Monday, March 31, 2008

Barack Hamilton?

An interesting passage from Barack Obama's economics speech:

The great task before our Founders that day was putting into practice the ideal that government could simultaneously serve liberty and advance the common good. For Alexander Hamilton, the young Secretary of the Treasury, that task was bound to the vigor of the American economy.

Hamilton had a strong belief in the power of the market. But he balanced that belief with the conviction that human enterprise “may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of the government.” Government, he believed, had an important role to play in advancing our common prosperity. So he nationalized the state Revolutionary War debts, weaving together the economies of the states and creating an American system of credit and capital markets. And he encouraged manufacturing and infrastructure, so products could be moved to

CaribWorldNews thinks Obama should put even more emphasis on Hamilton:
Anyone who does not know America's Greatest Immigrant was born and raised in the Caribbean, shame on you. It is unclear how much Barack Obama knows about Hamilton beyond the glowing words contained in his speech on Wednesday in which Obama had no hesitancy to proclaim that Hamilton's vision for America is his.
I am pleased that Obama is invoking Hamilton. And I agree that Hamilton's vision sometimes meant intervening in markets. But it also meant knowing when not to intervene in markets, as when Hamilton turned aside the idea, pushed by Madison and others, that original holders of Confederation bonds should be given full value, after having sold their bonds at lower prices.

My recent article on Hamilton is here. A relevant radio interview is here. For some negative takes on Hamilton, see items by William Hogeland and Brian Doherty (I have comments at both).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Earth science

Dumb question in an Economist magazine poll:

Which do you think is more likely to be the correct explanation for the origin of the earth?
--The theory of evolution
--The account of creation as told in the Bible
--“Intelligent design” – evolution has happened but by intelligent design
--Not sure

There's a reason why Darwin's book was not called On the Origin of the Earth by Means of Natural Selection.

The poll is here (PDF).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Alien mother ship?

Or chandelier at the Paris Opera House? (Taken during our trip in 2006.)

Finding stuff fast

Fareed Zakaria on Web research:
A few years ago, I was working on a column on Iraq recalled reading in Gertrude Bell’s biography a brilliant quote from a letter that the British adventurer-diplomat wrote to her father in 1922 (I think). I spent 10 minutes Googling and found that the University of Newcastle in Great Britain had put the entire Getrude Bell archive up on the Web. In 20 minutes, I had the actual letter on my screen. When I was in graduate school, getting that letter would have taken three months of inter-library loans and searching through microfiches.
I remember the pre-Internet era similarly. Of course, there's some stuff in the physical archives that's not on the Web.

Kateb's "palpable goods"

Recently, I criticized George Kateb's anti-patriotism as utopian pacifism. Now I see Kateb has responded to similar criticisms thus:
I don’t want purity; I said I’m not a pacifist. I argue for the moral permissibility of self-defense. Self-defense, however, is rarely the issue in international politics. When it is, patriotism is unnecessary: you don’t need a false incentive to fight for palpable goods.
Actually, if "palpable goods" were what's at stake, there would be an enormous incentive not to fight, or to free-ride on someone else's willingness to do it. You can't enjoy palpable goods if you're dead.

Algae road trip

Algae fuel continues to look interesting:
Solazyme of South San Francisco describes itself as a synthetic biology company, but it has also become an oil refining concern since it has been growing algae for oil and then turning it into its patented Soladiesel. The fuel meets biodiesel standard D6751 and European standard EN 14214, so any diesel car can use it without modification. In fact, members of the Solazyme team have been driving a Mercedes C320 up and down the California coast using only Soladiesel.
Beware of what may be hype, but keep an eye on this field.

UPDATE: And by the way, if there's a lot more oil in the U.S. than expected, that's all the more reason why CO2-eating algae will be needed in the coming decades.

It's something

Vote for Obama and a Venetian restaurateur will like you.

Halo world

Where your descendants might live, or have a weekend home.


