Sunday, December 31, 2006

The easier, feasible alternative to Australia's water scarcity

Australia has instituted a complicated rationing system for punishing "excessive" water use. Large users won't have their water completely shut off, but you'll get enough pressure only for two liters per minute. A rather ridiculous statement in the article is, "The pressure in the taps will be barely enough for a glass to be filled." To be filled in what amount of time? A drop per minute can fill a glass -- it would take a very long time, of course, but it would eventually occur.

Had Australia's national officials merely read some Mises, they'd have known to use a price system instead: charge a certain amount of dollars per 1000 gallons. The meters are already there, so it would only require a computerized system to calculate a bill as opposed to an arbitrary figure of "excess." This way people who limit their water usage won't pay anywhere near as much as those who wash their cars, water their lawns and take frequent baths. The latter will still have the freedom to use all the water they want; they'll just pay for it.

Fundamentally, prices are information about an item's relative scarcity (at the margin, to be more specific), and they are far more fair than rationing because they allow certain people to use more of a resource if they are willing to trade more for it. This is evident today in New York City's practice of rent control, but it was already exemplified in the 1970s when price controls on gasoline were implemented: government mandated that everyone have the same chance at the same tiny, limited quantity of the resource, which only penalized those who needed more (for whatever reason) and were willing to pay more for it. Perhaps someone needs to make an emergency trek across the state, but if his gas tank is empty and it's not his day to fill up, he's out of luck. Perhaps a father wants to live in Manhattan and save time on his daily commute that he could then spend with his family. However, he must compete with others for housing made more scarce by rest-stabilized units. In fact, though he's willing to pay more for the convenience, rent control policies immediately disqualify him if he makes too much.

Worse, when government forcibly prevents higher prices, it prevents entrepreneurs from pursuing new ways of supplying the resource. "Rent stabilization" supposedly helps less wealthy individuals to afford expensive real estate (while allowing others to take advantage of the loopholes), but it creates an artificial shortage by discouraging others from creating new housing, making the situation even more desperate. Price controls on gasoline discourage new drilling, the pursuit of more efficient methods of refining and distribution, alternative energy sources, and true conservation.

I wonder if any Australian homeowners have already experienced a small, manageable fire that they tried putting out with a garden hose, only to have their water pressure reduced later (or in the middle?). Such an economic calculation becomes easy, almost instinctive, when prices are left free to adjust: you may not spend $20 to wash your car, but you will to put out a brush fire in your yard.

The drought has reduced Australia's agricultural output, pushing wheat prices to 10-year highs. How about this for a novel solution: if the U.S. and state governments didn't throw away $5 billion a year in subsidies (a conservative figure excluding the full range of tax breaks) so the ethanol industry so it could produce a mere 5 billion gallons, that's $5 billion American taxpayers would save, and the land could be used to grow wheat. In the end, everyone would benefit. Even if Australians didn't import American wheat, the additional production would help ease prices on the global market for everyone. Meanwhile, Americans wouldn't have tax dollars stolen from them and subsequently given to ethanol producers, nor would they pay such high prices at the pump (in no small part from the mandated switch to ethanol).

Incidentally, while some doomsayers are too quick to blame global warming borne of human activity, Barrie Hunt, a climate researcher with the Australian government has said the drought is a natural, cyclical phenomenon. In fact, at four years old, the current drought seems bad but is far from the longest:
"The longest sequence was 14 years in Queensland-New South Wales, 11 in the south-east and 10 in the south-west."

He said that each of those significant dry spells occurred at random times and had an unpredictable duration.

For example, the Queensland-NSW area went 800 years without a drought longer than eight years, "but there is another period of 462 years where you get five of these", he said.

"When people talk about it as a 1,000-year drought, they haven't got the information. They don't understand that according to natural variability we could get another one in 50 years or it might be another 800 years, and there's no way of predicting it," Hunt said.

However, he did not deny global warming risked raising Australia's temperatures, which CSIRO predicts will rise up to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) by 2030 and six degrees Celsius (10.8 Fahrenheit) by 2070.
I suspect Hunt is at odds with the rest of CSIRO, which must be using one hell of a pessimistic model. Two degrees C in under three decades is a lot, even for Australia. But recall that only a few decades ago that scientists switched to global warming from the bogeyman of global cooling, also based on their climate models.

The most important quality to have is Hunt's skepticism, particularly his refusal to blame a single thing for what is a complex, unpredictable phenomenon. Like the discovery a few years ago of "global warming" 1200 years ago, based on growth rings of very old trees, he's going back hundreds of years to get the big picture. What was responsible for "climate warming" prior to two centuries ago?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

I really don't recommend this diet plan

I came down with very bad food poisoning late Thursday night. It only grew worse, forcing me to leave work early yesterday (and owe my co-worker big time for covering for me, when she was supposed to stay just half a day) and barely made it home. The train rides felt so slow when all on my mind was how every muscle fiber ached from the toxins.

