Sunday, December 31, 2006

The squish-crunch of fresh mouse carcasses underfoot...

Anxious Angus writes with New Year's greetings, mentioning that
the Tragic Kingdom, near my home town, has some unwelcome neighbors.

Dee Sincavage, owner of one of the many ornamental plant nurseries for which Apopka is known, is hard pressed to pick her worst mouse experience since the infestation began last summer by chasing kids out of Camp Wewa.

Was it the morning she walked into her nursery and felt the squish-crunch of fresh mouse carcasses underfoot? The night mice chewed through plumbing, flooding her office and soaking her business records? Or just the daily ordeal of drowning and disposing of dozens of live mice caught in traps overnight?

"Gosh, they are all over the place," Sincavage said. "The stench is bad and the gnats around here are terrible from all the dead carcasses. It's just disgusting."

Counter-measures by health authorities, who have established a special rodent command center, so far have been only partly successful. Besides dispensing traps and bait, authorities launched an air assault by releasing 17 barn and screech owls expected to feast on dozens of mice a day. News of the buffet apparently traveled far, luring many more birds of prey to the area.

"We have more raptors than we've ever seen before," Overfield said. "They just line up along the telephone wires and dive down and pick stuff off."

So far, Overfield said, the infestation has not sickened anyone, although the smell of all the rotting carcasses trapped in the walls of many homes and businesses is certainly nauseating.

Oh, my. That's a lot of mice.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Rationality of Ideology

My main man at Clemson, Bill Dougan, and I had a paper in the Journal of Law and Economics in 1989, entitled "The Rationality of Ideology".

We tried to think of examples that our theory would explain, examples that standard rational choice theory might miss. We thought of some.

But here is a terrific one:

"Republican House staff members who are losing their jobs in the aftermath
of November's loss of control are hoping Democrats will re-extend the hand
of largesse to them next month. As the old Congress wound down in a scramble
of post-election activity, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered to
pay two months' severance to staff members working on some committees and in
House leadership offices. But her offer was scuttled - by Republican
lawmakers, who complained they didn't have the opportunity to study the
proposal and look at costs. The Senate already provides two months pay for
displaced staff members. One of the affected House staffers said his
comrades are mystified that a plan that would benefit employees of
Republicans would be killed by Republicans: 'We hope the Democrats revisit
it.'" [Wall Street Journal]

Now, that does NOT explain why these same yo-yos voted FOR all those roads bills, and earmarks. But the point is that the only way to establish an ideological reputation is when it costs you to do so.

(Nod to KL, who is neither rational nor ideological)

Monday, December 25, 2006

OJ, Gingerbread Nazis, and Holocaust Denial

Nicely done.

As fine a use of YouTube as I have ever seen. Just poses a question. Is he serious? Is he kidding? Is he making us wonder? It's just not clear. And that's why it is so wonderful. Very uncomfortable.

Sometimes, the Internet makes me happy.

Anglico Comes Up Big!

I had not looked at BlueNC, or Anglico's Blog, before.

But he does a pretty funny send-up of my candidacy. Fair enough, though: he links the web site, quotes actual claims by me, and then suggests people sign the ballot access petition. So far, so good.

But what he REALLY did was prompt a reader to make this comparison, in comments:

That's William Katt, in "Greatest American Hero."

Now, compare him to me:

Now, take away the fact that Katt is good looking, and in good physical shape, and you see that WE ARE TWINS. Except for those two caveats....

(If you are interested in my response to the post, you can see it here....)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Overheard at the Harris-Teeter

I am the cook in the Munger house (my wife bakes, sometimes fiercely, but draws the line at producing normal foodstuffs. When asked why, she says, "I went to law school, AND got married. If you do those two things, you should NEVER have to cook.")

One of the big meals I cook is the Italian Catholic traditional (sort of, it's a Rhode Island/Philadelphia ItaloAmerican custom) "7 Fishes" dishes meal for Xmas eve. That's one of the fun things about being Catholic, you get to go through chains of reasoning like this:

1. The Xmas eve vigil requires no meat, but fish is fine.
2. In America, we can celebrate by having a "7 fishes" tradition (I've seen 12, also) of 7 "meatless" dishes. Light things like lobster with butter and shrimp scampi.
3. But, one also gets together for big extended family meals. So you need something that finnicky kids will eat. So you make meatballs, which contain both beef and pork.
4. But, it would be rude NOT to eat those wonderful meatballs, because the cook went to that trouble. So you have one or two, in ADDITION to the 7 dishes of fishes.
5. Then, even after the kids are big, and will eat fish just fine, you still make meatballs, because it is a tradition.

In other words, tradition grows to encompass the exact opposite* of the supposed tradition, without contradiction.

Anyway, in order to get all the stuff I need for two days of cooking, I got up at 7:30 am, got ready, had a cuppa, and then was at the Harris-Teeter grocery by 8:30.

And the freakin' parkin' lot was FULL, already. I had never seen this before, so I have to report it, like an anthropologist might.

1. The store was roughly gender balanced, an equal number of men and women. But nearly all of the shoppers (and the store was nearly full!) were female. Large, small, old, young; hunting and gathering like they have been since...well, since there was a since. And these women had LOADED their carts.

2. Nearly all the workers were men. And there three or four men in EVERY AISLE, trying desperately to stock things. AND THEY WERE LOSING GROUND! Women were taking vegetables, of all kinds, directly off the big trolleys that they bring produce in on from the trucks. Women were pushing the trollyes out of the way, and in some cases literally elbowing the stock-men out of the way.

3. I heard one woman ask why there were no green beans. Stock guy said more were coming, but it was hard because everyone wanted them for green bean casserole. She stared at him, and said: "You are out of it because everyone wants it? I thought you made money selling food." I could have kissed her; a rational person. Wouldn't have minded, actually, since she was also quite fit and attractive. The point is that she is absolutely right. They can't be out of something they KNOW people want a lot of, since the answer is "Stock more." An unexpected run on rutabegas, sure, that could happen. But how can you be out of green beans when you know why people want them at this time of year?

4. I heard one other great conversation, between two stock men, 20 feet apart. They were both probably 25. A sloshing sea of women was surging around these guys, pulling cans off the shelves and checking lists.
Guy 1: "I knew she was going to torture me for that."
Guy 2: "Did she?"
Guy 1: "Oh, you know it. First she says I have to leave, then she says, 'Oh, you really hurt me, you broke my heart. I have to think.' So, I had to listen to like two hours of this crap. Women are just nuts."

5. There was a guy doing an imitation (intentional, I think) of Patton, right behind the swinging doors where they were bringing in stock from the trucks. The guy (who I couldn't see, but could hear clearly when the doors swung open for a trolley, and could still hear a little when the doors were closed) was saying:
"Gentleman, today is war. And you are losing. They are driving you back, and you bunch of candy-asses are just taking it. Get out there! Get out there, and get that stock up, you bunch of maggots! You are the lamest excuses for stockers I have ever seen! You make me SICK!"
I think he was kidding, because all of the stockers coming out were openly laughing, and shaking their heads. But the war metaphor was a good one, although some of those women shoppers were more like pirates. They would waylay a trolley and plunder it before the stocker even knew he had been boarded.

Merry Christmas, and happy cooking!

*this word was left out of original post.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Overheard at a Liberty Fund Conference.....

Overheard at a Libety Fund Conference, in Key West:

1. During discussion, a very serious time:

Older gentleman: "I found this passage very insightful, or at least provocative. It describes [he describes what it describes, at a bit of length, though not inappropriately so. Description involves metaphor of piracy]"

Younger gentleman: "Oh, I underlined that, too! It said, 'pirates'! I LOVE pirates."

2. During walk, in afternoon:

Older gentleman, very cultured fellow: "Oh, look, I went into that museum last time I was in Key West, 20 years ago!"

Younger woman: "How was it?"

Older gentleman: "It was only a mild rip-off, making it perhaps the most worthwhile attraction on this island!"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"...To See Ourselves As Others See Us"

Whoa, George, can you really not see how you come across, or do you really not care?

"I'm sleeping a lot better than people would assume."

-- President George W. Bush, as quoted in the most recent issue of People

Because they have a soul?

(Nod to KL, who never sleeps)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Manuel Ayau

Interesting, and inspiring, bio over on my pal Hispanic Pundit's blog.

Reminds me of another friend's take on the problem with nearly all modern
policies, and politics, on the poor. We ask ourselves what causes "poverty."

But poverty is the natural state of man. If you fail, if you don't develop effectie institutions, you stay in poverty.

What we need to study, and talk about, is what causes wealth. Except that we already know that: property rights, independent courts, constitutional republic as a government form, and capitalist economy with effective financial institutions.

