Monday, August 31, 2009

Real Life

As an expert witness, I once had to estimate the dollar loss to a couple suing for a possible malpractice that resulted in the death of their three day old child.

So I had to find an estimate of the cost of raising a kid in terms of money spent and in terms of the market value of the service provided by parents (maid, cook, chauffer, babysiter, etc.). The estimate was around $400,000 per kid.

Kids are the costliest little decisions in the world. The time and effort that one must take to raise a kid is huge.

So my three kids cost something less than $1.2 million dollars. I say less because some services do not multiply exactly--for example, hiring a cook for three is not three times as expensive as hiring a cook for one.

When I teach economics I tell my students that we undertake decisions for which the benefits outweight the costs. And I say that the benefits of each of my kids outweigh the costs. Overall, having a family is the best thing that one can do with one's life.

This idea is at the heart of economics. Perhaps we would rather dwell on benefits of things that we favor. But there are always costs. Since I can be happy, even with this perspective, perhaps I am fortunate I found my profession.

I wrote a haiku in which I attempted to express the essence of choice: we take one option, and we give up another. Whether we consider any of our options "good" or whether we consider all options "good," the getting, as well as the giving up, is the nature of choice.

Choice is all about living in the moment. All action takes place, as Pirsig said in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence, on the present's knife edge, cutting through a boundless, undefined future, and leaving a decided past. Here is my haiku.

Tender shoots encased
in an age of ice. The hare
Picks the best bait's trap.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


If we trade credit cards for a day, you'll buy lots of stuff that you would not have otherwise bought.

Since you would not have otherwise bought it, that reveals that the stuff was not as valuable as the stuff you bought before you had my credit card.

And I will do the same. I'll buy lots of computer games with your card that I had looked at longingly last week. I didn't buy them last week, though, because I bought stuff that had more value--stuff that was necessary.

You and I will spend lots of money inefficiently.

Oh, now let's do the same with health care credit cards. Voila! National health insurance!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Michael Vick went to prison for two years for operating a dogfighting ring.

He was recently released and will soon be able to play professional football again.

He had to confess how wrong he was. He had to say that he now loves Big Brother. Or maybe he was saying that he now loves Little Rover.

It reminds me of an old song I heard on my family's Edison record player. The record was a quarter inch thick and the phonograph had to be wound with a crank.

Eastward, westward, home's the best word,
When you're blue and all alone.
Little Rover, think it over.
Don't forget to come back home.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If You're So . . .

I am a PhD economist. When someone wants to diss me, they can easily say, "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?"

Because I am not rich. I am barely making it to the end of the month. This month, in fact, seems to get longer each day.

Warren Buffett is worth $37 billion (he was worth $63 billion last year).

Buffett was an Obama supporter. He referred to Obama's Incarnation with the words, "You couldn't have anybody better in charge."

After seven months of spending, Buffet realizes that the deficit has exploded and that the administration only wants more spending. In a recent New York Times editorial, Buffet said, "Fiscally, we are in uncharted territory.”

He warns against more spending, though the administration clearly wants more. (That is what the current controversy is about).

Warren, how could you support the candidate that promised that government fix our mortgages, fix our banks, fix our companies, give us health care, give us a carbon-free planet*, and give us a free college education? Warren, how could you support him if you do not like mountains of government debt? Did you think he could spend straw into gold?"

Look at every single aspect of Obama's background and resume. Is there one single item that says that he thinks government should be bounded by law or by economic reality? How many items indicate that he knows of no bounds for government? (Yes, we can!)

So to Warren Buffett, I say, "If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?"


*Yes, I know a carbon-free planet would be lifeless. I am giving a shout out to some friends who have told me that they hope mankind hurries and kills itself off, so that the planet can live in peace. I am doing them one better.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Kid, Nostradamus, The Maya, and Obama

My twelve year old read that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 and that many kooks believe that the world will end along with the calendar. Now he's spooked.

Tonight he told me about aliens giving a woman the correct interpretation of Nostradamus's prophesies.* He decided, consistent with something his mom told him two nights ago, that the woman was nothing special. If aliens wanted to communicate with someone they would go to a world leader.

So my son sent an email to the White House.

I asked, "How did you do that?" I hoped that he did something that resulted in communicating with nobody.

But he said, "The White House has a web site with an email address."

I await the U. S. Secret Service knock at my door.


*To help innoculate my kid against the goofballs that think that Nostradamus is coherent I found some of his prophesies and read them to him. He agreed that they were incoherent--not nearly as laden with meaning as the internet freaks would have him believe. Here is an example.

The large mastiff expelled from the city
Will be vexed by the strange alliance,
After having chased the stag to the fields
The wolf and the Bear will defy each other.

Oh, yeah, Nostradamus. I'll be sure to watch out for that mastiff if you'll keep track of that wolf and bear.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

That's Amore

My new associate dean's last name is Martin.

