Monday, July 31, 2006

He Has To Speak For the Trees Because They're Free

My favorite Dr. Suess books have long been the modern-day parables of The Butter Battle Book and The Lorax. And much like everyone else, I have long thought of The Lorax as a well-told poem about corporate greed and preserving the environment. But courtesy of Jonathan Adler at The Commons Blog, here's a new interpretation (suggested by Paul Feine at IHS) of the tree-hugging classic:

Viewing the tale of the Lorax through an institutional lens, ruin is not the result of corporate greed, but a lack of institutions. The truffula trees grow in an unowned commons. (The Lorax may speak for the trees, but he does not own them.) The Once-ler has no incentive to conserve the truffula trees for, as he notes to himself, if he doesn't cut them down someone else will. He's responding to the incentives created by a lack of property rights in the trees, and the inevitable tragedy results. Had the Once-ler owned the trees, his incentives would have been quite different -- and he would likely have acted accordingly -- even if he remained dismissive of the Lorax's environmental concerns.

The story ends with the Once-ler giving a young boy the last truffula seed. He tells him to plant it and treat it with care, and then maybe the Lorax will come back from there. The traditional interpretation is simply that we must all care more for the environment. If we only control corporate greed we can prevent environmental ruin. But perhaps it means something else. Perhaps the lesson is that this boy should plant his truffula trees, and act as their steward. Perhaps giving the boy the last seed is an act of transferring the truffula from the open-access commons to private stewardship. Indeed, the final image -- the ring of stones labeled with the word "unless" -- could well suggest that enclosure, and the creation of property rights to protect natural resources, is necessary for the Lorax to ever return.

Very interesting: The Lorax as a story about propery rights (or more precisely, the destruction that follows when they don't exist). While I don't imagine this was what Dr. Suess had in mind (although I wouldn't put it past him; he was quite a crafty fellow), I will certainly offer this interpretation to my own hypothetical children when they read The Lorax sometime in the future, in addition to the important but more traditional lesson about preserving the environment.

Isn't it great that so many important lessons about the world can be drawn from simple children's stories like these? Animal Farm is of course another tale that almost perfectly describes the horrors of totalitarianism in a way that a child can understand. That's pretty damn cool.

Obligatory Mel Gibson Post

Not wanting to miss out on the hottest topic screaming across the blososphere, I thought I should say three words about Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic rant while being arrested for drunk driving (which also included of the Passion of the Christ filmmaker calling a female officer "sugar tits"). And while this proves without question that Mel Gibson is a racist idiot, this stereotype shouldn't be extended to everyone on the Christian right. But it is very interesting that the same guy who made a movie that was called anti-Semitic (a charge that was vehemously denied) has turned around and said that Jews are responsible for everything that's wrong with the world after having a few drinks. Will this be the end of Gibson's career in Hollywood? I think he's got some tough times ahead, no matter what kind of ham-fisted apology he makes. Of course, this incident is ripe for satire.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Libertarian Ethic

Because I am a staunch opponent of the drug war on both practical and philosophical grounds, I have recently begun investigating drug rehab programs that I can assist with either monetary contributions or volunteer time. This I feel not only helps people who I feel desperately need help from their fellow human beings (i.e. those with drug problems), but has the added benefit of adding legitimacy to my position that drugs should be legal for adults to consume. [Aside: the requirements for a program I would support are that it not promote a helpless-victim “addiction as disease” mentality, be anti-prohibition, and preferably be non-religious. I am currently looking into some options and I will post an update with what I discover.]

I mention this because it brings up a broader idea: as I have grown more libertarian in my political/philosophical views, I think that I have actually become (to a degree, and on a broad, non-specific scale) more moral, thoughtful and compassionate. This runs counter to the belief that many people have about libertarians believing in “every man for himself”. Here’s my explanation for this (and don’t get me wrong, I still have a long way to go in living the kind of life I think I should be): The libertarian perspective removes responsibility from government and places it the hands of individuals. As this idea has become more ingrained in me, it has led me to start using that responsibility to do good in the world. For example, I believe in the power of the free market, which requires me to make smart and ethical decisions as a consumer (i.e. if I don’t believe that factory farming is ethical, then I need to only buy free-range animal products; if I believe in renewable energy, then I must but power from green producers (if available) and/or financially support alternative energy research. Putting my money where my mouth is, as the saying goes). What is interesting to me is that as I have become more libertarian and freedom-oriented, I have become more interested in making responsible choices and being an ethical member of society. Which supports my theory (with one self-referential data point, which is of course meaningless, but bear with me) that as people are granted more liberty in their own lives, and as a consequence perceive themselves as having a greater role in the society around them, they will move towards becoming more integrated – economically, socially, and morally – with the surrounding world. As we have let government take over more and more of our lives, we have become less and less interested in playing a role in the direction our society takes.

