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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Meanwhile on Mars

Some nice pictures from the Opportunity rover. And I can't tell what that thing in the distance is -- it looks like a Volkswagen.

"Domestic military intervention"

Newsmax is apparently trying to outcompete WorldNetDaily for the title of stupidest and craziest right-wing publication.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Purple garden, Mohonk

At Mohonk Mountain House, this year's garden theme is "dark and stormy," with lots of purples and dark reds, along with an oversized chessboard.






Monday, September 28, 2009

Safire (1929-2009)

One of my idols has passed away. Rest in Peace, William Safire. If it weren't for him, it's entirely plausible I would never have been a journalist or a libertarian conservative "libcon."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Surrogates soon

Next on my list of films to see: Surrogates. At Scientific American, George Musser notes that the movie touches on various tech-related human issues, including "how comment boards lower the standards of civility."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Delayed discovery

As if Cassini hadn't proven its value at Saturn (and flying by Jupiter), it turns out it also collected lunar data that corroborates the new findings of water on the moon, and nobody knew it.

Beck flameout watch

I don't know what this frog thing is about and I don't care. What I wonder is how long before Glenn Beck shows up with a backwards swastika on his face, or in some other such predicament, when his career goes the same way as Morton Downey, Jr.'s.

Financial bookshelf

In anticipation of future writings on the Fed and related subjects, I've acquired a growing collection of relevant books. Here's some recent, current and prospective reading:

Finished reading:

The Road Ahead for the Fed, multiple authors.

Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened the Financial Crisis, by John B. Taylor.

The Case Against the Fed, by Murray Rothbard.

Partly read/in progress:

After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street and Washington, by Nicole Gelinas.

Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-1939, by Barry Eichengreen.

Will read sometime soon:

In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic, by David Wessel.

This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, by Carmen N. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff.

A few thoughts: Eichengreen should be read by anyone who thinks we need the gold standard back, and has much to say on different types of gold standards. Rothbard presents much the same view as Ron Paul's End the Fed (about which readers may already know what I think) but, interestingly (and unlike Paul), ends with insistence on a gold-coin standard, seemingly in recognition that any kind of paper or electronic money merely backed by gold retains a credibility problem. Which leaves me to wonder how a modern economy could run on coins.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pee-wee Herman and the Fed

Interesting. These are the current top searches on Yahoo:

Pee-wee Herman
Federal Reserve
Bruce Springsteen
Sweet Valley High
Eastwick
Gisele Bundchen
Mahmoud Ahmadinej…
See You at the Po…
Dalai Lama
Airline Passenger

What you owe

Take a look here and click on the charts (pdf).

And hoping the government will collapse and the debt get repudiated is not a good plan.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saturnine thoughts

Lots of good Saturn material available today. Some pictures from the Cassini orbiter here, and a profile of Carolyn Porco, who heads the Cassini camera team, here. To think that some people wanted to scrap that spacecraft based on improbable scenarios and hyped-up radiation-phobia...

Nigerian backlash

"'District 9' depiction angers some Nigerians." Excerpt:

"Why do they want to denigrate Nigerians as criminals, cannibals and prostitutes who sleep with extra-terrestrial animals?" said Dora Akunyili, information minister. "We've had enough with the stereotypes they have branded us with ... we are not going to sit back and allow people to stigmatize us."

The movie will not be shown in Nigeria unless Sony apologizes and edits out any references to the country, she said.

On the other hand, at least the movie didn't accuse Nigerians of having government censorship.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dance review

I just voted for Tom Delay on Dancing with the Stars. For dancing technique, it may have been merely adequate, but as political theater, it was brilliant.

More gold

For those who were didn't get enough dissension about the gold standard here, try here and here.

