Monday, November 1, 2010

Goal of the Week: Buddle Goal Against Seattle

An unbelievable strike by Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy) against the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the playoffs. Kasey Keller, one of the best goalies in MLS, didn't have a chance. It was the only goal of the match, but what a goal.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Laffer Cliff

The idea for this post has been bouncing around in my head for months, delayed by life beyond the blog. Hopefully, the idea aged well.

Who'd have thunk it? At least one practitioner of the dismal "science" can be both entertaining and informative.

Allow me to introduce Dr. Arthur Laffer of Laffer Curve fame, an economic theory that Ben Stein used as material in his classic portrayal of a deadly boring economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

[The movie clip may not appear until after the jump.]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rediscovering Capitalism: Lessons from the Mistakes of Marxist-Leninism

Disclaimer: I copyedited this book, and the author is a friend and colleague.

More than a year ago, a colleague asked me to help copyedit a book she was writing: Rediscovering Fire: Basic Economic Lessons from the Soviet Experiment to Eliminate the Market. When she explained the idea behind the book--using the Soviets' experiences as a series of experiments to demonstrate fundamental laws of economics (i.e., capitalism)--I was intrigued, in part because of my background in Soviet and Russian studies. In a fit of generosity, I agreed, which I came to partially regret later when my schedule became ridiculously busy due factors outside of work. (I was already quite busy at work.)

When I actually began working on it, the regret disappeared. Her idea was as good as it had sounded. Repeatedly, the Soviets had destroyed the market and its mechanisms only to realize that they needed to recreate them to make the Soviet economy function at all. Naturally, their attempts to mimic market forces through central planning were at best half measures, which promptly failed, leaving the leaders to rediscover and reinstitute market forces under various thin disguises. The whole episode of Soviet economic experimentation would make a wonderful comedy if it had not condemned millions to misery and even death.

The book is well worth a read.

I take some pleasure in the cover by John Cox. I referred Guinevere to John Cox, a favorite cartoonist and caricaturist of mine, who has an eye for absurd.

Note: If you see any typos in this book, I don't want to hear about them. They are obviously the publisher's fault. :-)

Related Links
On Guinevere Liberty Nell, Rediscovering Fire: Basic Economic Lessons from the Soviet Experiment to Eliminate the Market (2010).
John Cox Art, website

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Board at your own risk"

Photo courtesy of WMATA
Something unique happened on my commute home, which is usually a bad thing, but not so much today.

When I boarded a Metro train at Union Station, the driver started warning passengers that the air conditioning was out in all six cars of the train and that it was a "hot train." She continued by warning that anyone with a medical condition should get off and wait for the next train.

Hot Metro cars are nothing new to me, but an entire train is and so were the warnings. Either this driver was seriously concerned about the welfare of her passengers or Metro may actually be getting serious about improving customer service. Hopefully, both.

But this was not the end of the warnings. She topped everything with "Board at your own risk," which I found  quite funny and refreshingly direct. The irony of a train driver urging passengers not to board her train was delicious. I don't even remember if she followed silly Metro practice of referring to the passengers as "customers," which has always annoyed me as a needlessly imprecise term.

If I'd been going a longer distance, I would have waited for the next train. Hot cars can be quite exhausting. Instead, I enjoyed watching the other travelers react to the driver's warnings as they boarded at each station.

If the driver came up with this routine on her own, she should be immediately promoted to management, which appears to need some clear thinkers.

Related Reading
Dr. Gridlock, "Miserable weather for Metro," Washington Post
Unsuck DC Metro blog

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To twit or not to twit?

First, my apologies condolences to Shakespeare for mangling his words in yet another way.

For years I have avoided online social networking like the plague it is. I have responded to invitations to join Facebook with barely disguised disdain, and the idea of using Twitter repulsed me. How can anything substantive be shared in 140 characters or less? Truly, the users appeared to be twits (silly peevish persons or fools per Webster's). The whole thing seemed like a joke on the users, thinly concealed by defining "to tweet" as the verb form of using Twitter.

What can I say--I surrendered to peer pressure. Shortly after returning from my tour of Israel, I joined Facebook to keep in at least minimal contact with my new friends from the tour. A few days ago, I gave into the "final" ignominy by setting up a Twitter account for this blog to allow me to easily share links to items that catch my interest. (It actually is quite simple.)

Yet I still have my limits. I absolutely refuse to "tweet," which seems too cute by half.

I will "twit" (to subject to ridicule or reproach) instead, particularly the politicians in Washington who frequently act like twits.

