Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When Analogies Attack

I was reading the "preview" of this week's NY Times Magazine article on Freeman Dyson and why he is crazy b/c he's not joining up with the global warming scare-team when I came across this:
...The New York Review of Books, the left-leaning publication that is to gravitas what the Beagle was to Darwin...
What can it possibly mean? The NY Review of Books is to gravitas as the Beagle was to Darwin?

The Beagle was the ship Darwin travelled on that provided him the time and opportunity to catalog the observations that led to his theory of evolution and book laying out said theory "On the Origin of Species".

So the NY Times Review of Books is akin to a ship that gravitas sails on? Or it's the tool that allows gravitas to create new insights?

Am I missing something or is this gibberish?

I think what happened is the writer decided to forget that words actually mean something b/c it was just so nice to be able to shoehorn in a reference to another famously controversial-for-his-time scientist while reminding the reader of the "gravitas" of the NY Review of Books. It flowed so well the actual meaning (or lack thereof) of what he'd written seemed unimportant by comparison.

Slow Ride...

The city that never sleeps is going to slow down a bit, it seems. Massive service cutbacks and fare increases have been passed by the MTA's board.

It could be a bargaining tactic to force Albany to cough up some green but my bet is that my commute -- and travel to just about anywhere -- is about to get uglier.

Title of this post courtesy of Foghat.

Worst Week Ever...

So this Japanese businessman was on a business trip to Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 and gets a nuke dropped on him.

You can imagine how glad he was to quickly make it back home to Nagasaki...

Just in time for the Aug. 9 bombing there.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Misc. Links!

Couple of quick links to things I'm reading and enjoying.

1) This article(fn1) on the rise and fall of Culture11 is interesting thus far. It makes me wish I'd paid more attention to Culture11 when it was around(fn2). The opening few paragraphs also make me want to read more Tom Wolfe(fn3). I leave you with just this one quote from James Poulos, who was apparently the Political Editor for Culture11:
"The right has a lot to learn from people who are completely outside of it," he explained later. If they did that, they "might actually win some latecomers, people who have lived unhappy or unsatisfying lives. And if they show up at the door of the right and say, ‘Gosh, my super-transgressive life is sort of unrewarding, maybe I’ve exhausted this mine of self-indulgence and personal freedom and saying ‘fuck the man,’ and the right is completely disinterested in engaging those people, I think they’re missing out."
I feel that this expresses something significant about the approach to conservatism that I and many of my friends take. If I ever sit down and think constructively about my philosophy, understanding those elements will certainly be a part of it.(fn4)

2) That quote put me in mind of this excellent speech (the link is to the transcript) delivered by Charles Murray at the recent AEI something or other. I'll let him lay out the topic:
"I have two points to make. First, I will argue that the European model is fundamentally flawed because, despite its material successes, it is not suited to the way that human beings flourish--it does not conduce to Aristotelian happiness. Second, I will argue that twenty-first-century science will prove me right.
I haven't finished reading it through, just yet, but I find it intriguing. More the first bit than the second.(fn5)

fn1: Which I came across from the link in this post on the excellent Marginal Revolutions blog. Seriously, it's excellent, you should check it out.

fn2: I did find my way over there quite a bit, but not in any organized kind of way.

fn3: As does, interestingly, reading Tom Wolfe. Oh for more time...

fn4: Which is not at all to say that any of us have lived -- or even wanted to live -- "super-transgressive" lives, just that I have a respect for people who do but also a kind of distrust of the mindset that says we should throw out civilization b/c I want to grow beyond it. If you throw it out, how will you be able to justify your journey as going "beyond"? In other words, without standards, how can you boldly disregard standards? I'm going on too long, but it's something that I wrestle with from time to time. (fn6)

fn5: Came across the Murray speech on The Corner, National Review's blog that is usually fairly lively and interesting.

fn6:The phrase I always remember when thinking along these lines is "if you see through everything, you don't see everything, you see nothing." Kind of the zen way of pointing out that life without rules isn't ultimate freedom, it's ultimately meaningless.

Photo Fun!

Inspired by my friend Mr. D's blog, I have spruced up my title with a snappy new picture.

