make the actual prison experience brutally unfair. You go in for burglary and you get sodomized daily for three years and you emerge a broken shell; you go in for mass murder and your gang buddies lionize you and you emerge meaner and more antisocial than you entered.

Prison utterly fails the rehabilitative test; there are individual exceptions but in general a coerced, violent and thuggish environment is the worst possible background for education or counseling. About the only thing prison does even slightly well is the sense of justice; "he's rotting in that hellhole and that's where he should be" is satisfying to enough people to maintain support for the system.

So the prison system is not very good overall at its job for the non-expelled-from-society felons. What could we replace it with?

I would suggest the whipping post and the lash. Consider: direct physical pain is a profound disincentive for most people, soccer moms and gang-bangers alike; living in a rundown slum is no vaccine against getting the hell beat out of you. Seeing your friends come off the post weeping is a lot more of a deterrent than seeing them strut out of jail, well-fed, with a cell phone full of new gang contacts. It would be much fairer and much easier to fine-tune punishments to crimes; three stripes is three stripes, and you aren't going to be forcibly sodomized, or not, as part of the bargain. The lash would satisfy the sense of justice of the community at least as well as jail.

It provides no direct rehabilitation, of course - but it does trigger the very powerful and natural human tendency to avoid behavior which is known to generate direct pain. If the tree-huggers insist, we could use the money freed up by closing most of the jails on rehabilitation centers which the offender would be free to use after their punishment - centers that would lack coercive mechanisms and would have to rely on actually convincing people to change to get results. "If you want to change, you're welcome here; if not, get out."

Summary: prison fails every test of its utility except for one. The lash passes every test except for one. Moving to the lash frees up resources that could be used to make genuine rehabilitation available to those people with criminal pasts who could live free, productive lives with a little help.

Bring back the lash! Its time has come again.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Costs of Freedom

[Note - I am swamped with work. In the interim, a Best of Bob reposting of something I wrote last year...99% of you haven't read it before anyway. It's new to you!]

Is it acceptable for Christian Scientists (for example) to deny their children life-giving medications?

I think it is. We don't force Amish people to have telephones to summon LifeFlight helicopters, and people die as a result of that, including children. Is that reasonable of the Amish?

I would argue it is. The Amish have decided to live a certain way, a way that happens to foreclose using certain kinds of technology. That way of life is different than the choices that other people would make. However, our freedom to choose is predicated on extending that right to other people. Christian Scientists have also decided to live in a certain way, a way that forecloses certain other kinds of technology.

A reasonable interlocutor might ask, "what if you have a religion that prescribes some objectionable behavior, like beating your child with ropes every day?" Should the government ban that kind of thing? I think it should. Is this a contradiction? No. Here's why:

Prohibiting certain actions may infringe on people's rights, which is sometimes necessary for the state to do. It is a big leap from prohibiting negative actions to compelling positive ones. Prohibiting actions is authoritarian; compelling actions is totalitarian. I prefer not to have either, but I recognize that authoritarianism is sometimes required of the state. Civil order is not maintained by state actors making polite requests.

I think part of the intellectual discomfort many of us have with allowing people the freedom to choose their own actions when we know those actions will have bad consequences comes from the visible and discrete nature of the suffering. If a Christian Scientists denies her son penicillin and he dies, we see that right away. We say "this act led to this death; I object!"

But, for example, millions of parents underemphasize the importance of good nutrition to their children, and as a result, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of premature deaths later in life. People are acting irresponsibly and there is a terrible toll, but it isn't obviously the result of the irresponsibility; it's distant in time and space. We might get irked when we see a mother giving her baby Froot Loops instead of fruit, but we don't say "she should be compelled to act the way I think sensible and proper!"

Indeed, if George Bush were to come out and say that the Federal government was planning to compel all parents to give their children fresh fruit each day, and teach them a certain set of defensive driving techniques, and make them brush their teeth twice daily, and exercise for thirty minutes every afternoon, I imagine that many people who object to Christian Scientists' medical beliefs would think it the biggest fascist plot since Iran-Contra.

And yet, the sufferering and death caused by bad parenting in the areas of nutrition, safety, hygiene and exercise is at least a thousandfold greater than the suffering and death caused by the occasional religious nut who doesn't approve of sulfa drugs. It's just that the religious nut is a little more obvious and a little more direct in their bad effect.

Freedom is not a costless good. Letting people run their own lives means that quite often they will do a bad job of it. That's something that libertarians, and liberal societies in general, just have to accept as part of the cost of doing business.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Duckies!



Stolen without the slightest remorse from this handy cute site.

Best. Timewaster. Ever.

I apologize in advance for the days of productivity I am about to suck out of your life.

This thing is electronic poetry.

(H/T Jonah.)

Service Guarantees for Higher Education: A Modest Proposal

Should colleges offer a service guarantee for the product they provide? Most schools offer no particular guarantee or service warranty; you pay, you play, the end. If this were to change, it could increase school enrollments by reducing the perceived risk of first-time college entrants, thus increasing their willingness to give college a try.

Although a service guarantee for a university education may seem novel, higher education is profoundly suitable for such a guarantee. Service marketers use the following criteria for appropriateness of a service guarantee:

The price for the service is high. Almost all higher education is expensive in both absolute and relative terms, particularly when books, supplies, and the opportunity cost of lost time spent in a classroom are factored in.

The negative impact of unsolved problems is high. A negative experience in a class can result in having to take the class over again (doubling the original purchase price), a perceived need to change majors (incurring great costs to the individual as formerly-valid prerequisite classes become useless), and even a perceived need to drop out of college or change schools (transaction costs for the consumer, major impacts on the school).

The customer’s ego is on the line. A negative experience with a class in a university setting is often perceived by the customer as being the result of their stupidity or their mistakes. While this may be true in some instances, providing a solution that ameliorates this perception would be highly valuable to customers.