Who knows how I will capitulate next? Maybe I'll buy a smartphone and start downloading apps.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Update: Lawlessness in the U.S. Department of Justice

This has been bubbling for a few days, and DOJ has "responded" to J. Christian Adams' charges. Apparently, DOJ officials feel they can't afford to ignore, even though the "mainstream" media has ignored it so far.

Adams responded to the smears:
The problem with smearing me is that there are many others who know the truth inside the Department. Documents which they refuse to turn over pursuant to subpoenas from the Civil Rights Commission prove it. Testimony from other DOJ employees, which they refuse to allow, would also prove it.
Where is the mainstream media? This should be fairly easy to corroborate.

"DOJ Slimes Whistleblower Adams in Panthergate Case," PajamasMedia

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lawlessness in the U.S. Department of Justice

An op-ed by J. Christian Adams, a former voting rights lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice, levels some damning charges at the Obama Justice Department, particularly the Civil Rights Division and the Voting Section. The charges appear to be internally consistent and consistent with known facts.

The flashpoint was the decision to dismiss the case against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation in Philadelphia at the polls on election day in November 2008. By all reliable accounts, the government had a strong case, but an Obama appointee and another DOJ lawyer ordered the dismissal against the strong objections of the lawyers pursuing the case.

While one apparent miscarriage of justice is bad enough, this incident may evidence deep-seated corruption within the Civil Rights Division of the Obama Justice Department. Adams reports that "instructions were given that no more cases against racial minorities like the Black Panther case would be brought by the Voting Section." In other words, certain minorities are above the law. This is neither justice, nor "equal protection of the laws" (14th Amendment). A scarier question is: How widespread is this corruption in the Justice Department?

Hat tip: Hot Air

Further Reading
"DOJ Attorney resigns due to…racism?" HotAir
"Court: Obama's DOJ Lacking Transparency," The Judiciary Report

Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup Controversies, Gaffes, and Highlights

The World Cup always creates controversy--that's part of its charm. Predictably, it began months before the first game with the traditional grousing about the ball. Each World Cup has its own ball. This year it's Jabulani, which means "to celebrate" in isiZulu.

The World Cup is now in full swing, and group play (the round-robin stage) has already produced its share of highlights and lowlights. The three that follow caught my attention. (Yes, I'm obviously biased toward the U.S. team.)

Utterly Amazing Goal by Maicon (Brazil v. North Korea)

Video link (ESPN)
This goal seemed to defy the laws of physics, and Maicon did this at a full sprint. What a great way to start off the World Cup . . . unless you're from North Korea.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Euro's Dive: The Story in a Chart

In five months, the euro has lost about 20 percent of its value versus the U.S. dollar. Granted, the euro was probably overvalued in December--partially because of increasing discontent with U.S. dollar and the increasing irresponsible U.S. fiscal policy--but the euro's decline strikes me (a slightly informed observer) as something more fundamental than a market correction to an temporarily overpriced currency. If the stock of a publicly traded company dropped like this, its investors would be extremely worried.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Karl-Heinz Schnibbe: Mourning the Passing of Hero

Upon returning from my trip abroad, I was saddened to hear that Karl-Heinz Schnibbe had died on Sunday, May 9, in Salt Lake City--65 years plus one day after the Third Reich surrendered. I never personally met Mr. Schnibbe, but the story of him and the other members of the Hübener Group has inspired me for years. He was the last surviving member of the Hübener Group.
My interest began with the book The Price, Schnibbe's autobiography of his experiences in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The book was a gift from my parents when I was a teenager. It continued with Huebner, a play in God's Fools, a book of plays by Thomas Rogers, which was a birthday gift from my brother. Huebner probably had the greatest effect on me because in it Dr. Rogers, later a professor of mine at BYU, brought to life the dilemmas of conscience that Helmet Hübener, Karl Schnibbe, and Ruddi Wobbe--among others--faced as Mormons trying to live their religion in Nazi Germany. Some years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Huebner performed at BYU, and Schnibbe was present and was introduced to the audience at that showing.

The more I have learned about the Hübener Group, the more their story has fascinated and inspired me, both for their bravery and for their willingness to act on their beliefs in standing up to a ruthless totalitarian regime.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First Impressions of Israel, Greece, and Paris

The mental fog is beginning to lift as my sleep patterns are returning to "normal," so it seems time to regurgitate a few first impressions from my travels in Israel, Greece, and Paris.