Why don't most nations have those things? Some of it is education. But some of it is that politicians can't claim credit for letting wealthy citizens keep their wealth. So, we fight poverty, and take money from the rich and give it to government agencies to burn in a thousand smoky little fires. Voters see the smoke, and assume something useful is being done.

What we need to do is NOT fight poverty. What we need to do is fight the things that prevent us from becoming wealthy.

Great Moments in Marriage

A funny story from J.G. at Eternal Recurrence.

Reminds me of "Great moments in marriage," tho.

Here's one: We are at a party, full of Duke glitterati and people from the Durham community, with a lot of visitors from New York thrown in. A little over my pay grade, or at least over my cultural scale of conversation.

At our table of ten, other woman tells story of getting married in Catholic Church, though she wasn't Catholic (hubby-to-be was, is, VERY Catholic). Had to do classes, make promises, etc.

My wife says, "Oh, we had to do that, too! I'm Catholic, but Michael isn't. And something funny happened to us, didn't it, Michael? Tell them!"

I stare at her, say, "Okay...." and then tell this story.

We had to go to classes, and take a test for compatibility, before getting married in 1986. After three weekend (I was commuting down to DC from Dartmouth, in NH) meetings, we had the final debriefing. The priest kept shuffling papers. Then, he turns red, and just blurts out, to me: "Have you told her about your problem? Don't you think you should? It will matter for the marriage. And I'm not sure the church can sanction this union."

I was fairly hung over, as I had been for many of these Sunday a.m. at 8:30 meetings, since we always went out the night before. Thinking quickly, I said, "What?"

It took him a while to work up his courage, making guttural sounds. Finally, he said, "Your problem....the problem with your....(bright crimson bald head now, on priest)....your IMPOTENCE!"

[Apparently, in one of the questionnaires, not really paying attention, I had answered that "YES", I was impotent.]

[This was funny, in part, because Donna had direct evidence, about 7 hours earlier, that I was actually NOT impotent, at least not when I visited her.]

So, she starts giggling, and pretends to cough. I stare at the priest, and mumble about being sorry, I must not have been paying attention. He is mortified (NOTE: How can a celibate priest give advice on sex and marriage, in the first place?) We finish the meeting very quickly, and get the blessing of the church, once it turns out I can make the girl pregnant, so she can do her Catholic duty and reproduce like a wild rabbit.

So, I finish telling this story at the party, and there is hilarity. Good job, I'm thinking to myself, way to be a good dinner guest.

As soon as it quiets down, my wife, who is looking pure daggers at me, says, "My GOD, Michael, not THAT story!"

After we get home that evening, I spend the rest of the night in husband purgatory, teetering right on the brink of husband hell. And I'm not even Catholic!

EPILOGUE: I have no idea what story she actually meant, by the way. When she starts speaking to me, I'll let you know. Should be no later than the end of January.

UPDATE: Anonyman wrote this in comments, but it deserves light in the post itself....

Nice story. Of course, you could have had the exact opposite problem, as I did (no, not impotence)at a recent "holiday" party at my signifcant other's office. I showed up, on time for once, got us drinks, and joined her talking to a group of women from the office. I had given her the drink I retrieved for her and remained there as a dutiful husband. I then proceded to spend the next half hour listen to women discuss not only their own birthing experiences, but those of other women they had known. I stood there motionless, thinking I was scoring points by not leaving, not laughing (at the wrong things), and not vomiting over everyone's shoes. When we finally left, I sat silently in the car waiting to receive my praise for being so polite and well mannered. After about 10 minutes of stony silence I couldn't take it and asked her if everything was OK. To my surprise I was severly rebuked for "just standing there" and "not contributing to the conversation". When I pointed about that I had no "birthing stories" to share, and it was all I could do to keep myself from being sick as I stood there, she told me I should have made somthing up rather than just not say anything. So mm, next time just make it up, it's better than telling the wrong story, or saying nothing at all.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Which One is the Parody?

It actually takes a little effort to figure out which of these is "real," and which is the parody.

Just from the way he says, "and I'm Ed Glaeser," you can tell this is a pretty darned self-pleased group. In fact, from Glaeser's facial expression, he appears to be pleasing himself right there on camera!

The original

Skit (funny in its own right)

Skit (even better, but still not as good as the original)

(grateful nod to Tommy the Wannabe Wannabe, hereafter TTWW)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Props, and a lot of love!

Midnight Eastern Time: It's over.

Props, and lot of love, to Chris L, to Betsy N, and to all those who nearly kicked the giant corporate butts of SLATE! Thanks to my nutjob friends at DoL, who didn't complain. Thanks to the students at Duke who voted on a Friday night. And thanks to the crazy philosophers in Brisbane, Oz, who made this a cause. (And I especially mean you, Rosenberg!). Thanks to faculty and others everywhere, who took a little time and voted, when it didn't make sense.

The final tally, as far as I can tell (UPDATED at 10 am Saturday), on the "Best Podcast" vote:

SLATE Daily Podcast 1128

EconLib Podcast 1067

that's a difference of 61 votes, or they won by less than 1.5 percent.

That's pretty great for a site run by one guy (Russ Roberts), with a tiny staff and a vision of the power of economic ideas.

Good on ya, Russ!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


The Dem party website has a drop-down labeled "People". Click on it, and you go here....

Lots of stuff there. I looked in vain for "White men over 30 who live in cities". That is a big part of the voting population...but there is nothing for them.

Are the Dems just writing them off? I know that the Dem motto is, "Vote for Us, And We'll Give You Other People's Money!" But, still: shouldn't you pretend that you are not just an extortion racket, based on the Jesse Jackson model writ large?

"Give me money or I'll call you [fill in as appropriate here, given your "People" category on the Dem website]"

The Dems are wholly taken in by the illusion that F. Bastiat debunked so brilliantly:
"The State is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

The state CAN'T take care of everybody. But I would have thought the Dems would at least pretend to be interested in people who pay taxes, rather than just those who suck down all the benefits.

(Nod to KL for the links, though don't blame KL for my interpretation)

UPDATE: Wrong link before; sorry! Better now....

Help! Shire Network News is Catching Up!

Vote for EconTalk! Help us! Go here, and click on "EconTalk", then "OK."

You can vote once per day, and voting closes tomorrow (Friday). So, two votes, please! You, yes, YOU!

Oh, I am going to MISS this lady....

Anonyman sends this link....

In what was likely her final legislative act in Congress, outgoing Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney introduced a bill Friday to impeach President Bush.
The legislation has no chance of passing and serves as a symbolic parting shot not only at Bush but also at Democratic leaders. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has made clear that she will not entertain proposals to sanction Bush and has warned the liberal wing of her party against making political hay of impeachment.

BubBYE, sweetie, BubBYE now!

He makes me laugh.....

Excerpt from Christopher Hitchens' piece forthcoming in Vanity Fair:

Why Women Aren't Funny
by Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, January 2007

Be your gender what it may, you will certainly have heard the following from a female friend who is enumerating the charms of a new (male) squeeze: "He's really quite cute, and he's kind to my friends, and he knows all kinds of stuff, and he's so funny ? " (If you yourself are a guy, and you know the man in question, you will often have said to yourself, "Funny? He wouldn't know a joke if it came served on a bed of lettuce with sauce béarnaise.")

However, there is something that you absolutely never hear from a male friend who is hymning his latest (female) love interest: "She's a real honey, has a life of her own -- [interlude for attributes that are none of your business] -- and, man, does she ever make 'em laugh."

Now, why is this? Why is it the case?, I mean. Why are women, who have the
whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to
know what I am talking about.

All right--try it the other way (as the bishop said to the barmaid). Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh. Making them laugh has been one of the crucial preoccupations of my life. If you can stimulate her to laughter?

I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight?well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further....

As the bishop said to the barmaid? Yikes.

(Nod to KL....who asks, "Does this mean a woman can't be President?" It might, K, it might. But then George Bush is not often funny INTENTIONALLY.)

Mail Green, Chum!

Elder younger Munger points out that an anagram of "Michael Munger" is "Mail Green, Chum!"

He intends to use this phrase often after he starts college, he says.

Fun with anagrams.

It IS pretty fun. For example, from "Hillary Rodham Clinton," you can get the motto of her wedding night with Bill:

Roll in a loin rhythm cad!

And for every night since:

Cryin' troll, land him a ho'!

UPDATE: Anxious Angus notes that "Angelic Hummer" is a better MM anagram. Also notes that he has pointed this out before,

which ya know is quite true

Gotta give props where the props is due!

(the mini rap is all part of the service; no extra charge)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My Son, My Campaign Manager

So, the elder younger Munger, on learning of Nature Boy's entry into the Gov campaign for '08, suggested a slogan:

"Munger....Legitimate, by Comparison."

