Monday, December 31, 2007

sustainable forests

An interesting essay from Wendell Berry in Sunday's C-J, but it fails to address some foundational economic questions-- and fails to provide some key economic information. So, at the end of the day, we're left wondering whether unspoken but standard economic principles were in play-- or were somehow violated.

First, the key economic principle: with most resources, ownership (or lack of ownership) will strongly influence how something is treated. On a micro level, ownership can be irrelevant. To note, if I borrow something from a friend, I try to treat it better than if it were my own. That said, people often treat the possessions of others far worse-- for example, many tenants of an apartment, those who rent cars, etc. (And the market has come up with ways to alter the incentives-- deposits on apartments, etc.) At a macro level, the presence of those who would take advantage of their lack of ownership leads to a misuse of those resources-- what economists call social inefficiency.

Applying this to forests, there is a vital difference between how a logging company will treat a forest they own vs. one they don't own. For example, if the land is owned by the government, then the logging company's financial incentive is to take whatever short-term net gains are available-- not caring much if at all about forest depletion, environmental degradation, and so on. (In many cases, this is made worse in that the government takes money from taxpayers and gives it to corporate logging interests, subsidizing logging on government land!) But if the logging company owns the forest, then sustainable development is a good financial decision-- as they profit from the land with an income stream while maintaining or extending the profitability of the underlying asset. In such cases, mistreating the land is moronic.

A fine local example of this is Koetter Woodworking-- with its use of privately-owned forests and beyond that, through its educational Forest Discovery Center.

Berry's essay does not address this economic principle at all-- and is not explicit about the role of ownership in the actors' choices. But there are some clues...

Pioneer Forest consists of various tracts, totaling about 40,000 acres, purchased by Leo Drey mostly in the early 1950s...


From a logger's point of view, the restricted volume and income per tract is not a problem. Ron Harper, the logger we encountered on our tour, was obviously on good terms with the Pioneer staff. And from his answers to our questions it was clear that he thought of Pioneer's requirements as assuring job security to himself and his crew. Sustainable forestry thus translates into economic sustainability for the local community.

It's interesting that Berry emphasizes the sustainability of the community, when Pioneer (and Ron Harper) seem to be driven by sustainability of the company and its jobs ("job security")-- and thus, indirectly, results in sustainability of the community.

Berry closes with this:

Why should we go to Missouri to look at an exemplary program of sustainable forestry? Because, as far as I have discovered, there is no example of such forestry in Kentucky.

At least from what Koetter says, Berry could have gone to Indiana and saved himself some gas money. In any case, the absence of this in Kentucky simply begs the question: Why not? Are there no privately owned forests in Kentucky? If not, why not? Is it allowed? Is public logging subsidized so that private forest (sustainable) logging is not feasible? Are the logging companies going for the short-term at the expense of the long-term (and if so, why so)?

It's a shame that this interesting article didn't address these questions...

Sunday, December 30, 2007

two talking donkeys?!

The bulk of today's lesson was on the famous story of Balak, Balaam, and Balaam's talking donkey in Numbers 22:1-31.

The action gets underway as Balak, the king of Moab, grows fearful from the apparent threat presented by Israel's numbers, proximity, and recent military success [when attacked] (22:1-3). Balak sends ambassadors to Midian to establish an alliance (22:4, 7). And then he approaches Balaam, hoping that the diviner will curse Israel and make survival more likely (22:5-7).

Balak had a handful of (better) options, including friendship with Israel. Instead, he tries to attack. The chief irony of his efforts is that Israel was not allowed to initiate an attack on Moab. And so, despite all of the machinations, a much easier solution was there for free. Moreover, Balak's plans parallel a strategy regularly embraced by Israel and Judah later: depending on government, military strength, and foreign policy intrigue to save itself (what the Bible labels "idolatry")-- instead of repentance.

