Friday, December 23, 2011

Off the grid

That's it for me for this year. Thanks for coming by, and see you in 2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Green Front

I'm slated to be on "The Green Front" ( on Progressive Radio Network Wed., Dec. 21 sometime between 2 and 3 PM, to discuss my recent climate pieces: "How the GOP Should Explain Climate Change" and "Newt, Your Ad With Pelosi Wasn't Dumb."

UPDATE 12/21: "Talking With the Left About Climate Change," my FrumForum post about the radio spot.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The overly strategic endorsement

Andrew Sullivan endorsed Ron Paul in the GOP primary race. David Frum criticized that endorsement, and then Sullivan defended it thus (excerpt):
Paul's riposte would be that the current long recession was perpetuated by federal intervention, because it did not allow the market to clear more quickly (Thatcher's position in 1981, by the way). I don't buy this, because the extremity of the crisis was so great, passivity in 2008 could have galvanized a crippling global depression and ended our financial system entirely.
But Paul is not internally inconsistent; and he is radical in his libertarian absolutism. My endorsement was not of all his proposals but in part to expose the fallacy of these abstractions in our current context, by airing them openly. An electoral defeat on pure Tea Party grounds would advance the kind of reforms David and I want. We would get a real debate about limited government. And, of course, I regard steep cuts in defense as indispensable to generating the revenues necessary to cushion the socially dangerous inequality that is the singular mark of the last thirty years. A Romney presidency would muddy those waters. And David is still wedded to a neoconservaive foreign policy, which is where another deep difference resides.
Emphasis added. I find it a very odd type of endorsement that's done in the hope and expectation that the candidate will lose so that his bad ideas can be exposed. Even odder is that Sullivan at the same time is genuinely endorsing some of Paul's positions. What makes him think a Paul defeat would discredit the positions Sullivan dislikes while furthering the positions Sullivan likes? Isn't it possible Paul's defeat would do the opposite? And for that matter, isn't it also possible (though I agree, this is unlikely) that a nominee Paul would win the presidency and try to enact all of his positions?

By the way, Margaret Thatcher offered a qualified defense of the mixed economy on the grounds that "as in a cocktail, it is the mix that counts." Would Ron Paul ever say something like that?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Climate stump speech

Today at FrumForum, I explain what I would like a GOP candidate to say about global warming.

UPDATE: The piece has been reprinted at Canada's National Post. Also, on 12/21 I'm slated to have a related discussion about climate policy and politics at "The Green Front" on Progressive Radio Network.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Defending Newt?

At FrumForum, I weigh in on a controversial episode of Gingrich past: "Newt, Your Ad With Pelosi Wasn't Dumb."

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Twilight over a nature reserve in New Jersey. This blog will remain an occasional thing for the moment.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


A combination of computer problems, looming deadlines and other matters to be resolved requires a period of reduced activity here at Quicksilber. Thanks for stopping by.

Pictured: mandala in a store in Patan, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2009.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Conquered into Liberty

Review copy received: Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War, by Eliot Cohen. We now think of the U.S.-Canada boundary as the epitome of a peaceful border, but there's a long history of conflict on and around it. Looking at the index I notice that George Clinton has some mentions but James Clinton, about whom I wrote recently, is absent. There's a lot of little known or largely forgotten history involving America's early wars, and this book looks like a promising avenue into some of it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gen. James Clinton

My latest look at the confluence of national and family history is up at FrumForum for Veterans Day: "James Clinton, Revolutionary War Hero." Excerpt:

Previously at FrumForum, I wrote about two early American political leaders: DeWitt Clinton, New York governor and mayor and key figure in the nation-building achievement of getting the Erie Canal built; and George Clinton, governor turned vice president, whose efforts to limit federal power culminated in an independent (and erroneous, in my view) decision to terminate America’s first central bank.

Now, I take quill to parchment again, this time regarding James Clinton (1736-1812), a Revolutionary War general who was DeWitt’s father and George’s brother.

Though less remembered today than the other two, James struck important blows for American independence. For me, these figures are of interest for family history as well as national history. James and DeWitt are direct ancestors of my wife, and our son is named DeWitt after his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.

Veterans Day, which honors veterans living and dead, would be a suitable time to remember James Clinton. Although he had some involvement in politics, he was primarily a military man. One historian described him a few decades after his death as “a plain blunt soldier, born upon the frontiers, and who spent no inconsiderable portion of a long life amid the toils and perils of border wars.”

Whole thing here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

China watch

A couple of items:

"China committing climate blackmail with super-powerful greenhouse gas, say critics," by my friend Christopher Mims at Grist. As I mentioned on Twitter, if U.S. politics were less dysfunctional, a cross-party coalition would be demanding a hard line against China on this. Climate hawks and foreign policy hawks would find common ground. Something like that might happen in a world where the parties were divided to some degree on the environment, but not in one where acknowledging that a greenhouse gas even might be a matter of concern is anathema to a large swath of the political spectrum. This Chinese gambit, moreover, is an example of why cap-and-trade, especially on an international scale, is a sub-optimal approach to carbon regulation.

"The Reckoning Begins." That's a reference to a new blog and upcoming book by Michael Moran, and to the shrinking gap between U.S. share of world output and China's share. I would add some caveats to the stark view Moran presents here. Years ago, Francis Fukuyama told me (in an interview for Insight magazine about his book Trust) that he had some doubts about China becoming as important as many people expected, because it is a "low-trust" society where holding together large organizations and networks is difficult. I'd add that nobody can be sure how much trust to put in China's economic statistics, or that one's rights and investments there will be honored. Having said all that, it's clear that learning Mandarin is not a bad idea in the 21st century.

Live-blogging tonight

I'll be participating in a live chat session about tonight's GOP economics (or Herman Cain scandal) debate over at FrumForum.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Political realignments

Some links I find interesting:

-- Ongoing contretemps between FrumForum and James Pethokoukis. See here and here.

-- John McCain talking up a third party; makes me wonder if 2012 could be Bull Moose time a century later, with McCain on the ticket; probably not but these are turbulent times politically. As also evident in the next item.