Recalling my law, by analogy to Mencken:

"No man, having a teenage son, can be a pompous ass and not know it."

Too Much Time, Or Too Little Sense

Comments on this post, about getting rid of the urban "rats with wings" blight....well, you just have to read them.

A sample, tho, worthy of Monty Python:

Posted by: Norman Ski on 10:13pm Wed 29 Nov 06
This is preposterous! Pigeons performed a vital role in assisting communications in both World Wars and should therefore be encouraged to breed in higher numbers in order to remind us that we must never forget. Perhaps the money would be better spent erecting a large memorial of a Rock Pigeon or perhaps a Feral Pigeon - I'll leave that decision to the council. I don't think a Wood Pigeon memorial would be particularly appropriate because I don't think they did too much for us during the war. Other than food.

Posted by: Norman Farnsbarns McArthey on 11:56pm Wed 29 Nov 06
I say train the blighters to do an honest days work and to earn their right to live in Her Royal Majesties Royal borough. Maybe they could be trained to assist the police as they could spot crime while on high and report back to the station swiftly. The more aggressive ones could become a sort of elite police flighting unit that could intervene in violent incidents that are sadly becoming all to common in our wonderful town.

Posted by: jhona rantambore on 11:59pm Wed 29 Nov 06
Kill them with axes.

Posted by: Mrs D. Smithers on 12:05am Thu 30 Nov 06
I was once saved from certain death when a pair of woods grasped me by the shoulders and flew me from the path of an oncoming car. Now these feathered heroes follow me everywhere and they often speak to me too. I will be going out tomorrow tooled up to protect this noble race of animals and if I find the marksman then it will be me or him. I say NO to the slaughter of the innocents and am willing to lay down my life in their defence. As for them being the spawn of Satan, well, that is obviously a comment from a very deluded person, get help is all I can say to that, everyone knows they are God's messengers.

(Nod to TS-K, who is pretty absurd herself)

Vote Podcast, Please!

A favor:

Vote for EconTalk as the "Best Podcast" site.

It would help out Russ Roberts a lot. And we ALL want to help out Russ Roberts! I mean, just LOOK at the guy. Have you ever seen someone who needs so much help?

And, while you are at it, vote for a REAL winner: Betsy Newmark's blog, "Betsy's Page", is the frontrunner in its category. Help a sister out!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Crowding Out....With Crowds of Government

From our boy Stossel:

"...ABC's '20/20' went to Sioux Falls, S.D., and San Francisco. We asked the
Salvation Army to set up buckets at their busiest locations in both cities...even though people in Sioux Falls make, on average, half as much money as people in San Francisco, and even though the San Francisco location was much busier -- three times as many people were within reach of the bucket -- by the end of the second day, the Sioux Falls bucket held twice as much money."

(Nod to KL, as always)

S. Levitt's Dream Site

It is ALIVE! It's ALIVE!

The site of all data....

(Nod to KL, who knows all, and tells even more)


How mortifying.

We like to get our dogs, Tanzie (short for "tanzanite") and Hobo (short for "moron") all riled up, and then let them out the door, screaming "Get the squirrel! Get the squirrel! BITE the squirrel" or whatever.

The dogs get so excited they start baying and howling, the exercise is good for them. We have an acre, and an electric fence, so though the dogs can run around like nuts for a few minutes, barking at shadows, they aren't going anywhere.

Tonight, the older younger Munger had some friends over.

The UPS truck pulls up (as it does twice a day, this time of year), and I yell to my wife, "Brown is here!" since Brown is usually bringing something for her, either for her work as an attorney or some gift. (Yes, we call UPS "Brown." We didn't make it up).

So, just as the UPS is getting back into his truck, the dogs crowd up to the door, because they know what is coming.

And, I start shrieking, "Get the Brown man! Bite the Brown man!" The dogs howl, I open the door, and the dogs streak out to the road so they can bark at the truck as it goes around our property to the main road.

The dogs are really into it, so I continue: "GET HIM! BITE the BROWN man!"

I turn around, and my son and his two friends are peering down the stairs at me.
Not my proudest moment as a parent.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Better Late Than....

The Autograph Man
A baseball player answers his fan mail 15 years later.
By Bryan Curtis
Posted Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, at 4:33 PM ET

....When I got my hands on the envelope, it immediately became one of my favorite possessions. To look at my penmanship is to see a child who has labored just to write his Fort Worth, Texas, return address in a straight line. The envelope has a brown rectangular stain where a baseball card rested against it for years. Carman has affixed his return-address label—he lives in Naples, Fla.—and, touchingly, added additional postage, since I had included a then-current 29-cent stamp. The card, No. 154 in the 1989 Topps set, bears his big, looping signature, signed with a bright-blue Sharpie.

Fifteen years ago, I figured Carman as a good candidate for a quick response. With the Phillies, he was a reliable southpaw who chewed up starts (35 in 1987, good for fourth in the National League), before leaving the majors for good in 1993. Where Carman showed greater promise was as a wit, a more cerebral version of Jay Johnstone. After enduring years worth of questions from benighted sports writers ("How'd it feel out there today, Don?"), Carman compiled a list of 37 suitably vapid answers that could be applied to almost any query. These included: "Baseball's a funny game"; "I just want to help the club any way I can"; "I didn't have my good stuff, but I battled 'em"; and, a personal favorite, "We have a different hero every day." Carman posted the list above his locker with a note that told writers, "You saw the game … take what you need."

As it turns out, I am not Carman 's only recent correspondent. In October, a Philadelphia TV station reported that Doug Ferraro, 23, received an autographed card from Carman in response to a letter that he had mailed out 16 years before. This was now a legitimate mystery, so I called Carman in Florida to find out what happened.

"My wife told me it was time to clean the garage," Carman said. "So, I started digging through the stuff and found a box behind my tools. I opened it up and saw it was a bunch of fan mail, 200 to 250 letters." For Carman, this was a slight embarrassment. During his career, Carman had worked diligently to sign and return every one of the two or three letters he received each day. Judging from the date of Ferraro's card and the price of my stamp, he must have gotten our batch of letters some time in 1991, the year he left the Phillies for the Cincinnati Reds. "That year was the year I moved; I got a different house," he said. "I even remember putting them in the box, because it was unusual for me to do that. I thought I'd watch a football game and leisurely do them. It never got done."

Carman could hardly bear to throw the letters away. But at age 47, he didn't have the enthusiasm to pick through them, either. So he paid his son Jackson, who is 8 years old, $4 to open and sort them. Then they sat down together, with Jackson, who never saw his father play, marveling at the rapturous odes inside. ("Dear Mr. Carman: You are my favorite baseball player. … ") At first content with merely signing the cards, Carman got caught up in the spirit and started writing notes to the now-grown kids. He lugged the envelopes down to the Naples post office, where he discovered that most of them included 25-cent stamps. "I told the postman I needed 250 10-cent stamps, and 250 4-cent stamps, and he just looked at me like, 'What are you doing?' "

Only one of the letters gave Carman pause. Like nearly every other ballplayer, he made regular visits to local hospitals to see the terminally ill. It turned out that one letter was from a man whose wife Carman had visited. The woman had died, the man wrote, and he thanked Carman for brightening her final days. That lovely sentiment was now at least 15 years old. Carman perched over a piece of stationery for 20 minutes before he carefully scratched out his opening lines: "I know it's far in your past, but it's something that meant a lot to you. I know you carry her with you still." He wound up writing three pages. He's still waiting to hear from the woman's husband.

After his playing career, Carman earned a degree in sports psychology from Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. He now works for Scott Boras, baseball's most rambunctious player agent, tending to the psychological demands of his clients. Even though he's been out of the game for more than a decade, new fan letters arrive in his Naples mailbox two or three times per week. The letters—presumably from grown-ups trying to recapture some small ecstasy from their childhood, when there was nothing more wonderful than receiving a piece of mail from a major-league ballplayer—contain the same platitudes. "Most of them say, 'You're one of my favorite players,' " Carman says. He is trying to answer them in a timely fashion.Bryan Curtis is a Slate staff writer. You can e-mail him at


(Nod to MM, our man in Europe)

I Like Big Gaffes, You Know I Cannot Lie....

NDP Leader Jack Layton, a little overshadowed yesterday by the arrival in the Commons of the new Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, still managed to bring things to a hilarious halt when demanding that the government stop subsidies to large energy companies. It all went wrong when Layton tried to say "big gas."

"Will the Prime Minister finally get something done and do something the former government would not, and cancel the subsidies to big oil and big ass — big gas — and start putting ..." That's as far as Layton got — before the Commons dissolved in laughter.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, deadpan, managed to reply: "I promise to get to the bottom of it."

Then, in an apparent nod to his own issues with weight, Harper added: "I am really not sure whether I should take what the leader of the NDP says personally."