The picture was cribbed from here and adjusted in MS Paint with my awesomely spectacular graphic design skills. If anyone who has actual graphic design skills wants to come up with something better, I would be much obliged.

Couple of other blog management type things, while we're on the topic:

1) I am vaguely considering switching the blog to Wordpress. There seem to be some better features over there that interest me. If anybody has thoughts on the relative merits of Wordpress vs. Blogger, or even just wants to tell me about the fantastic features of Wordpress, I'd be interested.

2) Ads. As I was implementing my title picture, I noticed a "Monetize" tab in the Blogger management screen. Since we in the U.S. are now all about monetization, I was intrigued. But, of course, I live to serve my readers, both of them. Would there be any sig. objections to my experimenting with the relatively run-of-the-mill Ad-Sense text ads? Please register objections in the comments to this post. Frankly, I'm interested to see what ads my rather specialized take on the world would draw...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Of Sickness and Work

I've been thinking a bit about health care of late. It seemed only appropriate since our president is apparently of the opinion that the near collapse of the economy is a problem secondary to our health care system's many flaws and failings. So I'm going to be putting together some posts outlining my few thoughts on the health care system's present state, the problems, the potential, the potential problems...

At any rate, here's the first one.

Thought 1: The fact that health insurance is almost entirely tied to employment in this country is beyond stupid.

Interestingly, this bizarre state of affairs is actually a result (as most bizarre states of affairs are...) of prior government intrusion in the economy. You see (he says, settling into his easy chair and grabbing his pipe...) back, oh, 60 or 70 years ago, there was no such thing as health insurance. If you were sick or otherwise needed a doctor you sought one out, got treated and paid him. All on your own.

Now, keep in mind that this is so long ago that medical science was pretty rudimentary compared with what we have today. Oh sure, they had the germ theory of disease and a few highly efficacious drugs (aspirin, penicillin) but not many. The nearly miraculous and extremely costly treatments that we take for granted today simply didn't exist. For lots of conditions the best the doctor could do was make you comfortable and hope you either got better fast or died quickly. This was not as effective, for the most part, as modern medical science but it was relatively cheap.

So. No health insurance. Then, low about 1941 or so, we got into a bit of trouble with Germans and Japanese and decided to dedicate pretty much our entire economy to destroying their war-making powers. You may have heard the period referred to as WWII. It was an interesting time not just for foreign relations, but economically as well in that the government exerted unprecedented control over the economy, as it might be expected to given that it was purchasing the majority of the output.

Among the controls put in place were wage controls.(fn1) Now, people being bright and enterprising, they wanted some way around the wage controls. They wanted to be able to compete on price for labor, that is to offer higher payments for better workers, just as they always do. But they were explicitly not allowed to offer higher wages. So what happened? That's right! The first large-scale creation of "benefits". You see, rather than paying more you could pay the government mandated wage but add in a benefit like, for example, having your medical expenses paid for by the company.

Bully. And, of course, once created the benefit became a standard expectation and never died even though it is beyond ridiculous to have health insurance tied to employment in the way we do.

And that, dear reader, is the story of why health insurance is tied to employment in the United States: it was an unintended side effect of the well-meaning effort to curb wage inflation during the tight labor markets of the war years.

So, I think we can all agree that having health insurance tied to employment is beyond stupid. But it's interesting to note that this stupid state of affairs is the result of government involvement in the economy; it makes one wonder whether further government involvement in the economy is really the solution...

One of the best ways to wean us all off of employer provided health care would be to stop giving the tax breaks for health insurance only to employers. This gives them the incentive to offer gold-plated health-insurance as a benefit as it's a tax-free way to increase compensation. But why should health insurance be tax-free if your employer picks your choices but after-tax if you buy it on your own?

I thought McCain's proposal on this was great and I was disappointed to see Obama demagogue the point throughout the campaign. Relatedly, I was somewhat heartened to see that Obama has recently changed his mind and floated the idea of removing the tax benefit of employer-provided health care. Sadly, he has missed the point of McCain's plan, which was to move the benefit from the employer to the employee (or, actually, everyone, since you would no longer have to have employer-provided health care to benefit from the tax-savings) and is simply using it as a revenue generating measure to pay for his attempt to nationalize health care.