According to the new digital scale I bought the other day, I lost 3.5 pounds. Most of that was water, so it's important I drink lots of fluid to keep hydrated.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Bad economics, bad economists

I came across yet another doomsaying news article about the mythical U.S. housing bubble, this time talking about Miami condo developments going bust. Well, that's what happens when there's a glut in the market that builders and their investors fail to recognize. Entrepreneurs don't have perfect knowledge, and though their Kirznerian side may recognize the opportunity for profit, if their Schumpeterian side fails to calculate the risk, they get burned. But nobody claimed the free market works perfectly. However, it works far better than central planning.

One of the soundbites is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard from someone who claims to be an economist:
"This market was too good to be true," said Lewis Goodkin, a Miami economist and real estate analyst. "But it was a market fueled by speculators, so it wasn't a true market."
I don't know where Goodkin learned his economics, but his teachers forgot to tell him that "speculators" are part of the market too. Didn't Goodkin ever take a basic economics history class where he learned Schumpeter's concept of entrepreneurs as people who spur economic advancement? Such "speculators" are also buyers and sellers, just as those looking to buy homes for their own residences. BTW, I was curious and did a Google search on this guy, who has his own thinkexist.com page of four quotes. Some are obvious, some are just out there:
"I think anybody (who) is willing to sit with it a reasonable period of time will come out OK - if they didn't buy at the absolute peak of the market. Right now, I consider that we are at the peak of the market - or close to it."
What is "a reasonable period of time"? And with the nature of U.S. economic expansion and the resulting effect on housing prices, how can he begin to use "the absolute peak of the market"? Is he saying prices won't be higher 10, 20 or even 100 years from now? Or is his absolute statement really not so absolute?
"People in their 60s don't want to be called seniors. And many don't want to live in adult-only developments."
This is worthy of quotation? But wait, it gets better.
"We're really coming back to a more normal market."

"The market has adjusted since then, but they haven't."
What more needs to be said, except that it's a testament to that site's lack of credibility that apparently anyone can submit quotes?

Declining housing prices in the U.S. are hardly a bubble, and they're also the averages of millions upon millions of homes from many different regions. I can tell you that prices in Westchester, and Putnam County to the north of here, keep rising, despite a high cost of living (especially property taxes). Donald Trump is building a luxury high-rise in New Rochelle, and it's a safe bet that he won't have any trouble building it. So why do economists think it makes sense to average New Rochelle with Miami, Nashville, Denver, Scottsdale and Fresno, and talk about a "bubble"? Well, for the same reason they think it makes sense to talk about "global economic growth," a meaningless term that lumps the United States in with the likes of Zimbabwe and France.

If you let the free market work, there's nothing to fear from home prices adjusting themselves, whether upwards or downwards. Each success and failure, standing on its own merits and not artificially influenced, will serve as a lesson to future entrepreneurs. The one thing we do have to fear is a Federal Reserve that drops interest rates too low, spurring the housing industry more than it should be, or raises interest rates that depresses the housing industry more than its natural state.

As long as the economy does well, I don't believe we won't have a housing "collapse," including these mass foreclosures that all these housing-Armageddon preachers keep predicting. What people should worry about is a Federal Reserve that hits the brakes on the economy, throwing people out of work and then putting them in danger of losing the homes that they previously could afford. Fear not the free market, but the Fed that can flagitiously foul up our otherwise flourishing future.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My only questions about Saddam's execution

Different people are saying different things about when, but Saddam Hussein's appeals are done, and he could be executed any day now.

So...who's hosting the kegger party, and what should I bring?

John Kerry, again the runner-up

At last night's NYC Young Republicans (the independent group) holiday party, we were honored to hear J.R. de Szigethy, president of the Chappaquiddick Society, announce the 2006 winner of the Society's "Profile in Cowardice" award. Kerry didn't win, but he did win a "dishonorable mention" for his stupid "stuck in Iraq" remark. He'll always be second best, see? (Say that in your best Edward G. Robinson voice.)

The winner is Mike Nifong, that bastard DA in North Carolina who went on a vendetta against the Duke lacrosse players. The state bar has now filed ethics charges against him, which I think are a step in the right direction but for a couple of wrong reasons. "I am convinced there was a rape, yes, sir" should not be held against a prosecutor, because if he wasn't convinced a crime had been committed, then it would be wrong for him to bring charges against the suspect. However, "One would wonder why one needs an attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong" is completely unworthy of any competent practicer of criminal law. The same goes for his not interviewing the alleged victim for months, all the while dragging those poor boys through the mud.

Worst of all:
Nifong was also charged with breaking a rule against "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation." The bar said that when DNA testing failed to find any evidence a lacrosse player raped the accuser, Nifong told a reporter the players might have used a condom.

According to the bar, Nifong knew that assertion was misleading, because he had received a report from an emergency room nurse in which the accuser said her attackers did not use a condom.
"Misleading" nothing. He lied.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Who's the genius?