When we give people responsibility, they will make (by and large) good, ethical decisions with it. For too long, we have outsourced our morality to the government – we haven’t needed to think about helping others, because we’re good little citizens and pay our taxes and the government takes care of society’s problems (as if paying taxes with the threat of jail as the alternative implies some sort of morality…it’s more of 'coerced giving' than true compassion, but that’s another discussion). But if you want, as I do, to live in a world with less government and more personal freedom, you must be prepared to accept the responsibility that comes with it. People will never be perfect, and people will always make mistakes, and there will always be murder, crime, and inequality. But when we remove the government from it’s pole position in our consciousness and as our de facto moral center, we can release the well-intentioned member of society that has been hidden behind it. Over time, freedom will encourage people to really look (maybe for the first time) at the society around them and see how they can play a positive role in the world.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Air Up There Stays Up There

In a controversial move, the World Anti-Doping Agency is proposing banning altitude tents and altitude training rooms which simulate the effects of high altitude in order to improve the benefits from athletic training. The WADA says these artificial methods violate “the spirit of sport”. Of course, it also hands a huge disadvantage to any athlete not fortunate enough to live at high altitude (or able to move there). Personally, I don't think this is a good move for the WADA, and hypoxic devices should remain legal. If a particular league or the governing body of a certain sport wants to ban them, fine (although I also think that would be a mistake), but making a call on what consitututes "the spirit of sport" is outside the WADA's mission and probably creates more inequality in training opportunities. Any former Huskies out there with an opinion on this one?

History Can Be Cool, Too

This is fascinating: according to a new study out of Columbia University, it was the unsanctioned trading done by sea captains working for the East India Company that was responsible for the establishment of the first global market (which led to the success of the East India Co.).

The researchers analyzed data from 4,572 voyages undertaken by the East India Company between 1601 and 1833, totaling over 28,000 port-to-port journeys. In a paper in this month’s American Journal of Sociology, they describe how many rogue captains ignored orders to trade in established markets and then return directly to England, choosing instead to explore new locations and trade between local Asian ports for their own personal profit. Although they were breaking the law by appropriating supplies and ship crews for this private trading, in doing so they ultimately benefited the East India Company by building a larger market and gaining a unique knowledge of local market fluctuations.

A great point is also made about the nature of markets:

Because a market is a decentralized structure, it must consist of many individuals who can act in their own interest. “We sort of take the process for granted at this point,” says Erikson. “We live in a capitalist society, we think markets are good, we believe in individual freedom. But back then, people didn’t believe individual initiative was a good thing, especially in the context of a monopoly organization.”

[Via H&R]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Willingness to Accept Challenges to Your Beliefs

Charges of "flip-flopping" can be pretty meaningless sometimes (the '04 election did nothing to help this). I'm not a Keynesian, but one of my favorite quotes is from him:

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?

While debating anyone with different worldviews than your own can often be frustrating, it has great potential for learning on both sides, provided neither party suffers from excessive confirmation bias. I fear this in myself, and try as best I can to keep an open mind in situations where the data seems to indicate a failure of libertarian thought (or wherever I happen to stand). Tim Lee channels Jane Jacobs and makes some interesting points about worldviews and people's ideological blinders.

Somewhat relatedly, here is an interesting case of Federal Air Marshalls proving that if you look hard enough for something, you're going to find it. Especially if your job depends on it.

Signing the Constitution Away

Cato's David Boaz, discussing President Bush's "signing statements", makes a point similar to one I brought up a few days ago:

If you are a conservative, ask yourself: would you want Hillary Clinton to have this power?