Today I asked him if he could sing. He did not know what to say. I said, "Now that you're Dean Martin, you've got to sing. Maybe you could practice, 'That's Amore.'"

It was the first time it occured to him that he is now Dean Martin.

He fired me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009


The dogs got hold of an old toy that we have had for years. This one does not have a lot of sentimental value for us, though. Nontheless we were not ready to have it shredded.

The toy is the small monkey that you see in this picture. It is about as big as your palm.

Julia said that the red thread that they pulled out of its mouth looked like a tongue. My twelve year old said, "From now on we should call him Gene Simian."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

First Beating

The university's fall semester is starting soon. We had our first beating of the year today. The bad news was a 6 day furlough--goodbye to a percentage of salary, since the state is broke.

The good news was that we have some private money and will get incentive rewards to publish. Even more unusual--they made the rewards retroactive to January 2008. The rewards can't be taken as cash payments. But they can fund travel to conferences or equipment/software purchases or even be used to "buy out" a course in summer.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Wrong is simple.

I own myself. It is wrong for anyone to violate that ownership.

How can someone violate my self-ownership? By killing me. By enslaving me. Killing is the greatest evil. Enslaving is the second greatest evil.

Slavery is taking away my choice by force or by threat of force.

If all property is owned by the king, I eat and live at his sufference. I must obey him or die. I am his slave.

I can only remain alive and free if I can trade my labors (part of me) in return for property.

If property is in the hands of many individuals, then I may be able to strike a bargain. I can cut your hair* in return for a loaf of bread, which you baked.

If the king forbids me from selling my services to others, he has enslaved me. If the king confiscates the bread which I earn from others, he has enslaved me.

If my neighbor's family decides that they will be kings, confiscating my property or otherwise enslaving me, that is wrong, too. If all use are free to confiscate or enslave, we do not make much bread. We spend lots of time defending.

So we need some means by which we protect each person from being coerced by others.

There you have it. Right and wrong.

All men [have] inalienable rights . . . life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secured these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed.

Note that if the government takes all my property, they have enslaved me. If they take half my property, they have half-enslaved me.

How do we fund a government to protect our rights? We can only do it through coercing each person to give up some of property in return for this protection. Hence, government is an illogical creation. The anarchists cannot get past that.

Many libertarians agree that government is a necessary evil. It is necessary, so we must have it. It is evil (coercion--partial slavery) so we should keep it small.

*You do not want me to cut your hair.

Monday, August 10, 2009


My brother's backwoods friend joined the air force. I think he was looking for a solid job that did not require a college degree--those were hard to find in the backwoods.

He trained to be a fuel technician. The fuel engineer sticks the nozzle into the plane's tank. The fuel technician operates the pump. At least that is what he told us.

The personnel officer asked him where he would like to be stationed. He said, "How about Alexandria," which was forty miles from home.

The personnel officer said, "How about Guam!"

He naturally figured that Guam was the closest base to Alexandria.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Dog?

On the way to the doctor's office, an SUV in front of us had a bumper sticker that read, "Beware of Dog."

Really? Was there a dog on board most of the time which passers-by should beware of?

Then, at the doctor's office a sign on the front door said, "Beware of Dog." We did not see any blind folks. We did not see any work dogs.

Apparently dogs have become ubiquitous in society.

By the way, neither sign had quote marks. I only used quotation marks to quote the signs.

Friday, August 7, 2009

"Bitter Barrier"

I bought Bitter Barrier from OdaBall. If your dog has a chewing problem, spray this on what they like to chew and they stop, since it tastes bitter to them.

Ysabella was chewing on my Cat 5 cable. I sprayed the cable. She licked up the excess Bitter Barrier from the floor.

From now on I'll put quotation marks around "Bitter Barrier."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

People With Jobs

P. J. O'Rourke wrote about the following exchange with a friend in his book, Parliament of Whores.

"How come," I asked Andy, "whenever someone upsets the left, you see immediate marches and parades and rallies with signs already printed and rhyming slogans already composed, whereas whenever someone upsets the right, you see two members of the Young Americans for Freedom waving a six-inch American flag?"

We have jobs." said Andy.

In recent days crowds of people have packed U. S. representatives' and senators' speeches and town hall meetings to scream about current government attempts to reform health care.

The Obama administration and congress have dismissed these protesters as supported by various lobbying groups, implying that they are paid employees, not genuinely concerned citizens. The protesters have been said by Barbara Boxer, Steny Hoyer, and others to be dressed in Brooks Brothers suits.

