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Monday, June 30, 2008

Battlestar cards

Well, I finally found an aspect of Battlestar Galactica in which I have zero interest at most. It's the Battlestar Galactica Collectable [sic] Card Game, complete with rules so complicated you'll want to hire a CPA to read them for you. I'm not surprised to learn the game's been discontinued.

Hero of the American taxpayer!

That Alaska Rep. Don Young, champion of the "Bridge to Nowhere," is getting a "hero of the American taxpayer" award from Americans for Tax Reform and several other groups, is as clear a piece of evidence as anyone could want that some of Washington's "free market" groups are all about insider politics and have as little interest in taxpayers as they do in intellectual honesty. (Via Radley Balko.)

Obama still vague

Obama plans to "initiate reforms" to "address the whole debt industry." Virginia Postrel asks what the hell that means, and also where Obama stands on California's anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative. But it may be that vagueness is what the people want this year.

UPDATE 7/1: Obama has come out against the initiative.

UPDATE 7/2: And I'm sorry to report that McCain has announced he's for it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ringwood hike

Recommended hiking: Ringwood Manor to Shepherd Lake, and back, in Ringwood State Park. A mostly uphill trek on the way in, shorter walk on the way back. Then we did a tour of the manor, avoiding any steps on the historic carpets in our hiking boots.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mostly ballroom

Last night's Dance Among the Stars, an annual event organized by Fred Astaire Dance Studio on Manhattan's West Side to benefit the High School of Arts, Imagination and Inquiry, was quite successful, notwithstanding a few audio glitches. The audience, which includes many high school students, is enthusiastic (especially when there's a grope or, better yet, spank in the choreography). A year ago, we performed our wedding dance there, which was valuable in preventing any stage fright at our wedding a few months later. Being just spectators this time around was easier, though.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hiking reading

This book has a lot of intriguing ideas for hiking in north Jersey and elsewhere: Hiking the Road to Ruins: Day Trips and Camping Adventures to Iron Mines, Old Military Sites, and Things Abandoned in the New York City Area...and Beyond. With luck, I'll find time in the near future to go to the (currently partly closed) Hasenclever Iron Trail, among other destinations.

Hard-work conservatism

David Brooks has some praise for Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, which I reviewed for the New York Post, and for reform-minded conservatism more generally. As Brooks says:
This is not compassionate conservatism (which flattered the mind of the compassionate donor), it’s hard-work conservatism, which uses government to increase the odds that self-discipline and effort will pay off.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Light and mirrors

We went to see the MOMA exhibit of Olafur Eliasson, whose waterfalls begin in the East River tonight. There were some interesting things, such as:

--A creepy yellow light (low-pressure sodium) in which everyone looks bad and (at least initially) feels uncomfortable; somehow it made me feel I was a Cylon.
--Dichroic glass hanging from a chandelier stand, casting differently colored shadows on the wall depending on the angles of the light and viewer.
--A cascade of water droplets set against strobe lights; not recommended for people with epilepsy or heart conditions.
--"Wall eclipse": a rotating mirror suspended from the ceiling, casting a shadow across the entirety of a rear wall once per minute.

The exhibit, called "Take Your Time," ends on June 30.

Barr effect on Reason

David Weigel lavishes some uncritical attention on Bob Barr and seems pleased by the "Barr effect," e.g., the Libertarian's apparent prospect of throwing Alaska to Obama. Barr is quoted at length saying things like "With regards to the philosophy generally, my philosophy is a much smaller government, much greater personal freedoms, dramatically reducing the size, the scope, the power of the federal government," blah blah blah.

I think one Barr effect is the continuing decline of critical faculties at Reason. That this thoroughgoing social conservative and anti-immigration hard-liner (with a poor record on fiscal conservatism) should be getting an enthusiastic reception at the magazine of "free minds and free markets" suggests that McCain Derangement Syndrome has reached an advanced stage over there, and/or that they've concluded their own circulation numbers require pandering to their more illiberal readers.

String theory explained

Coming soon: The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory, by George Musser, my friend and colleague from my part-time work at Scientific American. If anyone can make sense of this subject for a general audience, it's George.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eighties stocks

My Research magazine piece on "The Roaring '80s" in the stock market is online. Excerpt:

It was August 17, 1982, and Dr. Doom had changed his mind.

Economist Henry Kaufman, then at Salomon Brothers, had come to be known by the comic-book moniker for his gloomy but influential forecasts of spiraling interest rates and inflation. But now he released a morning memo predicting that interest rates would decline over the coming year and “inflation expectations will erode gradually.”