-- Walter Russell Mead, in a post titled "Occupy Blue Wall Street?" seeing signs of fraying in the blue coalition. I disagree with his dismissal of a carbon tax (and I don't think something being an upper-middle-class good-government concern is a bad thing as such), but it's a very interesting post overall.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bastiat Prize

Congratulations to Virginia Postrel on winning the Bastiat Prize, in part for her Bloomberg column that showed there is a cogent and non-hysterical argument against the light bulb efficiency standards. Also, congratulations to Tom Easton of The Economist, with whom Virginia shared the $50,000 prize.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Midcentury economic nostalgia

An emerging left-wing meme:

In the 1950s & 1960s when the top tax rate was 70-92%, we laid the interstate system, built the Internet, put a man on the moon, defeated Communism, our education system was the envy of the world, our middle class thriving, our economy unparalleled. You want that back? Raise taxes on the rich.
Also during that time, the defense budget was around 10 percent of GDP (about twice today's percentage), immigration was relatively restricted, and public-sector unions were largely just beginning to be allowed. That's without mentioning many other factors the OWS people surely don't want, such as the Organization Man ethos of staying with a company your entire career. Leftists who indiscriminately praise the midcentury economy should be careful what they wish for.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Post-storm backyard, NJ

The old Japanese Maple endures.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Romney getting cooler

The standard position of my party, the Republicans, on global warming at the present time is a self-contradictory cocktail with the following ingredients:

1. It's not (known to be) happening.
2. If it's happening, humans aren't (known to be) causing it.
3. It's nothing to worry about anyway.
4. There's nothing much to be done about it.

Points 1 and 2 are flatly wrong. Point 3 is weak. Point 4 becomes increasingly true, as time passes and nothing much is done, which is a tragedy.

There's little point discussing Points 3 and 4 with people who wrongly persist in Points 1 and 2. In the current presidential race, there have been two presidential candidates, Romney and Huntsman, who have acknowledged that it's happening and humans are causing it; Romney had said humans are causing the warming, but later that he didn't know how much of it is caused by humans. Now he's converted to this:
“My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”
The good news is, his opinion is clearly not frozen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Madison book

Current reading: James Madison, by Richard Brookhiser. I can recommend it even without having read the whole thing. I've focused mostly on the second half, with a particular eye toward the flexibility that even strict constructionists showed in putting the Constitution into practice. Madison, for instance, acceded to a Bank of the United States after it had existed for a couple of decades, partly on the grounds that this duration established it as valid. Incidentally, I'm working on some 18th-century-related writing of my own.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Yippies on Wall Street

One more Occupy Wall Street-related link, this time to my Research magazine article of April 2008 on "The Go-Go Sixties." Here is a sidebar "Yippies on Wall Street":
On August 24, 1967, a group of about a dozen young men and women arrived at the New York Stock Exchange. They were Yippies, or members of the Youth International Party. They had called ahead and asked for a tour, but their real purpose was to perform some "political theater," their style of creatively obnoxious protest and confrontation.
The group included Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, radical activists who would become increasingly well-known as the decade wore on. The guards were wary of the scruffy visitors, but allowed them into the visitors' gallery with a warning that no demonstrations would be allowed.
But the Yippies, once they were overlooking the trading floor, launched into loud speechifying against capitalism and the Vietnam War. There was some applause from down below, by floor traders who were sympathetic or just amused. Then the Yippies, announcing the "death of greed," floated some dollar bills down to the floor. How much money was involved is uncertain, but there was a brief commotion until trading resumed.
According to Vincent J. Cannato in his 2001 book The Ungovernable City, the administration of liberal Republican Mayor John Lindsay was quietly providing subsidies to the Yippies around this time. So it's possible those were taxpayer dollars being dropped to the floor.
The Yippies progressed to other stunts, including "levitating the Pentagon" and rioting at the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago. As it happened, though, they did not maintain their uniformly hostile approach to capitalism. By the 1980s, Rubin had become a businessman and entrepreneur, and he even worked for a while at the brokerage firm of John Muir & Company.
 Whole article here.

Some OWS links

Besides the Alec Baldwin-related material below, I recommend:

"Why Occupy Wall Street Will Fail." (With interesting tie-in to Nicholas Carr.)

"New Yorkers Rage Over Occupy Wall Street Protestors."

"The Organizers vs. the Organized in Zuccotti Park."

Alec Baldwin is right

Recommended viewing: Alec Baldwin defending capital markets, and declining to endorse "End the Fed."

Found via David Frum's "Alec Baldwin Is Not Worthless."

I would add two things:

1. The protestors' claim that the Fed is "a private bank" is phony baloney, albeit of a type that appeals to the appetites of both Occupy Wall Street and Ron Paul's followers (the latter seem to be dominant among the cluster of people talking to Baldwin).

2. How did we get to a point where Alec Baldwin makes a more convincing defense of capitalism than GOP leaders typically do?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ron Paul vs weather satellites

Over at FrumForum, I analyze "Ron Paul's Spaced Out Plan," particularly with regard to his proposal to eliminate the Commerce Dept. Excerpt:

Ron Paul has unveiled a fiscal plan that would eliminate the Commerce Department, among other departments. The Commerce Department includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and one of NOAA’s functions is operating the nation’s weather satellites.

Paul’s plan would zero out Commerce immediately, which means NOAA would also go away. (Interestingly, though, Paul’s line-item presentation of his plan is not detailed enough to include any mention of NOAA.) That raises some questions...
Whole thing here.

UPDATE 10/20: The Bourbon Democrat: "I am sure a man as educated as Silber knows that Dr Paul would not just shut down the satellites and let them fall out of orbit!"

One interesting aspect of the comments and replies to my post is that critics are about evenly divided between two schools of thought: (1) of course we should privatize weather satellites; and (2) of course no one is talking about privatizing weather satellites; NOAA would just be transferred to a new department.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shallows thoughts

Just finished The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. This makes a very good case for cutting down on one's Web surfing. Now, given the lackadaisical pace of updating here at QuickSilber, one might suspect that any Web compulsiveness I'd developed has been solved, but I think there is considerable room for improvement in how much, and to what ends, I use the Internet. As we head deeper into election season, I could imagine more blogging here (no promises, though) and less Twitter or other social media. In any event, contrary to recent practice, tonight I will not be live-chatting the GOP debate (though some of my FrumForum colleagues will be) and have already slotted a different purpose to the time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Anti-Wall Street watch

Walter Olson notices something missing in a Time magazine poll.

The poll's apparently being read by the Obama administration, though.