(Come January 2009, you can bet they won't.) He also reminds us that since WWII, presidents have "increasingly found themselves driven to sign bills that they believe are at least partly unconstitutional." The response has typically been by using signing statements to indicate that they believed some provisions were unconstitutrional. Bush did just this when signing the ill-conceived (and grossly unconstitutional, by the way) McCain-Feingold bill restricting campaign spending. He said the bill as written had "serious constitutional concerns" and his expectation that "the courts will resolve these legitimate legal questions." But of more concern is how Bush has used signing statements to essentially say "I'll follow this law only if I want to", as he did with the anti-torture bill earlier this year. Here's an interesting analysis on whether Bush is playing the role of Andrew Jackson in Ol' Hickory II: The Veto Wars.

Of course, Bush recently used his first-ever veto to keep federal funding from supporting stem-cell research. Although I am a strong supporter of stem-cell research there is an obvious libertarian conflict point on this issue (in libertarian paradise, the feds wouldn't be funding this research anyway, it should happen through private investment). But since we are living in a decidedly un-libertarian world, funding things with legitimate promise (such as embryonic stem cells) is something I can get behind. If the government is going to spend my money, I'd like it to be spent well.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Budding Businessboy Busts Bonbon Ban

Try as the government may, it's almost impossible to eliminate a market for a product for which there is demand. A school in England that has banned vending machines from the school has learned the rule of irrepressible markets via a 13-year-old entrepreneur who's pulling home $100 a day in black market candy sales. Somebody give this kid a diploma, he's clearly a lot smarter than the people running the school board.

Should I say it? ...Aw, what the hell: When candy sales are outlawed, only outlaws will sell candy.

Monday, July 24, 2006

"I enjoy cocaine because..."

Start you week (or more likely, your Tuesday) off right with some great footage from the Colbert Report. In this segment of "Better Know a District", Stephen manages to get Rep. Bob Wexler to say "I enjoy cocaine because it's a fun thing to do". What, possibly, would be going through the head of a politician agreeing to go on this show? You know Colbert is going to make you look like a fool.

Radley Balko predicts that the continued embarrasment of lawmakers on the Colbert Report will result in congressional hearings on "disingenuous interviewing" within the next year. Sadly, it doesn't seem like an impossibility. These guys do not like to be the butt of jokes they just don't get. (Wexler's reaction is here.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Serves You Right

You know what really pisses me off? Liberals (or anyone, really, but it falls more on this side of the dial) who have done nothing but encourage the expansion of the government, and then bitch about it when someone they don't agree with uses that power in ways they don't like. The tangentially-related comment that set me off about this tonight was this little snark on DailyKos regarding Canada's environment minister:

...But you're right, you can be sure she doesn't make a move without checking in with Big Steve first. He's the authority figure for ALL of Canada, ya know. ;-)

Well, yes, I totally agree, it is ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING how much authority rests in the PMO. And it happened because so many people happily handed authority over to the government when their guys were in power.

Sometimes I think people NOT in power should be the ones who actually make laws, so lawmakers (and their supporters) might be able to appreciate how those rules are going to be twisted and interpreted by the other side when they inevitably take the reins someday. So few people seem to think about this. One should always imagine how one's political enemy would use a certain authority before voting to give that power to the government. (Determining the public school science curriculum through the political process is a perfect example of this. I doubt your average Darwinist would feel the way they do about public schools if they were in the minority and creationism was the standard story being taught because of the particular beliefs of the majority of the public and elected officials).

If the people offer absolute power to a well-meaning government, they shouldn't be surprised when a less scrupulous government uses that power to enslave them.

Lengthening My List of Tales About the Long Tail

As I mentioned previously, some people have the (silly, in my opinion) concern that the growth of niche culture will be harmful to society because of a loss of shared experiences. Mickey Kaus shares a great observation from an e-mail commenter that points out another twist - technology has made it much easier to share the slice of culture you’re into than it ever has been before:

... even though there are fewer people watching Jay Leno every night, it's now much easier to communicate with all the people who are watching.

When Bob and Mickey were growing up, you went to school if you wanted to talk about the Ed Sullivan Show and hoped your classmates would be talking about it.

Today if you watch even a niche Bravo reality tv show -- say
Top Chef or Project Runway -- you go to Technorati an hour after the show ends and find hundreds of people, far more than attend your classes or work in your office, who are talking about that night's show.


So years ago, common culture required that everyone be watching something at once. Now the Web allows things that would become defining cultural moments but for an audience to attract that audience after the fact.

How many people say that World Cup head butt live? How many saw it on SportsCenter, on an Internet video clip, etc. later on?