That was about all that was needed to send both stocks and bonds into a rally that day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained a record 38.81 points to close at 831.24. The next day, for the first time ever, more than 100 million shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange. And by the end of 1982, the Dow had surged past the 1,000 line and was not looking back.

The roaring eighties had begun.

Bob Barr border bombast

In case you thought that Bob Barr's various policy conversions include some change in his immigration stance, he's circulated a letter to show he stills wants a crackdown:

We’re facing a “new” crisis: BORDER SECURITY.

But really, this is the same crisis we faced last year at this time, when Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy tried to push their “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” bill on us—supported by Senator Barack Obama!

The American people were able to STOP the McCain-Kennedy bill—but will we be able to stop PRESIDENT McCain (or PRESIDENT Obama) from pushing it through again?

We need to send a strong message to both the Republicans AND the Democrats, to let them know that WE MEAN BUSINESS when it comes to securing the border!

Well, at least the all-caps button on Barr's keyboard is working. Here by the way is what the Libertarian Party supposedly stands for on immigration, as stated on its website:
When large numbers of otherwise decent people routinely violate a law, the law itself is probably the problem. To argue that illegal immigration is bad merely because it is illegal avoids the threshold question of whether we should prohibit this kind of immigration in the first place.

Non-Vulcan

Is Obama's alter ego Spock? I doubt it. Or rather, I'll believe it when Obama says something like: "We must acknowledge once and for all that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Museum morning

I finally got around to visiting the Museum of American Finance, and was sufficiently impressed to become a member. I'd recommend it for various people, but it would be a particularly good educational experience for those who invest in dark tales about "international bankers."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sam's Club self-help manual

Noam Scheiber has an interesting piece at The New Republic on Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Gov. and possible McCain running mate. It gives me a favorable impression of Pawlenty, even if inadvertently. Consider this part, which Scheiber means as a criticism:
Pawlenty may genuinely want to ease the strain on working people. But what he's selling them is a self-help manual, albeit in language they can relate to. It's not the party of Sam's Club per se--but of moving from Sam's Club to the country club in ten simple steps.
So, trying to foster upward mobility is a bad thing? Better that "working people" should know their place, be angry about it, and vote Democratic, perhaps?

Powers of Staten Island

Francis H. Powers, Republican candidate for Congress in Staten Island, died on Sunday morning. His son, Francis M. Powers, has been running in the same race as the Libertarian candidate (and attended the recent Bob Barr debate). How that electoral contest will pan out, I would not venture to guess.

UPDATE: I had missed the news that Susan Overeem, who was also at the Lolita Bar debate, edged out Francis M. Powers for the Libertarian nomination.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gerald R. McCain

Reason has a sadly uninspired cartoon showing Gerald Ford as McCain and Jimmy Carter as Obama. But insofar as McCain is in the Ford tradition, that's mostly a good thing. I'll quote briefly from my recent Research piece on the seventies:

President Gerald Ford inherited a dilapidated economy and a demoralized nation. As he took office, inflation had moved into double digits, and economic growth was stalled. Early in his tenure, he held an economic summit, getting advice from various experts and asking the public to send him ideas on how to conserve energy and restrain prices....

In early 1975, the stock market started moving up, and by the second quarter the economy was growing again. Inflation, which had peaked in late 1974, was back in single digits, though still high by historical standards. In early 1976, the Dow pushed above the 900 line, and before long it was sporadically closing above the 1,000 level. Inflation continued to fall, dropping to the vicinity of 6 percent. The administration’s focus on restraining federal spending seemed to be doing some good.

UPDATE: A few blog posts later, Nick Gillespie has the nerve to criticize somebody else for running a rotten editorial cartoon.

Old Right news

Recommended reading: Christopher Hitchens on Patrick Buchanan on World War II. Excerpt:
Winston Churchill may well have been on the wrong side about India, about the gold standard, about the rights of labor and many other things, and he may have had a lust for war, but we may also be grateful that there was one politician in the 1930s who found it intolerable even to breathe the same air, or share the same continent or planet, as the Nazis. (Buchanan of course makes plain that he rather sympathizes with Churchill about the colonies, and quarrels only with his "finest hour." This is grotesque.) As he closes his argument, Buchanan again refuses to disguise his allegiance. "Though derided as isolationists," he writes, "the America First patriots kept the United States out of the war until six months after Hitler had invaded Russia." If you know anything at all about what happened to the population of those territories in those six months, it is rather hard to be proud that America was neutral. But this is a price that Buchanan is quite willing to pay.
By the way, in case you're wondering why the Lew Rockwell types don't revere Churchill for reinstating the gold standard in Britain, it's because he set it at an incorrect level. Presumably, Ron Paul or some other such technocrat would do better.