I don't mean to alarm anyone, but the sun is quaking:
Christoffer Karoff and Hans Kjeldsen of the University of Aarhus say that these outbursts in the Sun’s outer layers drive oscillations throughout the Sun “in the same way that the entire Earth is set ringing for several weeks after a major earthquake.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ready to believe

I passed by this poster yesterday. It reminds me a bit of this one.

James Bond, astrophysicist

The next James Bond movie has two things going for it. It's being filmed partly at the Very Large Telescope in Chile. And it has a cool title: Quantum of Solace.


Low-carbon may be good, but carbon-negative is better:
Solena says it can use the carbon. The company employs a high-temperature process to break up anything organic into a flammable gas. The organic material could be algae, which have an extremely high energy value per pound. And algae eat carbon dioxide.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Enceladus brew

NASA is analyzing what Cassini found in its recent flyby of Enceladus:

NASA's Cassini spacecraft tasted and sampled a surprising organic brew erupting in geyser-like fashion from Saturn's moon Enceladus during a close flyby on March 12. Scientists are amazed that this tiny moon is so active, "hot" and brimming with water vapor and organic chemicals.
Apologies to anyone who googled "organic brew" looking for pesticide-free beer.

Cassini team scientists meanwhile contemplate the prospects for life on Enceladus.

Welch on McCain

Matt Welch on John McCain in today's New York Times:
In “Worth the Fighting For,” he wrote that “our greatness depends upon our patriotism, and our patriotism is hardly encouraged when we cannot take pride in the highest public institutions.” These institutions, Mr. McCain wrote, should “fortify the public’s allegiance to the national community.”

...all of his actions can be seen as an attempt to use the federal government to restore your faith in ... the federal government. Once we all put our shoulder on the same wheel, there’s nothing this country can’t do.

It can be a bracing approach when his issues line up with yours — I, for one, would welcome President McCain’s unilateral wars on pork-barrel spending and waterboarding — but it’s treacherous territory for those of us who consider “the pursuit of happiness” as something best defined by individuals, not crusading presidents-to-be.

I'm not a fan of McCain's campaign finance "reform" or push against Ultimate Fighting, so I agree with a number of Welch's points. But McCain's emphasis on making the federal government more disciplined and accountable should be a pretty big positive for libertarians. And a sense of "allegiance to the national community" is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it's questionable how long an individualistic society would survive without any such allegiance.

Lone earmark crusader

John McCain's crusade against earmarks has not always gotten the credit I think it deserves at Reason. But today Jacob Sullum, not a McCain enthusiast, sets the record straight: among the three current candidates, "only McCain has taken a principled stand against the pet projects that legislators love to slip into spending bills."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Black Cloud

This image is oddly reminiscent of an old novel by Fred Hoyle.

"Ethnic bomb"

This kind of makes you wonder whether Barack Obama read his church's newsletter. (Via Abe Greenwald.)

Carbon revenue choices

Sociologist Monica Prasad argues that a carbon tax won't reduce carbon emissions unless the revenues are directed back to industry for non-carbon research. I have my doubts; there's a long history of government subsidies for energy and technology not doing much good. But I could be wrong. Still, if zero percent of the carbon tax revenues are used to cut other taxes, you're going to end up with a very highly taxed economy, and that's not such a good thing either.

UPDATE: Some interesting, and mostly skeptical, responses from Charles Komanoff of the Carbon Tax Center, and economist Andrew Samwick.

Sullivan attacks

Speaking of Andrew Sullivan, he has a remarkable capacity to feel, or at least feign, intense outrage at things that upon examination are not particularly outrageous:
[Sullivan:] As the campaign goes on, the more you see who she is. The polling has not damaged Obama as she hoped, so she will now make Rove's and Hannity's strategy hers:
"He would not have been my pastor," Clinton said. "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend."
[Sullivan:] I'm not a Democrat and I know how vile the Clintons are. But this really is a new low. I think it is becoming a national imperative to defeat the Clintons.
Me: What specifically did Clinton say there that Sullivan finds vile? Should she have said "Yes, I wish I had a pastor like that"? or "It's not like you can choose what church to attend"? Or is the whole subject absolutely off-limits?