For the record, Chris Anderson has never said that the era of “hits” is dead, and actually argues that they are still necessary in order to bring consumers down the long tail.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Fun Link

Via To The People, here's the blog of a taxi dispatcher relating stories about all the stupid calls he gets. Hilarious.

If It Weren't for the Housing Inspectors, No One Would Have a Roof

A sans-leather jacket Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason, recently took on Jonah Goldberg of National Review at an AFF roundtable on whether libertarians and conservatives can really get along. There’s audio (of terrible quality) available here, and commentary on it at Hit & Run here and here. I think H&R commenter Warren makes an excellent point that has sometimes frustrated me – that people assume that libertarians subscribe to an every-man-for-himself philosophy (he’s actually making the point that people assume libertarians are against “tradition”, but there are parallels). Libertarians (or at least myself) believe that people should be free to develop whatever kind of organizations they want, but they shouldn’t be forced into those relationships. From his comment:

Goldberg seems to think there is a strong cultural anarchy vein to libertarianism, an insistence that all tradition and "ancient wisdom" be discarded. But this is flat out false. Nothing in libertarianism requires it's adherents to embrace the Bohemian creed. Libertarians believe in self-governance, the 'devolution of authority' as Nick so eloquently put it. There is nothing in libertarianism that prohibits you from practicing the most austere forms of Puritanism. What libertarians object to, is having your (elitist/arbitrary/white-man's) traditions imposed on others.

[Apologies to David Wiegel for stealing his title, but it was just too good to resist. It perfectly captures the libertarian perspective on regulation.]

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Landis, Near Biggar

If you're not following the Tour de France, you missed one of the greatest athletic achievements in recent memory. Attacking the field early on and essentially riding alone up 5 major climbs for 125 km, Floyd Landis put himself back in contention for the overall title. A truly inspiring performance. When your heart is pounding just reading updates online, you know it's something pretty amazing.

Lance who?

Drug War v. Science

Who do you think the winner is?

The “gateway drug” hypothesis has taken another blow (ahem). A recent study finding that adolescent rats given THC were no more likely than a control group to become addicted to heroin. Although the THC group took stronger doses of heroin, based on this study there appears to be no physiological basis for a connection between marijuana use and later heroin. Of course, the biggest reason there might be a connection in real life (which is very small, even if there is one, with 97 million Americans having tried marijuana versus only 3 million having tried heroin) is that buying pot puts you in contact with the kind of people who sell heroin.

[Tangentially: the oft-debunked “gateway drug” thing is bogus for many more reasons, too. A link between trying pot and trying so-called harder drugs would be completely expected, since people who try pot are exactly the type of people who might be willing to try heroin (or whatever). To repeat an overused phrase, correlation does not imply causation. If you lack the rebelliousness to even smoke marijuana, it’s unlikely you’ll stick a needle in your arm for a hit of heroin.]

Plus, another study has found that no link between smoking pot and cancer, even among very heavy users. The likely reason: even smoking a pack of cigarettes a day leads to very small increases in cancer risk (which honestly surprised me, and sure puts the “smoking will kill you” theory in an uncomfortable place), as the big jump in cancer seems to kick in at around 2 packs a day. And to get as much cancer-causing chemicals as are found in two packs of cigarettes, you’d have to smoke more than 10 joints a day, a level beyond all but the most chronic users. Marijuana’s cancer-fighting agents no doubt also play a role.

Give up, Drug War. You’re losing, and you’re hurting millions of innocent people in the process.

Governmet Protects Their Monopoly On "Helping" People

Stop helping your fellow citizens, Las Vegas. That's the message coming from City Hall, as the Las Vegas City Council has passed an ordinance that bans giving food to homeless people. Even charging a nominal fee is illegal. So if you're going to give homeless people a sandwich, make you charge them a lot for it.

While this bylaw may shock you, don't worry: "This is to help people", according to Mayor Oscar Goodman. "The people who provide sandwiches have good intentions, but they're enabling people not to get the help that is needed." In other words, government help. That's their territory, you lousy do-gooders!

As for identifying the homeless (because you can of course still give food to your friends who are proper members of society - this bill is specifically focused on the "indigent"), the mayor assures us: "Certain truths are self-evident. You know who's homeless." [Unbelievable. I can't believe he used the phrase "truths are self-evident" to describe this blatantly unconstitional and unconscionable law. ]

The ACLU is fighting the ordinance.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why Not Also Sue the Car Manufacturer For Making Vehicles With Back Seats?