Flying armadillo

Armadillo Aerospace, contestant for NASA's million-dollar Lunar Lander Competition prize, has some great videos of its spacecraft in action. (Via Bad Astronomy.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beck ideology watch

There's a dispute between David Frum and David Horowitz on the question of whether Glenn Beck shares many of Ron Paul's views. Horowitz denounces Paul as an isolationist, but demands evidence that Beck is similar. So, here's Beck last month talking to Ron Paul's son Rand:
I disagree with your father on a few things, but I will tell you that I am becoming more and more libertarian on things like defense. I have always been a guy who believes in fight big, fight hard, and then come home. But I have also believed in a big footprint of the United States, because somebody's got to hold this thing together. That was a mistaken belief of mine. I have grown past that and I'm growing past it quickly. For instance, Germany, protect your own self. I could see us pulling everybody back. I'd like to see putting people who are currently serving in Germany on the border. But what do I know? ...
Notwithstanding some vagueness, it does suggest a Beck-Paul affinity on foreign policy. Also, Beck's question at the end is spot-on.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Romney wins by losing

I've been liking Mitt Romney more and more lately. Here are two more reasons. One, he lost a straw poll among social conservatives. And two, in speaking to them, he kept his priorities in order:

Huckabee won the straw poll Saturday, grabbing nearly 29 percent of the vote. Romney, Pawlenty, Palin and Pence each won roughly 12 percent of the 597 votes cast.

Just four of the eight prospective GOP standard-bearers spoke at the three-day conference: Romney, Pence, Huckabee, and Pawlenty. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who will speak later Saturday, earlier asked that his name be removed from the straw poll ballot.

Despite the makeup of the crowd, Romney's speech was relatively light on social issues, focusing instead on economic and security policy.

Algae car

At Scientific American, where I was freelancing yesterday, we got a visit from Algaeus, a car powered by a mix of algae fuel and gasoline plus electric battery. It gets about 150 miles per gallon. Someday pond scum may save civilization. UPDATE: Take a look (at the battery).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Paganism: Gingrich still worried

A few months ago, I criticized -- not without some mocking -- Newt Gingrich's warning that "We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism." Yet I harbored some vague hope that Gingrich might have been indulging in some transient (and expedient) rhetorical excess. Not so. He's still talking about the purported paganism problem:
I think our country is in a great struggle, and it’s something that Paul wrote about frequently. Paul wrote about a world where there was paganism. That’s where we are. A number of people with great social prestige think that paganism is a reasonable way of life. They like to think that they’re unique, but they’re not.
Now let's turn to the Merriam Webster online dictionary:

Main Entry: pa·gan
Pronunciation: \ˈpā-gən\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin paganus, from Latin, civilian, country dweller, from pagus country district; akin to Latin pangere to fix —more at pact Date: 14th century
1 : heathen 1; especially : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
2 : one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods : an irreligious or hedonistic person
3 : neo-pagan

So, let's be clear -- Paul was talking about pagans of definition 1 (who were often quite devout followers of their own religions); Gingrich is talking about the pagans of definition 2; and the neo-pagans of definition 3 are a rather small part of the current-day population. It seems that Gingrich is trying to capitalize on this ambiguity -- to stoke anxieties of current-day Christian conservatives that they are being persecuted by the government, as the early Christians were in pagan (definition 1) Rome.

If Gingrich wants to denounce people for being hedonistic or irreligious, let him do so. I don't generally share his concerns, but at least I'll respect his terminology. But using "paganism" as an expansive and slippery term of abuse (as I suggested in comments on my earlier post) is not in keeping with the classical heritage that inspired the American founding fathers. And considering that Gingrich has a PhD in history, he should (and does) know better.

Rocky, hellish world

Some interesting extrasolar planet news:

Scientists have discovered the first confirmed Earthlike planet outside our solar system, they announced Wednesday.

"This is the first confirmed rocky planet in another system," astronomer Artie Hatzes told CNN, contrasting the solid planet with gaseous ones like Jupiter and Saturn.

But "Earthlike" is a relative term.