At any rate. Things to look forward to in future health care musings:

- Health care in the US is more expensive than in many countries with socialized systems yet has no better (and, in some measures, slightly worse) mass health outcomes. This is not suggestive of what you think it is.

- Enabling greater access to and utilization of preventative care may be a laudable goal but -- contrary to what many pro-government health care advocates say -- it is in no way a cost saving measure for the health care system as whole.

- And other wackily sensible thoughts on health care economics that I haven't even thought up yet!! What fun.

fn1: Which are always stupid in exactly the same way as price controls are because they are simply price controls on the price of labor. Anyhoo.


My favorite story of the year so far has got to be the story of the Prime Minister's gift.

In case you haven't been following all of its amusing wrinkles, please allow me to give a brief recap of the more humourous(fn1) moments.

Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, our oldest and most powerful ally, paid a state visit to President Obama. Ordinarily when the UK Prime Minister visits there is pomp and circumstance: a joint press conference, perhaps a state dinner, that kind of thing. Obama was apparently quite too busy not nominating anyone to Treasury to deal with the economic crisis and so decided that all he could spare was a brief conference in the Oval Office. Oh well, can't have everything for the first major state visit.

It is traditional at these first meetings to exchange gifts. Mr. Brown brought Obama a pen holder. A pen holder carved from the timbers of the old British anti-slaving warship the HMS President, the ship, it so happens, that was the sister ship to the British anti-slaving warship HMS Resolute whose timbers supplied the wood to create the desk that Pres. Obama uses in the Oval Office. He also gave him a 7-volume biography of Winston Churchill.(fn2)

Initially, it was a bit of a secret what President Obama had given in return, as the Prime Minister's office was uncharacteristically coy when asked about it. Eventually, though, it came out that Obama had given him a collection of 25 classic American DVDs -- including films relatively unknown in Britain such as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and Psycho.

That's quite a gift for any special occasion. I mean that could run you anywhere from $100 to $150 at Target, unless they were having a sale, but actually the thoughtlessness of the gift is even more profound than that. You see, Gordon Brown is blind in one eye and apparently slightly hard-of-seeing in the other. Giving movies to a partially blind guy might seem insensitive but it's actually not b/c the DVDs they gave were coded for the U.S. region and so won't play on British DVD players regardless.

It is literally hard to think of a gift that would be more embarrassingly inappropriate and demonstrate a higher level of disregard.

The British press took this as an unconscionable snub, and it's sort of hard not to see it that way. (fn3) Apparently, when asked what this meant for the historic "special relationship" one unidentified WH staffer said that Britain should expect to be treated no differently than any other country. Any other country like, say, pissant third-world dictatorships who hate America? Interesting to know.

More recently, when someone at 10 Downing tried to play one of the DVDs thus discovering that they were the wrong region and unplayable, a WH staffer contacted by the British press apparently "snickered" when he heard. It is funny -- I've been tremendously amused -- but this is perhaps not the correct reaction from a WH staffer. Maybe some contrition, some embarrassment, something.

I'm just so glad that we finally have some adults in the White House who will be charming our way back into those Europeans' good graces.


Perhaps later we can talk about Hillary's disastrous world tour that culminated with her trying to "reset" the administration's relations with Russia after their attempt at back-channel letter writing was embarrassingly publicly rebuffed. She gave the Russian Foreign Minister a button labeled "Reset" except that they mistranslated the button so it actually said "Overcharge". Aside from the wild inappropriateness of hammy prop-gags in international relations among world powers, there's the simple incompetence on display in not being able to get a one-word translation correct. Have they never heard of babelfish?

A wag on a blog I read pointed out that this is also interesting in that our general foreign policy towards Russia since the dawn of the nuclear age has been pretty uniformly directed towards getting them to not push the button. But whatever.

fn1: Yes, the British spelling. 'Cause it's a post about British folk.

fn2: The Churchill bio. might have been a traditionally understated British slap to the face, seeing as our Pres. had only recently decided to give back the bust of Churchill that the British government had loaned us as a sign of solidarity in the days after 9/11. But then again it might not have been, this is the genius of the understated British sense of humor.

fn3: Yes, hard to see, 'cause the PM's partially blind, get it? Whatever, I'm a blogger not the President. Yet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


On the topic of the AIG bonuses, I understand and sympathize with the outrage but am very much on the side of respecting the sanctity of contracts and our system's (rather flimsily remaining, it seems at present) rules against bills of attainder(fn1) and the like. These are the kinds of things that our very civilization depends on and should not be trifled with no matter how vehement the popular outrage.

