Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy St. Stephen's Day

Hoping everybody's Christmas was merry and bright.

Here's a wren song for St. Stephen's Day. Here's another. Here are the wren boys in action, from County Clare. And a collection of material on St. Stephen, along with lyrics and sheet music. Today you'll probably want the cached version.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to all

Much fun for the whole family was had last year with the list of Christmas cracker jokes. The link in last year's post does not work any more, so here's a fresh link that works this year. Hmm; some of these jokes are familiar from last time. Here is another batch of jokes with just a couple of repeats from last time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

These Obama photos are a little different ...

… from the usual ones.

"I'm a Midnight Toker" -- Getting Stoned with Barry O

Hey, we all had our youthful indiscretions, right? And wrote about them in a couple of autobiographies? And went to prison, and found that our options for the future were not at all constrained, afterwards.

Van der Leun has the words and pictures: here is the music. Start this video, then read the linked post in another tab while the music plays to get the full effect.

Update: The video I had before does not work any more. Try this one instead.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Even more Fannie and Freddie

At Cafe Hayek: Finally, someone noticed.

There are four factors that helped drive up the price of real estate in the United States and create the housing bubble: The GSEs (Fannie and Freddie), the Community Reinvestment Act, expansionary monetary policy starting in 2001, and the 1997 Taxpayer Relief Act that for the first time let people avoid capital gains on home price appreciation without having to rollover the gains into a bigger house. All of these factors pushed up the demand for real estate. But by how much?
And this follow-up: Good tax policy.
You don't want to tax-advantage one investment over another or you induce a disproportionate flow of capital into that asset. That's the tragedy of the last ten years that's hidden. Tax policy and what came afterward caused trillions of dollars (not millions, not billions, but trillions) from China and here and elsewhere to go into building new and bigger houses rather than into more productive assets.
Thanks to The News Junkie at Maggie's Farm.

At, Peter Wallison on how government intervention in the housing market has led to the current problems. (About half an hour of a man talking. You could make popcorn.)

At PJ Media, Roger Kimball asks Who caused the global economic crisis? (Hint: it wasn’t George W. Bush). He does translate the French, at the end.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Left-over Obama links

Clearing up some tabs that have been left open way too long…

Michael Barone: With victory in sight, Barack Obama’s supporters are predicting that he will give us a new New Deal. To see what that might mean, let’s look back on the original New Deal.

The purpose of New Deal legislation was not, as commonly thought, to restore economic growth but rather to freeze the economy in place at a time when it seemed locked in a downward spiral. Its central program, the National Recovery Administration (NRA), created 700 industry councils for firms and unions to set minimum prices and wages. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), the ancestor of our farm bills, limited production to hold up prices. Unionization, encouraged by NRA and the 1935 Wagner Act, was meant to keep workers in jobs that the unemployed would have taken at lower pay.

These policies did break the downward spiral. But, as Amity Shlaes points out in The Forgotten Man, they failed to restore growth. Double-digit unemployment continued throughout the 1930s; despite population growth, the economy failed to rebound to 1920s production levels. High taxes on high earners (a Herbert Hoover as well as Franklin Roosevelt policy) financed welfare payments (“spread the wealth around”) but reduced investment and growth.

Michael Knox Beran: Obama, Shaman.: He is not the first politician to argue that politics can redeem us, but in posing as the Adonis who will turn winter into spring, he revives one of the more pernicious political swindles: the belief that a charismatic leader can ordain a civic happy hour and give a people a sense of community that will make them feel less bad. [Drawings by Arnold Roth!]
One more Ayers item (oh, please, let it be the last).
Sol Stern: The Bomber as School Reformer.: Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer. (If you find the metaphor strained, consider that Walter Duranty, the infamous New York Times reporter covering the Soviet Union in the 1930s, did, in fact, depict Stalin as a great land reformer who created happy, productive collective farms.)
There, now I can close that window. On the computer, at least; not on the future.

Once, in a noisy tavern, I was chatting with the lady who supplied the potted plants for the place, and asked her, "What's the matter with my fuchsia?" She said, "Well, maybe you could get a better job, and not spend so much time in noisy taverns."

The fuchsia will be here before we know it.

Car trouble

First gear: I own a 2001 Toyota Avalon, designed in California, built in Kentucky. Over 100,000 miles and runs like new. Is it an American car? Darned if I know—define your terms!

Second gear: A good comment at Megan McArdle's place:

GM and Ford (at least) do make cars that are cutting edge in their categories and that the public wants to buy. There called trucks and SUVs. If GM and Ford were allowed to make what they want and are good at--these, and anything else the believe they can profitably make--everything would be fine. Problem is, they can't just make what they want and are good at. CAFE standards require that they make so many small cars every year. And the truth is, neither GM nor Ford (nor Chyrsler, for that matter) can profitably make small cars in UAW factories.