Layton had no explanation for his big-ass gaffe."Mr. Speaker, my apologies. I have no idea what was crossing my mind today. This House is in a strange place today."


(Nod to RL, who knows from gaffes)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Brother Blogger Down!

Lord Sutch, author of "Signifying Nothing," is off-line in St. Louis, as many of his fans have no doubt noticed.

(may be back up by the time you read this, of course).

But I pinged him on email, and learned that his power had been out for more than 50 hours, following the winter storm that hit St. Loo this week. He runs the site on his home machine as a web server.

I asked for details, and got this back:

I'm fine, except for being a little bit cold (I've been camping out in
my office, which has heat but isn't all that comfortable). I just
booked a hotel room for tonight in case my power isn't back - the
power company's estimates for when power will be back are pretty much
useless, although they said Friday that some customers might not have
power for 5 days (i.e. until Wednesday).

At worst, about 1/2 million Ameren customers were without power; as of
now, that's down to just under 400,000. In my zip code, the number
of outages actually went up since Friday before finally coming down a
little in the past couple of hours. What's most irritating is that
there is power within 2 blocks of my apartment (there's a large
shopping mall within 1/4 mile that briefly lost some of its power on
Saturday, but the power company had them fixed very quickly), but for
some reason they seemed to have skipped over my neighborhood.

Yikes! For details on the storm, you can see this, or this. I hope Ameren's motto, "365 and then some," is not an estimate how many hours it will take to restore power....

Be strong, Lord Sutch. The crack staff of Ameren is on their way!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Midland...How Embarrassing

Whoa, my Southern credentials are very much in question.

But my dad was from upstate New York, and my mom from Southern Indiana. It's their fault.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana (BINGO! THAT'S THE GUERNSEY HOMELAND!), southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

(nod to Lord Sutch, and props to the interview boy. Here's hoping it went well!)

Carried Away: The Box

A gentle reader suggest that I have gotten "carried away" on the whole horse thing, and probably in a dozen other earlier posts.

Almost certainly right. Over the top, not funny, and all that.

But I have to admit it pleases me to develop the implications of surreal situations, particularly ones that involve anthropomorphizing animals or objects. I think about them when I drive, or run, and then just have to write them down.

For example:

Have you ever thought about what it must be like for the box? The box that plastic trash bags come in, I mean.

That box has contained those bags for months, possibly for years. All folded. Kept in the line, with sharp creases, in perfect order for being removed from their box by someone who wants to take the full bag out of the trash bin, and put in a new, clean, empty bag.

But, at some point, you get down to just a few bags left.

Does the box KNOW? Do the bags begin to taunt the box? They can't know which will be the last bag, because as there are fewer bags there is room to flop around, and the hand may pick this one, or that one....can't tell.

But at some point, there is the end of the caste system, the destruction of the only social order that the bags and the box have ever known. AT SOME POINT, THERE IS JUST ONE BAG LEFT!

And now, surely, the box knows its fate.

The trash bin is full. The guy (should be a guy) pulls the full bag out, ties it up, and places it on the floor to take it outside. Then, he pulls out the last trash bag, puts it in the trash bin, smooths it out.


What is the conversation like? What does the bag say? "How does it feel, you fascist box? Kept us in line all that time, all folded and repressed. Never could stretch our wrinkles or get unfolded with you holding us back. HOW DOES IT FEEL?"

Before long, the box, once the keeper of social order, is covered with turkey guts, coffee grounds, eggshells. No social order, just anarchy, and a smelly one at that. But surrounding it all, the bag, newly elevated to the status of king, constrains and controls all.

The bag fills, and it is taken out to the outside bin, with all of its brothers and sisters. The box is forgotten, empty, useless. Simple refuse, where once it held sway over two dozen bags.

We should have some sort of ceremony, a recognition of the change in the social order. Like when Great Britain left Hong Kong, and there was a transfer of the flags. We should acknowledge that the box is no longer the boss, and the bag is no longer the subaltern.

(See? See what I mean? This is no doubt completely boring. But I find it WONDERFUL!)

Winning the Whole Pot

My friend Jenna at TtBW links to an interesting piece by Jeff Miron.

Executive Summary
Government prohibition of marijuana is the subject of ongoing debate.
One issue in this debate is the effect of marijuana prohibition on government budgets. Prohibition entails direct enforcement costs and prevents taxation of marijuana production and sale.
This report examines the budgetary implications of legalizing marijuana – taxing and regulating it like other goods – in all fifty states and at the federal level.
The report estimates that legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $5.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government.
The report also estimates that marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.
Whether marijuana legalization is a desirable policy depends on many factors other than the budgetary impacts discussed here. But these impacts should be included in a rational debate about marijuana policy.

Interesting Talk in Durham....

From a comment from my guy Swamp Fox. I thought it deserved real posting status:

Since we've touched on the topic of school choice, I feel compelled to shamelessly plug a Duke Conservative Union-sponsored event.

Tonight at 6 PM in the Social Science Building, Room 124, DCU will host author and blogger Joanne Jacobs. Jacobs will discuss her new book about the remarkable success of a charter school for failing, underprivileged children in downtown San Jose.

For more info, check out this site...

Come and join this conversation! It should be an interesting discussion about educational reform in America. Of course, the more heterogeneous the viewpoints of participants, the more stimulating this chat will be.

And, let me give a blanket invite: If you want to publicize a talk, or program, that is open to the public, just send me an email. I'll post it, for what that's worth. And I don't care at all about the content, as long as it is a public event in the Triangle.

Public Education

A number of people have asked about my public education views. Regarding the whole governor thing, I mean.

Well...okay. I am for, with reservations, at least in the foreseeable future.

It has become customary to bash public education, and the state of our educational system in general. I really do want to sound a positive note; there are a lot of good things happening in North Carolina education, and I would want to continue that advance, to guide continued improvement. And the path to continued improvement is to foster choice. School choice would be the central premise of the education policy of a Munger administration.

We already know that it works. Both of my sons go to public schools. Now, my wife and I could easily afford elite private schools for my sons, but the excellence of the public school choices in Raleigh make it unnecessary. My sons went to Magellan Charter School in north Raleigh, and now attend Raleigh Charter High School downtown.
Newsweek magazine, in its May 16, 2006 issue, ranked the top 1,000 high schools in the United States. NC has 4 of the top 50, 9 of the top 100, and 17 of the top 200. Let me say that again: NC has 4 times as many top high schools as you would expect if all state public education systems were equally good.

Why is NC doing so well? Choice. NC has an educational system that welcomes innovation and individual initiative. The high school my sons attend, Raleigh Charter, is ranked 9th in the U.S., among all public high schools. That’s in the entire U.S., mind you: number 9 overall, among all U.S. public high schools. A group of private individuals put together a plan, formed an organization, and use public funds to run a public high school under a charter. And even though Raleigh Charter is one of the top ten high schools in the nation, its cost per student is less than half that of the average for NC high schools. Facilities costs are less, administrative costs are less, and janitorial services are either provided by the students (they take out their own trash), or by contracting out to private firms that clean the bathrooms and mop the floors. In spite of only spending 50 cents on the dollar compared to traditional state-run schools, students are still better off because they had a choice.

Now, it is true that not all charter schools are so successful, though it is also true that even the worst charter schools are no worse than the lowest-performing public schools. But think about it: what happens to a charter school that parents aren’t satisfied with? It closes, because its enrollments fall below the level required to secure sufficient funding to continue. What happens to a traditional public school that parents aren’t satisfied with? Nothing, because public schools are not just the last resort, they are the only resort for parents who are denied a choice.

Now, you can say that everybody has a choice. After all, there are private schools. And there is home-schooling. Both of these options have been selected more and more often in the past decade. Those choices are not enough, however. Private schools are not plentiful, and they are very expensive. Home-schooling is expensive too, in its own way, and not everyone is able to teach bright students the challenging material they need to know to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

I would argue that NC faces three fundamental problems in educating its children:

1. Huge disparities in the ability of counties to provide a solid basic education;
2. Low teacher pay, making it hard to attract good new teachers and even harder to keep the many excellent teachers already in the system;
3. a flight of the best students, particularly those from wealthy families, from the public schools into private schools or home-schooling arrangements. This takes a lot of the best students out of public schools, and sharply reduces support for school spending.

One possible solution, one I myself was opposed to, is the highly touted new "Education Lottery." But the lottery is a sham, a tax on poor people pursuing a dream that they will almost certainly never realize, given the odds. And it is most likely that lottery proceeds will displace existing education spending, as has been the case in other states.

Most people in government, particularly those in the state-sponsored parties, got there by making some variant of the same promise: “Vote for me, and I will give you other peoples’ money.”