Buyer resistance is high. This is not always the case. Many students are highly motivated to attend school and have little or no resistance. However, there are a number of marginal consumers who could be persuaded to attend college, and their resistance is fairly high. A service guarantee could lower that resistance and bring in many additional students.

Customer expertise with the service is low. Some students have attended other schools before transferring to a new school, but for many students, college is a one-stop experience - they go to one school and that's that.

The industry has a bad image for service quality. The higher education industry as a whole has a growing negative reputation – diploma mill, “they just want your money”, etc.

The company depends on frequent customer purchases. All colleges rely on a high retention rate; they expect and plan for students to return semester after semester.

The company’s business is affected deeply by word of mouth. While schools vary in the amount of out-of-state and Internet recruiting they do, it is inevitable that prospective students will place a high value on first-hand reports from former or current students.

So on balance, higher education seems to be a very strong candidate industry for a service guarantee. In addition to the classical criteria, this idea is also supported by the non-innovative nature of most schools. That ensures that competitors will not quickly copy even a successful service guarantee policy - strengthening the advantage gained by word-of-mouth.

How should such a guarantee be structured?

Although it is tempting to offer a guarantee on the basis of content or knowledge, such a guarantee would be very difficult to objectively define. One person might believe the knowledge they gained in a particular class to be useless hokum, while another might find it highly useful. Such considerations would also be deeply personal; for example, Frank is learning nothing new in his intro finance course, while other members of the class are struggling to absorb all the new material. This isn't necessarily because Frank is a genius, maybe it's because he's been exposed to this material before in his day job at the bank, while other students haven't. A content-based guarantee could not be unconditional and would be difficult to understand and communicate.

I believe a more productive approach would be to offer a credit refund at the individual class level. A student who was dissatisfied with a particular class could, for any reason, request a credit. The class would remain on their transcript but would not apply towards their degree program. The amount of the tuition and fees for that class would be applied towards the next semester as a credit, so there would be no cash outlay to the university. A student would be limited to, say, three credit hours worth of refund per year of full-time attendance to reduce the potential for abuse.

This policy should be unconditional, within the broad limit of three credit hours per year. It would be easy to understand and communicate to students, as part of the ordinary communication as to policies and procedures that occurs every year. It is meaningful – when a student is unhappy with a class, they know that they can won’t have to pay for it. It produces an incentive to the service provider, in that professors who regularly have students applying for refunds are likely to be examined closely by the appropriate dean. It is easy to invoke – just fill out a form online or in the registrar’s office. It is easy to collect, since the university just creates a credit for the student on the next term’s bill.

I think such a guarantee could go a long way towards moving today's inefficient schools towards a more market-driven, customer-satisfying approach.

Rice in 2008

A variety of interesting news on Condoleeza Rice. Condi is praising Truman and urging improvements to our system of foreign aid. She's making drastic, and long-overdue, changes at State. And she's turning up as highly-regarded by right-of-center bloggers, who strongly favor her as a presidential candidate.

As do I - indeed, I was among the first on the Condoleeza bandwagon!

(Hat tips: Althouse and Vodkapundit.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Enemy of My Enemy is Apparently Still My Enemy

At least if you're these guys. Go to it, fellows!

Apparently Denver Has Some Kind of Football Team?

Who knew?

I get very interested in football season. It means that the timing of subsequent programs that I like to watch might be thrown off, and I have to adjust the DVR accordingly.

But my sympathies to those with a less Olympian detachment from such things. Sorry, Dad.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

New Blog Rented

Over on the sidebar, you'll see a plug for the Fyre Goddess, an interesting personal journal type blog. She posts steadily and with humor. Read the post about falling into a hole in her own house for a grin.

Snake and Hamster are Friends

No, that's not a children's book, although it could be.

It's about these two:



A snake and a hamster at a Tokyo zoo have reportedly become pals.

The hamster was dropped into the cage as a snack, but three months later the two still cohabit peacefully. Zookeepers say that the snake appears to enjoy the hamster's company.

Personally, I think that the snake is just saving the hamster for later, like the pint of B&J "Cherry Garcia" I've got stowed in the back of the freezer. It's nice to know it's there.

Lauren Hangs It Up

Lauren of Feministe is withdrawing from the blog world for a little while. Some nonsense about working for a living or spending time with her kid or something like that. Some people just have lunatic priorities.

It's a pity. Lauren has a degree of intellectual integrity and a libertarian streak. There are too many frothing nutjob feminists out there and not enough sane sensible ones. She'll be missed, but fortunately, we also know that she'll be back. In the meantime, she's promising two "mystery bloggers" will be taking her place. My money's on Jeff Goldstein's wife and Hillary Clinton.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Kiss the Movie Theater Goodbye...

Because it's beginning to look a lot like obsolescence.

Steven Soderbergh's new film "Bubble" is being released to DVD and cable TV the same day it hits theaters (January 27) - despite a boycott by some theater chains who are apparently under the impression that they still matter to the entertainment industry. Other films have been simultaneously released before, but this one has the backing of major entertainment capital and, of course, the Soderbergh name.

Theaters now account for only about a quarter of the revenue for most films, with DVD sales accounting for fully half the revenue, and cable and broadcast TV bringing in the other quarter. That revenue slice isn't enough to give theaters the pull with studios that they seem to feel entitled to.

The logic is implacable; people are tired of paying $20 for a movie date - sans refreshments - when the same $20 gets them a DVD they can watch at home - on their schedule, sitting on their comfy coach instead of a stained and sprung airplane seat, and with cheap and tasty treats instead of $7 garbage popcorn and $3 sodas. The theaters simply do not deliver value for the dollar any more. True afficionados already get their video streams through the Internet or via services like Netflix.com.

I don't anticipate theaters disappearing altogether. There is value in the social environment and in the "getting out of the house" phenomenon, especially for couples with children. Instead, they will go upscale, and going out to a movie will be an Event for most couples or families. There will be fewer theaters in each cities, and the horrid multiplex model will vanish in favor of enormous screens and a truly immersive experience - IMAX gone mainstream.