Imagine this: Pete and Julie, a couple of teenagers, meet at a local coffee shop. After phone calls and emails, they arrange a date - McDonalds and a movie - and one thing leads to another in the back seat of Pete's car. When Julie’s mom finds out, she’s furious, especially as Julie is only 14. Pete is practically a jaded oldster at 19. Result: family hires lawyers who announce that they’ve identified a perhaps unexpected culprit. According to the family, the coffee shop is to blame for putting Julie in a position where an "adult sexual predator" (namely Pete) could sweet-talk the girl into an eventually dangerous situation. The family sues the shop’s owners for $30 million, which their lawyer says is a "bare minimum" to compensate the damage done and to punish them for not better chaperoning their premises.

Of course, this wouldn’t have been the most talked-about American lawsuit of the past month had Pete and Julie actually met at a coffee shop. As everyone now knows, they instead met on MySpace.

Walter Olson, discussing the MySpace lawsuit.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Not-So-Sweet Home Chicago

Residents (and future residents) of Chicago might be suffering from a reduction in menu items if City Council gets its way. Councilor Edward Burke has introduced a proposal to ban trans fats from the Windy City. For those who doubt the slippery-slope argument against government legislation of private behavior (i.e. smoking), this is a perfect example of how the micromanagement of our lives has no reasonable stopping point in the eyes of power-mad government officials.

In what would make great satire if it wasn’t real life, Burke manages to invoke the classic “it’s for the children” argument and has audacity to imply without irony that these types of prohibitions are what make a city civilized. In Chicago…where previous experiments with prohibition didn’t exactly create a civilized utopia.

[HT: The Agitator]

Monday, July 17, 2006

On the Summit

You Will Be Contacted By Telegram Regarding Your Application

Kerry Howley points to an uninentionally-hilarious article in Time, which looks at the impending doom of "brain drain" from the federal government as the baby boomers retire. The articles notes that the government has streamlined the hiring now only takes 53 steps, rather than 114.

Best of all, there's a great recommendation on how to attract more people to these jobs:

The truth is, the average American would love one of these jobs — but they don't even think to look. Out of sight, out of mind. The government will need to wake up to the modern age, using recruiters and newspaper advertising.

Howley responds: "So wake up, government! Newspaper advertising is the wave of the future."

In Defense of Niche Culture

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of the niche culture opportunities being opened up by technology, as explained in Chris Anderson's The Long Tail. To me, the opportunity for people with unique and eccentric tastes to satsify them is a beautiful thing. Of course, some people don't like the fact that we all aren't mindlessly watching the same TV shows anymore, because that's what "binds us together". Now, I love pop culture. But this is the dumbest argument against decentralization I've ever heard. Jim Henley and Jesse Walker rightly bring Marc Gunther down a notch in his cry for the death of mass culture.

The unfounded fear of "too much choice" is debunked here and here by Radley Balko, a process he wittly refers to as "The Tyranny of Mustard" (due to complaints that too many brands of mustard were destroying us via choice overload).


Random (minor) chaos observed this weekend: apparently, highway engineers are serious when they say “no vehicles longer than 35 feet beyond this point”.

The Evolution of Markets and the Spontaneous Order of Nature

As mentioned below, I recently finished reading The Moral Animal by Robert Wright, which is definitely one of the most profoundly interesting books I’ve ever read. A thought that came to mind early on while reading this is how there seems to be a disconnect among many people in their willingness to accept evolutionary thought in different realms. I will posit that “believing” in the ability of market forces to produce better outcomes is very analogous to “believing” in the theory of natural selection (Darwin was influenced by Adam Smith’s ideas, after all). Yet many people who are sympathetic to market capitalism (i.e. many conservatives) resist the theory of natural selection, while many liberals who favor the theory of Darwinian evolution have strong reservations (if not open hostility) towards the free market.

Beating me to the punch in thowing this question up on a blog was Jonathan Alder at The Volokh Conspiracy, who touched on at least half of this same idea in a recent post:

…I am quite puzzled that so many conservatives who accept the idea of spontaneous order in the marketplace are nonetheless enthralled by the idea of "intelligent design." As F.A. Hayek and other important economic thinkers explained, the order and coordination of the marketplace arises spontaneously and does not require any central planner (or intelligent designer). Further, the economic order evolves over time without any such central planning, as successful innovations and organizations displace their predecessors. Why is it that those who see no need to ascribe the existence of complex evolutionary organizational systems to a central intelligence in one sphere find the concept so necessary in another.