I agree with my friend Billy Beck: Jane Galt is hardly a genius for pointing out the obvious about Democrats' concept of "fiscal responsibility." One of the comments on Jane's blog was spot-on:
Likewise, I'm still awaiting plaudits for my prediction that the sun would rise in the East today....
Back in October 2005, after Jane's original prediction except that I never read it, I debunked the concept of "oil independence" and exposed the Democrats (not a hard thing to do) as opportunists for harping on it. Three decades after the first oil crisis, now they start talking about reducing our oil imports?
Before discussing the energy issues, I want to emphasize the differences between supply-side Reaganomics and Democrats' approach to reducing federal budget deficits. Democrats want to hike taxes to continue massive federal spending, exemplified by John Kerry's fallacious campaign proposals to treat the top 1% like Santa Claus (but excluding him and his wife, who throw their money into tax-free investments and tax shelters to avoid the higher taxes they call for). And recently, Barbara Boxer all but admitted, in a form e-mail to Eric Cowperthwaite, that she doesn't want to cut pork and instead wants to raise taxes on the "wealthy." The plan to "tax the rich more to balance the budget" plan may sound "fiscally responsible," but it will stagnate the economy as the rich cut back on producing, which I've explained indeed trickles down and destroys jobs for everyone. Reagan, in stark contrast, advocated cutting taxes and cutting spending even more to promote economic growth and balance the federal budget. Unfortunately the Democrat-controlled Congresses, just like today, never wanted to cut back on spending. More unfortunately, George W. Bush and the Republican Congresses have really blown it with their own spending binges, but that's something to talk about another day.
What I said wasn't new either. A little different from what others have said before me, but still nothing new if you think about it. Two years ago, I went further than Jane and explained why tax hikes on the rich are bad for everyone. Though I didn't identify it as the basis of Democrats' plan for "fiscal responsibility," I explained that taxes on "the rich" only deprive the rest of the people of money for business investment (i.e. jobs) and loans.

However, while one shouldn't praise oneself and seek accolades for what isn't a fresh observation, one can certainly offer rephrased commentary in the hope of reaching one more person in just the right way. It's said that the devil will tell you a thousand truths to slip in one lie, so I'll add that perhaps if you tell someone the truth a thousand times, he'll finally believe it.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas message

Via Michelle Malkin, I read Pope Benedict's first Christmas homily and was astounded, particularly by this:

And so we come to the second meaning that the Fathers saw in the phrase: "God made his Word short". The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those versed in Sacred Scripture, for the experts who evidently became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective. Jesus "abbreviated" the Word – he showed us once more its deeper simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up – he says – in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind... You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything – the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity. Yet now further questions arise: how are we to love God with all our mind, when our intellect can barely reach him? How are we to love him with all our heart and soul, when our heart can only catch a glimpse of him from afar, when there are so many contradictions in the world that would hide his face from us? This is where the two ways in which God has "abbreviated" his Word come together. He is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing he has dispelled all doubt. He has become our neighbour, restoring in this way the image of man, whom we often find so hard to love. For us, God has become a gift. He has given himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, he has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high. Christmas has become the Feast of gifts in imitation of God who has given himself to us. Let us allow our heart, our soul and our mind to be touched by this fact! Among the many gifts that we buy and receive, let us not forget the true gift: to give each other something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our time to God. In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is created. During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord's words: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite those who will invite you in return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you" (cf. Lk 14:12-14). This also means: when you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back. This is what God has done: he invites us to his wedding feast, something which we cannot reciprocate, but can only receive with joy. Let us imitate him! Let us love God and, starting from him, let us also love man, so that, starting from man, we can then rediscover God in a new way!

The man is a great theologian, and now he proves he is a great preacher. My chief problem with the Catholic Church -- well, I'll soften this by saying it's what I perceive -- is that it's too immersed in rituals. I also have known Catholics who argue that they and I don't have the authority to explain scriptures on our own, because we haven't studied. While I myself have never studied at a seminary, I've read the Bible itself (most of it, except for Lamentations through the end of the Old Testament) and don't find anything so complicated that I need a priest or church scholar to tell me what to believe. And here, Benedict reminds us that God makes it simple to seek after Him, jabbing at "the experts who evidently became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective."

A Christmas story

This is from a sermon I heard a long time ago. The last paragraph is my own humble addition.

There was an atheist man whose wife was a Christian. He didn't mind that his wife took their children to church, but he never went with them. He'd even prefer to spend Christmas Eve by himself for a few hours, rather than, as he put it, watch some dumb children's play and listen to another boring sermon.

One year, he was again alone at home on Christmas Eve while his wife and children went to services. With the back yard light on, he could see the snow starting to come down. Then he noticed a group of several small birds hopping around the ground, unable to fly against the snowflakes. Maybe they were late in migrating and got lost, or they couldn't find their way back to their home tree. Either way, they needed shelter quickly or would surely die.

So the man ran outside to his shed, opened its door, and turned on a lamp he had inside. But the birds still moved around on the snow-brushed ground, not noticing the light.

The man said to himself, "Oh, if only I could become a bird so I could show them the way!"