My promise is a little different, when it comes to education: “Vote for me, and I will let you decide how to spend your own money.” I would offer each parent in the state of N.C. an education voucher, financed by lottery proceeds, of $1, 250 per child in their household. This voucher could only be spent at a state-accredited school, or be credited to the household in the case of home-schooling. But I would make the accreditation process streamlined and simple, fostering the growth of charter schools, religious or theme schools, or any other kind of innovative educational program that can attract the children of parents who want to exercise their choices as parents.

Importantly, I would put a floor on public school spending at its existing level. Our schools need a lot of work, a lot of physical plant improvements, and better textbooks. A voucher/choice program cannot work by starving the traditional public schools of revenue. And I don’t want the General Assembly to be tempted to cut education dollars and use them for pork barrel spending in their districts, hoping lottery money will make up the difference.

What would be the effect of this voucher/choice program? In many counties, particularly in the beginning, this would simply mean that children would continue to attend the existing public schools, since there is no effective "choice" there. But at worst this would mean that there would be large infusion of funds into those school districts, representing a more effective settlement to the issues in the Leandro court case than anyone else has proposed. And over time, private schools, charter schools, and public schools that deliver good educations at low cost would find their enrollments increasing. Ultimately, “accreditation” would simply mean that voluntary choice of private parents resulted in enough enrollments to stay open. Schools that satisfied parents would be accredited by something like a market process: people value the service being provided enough to spend their voucher money there.

Because parents would be empowered to make a choice, many parents would investigate those choices and make the one that best suits them and their child. Because enrollments are a means of increasing school funding, students and their needs would start to count again. The public schools bureaucracy of our state seems to think it is doing us a favor by educating our children, because each child is an additional burden. Under my program, each student is a way of attracting more revenue.
NC is already doing pretty well, compared to public high schools across the nation. We have 4 times as many top-performing schools as would be predicted by an equal per-state distribution. But we can do better. And with the Munger voucher/choice program, we will do better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fodder, and a Mudder, and Teaser Stallions

A horsey friend of mine writes with more information, more "fodder" if you will, for the horse sex thread. (If you add a race horse who specializes in wet tracks, you get a mudder to go along with the fodder).

Friend notes, in an email:

In fairness it should be noted that there are also teaser stallions, because one wouldn't want to allow a valuable breeding stallion to mount an unwilling mare, now would one? Not much sexual dimorphism in the horse world, so she is well able to protect herself, if uninterested.

This of course only necessary if one is planning to rely not on artificial insemination but on -- another lovely phrase -- live cover. No napping there because, as you note, of the head-smacking thing.

Llive cover? Sounds like a strip club I know in New Orleans. I've just seen the outside, of course. Very nice outside.

And, if i understand what my friend says, the teaser stallion has got to be the most pathetic, loser job in the universe. Worse than being a grad student in English Lit, though not by much. Most teaser stallions, most times, likely just get kicked in the chest, because the mare has a headache.

But if the teaser stallion DOES get her all hot, and it turns out she says, "Give it to me, baby, uh HUH, uh HUH*"...THEN THE TEASER STALLION GETS PULLED AWAY!

"NOOOOOOOOOoooooOOOOOO! She likes me! Just give me five minutes! Three minutes! 30 seconds! Oh, GOD, NOOOOOOooooo...."

Then, he has to WATCH while the high dollar stud ("I'll take it from here, loser!") starts gettin' busy with the mare that the poor teaser stallion just seduced. Should call him the "Cuckold Stallion."

Here is a picture of Hootie, a "mare ovulation prediction technician." As if the euphemism helps....

The site says: "Hootie earns his oats by teasing mares. (Teasing is the process of bringing mare and stallion together to determine, by the mare's reactions, if she is in the receptive and fertile portion of her reproductive cycle.) Hootie LOVES big mares, so he enjoys his job." I LIKE BIG HORSE BUTTS, YOU KNOW I CAN NOT LIE!!

Poor Hootie. Who's he kidding? Doesn't the poor teaser stallion get all hot, too? What about HIS needs? Do they at least let him borrow the big wooden girl-horse for a few minutes, later? I mean, he doesn't have opposable thumbs, so he can't very well take matters into his own hands. Maybe watch some video, perhaps an old Flicka movie, and then bring on the Trojan horse, complete with horse-sized Trojan?

Otherwise, as we are told here, "stallions used heavily for teasing may develop 'frustration-induced behavior changes.'"

I bet so. In fact, I think being a teaser stallion may be worst job in the world.

(It's been a while, so I should say: apologies to the Offspring, and their song, "Pretty Fly")

Mencken Rising

Had trouble sleeping last night, read some THE MENCKEN CHRESTOMATHY I keep at bedside to soothe me.

Found this: "Sometimes, a politician must rise above his principles." Fell asleep immediately.

This morning, though, I was curious: did Mencken say it FIRST?

I have seen the thought attributed, in very similar form, to Lincoln, though I find no authority for this.

Still, WHOEVER said it, as good a statement of the Downsian model as I have seen, in succinct form.

Mencken's Creed

  • I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
  • I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
    I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...
  • I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
  • I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...
    I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
  • I believe in the reality of progress.
  • I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

Herald Sun Story

A nice piece in the Durham Herald Sun, on my run for governor. Quite fair, and no sneering at all.

Quite different from the question I usually get on TV shows: "Aren't libertarians just the weird party?" Thanks, thanks very much for that wise question. Did you get up early this morning to think of that?

A Rather Serious Criticism

A rather serious criticism, smearing my intellect, and political integrity, has been written by the good John Bruce. These claims, that I am inconsistent, hypocritical, and illogical, would be of concern if proven. I leave the reader to decide.

Let us think of two sets of actions:

1. The set of things I would do if I were king of the world, and could simply impose those policies I believe to be good.

2. The set of things I do, in fact, as myself rather than as king of the world, and possessing as I do only puny powers to effect change in politics and economic regulation.

Mr. Bruce, hearing that I ride on Amtrak and enjoy it, concludes that if I were king of the world, I would continue Amtrak in its current state, with all its wasteful subsidies. This logical leap baffles me.

My claim was more modest, as befits my modest faculties. GIVEN that Amtrak exists, and GIVEN that the train is going to run anyway, should I ride it? I said yes, I like it, it's convenient, and it doesn't cost much.

If I travel by Amtrak, whose trains will be running anyway, and whose unionized employees and dining facilities I have myself decried in a previous post, then do I "cost" the republic anything more? Does it cost the U.S. government for me to ride the train?

In terms of average cost, of course it does. One takes total cost, and divide by number of riders. And Mr. Bruce goes to surprising length to fetishize this non sequitur. The claim seems to be that by riding the train I am, indeed, costing taxpayers money.

But this is an absurd fallacy. At the margin, the cost to Amtrak of my occupying a seat, one of many which would otherwise have been empty, and my use of the dining car, which was open and staffed in any case, is near zero. By patronizing Amtrak, and paying more than marginal, though less than average, cost, in fact I am reducing their deficit. Far from costing Mr. Bruce, I am saving him a bit of coin, and expected from him a bit of gratitude. (sniffle)

As for the apparent belief that I am king of the world, I am flattered, but confused. Sure, if I were king, I would be a libertarian king, and end public subsidies of Amtrak. But what does that have to do with deciding, as a simple citizen, whether to ride an Amtrak that exists over my protests? They are just separate questions. And by writing that I like Amtrak, do I commit an offense, in that others might read, and try the train also? I don't see how. More riders will reduce the deficit, and weigh down the growing lightness of the apoplectic J. Bruce's coin purse.

The comments about my income, multiplying the magnitude of my theivery as a "privileged elite"? Well, in a person I respect less than Mr. Bruce, I would say these reveal a sniveling, puling envy. In this case, I assume the comments are simply uncharacteristic, and manners require that I ignore them, much as one ignores flatulence at a dinner party.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Don't Get Me STARTED on Subsidies to Transport

Okay, now I'm pissed off.

An exchange, reproduced from my good man S. Carlson's blog, Coldspring Shops. Also, a response to a gentle reader, commenting on an earlier post on trains.

The comment, from the good John Bruce, on my post:

One reason the Palmetto doesn't cost Prof. Munger $420 for the same distance -- I'm sure you understand this, Mr. Super -- is that taxpayers nationally are forking over the difference in per-passenger Amtrak costs that Prof. Munger doesn't have to pay. Among other things, there are folks in Nevada or South Dakota who will never, ever have any reason to ride business class on the Palmetto, but helped Prof. Munger pay the costs of his trip.