Reminder: as Greg Farrell pointed out in my video interview with him months ago, terrible business decisions aren't ipso facto illegal.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hamilton Grange update

Something I missed when it ran a few weeks ago: "Hamilton's Shining House on a Hill," by my onetime City Journal editor Myron Magnet. I am curious, also, as to what Myron's next book, mentioned in his bio blurb as "The Founders at Home," will be like (and am presuming it will be literally about their homes).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Monkey Shakespeare

Back in 1999, in my Reason article "Is God in the Details?" criticizing claims by conservatives and others that science had uncovered a cosmic design, I wrote this (emphasis added):
Nor is there any reason to doubt the sincerity of Bork, Will, or other conservatives who have discovered evidence of design in the laws of physics. In many cases, however, there is plenty of reason to doubt their knowledge. Bork and Will make sweeping statements about the universe based on a cursory reading of popular accounts. The Wall Street Journal's and The Washington Times' reviewers of [Patrick] Glynn's book accept at face value his misleading definition of the anthropic principle. Glynn devotes four pages to a puerile analogy about monkeys with typewriters. (Yes, if the monkeys are assumed to be unchanging beings with limited capacities, they would never type Shakespeare. It does not follow that the universe is subject to similar constraints.)
Now, the monkey/Shakespeare issue is back, based on a software exploration of it, and it seems that monkeys not only wouldn't type Shakespeare but aren't a good example of anything other than monkeys.
A 2002 experiment ran into a different problem: Real monkeys aren't random-number generators. Arts students and faculty from Plymouth University in Devon, England, set six monkeys loose on an iMac in the nearby Paignton Zoo. They learned that the primates had favorite keys, with thousands of instances of the letter 'S' but none of 'E,' 'I,' 'O' or 'T' in a selection of the monkeys' musings the research group published.

So even if chained to a computer, the monkeys might never generate words, let alone classic passages. The rules of probability don't apply in the same way they do to the theoretical or software monkeys, because these primates had their own preferences. "It questions the whole idea of animals as random generators," says Mike Phillips, professor of interdisciplinary arts at Plymouth, who led the research. "I think Shakespeare might be species-specific."
So now we can move on to other topics.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Clinton Road traffic

Undoubtedly because of this Yahoo piece, "Clinton Road, New Jersey: The Most Terrifying Road in the U.S.," my blog is getting lots of Clinton Road-related traffic. My main posts on that subject are here and here, and sorry to say, folks, an actual drive on that road can be extremely uneventful.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Neutrinos vs global warming

Robert Bryce's piece "Five Truths About Climate Change" states, among other things:
The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth's atmosphere. 
I respond to that and more in my piece "Why We Should Still Be Sweating Global Warming":
This attempt to stuff climate science into a black hole is a non sequitur. That’s not just because the neutrino finding, even if confirmed, has nothing to do with the data or theories of climate science. It’s also because the analogy Bryce is making — if relativity could be wrong, so could global warming — presents a misleading picture of the respective scientific theories and how science works.
Whole thing here.

UPDATE: The New York Times has more, including a mention of yours truly.

UPDATE 10/7: A comic version.

UPDATE 10/10: Reihan Salam: "The Silber post is far better" (than the Times'); thanks. Also, for some further delving into the physics, I recommend Joe Romm's post.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Anti-corporate animus

My latest FrumForum piece: "'Occupy Wall Street' Is Obsessed with Corporations." Excerpt:
Then there is the complaint about the doctrine of a corporation as “legal person.” That complaint is motivated partly by desire to slap restrictions on corporate political ads and donations (regardless of legal persons’ free speech rights) and more broadly by a dislike of the idea that “corporations are people,” as Mitt Romney said in a supposed gaffe recently. In fact, corporations are of course organizations of people, but the deeper point is that legal personhood enables a degree of accountability that would not be possible otherwise.
Let’s say a company dumped some toxic waste a few decades ago. The executives of that company may no longer be the same people, the shareholders may have entirely turned over; the people working there or holding stock may have had nothing to do with the waste dumping back then. It doesn’t matter — the corporation can still be held responsible, forced to do cleanup, pay damages and so on.
 Whole thing here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Falling gold piece

My latest at FrumForum: "Beck Didn't Warn Me Gold Can Fall!" Excerpt:
The gold market meltdown — with prices plunging in recent weeks from over $1,900 an ounce to under $1,600 — is a reminder that the precious metal is a volatile, speculative commodity. It also signals a bear market in credibility for the many right-leaning cable-news and talk-radio hosts who have touted gold relentlessly in recent years as a hedge against economic calamity.

“If you’ve been watching for any length of time, and you still haven’t looked into buying gold, what’s wrong with you?” Glenn Beck said in a video on his website in 2009. “I think you’re nuts.” His TV show, meanwhile, featured frequent calls to buy gold, interspersed with commercials for gold retailers.
Whole thing here. It's getting comments at a brisk pace; people get emotional about gold, which is a problem.

UPDATE: A rejoinder by Brad Schaeffer: "Numbers Don't Lie, Gold Has Done Well."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Resilient greenback

My latest at FrumForum: "Still Sound as a Dollar." Excerpt:
Conservatives nowadays routinely worry about the dollar’s strength and stability. The dollar, however, refuses to cooperate. Instead, it lately has been rising in foreign-exchange markets, as it typically does in times of international economic and financial stress.

The dollar serves as a safe haven. Investors tend to transfer funds into dollar-denominated assets, such as U.S. Treasuries, at moments when financial markets around the world are being buffeted. This occurs even if the U.S. economy is not in good shape. As long as the dollar and dollar-denominated assets are seen as relatively safe, the dollar will tend to strengthen in times of trouble.
Whole thing here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Debate 9/22

Over at FrumForum, live-blogging the GOP debate.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nepal starry night

Our 2009 trip to Nepal, including the Annapurna region, included many wonderful sights (see here, for instance), but I don't recall seeing much of the night sky, as it was fairly rainy and overcast on nights we were camping. Bad Astronomy and io9, though, have a remarkable photo of the Milky Way as seen from Annapurna. Take a look.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Space debate question

What would I ask at the GOP debate this Thursday? A space policy question:
One subject that’s been almost entirely absent from the campaign is space policy. The Obama administration scrapped the Bush administration’s plans for a return to the moon, and the end of the Space Shuttle program has left the U.S. currently without the ability to send astronauts to Earth orbit, let alone beyond. There’s little consensus about what NASA’s next steps should be or what role the private sector might play. Do you have a vision for what the United States should do in space, how to do it and how to pay for it?
More questions by others here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rocket to nowhere

Over at FrumForum, my latest: "NASA's New Rocket Won't Reach New Frontiers," about the just-unveiled plans for the Space Launch System. Excerpt:
The impetus for this rocket was congressional pressure. First the Obama administration scrapped the Bush administration’s Constellation project of renewed lunar exploration, and as the Space Shuttle Program began to end. In response, lawmakers pressed for a new heavy-lift rocket that, far from incidentally, would preserve some NASA and contractor jobs, particularly in states such as Texas and Florida that are heavy with space facilities.