Quick Hits
In Israel, you can't swing a (rather thin) cat without hitting a tourist or a church (or synagogue or mosque). In Bethlehem, which is in Palestinian territory, you can't swing a cat without hitting the street merchants who swarm to sell unsuspecting tourists a wide range of generally unwanted goods. In Athens, you can't swing a dog (I didn't see any cats in Athens, but I'm told that they almost run the island of Santorini) without hitting an archaeological dig. In Paris, the city and the people are too beautiful and distracting to even think of swinging a cat (or dog). (No dogs or cats were harmed or even touched in the construction of this paragraph.)

All of the road signs were in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Minarets were everywhere, making Israel appear more Muslim than Jewish. The landscape looks remarkably like Utah with barren hills and minimal vegetation--in other words an arid desert--except that the Israelis tend to build their cities and towns on the tops of the hills.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

EU Monopoly Money

In preparing for a trip to Europe, I recently exchange some dollars for what looks like Monopoly money. (It's helpful to have some of the local currency in hand when arriving in country.) Unfortunately, the euro currently trades for about 1.35 dollars, so it cost me a lot more than Monopoly money.

(But I suppose this is preferable to a time in 1994 when I withdrew 250,000 rubles from a bank and traveled halfway across Moscow to buy a train ticket to Berlin.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Links of the Day Archive

Until I find a better, easier way (and the time to implement it), I'm archiving my Links of the Day in this blog post. I'll update it approximately every week.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The First Fallout from ObamaCare

Mike shot in Operation Ivy (1952)
We are just beginning to experience the fallout from ObamaCare, and the effects won't be confined to the health care sector.

As required by federal regulations (or perhaps laws--I'm not completely sure which) SEC rules, Caterpillar has announced that it will take a $100 million hit in 2010 due to "additional taxes stemming from newly enacted U.S. health-care legislation." John Deere, another manufacturer of construction equipment, has announced that it expects to take a $150 million hit because of ObamaCare. AT&T has announced that it will take a "$1 billion non-cash charge for the current quarter." 3M plans to take a $85 million to $90 million charge related to ObamaCare. These losses will continue to pile up as more publicly traded companies report major changes in their financial situations. (This is one instance where a federal regulations rules are actually serving a public good.)

As these hits accumulate, the effects will rampage through the economy causing destruction far beyond the health care sector. In the construction industry alone, which is already struggling to put it mildly, these losses will destroy jobs (or slow job creation), increase construction costs, and give Caterpillar and John Deere yet another incentive to relocate operations outside the United States. Perhaps we should call ObamaCare the American Jobs and Businesses Destruction and Deportation Act.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rehashing the ObamaCare Debacle

The health care "reform" bill was and is a debacle, but not the way I had hoped it would be.

I should know better than to try to predict how Congress will act , much less how specific members of Congress will vote when under concerted pressure from the President and their congressional leadership. (See my previous post: Obamu's Health Care Debacle.) But I let my hopes cloud my political judgment.

The vote in the House was disappointing, but it should not have been surprising to see Representative Stupak sell out his stated anti-abortion beliefs for an essentially meaningless executive order. A presidential executive order cannot change a law—in this case, the Senate health care bill—although it can affect to some degree how a law is enforced. However, an executive order carries no guarantees. President Obama or any future President can withdraw it at any time without any warning.

I assume that Stupak at least knows this, so despite his protests that he was acting on principle to protect the lives of the unborn, he knows that the executive order is worthless. This leads me to the conclusion that he was just looking for political cover.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Goal of the Week: Adam Johnson v. Sunderland

 And now for something completely different . . .

This may seem almost sacrilegious during March Madness, but a few days ago I caught the last few minutes of the soccer game between Sunderland and Manchester City, two teams in the Premier League, probably the best soccer (the British would say "football") league in the world.

The game was already in stoppage time, and Sunderland was seconds away from upsetting Man City by a score of 1-0. Then Adam Johnson ruined their day by tying the game with an absolutely brilliant goal, curving the ball into the upper left corner of the goal. The goalkeeper and the defender on the line had absolutely no chance of stopping it.

For the video, see the Soccer Portal or the Manchester City website. Truly an amazing strike.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Guarding Against the Dangers of Good Intentions

When lacking wisdom oneself, its often helpful to steal from quote wiser people. In this case, Daniel Webster said a few things in 1837 that are remarkable on point in the current debate about health care, among other things:
I believe the power of the executive has increased, is increasing, and ought now to be brought back within its ancient constitutional limits. I have nothing to do with the motives which have led to those acts, which I believe to have transcended the boundaries of the Constitution. Good motives may always be assumed, as bad motives may always be imputed. Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of power; but they cannot justify it, even if we were sure that they existed.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Obamu's Health Care Debacle

obamu: (v.) To ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities, think “Yes we can, Yes we can,” and proceed with optimism using those facts as an inspiration (literally, as fuel).