Every failure falls from this. The bad reputation for quality and poor resale value, for example, result from the fact that the small cars are sold almost entirely on price. The number of small cars GM and Ford they must sell is driven by the number of big cars they can sell and their required corporate average fuel efficiency, which is what CAFE stands for. Thus, the companies lower the price through price cuts, rebates and low interest rates until the requisite number sells. Quality is sacrificed because it doesn't much matter to price-only buyers and reduces the loss on each car sold. For the same reason, the companies push fleet sales, even though those kill their cars resale value.

A couple years ago, all the government needed to do to save Ford and GM was eliminate CAFE. Now more immediate measures need to be taken. But these won't work as long as GM and Ford are required to build small cars in UAW factories.
Third gear: Do you remember when New York City had ten daily newspapers? Let me list them: Wall Street Journal, Daily News, Times, Post, Herald-Tribune, Journal-American, World-Telegram and Sun, Mirror, Star-Journal, and Long Island Press. And the Brooklyn Eagle, from time to time, would make eleven. What happened? Labor trouble. The Mirror went down in '63, after a strike; in '66, the Herald-Tribune, Journal-American, and World-Telegram and Sun tried to merge following a strike, becoming the World-Journal-Tribune, which did not last. "The Star Journal closed its doors in 1968 due to a strike by its workers who demanded higher wages and other benefits. In 1977, the Long Island Press was closed down due to the sad fact that while it became more expensive to put out the paper, less money was coming in, as well as labor troubles."

What's the common element in the newspaper stories? Labor trouble. Union leadership would rather kill the companies that employed their members than back down on their demands.

We are seeing this kind of short-sightedness again from the UAW leadership. Chapter 11 is the way for GM to go, if they can. Ford does not need help. [Inline update: In spite of union workers who are barely working (via).] Chrysler is owned by an investment firm that can redirect money into the auto company, but would not mind getting something from the government, if there is something to be got.

Mickey Kaus has been all over this lately.

To sum it up, too briefly and glibly: Our auto makers have been trying to please three masters, the union, the government, and their customers, in about that order. That's too many masters. It's no wonder they are in trouble.

Update: More on unions that kill their industries, at Chicago Boyz: Killing Cities: Indiana versus Texas. Steel, this time.

Franken is now leading in Minnesota Senate recount

Numbers from the Star-Tribune.

Those Minnesotans have the heck of a sense of humor.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Suggestion for DVD makers

I wonder if it would be possible to put out DVD's and CD's in a package similar to the 3.5" floppy disk, so that the surface of the disk would be exposed only when the disk was inserted in the player, and even then only a small portion of it. Of course everyone would need new players.

But I'm getting tired of rental DVD's with surface flaws that obviously were caused by careless handling of the disk. You get partway through a movie, and then are left hanging. At least with VCR tapes, you could tell pretty easily if the tape was broken before putting it in the player.

This digital information storage is great stuff, but I wonder how much of the godzillabytes that are being stored in one form or another will last even a fraction as long as those clay tablets from Sumer.

Browner appointment is "an arrow aimed at the heart of the American economy"

That line's from Bird Dog, at Maggie's Farm. And it's memorable. I can't get it out of my own head, anyway. Mr. Obama appears to have drunk all of the Al Gore-ian environmental Kool-Aid. The Bird Dog links to a WSJ article: "Mr. Obama is stocking his energy shop with the greenest of greens who want to move fast on a very aggressive climate agenda. Here come the carbon busters."

Moonbattery has this charming picture:

pyramids in snow graphic
Glenn Reynolds links to John Tierney at the NY Times, who asks, "Does being spectacularly wrong about a major issue in your field of expertise hurt your chances of becoming the presidential science advisor? Apparently not, judging by reports from DotEarth and ScienceInsider that Barack Obama will name John P. Holdren as his science advisor on Saturday."

The reports appear to have panned out, and colleagues at Woods Hole and Harvard, and some other people in Massachusetts, are excited.

Ron Bailey says that "In his salad days, Holdren was a paid-up member of The Limits to Growth club.… Near the beginning of his career, Holdren introduced with his colleague, perennial population alarmist Paul Ehrlich, the concept of the I=PAT equation. Human Impact on the environment is equal to Population x Affluence/consumption x Technology. All of which are supposed to intensify and worsen humanity's impact on the natural world. In the past Holdren has adhered to the common ecologist's disdain for insights from economics in helping solve environmental problems." [Typo in Ehrlich's name corrected by me.]

More Holdren at Solve Climate. And Luboš Motl isn't being coy: "John Holdren is the ultimate example of the pseudointellectual impurities that have recently flooded universities and academies throughout the Western world."