There is tremendous uncertainty about future space funding and whether any future administration — or for that matter, the Obama administration — will take seriously the President’s stated goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars at some later time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Posting may be light as we get through the tall grass of catching up on various projects. But you can never be too sure what's coming -- there were deer in this scene a split second before I took the picture.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A look back

Myles Dannhausen Jr., journalist at the Wisconsin Peninsula Pulse, spoke to me about 9/11. Excerpt:
Ten years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks killed 2,977 people and shook the nation to its core, Ground Zero is still a construction site, the United States is still embroiled in two wars, and our defense budget is conservatively pegged at more than twice what it was before the attacks.

Yet, Ken Silber, an economics and politics writer and native New Yorker, says that the state of the nation today is "pretty far to the optimistic end of the spectrum."
"If you had told me then, in the days after Sept. 11, that life in America would be the way it is now, I would have said that it was a relatively good scenario."
 Whole thing here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Debate 9/7

I participated in FrumForum's liveblogging of tonight's GOP debate. The transcript is here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Perry vs science

My latest at FrumForum: "If it's Perry: Anti-Science Label Sticks." Excerpt:
If Rick Perry is the nominee, we will hear stepped-up criticism that there is a Republican “war on science,” that the GOP is anti-intellectual and antipathetic to facts and analysis. Such criticism will resonate with many voters, precisely because Perry’s nomination will be evidence that it’s true.

In August, shortly after entering the race, Perry generated controversy with comments about climate change and biological evolution. He dismissed anthropogenic global warming as an unproven assertion by scientists who have “manipulated data” to spur funding for their projects. He described evolution as a theory with “some gaps in it” and said that it’s taught alongside creationism in Texas (which if true would raise questions about the constitutionality of Texas’ science curricula).
 Whole thing here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ten years later

In the September issue of Research, I look back to 9/11 and ahead to future crises: "Wall Street at War."

Cover art by James O'Brien.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The view from 6 million miles away

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. More info here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Deadliest Warrior redux

Welcome, readers of STORMBRINGER. I was quite pleased this weekend to discuss "Deadliest Warrior" with Sean Linnane, an actual warrior, and am honored that he took interest in my FrumForum piece on the subject.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Alien reading list

When I have a chance, I intend to read more thoroughly this paper, which I've only skimmed so far: "Would contact with extraterrestrials benefit or harm humanity? A scenario analysis." (I wrote on a similar theme a few years ago.)

The paper has caused a bit of kerfuffle, involving sensationalism, misunderstanding and politicization. See:

"Some important points of clarification," by one of the paper's coauthors.

"Bad news from NASA: If we don’t reduce carbon emissions, the aliens might come and kill us; Update: Not a NASA report," Hot Air.

"Right Wing Blogs in Massive Anti-Science Fail Mode," Little Green Footballs.

UPDATE: "Space Aliens Are Probably Progressive Liberals," National Review.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

No thanks, Perry

One of my major differences with prevailing sentiment in the GOP is over climate change -- accepting the reality of it and the anthropogenic nature of it, and then developing policies (such as carbon taxes) aimed at limiting its extent and impact. Another major difference I have with today's Republicans overall is about the Fed -- partly over the particular policies it's implemented in recent years (which strike me as basically on the right track even if monetary policy alone cannot solve our economic problems) but more fundamentally that the Fed fulfills crucial functions and needs a degree of independence to do so, hence it should not be demonized (or for that matter abolished).

Rick Perry has come down powerfully on the wrong side of both issues, in substance and in tone, in his first week of campaigning. What will he do next week?

Economic Principals update

Long ago, I wrote a review for Reason of Economic Principals: Masters and Mavericks of Modern Economics, by David Warsh. This was so long ago in fact (1993) that Reason's online archives don't go back that far, though my review can be found here. In the interest of examining the diversity of ways for trying to generate income through writing for the Web, I note that Warsh now runs his former newspaper column as a website that's free but that gives an early edition and a quarterly newsletter to buyers of a $50 subscription.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Great Stagnation

At FrumForum, I review The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, by Tyler Cowen. Excerpt:
For several hundred years, Cowen argues, the Western world in general and America in particular have benefitted from relatively abundant or accessible sources of economic growth — “low-hanging fruit” — such as newly opened land, expanded education, and technological breakthroughs ranging from electricity to pharmaceuticals.

The trouble is, he contends, the low-hanging fruit has been getting sparse in the past several decades. Yes, there is still much technological innovation but it’s largely focused on Internet-related sectors that don’t necessarily produce a lot of jobs or revenue. A great deal of financial innovation has been occurring but that only enriches small numbers of people without necessarily producing much social benefit.
The rest includes discussion of Ayn Rand, John Horgan and the social status of scientists. Whole thing here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hard money

David Frum has a valuable discussion of monetary history revolving around the 40-years-ago "Nixon shock." In light of Rick Perry's remarks yesterday about Bernanke's "near treason," I add a modest proposal about applying some hard-core free-market monetary policy in Texas first. I also note with amusement that the anonymous "businessman and investor" cited by Bill Kristol the other day on Fed policy has now made his way into a comment by John Podhoretz, who touts the unnamed guy's reputation as "unimpeachable."

UPDATE: Also recommended, Bruce Bartlett on "Nixon's Biggest Gamble..." And I wrote something on it here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bill Kristol's anti-Fed friend

Over at FrumForum, I ask: "Who Wants Higher Interest Rates?" Opening:
Over at the Weekly Standard’s blog, William Kristol reproduces an email he’s received from an unnamed “businessman and investor” for whose judgment Kristol says he has the “highest regard.” The email lambastes the policies of the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke in no uncertain terms.

Here it is with my comments appended...
Whole thing here.

