Friday, October 31, 2008

Gorilla Chow

A gorilla killed and ate a young woman--a blonde beauty in her twenties, as I could see from the television news.

My eleven year old and I investigated the incident. We followed the trail to the factory where they make gorilla chow. When gorilla chow is produced, actual gorillas are in the room. Their hoots and howls are imprinted into the gorilla chow so that when a gorilla eats, it hears the sounds of gorillas, which comforts the beast.

However, the suspect gorilla ate gorilla chow that was made on a day when the factory manager's young wife was present, berating the manager. The security tape from the factory confirmed this. So when the suspect ate the chow, he heard a woman berating him. This enraged him so much that he broke his cage. The rest is history. In my dream.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


When I was in the second grade, we bought an aqua double cab Dodge from a guy whose oilfield gang used to ride in it. We pulled a pop-up camper behind the truck.

We especially enjoyed vacationing on the southwest Louisiana coast in places like Cameron, Holly Beach, and Johnson's Bayou. One day at Holly Beach, we all swam further out into the Gulf of Mexico than ever. We played, bobbing up and down as the big waves rolled in. A storm blew up.

By the time we made it to shore it was raining. We quickly dressed and stepped out to pop the tent down. Waves rolled in around our feet, between six inches and a foot of ebb and flow. We popped the camper down and hooked it to the truck, hoping that the wheels would pull us through the wet sand.

The truck surged forward in the driving rain. We made it to the houses on stilts at the town of Holly Beach. Mom said, "Is everything all right with the camper?"

Dad looked back and said, "It's gone."

Mom said, "Scotty, you're kidding."

He said, "No. It's gone." He got out and trotted back down the beach with mom accompanying. My brother and I waited in the truck, cold and scared. Eventually we saw Dad and Mom dragging the camper through the rain.

We never camped in it again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


By the time I was in first grade we had a tent. We spent days swimming and fishing in a little creek and nights we sat around a dying fire and dad called owls. Dad had the owls talking to each other and to him. Dad is from Mudville--as far back in the sticks as one can get.

We dug a Dakota holes and cook steaks on a wire grill. We fried crispy little bream and sun perch on a butane cooker.

We slept on cots in the tent. One night a tremendous thunderstorm poured in and turned the floor of the tent into a creek. We packed up in the downpour and went home. We sold the tent and bought a "pop-up camper." We never missed the tent.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One Of My First Memories

We camped in an ancient "metro," van in the sixties. It had a generator and my dad had just bought a heavy duty extension cord. He paid a lot for it--we did not have much money.

Beside the creek, my parents lay back in their hammock folding chairs, talking and watching the leaves waver while I played on the other side of the metro. Now and then I would yell "Timber!" and they would help out, yelling "Timber!" along with me. We all had a great time.

Until they realized that I had found their machete and chopped dad's extension cord into little pieces.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I wrote about a colleague who was so strangely mistaken about the world that he was too far to reach. That committee met again and the strangeness continues.

The committee decides if the research that is being done at the University is safe. That is, if the researcher exposes someone to physical or psychological risk, do the potential results of the research justify the risks? Are the participants informed of the risks? Stuff like that. The University would not want test subjects to die while taking physical stress tests, after all, unless the results of the research could potentially cut the risk of heart attacks significantly.

This time we had one proposal. I will change some details to preserve anonymity. The student researcher intended to discover which qualities of female hairstyles most strongly attract men. The funniest thing about the study was that the (female) researcher's email address was

The researcher would show pictures of women who have various hairstyles to male students and ask the students to rate the women by a few criteria, like "I would want to meet this woman," "I would want to date this woman," "This woman is cute," etc.

The men surveyed would be anonymous, so there is little exposure to psychological or physical harm. For me, this was a no-brainer. This research will not hurt anybody. I do not think it is valuable research, but, as an economist, I do not always understand what is important in other fields, and the feeling is mutual, I am sure. But that is fine because it is not my job to determine if the research is "good," unless it is risky.