The whole “watchmaker” analogy always seemed pretty weak, anyway. I would just add that that reverse is also quite puzzling – why would many liberals who accept evolution and spontaneous order in nature find it so hard to accept that no omnipotent being (i.e. government) is necessary in the economy? If it is possible for many people to accept the lack of a central planner in one instance, why is it so difficult to do so in another? This is a question I don’t have the answer to, but I would like to come back to it at some point to try to get at the root of the apparent inconsistency displayed by many people on both sides of the debate.

[As an aside: Anti-capitalistic people often talk derisively about "the invisible hand" as if it is some kind of mythical creature, while failing to realize that its the same mechanism that is at work in evolution. Why do these people abhor the notion of a designer in nature (often with a good deal of superiority over those who doubt natural selection), yet embrace it in the economy (in the form of government)? It seems to reveal a certain arrogance to believe that natural selection is all well and good for nature, but the principles don’t apply in our economy, because WE can do better. Personally, I think that people who think they can design the whole economy better than the market can are supremely arrogant and tragically naïve. ]

To be provocative, let’s just say that conservatives who won’t buy evolution are like communists (“we need a central planner to design this complex system!”) and liberals who won’t buy market capitalism are just like proponents of “intelligent design” (creationists, in other words). That should get everyone on the defensive. For the record, I believe in natural selection AND free markets. I don’t like central planning in nature, so why would I want it in my economy?

Laughing Our Way to Genius

On Friday, during a talk I was at on “The Principles of Economics that Aren’t Taught in The Principles of Economics”, I was struck by a question that arises directly from reading Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal over the past couple of weeks (I’ll be blogging more about this excellent and fascinating book soon). Why, from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology, does laughter help us learn? And more generally, why do we learn the way we do, and what is the evolutionary basis for that?

So, my my new idea for the book I want to write (which will likely get filed away beside my other not-yet-started-and-unlikely-to-get-started-anytime-soon book idea “The Libertarian Environmentalist”) is what can evolutionary psychology teach us about how to best teach our kids? Hmmm…Next summer’s grant proposal? But how can I justify going to Patagonia/Nepal/BC/Alaska to study it?

Fun and Mismanagement at 10,358 ft (3,157 m)

This weekend I had the pleasure of reaching the summit of South Sister, one of the highest peaks in Oregon. A fantastic and grueling hike, and highly recommended to anyone spending time in the Cascades. And I hate to dwell on any negatives with what was truly an outstanding day (except obviously, complaining about things is central to the whole blogging philosophy), but the Three Sisters Wilderness area of the Deschutes National Forest could use a bit of recreational management. Now, I’ve always actually had pretty positive experiences with recreation in the National Forests. I like their campgrounds, and I support the “pay-to-play” direction they’ve moved in with regards to maintained failities. But this weekend, the US Forest Service had me on the offensive before I even started hiking, with their lousy info regarding wilderness access permits. While I like the fact that self-service day permits are available at the trailhead, the website should probably not explicitly say “permits are not available at the trailhead”, which may cause law-abiding individuals like myself to drive around Bend for half an hour trying to find a Ranger Station that’s open on a Saturday morning, which is something that just doesn’t exist (not that I mind spending time in Bend, which is one of my favorite towns in the world). And on the trail that crosses a lot of snow even in mid-July, perhaps it would be a good idea to have something indicating to hikers where the trail is through the alpine and subalpine areas. In low-use areas, I’m all for keeping signage to a minimum, but when you’ve got one of the most popular hikes in the state going through the most fragile ecosystem in the world it might be a good idea to put some flagging on some trees to keep people on the trail. It would help with public safety and keep people from wandering across alpine meadows because they’ve lost the trail. (And the signs made out of dead, sun-bleached wood? Very attractive close up, but not so visible with the white rock everwhere and tons of other dead, sun-bleached timber around). What’s frustrating about the poor trail management is that it’s just so easy to make it much better – it would take one ranger one day to put up flagging along the trail that would cut down on 90% of the unintentional wandering people do. I’ll say one thing about the east – they don’t have the vast expanses of wilderness, but the hiking groups (Adirondack Mountain Club, etc) that look after the trails out there do a great job with maintenance and signage. And beautifully, it’s all done voluntarily, because the people looking after it are the same people who use it and care about it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Political Honor: 99% Irony-Free

A bipartisan group of members of Congress and the Senate will be honoring some of their own next week for their “hard work, service, time and the sacrifices made in upholding the office with which they were entrusted.”