At that moment, Christ's mission made perfect sense to him. Falling to his knees, he cried out, "God forgive me!"

A common verse quoted at Christmastime is Isaiah 9:6: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." But let us also remember John 1:14: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." The Word, meaning Christ, took upon himself a mortal body -- God himself became a man, humbling himself and taking upon the position of a servant, the scriptures tell us elsewhere, so that He could show men the way.

Another picture of the tree

As I said last night, I'm not entirely happy with the pictures I took of this year's Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Here's another one that I touched up a little, rotating 0.4 degrees counterclockwise and cropping appropriately to center the tree. I also adjusted the gamma to 2.0, so you can imagine how dark the original was.



It was no problem to try different ISO settings, but with all the jostling and competition for space, it was really hard to get a good shot via automatic focus. Maybe a late Christmas present to myself will be a new camera.

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Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one

I had a mostly wonderful time in the city tonight. The 4 p.m. service at St. Thomas Episcopal was too long and drawn out, particularly with the (male) choir apparently lacking most of its adults. While they were good from a technical standpoint, one can generally take only so much of prepubescent singing, and it's compounded when the hymns are boring. I also would have sped up the traditional hymns by 10% or even 25%. I would respectfully suggest to the music director that we imitate Luciano Pavarotti, whose famous recording of "Adeste Fideles" was done triumphantly.

Had my two good friends not gone, I wouldn't have either. I'd have preferred going to the Christmas Eve service at other friends' home church, the Real Life Church of the Nazarene in Danbury, Connecticut. Still, it was good to meet up with my two friends. We went out after dinner to Rue 57, basically an overpriced French-style bistro that, for that very reason, is a fashionable choice for dining. I think I'd have been just as happy with a burger and Heinekens at TGI Friday's as with steak and Chambord/champagne cocktails.

On our way back to Grand Central, my friends and I stopped by Rockefeller Center, where we braved the unbelievably immense crowds so that I could take a few more pictures of its 2006 Christmas tree. The first is from a few weeks ago, and the second is from tonight.





You can see my pictures of last year's tree here and here.

Last year's tree was beautiful, but I think this year's was even better. If you compare the pictures, you'll see that this year's is fatter and a truly magnificent specimen. The camera perspective doesn't make a difference: I took the pictures from virtually the same spots at the skating rink's east railing, in all cases trying to photograph the tree head-on from the east, centering it against the GE Building behind it. Cropping makes this year's tree look larger because it's a bigger part of the picture, but judge the tree's size in relation to the GE Building, or Prometheus below.

However, I much prefer last year's pictures. This year the crowds made it impossible to get a clean shot, and I just couldn't get a picture that had both sharpness and vivid colors.

Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one. Especially Jay. Maybe he was an angel sent to test men, or maybe he was just a man down on his luck. He didn't ask for anything and in fact seemed oblivious to our passing by, but I atypically decided to help him directly. Usually I give to the Salvation Army and other charities, which can ensure the money goes for food and shelter, but tonight I felt different. Maybe it was the sight of someone who'd still be on the street come Christmas morning, while I headed to a warm home after a full meal.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Urgent plea for help: Harrison Leonardo needs a bone marrow donor

Today's New York Post has a story about 2-year-old Harrison Leonardo, whose leukemia recently relapsed. He desperately needs a bone marrow transplant.

A match will likely be of his same genetic type, half-Filipino and half-Caucasian, but a suitable donor has not yet been found. There is donor candidate testing tomorrow in downtown Manhattan from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 151 Wooster Street. Because I am also half-Filipino, half-Caucasian, I'm definitely going. If you recognize me, let me know and I'll buy you coffee or something so we can chat. I'll be in a blue suit and striped blue tie, but you may identify me most easily by a blue pocket handkerchief.

Click here for a street map, and here is an NYC subway map. You can take the 1 line to Houston, the C/E to Spring Street, or the 4/5/6 to Spring (a ways to the east but definitely walkable). If you think you might possibly be a match, please go to get tested. You should state that you are looking to be tested specifically for Harrison Leonardo, but you can also be tested for suitability with others in need of bone marrow donors. I used to donate platelets often, and because HLA matches are so hard to find, if I turned out to be a close match for some leukemia patient or hemophiliac, I would donate a second time 7 to 10 days later.

If you live in the Bay Area, please note that there are other upcoming drives, including two in San Francisco and one in Oakland. Please spread the word. From the Help Harrison website:

Any help you can give me in spreading the word about Harrison and these upcoming donor testing drives would be greatly appreciated.