The communications between Balaam, God, and Balak's emissaries (22:8-14)-- both what's said and what's omitted-- are interesting for a number of reasons. On the surface, Balaam turns them down. But the effect is to leave the door open for further negotiations. As such, Balak counters with a stronger offer (22:15-17).

Balaam's initial reply (22:18) again leaves the door open-- and his apparent need to "pray about it some more" (22:19) belies his intent. God's will had already been revealed. To pray in this context-- when God's will was already known-- was about delay and a desire to disobey, not piety. So too with us: more prayer (or more thought or forming a committee to contemplate things) can be an excuse, when we already know what to do.

Paraphrasing 22:20-22, God says "fine, go ahead", but remains angry with Balaam, and then confronts him along his now-famous donkey-assisted journey (22:23-31). The action and dialogue of the journey's crisis are beautiful and memorable.

A few thoughts:
-It's ironic that the donkey could see what the internationally famous seer/prophet could not.
-Balaam's brutal treatment of a faithful animal, with whom he would have been familiar and presumably fond, is a sign of bad character.
-Donkeys are known for being stubborn, but here, it's Balaam who is stubborn. In a word, the story depicts two talking donkeys!
-People question a talking donkey, but if God can pull off Genesis 1:1, then this is child's play.
-The God-empowered donkey doesn't just talk, he asks great questions!
-Balaam had the privilege of talking with God; now he is reduced to talking with a donkey.
-Balaam's answer in verse 29 reveals too much concern about what others think. Combining his people-pleasing with his greed (II Pet 2:15; Jude 11), you have a recipe for trouble.

Finally, the life application with which I closed: What are the donkeys in your life? And when are you a donkey for others?

the Bible, pagan myths, and classical literature

From my lesson in Numbers 21-22 this morning, a small but interesting observation from what has to be one of the most obscure passages in the Bible: in the book of Numbers (a compelling and historically vital but often overlooked book itself), Moses refers to an Amorite victory song in praising God for Israel's victory over the Amorites (21:27-30).

First, this is the equivalent of biblical smack-talk-- using a defeated foe's own victory song against them. One sees this sort of polemic off-and-on throughout the Old Testament, especially early in Genesis-- as the Bible redeems (and corrects) the largely incoherent pagan myths about the Creation and the Flood, and takes pokes at the Babylonian deities at Babel. Other interesting examples: the "competition" between God and Dagon in I Samuel 5 and the famous passage in I Kings 18-- where Elijah whips up on the prophets of Baal (as God whips up on Baal).

Second, its use points to a proverbs-like irony about the short-lived victory of evil (Job 24:24)-- a key Biblical theme-- if not temporally, then in the divine economy.

Third, it is one of a handful of examples where extra-biblical passages are brought into the Bible-- saved (in some cases) and redeemed for eternity (in all cases). Likewise, Paul uses pagan poets on three different occasions to make his points. It's a much longer subject-- the relationship between Christianity and culture-- but this reality implies that complete separation from the culture is not an ideal option for Christians.

Along those lines, in Touchstone (November 2005), Patrick Henry Reardon argues that the inclusion of this is “remarkable” since it is a poem about a war that “had nothing directly to do with Israel” and asks rhetorically why God/Moses included it.

I can think of only one reason: It was a good poem about a real war…These pagan verses, much like the secular aphorisms inserted into the book of Proverbs, thus served to broaden the Bible’s own vista. Israel took care to preserve this Amorite poem for the same reason that Irish monks, as they copied the sagas of Greece and Rome, perceived that the epic quality of that literature raised it to a level of universal interest and sympathy. That is to say, the impulse prompting the assumption of this little poem into Holy Scripture was what we may call classical, and it reveals a bit of God’s own take on the matter.

Good stuff!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

man knows not his time-- 2007

From World, excerpts from Edward Plowman's year-end list of "Departures"...

I'll list the ones that seem most interesting, obscure, and so on-- to me-- with occasional comments or links to earlier blog entries I've made this year...