So Browner and Holdren are Deep Greens. Will they be having policy meetings with Paul Watson to determine the optimum method for bringing the world population down to a "sustainable" level, maybe one billion or so? That's a lot of Soylent Green.

In the meantime, the world is growing colder. Are we are getting closer to Fallen Angels all the time? Let's have enormous, expensive, economy-killing programs to stop the Earth from warming, when in fact the Earth is cooling.

Maybe we need to throw another log on the fire, as our ancestors did long ago. (via, via)

Here previously: Energy is the sine qua non of civilization, or even merely taking out the trash.

Update, Dec 24: a follow-up from Tierney: "My post on John P. Holdren’s appointment as presidential science advisor prompted complaints that I was making too much of Dr. Holdren’s loss of a bet to the economist Julian Simon about the price of some metals. But that bet wasn’t just about metals. It was about a fundamental view of how adaptable and innovative humans are, and whether a rich modern society is “sustainable.” Dr. Holdren and his collaborator, Paul Ehrlich, were the pessimists."

Update: Original source of the picture.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A new use for limericks

Thanks to Barbara Wallraff at The Atlantic for the pointer to the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form, or OEDILF.

"Can you use it in a sentence?"
"How about in a limerick?"

Which has nothing to do with a lime rickey.

I think if I just had the skill for it
And somehow could muster the will for it
I'd rhyme "global warming"
With something alarming
And find room in the O-E-D-ILF for it.

I enjoy occasional blogging
But regular posting's just slogging.
So I'll post on a day
When I've something to say
Or have some idea that I'm flogging.

I'll give this a "poetry" tag simply to avoid having to deal with different tags for poetry, verse, light verse, and doggerel.

Update: I see from the year-end roundup at Making Light that the OEDILF was mentioned there back in July, occasioning a comment thread rich in varied versification: am-phi-brach (n) + am-phi-brach (n) + i-amb (n).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


A trojan that mimics Windows activation. (via) And another one: "It's not clear how the initial infection gets to your computer. But once there, it puts hooks into Firefox to allow the spyware to watch and report on access to banking-type web sites. When such a site is accessed, the spyware grabs your login credentials and sends them off to the evil hacker. And that can't be good."

What makes Idiocracy an unlikely outcome: Balls and brains, at the Economist. (via)

"You kids take it easy with that kissing, now!" "Did you say something, Dad?"
Chinese girl gets 'kiss of deaf': A young Chinese woman was left partially deaf following a passionate kiss from her boyfriend. The story says that she will recover, so a little humor is not completely out of place. All the jokes are at Althouse.

50 worst cars of all time. Up to the present, I think, is what they mean, but it's TIME magazine, so maybe it's the 50 worst cars that have appeared in the magazine, or something else, careful about facts TIME is not, and the writing is highly subjective and personal (are those the same thing?), so "worst in what way," it could be anything, and indeed it's many things, to go with many cars. Worth it for the Horsey Horseless alone. (via)

A real Christmas tree is better for the environment than an artificial one. Via Planet Gore.

One of those blogs that's mostly links, you never know what you'll find there: The Message Digest. A few such links that appealed to me: the bacon and cheese roll. Looks delicious, but you would want to have a defibrillator handy. The Phrontistery, where "you will find the International House of Logorrhea (an online dictionary of obscure and rare words), the Compendium of Lost Words (a compilation of ultra-rare forgotten words), and many other glossaries, word lists, essays, and other language and etymology resources.", all about, yes, odd musical instruments, or as the author says, "fantastic instruments and sounds from around the world." Christmas Carol Music dot org: free sheet music for Christmas carols, in SATB and lead sheet styles, and quite a bit more, including MIDIs.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Should I be reading Cracked more often?

Or, What, more tentacles?

Back in the days when magazines were actually printed on paper, I remember Cracked was a lame imitation of Mad (the real thing, accept no fershlugginer substitutes). Now, on the Web, come articles like this one: 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies. (Not for kids! Rated R for unnecessary bad language.)

Hollywood is full of screenwriters moaning about how the studio ruined their original vision. But what we never hear about is the opposite side of the tale, where some truly horrific piece of writing gets turned into an awesome film.

In fact, it turns out some of your favorite movies started out as truly awful screenplays that somebody had the good taste to rewrite before the cameras started rolling.
Which movies? Oh, let's see, Star Wars, Spider-Man, Alien … here's the original Alien concept, if you believe it:

Not sure I see the problem. Squamous, rugose, possibly, um, eldritch? Might be more Lovecraftian than stf-nal, yet a fair number of Lovecraft's stories were sf, strictly defined. I like the way the two lower-most tentacles fold into Don Martin-style hinged feet.

I saw this at Ace of Spades. Maybe I'll just keep reading Ace, and let him notify me when there's something good at Cracked.