UPDATE 8/11: I'll be participating in some live-blogging of the GOP debate at FrumForum at 9 ET tonight. UPDATE: Archived here.

UPDATE 8/12: Welcome to Marginal Revolution readers of "How Did Libertarians Lose Their Way?"

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monetary crankdom update

A few notes involving currencies. I mention these topics in passing for the moment, lacking the time just now to give them the more in-depth treatment I'd prefer.

George Will, lately a more libertarian-leaning figure than long thought to be, writes that "events seem to be validating [Ron Paul's] message, which is that the country's financial condition is awful." But isn't Ron Paul's message that the country's financial condition can be drastically improved by getting rid of the Fed and implementing a gold standard and/or competing currencies? And given that it is, what effect would such policies have in the current troubled financial situation? Would not a gold standard, insofar as it truly is binding, render the federal government actually incapable of paying its bills and thus cause vastly worse turmoil than we have now? Or is the whole question of a gold standard not worth discussing, because such a policy would be abandoned readily in times such as the present, thus raising a profound credibility issue that gold-standard proponents have never been able to resolve? And as for competing currencies...

... It wasn't that long ago, just a few months, that a wave of libertarian enthusiasm arose over the electronic currency Bitcoin and the liberation it offered from government oversight. How's Bitcoin doing now, you ask?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Point of Inquiry (UPDATED)

This afternoon, I spoke with Chris Mooney and David Frum for a "Point of Inquiry" podcast hosted by Mooney. It's a program produced by the Center for Inquiry, part of the skepticism/science/humanism complex that produces Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry magazines. Our topic was "conservatism, science and reality," and I'm told the podcast will be available online by late Monday.

UPDATE 8/1: Here it is, with audio file.

UPDATE 8/2: I have some more at FrumForum: "Can Conservatives and Scientists Get Along?"

UPDATE 8/5: See also Mooney's later post and the writeup at ClimateCrocks, which includes a YouTube excerpt:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Save JWST art

The saveJWST Art Initiative has presented some artworks aimed at promoting public support for the James Webb Space Telescope. I particularly like the tagline "For when you positively, absolutely have to understand the universe." I described the telescope's political travails and what's at stake here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

FrumForum note

FrumForum has a new design, which makes it look more blog-like, one might say. I expect there will be more fine-tuning, as the only constant on the Internet is change. My posts are collected here, and there will be more to come. My latest piece, on the James Webb Space Telescope, continues to draw comments, including some pretty impressive ones. I like to think that when JWST is finally deployed, it will have been my post that tipped the balance in the delicate political situation and made it all happen. But I like to think a lot of things.

Monday, July 18, 2011

On not joining Google+ (UPDATED)

The advent of Google+ is going to cause some people—it’s doing this for me—to mull over just how many social networks they should be on, and how much time and energy such media merit. For now, I’m content to let Google+ go its way without me, though I’ve never been an early adopter of these things anyway.

Currently, I am on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, besides having an oar in the blogging stream here at Quicksilber as well as another at FrumForum. All of these serve distinct purposes, albeit with some fuzzy edges. For me, Twitter is primarily for communicating with people in their capacity as readers and writers; Facebook is primarily for keeping in touch with friends and relatives; and LinkedIn is for business contacts (albeit for me, in my present use, LinkedIn is pretty much for nothing).

Most of the above has had considerable benefits for me in maintaining or forming contacts I wouldn’t have done otherwise, in getting people to read my writing, and in learning things I would otherwise have missed. But there are real downsides of social media, such as being time-consuming and occasionally causing frictions such as when someone has blocked you or unfriended you, etc. If Google+ is all it’s cracked up to be, I’ll probably be there at some point, but let it not be soon.

UPDATE 7/19: Julian Sanchez has some interesting thoughts about Google+ and other networks' uses, privacy issues and the tradeoffs involved.

UPDATE 7/21: So much for that -- I'm now on it. I got an invite from someone at my current primary employer, and came to think I'm better off having some capability to use it. So much for the plan to start just in time for the election of 2028.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


At FrumForum I come to the defense of the endangered James Webb Space Telescope. Excerpt:
JWST would operate about a million miles from Earth (Hubble is just a few hundred miles up) using advanced instruments to detect light from distant and faint objects; the far-off locale would provide excellent conditions for avoiding unwanted light and heat. The telescope would be optimized for infrared observations, enabling it to peer through dust clouds into the birthplaces of stars and the origins and early development of galaxies. No less exciting, JWST would be aimed at taking images of planets beyond our solar system and seeking signs of water and other factors relevant to possible life.
Whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eclectic links

I wouldn't call it the "coolest war ever," but the War of 1812 gets an interesting and exuberant writeup from Jonathan Rauch, one of my favorite writers. Here's my recent piece on how the abolition of the U.S. central bank shortly before the war almost caused it to be lost.

Todd Seavey gives Gillespie and Welch's book The Declaration of Independents a glowing review. Here's my comparatively less phosphorescent one.

An extensive new blog network has opened at my sometime employer Scientific American. Among various items that caught my interest, I recommend this sci-fi story by Charles Q. Choi and this post by illustrator Kalliopi Monoyios on science art and what cameras can't capture.

UPDATE: More on 1812.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Modest telescope proposal

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), flagship mission for U.S. astronomy, is in danger of cancellation. If that happens, I hope there's a plan to use the expensive hardware that's already been built as a lawn ornament somewhere, perhaps on the Washington mall as a monument to congressional shortsightedness. After all, the Saturn Vs that never flew have brightened up grassy areas in a few states and there's always a need for new public art.

For more on JWST's travails, see here, here and here. For my piece from a few years ago, on who James Webb was, see here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Central bank history

I've got a piece at FrumForum on the First Bank of the United States and the first George Clinton.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fiduciary history

In the July issue of Research, my article "Fiduciary Matters," on the history behind the current controversy over whether brokers and financial advisors should be held to a uniform fiduciary standard requiring them to put their customers' interests before their own. Excerpt:
The word “fiduciary” derives from the Latin words for “faith” (fides) and “trust” (fiducia). Roman law recognized various fiducia contracts in which a person held property in safekeeping or otherwise acted on another’s behalf. Failure to uphold such trust could result not just in monetary penalties but also a formal “infamy” (infamia), in which you lost such rights as to hold public office or be a witness in a legal case.