Robert Adler, 93, Feb. 15—physicist who invented the first wireless television remote control in 1956.

He wasn't Mortimer Adler, but people everywhere salute him for this technological advance. Can you remember the Stone Age-- when people had to get up out of their seat to change channels?!

Momofuku Ando, 96, Jan. 5—Japanese inventor of ramen noodles (in 1958), victuals for an estimated 100 million people a day worldwide.

I honor Ando's efforts at lunch many-a-day. I especially like the Lime Chili Shrimp version...

Hank Bauer, 84, Feb. 9—New York Yankees All-Star outfielder who later managed Baltimore to its first pennant and World Series championship in 1966.

I'm not sure I knew this-- even though I claim to be a lifetime O's fan. It's also one more example of Yankee/Oriole interaction.

Ingmar Bergman, 89, July 30—internationally acclaimed Swedish director of more than 50 films (Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal).

'Nuff said...

J. Robert Cade, 80, Nov. 27—University of Florida medicine professor who invented Gatorade.

Remember that Gatorade & chocolate milk "diet"?

John H. Cross Jr., 82, Nov. 15—pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, when four girls at his church were killed in a bombing that became a turning point in the civil-rights movement.

Yvonne De Carlo, 84, Jan. 8—beautiful star who played Moses' wife in The Ten Commandments but achieved her greatest popularity on TV's The Munsters.

Calvert DeForest, 85, March 19—actor and comedian who played the white-haired, bespectacled oddball Larry "Bud" Melman on David Letterman's TV shows.

Larry Bud was a strange but memorable part of my formative years...

Bob Evans, 89, June 21—sausage maker who turned his 12-stool restaurant for truckers in southeast Ohio into a chain that boasts nearly 600 restaurants in 18 states.

Good restaurants and good sausage. It's an inside joke in our family-- about how much my dad loves the former...

Jerry Falwell, 73, May 15—Virginia megachurch pastor and co-founder of Liberty University who launched the Moral Majority to help make the religious right a powerful force in American politics.

Remember this great story about Falwell?

Dan Fogelberg, 56, Dec. 16—singer and songwriter whose hits "Leader of the Band" and "Same Old Lang Syne" helped define the soft-rock era.

Dan's music used to "soft-rock" my world-- back int he day...

Ruth Bell Graham, 87, June 14—China-born wife, confidante, and editorial advisor to evangelist Billy Graham; she was a life-long Presbyterian who mostly stayed home to raise their five children while he was on the road, but went on to become an author or co-author of 15 books.

Behind every great man...

Merv Griffin, 82, Aug. 12—singer, actor, and talk-show host who made his fortune inventing and producing the Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune TV game shows.

David Halberstam, 73, April 23—author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times, known for his controversial coverage of the Vietnam War.

I've read a few of his books and enjoyed each immensely. In particular, I recommend October 1964 for fans of baseball, politics/history or both.

Johnny Hart, 76, April 7—cartoonist, creator of the comic strip B.C., who often wove Christian themes into his work.

Leona Helmsley, 87, Aug. 20—New York billionaire hotel and real-estate magnate who sealed her reputation as the "queen of mean" during her 1989 trial for tax evasion.

But at least in the end, she was revealed as a more complicated character...

Arthur Jones, 80, Aug. 28—entrepreneur best known for inventing the Nautilus fitness machines in the 1960s that helped to spark the health club business.

Evel Knievel, 69, Nov. 30—soaring motorcycle daredevil whose feats (flight across 13 buses) and failures (rocket-powered Snake River Canyon crash) made him an international icon in the 1970s.

His baptism and testimony...

Madeleine L'Engle, 88, Sept. 6—author whose novel A Wrinkle in Time has been enjoyed by generations of schoolchildren and adults since the 1960s.

I'm reading this with the kids right now-- and will blog on this when we finish it.

Marcel Marceau, 84, Sept. 22—French-born mime artist who changed his name to hide his Jewishness in World War II and went on to create the alter ego "Bip" the clown.