That said, the whole episode throws into stark relief an interesting problem with the way high-finance's compensation system is currently set up.

This piece in the NY Times presents the best (and, perhaps, only possible) defense of paying out the bonuses. In addition to sharing my respect for contracts, he points out that the problems these people are unwinding are tremendously complicated and since these folk built them, they know the details better than anyone and are in the best position to fix them. So you want to keep them around and thus will pay to do so.

Also, there is the possibility of other companies poaching these folk away precisely because of their familiarity with AIG's positions. Yes, they constructed the financial bomb that almost destroyed the financial world, but now there is good money to be made if you know which companies are counterparties to the mess. Basically, you could bet against the folk exposed to the bomb you built.

Can we see the problem here? If you are one of these geniuses of finance, every incentive you have is to make big, risky potential bombs. The bigger, the better. The riskier, the better. If everything goes well and it pays off, you become unfathomably rich. If everything goes wrong, then so long as it's big enough and complicated enough, you'll be paid handsomely to try to defuse it, because you were the one who built it. And if anyone should refuse to pay you to try to save them from the disaster you created, you can go and make a killing betting on it's blowing up.

Financial innovation can be a wonderful thing but so long as the entire system of rewards is set up so that those with the most skill and knowledge of complex finance can best maximize their earnings by creating massive potential financial catastrophes, we are going to continue to have massive financial catastrophes.(fn2)

I'm not sure what the solution is. Perhaps going back to something more like the old-school partner model might be beneficial, as then the folk responsible are not just playing with other people's money, but with their own and with their own name.

fn1: It occurs to me that folk might not be familiar with the term "bill of attainder". A bill of attainder is when you pass a law that directly targets an individual. Traditionally, they were used to punish or sentence to death without a trial. They are expressly forbidden in the US Constitution. My recollection is that they were only very rarely used even by the time of our split from England but still our founders felt it an important enough point to include in the constitution. Though with a "living constitution", perhaps our understanding of their prohibition has grown to include allowing them when we really, really want to get somebody without all the usual legal rigmarole.

fn2: Note that we will certainly have massive financial catastrophes either way, but without the poor incentive structure we will hopefully have fewer and, at the very least, can take consolation in that we weren't basically paying people to create them on purpose.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wither Britain

Meant to mention this a month or so ago when it came out but congratulations to Britain for becoming the first industrialized nation to see the Flynn Effect reverse itself!

First into the Industrial Revolution and now first into the dark night! What an iconoclastic people those Brits are!

I must note how nice it is to have actual hard evidence for my thesis of Western Civ's decline. Guess I wasn't just whistling dixie after all...

A Tale of Two Monkeys

Recently up here in the NYC area we had an awful bit of excitement when a chimpanzee went wild(fn1) and mauled a lady, taking out her face and very nearly killing her. Police shot the chimpanzee dead.

An interesting side-note to the story was that the chimp's mother had also been shot after going wild but the circumstances were different in what I think is a fairly illuminating way. You see, the chimp's mother didn't actually maul anyone. In that case, the chimp started acting in a threatening manner and someone got a gun and shot it before it hurt anyone.

So what happened to that person? Oh, they were put in jail, of course. You see, the chimp hadn't done anything wrong. Its owner said they should have just hidden inside and let the chimp cool down, they didn't have to shoot it.

I am 100% sure if someone had shot the latest chimp just prior to its ruining of the woman's life, that person would likewise have been condemned for attacking an innocent animal.

Much of life is like this: you cannot prove a negative so you will be pilloried for taking actions that you feel are preventing worse outcomes. And you are more likely to face disapprobation the more successfully preventative your actions are.