Paying for Spam

Memo to Stephen King: spamming people is bad.

Sending spam that people have to pay to receive, and doing it at 1 AM and waking them up, isn't just bad - it's moronic.

Movie Review: The Island

Via Netflix.com, my wife and I watched this dystopic tale of genetically-engineered human "products", cloned to serve as spare parts for their wealthy donors, starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor.

Meh. This movie could have been a contender if 30 minutes had been chopped out of the sagging middle. At a butt-numbing 136 minutes, it's just too long. Scarlett isn't pretty enough to hold anyone's interest for two hours sixteen; Ewan's one-note performance is similarly lacking in staying power.

Massive suspension of disbelief required: the idea that someone's love of speed is carried in the DNA is borderline plausible. The idea that a clone would "remember" the shape of his donor's most recent boat design is laughable. The idea that the clone's DNA would enable him to remember the name of the boat is so profoundly stupid that the screenwriter - or, more likely, the brain-dead Hollywood suit who overrode the screenwriter to insist on including this profoundly retarded concept - should be beaten with hammers.

In fact, this plotline was so intrinsically dumb that I was convinced that the Ewan McGregor character with the strange memories of his boat design was not a clone - nobody could possibly be that ignorant - but was in fact some kind of sleeper or mole who had infiltrated the cloning facility in order to bring it down, and had some problem with remembering his true identity a la Red Planet. Nope - they were that ignorant.

I can forgive that, though. It's not a Hollywood science-fiction epic without whooshing ships in space or cloning idiocies or some damn fool thing. More difficult to let go is the bizarre behavior of the film's villain, who - after showing no compunction about destroying half of Los Angeles and killing thousands of people to preserve his lab's dark secret (clients think the clones are brainless automatons, but in reality they're living people who are told they are the last survivors of a calamitous plague) - inexplicably lets the McGregor clone's donor live after he has been told about the secret. Of course, it isn't really the donor - it's McGregor himself, and he brings down the villain's horrible empire.

Other inconsistencies and implausibilities abound. None of the apparently hundreds of staff people who are clued in on the secret show the slightest interest in the fact that they are party to - in some cases, personally conducting - cold-blooded mass murder. (We are shown that the security guards tend towards being brutal bullies - but this behavior never translates into mistreatment of the clones before their deaths.) They aren't being well-renumerated; the senior technician (Steve Buscemi, in a graceful performance of a badly written role) who befriends McGregor and facilitates his escape, lives in a dumpy home and drives a beater car.

Most of these problems would have evaporated in a shorter movie - no time for worries about the intrinsic implausibility of a giant secret cloning facility in the middle of the desert, gotta watch rocket bike chases through the skyways of LA! - but with two hours to sit and brood upon them, they grow and grow in the imagination.

Disappointing, really. The sets are impressive. The acting was generally good, even if McGregor was doing his best impersonation of a piece of plywood. Special effects are used sparingly and effectively. The film collapses of its own weight and seriousness; if it's to be taken seriously, then it falls apart from internal inconsistencies. If it's fun-in-the-cloning-sun, then it's way too long.

Overall grade: C-

Thursday, January 19, 2006

UCLA Anti-Radicals Hitting Some Snags

I have a lot of sympathy for the UCLA alumni who are trying to ferret out inappropriate bias in the professoriat, but this overview by Cathy Young points out some substantial weaknesses in the approach being taken. Glenn Reynolds notes that the alumni group is hurting its own credibility by trying to be two different things.

These criticisms have to be taken seriously. What isn't serious, however, is the notion that these students and former students are engaging in "McCarthyism" - a smear that has come to mean "doing something that makes a leftist look bad". Why is it “McCarthyist” to tape lectures and make notes? The crime of McCarthy was that he made unsupported allegations about people, and the allegations he made were so severe (”you are a traitor against America and an agent of a totalitarian evil”) that even without any evidence, they damaged people’s reputations, in some cases irreparably. (As more than one paleocon has noted, McCarthy should be reviled by the right because he partially discredited the noble enterprise of rooting out actual communist infiltrators.)

Whereas, the alumni group appears to be accurately transcribing what these professors have to say in their classrooms. What’s wrong with that? Are they teaching something that has to be kept secret? Professor Jones is free to say whatever he wants. I’m free to tell my friends in the press that he said that the Jews must be eliminated, or that the chains of capitalism are forged from the blood of the workers, or that Knight Rider was damn fine television. And since he-said-she-said is rather unsatisfactory as an argumentative tactic, I’m free - or ought to be - to tape-record it so I can prove that Professor Jones has a thing about teh Joos.

Quite aside from the repellency of equating such defensive behavior with the despicable tactics of the Senator from Wisconsin, it’s a transparent attempt to shut down a democratic attempt to level a power imbalance. Students and former students feel that the people in power over them did or are abusing that power, and they want to rectify it by bringing the wrongdoing into the light. What could possibly be wrong with that?

The hypocrisy of some leftists is revealed here. Speak truth to power - as long as the power in question doesn’t, you know, belong to US.

Could such recording/transcription be abused - by cherry-picking and selective editing, for example? Sure. The answer to bad speech is more speech - liberalism 101. What’s stopping a professor who fears being targeted in such a fashion from tape-recording hisher own complete lecture so that they can demonstrate the lack of context when the student comes forward with the transcript saying something career-ending? Nothing - other than the self-entitlement of the professoriat that they should be above such petty concerns.

This whole kerfuffle reminds me of my own college days, 17 million years ago, when a totally unqualified but, alas, tenured professor of communications started doing computer science lectures - with disastrous pedagogical results. The majors student committee, of whom I was a sycophant/wannabe, was rebuffed by the close-the-ranks department when we complained, and decided to start attending his 101 lectures on an observational basis. We didn’t bring tape recorders - we just took notes and catalogued errors, while being perfectly civil and posing no challenge to his authority. We did this twice, as I recall, before receiving a verbal promise (which was kept) from the department chair that he would not teach 101-level students anymore without oversight.