What are they thinking?

President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress are either making a massive tactical error or . . . well . . . nothing. I'm at a loss to present another viable explanation.

My evaluation is not unique. Others have compared the futility of it to Pickett's Charge, which probably destroyed any chance of the Confederates to win the Civil War.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blog Upgrade

I'm in the process of upgrading the blog. A few things should be immediately obvious, such as I've switched to a three-column layout. Other changes will be behind the scenes, such as I've figured how to directly post a Google document as a blog entry. I'm still experimenting, so more things will change.

One of the things driving these changes is that I keep a list of links to interesting items that I might want to write about. I usually stumble across two or three a day, but life beyond the blog allows me to blog about only a very few. In the new layout, I'll list these in the left column, most recent items at the top.

Another consideration is that until recently I haven't been able to blog during the day because I could potentially endanger the Heritage Foundation's tax exempt status if I used foundation resources (e.g., computer and Internet connection) to blog. My new toy--a netbook--has changed that. I now have private Internet access whenever I want it. So now I can blog on my breaks. We may all come to regret this.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Praise for the U.S. State Department

I am frequently critical of U.S. Department of State and the federal government in general, but in this instance, praise is due to the Passport Services Directorate in the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

On February 4, I mailed my passport renewal application to the processing center in Philadelphia. Much to my surprise, yesterday, February 26, I received my new biometric passport in the mail. The application had recommended allowing up to three months for normal processing of a renewal application (I didn't pay for expedited processing).

In this instance, government efficiency was definitely not an oxymoron. In fact, the turn-around time of three weeks, including one federal holiday, is impressive given the two major snow storms that hit the East Coast during that period. The federal government in Washington, DC, was officially closed for four days (and barely functional on several others). Presumably government offices in Philadelphia were also closed much of that week.

So in this case, the government workers deserve a round of applause.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Friday, February 26, 2010

ObamaCare by the (Real) Numbers

I made a point of ignoring the health care summit yesterday, but this slipped through my defenses.

In this clip, Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) does a masterful job of dissecting and exposing the phony math behind the Senate's health care bill, which serves as a useful proxy for the President's proposal, except that the President's proposal would be even more expensive and destructive. This is arguably the clearest and most concise explanation that I've seen of the numbers in the health care debate.

The President was not amused.

Note: In "fairness" to the President and the Senators who voted for the Senate's bill, phony math is normal operating procedure on the Hill. Such gimmicks are not unique to the health care debate. It's just that massive amounts (trillions of dollars) in play in health care reform magnify the effects of these accounting gimmicks.

Hat tip: Power Line

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Giant Step Forward in Missile Defense: Successful Test of Airborne Laser

On February 11, the Missile Defense Agency announced the successful test of its airborne laser (ABL) against two missiles launched an hour apart. But its matter-of-fact press release does not even allude to the earthshaking implications of deploying such a weapon, which should worry such perennial troublemakers as North Korea, Iran, and Russia.

At present, the U.S. has deployed only a rudimentary missile defenses against ballistic missiles, which can destroy them in the midcourse and descent stages. Even those defenses have massive holes in them, some of which would have been plugged by the "third site" in Poland and the Czech Republic. Regrettably, President Obama unceremoniously canceled the third site in return for a bowl of cabbage soup from Russia. (See my previous rant: Is Putin Even Playing in Our League?)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Obama Free: More Change and Hope in Union Station

An update to my post "Change and Hope in Union Station" on August 18, 2009.

By the end of December, all of the Obama merchandise had disappeared from the kiosks, along with several of the kiosks. As of two or three months ago, the kiosk that had prompted the original blog post was no longer selling any Obama merchandise--pro, anti, or neutral. In January, the final bastion of Obamania in Union Station fell when the Obama shrine (See top picture), a.k.a. My Obama Shop, closed for good.  I don't know whether the lease had just expired or it had gone out of business. Both seem likely. It was open for about one year, but I rarely ever saw anyone in the shop, including the alleged attendants. Unless it received stimulus money, the owner certainly didn't turn a profit.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Washington Buried Under Two Feet of Global Warming

At present Washington, DC, is buried under two feet of snow, and it is still snowing. Even in Idaho, this would qualify as a major snow storm. In Washington, where the sight of a few snowflakes can bring the capital to a screeching halt, this almost qualifies as a natural disaster, with some people tagging it "Snowmaggedon" or "Snowpocalypse." Adding to the silliness, lawyers in downtown DC organized a snowball fight using Facebook and Twitter, with the invitations predictably accompanied by a liability disclaimer.