Mortgage McCainomics

Andrew Sullivan praises McCain's "tough love" on mortgages. Here's from McCain's speech:
I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers. Government assistance to the banking system should be based solely on preventing systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy.
Not bad. And better yet, he doesn't say he'd be "Commander-in-Chief of our economy."

Blogette socializing

GQ has a profile of Meghan McCain:
“I’m an acquired taste,” Meghan says matter-of-factly. “I’m a daughter of a Republican senator. I started dating this guy, and he wouldn’t date me anymore because he found out who my dad was. He says, ‘I don’t agree with his politics.’ Isn’t that terrible? That’s why you’re dumping me? We only went on two dates, but still. Not everybody wants to go out with somebody so high-profile. If they do, they’re investment bankers. Seriously. Ugh! If you’re an investment banker, don’t hit on me. You can quote me. I’m not interested.”
I wonder if Reason knows about that last bit of McCain anti-market animus.

GQ also has some Battlestar coverage.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Obama and "Blind Faith"

Christopher Hitchens does not feel the Obamarapture:
To have accepted Obama's smooth apologetics is to have lowered one's own pre-existing standards for what might constitute a post-racial or a post-racist future. It is to have put that quite sober and realistic hope, meanwhile, into untrustworthy and unscrupulous hands. And it is to have done this, furthermore, in the service of blind faith. Mark my words: This disappointment is only the first of many that are still to come.
Worth a full read, in my opinion.

Campaign silence

Clive Crook at the FT notices that the candidates continue to read their economic talking points, hardly mentioning the current financial crisis. (The drawing's worth a look, too; note Hillary's expression.)

UPDATE: Hillary has just weighed in on the mortgage crisis. Her solution? Massive bailouts. James S. Robbins points out this would reward financial irresponsibility.

UPDATE 2: "Commander-in-Chief of our economy"?

Algae fuel update

Algae producers are getting organized:
Early stage algae production companies will showcase their companies at the National Algae Association business plan and networking forum on April 10th. The most promising algae oil production companies will present their new ventures in front of an audience of algae researchers, biodiesel/biofuel companies interested in learning about algae commercialization as well as potential investors and lenders.
Someday pond scum may save civilization.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Derbyshire's enemy

How odd. I recently went to hear John Derbyshire speak at Lolita Bar, and he explained that America doesn't currently have enemies--which he defined as existential threats like Nazi Germany posed to England. Al Qaeda and the like, he explained, were just "problems," not "enemies."

Well, now it turns out that Derbyshire has found an enemy (emphasis added):
I don't get the sensitivity and slack-cutting towards Obama that Charles Murray's post typified. Obama's the enemy — a far-left Democrat. We should be attacking him at every weak point. That's politics.

The Go-Go Sixties

My piece on "The Go-Go Sixties" is up at Research magazine's website. Excerpt:
Miniskirt Market
As stock prices and hemlines both rose in the 1960s, the idea that there was some kind of connection between the two was hypothesized. In May 1967, the brokerage firm Harris Upham sent out a newsletter stating: “For some time there has been a suspicion in Wall Street that the stock market and the hemlines of women’s skirts move in the same direction.”
The firm then presented research suggesting that indeed there was a correlation. “From the days of street-sweeping skirts in 1897 to the days of Twiggy in 1967,” the market was up 2,100 percent, the newsletter reported, concluding: “Perhaps we should be listening more carefully to the planning in Paris .”
There has never been all that much consensus as to how seriously to take this hypothesis. But in any event, hemlines could only go so far up, and in the late ’60s that started to look true of equity values as well.
Some episodes in financial history are more fun than others.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Anti-McCain ignorance

After calling John McCain a “liberal fascist,” John Tabin at The American Spectator adds this parenthetical:
(Possible good news: McCain has praised free markets in the course of this campaign -- for the first time in his political career, according to McCain biographer Matt Welch.)
I don’t know if this grotesquely erroneous characterization accurately reflects anything in Welch’s book, which I haven’t read, and therefore can’t say if Tabin’s abysmal ignorance is proprietary or secondhand. As for free markets, McCain has not only praised but voted for them many times, as this long-term evaluation at the Cato Institute’s “Free Markets, Free Trade: Rating the Congress” site attests.