Sunlight is a disinfectant. The motives of people who demand darkness are automatically suspect.

Cuba Continues Harassment of Human Rights Activist

The Cuban government is conducting a campaign of brutal harassment against Juan Carlos González Leiva, the head of the pro-democracy Cuban Foundation for Human Rights. The government wishes to drive Mr. Leiva into exile from Cuba once his house arrest ends in March of 2006.

Mr. Leiva reports on the conditions he is enduring in a statement transcribed and translated by the Coalition of Cuban-American Women in the United States, which I am running here in its entirety:
I am Juan Carlos González Leiva, president of the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights. Since January 12th, I have been the victim of psychological torture whose objective is to pressure me by force to go into exile from Cuba since my sentence of house arrest ends March 4, 2006.

My house has been under military harassment, and I am the victim of acts of repudiation, lead and controlled by military officials of the State Security from Ciego de Avila province where I live and by the Cuban government. They prevent me from leaving my house, and I am without food, drinking water, and electricity. We are suffocating from the heat. On occasion, they randomly restore my telephone, but most of the time, I remain unable to make contact with the outside world. Tania Maseda Guerra, activist in the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights, and Luis Esteban Espinosa, an independent journalist, are with me in my home.

Those surrounding my home pound on my windows and my doors, and they have placed loudspeakers outside with blaring music 24 hours a day that prevents us from sleeping or resting. The mobs that surround my house are composed of all sorts of people who range from criminals to university students that are brought to shout governmental slogans in aggressive language and obscene words through microphones. These people yell threats at us, saying that they are going to enter the house with military tanks, that they are going to burn all of us up, and that we are antisocial persons at the service of imperialism, among other things.

They have pushed and savagely beaten many activists, friends, and my family members that have entered, tried to enter, or left my house in our defense. Among the names that I can identify are: Yodalis Calderín Nuñez, my wife’s niece, independent journalist, Luis Esteban Espinosa, and psychologist, Antonio, Legón Mendoza. The Cuban government has my father, Agustín Gonález, hostage and does not let him leave the country, in spite of the fact that he has a visa to travel to the United States. This is a tactic used to pressure me so that I leave the country as well.

Mobs of 100-400 people begin these vandalistic acts at dawn and continue until 11:00 at night. At that time, police and State Security agents surround my house. This is repeated daily, to the rhythm of deafening music.

It is important for the accredited international press in Havana to come to Ciego de Avila so that the world can see the true face of the Cuban government with its own eyes.

I’m not afraid at all. These people threaten that they are going to enter my home but they will have to take me by force. If I withstood 26 months in prison under daily torture by Cuban military officials, harassed, beaten up, and poisoned by chemical substances from which I still suffer, then I will withstand inside my house for 26 months more.

I thank the Cuban people for their gestures of solidarity and my neighbors who have intervened and defended me. To all of them, I say that we have hope that there will be a change in Cuba. This struggle demonstrates that the government is falling apart. I thank human rights organizations and the international press for all they have done for me and for their support of the struggle of the Cuban people.

Jesus Christ is with us; he is accompanying us, and he gives us victory and peace. We are not going to lift a finger against anyone nor are we going to commit any crime. Whatever happens here is the responsibility of State Security, Cuban military officials, and the Cuban government.
The coalition can be contacted via telephone: 305-662-5947 / fax: 305-740-7323, or by e-mails: Joseito76@aol.com / tswilder@charter.net

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Eep

Talky-talk over.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Love...Exciting and New



At least for these little chirpers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

VodkaPundit on Iran

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, Stephen Green. Who apparently isn't getting much sleep what with the babies and the diapers and the spectre of total nuclear annihilation.

Conclusion:
We have practical options far short of outright invasion or using nuclear weapons of our own. We're also about 27 years late in pursuing any of them. It's high time we did.
Yes. Bush has the stones; the question is whether his administration has the will. They'd better; that's why we hired them.

Miscellaneous Baby Cuteness

Stephanie: This is my sheep, he is my friend. He says baaa.
Me: What is his name?
Stephanie: (Thinks intently.) His name is baaa.
Me: Is his name Baaa-b? (Bob is grandpa's name.)
Stephanie: No. His name is baaa...Yes. His name is baaa-b. He is baaa-b.

Movie Review: Closer

Watched "Closer" on HBO this evening. Apparently it got great reviews. Those movie critics were clearly watching another, less completely crappy, movie.

1) I don't mind sex in movies, particularly when it's relevant to the plot. This movie managed to be absolutely drenched in sex (or at least talk about sex) which was completely relevant to the plot - and had me wishing that some nuns would come onscreen and beat some chastity into the characters. OK, it doesn't help that Julia Roberts looks like she was hit by an ugly stick, and that Natalie Portman appears to be 11, but still. I spent part of this film "resting my eyes" and only listening to the dialog - even without the ugly being beamed into my retinas, I wanted all these awful people to take vows and go to a monastery somewhere.

2) Every character in this film was a piece of garbage. Humans are fallible creatures - we make mistakes. But if you're going to portray everyone in the film as being an animal with the moral sensitivity of a cockroach, then do it somewhere where I don't have to watch it.

3) Every * scrap * of * dialog * was * delivered * in * the * bullets * firing * mode * of * a * dramatic * play * written * by * someone * who * wants * to * be * David * Mamet * and * real * people * don't * talk * like * that. They pause. They fumble. It's fine to cut most of that out - in fact, please do - but you have to include some glimmer of humanity in the vocalizations. If you want us be able to suspend our disbelief that any two males would be in a fight over Julia Roberts, you've got to throw us a bone of believable human interactions once in a while.

4) Stupid twist ending. Spoiler - as if anything could further spoil this rancid heap of putrefying offal - the Natalie Portman character was a huge liar about her identity, and this is pointlessly revealed in the final scenes. Like we give a damn at that point; she's already got all the warm lovability of Mengele by then, it's not like we're surprised to discover that she's a liar on top of everything else.