However, the fiduciary idea arose well before Rome. The Code of Hammurabi, carved into stone in ancient Babylon, required a merchant’s agent to keep receipts and to pay triple damages for failing to provide promised goods (though it allowed an exemption if the loss was due to enemy attack during a journey).
Whole thing here.

Hamilton exhibit

Readers interested in financial history will enjoy the Museum of American Finance's exhibit "Alexander Hamilton: Lineage and Legacy." See the gallery here. On the way out, be sure to catch Lin-Manuel Miranda's performance of "The Hamilton Mixtape" (or see it here), which also closed the recent documentary Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton, which film I also recommend by the way (having a higher opinion of it than found in this review).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Physics, hippy, spacey links

A bit of stream of consciousness: Here's an interesting excerpt of How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, by David Kaiser. Here's physicist/critic Peter Woit's review. Here's what The Weekly Standard thinks about hippies, as reflected in their covers over the years. Here is the opening of the one piece I ever wrote for the Standard: "Leftists in Orbit," about the Cassini space probe and its leftist opponents. Here is my piece for Reason on Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Here are my pieces for FrumForum on Reason, physics and space probes. Here's Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit dissing us "Frumites." Here, through the magic of the Internet archive, is the March 2000 piece I commissioned from Reynolds when I ran the opinion page at "Satellite Pics Are Free Speech." (I use the term "commissioned" loosely, in that I was not allowed to pay contributors.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My true-life libertarian story

At FrumForum, I review The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America and offer some further thoughts on Reason magazine and libertarianism. Opening:
Last fall, I wrote for FrumForum about “How I Joined the Vast RINO Conspiracy,” tracing how I, a longtime self-described “libertarian conservative,” got out of step with the right as the right moved further right and as I moved toward the center. Some readers applauded my independent thinking and others invited me to drag my backside out of the Republican Party (something I’ve declined to do).
A new book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America, by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, respectively the editors of and Reason magazine, has given me much to contemplate, on how libertarianism fits into American politics, how Reason fits into libertarianism, and why I, a onetime fairly regular contributor to that magazine, eventually failed to fit in at Reason.
Whole thing here.

UPDATE 6/19: Nick Gillespie has some kind words about my "respectful though mixed" review.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Evolutionary psych Weinergate

A few years ago, I wrote a review for Scientific American Mind of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, a not very good book touting evolutionary psychology. (The review's behind a paywall, though the start of it is here.) I still think the book is overly reductionist in its view of human nature, but one assertion strikes me now as meriting more credence than I gave it at the time. That's the assertion that male politicians get caught up in sex scandals not despite their careers, but because their careers are fundamentally aimed at maximizing their reproductive fitness, i.e., attracting lots of women. The same drive that makes them successful politicians is what makes them fall. Still seems something of an overstatement, but less so as I think about it and see scandals that would be hard to explain if this evo psych tendency weren't at least a factor. All of which is to say, soon enough I expect, goodbye Anthony Weiner.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mexico's stocks

My latest at Research magazine: "Mexico's Resilient Market." Excerpt:
Mexico’s long-ago president, José Porfirio Díaz, is credited with a memorable, though likely apocryphal, quote, which translates as: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!”

Díaz, who as a youth fought against the U.S. in the Mexican-American War, was overthrown in the 1911 Mexican Revolution, but his desire to keep some distance from the giant northern neighbor echoed through the 20th century in Mexican policies that kept a tight rein on cross-border trade and investment.

In recent decades, though, and particularly since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994, Mexico’s policymakers have sought to capitalize on their country’s proximity to the U.S. Consequently, Mexico has attracted investor interest for its uncommon identity as both emerging market and member of a vast trade bloc.

UPDATE: I'm slated to talk about this article on the Gabe Wisdom Show on June 6 at 7:30 PM ET.

UPDATE: Here's the podcast.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Absence of blogging

Current reading: Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self, by Marilynne Robinson. I ordered this book after coming across an excerpt and then reading some interesting reviews, including one by the Archbishop of Canterbury. I'm sure it will give me much to contemplate. Meanwhile, posting may continue to be light in the near term, though I expect this blog will perk up a bit in June or so.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Movie note

Saw Black Swan on pay-per-view last night. I wasn't as enthused as some. It was like Fight Club in a tutu.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

India brief

A podcast of me on the radio talking about the Indian stock market. My article on the subject is here.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Looking at this morning's great news. Here's what I wrote on the 5th anniversary of 9/11. I expect to write again on the 10th.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

India stocks

I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show at 7 pm ET tonight to discuss India's stock market history, and in due course the podcast should appear here. Current research for Research: Mexico's market history.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hamilton interview...

My latest at FrumForum: "Debt Debate: What Would Hamilton Do? "To get some perspective on current political and economic debates, I attempted to contact the spirit of Alexander Hamilton by resetting the roaming function on my phone near his tombstone at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan." Whole Q&A here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Varied & misc.

Some items I found of interest, in no particular order:

Salon interview with Barry Eichengreen on "How to Think About Tea Party Economics," particularly regarding monetary policy.

Walter Russell Mead has some ruminations on history and Easter Week: "He Plants His Footsteps on the Sea: Faith Matters."

David Frum's "Two Cheers for the Welfare State."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My debt deal

Exclusively at FrumForum, I provide the Ken Silber Plan for deficit reduction. Audience response is mixed.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kaboom film

I'm not quite sure what to say about this movie, Kaboom. On one hand, it was hilarous and, unlike say The Sky Has Fallen, is labeled as a comedy. On the other hand, it was creepy and for significant stretches seemed more a horror movie than a comedy. On the third hand, the ending was pretty inane even by the standards of what had transpired before. So, in brief, I recommend it for some readers of this blog, and they will know who they are. Here's the trailer.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Items of interest

Back from France, where I celebrated my sister Denise Silber's Legion of Honor at the splendid venue of the U.S. Embassy's Marshall Center. Posting will likely continue to be light in the near future, though here are a couple more things that caught my attention:

Virginia Postrel takes issue with "The Fantasy of Survivalism," in what turns out to be her last WSJ column as she's moving to a soon-to-be-launched Bloomberg venture.

David Frum argues, correctly I think, that it was "A Great Week for the GOP," in part (and quite counterintuitively) because Donald Trump is gaining some traction, thus giving some absurd ideas an appropriate spokesman.