And here, by the way, is McCain praising the "core value" that is "free markets" in a 1999 speech.

Foreign-policy blend

Daniel Drezner is making sense:
Republicans have traditionally believed in competition as the best way to the best ideas to emerge. For the marketplace of ideas to thrive in foreign policy, GOP activists must avoid labeling some ideas as verboten. Realism served as a savvy foreign-policy guide for the administrations of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. The ideals of human rights and democracy promotion cannot and should not be jettisoned from U.S. foreign policy—but realist cautions about "ideological overstretch" are ignored at their peril.
What's needed, I think, is a blend of neoconservatism and realism (or I should say, a blend of what's now called neoconservatism, and realism). The first without the second is reckless and unrealistic; the second without the first is cynical, overly cautious and ultimately self-defeating.

Ocean on Titan?

Some interesting news from the outer solar system:
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered evidence that points to the existence of an underground ocean of water and ammonia on Saturn's moon Titan.
(H/t Michael Battaglia.)

More here.

It doesn't mean there's life there. But maybe there is -- or will be someday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bush as Madison

Ralph Peters finds a surprising, but compelling, historical analogy:
As for President Bush, let's face it: He's been our most-inept wartime leader since James Madison fled the White House, leaving his wife behind to save what she could before the British troops arrived with torches.
That said, Bush has displayed one single worthy characteristic (one he shares, oddly enough, with Madison): He won't surrender.
Maybe Gen. Petraeus is Andrew Jackson.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Meanwhile in Vulpecula

A lot of methane has been found on planet HD 189733b, 63 million light-years away. Life there is assumed to be unlikely, given the high temperatures (though of course, such assumptions could be wrong). Maybe one day Vulpecula will be a well-known brand of fuel.

Volcker's black swans

Paul Volcker:

The market was being run by mathematicians that didn’t know financial markets. And you keep hearing, you know, god, that event should only happen once every hundred years, according to my model. But those every hundred years events are coming along every two or three years, which should raise some questions.

Such questions were the subject of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. I thought the book promised more than it delivered, and gave it a lukewarm review. But it has some interesting ideas about "when weird stuff happens" in financial markets.

FT customer service

The Financial Times epitomizes (or I should say, epitomises) business sophistication. So how can it be that they're unable to handle simple requests, such as when a subscriber (it was I) tries to register at their website, or have his orange newspaper delivery suspended for a few days?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chatting with Gabe Wisdom

If you'd like to hear me talk about financial history from Alexander Hamilton onward, my interview on tonight's Gabe Wisdom Show is here. (Select the 3/18 link.)

UPDATE 3/25: The interview is also available here.

Gaffe riot

Michael Kinsley famously defined a gaffe as a politician telling the truth. I'm not sure that John McCain's retracted comment about Iran aiding Al Qaeda isn't such a gaffe.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has a post here; I added a comment. The 9/11 Commission Report can be found here, in case anyone wants to look up p. 61.

UPDATE 2: Plenty more here.

Czech libertarian civil disobedience

The debate begun by Arnold Kling goes on, in the Czech Republic. (Note: It's in Czech, and given the limits of automatic translators, I have only the vaguest idea of what it says.)

Radio note

Tonight between 7 and 8 pm Eastern I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Business Talk Radio, talking about financial history, previous election years and so on. You can find a local radio station at the network's website, or listen to it live there, or listen to the podcast later on.

UPDATE 3/25: The interview is also available here.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Greg Mankiw has an encounter with anonymous libertarian purism.