Dancing from Genesis

Having taken a look at this unreadable blog, I wonder if there's any connection between being a young-Earth creationist and writing some of the world's longest and least coherent headlines.

Solstice moon

Makes for a dramatic Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Unadulterated nonsense

Ross Douthat, whose new book I recently gave a largely favorable review, is now defending the ludicrous idea stated by a Fox "sexpert" that "using porn, at least beyond a magazine like Playboy, is the equivalent of having an actual affair." Here's Douthat:
Is there any similarity between "having an actual affair" and having sex with a prostitute while you're married? I think most people would answer yes. Then consider: Is there any similarity between having sex with a prostitute while you're married and paying to watch a prostitute perform sexual acts for your voyeuristic gratification? Again, I think a lot of people would say yes: There's a distinction, obviously, but I don't think all that many spouses would be inclined to forgive their husbands (or wives) if they explained that they only liked to watch the prostitute they'd hired. And hard-core porn, in turn, is nothing more than an indirect way of paying someone to fulfill the same sort of voyeuristic fantasies: It's prostitution in all but name, filtered through middlemen, magazine editors, and high-speed internet connections. Is it as grave a betrayal as cheating on your spouse with a co-worker? Not at all. But is it on a moral continuum with adultery? I don't think it's insane to say yes.
Three comments:
(1) Each of the scenarios Douthat mentions is different from the others. These differences are cumulative. It's like saying that punching someone is similar to cutting them with a piece of glass, which is similar to stabbing them with a knife, which is similar to blowing their brains out. By the end, you've made a pretty big leap.
(2) Douthat apparently knows this, because he hedges his bets at the end by saying these things are on the same "moral continuum." But the original contention, which Julian Sanchez rightly labeled "obviously insane," was that porn and an affair are equivalent.
(3) Does Douthat's condemnation apply to cases where the spouse knows about the porn? What about if they look at it together -- is that equivalent to having group sex? Just asking!

UPDATE: I have another question: Is going to see a movie about a murder on the same "moral continuum" as murdering somebody?

The surrounded property owner, redux

In a recent post criticizing anarchocapitalism, I raised the possibility of an individual whose neighbor(s) won't allow transit across their property, and thus effectively keep that person prisoner. Here's Murray Rothbard on the question (criticizing Robert Nozick's belief that such cases require a proviso limiting property rights):
One example of Nozick's sanctioning aggression against property rights is his concern with the private landowner who is surrounded by enemy landholders who won't let him leave. To the libertarian reply that any rational landowner would have first purchased access rights from surrounding owners, Nozick brings up the problem of being surrounded by such a set of numerous enemies that he still would not be able to go anywhere. But the point is that this is not simply a problem of landownership. Not only in the free society, but even now, suppose that one man is so hated by the whole world that no one will trade with him or allow him on their property. Well, then, the only reply is that this is his own proper assumption of risk. Any attempt to break that voluntary boycott by physical coercion is illegitimate aggression against the boycotters' rights. This fellow had better find some friends, or at least purchase allies, as quickly as possible.
Rothbard's response strikes me as utterly lame. In the anarchocapitalist scenario, it wouldn't require the whole world to be against you -- just one or a handful of neighboring property owners. Thus, it would be vastly more likely that someone's freedom to, say, walk across town would be trampled under anarchocapitalism than under a system that has public streets. I'm not sure what an anarchocapitalist system would maximize, but it isn't freedom.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bowery Wine event

Here's some hilarious performance art on the theme of "Gentrification is genocide." Actually, it's intended as a serious protest, but that's what makes it funny. (Via Alarming News.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

No donkeys here

The controversy over Judge Alex Kozinski's stash of NSFW photos strikes me as badly overblown. I just hope no one goes after me after finding out that this blog attracts people searching for catwoman fetish.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Battlestar questions

Critic Alan Sepinwall has an absorbing in-depth discussion of last night's Battlestar episode, including a list of yet-unanswered questions such as about the identity of the final cylon. I'd add this question: Are you sure that was the Brooklyn Bridge?

UPDATE: More here, including a Brooklyn Bridge photo comparison.

Friday, June 13, 2008

No, not weird at all

Here's some news from Canada: Gnostics provide insight on alleged Manipulative Extraterrestrial "Trojan horses" operating against human free will.