On top of that, I believe a CBO study has pointed out that the premium Amtrak services, such as business class, sleeping and lounge cars, actually lose more money than the basic coach service. I can see funding Amtrak as a bare-bones necessity, but setting things up so a well-heeled PoliSci prof at Duke can have a glass of wine as he travels, much of which is on our nickel, is something else. The food service on Amtrak, of course, is one of the most egregious loss-producers. How much did I pay for Prof. Munger's wine on last year's 1040, I wonder?

Whoa, whoa, whoa: We are spending $100 billion on a war to protect gas prices so you can fuel your SUV! I wonder how much I am paying so you can sit in traffic and watch taillights ahead of you. How much revenue are we getting from that? You use the roads for free! At least I paid something to use the railroad. You are just stealing my money, in your car, man.

We spend billions and billions improving the road bed and facilities for cars, and our revenues are....ZERO. We get some money from gas excise taxes, but most states use those for other purposes. Why not a call for toll roads, or making roads pay their own way? You are comparing apples and hookers.

The real problem, from an economic point of view, is of course the difference average and marginal costs. The marginal cost of providing seat space for my oversized butt, and my NYT and coffee, was less than the $29 extra in revenue. So, they made money on the business class sale. Now, sure, in terms of average costs, they lose a lot.

But, again, how much do we lose on roads? The "tickets" on most roads are zero! And thousands of our best young people are fighting to subsidize gas prices. We wouldn't care any more about the middle east than we appear to care about Darfur, without the oil. Maybe that is reprehensible, but our subsidies to cars, and to air, are huge. They just aren't factored into the operating costs of cars and planes. Almost makes me want to advocate a Pigouvian excise tax!

I said, almost.

UPDATE: Dirty Davey, as usual gets it right, in a comment: I'm sure Amtrak will turn a profit for the government at the same time I-95 does.

Why is that so hard for otherwise wise people to understand? I'm just all upset. I'ma'go drive my Lincoln Town Car on the interstate, and spend some of John Bruce's money using up asphalt. And he is going to get NOTHING for it, not a penny. At least I paid for part of my own wine, pal! (I have to admit that I do enjoy the Mt. Hollywood blog of John's, but I have to say, in a pathetic bid to get added to the list of insults on the top right column there: JOHN BRUCE CAN BITE ME!)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Le Petite Mort, and a Special Hat

So, I was following up the Nutty Buddy, to see if anyone had posted interesting comments on other blogs.

There was a great thread, on Wonkette, from her codependent friend Teaser Mare. Fair enough: I refer you to the thread.

But, then I got to wondering what a "Teaser Mare" was.

Well, funny I should ask. This link will no doubt not be news to anyone intimately involved (and I mean that) in the horse breeding business.


Tried to pick my favorite parts of what is after all quite a short page. But there are so many things that stand out (sorry). A top six list of my favorite excerpts:

Number 6: "Certain combinations of tranquilizers have been used to induce ejaculation from stallions." Really? That combination of tranquilizers would be of interest to me. Does anyone have the recipe? Though, the tranquilizers may be unnecessary if sleep can be achieved naturally (see #1, below).

Number 5: The idea of a teaser mare, just the very idea. A hot chick you get to nuzzle, before going out with her wooden sister. Teaser mares are equine "fluffers." If you want more information about fluffers, then here. Sicko.

Number 4: "Stallion semen often contains a large volume of gel"...So Cameron Diaz doesn't look so stupid now, does she? Just ahead of her time.

Number 3: "The images below show a typical series of events in collecting semen from a stallion. Note that all the involved people are wearing helmets." Wow.

Number 2: "Use of an artificial vagina is far and away the most common method for collecting semen from stallions. The AV used with stallions is similar to that used for species such as bulls, except larger. [EXCEPT LARGER!!! REALLY??] The image below shows a popular design of a stallion AV (disassembled). Due to the large ejaculate volume, a collection bottle is used instead of a tube. The blue cone next to the AV is not a special hat worn by the semen colletor; rather it is an insulating cone that is placed over the end of the AV to shield the semen collection bottle from thermal shock." It would be SO much better if it were a special hat. Of course, he'd have to wear it under his HELMET.

Number 1: The stallion, having completed the nasty, TAKES A NAP ON TOP OF THE FAKE MARE! I've been there, bro; I've been there. The web page says he's "resting." Like hell; he's passed out. Le petite mort, stallion style. Now that I think of it, though, that's a real advantage to the whole wooden girlfriend thing: after a couple of minutes, real women start smacking you in the head and yelling at you to get off...


New Camera, and Charleston....

Got a new digi-camera for my birthday, hopelessly archaic but for that reason perfect for my picture taking skills. Some examples of my first efforts:

Me and the future First Lady of North Carolina, at a charity event. (Okay, so I didn't take the picture...)

Me at the site of the sarcophagus of John Caldwell Calhoun, VP of the US and author of the truly strange "Disquisition on Government."

I took this using the timer feature, and perching the camera atop a nearby gravestone. Before getting this, I got shot of my nostrils when I set the time too short (1 sec; who would EVER need that?), and of the sky when the camera fell off backwards while I lumbered over to the tomb. When I turned around, the camera was gone. I briefly panicked, fearing ghosts, but it had just fallen onto the poor schmoe's grave, behind the tombstone I was using for a table.

And, just to prove that I don't just take pictures of myself, here is my good friend Cindy Nielsen in Charleston. Just before I took this picture, Cindy had seen the door and had asked (before I could stop her) an obvious student, carrying laundry, "Is there a University here?" The kid stammered, and said, "Yes ma'am, the College of Charleston."

I took the picture to dispel the notion that there are just free-standing Department of Political Science doorways, without associated Universities. (I know, I get a Tofe for doing this, but it is a great picture).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Palmetto: I'm a Trainie

I am now a truly confirmed trainie.

Not a "trainee", mind you. A trainie loves trains, like a foodie loves food.

Took the Palmetto south, from Wilson, NC to Charleston, SC for the LF conference. Took it back north, four days later.

Business class was $62 each way. Four hours, and it was 15 minutes late. I got to the station ten minutes before departure, and just got on the train, like I was a citizen of a nation with protections for personal liberties, instead of a focus on body searches.

Train lets you off near the downtown, and there's a taxi about 30 yards away from train steps. Three minutes off the train, and you are on your way to the hotel.

No cattle car treatment, no indignities from jack-booted thugs ripping shampoo out of luggage. No $420 for being shuttled around some irrational set of hubs and spokes. (Yes, that would have been the airfare for the same trip).

Free New York Times, free coffee and juice, a 120 v plug for my laptop, and room to stretch out for a nice little nappie. On the way back, I reread nearly all of v. III of Churchill's history of WWII, "The Grand Alliance." How civilized. Had a nice red wine from the dining car, which I strolled back to get without having some harried harpy snap at me to get my butt back in the seat, because the captain is afraid of liability. You can stand up for miles, just like you were a grown-up.

And the theater of my beloved southland being performed outside my window, a new fall landscape around every turn. Swamps, bright foliage, shacks overgrown with kudzu, and a lot of churches and graveyards holding the hopes of long ago.

Planes have captains; trains have engineers. And the guys who work with passengers are "conductors," conducting a symphony of sound, sights, and echoes of simpler time.

Give me the train, any time.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Lib'n Rap

Several people sent me this.

From MK: this

From BN: this

Overheard at a Liberty Fund Conference.....

Some snippets from the Liberty Fund Conference in Charleston, SC. Hosted by the good Simmons, and overseen by Ubergruppencalffuhrer Nielsen.

1. At dinner: Young woman-- "I just love the way (famous person) writes!"
Young man-- "Dry....very dry."
Young woman-- "Do you think so? I think he writes well!"
Young man-- "I was talking about the wine."

2. At hospitality: Different young woman-- "I think I'll convert and become a Mormon.
Same young man-- "Oh, you just want to hump [Mormon Adonis]." (NOTE: Mormon Adonis happens to be in the room also, and clearly hears comment)
Young woman-- " "
(This incident led to the creation of a new award, for a comment so inappropriate, so gratuitous, so unexpected, and so casually delivered, that it ends conversation for an entire evening. The award is "The Tofe." If someone wins, you extend your arm, bump fists, and say: "Nice one. That's a Tofe.")

Not Even the Onion Would Make This Up....

The horror.....the horror.....Parents gone wild.

Commentary, some more.

And then, they DID get to play....

(Nod to JT)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

At a SOCCER game?

Nazi speech played before H.S. game

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Part of a Nazi leader's speech was played over the
public address system before a high school soccer game, prompting an apology
by the home team's principal.

Forestview High School principal Robert Carpenter said neither he nor his
team's coach knew about the speech before the 90-second excerpt was played
during warmups Saturday, according to a letter he sent Monday to visiting
Charlotte Catholic High School.

The speech, by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, was in German.
Carpenter said in the letter the team had adopted the slogan "On to
victory," and a German exchange student who plays on the team had taught
other students how to say the phrase in German.