Harrison, a 2-year old, has a rare form of cancer called myelogenous leukemia (www.helpharrison.com) and is in desperate need of a bone marrow donor. A suitable donor will most likely have a similar ethnic background as Harrison, who is Filipino and Caucasian., however there is also a chance a match can be found with someone who is of Asian descent or who is bi-racial. Testing involves a swab of the mouth for tissue. There are several donor testing drives coming up (listed below). There is no fee for minorities, or public safety officers, to get tested. Caucasians can expect to pay between $25 and $52, depending on funding levels.
If you are unable to attend a drive you can still help by requesting a free testing kit be mailed to your home. To request a free kit, please call 1-800-59-DONOR (1-800-593-6667) or visit AADP.
12/19 (Tuesday) main entrance PG&E building- 77 Beale Street btwn Market and Mission. Auditorium lobby-enter to left of the waterfall San Francisco 12pm - 2pm.
12/20 (Wed) 151 Wooster Street, New York, NY, through the DKMS America. Contact is Nicole.
12/21 (Thurs)San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 2-Upper Level Lobby Area, South San Francisco 9am - 4pm.
12/27 Cathay Post (with the Firefighter's Local 798 and SF Asian Firefighters Association) 1524 Powell St., San Francisco. 10am to 2pm.
1/6 (Saturday) - 3:00pm – 6:00pm, A marrow donor recruitment drive will be held at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland 659 14th Street, Oakland, CA.

Please check the www.helpharrison.com website for updates or more information on the drives.
For more information on bone marrow donoations, please see:
http://www.marrow.org/DONOR/FAQs/Marrow_Donation_FAQs/index.html

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Suggestion to the Iraqi Red Crescent: go home

Perhaps if they'd stop listening to their own bullshit, the Red Crescent would hear the voice of reason.
Iraqi Red Crescent: U.S. Threatens Work

GENEVA -- Harassment from U.S. forces is a greater threat to the work of the Iraqi Red Crescent than insurgent attacks, a senior official of the Red Cross-linked humanitarian organization said Friday.

Dr. Jamal Al-Karbouli, vice president of the Iraqi Red Crescent, said some U.S. forces appeared not to realize that the society, which uses as its symbol the Muslim red crescent instead of the red cross, was part of the international humanitarian movement.

"The main problem we are facing is the American forces more than the other forces," Al-Karbouli told reporters in Geneva. "We are spending a lot of time to explain about the Red Crescent."

Al-Karbouli said insurgent groups in Iraq did not pose as great a problem for the organization.

"The insurgents, they are Iraqis, a lot of them are Iraqis, and they respect the Iraqis. And they respect our (the Red Crescent's) identity, which is neutrality."

He also complained that Red Crescent offices in Baghdad, Anbar and Najaf provinces had been repeatedly "attacked" by U.S.-led multi-national forces searching for insurgents.


"We have flags, we have everything, we have (the) logo, so they (U.S. forces) know everything, but unfortunately they come again and attack us many times," Al-Karbouli said. He complained that U.S. forces broke doors and windows at the Red Crescent headquarters "and they didn't find anything, and they left."

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the U.S.-led coalition forces "strive to ensure they are respectful when they conduct interaction with the local population."

"When we conduct searches, we do not 'attack' the place we are searching," he said.
If Al-Karbouli's head were filled with brain matter instead of camel dung, he'd realize the simple logic that if U.S. and Iraqi forces gave automatic passes to anyone claiming to be part of the Red Crescent, "insurgents" would start donning Red Crescent insignia. Moreover, it stands to reason that they already have, or that Red Crescent personnel are giving safe haven to them: why else would U.S. forces trouble themselves with going to Red Crescent headquarters, except to chase gunmen and mortar operators trying to appear like Red Crescent workers or using the headquarters as safe ground?

If the Red Crescent is so worried about what's happening to them, then my suggestion is that they get the hell out. The truth is that they have far more to fear from the "insurgents" that "respect" Iraqis: just today, 28 people at the Baghdad Red Crescent office were kidnapped. The gunmen wore Iraqi army uniforms, a popular disguise. But even before that, Al-Karbullshit's claim about Iraqis respecting Iraqis is a laughable one to anyone paying attention.

Lies, damned lies, and the news

Everyone's talking about the "civil war" in Iraq, when the real one is among Palestinians:
Abbas Guard Base in Gaza City Attacked

Gunmen Attack Training Base of Abbas' Guard in Gaza City as Political Standoff Escalates

RAMALLAH, West Bank Dec 17, 2006 (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Saturday for elections to end his violent standoff with Hamas a gamble that Palestinians will back him as he seeks to weaken the Islamic militants, avoid civil war and keep momentum for peace overtures with Israel.

Hamas accused Abbas of trying to topple its government, promised to block the elections and urged supporters to take to the streets. "This is a real coup," said Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas hard-liner.

Hours later, dozens of Hamas gunmen attacked a training base of Abbas' presidential guard near the president's home and office in Gaza City, the presidential guard said. One guard was killed and three were wounded in the fierce, early-morning battle that ensued Sunday, a guard statement said.

Abbas was in the West Bank town of Ramallah at the time of the attack.

On Saturday, thousands of Hamas supporters marched in protest and 18 Palestinians were wounded in clashes between the two political camps in Gaza.