Greenspan looks ahead

Alan Greenspan thinks the current financial crisis is likely the worst since World War II. (Whether that translates into worst economic crisis, he doesn't say.) But he also makes this interesting point:
The contraction phase of credit and business cycles, driven by fear, have historically been far shorter and far more abrupt than the expansion phase, which is driven by a slow but cumulative build-up of euphoria.
In other words, get ready -- the crisis may be over before you know it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Really, leave us alone

In the New York Post, Ryan Sager reviews Grover Norquist's Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives. Excerpt from the review:
What's more, it seems rather spurious to include today's Religious Right under the rubric of the Leave Me Alone Coalition. If conservative religious voters were only after the right to homeschool, then, sure, it'd be fair enough. But today's Religious Right is hell-bent, above all else, on writing discrimination against gays into the Constitution - overriding states that have begun to move toward accommodating gay relationships with either civil unions or full-fledged marriage. They are, in fact, the ones who need to learn to leave others alone.
A viable leave-us-alone coalition these days would include elements of the center (such as deficit hawks) and exclude interventionist parts of the religious right. Professional right-wingers like Norquist are slow to see that, though.

Bush, child of the '60s

David Frum makes a very good point in his post on "A Broken Presidency":

President Bush insisted that his top priority was to help transform the "if it feels good do it" culture bequeathed by the 1960s to a personal responsibility culture: that was the main theme of the first conversation I ever had with him. Yet in practice, he chose to finance his war in exactly the same irresponsible way that Lyndon Johnson financed his - and with the same result, an acceleration of inflation and a dollar crisis.

Defenseless anti-patriotism

George Kateb at Cato Unbound makes a libertarian case against patriotism, concluding:

If no one were a patriot, the world would be better off than it now is, when almost all are patriots. Theorists shouldn’t join in.
Kateb's anti-patriotism is similar to, and effectively amounts to, pacifism, and bears that doctrine's fatal flaw; it doesn't work unless everybody embraces it, which won't happen anytime soon, if ever. Patriotism can be a spur to aggression, and also the only safeguard against aggression. A country with some degree of freedom but no patriotism won't have that freedom very long.

Mammoth pyramids

Caught the movie 10,000 BC last night. Here's an excerpt of the review at IO9:
In 10,000 BC, you've got Egyptian pyramids being built by guys using woolly mammoths. I mean, it's the goddamn ice age, and then our main character walks over a hill and suddenly he's in the Nile Valley of 2,000 BC? And these anachronistic bad guy Egyptians (from the ice age) have got ships, horseback riding, and freakin STEEL. Steel? C'mon, guys, you couldn't even consult Wikipedia? I mean, why not just call the movie 2,000 BC and make it about ancient Egypt? Or keep it in 10,000 BC and come up with some other kind of bad guys? Jeezus.
I enjoyed it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Extreme Mars

For those who haven't gotten enough reading lately about Ultimate Fighting, I offer these unusually obscure works of speculative fiction:

Extreme Mars

Extreme Mars 2: Red World of Pain

Unfortunately, there have been no further installments.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Science pork immortality

Physicist Bob Park, in his "What's New" column:
McCain, Obama and Clinton voted for the bill to ban earmarking, but only 26 other senators joined them. The plague of earmarking is out of control, and is at least partly responsible for the budget disaster that struck science this year. It's always been there, but 30 years it was largely confined to public-works projects such as sewers. It expanded into academic pork in the eighties. Many influential scientists cheered because it meant more money for science; What's New took a lot of flak for opposing the practice.
I interviewed Park for an Insight magazine article on earmarks way back in 1993.

Not so regulatory

An interesting comment here on the question of whether John McCain is an "instinctive regulator." More on the topic here.

Solar plan

A sweeping vision of solar power in America, described in Scientific American recently, now has its own website.

Surreal estate

If I were in the housing market in Tennessee right now, I'd be looking hard at this house.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cheap-energy conservatives

John Hood wants conservatives to campaign as partisans of cheap energy:
Conservatives should welcome the opportunity to elevate energy as an election issue. The best strategy to follow isn't dissimilar from using the tax issue to distinguish candidates and as a proxy for broader concerns about government size and intrusiveness. Put it to the voters clearly: My opponent wants to raise your electric bill and your gas prices, with higher taxes, more regulations, and more wasteful subsidies to corrupt special-interest groups. I will stop him, and work to cut your electric bill and your gas prices.
First, do conservatives campaign as advocates of cheap money, promising low interest rates and easy loans? No, because they (generally) understand that such policies have pernicious consequences. Cheap energy is similar. It's instant gratification that causes long-term problems.