The strangeness started at once. One committee member forcefully said she voted "no" because the study is sexist. The study would treat women as sex objects.

There are psychology courses at the University in sexual development. There are courses in evolutionary biology, which explain attraction in terms of biological advantage. Plenty of research at Universities treat women and men as sex objects. My colleague was, essentially, objecting to Freud and Darwin.

In any case, even if somebody objects to Freud and Darwin, that does not mean that research should be barred in sexual psychology and biology. Our duty was to assess risks and procedure, not to evaluate the overall worth of the research.

Perhaps this faculty member would object to economists' studies of efficiency in the Third Reich. Economists have shown theoretically and empirically that bureaucracies are inefficient--except for the Third Reich. Examination of the Third Reich has yielded a whole new theory regarding bureaucracy. These results might be applied to bureaucracies which have benevolent aims, as opposed to the maevolent aims of the Third Reich.

Will Smith was excoriated for saying that the Third Reich was efficient--are people so illiterate that they cannot understand the difference between saying, "The Third Reich was efficient," and in saying, "The Third Reich had admirable aims?"

I expect more literacy from people with advanced degrees. Alas.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Acceptance--But Not Fiction

I wrote my dissertation on strategic interaction with terrorists (1990). For years my major focus was terrorism, with "terrorism and the media" being my specialty. At one time I was told by a young star in political science that I was the only scholar doing real research on data related to terrorism and the media. I was flattered.

Today I was informed that the last paper I wrote on terrorism and the media will be published. The paper has a sad tale behind it, probably only appreciated by nerds who publish in scholarly journals.

The paper is modest in its aims. People (including scholars) say that terrorists' chief goal is media attention.* So it stands to reason that if the media pay more attention to terrorist incidents that terrorists will be more likely to perpetrate incidents. Hence, if the average coverage of a terrorist incident today increases, we should see more terrorist incidents in the future.

This is not a complex argument that needs a mathematical model. This is the conventional wisdom.

When I finished the paper the data was a few years old. Compiling some of the data had been painstaking. But since nobody was doing work with that data, I was in the clear.

The first journal rejected in a week--not their thing. Desk rejections are rare in academia, but I really appreciate them, since I can send the paper out after just a week or two.

The staff at the second journal was trying to figure out what they wanted to do. Who would be the new editor? Would they change their focus? I started calling after 9 months--not uncommon--and they strung me along for two years before giving me a desk rejection. That was unprofessional. I hope Economics and Politics has cleaned up their act since then.

I sent to a good political science journal. The reviewers wanted cognative models, resolution of definitional ambiguities, blah, blah, blah. These are the kind of nerds that if you say, "I show that better looking waitresses get bigger tips from men," they will ask for evolutionary biology models that show that men like attractive women. Morons. I was testing the conventional wisdom. Everybody knows the conventional wisdom--I could point to it in lots of places in the literature and in the popular press.

The reason that it was important to test that conventional wisdom is that it unravelled the work of other scholars who were publishing complex research on terrorism.

After all this, the data was so stale it reeked. It still showed that the conventional wisdom held using data that nobody else had bothered to compile. So I submitted to a modest journal that I thought I had a chance with. I killed the suspense already. It was finally accepted.


*Other than their overarching goal of political change

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tale of Two Joes

Just now in the U. S. Presidential election, everyone was wondering if the McCain campaign would dissolve into endless repetitions of Obama's answer to a question from a guy known as "Joe the Plumber."

Joe asked Obama face-to-face if Obama would raise his taxes should Joe be fortunate enough to buy the plumbing business that he now works for. Obama forgot his "those who are blessed by America should be willing to pay their fair share" rhetoric and, instead, said that it is a good thing to spread the wealth around.

It was a telling moment. But if the moment had lasted another week, I would have had to stop watching the news and do something productive.

It was mildly interesting to see the news media deconstruct "average Joe" by reporting that he is plumbing without a license and has not paid all his taxes.