Hamas' landslide election in January parliamentary elections split the Palestinian leadership into two camps. One, led by Abbas, seeks peace with Israel; the other, led by Islamic Hamas militants, is sworn to the Jewish state's destruction. The infighting has often degenerated into convulsions of violence, and this week, tensions reached their highest peak in years.
While the major news outlets continue to underreport the fighting, they continue to spread the lie that "moderate" Fatah wants any true peace with Israel. The only difference between the two Palestinian factions is that Hamas admits openly that their goal is Israel's destruction, while Holocaust denier Mahmoud Abbas and his followers only pretend to want peace.

Further reading:
Voting for terrorists
Even the supposed "non-militants" fire rifles in celebration
Trusting Hamas
Who really believes Hamas abided by a "truce"?
What is a Palestinian cease-fire promise worth?

How "satisfied" are Cubans?

After a generation or two of indoctrination (made easy when the state controls the schools), as more die who remembered how things used to be, as others are forcibly silenced for demanding the dignity of human freedom, a people will become more conditioned to eating shit and liking it. So I myself was a bit surprised at the results of a Gallup poll of Cubans in Havana and Santiago:
Poll: 1 in 4 Cubans OK With Freedoms

WASHINGTON (AP) - About one-quarter of Cubans interviewed in the island's two biggest cities are satisfied with their freedom to choose what they do with their lives, according to a poll released Thursday.

When asked about the job performance of Cuba's leaders, about 40 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved, the Gallup Poll found. Not quite half gave their approval. The poll surveyed 600 people in Havana and 400 in Santiago.
It's a stupid title, really. It should have said, "Poll: 3 of 4 Cubans Not Satisfied With Freedoms" -- that is a finding worth proclaiming as the ultimate illustration of Cubans' happiness. And more importantly, two out of five were brave enough to "disapprove" of the current leadership. So much for the Cuban paradise of "free" education that teaches you obeisance to Papa Fidel, and "free" healthcare at hospitals that look more like unwashed latrines. You think everything is "free" until you realize the cost is the God-given dignity of being able to choose your own destiny.

How accurate are the poll results? Were people afraid? Well,
Ten people from other Latin American countries conducted the interviews along with 10 Cubans, mostly college students Gallup had previously dealt with. The workers tried to stay away from the homes of people responsible for reporting on neighborhood activities to the government. Such homes, Gallup said, are on nearly every block.

The interviews were not monitored by the Cuban government, the polling group said, and no incentives to answer questions were given to respondents. Gallup said it did not request governmental permission to conduct the survey.

The poll workers entered their results daily in computers at the Internet cafes that have sprung up to cater to tourists. They burned their data each night to avoid having the results recovered by the government.
It's also reasonable to reckon that some others, of a quantity we'll never know, would have voiced some disapproval of Castro but were still afraid. For all they knew, these pollsters might turn over names and results, or the results would be seized no matter how much the pollsters resisted, or certain "neighbors" might overhear. No matter how anonymous you may seem, it can be dangerous to express to anyone that you don't like Castro. It's hope-inspiring to see that, despite all the Castro apologism that's been rampant for the last four decades, the people who know best don't want him.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cologne review: Jeter's olfactory mess "Driven"

Just like the Yankees, Derek Jeter's new men's fragrance comes on strong and finishes poorly. A couple of Avon reps were handing out samples the other day in the lobby where I work. They gave me a couple, one of which I tried last night, and all I can say is, YUCK! It's as if the designer(s) tried to imitate Kenneth Cole Signature but had no hope of capturing the complex wood notes. I don't know what's wrong with Jeter's nose that he allowed his name to be put on something with "all the finesse of Old Spice," as I said before about Axe body sprays. At least when Michael Jordan lent his name to a cologne, it was a simple but citrus-evergreen fresh cologne that finished cleanly.

My favorite cologne (of those I still have) is still Christian Dior's citrus-based "Higher Dior," which I think is my second favorite cologne ever. When that bottle is done, I'll switch my main scent to a more Oriental type by going back to my favorite cologne ever, Bulgari Extreme.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

My post-election Intrade newsletter

I thought I had posted this already. I submitted this on Thanksgiving morning, November 23rd.

How well did Intrade's contracts really do?

That the Democrats would retake control of the House of Representatives was not surprising to most people. That the Democrats would win enough seats for a Senate majority was a victory that surprised many political experts. It also surprised a lot of Intrade traders: the Senate.GOP.2006 contract (and similar ones provided by other prediction markets) incorrectly predicted that Republicans would retain control of the Senate -- or did it? It's important to remember that such contracts never predict absolute outcome, but rather the pure probability of the event occurring. A probability is not just a percentage chance, but a prediction that if the election is performed an infinite number of times, if the die is rolled an infinite number of times, etc., then a particular outcome will occur that percent of the time.