Second, there isn't necessarily a clear-cut choice between free-market cheap energy and government-mandated expensive energy. A lot of government action past and present has been aimed at keeping energy prices low, with price controls, hidden subsidies and so on.

Third, even as a matter of crass politics, "I will work to cut your electric bill and your gas prices" is a likely loser. Energy is a declining portion of GDP, so economically people are less vulnerable to high energy costs than ever before, which probably is a factor in growing enthusiasm for environmental causes.

A candidate who says "I support a carbon tax, along with an end to the ethanol subsidy and to other measures that do little to improve our economy or environment" would be more deserving of votes, and just possibly more likely to get them.

Gore refueling

John Derbyshire points to a Gore '08 bumper sticker. But it's on a car that doesn't get particularly good mileage.

History's end

Abe Greenwald comments on Europeans predicting American decline, plus an exchange with me in the comments.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Futile fusillade of feudalism

That's what I would call Matthew Yglesias's latest argument against McCain:
There are two ways to conceive of a military establishment's proper relationship to civilian society. On one account, the military exists in order to make civilian society possible.... On another account, civilian society exists in order to make the military establishment possible.... The former conception is what's generally deemed to express the values of a democracy or a republic. The latter conception is what you have in a feudal system.
One way of understanding John McCain's oft-expressed hostility to politicians, his condescending attitude toward businessmen, and his frequent attacks on selfishness and individualism is as expressing that more aristocratic conception....
Question: Did feudal lords usually ride around in a bus and take questions from the serfs?

Dangerous Beauty

While some may make jokes about high-class courtesans, I commend to you an excellent movie about one.

Don't watch

I'm working at home today, and this post by Megan McArdle just reminded me I should keep the TV off. Not looking at political blogs would probably be a good idea, too.

UPDATE: OK, I watched some of it. And while I'm pleased to see Spitzer gone, Albany will remain plenty dysfunctional without him. I wrote about the NY State Legislature's political culture 13 years ago, and not very much has changed.

Political chaos

Todd Seavey slices and dices the political spectrum so many different ways that by the end you'll have forgotten which side you were supposed to be on.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Meanwhile near Saturn

Cassini is about to have a close flyby of the moon Enceladus. The mission controllers are blogging it.

Albany limbo

Some guy in New York state is taking a while to resign. Maybe he's worried about the job market.

Green mechanics needed

Glenn Reynolds points to a post by Sebastian Blanco asking "Will the green car revolution bring about the end of local mechanics and garages?" There happens to be a solid, straight-shooting mechanic around the corner from us -- and we don't use him, because our hybrid requires specialized equipment and knowledge at the dealer. I think over time the locals will be competitive in this kind of thing, though. And you'll know the green revolution is really taking off when hobbyists start getting into it the way they did with rudimentary computers in the '70s.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Traffic patterns

Most Americans don't read political blogs. That's no surprise. In fact, I'm a bit surprised that as many as 1 in 5 adults actually do read political blogs regularly.

As for my (semi-political) blog, I've been analyzing my traffic figures, and find that a not-insignificant portion of the people who show up here do so looking for mentions of:

--Clinton Road in West Milford, NJ.

--The Wovel.

--The WSSH300 washing machine.

--McCain Blogette.

--Basque painted forest.

--Giant tortoises mating.

April mission

Via Phil Plait, here's South Korea's first astronaut. She reminds me a bit of someone.