5) Not to overly focus on poor Natalie, but I couldn't help thinking "no wonder Anni tried to strangle her" pretty much whenever she opened her mouth.

Overall grade: F.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Emotional Efficiency

The blogger currently renting my spot, Haunted House Dressing, has an interesting poem posted about emotional efficiency (scroll down to October 27 to see it in its original form; no permalinks). Blocked in paragraphs, for us linear thinkers:
In tribal societies. Systems are based on efficiency. Things aren't done. The quickest way. Or the easiest way. They're done with. Emotional efficiency. Rites of passage make people feel. Complete. And confident. Ceremonies and rituals. Connect people together. Activities. Which could be considered mundane. Are combined with fun. Song. Stories.

However. Civilization. Doesn't care about. The emotional efficiency. Of its systems. When people feel disconnected. And afraid. And unfulfilled. They're more likely to buy things. To fill themselves. They're more likely to be exploited. And controlled. They're more likely to sit. At the back. Of the bus.

Let's not obey rules. Simply because they exist. Let's question. Everything. Let's make things. More fun. And less stressful. Let's work on. The emotional efficiency. Of our systems. No one. Will do it. For us.
By and large I think it is true that modern capitalist systems are not concerned with emotional efficiency; they've evolved to maximize individual happiness in terms of choices and freedoms. That isn't always what people want, however. It's fine that the system be optimized to create wealth, but individual people have to be able to make choices that don't accept productive efficiency as the highest value.

Triumph Vs. Star Wars Geeks

Man, this is cruel and hysterical all at once.

"You will die alone."

(H/T Simon Templar.)

BNN Site Moved

I'm the editor of Blogger News Network, and just completed moving the site over to a Blogger model - mainly so that I'm not tied to the custom code I wrote for the site, which I no longer have time to maintain. It's actually ironic - I spent a good year tinkering with the code for the site, and in the end, kept nothing - we could have been on Blogger all this time.

Some people would say that represents wasted time. I would demur; one of the principal reasons I had for hand-coding BNN was that I wanted to learn ASP and how to build a scalable web application. There's no substitute for putting your hands into the engine and getting greasy; I know more about ASP now than I would ever have learned from books. The next time a client asks me about building a web site, I know exactly whether ASP and/or .NET would be a good model for them to use - instead of guessing based on analysts' opinions.

Additionally, in the interim, Blogger has ironed out most of its issues and is now a very stable platform; late adoption pays off. I'll now be spending my BNN-time on editing, soliciting new writers, and promotion, rather than writing code to reinvent the wheel.

Japanese Scientists to Sample Mantle

This is cool; a Japanese research ship is going to pierce the Mohorovicic Discontinuity and bring up a sample of active mantle. They're hoping it'll have microbes in it - there's a theory that life on earth began in the mantle, of all places.

As an added bonus, Japan will get +6 minerals and +6 energy for working that tile. (Special bonus geek points if you know what the heck that refers to.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Whew! No Heresy Here

I am not a heretic.



You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant


92%

Pelagianism


67%

Apollanarian


58%

Nestorianism


50%

Monophysitism


50%

Arianism


42%

Gnosticism


33%

Modalism


25%

Adoptionist


17%

Monarchianism


0%

Donatism


0%

Albigensianism


0%

Socinianism


0%

Docetism


0%

Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com

(H/T Noli Irritare Leones.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Cute Little Rooster Chick

I have a lot to do tomorrow and probably won't post. Here's compensation.

Missing the Pacific Northwest

Not.

(Although I do miss the good friends that I left there.)

I Just Rented My Blog

If you look over on the right hand side of this blog, you'll see a link for BlogExplosion. That's a traffic building site aimed at new bloggers; I've been with them for over a year and they really are a good program for folks who want to develop new blog traffic. The nicest thing about BE is that the new traffic you get are other bloggers, so you're automatically being exposed to a very good audience.

Right underneath that box you'll see a postage-stamp-sized ad slot for "Haunted House Dressing", a blog that has paid me vast bribes to be "featured" in that pathetic little ad spot. This is a new program that I'm experimenting with; bloggers trade display ad space on their blogs for one another. Unfortunately the ads are too small to be really useful; oh well.

Haunted House Dressing is a peculiar little blog with a lot of varying content. It's worth a look. Please, toodle over to the sidebar, click-through on that ad, and check them out.

Weekend Timewaster

This one is pretty tough. My best is 20 seconds, but I haven't had much time to devote to it.

Oh God It Hurts

Go here now. No excuses.

Hint:



H/T Jeff.

Idle Question for an Idle Saturday

How come the people who are most insistent about women's bodily autonomy and the right to make one's own medical decisions are the same people who are most insistent about having a strong FDA that can tell us which drugs we can and cannot take?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Baby Bear and Mama Bear



Say "awwwwww". SAY IT!

Chinese Map Lays Claim to Discovery of North, South America

This is interesting. A Chinese map purporting to be a copy of a 1418 cartograph shows the outline of the North and South American continents, in fairly good detail. The map is being bandied about as evidence for the hypothesis that the Chinese were the first non-indigenous discoverers of North America - specifically, that Admiral Zheng He found the continent as part of his epic exploratory voyages.



It's plausible, darn plausible. The Chinese exploratory fleet under Zheng He was extremely capable. They certainly could have gone pretty much anywhere navigable on the globe. The lack of follow-up - where are the Chinese colonies in Oregon - is readily explained by the social and political upheavals that wracked China around the time of Zheng He's return to China in 1423.