If an event has (or is predicted to have) a 90% probability of occurring, it may be extremely probable that it will, but keep in mind that it is still not absolute. A hundred-sided die has a chance of coming up with any one desired side as opposed to the other 99: on any particular roll, any side can come up. Then we delve into conditions of much lower probability, such as the high 50s that the Senate.GOP.2006 contract saw in its last hours: those odds are not significantly better than a coin toss, because the chances of the event not happening are still in the 40s and quite good. With a five-sided die, there's quite a good chance that you'll get sides 1 or 2, as opposed to the other three. As a real-life example, I recently half-joked with a friend that it was a 60% probability (a number I pulled out of the air) that she'd be laid off on the day she expected to be. It didn't happen, prompting her to ask why she still had a job. I replied, "Well, that was the 40%." The same applies to the Senate elections: this election was part of the 40-ish percent probability that the Democrats would retake the Senate.

As the election neared, I was extremely careful in "giving" the 2006 Senate races to either party. Going into the final day, most races had a contract in the 70s or above, which historically (at least in Intrade's contracts) is a strong prediction of the outcome. Voter surveys showed the elections were close in Maryland, Montana, Ohio and Tennessee, but those weren't battlegrounds according to those states' Senate contracts, which had one party's contract in the 80s or higher. TN.Senate06.GOP was moving to the GOP in the final days, reaching 86.7 on the night before the election. I was tentatively giving Virginia to the GOP through the end of October, although I included a caveat on the 31st: "Some races, like Virginia and maybe Maryland, could go against what the trading markets currently predict." In the next week, VA.Senate06.Dem started climbing and closed at 60.9 on the night before the election, apparently because George Allen's newest tactics backfired. Also, MO.Senate06.GOP had gone from the 50s to the 40s while MO.Senate06.Dem had gone from the 40s to the 50s, making it and Virginia the two races that would determine Senate control.

In the end, the general Senate.GOP.2006 contract was incorrect (though as I said, it was statistically not much more sure than a toss-up), but each of the 33 individual Intrade Senate contracts correctly predicted the winner. That in itself is astounding success, and another feather in prediction markets' cap. With that knowledge, an entrepreneurial trader could succeed. It would not suffice that he be Schumpeterian in calculating the risk: he must be also be Kirznerian in noticing (in fact, being able to notice) the opportunity for profit. Once cognizant of what the individual Senate contracts were predicting, he could bet against the favorite in Senate.GOP.2006. That also occurred in the parlay contracts combining the overall House and Senate races, not judging by the contracts' prices, but by the volume.

I noted in our Election Day edition that over 1900 contracts of GOP.House.GOP.Senate had been sold, with nearly 1800 of Dem.House.GOP.Senate, a very surprising 750 of GOP.House.GOP.Senate, and over 2500 of Dem.House.Dem.Senate. The favorite to expire at 100 was Dem.House.GOP.Senate, which closed at 57 on the night before, but as we've already discussed, that's not too strong a chance. So like the Senate.GOP.2006 contract, these parlay contracts also failed to predict that the Democrats would win back control of the Senate. However, consider that over 30% more contracts of Dem.House.Dem.Senate were sold than either GOP.House.GOP.Senate and Dem.House.GOP.Senate. I dismissed it at the time as the contract merely being "interesting" to traders, but hindsight (perfect as always) lets us conclude that someone bet on the general contracts based on the individual contracts.

We no longer have the sales data available to download, but my personal conclusion is that some people correctly expected Dem.House.Dem.Senate to be the contract to expire at 100, and whether they were buying or selling contracts, the price stayed down. Presumably others were applying the general contract to the specific ones, rather than the specific to the general. So the successful traders exploited (which is not inherently a bad word) others' expectations that later proved erroneous, in a perfect example of asymmetrical information, "the market for lemons," "buyers as suckers," whatever you'd like to call it.

Perhaps this is too easy an explanation, and it's true that this is only one general contract out of six. Nonetheless, this is why I like to look at volume as well as price, particularly after some news that might affect a contract. Even if prices stay about the same, higher volumes indicate that someone knows (or at least suspects) something. In the movie "Trading Places" when the Duke brothers continually bought thought the price kept going up, one trader noticed and said to his associate, "Let's get in on it!" The wonderful thing about this market system is that no one is ever coerced into buying or selling; all participants are fully willing, and the winners are those who can compete best. Brute strength does not factor into the competition, and merely acquiring better information does not guarantee success: one must be able to analyze it astutely.

Sic semper evello mortem tyrannus

Pinochet died today at 91. My only regret is that he died of natural causes, instead of being strung up and gutted as he fully deserved. May he rot in hell next to the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Khomeini and Arafat. (I didn't mention a lot of others, but you catch my drift.) May he be speedily joined by Castro and Saddam Hussein, God willing, and the whole lot couldn't be joined fast enough by Madman Mahmoud and Hugo Chavez.

Chavez, by the way, proved that his rhetoric truly knows no limits. He's enough to drive his own people to drink, and now he's blasphemed by invoking Christ's name as justification for his tyranny:
"The Kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of love, of peace; the kingdom of justice, of solidarity, brotherhood, the kingdom of socialism," he told the raucous crowd celebrating below. "This is the kingdom of the future of Venezuela."
Early Christians attempted a form of communism, holding everything in common and dividing everything according to need. The community failed after two people kept part of what they received from selling their land. Note that God did not strike them down for keeping part of the money, but for lying: they conspired to defraud the community, with which they had made a voluntary agreement to share property equally. Also, I don't believe for one second that God intended Christians to live that way, rather that God allowed the community to make the attempt and fail, proving humanity cannot continue under common ownership.