Please note that I am not saying that we need to always err on the side of "shooting the chimp"(fn2), I am merely pointing out, as someone must, that the world is a complicated and messy place and there are no easy answers.

fn1: Any time a wild animal in captivity snaps and hurts someone I am reminded of Chris Rock's memorable nsight when Siegfried and Roy's tiger mauled whichever of them it mauled:
Sigfried and Roy, man, the tiger bit the man in the head and everybody's mad at the tiger. Talking about 'The tiger went crazy.' That tiger didn't go crazy, that tiger went tiger! You know when the tiger went crazy? When the tiger was riding around on a little bike with a Hitler-helmet on!
Classic. You can see it
here at about 1:20 in.

fn2: Though I do think "shooting the chimp" would make an excellent candidate for a phrase to popularize. I picture it working like this:
Two guys at a party immediately after one has cut his friend off as he was about to say something stupid in front of a girl...
Guy 1:"Why the hell did you do that, man??"
Guy 2:"Just shooting the chimp."(fn3)

fn3: I must confess, though, to never having had the stick-to-it-iveness to follow through on my phrase popularization schemes. A couple friends and I thought the phrase "compensating for bullet drop", which originally refers to snipers having to aim far above their targets to hit them after the effects of gravity, would make for an equally good pop-phrase. Actually, I still do, I'm going to try to work that into conversation over the next few weeks.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just Deserts

Ran across this piece in the Onion AV Club about the film The Devil's Advocate, a decent-ish Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino movie featuring the devil as a New York corporate attorney.

In the piece, the author makes this aside:

Aside: Why are criminal-defense attorneys always nearest to Satan in our culture? Everyone deserves a fair trial and adequate representation, and if they didn't, our justice system would collapse.
This is a fairly common way of thinking about our justice system's insistence on everyone having access to a fair trial but it is wrong. Everyone does not deserve a fair trial. Someone who has violated society's agreed upon standards of behavior deserves only whatever punishment society has deemed should follow that violation.

The reason we have this insistence on a fair trial is that we do not know with certainty who is guilty and who is innocent. And because we highly value the protection of the rights of the innocent, we have devised a system with hurtles against conviction of innocent people.

The reason everyone must have access to a fair trial in our system is not b/c guilty people deserve fairness it's because innocent people do. And you can't always easily tell the one from the other.

To illustrate the self-evident truth of this, let's imagine for a moment that we discover some marvelous new technology that allows us to tell with 100% certitude whether someone is guilty of a crime. Let's say it provides a television like view of the person that you can rewind through time to see with perfect clarity if they were actually the person who robbed the bank or killed their friend or whatever else the crime might be.

What possible purpose would a trial, fair or otherwise, serve in that scenario? Wouldn't they "deserve" a fair trial? Of course not! The purpose of the trial is to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that they are the guilty party but you would already have established that!

We might still have a use for sentencing hearings to determine the person's level of culpability (were they temp. insane, were there other mitigating factors?) and we would most def. still have disagreements as a society over what the appropriate punishment for various crimes should be but the trial system would be obsolete and useless.

I found the author's treatment of the devil's seductive monologue at the end of the film arguing that he (the devil) has been far more a friend to man than God ever was to be interestingly flawed as well but my dime-store theologizing will have to await another post.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Je réponds

So, as I mentioned, my flurry of posts at the end of last year drew forth an unprecedented number of comments. And not only a sig. number(fn1) but also substantive, which was pretty much a first for the blog. I was excited. I wanted and promised to respond. Unfortunately, year-end close and the ensuing annual statement stuff is the busiest time of the year at work and I've also been busy with some stuff at home so I have not taken the time to sit down and give the attention that such a response deserves.

But now I am.(fn2)

First, because I'm pretty sure nobody besides me reads the comments(fn3), here is SaltyGirl's response to my post on the paternalism of foodstamps:
(Not knowing where to begin, she puts on her boots, and wades in the muck.)There are many, many valid reasons for the government to designate what various forms of assistance must be spent on. Your assertion that the very act of designating aid for food, rather than just "giving" handouts is paternalistic is perplexing. There are many parallel circumstances- such as with governments only spending certain funds on certain projects- where it makes good sense to have designated pots of money for certain needs. Why do this? Any number of reasons- accountability, ease of tracking and evaluating need, etc. With foodstamps and other need-based forms of assistance, the gov't has the additional compelling interest of promoting the health and welfare of its people.