O. K., so Joe is a libertarian's hero. History perfectly cast him for his role.

But even that was getting stale when the other Joe--Joe Biden--fragged Obama. Biden told a group of their supporters that U. S. enemies would provoke a crisis to test his untried running mate.

It is hard to keep a running tally of Biden's questions about the Obama campaign's validity.

During the primary, Biden said that Obama had no experience and that the office of the presidency did not lend itself to on the job training.

Biden once said McCain had the experience to be president.

Biden even said that Hillary would have probably been a better vice presidential pick than Biden.

Now he confirms what every serious person knows--that Obama is a lightweight who will attract enemy fire. Obama may fight, like Kennedy did (he was deemed a lightweight by the Soviet Union). Or Obama may only offer testy rhetoric, like Carter did after the Soviet invasion of Afganistan. But Obama will be tested in ways that crotchety old McCain would not have been. (My take on McCain, as a person, is that he is the old guy who yells, "You kids get off my lawn!")

I reiterate that I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I have serious problems with McCain's active pragmatism that runs roughshod over individual freedom. But Biden said what I have been saying for months.

I can keep watching the news.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why I Love Phil Gramm

I love Phil Gramm with one of those platonic, brotherly, nerdly, econo-loves. Phil is a real economist who graduate from a real university, then did real research and taught at a real university.

Then he became a politician. But, as politicians go, he was pretty good.

But I would not be singing Phil's praises if it were not for his remarks in the summer of 2008. I wrote about them here. To that, I can add that we now know that Gramm was absolutely right. The second quarter 2008 numbers showed growth. Here is why I renewed my love for Gramm today.

In class today I taught about the Great Depression and discussed how government turned a medium sized economic problem into a humongous economic problem. Jim Powell's book, FDR's Folly, catalogues the ways in which the Roosevelt Administration declared war on the economy. We could also add the Federal Reserve to the list of miscreants.

I likened politicial behavior during the Great Depression to political behavior today. We have a crisis caused by politicians forcing banks to make bad loans and having huge government-backed enterprises bundle those bad loans into securities. Then, as now, government intervention in the economy caused problems for which politicians now propose that more government intervention is the only solution.

This government insanity is widespread. You can hear it from George W., Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and John McCain.

One of my students said, "This seems so simple. These people have economists who advise them. Do these economists just not know, or do they not tell their politicians the truth, or do the politicians just not take advice?"

Phil Gramm set me up to knock that one out of the park. Phil, on McCain's staff told the truth! My previous post on Phil revealed that in a heartbeat Obama had dissed Phil and in an hour McCain had disavowed Phil.

Yes, politicians sometimes keep economists around who tell them the truth. But those politicians cannot tell the truth. They want to get elected. They have to pander. They have to gin up contributions. Truth is a liability they cannot afford.

So, yes, there are probably a few politicians that knew that the 2008 stimulus package was an idiotic shell game. (They sent out checks for a few billion, to pump up the economy. Hey, where did they get that money from--from . . . the economy?) But some of those politicians probably voted for the stimulus package because they wanted to appear concerned. Hm, screw things up so I can appear concerned--sounds like a great deal.

Phil Gramm helped me show my students why we have idiotic policies, though there are a few people in the room whom everyone knows are not idiots.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Writers get rejected a lot. I previously wrote about one successful short fiction writer's massive rejection. When agents reject a book idea they almost always say, "I am not the right agent for your work." That is a "it's not you, it's me," answer, but the writer knows that it really means, "it's you--it's all you."

One magazine rejected my first story with a few comments, chief among them being, "I never got a feeling for your main character's hopes and dreams." True, Killing Words does not start with "Riva hated her life in the temple and wished she were anywhere else, but especially with her family."

I did start with Riva examining her bruises, showing fear/panic at the day's deadly activities, and having four reactions in three pages that showed her missing various things about her family--weaving those reactions into the narrative. I thought, "Well, her hopes and dreams are there, but the editor did not get it. I will see lots of that in my career."