The planet's composition may be similar to that of Earth, but its environment is more like a vision of hell, the project's lead astronomer said.

It is so close to the star it orbits "that the place may well look like Dante's Inferno, with a probable temperature on its 'day face' above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius) and minus-328 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 200 degrees Celsius) on
its night face," said Didier Queloz of Geneva Observatory in Switzerland, the project leader.

Hatzes, explaining that one side of the body is always facing the star and the other side always faces away, said the side "facing the sun is probably molten. The other side could actually have ice" if there is water on the planet.

Me: And maybe there's a transitional zone between the two sides. Who knows what might be found there?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Five spiral crash defined

As a consequence of my last post, it seems a number of readers are coming to my humble blog seeking a definition of "five spiral crash." Well, I'd never heard the term before either, but I gather it's the sort of thing aviators (as George W. Bush once was) might say about a plane spiraling downward a number of times before ending up like this.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bush on cluelessness, cruel hoax, etc.

George W. Bush made his share of mistakes. More than his share. But I think he comes across here as pretty perceptive overall:

Latimer said Bush liked Mitt Romney best and that he was "clearly not impressed with the McCain operation." Latimer said the former president wanted to appear with McCain at a campaign event in Phoenix, but after he was told the then-Republican nominee couldn't get enough people to show up, he called it a "cruel hoax."

"'He couldn't get 500 people? I could get that many people to turn out in Crawford.' He shook his head. 'This is a five-spiral crash, boys.'"

Bush presumed Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, according to Latimer, and was extremely critical of Barack Obama. Latimer said Bush was "ticked off" after one of Obama's speeches and he said the future president wasn't "remotely qualified" for the challenges of the job.

"(Bush) came in one day to rehearse a speech, fuming. 'This is a dangerous world,' he said for no apparent reason, 'and this cat isn't remotely qualified to handle it. This guy has no clue, I promise you,'" Latimer said.

Latimer also made the controversial assertion that after Sarah Palin was tapped as McCain's running mate, Bush reportedly asked whether she was "the governor of Guam" and said that she was "not even remotely prepared." A former Bush and Palin aide has challenged the accuracy of the charge.

Me: that would be former governor of Guam now.

Meanwhile on Saturn

A lightning storm's been going on for eight months.

Kling on crisis causes

Recommended reading: "Not What They Had in Mind: A History of Policies that Produced the Financial Crisis of 2008," by Arnold Kling. Anyone thinking the crisis boils down to some simple cause or two, or that it can aptly be blamed either on "government" or "the market" to the exclusion of the other, should read this fascinating paper.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Republican slouching?

Current reading: Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, by Max Blumenthal. It's a leftist view of the religious right. As I'm not a fan of leftists or the religious right, it'll probably leave me with some mixed emotions. But we'll see. I note that it opens with a discussion of R.J. Rushdoony, whom I'd long thought of as a fairly marginal (albeit deeply reprehensible) figure. (Walter Olson wrote an eye-opening article about Rushdoony and his Christian Reconstructionism for Reason back in 1998.)

Space solar skepticism

Some skepticism about space-based solar power here. I find the email from Martin Hoffert particularly interesting. He's concerned that promises of near-term viability, as with the PG&E project, will damage the genuinely promising long-term prospect of beaming solar power to Earth. That strikes me as plausible. 2016 is not very far away, though a lot could happen over a longer time -- albeit not necessarily "50 years from now (or maybe never), long after the climate is destroyed," as Joe Romm puts it. Meanwhile, building more nuclear plants would be wise.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

American Thinker v Frum

When you don't have much of an argument, you can always just point out your opponent is Canadian, as one J.R. Dunn at the American Thinker says of David Frum. Actually, "Canadian-born U.S. citizen" would've been a better description of Frum, per Wikipedia, though I must admit I never demanded David's papers before I started writing for New Majority.