Ultimately, the fact that you are against most forms of gov't regulation will probably cause you to dismiss what I am saying. BUT. You should at least learn something about foodstamps while you are dismissing me: For people that are struggling financially, foodstamps are literally a lifesaver. Foodstamps and WIC make a huge difference in the quality of life for almost 30 million people in America. They give children the opportunity to not start out life disadvantaged because they are malnourished. Hunger is a real problem, and it exists in your city, today. Until you are prepared to do without all of the benefits of government, don't heap scorn on others who benefit as well. Aiee! I am supposed to be studying right now! Damn you and your blog, damn you!! :) (fn4)
First, just as an overall comment to dispel any misconceptions, I was not saying that foodstamps were bad because they were paternalistic. Indeed, I was saying that I think the paternalism is a necessary feature of them, that the money would be wasted if the government didn't attempt to direct the handouts to food.

Second, still sticking with the general before I respond in detail, I am not against "most government regulation". I am against stupid, counter-productive government regulation -- a category into which a disturbingly large amount of government regulation falls, I'll admit. But I am fully cognizant of the need for much government regulation. Being a conservative, I also believe that there are limits to how well government will ever function. This does not mean that I feel it should stop functioning. That would be more on the libertarian side of the spectrum and while I have some sympathy for that view, it is miles from where I am.

Another aspect of being a conservative is to be aware that there are no real "solutions" to many of life's problems. We live in an imperfect world that is not perfectible. Indeed, attempts to perfect it tend to lead to the worst kinds of suffering. So when I point out a problem, do not think that I am implying that I have a solution or that there even is a solution at all. There are always different sets of trade-offs that we could change to and we need to be aware of what set we are dealing with and think about what other sets might be possible but there is no "solution".

Now, to deal more directly with SaltyGirl's comment.

I must confess perplextion at SatlyGirl's perplexity (fn5) as stated in the first part. I am fully aware that there are lots of reasons for the government to put different money in different pots. I work fairly closely with accountants and realize that it is important and fascinating work.(fn6) That said, there is no need for the government's obv. interest in tracking their expenditures to dictate that expenditures intended to alleviate the effects of poverty be explicitly guided to food or housing or whatever with separate programs. The only reason for that is that you do not trust the recipients of these payments to spend them wisely. And given that you are designing programs to keep people from starving or dying of exposure (for housing programs), etc., it is imperative that you try as best you can to prevent that from happening.

Let's imagine, for a moment, that we do not feel that we need to supervise the recipient’s spending, that we trust their decision-making and don't feel the need to paternalistically tell them "this money is for food", "this money is for rent", "this money is for clothing" and whatever other programs we might set up. In such a world, the government's interest in tracking their expenditures and testing people's needs could be far more simply met. Rather than have a panoply of poverty programs designed to meet the various needs of poor people, we could simply decide what the minimum income for a person should be. Then need-testing would be the (relatively) straightforward process of seeing how much someone made and the giving would be the (again, relatively) straightforward process of truing up their income to the agreed-upon level. Much easier to administer, much easier to track for fraud, much easier to ensure that everybody's getting their needs met.

In fact, there are people who do trust in the decision making powers of everyone and advocate precisely such a system. Milton Friedman was one such person. I have perhaps a more cynical (realistic?) sense of reality so I feel that such a system would be a disaster. Some portion of the people who received the "true-up aid" would waste the money and end up starving in the cold anyways. They need guidance or structure to prevent that, much in the way a child does. And the word for that guidance is paternalism.

Indeed, SaltyGirl seems to pretty much concede this point at the end of her first paragraph. She says the government has the "additional compelling interest of promoting the health and welfare of it's people". I would agree. But, of course, promoting someone's health and welfare through guiding their actions is paternalism. Again, this does not make it a bad thing.

Not to belabor the point, but when SaltyGirl draws a parallel to the good-directed nature of food-stamp assistance to “governments only spending certain funds on certain projects”, I think she is making an error. No doubt, the government has an interest in knowing how much they are spending on, say, a bridge (I imagine this is the type of project SaltyGirl has in mind), but I hope we can all agree that if the government, when appropriating money for that bridge, felt it necessary to go beyond saying “this is bridge money, here you go” to “this is rivet money, you must spend it on rivets; this is concrete money, you must spend it on concrete; this is girder money, you must spend it on girders” and so on, they would be entering paternalistic territory. Pretty much the only reason I can imagine that they would go to that level of micromanagement would be if they didn’t trust the people in charge of building the bridge to not do something stupid with the money, like just blow it all on a pile of rivets. (fn7)

Now, does the government have an interest in knowing how much money was spent on concrete, rivets, girders, etc. for the bridges they have directed be built? Yes they do. But they get those figures by looking at how much was spent on each category after the fact, rather than trying to direct the money in the appropriation bill.