Friday, April 1, 2011

India's stock market history

My latest at Research magazine: "India's Emergence." I'm slated to discuss it on the Gabe Wisdom Show on April 26 at 7 PM ET.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Expect some quiet times at this blog in the near term. As you can see at the post below, I've got plenty to read, among things to do. My Twitter feed may be relatively active at times, and if you know me, I can be found via Facebook.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Varied & misc.

Some items I found interesting, in no particular order:

Notices and remembrances of recently deceased Reason magazine founder Lanny Friedlander by Nick Gillespie and Bob Poole. Justin Raimondo conscripts Friedlander as antiwar pioneer, doesn't mention his Navy service.

Review copy received: The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch.

Review copy received: First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth, by Marc Kaufman.

Review copy not requested (though I'm tempted): Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore, by Benjamin Radford.

"Creationism Makes a Comeback," by Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Welcome, Gus

On a personal note, huge congratulations to co-blogger Dan and wife Marg on the arrival of Gus!

Women's work

Some notes regarding women in the workforce:

"Mommy Track Without Shame," by Virginia Postrel, on how flexible arrangements are gaining favor.

But: "CareerBuilder: More Women Perceive Pay and Career Advancement Disparity."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Financial talent drain

A new study from the Kauffman Foundation argues, quite plausibly, that the financial sector's draw on talent is impeding entrepreneurship and economic growth. Drawing on this study, Time magazine columnist Rana Foroohar sketches out the problem. Why should a highly skilled graduate develop new technologies or life-saving drugs instead of making five times the income modeling the stock market?

I am not one to denigrate the value of an innovative financial sector (and if I did, it would be harder to explain why I continue to work at a financial magazine). I've long admired Alexander Hamilton's emphasis on developing a sophisticated financial system. But he also sought (with less success) to jump-start American industrial manufacturing with the Society for Useful Manufactures. He certainly recognized that the U.S. needed to be adept at more than just managing money.

What's the answer? Foroohar's is that we shouldn't curtail funding for the financial regulatory agencies. That's fair enough as far as it goes, but this is a subject I hope to think and write about more extensively.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shrinking dollar?

"The dollar has lost 95 percent of its value" since the Federal Reserve began in 1913. I analyze this "damning statistic" at FrumForum.

Manhattan street grid

It's the 200th anniversary of Manhattan's street grid, and the New York Times covers it at some length while somehow omitting any mention of DeWitt Clinton, who as mayor in 1811 played a crucial role in overseeing the street grid commission. Nonetheless, the NYT items are worth reading, here, here and here. Note the beautiful "Manhattan solstice" picture in the first NYT piece; I've seen such a scene myself, and have good reason to remember it well. For my own DeWitt Clinton coverage, see here and here and the picture here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Notes toward a future alien article

Time magazine lists as one of "10 Ideas That Will Change the World" (for the better): "Relax: You Don't Need to Worry About Meeting E.T."

Pete Worden, NASA/former Air Force official, jokes: "Conservatives worry about life on Mars killing us, liberals worry about us killing life on Mars."

SETI Institute: "Internet Rumor of Inbound 2012 Spaceships Untrue."

UPDATE 5 PM: "Mars Needs Moms" flops.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Financial crisis video

I interview Greg Farrell, author of Crash of the Titans: Greed, Hubris, the Fall of Merrill Lynch, and the Near-Collapse of Bank of America on some key events of the financial crisis.

UPDATE: Video is also now here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Solar system politics

My latest at FrumForum: "NASA Budget Grounds Space Probes." Excerpt:
For decades, there was debate among space exploration proponents about the relative merits of manned versus unmanned missions. Enthusiasts of sending astronauts argued that manned missions captured the public imagination in a way that robotic probes never could, besides serving the grand purpose of building a human future in space.

Space probe proponents, including many scientists, emphasized the lower costs and far greater scientific payoff of robotic missions. They also noted the daunting difficulty of sending humans to Mars, let alone to the outer solar system where probes already travel.

The debate is now effectively over, and both sides have lost.
Whole thing here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Radio note

My radio interview with Gabe Wisdom, on my article about anti-financial populism, "Furious at Finance," is available here.

Beleaguered space probes

I've written about the robotic space program many times in the past (eg, here and here) and hope to do so again before long. Right now, its prospects are alarmingly dim, as these posts by Alan Boyle and Lou Friedman describe. And it's a subject that barely registers on the political radar screen -- for now.

UPDATE: More here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tax simplification and other topics

An interesting chat with David Frum at FrumForum today. Go to time 11:08 to see my excuse for my lack of productivity (today).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some mostly convincing optimism

At Reason, Shikha Dalmia has a nice corrective to rampant pessimism about U.S. prospects versus those of China and India (and I'm not these days in a mood of knee-jerk optimism, I might add): "Long Live the American Dream: Why India and China have nothing on America." Excerpt:
An important reason why the gloom-and-doom about America is unjustified is precisely that there is so much gloom-and-doom. Indians and Chinese, by contrast, have drunk their own Kool Aid. Their moribund economies have barely kicked into action and they are entertaining dreams of becoming the next global superpower. This bespeaks a profound megalomania—not to mention lopsided priorities. There is not a culture of hope in these countries, as Giridhardas told Jon Stewart. There is a culture of hype.
What I find least convincing in the piece is the part where she identifies seasteading as an example of what's right with America:
Pay Pal founder Peter Theil has even given close to a million dollars to the Seasteading Institute to establish new countries on the sea to experiment with new forms of government. This might be wacky but it puts an outside limit on how out-of-whack Americans will let their institutions get before they start fixing them.
As I like to point out, I wrote about seasteading before it was cool or even called seasteading. But I don't see how fantasizing about starting your own country on the sea suggests any capability or inclination to fix real institutions.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Anti-financial populism

My latest at Research magazine: "Furious at Finance," on the long history of populist hostility to the financial sector. Excerpt:
The founders of the United States were sharply divided in their attitudes toward finance. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton famously disagreed over the latter’s initiative to create a central bank. Moreover, the agrarian-minded Jefferson distrusted banks in general and disliked the “new created paper fortunes” arising in the cities as Hamilton’s reforms promoted trading of Treasuries and equities.

Such differences helped give rise to political parties, with Hamilton’s Federalists (often seen as precursors to later Republicans) being much more pro-finance than Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans (later shortened to Democrats). However, even on the Federalist side, there were skeptics of finance, such as John Adams, who disparaged those who “moved money around” rather than doing real work.
 Others discussed include William Jennings Bryan, Father Coughlin, Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul.

