Sunday, February 28, 2010


I heard an excellent podcast this morning. Mike Munger put it something like this.

People want to get rid of the money and lobbying to influence politics. But that is the symptom, not the cause.

If we give away wealth, people will compete for that wealth. Giving away wealth brings money and corruption into politics. If you want to reduce the symptom, advocate eliminating the cause. Advocate that government stop giving wealth away.

I thought he boiled it down well. So I will belabor the point by creating a non-government analogy, in direct opposition to his concise wisdom.

If Walmart opens the door every Monday and gives everything in the store away, people will fight and scratch to obtain their weekly or monthly food and necessities and luxuries, resulting in injuries and deaths. Free market prices provide orderly competition and eliminate the fighting and scratching.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Words do not usually hurt me. When someone in grade school called me a "bastard" it never made an impression on me. When I saw someone rage at being called a bastard, I wondered if there was not some special sensitivity there--perhaps the kid's parentage was in doubt.

I have some Native American ancestors. Even though my personal experiences are far removed from my ancestors' I feel a kinship. The word "Injun" does not bother me, though, even when people might apply it disparagingly to my downtrodden ancestors.

My immediate ancestors were called "white trash." I often refer to my personal habits as part of a white trash heritage--to the shock and horror of those who say, "Human beings should not be referred to as trash!"

As Space Ghost once said, "Yeah, whatever."

Words that were once merely descriptive, such as "bastard," "idiot," and "moron," were destined to become pejoratives, leaving us to find more sanitary descriptives. "Poor countries" became "the third world," then "developing countries." The new descriptives become outre, and the process continues.

Now "socialism" is coming to be seen as pejorative. My view of the word is that socialism describes an economic system under which the individual works for the good of society. Capitalism describes an economic system under which individuals are free to work for the good of whomever they wish--mostly themselves.

Socialism has a bunch of branches and I glaze over when a socialist thinker finely parses the thicket. I have satisfied myself with understanding these three: communism (we own everything and we tell you how to serve society), facism (we don't own everything but we tell you how to serve society), and the soft socialism of Europe and America (we don't own everything but we tell you how to serve society and we take your income and use it for society).

I am not a fan of socialism. I am a fan of freedom. Under socialism, if you disagree on how society is best served or if you do not want to serve society, you will be coerced by force or by the threat of force to serve--if there is no threat, then the socialist system devolves to capitalism, in which people serve whatever they want to.

Since "socialism" is now pejorative, what will we call people that we formerly called "socialists?" Perhaps we will find an term like Warmfuzzies, which will last for a few decades until people recognize that term for the slur that it is.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


It sank almost 100 years ago with 1,500 people aboard. Get over it, people.  It is not that interesting.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Writing News

My story, Refiner's Fire, was one of eight finalists in Writers of the Future's* fourth quarter 2009 contest.  Alas, it did not place in the top three, which would have guaranteed that it would be published in their yearly collection of stories.

I am left slightly better off than I started.  Finalist status confirms that I can write a really good story, as judged by someone who knows--the judges are successful writers.  In my arrogance, I always knew that I write good stories, but it is good to have that confirmed.  I think that there may be 10,000 people out there writing good stories.  There is room for 4 new writers this year, as judged by observing agents who get 300 queries from authors per week and ask for a partial manuscript from 1 author, who already has some writing credentials.

A place in the WOTF volume would have been a credential.  So I am about where I started with regard to having a writing income.  I will submit another story this quarter, raising my lightning rod in case a storm blows up.


*WOTF is the world's foremost science fiction and fantasy writing contest, judged by professional authors.  Their yearly collection of winning stories is published in mass markets.  I can find it at the department store in my small town.  The judges and staff are the best.

Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?

Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chairman (oops, just lost Rasa on this post), charted a course to take a road trip to Terra Del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America.  He confidently strode to the parking garage, strapped himself into his Beemer and drove for a block and a half.  Then he realized that he was using a map from 1932.  He went back to his apartment and found there was no map to where he wanted to go.

Bernanke has shown supreme confidence that he can suck $1 Trillion out of the banking system at will (the banking system usually has about $2 billion in excess reserves--the two differ by a factor of 500).  To say that no one has ever faced such a task is akin to saying that I have never beaten up the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In taking the first move to return to normalcy, Bernanke cut the rate at which the Fed lends to banks.  Markets dove.  Bernanke said, " That is not it at all. That is not what I meant at all."