What’s absolutely unbelievable about it is that one of the people who is receiving an award is former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.). That’s right, the one who’s now in prison for bribery he undertook while in office.

What’s wrong with these people?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

When's Zidane Bobblehead Day?

Like Bill Simmons, I think the whole Zidane thing was blown way out of proportion and been completely overanalyzed. Haven't these people played sports before? You don't get to be as good as Zidane without being incredibly competitive, and sometimes their emotions will get the better of them in battle. And he managed to make the World Cup way more interesting than it had been up to that point. This can only help the sport's growth in North America, as some people seem strangely worried and passionate about. Still a dumb move, but geez, get over it.

Sez the Sports Guy:
I thought it was fascinating to watch him wipe out two stereostypes at once: That soccer players are wusses, and that French people are wusses. I'm also delighted that the Euro papers hired lip readers to see what the Italian said to him -- you know how I've been pushing for lip readers to replace sideline reporters for the past few years. But I didn't think the Zidane thing was as big of a deal as everyone made it out to be -- 8 minutes left in extra time, and it's not like they didn't have 10 guys left. Plus, their keeper, Paul Shaffer, didn't come close to stopping any of Italy's penalty kicks. They would have lost either way. I'm just excited that Tyson's ear bite on Holyfield finally has a sports rival.

Hilarious anti-Materazzi video here, via TtP.

Happiness Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch

I hate to be too hard on the eco-socialist hippies, since I used to be, you know, one of 'em, (and still hold some crunchy granola sensibilities) but this new "study" reporting that Vanuatu (yes, from Survivor!) is the happiest nation on earth is more than a little suspect in its methodology. I would argue that trying to measure this statistic is essentially impossible, but let's look at their methodology and see how much sense it makes. The Happy Planet Index (good grief!) ranks 178 countries by "multiplying life expectancy by life satisfaction, and dividing it by environmental impact in each country, including carbon emissions." Ahhh! So if you're a country with high happiness scores and long lives but produce lots of carbon dioxide (i.e. western Europe, Australia, and North America) you're going to score poorly - I guess because you can't be really happy, with all those carbon emissions sucking the joy right out of you. The whole set-up is rigged to penalize wealthy, energy intensive economies. And I agree, there are certainly things to criticize about these economies. But that they somehow "produce" unhappiness isn't one of them, and this study certainly doesn't establish that link. For an interesting contrast, check out this graph showing a positive correlation between CO2 emissions per capita and reported life satisfaction.

Will Wilkinson has a more detailed criticism here.

Tragically, some major news outfits are picking this story up and trumpeting that Vanuatu is the happiest place on Earth, and nobody in the MSM seems to be looking critically into the study at all.

The Long (T)Ale

A story that combines a couple of my favorite things (decentralized economics and beer), Chris Anderson (author of the just released book, The Long Tail, blogged about previously by me here and here) draws our attention to the rise of the microbrew in the new niche-market economy.

Objectivist Theatre 3000

Jane Galt explains the origins of her moniker and has a few funny and interesting things to say about the upcoming movie version of Atlas Shrugged. The comments are worth reading, too, if you know a bit about the book. The post also features the phrase "hot Objectivist nude scenes". Come on, you know you want to click.

We Wouldn't Want to Hurt Anyone's Self Esteem

Note to the New England Journal of Medicene: In the future, when discussing the issue of childhood obesity, at least acknowledge the possibility, that perhaps, there is a small role for parental responsibility. Go ahead and call for fat-taxes and regulations, if you must. But at least mention the fact that personal responsibility is a (likely pretty big) part of the equation.

Whatever the reason, the fact that two articles about the problem of childhood obesity in the NEJM could fail even to mention individual parental responsibility is indicative of what one can only call a totalitarian mindset. According to this mindset, it is for the government to solve every problem, either by prescribing behaviour, or forbidding it, or of course both. It is not that I think that the proposal that the government should ban the advertising of noxious products to small children is wrong; what bothers me is the failure to recognise that there is any other dimension to the problem, a dimension that is in fact much more serious. (emphasis added)

Yeah, but if we said that we might make parents feel bad, and we wouldn't want that! Anyone who can't say "no" to kids begging for junk food deserves to feel lousy about the shitty job of parenting they're doing, anyway.