Early '70s parallels

Gerald P. O'Driscoll Jr. in the WSJ today seems immune to '70s nostalgia:
The 1970s was a decade of stagflation -- the concurrence of a rising inflation rate and stagnant economic growth. The U.S. economy has not now reached the double-digit inflation rate (almost 15% by 1981), or the 9% unemployment rate, experienced back then. But the early '70s, not the decade's end, offer the more ominous parallels to today's situation.
Not going back to the '70s economy should be a central theme of John McCain's campaign, but so far he hasn't emphasized it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tax simplification abroad

Tax simplification is under way in the U.K. and India. How about here?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Climate "poison"

The following stands out as an example of gaseous hyperbole:

Picking your poison [Drew Thornley]
One of the comments from the Heartland climate change conference that stood out to me came from Vladimir Putin’s former chief economic advisor Andrei Illarionov, now an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

During the question/answer portion of a panel that discussed cap-and-trade vs. carbon taxes, Illarionov rhetorically asked: if given the choice, would you rather be hanged or shot at the hands at Stalin. His answer: Neither! Whether killed in private (the hidden tax of cap-and-trade) or in public (the direct carbon tax), either way, you’re dead.

Illarionov’s point was that, no matter how you slice it, regulating CO2 is lethal to an economy. Instead of weighing the pros and cons of cap-and-trade versus carbon taxes, opt for neither.

Good plan -- stop thinking about pros and cons, or evidence, or the bias of the quoted source, or simple good taste. Just throw out some overstated rhetoric and a ludicrous Stalin analogy and call it a day.

Not such an iceman

Virginia Postrel, whom I'm glad to see back blogging, points to Jonathan Chait's New Republic article on McCain's supposedly iceman-like political calculations. It has some interesting material, but I find more compelling the first comment, by one Derannimer:

How was the big leftward shift after 2000 supposed to be politically advantageous? I mean, say you're John McCain, and you just got crushed in SC et al for not being conservative enough, and you want to run for president again. It seems to me that either you deliberately plan to switch over to the Dems, and then actually do it, or you put your head down and spend the next 4-8 years becoming the most reliable conservative in the Senate. What you don't do is tack wildly to the left for the first couple years, thereby pissing off everyone in your party, but simultaneously refuse to actually make the switch to Dem, thereby preventing your new positions from doing you any real good; and then spend the next several years tacking wildly back to the right. As you observe, it's his positions right after 2000 that are causing him so much grief now. If he's a coldly cunning strategist, he's not actually very good at it. Besides which, it's not just that he does things which tick off the party, and might benefit him politically; he also does things which tick off locals, and don't seem to benefit him at all. What was the grand thought behind opposing the disaster-fund-whatever-thingy in FL? He dang near lost FL. What was the thought behind telling the Michiganners they weren't getting their jobs back? He did lose MI. If you ask me, Matt Yglesias' characterisation of McCain as 'flighty', or Matt Welch's discussion of McCain's quasi-religious hyper-nationalism (Welch has a great interview on bloggingheads) are both more convincing than the calculating Iceman hypothesis.

As I said in my original "endorsement," McCain has some big-government tendencies I dislike. I also think he's by far the best bet for limiting government among any of the people who were or are running this year.

UPDATE: And yes, I do include in the above "any of the people" the ridiculous Ron Paul, whose spending plans were only 5 percent lower than McCain's, and whose views on immigration and social issues had little to do with limiting government.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Doomsday scenarios

Recommended weekend viewing: "Killer Asteroids, Killer Robots, and Killing Killer Pathogens."

Science fair pics

Being an optimist, I suspect some of these 41 Hilarious Science Fair Experiments are better than they look. (Hat tip: Julian Sanchez.)

McCain Blogette

Just one of many reasons I'm pleased McCain is the nominee:

The Blogette marches on for another eight months.

My earlier notice here.

"Green slime dreams"

Someday pond scum just may save civilization. Here's a roundup of startups working on the possibilities of fuel derived from algae.