So the first glitch happened on Bernanke's first action.  The surprise was delivered by rational expectations theory.  That is, people watch what you do, figure out what you will do next, and make plans accordingly.  People know Bernanke is going to start sucking money out of the system.  They saw the first sign.  They sold.

Bernanke said, "No, no, not yet!"

But people watch what you do.

Bernanke has lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
But human voices woke him.

Terra Del Fuego, here we come!


Apologies to T. S. Eliot

Monday, February 15, 2010


Things went well. We found a cheap (and inexpensive) hotel. We ate and talked.  His food was excellent, mine was barely passable. We slept fairly well from 9 P.M  to 3 A.M.. We showered and packed and found that the Waffle House was full at 3:45. So we went to the airport.

A 6:30 flight? No problem. Few flights will be going. Lines will be nonexistent. Security will be depopulated. Well, no.

At the busiest airport in the world, the leading airline, Delta, had one lone person checking bags in.* After being in line for about 45 minutes, I wondered if we would make it through by 5:45. If we were not done by 5:45, they would not let him fly because they demand time for the bags to be searched and for him to be supersearched if need be.

We made it.

But we could not sit down and eat with so little time. He could not relax until he was through security on time. So I said goodbye to my nearly-twenty-year-old son at the beginning of the security queue.

He has been with us the longest. I'll miss him. Maybe I'll see him in six weeks.

*As an economist, I should have forseen the paucity of Delta personnel.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not A Cent

Bush's final Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, arranged a shotgun wedding in which Bank of America bought the ailing Merill Lynch.  BoA was given an escape clause if Merill proved to be a millstone.

Merill proved to be a millstone.  The BoA president told Paulson that he would escape.  Paulson threatened him to hit BoA with a government regulatory sledgehammer to spite BoA for upsetting the government's applecart.

Now Paulson is selling a book.  I will not pay a cent for the book.  I will not rent it from the library.

Paulson is a thug.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Learning to Lighten Up

When I was seventeen I worked for the Council on Aging.  I worked with a 67 year old and a 76 year old--handymen, riding around the area, doing small repairs for old folks.

We screened doors and porches, we replaced rotting boards in floors.  We fixed plumbing.  We did about everything one can do around the house.

The young guy, Albert, could not say "no" to women.  So when an old woman would ask him to plumb her trailer, he would say, "We would have to take out the wall, and we might not get it back together."

To which the old woman would reply, "Well, then that's what you have to do."

And Marion would grumble under his breath, "He can't tell her 'no.'  He just tells her how hard it would be, and she cares about it getting done, not about how hard it is."

My dad had begun to teach me to lighten up.  Albert and Marion finished the job.

They would drive a nail in two strokes.  I took around twenty strokes, and would have to redo every fifth nail.  Marion would say something like, "I don't think that nail is scared of you, John."

Or Albert would say, "We pay by the nail, not by the stroke."

One day I had enough and snapped back at Marion.  It surprised him.  He apologized.

And I realized how stupid I had been.  It is strange that thickening my hide was accomplished by someone who only showed me how thin my skin had been.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


In 1980 I drove around my town and asked people to fill out their U. S. Census forms.  The folks that I visited had already ignored multiple requests, so they were not interested.

One old woman thought that the U. S. government was cooperating with the Russians so that when they took over that they would know how many rooms she had so they could quarter troops.

I warned one woman, as I had been trained to do, that the next visitor with a census form would be a federal marshal.

I was such a jerk.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mr. Hood

Your employer pays you because you create more value in working than you use up in resources.  You buy stuff that gives you more value than you have to sacrifice to get that stuff.

Now Robin Hood takes $1 from you (who earned that dollar by providing more than $1 in value) and buys a geegaw for me (you would have spent the dollar on a doodad that gave you more value than $1).  Robin Hood does not know me well, so the geegaw he bought for me is only worth only 50 cents to me.  So Mr. Hood destroyed your more than $1 worth of value to give me 50 cents worth of value.  Mr. Hood made life worse, overall.

And if Robin Hood keeps visiting you, you may end up spending money on hiding your money from Hood.  But hiding your money gives you no direct satisfaction--the doodads you would have bought if there were no Mr. Hood do give you satisfaction.  So more value is destroyed.

Of course, Robin Hood is a government that redistributes income.

This is all too optimistic, though.  Robin Hood knows where the money is coming from and where it's going.  Government is so big, it has no idea.