"Some of our more zealous students sought to capture this slogan in German
and to play it on the PA," Carpenter wrote.

School officials said two players had downloaded the speech off the
Internet, and no adult heard it before it was played at the field, The
Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday.

Catholic coach Gary Hoilett said his squad was "just real shocked."

"All of us stopped and looked up at the booth," Hoilett said.

Hoilett, who is black, said some Forestview players also shouted racial
epithets at his two black players. Gaston school officials said they
interviewed 14 people, including coaches, officials and players, but did not
find conclusive evidence of that.

Hoilett called the Forestview principal's apology "lame."

"You don't toss something like that to the corner," he said.

The Gaston County district will now require school personnel to listen to
any recording before it is played over the public address system.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association was investigating. If
wrongdoing is found, penalties could include probation, fines or loss of
home games.

"It's really hard to fathom in this day and time," association spokesman
Rick Strunk said.

Forestview won the playoff game 1-0.

I guess it was just a prank, yank the chain of all those grown-ups.

But holy cow. Plus, now the school thought police have to listen to recordings. Seems like a pretty significant overreaction.

But holy cow. I tend to dismiss vague charges of racism as made up...But holy cow. Even if you are just invoking some offensive symbol of the past to get a rise out of adults....

I realize I'm repeating myself. But...well, here's the thing. How could kids in HIGH SCHOOOL have so little knowledge of historical context that they would be surprised that people would be offended? How would a GERMAN KID not know? Germans are (or were) hyper-sensitive about associating themselves with Nazi iconography.

Insert Your Own....

Insert Your Own...well, Joke, here:

"Johnson County's election commissioner is reporting sporadic problems with
the county's touch-screen voting system. Commissioner Brian Newby said the issues aren't with the touch-screen machines themselves, but with separate machines that encode cards that voters plug into the machines. When encoded, each card contains a single ballot for the voter to cast. Newby said encoders at a half-dozen sites have failed to read their cards and have had to be shut down to eject the cards so they could be encoded again. Sometimes, he said, a bit of hand lotion on the card will do it." [KAKE/AP]

Hard to know where to start with that one. So, I'll leave to my loyal readers.

(nod to KL)

If you don't understand, ask a Cubs fan

"BTW, Kerry is simply relieved that he won't become the Steve Bartman of Democratic politics."

(from the National Journal)

(Nod to MWT. See you in Charleston!)

UPDATE: more from MWT: "I don't know if todd is a cubs fan, but this is really the apt analogy, compared to say buckner. buckner had the power to make the out himself and he actually had to do something where as kerry like bartman should have just stayed out of the way and let everyone else do what they were doing."

Go, Libertarians, its your Birthday!

From the Economist:

16:42 GMT +00:00
Libertarians emerge as a force
Posted by: NEW YORK
Third parties
GLUM Republicans might turn their attention to the Libertarian Party to vent their anger. Libertarians are a generally Republican-leaning constituency, but over the last few years, their discontent has grown plain. It isn't just the war, which some libertarians supported, but the corruption and insider dealing, and particularly the massive expansion of spending. Mr Bush's much-vaunted prescription drug benefit for seniors, they fume, has opened up another gaping hole in America's fiscal situation, while the only issue that really seemed to energise congress was passing special laws to keep a brain-damaged woman on life support.
In two of the seats where control looks likely to switch, Missouri and Montana, the Libertarian party pulled more votes than the Democratic margin of victory. Considerably more, in Montana. If the Libertarian party hadn't been on the ballot, and the three percent of voters who pulled the "Libertarian" lever had broken only moderately Republican, Mr Burns would now be in office.
Does this mean that the libertarians are becoming a force in national elections, much as Ralph Nader managed to cost Al Gore a victory in 2000? Hope springs eternal among third party afficionadoes, but the nature of the American electoral system, which directly elects representatives in a first-past-the-post system, makes it nearly impossible for third parties to gain traction. The last time it happened was in the 1850's, when the Whig party dissolved over internal disputes about slavery, opening the way for the emerging Republican party to put Abraham Lincoln in office. And acting as a spoiler is dubiously effective at achieving one's goals. In theory, it could pull the Repubicans towards the Libertarians, but in practice, it may just elect Democrats, pushing the nation's economic policy leftwards.

(From InstaPundit, who seems skeptical, via PM, with thanks!)

Voters Knew She Died, But They Wanted Change

In classical spatial theory, the challenger should always win, right? Incumbent occupies a space in a multidimensional policy space; for nearly any configuration of preferences, that means the win set of the incumbent location is non-empty.


"A woman who died two months ago won a county commissioner's race in Jerauld
County [South Dakota] on Tuesday. Democrat Marie Steichen, of Woonsocket,
got 100 votes, defeating incumbent Republican Merlin Feistner, of
Woonsocket, who had 64 votes. Jerauld County Auditor Cindy Peterson said she
believes the county board will have to meet to appoint a replacement for
Steichen. Peterson said she'll check with the state's attorney to be sure
that's the process. Peterson said voters knew Steichen had died. 'They just
had a chance to make a change, and we respect their opinion.
'" [AP]

So, even a dead challenger can beat an incumbent. Spatial theory rules! Green and Shapiro can BITE me!

(nod to KL for the reference, and to SdM for the interpretation)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

News from the front

A report, from anonyman:

I've been monitoring polls in Northern Va. It's been a "presidential turnout" so far today according to every polling official I talked to. I don't think this bodes well for Macacawitz.

Well, well. If MT, MO, and VA really do all go Dem, then it's 51-49 with the Senate flying a D flag. Hard not to be happy. Given that the R win in Tennessee was based on an ad that did everything but mention "Big buck negroes, chasing after your white women..."

Heard on the Quad

I'm walking on the quad at Duke, leaving the Perk. Four young women talking in a cluster. Imagine a kind of Dopler effect in the following, as I walk past, and hear the following snippet:

"I can't believe she called on her like that."

"She always calls people out; I hate that."

"She calls on you if you make eye contact! It's terrible."

"But if you are looking down, she'll call on you. And she wants you to do the reading."

"I know! Such a witch!"

"I look almost at her, but a little off to the left. Stare like you are thinking. You want to look interested, but not too interested. That way, she won't call on you. She never calls on me."

And, by now I am out of earshot, receding. Feel free not to take any of my classes, ladies. I expect you to have done the readings, too.

Rumbling, Mumbling, Tumbling....

1. Rumors of high turnout, in Chatanooga and in the Commonwealth . Bad for Repubs. Folks don't get up out of their chairs to go out in the rain to vote for the party in power.

2. Ky. poll worker charged with assault, interfering with electionfrom Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau--> LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A poll worker was arrested Tuesday and charged with assault and interfering with an election for allegedly choking a voter and pushing the voter out the door, an official said.Election officials called police, and the voter wanted to file charges, said Paula McCraney, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Clerk. "That about tops off the day," McCraney said.It wasn't immediately clear what sparked the altercation. The name of the poll worker was not released and a Louisville police spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Posted 11/07/2006 12:49:00 PM (CNN)

3. Don't leave home without it, Guv!--> ATLANTA (CNN) -- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford probably wishes he checked his pockets before heading out the door this morning.Sanford was turned away from his polling place as cameras were rolling because he forgot his voter registration card. Sanford went to vote at Sullivan Island Elementary School near his family home, but the photo-op went awry as the governor began looking though his wallet. "I don't have the blue card with me," he said.Smiling sheepishly, Sanford called home to get the numbers, but officials told him he had to present the card itself. Sanford then went to a nearby voter registration office to be issued a new card, and finally was able to cast his ballot."This is want you want," Sanford said, praising the workers for doing their job. "I admire her; she's being conscientious." -- CNN Senior National Editor Steve Brusk (CNN)

Monday, November 06, 2006


So, the Senate will be 50 R - 50 D (no more Jeffords as an "Independent.") The tie will be broken by Vice President Dick Cheney. An awful state of affairs. Like kissing your sister, only she calls the cops.

The House? The range I have seen:

Guru List:
Congressional Quarterly: 212-199-24
Charlie Cook: 223-197-15
Stu Rothenberg: 237-192-6
Larry Sabato: 232-203 241-193-1
Votemaster: 235-200
(source here)

Now, I have been saying 223-225 D for sure, but have been reluctant to go up from there.

The Guru totals above assume, for example, that Hayes loses to Kissell in the NC 8th. I'm not convinced. It could happen, but I have doubts.

And, if Kissell does win, then that is a bellwether. My 225 will be low. Because the set of things that would have to be true, about a national swing, for Hayes to lose in that district, are pretty extreme.

The State of Things

My good friends at WUNC were kind enough to pause, in the middle of their annual NPR-style fund drive, to chat for an hour on "The State of Things."