Absent some compelling archaeological or cartographical evidence (a Chinese settlement, a 15th-century Chinese shipwreck in Newfoundland, or an indisputably 15th century Chinese map), the main thing that proponents of this theory would need to explain away is this: In the age of sail, going into new waters was perilous, because every area has its own treacherous currents and particularly dangerous zones and times. Information about where, when and how to sail is valuable. Sometimes where there are local sailors - fishermen and petty traders - outsiders can assimilate this information relatively quickly. Where there aren't local sailors, you have to do it by trial and error. (When the Portuguese under Prince Henry the Navigator explored the coast of Africa in the 15th century, it took them years for this very reason. They had to go bit by bit, mapping the shoals and currents through careful trial and error.)

The great material resources of Zheng He's fleet (as many as 300 ships and 30,000 men at its peak) would have sped this process up, but the absence of seafarers among the North and South American indigenous populations would mean that every mile of coastal exploration would be painful and dangerous. Advocates of the theory really need to explain how Zheng He did thousands of miles of coastal exploration in the relatively brief "blank spaces" that his known history allow.

However, it's still a darn interesting theory. I'd love to see it proven true, even if that does displace pride of place for my cousin Columbus. (I still get ego gratification from my other cousin Leif, who did it 400-500 years before any of these Sino-Spanish interlopers.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

10,000 Visitors - Woohoo!



All right! Not bad for exactly one month.

Congratulations, IP address "70.132.0.#" of "Unknown Country", reading the blonde joke post and coming here via Feministe. You win a prize! A fabulous prize. Just as soon as I think of what it is. Um...a pack of delicious Orbit gum! Yes, a mostly unconsumed pack of peppermint Orbit sugar-free gum, just for you.

But seriously, thanks to everyone who has dropped by, linked, commented, read, etc. I appreciate your visits.

(No, I'm not so pathetic that I sat here refreshing the hit counter for hours, waiting for it to roll over to 10k. I planned to do this post whenever I got over 10k, and just happened to check the stats when it was at 9999. Then I sat pathetically hitting refresh for a few minutes, because that's just a great picture to get, from the sad-ego-stoking point of view.)

Update: And the US hits 300,000,000. But you know, they didn't do it on an EXACT ANNIVERSARY DATE, so really, I'm not very impressed. Any damn fool can just rack up the numbers.

And Speaking of "Serenity"...

Oooh! Oooh! Oooh oooh ooh oooh oooh ooh ooh ooh!

Everybody go buy the DVD right now!

Nuanced Thinking on Dams

Cathy Young has a long and thoughtful post about dams and environmental concerns that bypasses a lot of the usual stereotypes. Worth reading.

Blonde Joke of the Day

A blonde walks into a bank in New York City and asks for the loan officer. She says she's going to Europe on business for two weeks and needs to borrow $5,000. The bank officer says the bank will need some kind of security for the loan, so the blonde hands over the keys to a new Rolls Royce.

The car is parked on the street in front of the bank, she has the title and everything checks out. The bank agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan.

The bank's president and its officers all enjoy a good laugh at the blonde for using a $250,000 Rolls as collateral against a $5,000 loan. An employee of the bank then proceeds to drive the Rolls into the bank's underground garage and parks it there.

Two weeks later, the blonde returns, repays the $5,000 and the interest, which comes to $25.41. The loan officer says, "Miss, we are very happy to have had your business, and this transaction has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled. What puzzles us is, why would you bother to borrow $5,000 on a $250,000 car?"

The blond looks at him coolly and replies "Where else in New York City can I park my car in a guarded lot for two weeks for only $25.41?"

DVRs Undermine Free TV Model

Ampersand of Alas notes that he is personally killing off free TV, by using his DVR to skip commercials. I do the same thing, and he's right: he and I (and the millions like us) are putting the nail in the coffin of the free television model. I watch more TV now than I ever have, other than in a couple of periods of depression, and the only commercials I ever watch are ads for movies that happen to catch my wife's eye ("go back, go back, I want to see that one!").

There is some speculation in Amp's comment thread about what's coming next. My view is that some low-value TV will remain free, supported by banner ads at the bottom of the screen - stuff like news, weather, talk shows, Springer, etc. Everything else - everything that costs significant money to produce - will come streamed over the Internet. The cost model works. My calculations, based on existing charges for bandwidth, indicate that an Internet-based TV "station" is perfectly feasible.

DreamHost will sell you 120 GB of bandwidth over the course of a month for $8. The market price for bandwidth is accordingly estimated at 6.67 cents per GB.

300 megabytes is a half-hour of adequate video. Nothing great, but watchable.

To send a 1/2 hour news program out on the Internet, to one viewer, therefore, costs just ever so slightly more than 2 cents. 2.001 cents, to be precise.

Two cents, for half an hour of video.

And viewers can download it, too. 300 megabytes isn't a trivial download, but on my cable modem, I can do a 300 meg file in (running speed test) at 4 megs a second, so 75 seconds. A bit more than a minute. Even for people with connections 20 times slower, 22+ minutes for a download means that we can stream the video - they can start watching immediately. Instant-on. Broadband TV.

At this point it becomes a question of finding good content from a production company willing to adopt a different revenue model - probably a profit-sharing arrangement, rather than a "we'll buy X episodes of your show at Y dollars per episode."

Personally, I can't wait. Such a model makes it possible to make a lot more shows - all you need to do is demonstrate an audience exists that will generate enough revenue to cover the show costs. We'd have "Firefly" on three nights a week.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Interview with Stephanie

As part of a successful effort to distract her from the pain and suffering of shower time:

Daddy: Stephanie, what's your favorite show?

Stephanie: Dora.

Daddy: What's your favorite food?

Stephanie: Peanut butter jelly.

Daddy: What's your favorite animal?

Stephanie: Cow.

Daddy: What's your favorite song?

Stephanie: Itsy bitsy spider.

Daddy: Who's your favorite mommy?

Stephanie: [Mommy's name].

Daddy: Who's your favorite daddy?

Stephanie: Robert.

Six straight questions, six forthright answers. Don't tell me I'm not ready for the New York Times. I could get blood from a stone! And note how my clever ordering of the questions allows me to "spin" the story in a way favorable to my own interests.