I cannot figure out whom to believe--Obama/Boxer/Hoyer/etc. or my lying eyes. I have been watching these protesters for nearly a week. My eyes tell me that there are old guys dressed like my dad, in untucked collared shirts with vertical scroll patterns on the front, and women dressed in light blue cotton blouses, like my mom wore. There are middle-aged guys dressed in the collared knits shirts that I buy from Wal Mart for ten bucks. There are a few young folks, dressed in polos and khakis--like my students. My lying eyes have not revealed the rows of Brooks Brothers suits such as one can see at a banking convention.

On one hand, Obama/Boxer/Hoyer/etc. may have optic nerves that differ from mine (in fact, that would explain a lot). On the other hand, Obama/Boxer/Hoyer/etc. may not understand what it looks like when they see protesters who have jobs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Quote Marks Strike Again

At the doctor's office today, I saw signs that read:

"This is a no-smoking facility" -- GPM

Yes, the sign had quote marks on it. I previously ruminated on strange quote marks. In this case perhaps the office, GPM, was indicating that someone had, indeed, said this exact thing, so that the marks indicated a quotation, instead of adding a peculiar "emphasis."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Indian Cornbread

The simplest dish that I know of is what southerners call indian cornbread. It is also called fried cornbread or hot water cornbread in some quarters.

Pour corn meal in a bowl.
Add some salt.
Pour in boiling water--paste should not be runny, but can stop just short of runny.
Shape into palm-sized disks with hands dipped in cool water.
Put in a cast iron skillet which has a thin layer of hot oil and fry until it starts to brown.
Flip, repeat.

My mom and grandma cooked it. My wife's mom and grandma cooked it. Men cooked it in wartime, since all you need is corn meal, water, and oil--when they could get even those simple ingredients.

So few people cook anymore that I do not know if indian cornbread will survive.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Yesterday my brother told me that he did not believe that any person who could get dressed in the morning could believe that one could tax (or borrow) a trillion dollars from the economy, spend it in the economy, and help the economy.

I assured him that I know plenty of people who are exactly like that. They believe that government can levy a $200,000 tax on a business person who takes home $150,000 per year and have no effect on anything.

I said, "There are two kinds of functional adults out there. One kind believes you can spin straw into gold (ala Rumplestiltskin) and another kind of person believes you cannot."

He said, "But they don't really believe that."

I said, "I have talked with many of them. They really believe it."

He said, "But they don't really believe it."

I said, "Yes. They really believe it. Some of my friends believe it. In my economics courses, there are always a few people who believe it. Some admit that they make decisions based on how they feel and don't want to think hard, but some think much too hard."

He said, "No. I mean, they don't really believe it. They couldn't."

We were at an impasse.

At the risk of offending those who believe we can spin straw into gold (as if I had not already), I think the perception comes from being a certain kind of intellectual. For instance, there are professors who insist that words have only private meanings--that there is no common meaning. And there are non-professors who follow these folks. But you should never ever hire one of those people to build a house for you, grow food for you, or do anything else in the practical realm where people could die.

Except for the professors and a few other "thinking" classes who follow them, however, no one asserts that such propositions (straw into gold, words mean nothing) are true with regard to practical matters such as immediate food and shelter.

However, people will assert that we can spin straw into gold with regard to the aggregate, or the abstract. With sophistry, we can put aside some basics.

For instance, during the health care debate in the Clinton administration, an economic truth came home to me. And it is a hard truth to dispel.

The nation pays for the nation's health care.

We can pay through out-of-pocket payments to doctors, through insurance premiums, or through taxes. But the nation pays for the nation's health care.

So the question becomes, "Which way is more efficient?" Which methods of payment encourage people to conserve while they consume? The best method of paying would have me never consuming $100 worth of something that is only worth $25 to me. Having others pay for my health care will invariably encourage inefficiency. Inefficiency means that we are taking food, shelter, and other worldly goods from people and destroying them. In my previous example, someone does not have food for the week because I spent their money on me. I may have destroyed $100 of their value to increase mine by $25.

Recently I saw a politician* assert that by looking at the cost of health care paid for by government, we dwell on the glass being half empty. That is true. The realist realizes that the glass is half empty and is also half full.

However, what that politician is currently attempting is to pour RC Cola** from my glass into someone else's glass, siphoning off some for his own glass. Meanwhile, he tells me that if I observe that my glass is nearly empty, I am a pessimist. That is, this politician says, "Forget about that guy with the empty glass," consistent with William Graham Sumner's noteworthy essay.

Since I have rambled in this post, I cannot end it properly.

So I return to my brother. He operates a crane on an offshore rig. If he messes up, people die and property is damaged. He realizes that words must mean things. He realizes that in the abstractions of life, that there are concrete necessities. And that when one smacks into concrete, it hurts.

Perhaps most engineering professors understand concrete--most journalism professors do not.


*Who, incidentally, has a string of ethics violations pending because he did not report taxable income.

**Although I have drunk RC Cola in the past, I am not a great fan. I use the example for its folksy twang.