I checked the next story I sent to this editor, Bryton Wyld, to make sure that I had clearly shown that Bryton wanted an idealized love--his hopes and dreams, ya know.*

". . . white and gold statues of Telor and Scyntella appeared as if they had come to life, standing over the doorways of their twin houses of worship. Porp smacked Bryton on the back of the head, knocking his floppy black hat over his eyes. Porp said, “You stopped in the street.”

Behind the cart, someone screamed, “Move!” And a messenger kid shoved Bryton and groused, “This is a street, not a pig farm!”

“Really original!” Bryton called after him. The sight of the gleaming husband and wife had absorbed Bryton. Embarrassing."

Most of the story is about Bryton pursuing that ideal love--oh, and trying not to get killed where possible. Again, the editor replied with, "I never got a feeling for your main character's hopes and dreams." I concluded that I was still too subtle for the editor.

But another suspicion had been working on me. It is an "it's not my fault" suspicion, so I put it on the back burner. I had noticed that the editor never announced an upcoming story without listing rather lengthy credentials for the author. Maybe what was really going on was that the editor did not see an impressive list of previous professional sales in my cover letters, so that my stories never really stood a chance.

I looked over Knickknack, then rewrote the beginning. This time I had my main character, Jane, trembling with excitement at the prospect of leaving her family's gypsy camp to visit a real city, focusing all her efforts on making sure she does not mess up her chances to go. Whatever else Knickknack's flaws were (for instance, lack of subtlety), Jane would scream her heart's desires at this editor.

Of course, the editor replied with, "I never got a feeling for your main character's hopes and dreams." So now I get it. That is this editor's form rejection. It may mean, "You are not going to make your first professional sale here." Or it may mean something else. But it does not mean what it says.

Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

English Lesson

The eleven year old asked me, "What is a gherkin?" I told him it is a pickle. He was playing a flash game on the web called No One Likes Gherkin.

Then today he told me that he has a new girlfriend on this kids' game he plays. He said, "She's from Israel. She is learning to speak English. So I told her what a 'gherkin' is."

Somewhere in Israel is a confused young girl.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Economics Body Temperature

I squawked at Paul Krugman's Nobel prize in anti-economics yesterday. I found a hilarious* article that says that Krugman won the first posthumously awarded Nobel. Donald Luskin generously suggests that Paul Krugman, the economist, died a decade ago, leaving an incompetent babbler to usurp Krugman's good name.

Where I had suggested that ridiculous political figures such as Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and Cynthia McKinney will be next in line for a Nobel, Donald Luskin equates Paul Krugman's current status as an economist to Oprah Winfrey.

Luskin is too kind by half. His comparison suggests that Krugman's "economic body" is currently at room temperature, whereas my comparisons equate Krugman's "economic body temperature" to minus 273 degrees Celsius.**

Luskin's observations of Krugman, the Enron consultant who blames Enron's collapse on their consultants, took me to nerdvana.


*Hilarious to economists--so that means it's a yawner to all the non-nerds out there.
**Yes, that is a shout out to all my science nerd buddies out there.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I read that Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in economics. I squawked.

Krugman deserves the Nobel Prize for anti-economics. I do not seek out his opinions, but when I end up hearing his take on an issue, I can almost guarantee that if there is a clear-cut aspect of efficiency in the issue, Krugman will come down on the other side.

I heard Krugman speak when I was in school at South Carolina. I thought it was odd that this young economist spoke to the international business students and some economics students came along for the ride. In retrospect, that was not so odd. He does not have much in common with economists.

Krugman did one thing worth mentioning--it is, of course, anti-economics in its flavor, but he got it right. Economists can often say, "The answer is free trade--what was the question?" There is a good reason to presume that the answer is free trade. Free trade is efficient.

However, Krugman showed that one could find a set of circumstances under which managed trade is more efficient than free trade. Krugman's set of circumstances in which free trade is suboptimal is not necessarily common, so I still think that free trade is still the answer almost all the time. And, of course, if Krugman's circumstances are met, managed trade is best only if one assumes that government can efficiently manage something (that is known as a heroic assumption, except when it is only meant as a joke).