Moving on to SaltyGirl’s points about hunger being a real problem and foodstamps saving literal millions of lives, I would just say that I was in no way calling for the abolishment of foodstamps or doubting that they help real people. In fact, in the following post, I even said: “of course, in a society as rich as ours we should have a safety net to prevent the worst of human suffering”.

So I hope that will suffice to prove that I am not trying to deny others the benefits of government.

SaltyGirl was interested enough to also leave a comment in my follow-up post about the bad decisions that always seem to be in evidence in media stories about the plight of the poor but I’ll respond to that one in another post.

fn1: Well, significant to me and my little blog...

fn2: A small part of the reason for my long absence was what one might call the procrastinator’s dilemma. I had wanted to respond to the substantive comments left on my blog at the end of last year. I even started composing a response. But I wanted to do it right, spend some time on it. But never seemed to get around to it. And it seemed wrong to throw little one-off posts while not finishing my one big one, so I stopped those as well. It was a vicious cycle. Hopefully this post has broken it and I will learn from the experience to not get into that situation again.

fn3: A quick note about comments. First off, I fully realize that the Blogger software is rudimentary at best. Comments on a separate page without the post? Why? Also, I realize that it looks like you have to register to leave a comment. An exchange with a reader who has emailed me comments in the past brought to my attention the fact that some might be put-off by having to register to leave a comment. You do not, in fact, have to register to leave a comment. You will have to answer a captcha ("what does this text say?") to post and that's annoying but it does keep the spam down. So, just to let you know, don't be afraid to comment. I'd love it and it's prob. not as difficult or intrusive as you think. Also, in the spirit of 50 million Elvis fans not being wrong, I'd point out that Elvis has done it. If the King can comment, why not you?

fn4: I added a paragraph break where I thought it was appropriate and corrected one typo. Because the comment system on Blogger is atrocious (see fn3) I thought it was the least I could do. If there are objections, I'm happy to put it back the way it was.

fn5: Yes, I'm having fun by creating my own conjugation. It's the kind of thing I do.

fn6: Wait, no. Not fascinating, the other one. Boring. That's it. But still v. important. In fact, double entry accounting is one of the key discoveries underlying much of what we think of as "the modern world". Interestingly, it was invented during the "Dark Ages" and is just one of a number of examples of crucial technological innovation that took place during that much maligned era.

fn7: The other big reason they might do that level of micromanagement was if they had the opposite problem: the bridge builder is too honest and would just spend the money to efficiently build the bridge. Why would this be a problem for the politicians in charge of appropriating the funds? B/c they might want to direct money to, say, concrete providers and the bridge guy might not buy as much concrete as the politicians in league with the concrete builders have already decided should be used. Is this type of thing one of the motivating factors for food-stamps above and beyond paternalism? Almost certainly. We do have, after all, an incredibly powerful food and agricultural lobby, but I don’t think it’s the kind of thing SaltyGirl is advocating so I’m sticking it down here.

Super Apology

I picture my apology in the last post along the lines of Superman's apology for his absence during General Zod's attack.

You can watch it here, at about the 20 second mark:

Please note that I do not make Superman's promise that "I won't let you down again."(fn1)

fn1: Although, in all honesty, how seriously can we take his promise given that the latest Superman movie's premise is that Superman I and II happened and after that Superman left Earth for a decade or so? Clearly, he did leave Earth on it's own again and it was just lucky that no cataclysmic disasters befell us in that time.

February made me shiver, with every blog post, I didn’t deliver…

Sorry to have gone silent for the last month or so. I wasn’t “feeling it”, define that as you may.

I’m going to try to get back into the swing of things but I’m focusing a little more on work and other stuff so you’ll have to bear with me, I’m afraid.

Or not, I suppose.