McGovern's the one

Making good sense on mortgages, health care and payday lending.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Algae air

Good news: Airlines are competing to be first to fly an aircraft with algae-derived fuel.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Carbon tax posterity

The following is "clearly true" only if you view a carbon tax in isolation from the tax cuts made possible by the carbon-tax revenues:
While many environmentalists focus on mitigation (cutting greenhouse gas emissions), many of the economists who spoke at the conference argued that adaptation through wealth creation is the better strategy. Policies aimed at reducing energy consumption to mitigate man-made global warming would likely result in a poorer, less technologically adept future in which future generations would be less able to address the problems caused by climate change. This is clearly true and as a reluctant proponent of a carbon tax, I am painfully aware of this trade-off.
As John Locke Foundation economist Roy Cordato explained: "A higher tax today means lower production and output of goods and services tomorrow, making future generations materially worse off. In setting a carbon tax you must show that future generations would value the problems solved by reduced global warming more than they would value the goods and services that were foregone." He argued it's not possible to know the preferences of future generations, but providing them with more wealth and better technologies will give them more options to express whatever preferences they have.
How about providing them with more wealth and better technologies by cutting taxes on capital gains, dividends, etc., while taxing carbon?

Final Theory

Some Einsteinian fiction I look forward to reading: Final Theory: A Novel. It's by Mark Alpert, colleague from my part-time work at Scientific American. Read more about it here and here.

That '70s inflation

In the Financial Times, Martin Wolf writes on "Life in a tough new world of higher commodity prices":
Soaring commodity prices, rising headline inflation and weakening economic growth: for those whose memories stretch back to the 1970s, this combination brings painful memories. It reminds them of the mistakes made by the central banks that accommodated the upsurge in inflationary expectations rather than contained them. Inflation was finally brought back under control in the early 1980s. But the costs of letting it escape were huge. Could we be making the same mistakes again?
Yes, we could. Though one positive factor is that enough people do remember the 1970s as to now limit public enthusiasm for loose monetary policy as an economic cure. For me, inflation is a bad memory from a '70s childhood, much like the same decade's demonic-possession craze.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Yes to federalism, but...

Jim Manzi has a thought-provoking post at The Corner. I agree with his concluding paragraph, but am less enthused by some of what leads up to it. First, the conclusion:

We live in an imperfect world. Ironically, given the deeply anti-utopian orientation of Hayek and Popper, contemporary Libertarianism has veered off into increasingly utopian speculations disconnected from the practical realities that ought to animate it. At the same time, the Conservative movement has become increasingly ideological about enforcing moral norms. Both could learn a lot from re-engaging with one another.

Here's some of what comes earlier:

A central insight of Hayek, Popper & Co. was that our ignorance of human society runs deep. We need the experimentation of an open society not only because different people often want different things, but even more importantly because we’re never sure what works. I generally support, for example, a high degree of legal toleration of behavior that I find personally objectionable. I recognize, though, that others believe that what I think should be tolerated goes too far and threatens social cohesion, or what Buckley called morale. How do we resolve this impasse?

Here's where I become less convinced:

The best answer for conservatives or libertarians is federalism, or more precisely, subsidiarity – the principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest competent authority. After all, a typical American lives in a state that is a huge political entity governing millions of people. As many decisions as possible ought to be made by counties, towns, neighborhoods and families (in which parents have significant coercive rights over children). In this way, not only can different preferences be met, but we can learn from experience how various social arrangements perform.

We shouldn't exalt the "smallest competent authority." I wouldn't want to live in a country where local sheriffs have significant power over, say, freedom of speech -- and where if you're not happy about the local gag rules, your recourse is to move to a more speech-friendly county or state. Federalism requires taking seriously the federal Bill of Rights.

Manzi writes:
Now, obviously, there are limits to this. What if some states want to allow human chattel slavery? Well, we had a civil war to rule that out of bounds. Further, this imposes trade-offs on people who happen to live in some family, town or state that limits behavior in some way that they find odious, and must therefore move to some other location or be repressed. But this is a trade-off, not a tyranny.
We'd better make sure the limits to subsidiarity stop way short of chattel slavery.

We must stop these anomalies

If there is a science debate, I hope someone will ask the candidates what they're going to do about the unexplained force acting on our space probes.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Avalanches on Mars

But with a little grooming, the area might have good skiing someday.

Saturday, March 1, 2008