Given my two objections, I am not interested in putting a footnote by the "free trade answer." But, yes, Krugman took a towering result in economics and showed that another tower could possibly exist under some circumstances, which might be taller. Governments have been trying to build that taller tower for centuries, to the detriment of their citizens.

I guess they gave all the Nobels for economics, so now they have started on anti-economics. Perhaps Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and Cynthia McKinney should get in line for next year's prize.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Founder Critiques

Last night my online writing group met. They gave feedback on Founder, my experiment in mood fiction. All the news was good. They found it basically sound, but had questions that pointed toward improving the story.

In particular, from my Gang of Three and from the online group, I got feedback that the husband, Mason, seems too controlling of the wife, Jenna--that she seemed more like his child. I was mostly OK with that. He is a "fixer." However, without too much effort, I think I can amplify the theme--that trying to live in the past can be harmful to your health. After all, if I more plainly bare Jenna's actions as running contrary to Mason's preferences, then she is clearly more culpable for the unfortunate outcome.

Related to Jenna's clear choice, is her motivation--that her family is dead, so she feels as if she has lost her mooring. This makes a more accessible motivation than racial guilt.

I also got a few tidbits that amplified the Gang of Three. I had an extraneous red herring that I did not spend much time on--the villain's name is also that of a dead poster artist. In this story, which should be like a car's emergency brakes coming off and rolling downhill, it's better not to have the distraction. Also, I called a light bulb a "helix bulb"--those curlicue bulbs that are so energy efficient. Two people have not known what those were from my description. However, any more precise description would involve technical language that is out of place in the story.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cleaning Up After Life

Julia spent a week at her mom's house, helping to sort things out for mom's move to Oregon following Roberto's death. Julia's brother lives in Oregon and mom feels that is the best move for them.

The house belonged to Roberto and Paula, who have both died. The son, Julia's nephew, is sixteen. So Julia's mom is living in a house to which she has no legal connection. Someone said, "I guess she's a squatter." They do not think there is equity in the house, so she will let the finance company have it when they get around to it.

Paula collected Beanie Babies. Julia's nephew did not want them. Julia agreed to see what she could get for them on EBay.

Lots of stuff went into a box of mementos for the nephew, like Roberto's medals and his favorite watch.

We ended up with a laptop that may or may not work. Before I went to get Julia at the end of the week, I took the middle seat out of the van so we could fit everything in. We ended up bringing home the smaller storage bench, rather than the larger storage chest, so we had more than enough room.

Julia's mom gave us this little cooking gadget. It had never come out of the box--in fact, there were two of them in the box. She said, "Roberto was so looking forward to using that, but it was delivered after he died."

Julia remarked that so much stuff accumulated. At one time it was important to the people who collected it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


My gang of three group met. B. J. is somewhat stuck at her current place in the novel, so she skipped some scenes. The result was great. She had some great action, capped off by a description that conveyed such attitude that I had to laugh. "Bror dropped the body into the hole, kicking the dirt over it, contemptuously, like a dog marking its territory."

Barbara's scene had people playing a tense card game in which the players' wagers attack each other so that if the betting does not end soon, the stakes may vanish. "Tense" is the key--she does great description of the battle of wills.

They critiqued Founder. As I mentioned before, reading it makes my head buzz and spin, so I was not sure how others would read it.

Barbara liked it a lot. Since it was much shorter than what I usually write, it was easier to like because it was less work. I think she got involved with the characters. She liked the minimalist style and foggy perceptions of the first person narrator.