Their web site, if you want to contribute, and haven't yet. SCUM!

The MP3 of the interview (long! 53 mins).

Frank Stasio's page. He's the host, and a fine fellow. Very fair and able to separate his own views (which tend toward...well, toward not exactly like mine, to say the least) and the story being told by the person being interviewed. A credit to public radio, that Frank.

Finally, their blog. That big hunky Dave DeWitt and I are having a dispute about "running the gauntlet." I claim it has to be "gantlet," and he of course says, "yo mama!" My authority can be found here....

Monday, October 30, 2006

El Jefe, In a Nutshell: A Fine Video

Apparently, from an actual product: Make SURE you watch the video. One of the finest pieces of cinematography ever. Best moment in the video: A tie, between when the poor high school girl has to hold up two baseballs to show that they are hard, and then again when Mark Littell announces that he has "real cajones. I'm not a transvestite!" I was unwarily drinking tea when I first heard that, and I spit tea on my keyboard. Watch the video, please.

But even the ad copy is worth reading:

The Nutty Buddy is a revolutionary athletic cup designed by a pro baseball player for superior protection of your most valuable assets. The Nutty Buddy is stronger, more comfortable and more protective for athletes in any sport.

Pre-Order Your Nutty Buddy TODAY
* Comfortable Design
* Complete Protection
* Ergonomic shape
* Prevents Pinching
* Fits any athletic supporter

The Nutty Buddy provides complete protection so you can play hard and protect the family jewels!

The Nutty Buddy' comfortable design actually fits a man's groin area to avoid pinching and chafing during athletic activity. Traditional protective cups are dangerously fragile and have awkward shapes that force the genitals into small, cramped spaces.

Select Size "The Boss" - Medium
"The Hog" - Large
"El Jefe" - X-Large

El Jefe? That's art. (Nod to MM)

Three Things to Watch for If the Dems Take the Congress

Six months ago, the idea of a Democratic House seemed far-fetched; taking the Senate was impossible.
How things have changed. The odds of a House takeover are 60-40; taking the Senate would only require that the Dems: (1) hold on to leads against GOP incumbents in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island (nearly certain); (2) turn out their base in Maryland, Missouri, and New Jersey (very possible); and (3) get lucky in either Tennessee or Virginia (could happen).
What will happen, after the election? Three things:

1. It’s raining subpeonas! Committee hearings and subpeonas will be the number one non-legislative priority of a Dem-controlled House. If they take the Senate, given its star power and prestige, we will have a new reality TV show: “Survivor: Oversight!”, with lots of Republican officials voted right off the island. The Dems argue, with cause, that Congress has failed to monitor thousands of administration activities. Expect hearings on administrative rule-making, wire-tapping, detainees, health care for veterans, too much corruption and not enough armor in Iraq….I could go on. If you are an attorney with Democratic connections, dust off the resume. Hundreds of lawyers needed, right away.

2. It’s the Congress, stupid! The center of power and focus for the Dems moves even more to the Congress. Nancy Pelosi will raise $50 million this election cycle, Democratic Senate fundraising chief Charles Schumer is likely to raise more than $100 million before election day. And that is partly because both their organizations, the DCCC and the DSCC, have worked hard. But much of the reason is the grating ineptitude of National Committee Chair Howard Dean, and the apparent belief that “Presidential timber” means candidates made of wood. Except for the anomaly of Bill Clinton, the last Democratic presidential nominee with leadership ability was John Kennedy. Congress is where the Dems feel comfortable ruling.

3. Fiddling while Ramala burns. Having control of Congress means that the Democrats will have to govern, instead of criticize. They are going to need something besides the old standard, “vote for us, and we’ll give you other people’s money!” But their first legislative priority is (drum roll, please)….a new minimum wage law. They claim they will pass this legislation within the first “100 hours” of a new Congress, invoking Roosevelt’s whirlwind “100 days.” Are you serious? You take power in a nation at war, after 12 years wandering in the political wilderness, and your first priority is a symbolic gesture that restores the minimum wage to its inflation-adjusted level when you lost power? The Dems aren’t just mad about 1994; they think it is 1994!
Let’s be honest; the reason the Dems will focus on hearings, and symbolism, is that there is no party consensus on the problems in Iraq. Sure, they didn’t create those problems, but they say they want to rule. They won’t, not on Iraq. The Democrats will dither, criticizing the administration from a newly powerful perspective, but not offering a solution. John Kerry told the truth, in 2004: the Dems think Bush lied, and made a mistake, in Iraq. But at this point they wouldn’t do anything different. And they won’t. Let’s work on that minimum wage thing, instead.
Still, there may be hope for ending the war, in the kind of paradox often found in politics. A Democratic majority could not call for an immediate exit from Iraq, without hamstringing the campaign of their next wooden presidential nominee, in 2008. But the Republicans would have to pull out of Iraq, or at least have a plan for doing so, for their candidate to have a chance in 2008. Iraqi insurgents will be cheered by what they rightly see, in a Democratic takeover, as a voter rejection of Bush’s war. Even if the Dems dither, the administration will have to advance some sort of plan for bringing the troops home, or the Republicans will lose the presidency in two years.

Cards Win! ISMU to blame....

Very pleased about Cards' win in World Series.

Friend from Netherlands points out novel explanation for otherwise hard to understand collapse by Los Tigres.

This is hard to say, but the Tigers suffered from....well, from ISMU, right at the top.

As you probably know, if you have watched those ads on TV, ISMU stands for "Inconsistent Sports Metaphor Usage," and it can be heartbreaking. Sports figures lose control of their metaphors, and sometimes it takes several large towels to clean up.

Here is what happened: Regarding Kenny Rogers' 'it's only a wad of dirt on my hand' incident, Tigers manager Jim Leyland had this reaction:

...Leyland declined to get involved in the debate, saying, "I'm not going to chew yesterday's breakfast."

And then, as we learn in the same article, Tiger first coach Andy Van Slyke, trying to follow suit with his boss Leyland and disregard the controversy as irrelevant, gives up his own breakfast metaphor, but ends up messing things up, badly:

"...I'm not accusing Kenny of cheating, that's not what I'm saying. To me, it's like yesterday's breakfast. I want to throw it back up."

Poor Tigers never had a chance after that. ISMU at the very top of the organization, a rot that must be cut out and cleaned.

Friday, October 27, 2006

FAN Event: Good Liberal, Here's Biscuit!

The John Locke Foundation sponsored a Faculty Affiliate Network event here at Duke on Wednesday, October 25.

Here is a clip of all four speakers.

It was pretty fun. Thanks to JLF, and to Karen Palasek in particular, for all the hard work setting up everything.

No More Mr. Nice Prof.

So, happy students are bad students.

I must be a great teacher! My "C+ median grade" has been making students sad for two decades.

WASHINGTON - Kids who are turned off by math often say they don't enjoy it, they aren't good at it and they see little point in it. Who knew that could be a formula for success?

The nations with the best scores have the least happy, least confident math students, says a study by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

Countries reporting higher levels of enjoyment and confidence among math students don't do as well in the subject, the study suggests. The results for the United States hover around the middle of the pack, both in terms of enjoyment and in test scores.

In essence, happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless.

"We might want to focus on the math that kids are learning and just be a little less obsessed with the fact that they have to enjoy every minute of it," said Loveless, who directs the Brown center and serves on a presidential advisory panel on math.

"The implication is not 'Let's go make kids unhappy,'" he said. "It's 'Let's give kids better signals as to how they're performing, relative to the rest of the world.'"

Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math. They consider their peer group to be star achievers.

Even efforts to make math relevant may be irrelevant, says the study, released Wednesday.

Nations that try to teach math in terms of daily life have the lowest test scores.

All this is not easy to compute. Math teachers typically don't avoid enjoyment, confidence and relevance in their math lessons. They strive for those things.

Speaking on behalf of those teachers, one educator took exception to the study's conclusions.

"If I'm a math student and I don't perceive myself as confident, you think I'm going to major in it? The answer is no," said Francis "Skip" Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and another member of the federal math panel.

"Is enjoyment important? You bet it is. Is confidence important? You bet it is," Fennell said. "If we don't have those variables, we can't compete."

Yet Loveless says pleasing kids has comes at the expense of mastering skills.

His findings come from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a test of fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the globe. Along with answering math questions, students were asked whether they enjoyed math and whether they usually did well in it.

The eighth-grade results reflected a common pattern: The 10 nations whose students enjoyed math the most all scored below average. The bottom 10 nations on the enjoyment scale all excelled.

Japan, Hong Kong and the Netherlands were among those with high scores and lower enjoyment or confidence among students.


(Nod to MAG. Nobody EVER thought HE was nice)