As for the claim that NM is "not accomplishing much" in trying to revamp conservatism, I would think conservatives of all people should be wary of counting out any motivated group trying to redirect a political party in a different ideological direction. Who would've thought the Goldwater campaign and people around it had accomplished much of anything, circa Nov. 3, 1964?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cirque in space

This is interesting:

The Canadian billionaire founder of Cirque du Soleil said on Thursday he would fly into space later this month to show a fairy tale dream can come true -- and would put on a show while there.

Guy Laliberte, 50, known worldwide for his innovative circus shows, said he was taking nine clown noses into orbit to bring the International Space Station's entire crew into another novel performance, to be webcast live on www.onedrop.org site on October 9.

One of the keys to space exploration's future is making it entertaining (and I don't say this as a complaint); clown shows in orbit, customer-operated rovers on the moon, it's all good.

UPDATE 9/11: Some more on private-sector space in the Economist: "Flying High."

Inflation's meaning(s)

Since much criticism (here, for example) of my End the Fed review has focused on my criticism of Ron Paul for defining inflation as any expansion of the money supply, I refer critics to this paper (PDF, and yes, it's from the hated Fed) "On the Origin and Evolution of the Word Inflation." In brief, the classical economists of the 19th and early 20th century regarded inflation as too much money circulating, not as any increase in the money supply. Example:

…inflation occurs when, at a given price level, a country’s circulating media— cash and deposit currency—increase relatively to trade needs. (Emphasis in original.)
—Edwin Walter Kemmerer (1918)
Paul, by contrast, defines inflation as monetary expansion in absolute terms, and that's why it's a neologism -- it reflects neither the widely accepted modern definition (general increase in prices) nor the classical view.

Yes, I work for the Illuminati

At Scientific American, Michael Shermer has a column on a subject of no small importance these days: "Why People Believe in Conspiracies."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Health care history

I missed Obama's speech tonight because I was too busy watching a DVD of I Claudius, but my radio interview of last night on the history of health care politics is available temporarily here.

Financial history readings

Greetings, Ron Paul fans and others. While you're here, you might want to click through to some of my articles on financial history. For example, here's one on Alexander Hamilton (not the villain you've been taught he was on the LewRockwell blog), another on the Panic of 1907 (some background on why there is a Fed) and one on World War I and the gold standard (note that a great deal of government activism was required to keep the standard in place).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Be careful with that canister

Highly recommended: District 9. There are moments in that movie where you're just rooting for the right characters to be vaporized.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Nixon on health care

Via Tyler Cowen, I find Richard Nixon' s proposal for universal health care coverage. I note only that it has a funny line near the end:
The plan that I am proposing today is, I believe, the very best way. Improvements can be made in it, of course....
I'll be talking about health care reform history on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Tuesday, 9/8 at 7pm ET.

Friday, September 4, 2009

End Fed book

Current reading: End the Fed, by Ron Paul. According to a blurb, Arlo Guthrie had his mind changed by it. I will read it closely.

UPDATE: My review is here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lighting watch

Those of us who've married into the lighting-design world take a particular amusement at this:
Ideal use for compact fluorescents: 'As lighting to interview my daughter's boyfriends...'

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Next Right is right

Mark me down as a Jon Henke fan. WorldNetDaily is an embarrassment to conservatism and, for that matter, humanity.

Europa vanishing

Some more news about Europa: it's disappearing tonight, along with Jupiter's other Galilean moons.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

String theory and the Fed

This comment, posted by a Murray Rothbard/Ron Paul enthusiast in reply to my post here, sets a new standard for incoherence. Excerpt:
Okay, so if you're to accept one of the 26 dimensions of the string theory being tossed around, perhaps one of those can be a flat universe, with 3rd dimension equaling time, instead of the 4th. Who knows, you may be correct in that universe. But, that's a hypothetical based on an unproven hypothetical theory. And, that's how much stock I put in your uninformed, misinformed denial of the FACT that the FED is private entity.