B. J. had problems with both main characters, but she did not think that the whole thing was a hopeless mess--which I considered a distinct possibility. I am mulling her suggestions. I think I agree with her, and can redirect things with a couple of words here and a clause there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

No, You Can't Watch It Here

Yesterday I said I was shocked that Saturday Night Live told the truth about the bailout. Apparently the truth was too shocking for somebody. NBC pulled the sketch from the web site. The sketch has been posted and removed multiple times from YouTube. The transcript and screen shots are here--but it is not nearly as funny.*

The Blogosphere rumor is that the Sandlers--a real couple that the sketch depicts--demanded that it be taken down. They, like George Soros, give lots of money to their favorite political causes. Perhaps the Sandlers threatened to sue. From what I have read, they built a huge business on subprime loans of the most laughable** sort, then sold that business to Wachovia, helping to bring the banking giant down. Here is a blogger who makes that claim.

Let me make it clear that I have no independent knowledge of this. I have previously been sued for libel and that was enough for me.***

Telling too much truth can be funny, but hazardous.


*Michelle Malkin is a conservative blogger. I am only a conservative in a narrow, classical sense. I am also liberal in a narrow, classical sense. My opinions do not fit within the usual orientation--and heck no, I'm not an "independent."
**If they were not so sad.
***The plantiff's case was dismissed with prejudice by the state court of appeals.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Saturday Night Live did a sketch on the Wall Street bailout. You can watch it here. It shocked me. If you do not want to have it spoiled, watch it before you read on.


The SNL writers told the truth. The entertainment industry typically buys the liberal line. In this case, the liberal line is, "Wall Street melted down because of greedy lenders who made predatory loans to people who could not afford to borrow." But this does not pass the smell test, since institutions do not like to make loans to those who cannot pay. Apparently at least one SNL writer smelled a rat and found the real story, which I have previously told here.

Excellent work. I did not think they had it in them.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Darker Side of Boredom

In my little town the cable television provider seems to think we have C-SPAN, that channel that televises such boring things as congressional debates. One channel comes up as C-SPAN on the television's display, but C-SPAN is not there.

I love C-SPAN. Without C-SPAN, news channels are the most boring stuff that I can inflict on my family.

We are now visiting my mother-in-law, who actually has C-SPAN. I have watched two hours of people who wrote books on Abraham Lincoln. I am not watching slick History channel documentaries. I am watching scholars drone on endlessly on obscure aspects of Lincoln's life, correcting all the myths that History propogates.

I have achieved nerdvana.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Steampunk, Lincoln, John Brown, and Mormons

My latest story idea involves having a genius among the Utah territory Mormons discover and use uranium as nuclear fuel for steam engines. Invention in the territory zooms forward, but the society has remained relatively insulated, with only scattered wild tales emerging.

One of the Mormon inventors heads east on a religious mission in a nuclear/steam powered tank and encounters Bleeding Kansas, in the person of John Brown.

Also in the mix is Abe Lincoln who suffered a crushing depression, chucked his former life, and headed west to make a new life. In Kansas he became the leader of an abolitionist mob.

Both sides of the battle over slavery try to get access to the Mormon's inventions, but Abe has his own agenda, related to his views of the economy.

There will be plenty of bombs and blood and butchery by both sides--and some humor-- to chug and clank and rattle the story along.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Too Far To Reach

Something that a colleague said this week reminded me what a different reality that some of us live in.

It was my first time to meet with a particular committee. I told them I was an economist, so they asked me what caused the current mess. After they assured me that they really did want to hear two minutes of economics stuff I told them the story about the government forcing financial insitutions to make loans to people who could not afford to pay, then getting Fannie and Freddie to securitize those loans.

One member of the committee said, "The rest of the story is that most of those poor people are poor because they could not afford to pay their medical bills."

I have lived in cities with high poverty rates. My friends who lived on "the wrong side of the tracks" were not confused about what caused the persistent problem in their neighborhoods. The government gives checks and other benefits to people who do not work.

After the meeting I looked up poverty rates, bankruptcy rates, and how often medical bills are cited as the cause of bankruptcy (1/2 the time!). But those bankruptcy numbers do not make up a significant portion of the poverty numbers, as I had suspected. Consider inner city poverty--housing projects. Lots of medical bankruptcies? Laughable.

But, at the time my colleague said it, I knew that he was too far to reach. So I smiled and nodded.