We know from Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians that idolaters are among those who shall not inherit the kingdom of God. I submit to you that idolaters include "those worshippers of government," as Bastiat termed them in The Law. Remember that there are those who will call Jesus "Lord," claim to perform "wonderful works" in His name, yet will be unknown to God in the true kingdom to come.

Do I judge Chavez? Yes, and my judgment is righteous in that I acknowledge my own shortcomings before God, and that most importantly, I seek no power over others. Unlike Chavez, I have no desire to coerce others to my beliefs, to forcibly structure their lives around my visions, or to worship the same forces of purely human construction that put my own Savior to death. My best friend at work recently asked what my "plan" for society is if I could eliminate the welfare state. How can a Keynesian like him, whose very philosophy revolves around government planning, ever comprehend that I don't and refuse to have a "plan" for others, that my only "goal" is their freedom to live according to their own consciences, until they harm others?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Blessed is he who comes in the name of Arthur Laffer

There was a debate tonight at the Donnelley Public Library in midtown, which I wouldn't have missed for the world.



Alan Reynolds himself! His opponent in the debate was Nomi Prins. I'm not saying this because I agree with Reynolds and think Prins is a misguided leftist, but Reynolds completely outclassed her. He cited statistics and actual trends; she could only cite anecdotes. I don't know about any of you, but I have yet to meet a single mother who "works several jobs" while caring for several children and going to school. That's not to say such people don't exist, but such people are far from the norm.

More on the debate tomorrow. I really enjoyed it for how it illustrated the two polar opposites: the side that fears anybody possessing more wealth than others, and the side that knows any increase in wealth is good for everybody.

Monday, December 04, 2006

So much for being our full-time Senator

The carpetbagger hasn't even been sworn in for her second Senate term, and she has the audacity to start drumming up support for the Democratic nomination in 2008 -- as if any intelligent person already didn't know she wants to run.

One of the most brazen examples of mainstream media bias I've ever seen was during the debate between Hillary and John Spencer (whom Hillary defeated handily this last November, 67% to 31%). Not once did the "moderator" even hint that Hillary might run for the White House, yet he asked Spencer -- in a tone bordering on "demanded" -- to promise that, if elected, he would serve a full term and not run again for Yonkers mayor. I couldn't believe that was even asked, saying to myself, "What the hell?"

I had high hopes that Jeanine Pirro would do a lot of damage to Hillary's presidential aspirations, even if the former didn't win. Her best tactic would have been to demand, at every opportunity, that Hillary promise to serve the full six years. The campaign slogan I made up for her drove home the point, but enough voters across New York state were too blind or willfully ignorant to Hillary's 2008 ambitions. Now we have proof.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Why drink? Venezuelans probably want to forget about Chavez for a while

Previous:
He's the new king...of the socialist moonbats
King of the socialist moonbats, part II
King of the socialist moonbats, part III
Moonbats in love
"For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction"

Hugo Chavez is cracking down on beer trucks, as if Venezuela didn't have worse things to worry about. Venezuelans who drink beer excessively are a symptom of a much larger problem, specifically Chavez' own rule that steals money from the successful and drives away foreign investors. Chavez has succeeded well only in further impoverishing Venezuela: unemployment has increased under his socialist policies (surprise?), and Venezuela earlier this year started buying crude oil from Russia to meet its delivery contracts. Some claim the latter is due to "peak oil," which is a simply ignorant claim considering Venezuela's proven reserves. The problem isn't a lack of crude oil, but a lack of ability to extract it from the ground.

And what do you know: it appears that the physician ought to start healing his own patients instead of offering quack cures for others.
"The law says you are not supposed to drink in the street but everybody does it, especially at the Chavez rallies," says Ms. Alcala.

Guy Taylor, an American journalist working in Caracas, says Chávez rallies he has seen were marked by colorful street theater, pro-Chávez rappers, scantily clad women and, of course, plenty of beer.

"It really resembles a carnival," he says. "People start drinking early at the rallies and by the time Chávez shows up, a beer-fueled hysteria has taken hold."

In the running for "Most selfish man alive"

After Palestinian "militants" (i.e. terrorists) took refuge inside, Israeli forces rightfully destroyed an old mosque. Now the muezzin cries over the mosque's destruction, saying, of all the things, "If I had 20 sons, I would give them all for my mosque." I don't think I need to explain what's so wrong with that statement.

Of course, the Palestinians are blaming Israel for "aggression" by destroying the mosque, when even this Reuters article (as reprinted here on a "humanitarian" issues propaganda site) admits that "it's very unlikely it would have been targeted if gunmen weren't hiding inside." I can't recall the last time Israeli forces took refuge in a synagogue so they could later accuse Muslims of "aggression," nor can I recall the last time Israeli forces sent out a call for Jewish women to be their "human shields."