UPDATE: I'm slated to discuss this article on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Tues., March 1 at 7pm ET.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Weekend games reading

Chess: "What Chess Owes Bobby Fischer," by Peter Worthington at FrumForum. My far weirder chess article "Searching for Bobby Fischer's Platonic Form," which I have to admit has nothing to do with Fischer.

Jeopardy: "Paging Dr. Watson: IBM to apply Jeopardy! victor's analytic skills to medical diagnoses," by Larry Greenemeier at Scientific American. "What Watson Can Learn from the Human Brain,' by Jonah Lehrer at Wired.

Catan: Can be done with knights now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wild speculations

If you have more than a passing acquaintance with popular-level writing on science-related themes, you likely will have encountered some or all of the following ideas. What they have in common is that they are highly speculative extrapolations or flights of the imagination that often are presented as compelling interpretations or solidly established facts.

1. The Singularity. In the mid-21st century, exponentially advancing technology will produce a swift and all-encompassing transformation marked by superhuman intelligence and a transcendence of mortality.

2. The Multiverse. Our universe is just one tiny part of an ensemble of universes, containing innumerable other versions of our world and ourselves, such that somewhere John McCain is president, for example.

3. The Simulation. The reality we experience is a simulation run on a powerful computer by aliens or distant descendants of humanity.

4. The Fine-Tuning. The constants and laws of physics were set by a higher intelligence at precisely the right levels to enable life to exist.

These ideas tend to chafe against each other. The Multiverse and the Fine-Tuning are vastly different interpretations of the same underlying physics. The Singularity might lead to the Simulation, but if we already live in the Simulation, how confidently can we predict the Singularity or, for that matter, analyze "physics," given that any real physics would actually be in the simulators' world, about which we know nothing.

In fact, all of these scenarios charge into areas where present knowledge is sketchy at best. We have little indication of what other universes might be like, what forms life might take even in our own universe (let alone other universes), how consciousness arises in a material reality (or might arise in a simulated one), and what meta-laws might govern any multiverse or other reality beyond the universe we observe. Given all these uncertainties and perplexities, speculations such as those listed above, thought-provoking though they can be, are basically just a strange sort of entertainment.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ski break

Back from skiing at Gore Mountain, where I was pleased to find this blog getting the recognition it deserves. More to come.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Physics collides with politics

Over at FrumForum, my latest, on Rand Paul and the Energy Dept.: "Paul Plays Politics with Physics." Excerpt:
Sen. Rand Paul has proposed eliminating the Department of Energy. Other Republicans are pressing for significant cuts to the agency’s budget. This push has included little discussion — or evident comprehension — of what it would do to American capabilities in physics, or why that matters.

Paul would transfer DOE’s nuclear weapons activities to the Pentagon (which is probably a bad idea as it would eliminate the deliberate redundancy of having two agencies safeguarding the stockpile). Moreover, he dismisses DOE in a Wall Street Journal op-ed thus: “Many of its other activities amount to nothing more than corporate handouts,” such as subsidies for companies developing cleaner energy.

But much of what DOE does has nothing to do with either weapons work or corporate handouts. The agency spends billions on basic research aimed at understanding the physical world. Such research yields vast benefits in generating new technologies and powering the economy. But its large-scale, long-term nature places it beyond the scope of any company; if the government doesn’t do it, no one will.
Whole thing here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Himalayan view

Here are some of the mountains near Everest, taken from a Buddha Air flight in 2009. (This is not the view from my driveway in New Jersey, recent snows notwithstanding.) I was reminded of such scenes by an intriguing show we saw the other week, In Search of Myths and Heroes, looking for a historical basis to Shangri-La. There certainly is plenty of space there for hidden societies.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

FinReg: a history

My latest article for Research magazine: "The Rise of the Regulators." Excerpt:
The 1913 Federal Reserve Act, creating a central bank and lender of last resort, marked a major step-up in federal involvement in the financial sector (expanding the previous role initiated by Civil War legislation that had allowed nationally chartered banks and set up the Office of the Comptroller of Currency). But Washington’s focus still was on stabilizing banks and the dollar, not on overseeing stocks and bonds.

The securities business thus remained lightly regulated overall through the Roaring Twenties. Industry touted its ability to self-regulate, as it had done since the 1790s by fixing brokers’ commissions. In 1922, the New York Stock Exchange imposed capital requirements on its member firms. Amid prosperity and rising stock prices, there was little public or political pressure for a tighter regulatory regime. Soon there would be.
Whole thing here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In memoriam

Farewell to JR Minkel, friend, colleague and science writer whose work I long admired.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Financial book watch

Current reading: Crash of the Titans: Greed, Hubris, the Fall of Merrill Lynch, and the Near-Collapse of Bank of America, by Greg Farrell. Quite interesting. I'll likely have some discussion of this book down the road.

Recent reading: Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System, by Barry Eichengreen, whose work I've touched on here and here. This book is a well-reasoned and well-informed look at a subject that often generates poorly reasoned and poorly informed commentary. One worthwhile review is at The Economist.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SOTU note

I hope to weigh in on the State of the Union address at FrumForum this evening.

UPDATE: "Frumicide"! Thanks, Rush. FrumForum couldn't buy that kind of publicity. Also, Live Chat will be here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Omega Theory

I'm pleased to note that Mark Alpert, friend and colleague from past work at Scientific American, and author of Final Theory, has written a second science-oriented novel: The Omega Theory.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bob Barr in Haiti

During the 2008 campaign, I had the pleasure of debating the dubious merits of Bob Barr's quixotic Libertarian candidacy in Barr's presence, as part of the now-defunct Debates at Lolita Bar. I said some fairly critical things about Barr, including a wisecrack about shaving cream that may have been a step beyond the proper decorum in speaking to and about a former congressman. I recall suggesting that his candidacy would be a springboard into future success in talk radio and the speaking circuit. What I never imagined is that Barr would resurface as a representative for the infamous Haitian dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier upon the latter's return to Haiti. How that squares with any kind of libertarianism I don't presume to guess. (Via LGF.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

A moment for contemplation

Posting can be expected to continue to be light (barring any sudden moves by my co-bloggers) as I catch up on various personal and professional matters. Thanks for visiting. This photo was taken in the excellent Patan Museum in Nepal in 2009.