Well, one bit of silliness deserves another, to wit, the title of this blog, which (falsely) implies that the current snowstorm disproves the theory of anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming (AGW). At most, the current snowstorm constitutes one data point, which by itself can prove little more than Washington has a lot of snow at the moment. (AGW appears to be self-destructing quite nicely, without the current snowstorm's help.)

However, the title does illustrate the weakness of many the "arguments" used to buttress AGW. These arguments frequently try to use individual weather events to "prove" climate change (the current politically correct, albeit possibly more accurate name for AGW). "Warmists" seem driven to seize upon every major storm, hurricane, or tornado as further "proof" of AGW. Such arguments are at best . . . fatally flawed.

Friday, February 5, 2010

China Rising

And now a bit of shameless self-promotion . . .

But first, a disclaimer to protect my employer (and me): The views expressed in this post and on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Heritage Foundation. 

It's nice getting published.

On Tuesday, the Heritage Foundation published a paper written by me and Mackenzie Eaglen, Research Fellow for National Security at Heritage: "Submarine Arms Race in the Pacific: The Chinese Challenge to U.S. Undersea Supremacy."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Treasury's $5.5 Trillion Lump of Coal for the Taxpayers

On December 24, the same day that the Senate passed its obscenity of a "health care" reform bill, the elves at the U.S. Department of the Treasury quietly made the taxpayers liable for an estimated 5.5. trillion in home loans, or about one-half of all home mortgages.

The Treasury worked this bit of magic by simply adjusting the formula it uses to determine how much financial support the Treasury is allowed to provide. This required no action by Congress, although Congress could intervene if it wanted to. Support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had previously been capped at $200 billion each, but the new "flexible formula" effectively removed those caps until 2012.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Running Joke on the Taxpayer

In the run-up to tonight's State of the Union speech, the media have been reporting that President Obama will call for a "spending freeze" on discretionary spending. In plain English, this means that Obama will call for "freezing" the spending of the portion of the budget that Congress has not already committed to spend (e.g., defense, education, transportation), while allowing entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare) to continue to grow at unsustainable rates.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Age of Obama: Krauthammer on Obama's Foreign Policy:

On Tuesday, Charles Krauthammer spoke at length on the President's inept and dangerous foreign policy. I blogged in September on a vaguely similar line--"The War President"--but Krauthammer discussed those issues and more in greater depth and with much greater insight and eloquence than I could ever muster.

Video from Heritage

Text (slightly edited)

On a personal note, I was surprised to see him in a wheelchair. I was unaware that his health had deteriorated. His mind certainly hasn't.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Orwell's Dictionary (American edition)

Washington is a strange place that can be very deceptive to the politically inexperienced. At the risk of offending or angering those who are less cynical than me, I offer the following as a rudimentary guide for translating Washingtonspeak, which is closely related to newspeak.

Words in Washingtonspeak often have the opposite meaning of the same word in English. In a similar vein, I have found it generally safe to assume--unless conclusively proven otherwise--that any apparently clear statement by a politician means the opposite and that any legislative bill will produce the opposite effect of the purpose claimed in its name (e.g., the most recent stimulus bill).

One caution: politicians and government officials will routinely mix Washingtonspeak with English to hide their real meaning from the voters.

clean: an inefficient process, which often leads to more pollution than it allegedly prevents.
consensus (in the context of climate change and global warming): a political compromise camouflaged as a scientific "fact." 
dialog: 1. a "conversation" with yes-men or gagged opponents; 2. a conversation among participants on one side of a debate.
divisive: 1. anything exhibiting independent thinking; 2. expressing conservative views. See Power Line, "What's Divisive?" 
green: adjective or prefix used to make something inefficient or useless seem productive.
inclusive: including only supporters. 
jobs bill: government expansion bill.
government mandate: tax, e.g., the individual health care mandate and penalty.
smart: an adjective or prefix used make something foolish or ill-advised to appear wise.
special interest: any group out of favor with the speaker or that can serve as a convenient scapegoat.
transparent: secret or private. "There has never been a more open process for any legislation in anyone who's served here's experience." --Speaker of the House Pelosi's response to CSPAN request to broadcast the closed-door negotiations on the health care bill. See James Taranto (under "Private Party" subhead).
unilateral: a foreign policy that involves multiple U.S. allies, e.g., claims that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was unilateral.

This list may be revised and expanded as circumstances and my mood dictate. "Health care reform" is one obvious candidate, but the definition is unclear to me at this point, except that it has little to do with providing quality health care to the masses.


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