But the really notable part is that Richard Hoagland, described as having "documented connections between ancient structures on the landscape of the planet mars and the ruins of ancient civilizations on Earth" recently addressed the Libertarian Party convention in Denver.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Visiting the sun

NASA has a plan:
At closest approach, Solar Probe+ will be 7 million km or 9 solar radii from the sun. There, the spacecraft's carbon-composite heat shield must withstand temperatures greater than 1400o C and survive blasts of radiation at levels not experienced by any previous spacecraft. Naturally, the probe is solar powered; it will get its electricity from liquid-cooled solar panels that can retract behind the heat-shield when sunlight becomes too intense. From these near distances, the Sun will appear 23 times wider than it does in the skies of Earth.
(Via SciAm long-timer Michael Battaglia.)

Empire, shmempire

Andrew Sullivan persists in using the loaded word empire to describe a possible enduring U.S. military presence in Iraq. But overseas military bases, agreed to by an emerging foreign democracy, do not in themselves equal empire, at least as the term is normally understood to suggest coercion and exploitation.

It may be, as Thomas Madden argues in his interesting new book Empires of Trust: How Rome Built--and America Is Building--a New World, that the U.S. has consensual alliances reminiscent of the Roman Republic's alliances -- an "empire of trust" as opposed to an "empire of conquest" or an "empire of commerce." But there is no such nuance in Sullivan's overheated accusations.

Finally reading Final Theory

Current reading: Final Theory: A Novel by my friend and part-time colleague Mark Alpert. I attended the book party last night at a gallery on the Upper East Side, with an overflow crowd. I smell bestseller.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Barr bar debate -- the video

Here's video of me and Avery Knapp doing our closing remarks at the June 4 debate, on whether conservatives and libertarians should vote for Barr or McCain, with Bob Barr in attendance. The video includes the vote.

More videos, with Barr's remarks after the debate, are here.

Rusalka

We spent the weekend in the Cleveland area, and saw the Dvorak opera Rusalka at Severance Hall. A bit of a bummer, that story, in which a water nymph falls in love but gets converted into a demon of death. But that's the way it goes sometimes.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bob Barr, prescription drugs, and me

So, it was an interesting Debate at Lolita Bar. As was rumored in advance, Bob Barr himself showed up as I argued against his presidential campaign. Thus, he got a chance to heckle me, the crowd was raucous and packed with libertarian purist wannabees, and I lost the vote against my estimable debating opponent, Avery Knapp, by a 2-1 margin. A good time was had by all.

I stated in my presentation that Bob Barr had voted for the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, and Barr called out "I wasn't even in Congress then. Do your research." I then asked if he'd ever supported the legislation and he was oddly silent. I'd first heard about Barr's stand on the issue from a post by Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO and I hadn't seen this follow-up:
Rep. Bob Barr and Entitlements [Ramesh Ponnuru]
Earlier, I noted that Rep. Barr had voted to create a prescription-drug entitlement in Medicare. Clark Stooksbury points out that Barr had left Congress before the bill passed in 2003. That's correct. But Barr was still in Congress in 2002, and he voted for the idea then. (I phrased the post a bit clumsily, so it sounded as though I were claiming that Barr had voted for the bill in 2003.)
So again, I will point out to my libertarian purist friends that their nemesis, John McCain, voted against the Medicare expansion, and their new hero, Bob Barr, backed the idea.

Video of the event may be available soon. I'll keep you updated.

UPDATE: I'm told the video is of poor quality, and getting it online will take some time. But whenever it is ready, readers of this blog will be among the first to know.

UPDATE 6/9: Video here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Presidential contenders 2040


I thought readers might enjoy seeing the image that Research magazine created for my article on "What Will Taxes Be Like (in 2038)?" That's "the likely Democratic nominee, Chelsea Clinton," and "the octogenarian Republican incumbent, Bruce Willis."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bob Barr bar basement bout

Reminder: The Debate at Lolita Bar, in which I say "No" to "Should conservatives and libertarians vote for Barr instead of McCain?" is this Wednesday, June 4, at 8pm. Could be interesting....

UPDATE 6/9: Video here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hamilton Grange

Alexander Hamilton's house is being moved.

More here.

UPDATE: Scientific American has chosen to delete its "community" section, so the link above will not work.

More NJ wildflowers and wildlife

In addition to the previous post, here are some more pictures from Norvin Green State Forest, Ringwood, NJ.

Mountain laurel in bloom:




Deerberries:



Toad:


I've posted more at Scientific American Community. (Photo credits: C.B.C.S.)

UPDATE: Scientific American has chosen to delete its "community" section, so the link above will not work.