Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Supremely Good Idea

Happy New Year! If you're looking for a good cause, Kiva is an organization that takes the concept of "microloans" that were behind the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this year and brings it to the shrinking world. You can help make a loan to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world and give them the opportunity to start a business.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Like My Markets Like I Like My Pepsi: Black, Bubbling, and Free From Government Intervention

Slate reviews a book that is definitely on my reading list, given my interest in black markets and anarcho-capitalist economies:

The result, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, suggests that in some American neighborhoods, the underground economy is a source not just of sustenance but of order, and that while shady transactions may be illegal, they adhere to a distinctive and sophisticated set of laws.

As the article states, it brings to mind a great old headline from the Onion: "It's Not a Crack House, It's a Crack Home".

Friday, December 01, 2006

Their Job Is to Snow Us

It's snowing a lot in B.C. right now (and me and my skis are here in Jersey...sigh), but in Santa Monica the government is really trying to snow the citizens by using 9-minute parking meters. Interspersed in the middle of a bunch of 9-hour meters, of course. And these are the only 9-minute meters in the city. And they (and their signs) look exactly like the 9-hour meters. If there's ever been a clearly illustrated instance of a municipality literally trying to trick people into getting parking tickets, I haven't heard of it. Whoever is behind this should be chained to one of the 9-minute meters for 9 hours. Where drivers can do to them as they please.

UPDATE: The city now says it was all a mistake, and they are changing the meters. I guess I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one, since the 9-minute parking space was perhaps (perhaps!) even too dumb a way for a municipal government to steal our money.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

But Will They Be Allowed To Eat Muffin Stumps?

hIn Fairfax Co, VA, life is imitating art in a sad, sad way that's far beyond even the abilities of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld to conceive. Legislators there have decided that it would be better for homeless people not to eat than to risk eating something from an 'uncertified' kitchen and potentially getting food poisoning (not that that's actually ever happened). It's decisions like this that even make Matt Yglesias sympathetic to the libertarian perspective.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stick a Pitchfork in Them

Generally speaking, I'm not that interested in a stranger's reviews of music, which I find tend to reveal much more about the writer than the music they are reviewing. Namely, that they're usually full of self-indulgent blubbering and attempts to sound incredibly intellectual and insightful about something that more than anything is a personal, emotional experience. And the impression I have is that Pitchfork is the worst (yet by far the most influential) of the bunch. They have that anti-populism bias that's even more self-concious and superficial than the typical bandwagon-jumping teenager (not to mention being elitist). I'm all for challenging the status quo, but challenging the status quo of cultural taste merely on principle is taking things a bit far.

Slate's take is here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Timeless Cry: "Damn those lazy, no-good _________, who are ruining the country!" (fill in name of unpopular ethnic group)

This post at H&R nicely sums up Tom Tancredo's (R-CO) dispicable, racist, and hypocritical stance on immigration. In short, after calling Miami (aka Little Havana) a "third-world country" and getting some predictable blowback from politicians representing South Florida, Tancredo responds with this:

''Moreover, the sheer size and number of ethnic enclaves devoid of any English and dominated by foreign cultures is widespread. Frankly, many of these areas could have been located in another country. And until America gets serious about demanding assimilation, this problem will continue to spread.''

What makes for some choice irony is that Tancredo himself is the gradson of Italian immigrants (you know, the ones who started all those "Little Italy" enclaves found in many major cities). What did an immigrant-basher in 1891 have to say about the trend at that time? Well, here's Rep. Henry Cabot Lodge (who I think was Veronica's father in The Archies) discussing immigration in the late 19th century:

"that immigration to this country is increasing and...is making its greatest relative increase from races most alien to the body of the American people and from the lowest and most illiterate classes among those races." He was speaking principally of the Italians, but also the Russians, Poles and Hungarians. He observed that these immigrants, "half of whom have no occupation and most of whom represent the rudest form of labor," are "people whom it is very difficult to assimilate and do not promise well for the standard of civilization in the United States."

And as Radley Balko wittily points out, Lodge seems to have missed the mark on the Italians:

In fact, the grandson of two of them grew up to be a modern-day Henry Cabot Lodge. Perhaps next century, a grandson or granddaughter of today's Mexican immigrants will grow up to become a leading voice against the next wave of immigrants, too -- the next Tom Tancredo. It's the American Dream!

I'm Sure Glad I Ignored My Teachers

Well, about lots of things - but especially when they told me to "sit up straight" (and what's weird is that it already sounds very quaint and hopelessly out-of-date that a teacher would even care if you were slouching. I certainly don't). Because new research has shown that sitting up straight is bad for your back - leaning back at an angle of about 135 degrees is actually puts much less strain on your spine. Which means that as I work here laying out on the couch I'm actually in the pretty much ideal position! Sweet.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Shrouded in a Mushroom Cloud of Death

Did you know that the awesome 80's hit "99 Luftballoons" ("99 Red Balloons"), while being a really peppy-sounding song (musically), is about a nuclear holocaust? I didn't. A definite landmark in the fun music coupled with depressing lyrics rock and roll catalogue. (title ref here, although the music from this song is more sweet than fun - the lyrical twist is certainly shocking, though)

In other pop culture news, it's almost December, which means Garry should be coming out with his Top 5 Albums of 2006 sometime soon (to go with his now-revised Top 5 movies of '06) . I've already got my top 3 ready for you, Garry. As for movies, the two at the top of my almost-year-end list are "Thank You for Smoking", and "Inside Man". I'll have to think more on the others.

No Causing Offense, Please, We're British

Another sign that the Brits are going insane in their "public order law" efforts to completely outlaw any behavior that anybody doesn't like: the UK cops are worried that people's feelings are being hurt by the various slogans thrown around at political protests. As they say, "The police want powers to tackle a "grey area" in the array of public order laws. At present, causing offence by itself is not a criminal offence." What if I'm offended by your terrible taste in clothes/music/cologne? Can we criminalize that, too? As much praise as we give the Europeans for their (generally more) progressive attitudes towards sex and drugs, they've gone completely overboard with their anti-free-speech "hate speech" laws. As I've said before: If we don't have freedom of speech, how will we know who the assholes are?