Snort



This one's pretty funny.

The Road to Serfdom: One Page Edition

A handy little abridgment of F.A. Hayek's libertarian classic. Seems quite accurate on a first scan.

(H/T Educe me).

Obsessive Alito Blogging

Everywhere I go in the blogosphere, people are blogging the Alito hearings.

WHY?

It's a done deal. We've established that he's not going to Bork himself and start talking about the need to send the Negroes to labor camps. It's been established for years that Biden and Kennedy, given a microphone, are going to faceplant their entire audience with boredom.

Who gives a rip, at this point? Confirm him and get me some news, please.

Independence May Be New Trend In Film

Will Collier of Vodkapundit has a brief review of a fan-made movie based on H.P. Lovecraft's horror classic, "Call of Cthulhu":
But it works. It's marvelous. It's easily the best film adaptation of Lovecraft, ever. If you've read and like the story, you will enjoy the hell out of this little movie; but even if you haven't, go reward ingenuity and craft and love, and get yourself a copy.
I suspect that this kind of thing is the wave of the future. I've seen some decent Star Trek fan films. The democratization of the technology for making movies - not super-8 flicks of the baby looking cute in a cowboy suit, real movies - has arrived. Any middle-class American who wants to have filmmaking as a hobby can produce movies at a level of quality broadly equivalent to Hollywood.

It will be science fiction and fantasy first, because those are the genres that attract nutty obsessionists like, uh, me. But drama and romantic comedy can't be far behind. The studios are doomed, and I for one say "hear, hear".

Alito: Cold-Blooded Killer



Why, Samuel? Why?

(H/T Feministe.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Treat Your Enemies Well

A melancholy and bittersweet day; it's taken me this long to get up the emotional capital to post substantively. (That, and the inevitable deadlines.)

I got back in touch with Alex, a close friend from high school, today. We've had sporadic contact since the 1980s but it's been at least ten years since we last spoke. Over that time his politics have become appalling and he's moved from boyish movie-star looks to solid PBS-executive respectability, but his essential humanity and kindness are unchanged. Drinking the Kool-Aid doesn't change DNA; you can look forward to jointly vociferous but fun blogging wars between he and I in the foreseeable future; he's already posted some knee-jerk liberal twaddle in the comments section. He will be crushed like a tiny insect, but I will love him anyway.

In the course of our occasionally raucous e-mail exchanges today, we discussed some trivia (the amazingly beautiful and talented young woman whom in those days we placed on a pedestal remains an amazingly beautiful and talented young woman today), some personal history (he has had a remarkable career in journalism, politics and public relations), and some sadness. One small sadness comes from one of our classmate's venture into the criminal world; a charming young woman who showed me considerable kindness in my awkward youth (reminding me more than a little, spiritually, of my beautiful bride today), she apparently took a wrong turning and is now in state prison on various fraud and forgery charges.

There was a much larger - because irreversible - sadness, which requires some background.

In high school, I devoted my extracurricular energies to speech and drama, and to journalism. (Alex was a friend primarily in the former realm - I could generally remember my lines and was willing to appear on stage, which in a small Oklahoma City high school was sufficient qualification for lead actor status, but Alex was really good.) My journalistic career, however, was less successful, principally because of the unbending malice directed towards me by one Perry McMahan, who by dint of getting there first was the school paper's editor, a position of great influence in the tiny kingdom of the school's journalistic infrastructure.

To this day, I am not sure why Perry bore me such ill will. I was an unimpressive figure at the time, but not particularly hostile to anyone, and as far as I recall, I gave him no reason for offense. But offense he did take, and mightily, and in very short order I returned his hostility with interest. (My general inclination, then as now, was to be friendly by default with everyone, but once attacked, to declare unremitting jihad.) Whatever fraction of the blame for this negative state of affairs lies initially with Perry, within weeks we were full partners in malice.

However, we lacked the power to destroy one another, and so we simply feuded, impotently, across the editorial table. This state of affairs went on for two years, and then we all graduated and went our separate ways.

I occasionally thought of Perry, though rarely, since I consider enemies a liability and prefer to focus my energy on my assets. Over the years, however - and with my bitterly resentful acceptance of the truth that we must forgive to be forgiven - I began to desire to reconcile with him, to bury whatever hatchets still stood between us, and to de-energize this destructive past. As our twentieth-year reunion approaches, I realized that this would be a golden opportunity. People usually approach their 20th high school reunion with positive feelings of gladness to see one another, rather than with a one-up attitude of proving their success, and I hoped to exploit that in order to try and negotiate a peace. (If he even remembered me, of course.)

Well, today Alex put the kibosh on that hopeful plan.

Perry McMahan died several years ago in New York City, where he was working for the Village Voice. There will be no reconciliation. There can be no forgiveness. I will carry this negative relationship to the grave. Wherever he is in a spiritual realm, he may well forgive me, and I him - and I shall certainly pray for him - but in this world our relationship remains one of bitter rivalry and anger, and most damningly, it is for no good reason.

This is part of the melancholy sadness of life. Things happen which we wish to reverse, but we are powerless. We do not control our fates to the degree we would like. I can be resigned and philosophical about this; this is not the first thing I would wish to fix which will remain broken, nor will it be the last, nor the greatest in magnitude and power.

My sadness is magnified, however, by the knowledge - by the sure and terrible knowledge - that I could have sought Perry out at any time in the last 20 years. Even if I was not able to befriend him, even if our relationship remained at bottom sour and harmful, at least I could apologize for the wrongs I did him. At least we could have shared a laugh at old battles and how unimportant they seem now. At least I could have tried. But I didn't try. I waited. I figured there would be better opportunities in the future. I sat on my rear end and let him die without even attempting to find him and to fix things.

And so, my friends, as trite as it may be, please - take my example to heart. Please, find the enemy whose existence continues to drip acid in your heart - and find a way to peace. Heal a wound, turn malice into camaraderie and remembrance. If nothing else, forgive and forget.