[via H&R]

A comment from the H&R post I particularly liked:

The more we look to government to fix problems, regardless of how they were created, the less we look to ourselves, not only as individuals but as parents, to act responsibly. It would seem to me that even those most enamoured with government as the agent of our social desires would have some misgivings about the increasing extent to which that has become the norm, not only because government cannot solve all of our problems or satisfy all of our desires but also because of the sort of people we want to be and want our children to be.

Right on - how about some meliroism, people? We may not be in complete contol of our (or our children's) destiny, but standing there helplessly moaning about needing the government to step in and solve our problems is going to achieve far less, far more slowly then doing something to directly improve the world around you.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Welcome to the United Dictatorship of America

Where "the President is always right". Absolutely terrifying. Bets on this guy getting fired?

It's Not Like the Lottery is Gambling

Since you aren't capable of deciding how you should spend (or lose) your money, Congress has banned internet gambling. Of course, they rejected an amendment to the bill that would have extended it to include horse racing and state lotteries. Incidentally, the profit margin from state lotteries is in the 40% range, while casinos average about 3-5% (I'm looking for the source on this, I heard it a couple of weeks ago). Recent evidence indicates that the growth of casinos on Indian reservations is cutting into the profits of lotteries - if this trend continues, I'd expect the government to shut down these casinos any way they can. And Radley Balko asks the same question I did: why does the Washington Post break down Congressional votes by astrological sign?

More from Jacob Sullum:

You can't even give Goodlatte credit for being a consistent moralistic busybody. His bill, co-authored by Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), makes exceptions for lucrative state lotteries and the politically influential horse racing industry.

It seems government sponsorship renders what would otherwise be a "scourge" as wholesome as the Postal Service, Amtrak, and the Interstate Highway System. And horses are so beautiful and majestic that naturally you can bet on them, online or off. But not on dogs; that would be crazy.

Goodlatte's bill likewise leaves untouched gambling on riverboats, on Indian reservations, and in cities such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City. It's one thing to engage in this distasteful activity out in the open, quite another to do so in the privacy of one's home.

Who Will Kill The Conspiracy-Theory Documentary?

I haven't seen the upcoming documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?", but I'm pretty suspicious of it. Do people really believe that it was a conspiracy involving ALL the oil companies, and ALL the car companies (which is what you'd need for a conspiracy to work if the electric cars were actually decent) and that NOBODY leaked anything about it? In an era where we know every time Lindsay Lohan buys a new bikini?

If the electric car was profitable, someone would have supplied it (or they will, once there's a market for it). The car's range, which was "up to" 130 miles (although this dropped significantly if you ran the headlights or had the heater/AC on) is completely impractical for most people. Sure, that's fine for lots of trips around town, but what about going away on weekends or summer vacations? Unless you mind stopping every 130 miles for an 8-hour charge, you need to own two cars - which is even more energy and materials intensive than owning one average gasoline vehicle.

And even more interestingly, why are people so enthusiastic about electric cars, anyway? Don't they know where the electricity comes from?

#1 on Day 1

On the day I was born, the #1 song on the UK charts was Paul McCartney/Wings' celtic anthem "Mull of Kintyre", and the #1 album was Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours". I'm pleased.

Try it out for yourself here.

Private Preservation

My favorite granola-eating organization, The Nature Conservancy, is up to their usual good work. They have purchased federal trawling permits in order to conserve marine areas in California. No backroom lobbying and distortionary regulations, just the market at work - when property rights are assigned and enforced, then we can really start to vote with our dollars to preserve the parts of nature we care about.

The Great Paperclip Caper

Earlier this year, I blogged about Kyle MacDonald, who was attempting, through a series of transactions, to trade a red paperclip for a house. Well, as of today, he's found success! Exactly one year after he began this adventure, Kyle has sucured a house in my home province. The people of Kipling, Saskatchewan have traded a house on Main St. in the small town for a movie role.

Incidentally, pretty much everyone thought he was crazy when he traded the one year rent-free in Phoenix for the day with Alice Cooper, and crazier still when he traded that for the Kiss snowglobe. But never underestimate the eccentric tastes people have - Corbin Burnsen offered a role in his movie because he's one of the world's biggest collectors of snow globes. And now a resident of Kipling will have a role in a movie being filmed this fall.

This gets my vote as one of the best stories of the year.