Do it today, before your Perry finds his peace alone, with you as a bitter memory instead of a healed wound.

Wedding Bells A-Ringing?

Looks like Lauren of Feministe is tying the knot.

Update: Never mind.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Just for McDuff



Because this blog delivers, baby!

Update: The wife uses the magic of PhotoShop to make improvements.



Huh...and now I find THIS picture...



The fun never stops.

Is the Anti-Annoyance Law Unconstitutional?

A lot of bloggers seem to be missing a critical point of Arlen Specter's stupid no-annoying-Internet-message law. The law prohibits anonymous annoyance and harassment, not all annoyance and harassment. This one may be less obviously unconstitutional than is being bandied about - First Amendment protections for anonymous speech exist, but my impression is that they are considerably weaker than the protections granted for those who sign their names.

It's definitely a stupid law; I'm not sure whether it's an unconstitutional one or not.

Baby Kangaroo



Got deadlines.

The Clutter Chronicles

My office isn't quite this bad.

500,000 Extra Abortions of Girls in India

Some days it must be rough to be a feminist. A Lancet study indicates that since the advent of sex-determining ultrasounds and widely-available abortion, half a million more girls than boys are aborted each year in India alone - with similar patterns in other countries of the region.

A lot of people will use their "choice" to kill girls, because they don't value girls as much as they do boys. Millions of girls are being killed - not because their parents don't want or can't support a child, but because their parents don't want a girl. They are being killed, in other words, solely and specifically because of their gender.

Abortion per se is bad enough, but at least in the case of someone who fears another child would put their family in poverty or endanger their life, there is a positive motive, however misguided. Deciding to terminate a life because it possesses the wrong genitalia is simply monstrous. Yet the only possible motivation for anti-abortion advocates, according to some, is hatred of women and a desire to control them.

I've resisted that framing for a long time. I still don't see the hatred of women part, but I'm going to have to cop to the control part. Yes - when people think it's OK to slaughter baby girls because they don't have penises, I'm willing to say that those people aren't competent to make moral decisions on their own, and have to be controlled by external force. I guess I can get out of jail on the misogyny charge - in a lot of these cases, the control would be exerted over the men pressuring/forcing their partners to abort, not the women themselves - many of whom, no doubt, would have been happy to bear a girl but were overruled.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Stephanie and Cinderella

While I was putting the sweetest baby in the world to bed, she looked at the cover of her Cinderella book. The cover shows Cinderella looking out a window and daydreaming. She asked me what Cinderella was thinking and I said "oh, she might be thinking about her mommy and daddy, or about her work, or about Prince Charming...what do you think she's thinking about?"

Her response: "Slippers!"

Look out, Manolo, there's a new shoe queen in town.

Why Not Just Fire Admiral Cain? (BG Spoilers)

The Corner discusses why, on the season premiere of Battlestar Galactica, the President doesn't just fire Admiral Cain, rather than urging Adama to kill her. I believe that the reason for this is that the 12 Colonies follow a Turkish model of civil-military relations, rather than an American model.

It is apparent from the context of the show that President Roslyn is not the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. As the head of state, she is empowered to give the military broad direction. She could ask Adama to change a policy or to take an action, and he would give her views due consideration. She can declare war or make peace, and in this the military is obliged to follow the civil government (note that the military did not press the war against the Cylons even though the peace was obviously just a breathing space for the Cylons to rebuild overwhelming power). However, it seems that the military and civil governance maintain separate spheres of power relations - and that the military has the upper hand on most questions, not the civilian. As in the Turkish model, the professionalism and civic spirit of the military forestall abuse of the system and prevent a military dictatorship.

Americans often forget that our model of ultimate civilian control over military questions is not the only viable model. I believe it is the best model - it would be a lot harder for us to fall into a military dictatorship than it would be for Turkey to do so - but the Turkish system works well, too. Under the Turkish model, the culture and training of military officers becomes very important in ensuring the existence of a relatively free state.

And Battlestar Galactica does explore that issue, in the interstices between exploring free will vs. determinism, atheism versus a creator God, and good vs. evil. Which is one reason among many that it's the best show on television.

Update: Welcome NRO readers. Look around, lie on the furniture, kick the cats. Make yourself at home.

Update 2: Welcome readers from SailorBob.com. As I can't read your forum, not being a naval officer, I have no idea what the link there says; I am praying to God that it isn't "hey, check out what this complete idiot has to say". Go Navy!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Cat Lulls Human Owner

This cat is claimed to have dialed 911 for its disabled owner, who couldn't get to the phone.

I don't buy it. A cat that can dial a phone would have called its friends, to tell them to come on over in anticipation of the feast when the owner died.

Cute Widdle Hamster

Lileks on the Crushing of Dissent

He notes something that I've noticed myself; the anti-war left is acting a lot like the anti-Clinton right did back in the 1990s. (I remember, I was there, and I was one of the nuts.)
The lunatic right went through this in the '90s. Bill Clinton, as it turned out, did not tie small children to railroad tracks in Mena, Ark., to cover up his worldwide cocaine-distribution syndicate. To Clinton's foes, however, it was true in the macro sense.

Somehow. It had to be. In the '90s these people were marginal cranks, and no one listened to them. Today they're on Air America. Nothing's changed, in other words.
Read the whole thing.

USS Ronald Reagan Passing Arizona Memorial


A nice shot sent in by my uncle-in-law.

Guide for Evil Overlords

Planning on ruling the galaxy through fear? Then you need this handy checklist.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Happy 2nd Birthday, Satchel Goldstein

This is the second-cutest kid in the universe. (How's that for a deal? You got substantive posting AND a cute mammal picture, or at least a link to one.)

Saddam's Iraq Trained Terrorists

But there wasn't any connection between Saddam and terror! There CAN'T have been, because that would make Chimpy McBushitlerburton on the right side of history, which would be intolerable.