Mstislav Rostropovich, 80, April 27—master cellist, conductor, and music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., 1977-1994, who championed artistic freedom and human rights in his Soviet homeland during the last decades of the Cold War.

As a violinist growing up in the D.C. area, his name was memorable to me!

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., 89, Feb. 28—bow-tied Pulitzer Prize--winning historian and liberal "court philosopher" of the Kennedy administration.

Perhaps this point is oversold in the case of Schlesinger, but in noting that one is fortunate to have his history written by friends, I have often heard reference to Schlesinger's interpretation of FDR's New Deal.

Paul Tibbets, 92, Nov. 1—pilot of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Werner von Trapp, 91, Oct. 11—member of the Austrian musical family made famous by the 1965 movie The Sound of Music (he was Kurt).

Kurt Vonnegut, 84, April 11—best-selling satirical novelist and social critic whose works dripped with cynicism and dark humor (Slaughterhouse-Five).

I had a Vonnegut phase in grad school, reading at least a half dozen of his novels and the compendium of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House (including Harrison Bergeron-- something I've used in college classrooms ever since!).

Dick Wilson, 91, Nov. 19—actor who played TV's uptight grocer Mr. Whipple in commercials, begging customers, "Please don't squeeze the Charmin."

Click here for a feature on his "work"...

a reasonable president?

One final piece from this weekend's WSJ-- an essay by Peggy Noonan on her desire for "reasonable" candidates to emerge from the primary process, starting with Iowa...

This is my 2008 slogan: Reasonable Person for President. That is my hope, what I ask Iowa to produce, and I claim here to speak for thousands, millions. We are grown-ups, we know our country needs greatness, but we do not expect it and will settle at the moment for good. We just want a reasonable person. We would like a candidate who does not appear to be obviously insane. We'd like knowledge, judgment, a prudent understanding of the world and of the ways and histories of the men and women in it.

From there, she begins to list and detail her "reasonables". She starts with Biden & Dodd, Romney, McCain, and Obama. But then, there's Hillary...

Hillary Clinton? No, not reasonable. I concede her sturdy mind, deep sophistication, and seriousness of intent. I see her as a triangulator like her husband, not a radical but a maneuverer in the direction of a vague, half-forgotten but always remembered, leftism. It is also true that she has a command-and-control mentality, an urgent, insistent and grating sense of destiny, and she appears to believe that any act that benefits Clintons is a virtuous act, because Clintons are good and deserve to be benefited.

But this is not, actually, my central problem with her candidacy. My central problem is that the next American president will very likely face another big bad thing, a terrible day, or days, and in that time it will be crucial -- crucial -- that our nation be led by a man or woman who can be, at least for the moment and at least in general, trusted. Mrs. Clinton is the most dramatically polarizing, the most instinctively distrusted, political figure of my lifetime. Yes, I include Nixon. Would she be able to speak the nation through the trauma? I do not think so. And if I am right, that simple fact would do as much damage to America as the terrible thing itself.

Ouch! OK, back to "reasonable" candidates, including Duncan Hunter, Fred Thompson, and Bill Richardson.

Ron Paul is eminently reasonable, but by not mentioning him-- and listing Duncan Hunter-- many of his followers will not be so reasonable as they try to get in contact with Ms. Noonan! I continue to be surprised and disappointed by the many who have tried to marginalize Paul-- even if they disagree with him. Amazing...but maybe it's just more fuel for his followers' fire?

But maybe Paul is better off for being omitted-- given the treatment she gives to Huckabee (and then, Edwards).

Mike Huckabee gets enough demerits to fall into my not-reasonable column. John Edwards is not reasonable. All the Democrats would raise taxes as president, but Mr. Edwards's populism is the worst of both worlds, both intemperate and insincere. Also we can't have a president who spent two minutes on YouTube staring in a mirror and poofing his hair. Really, we just can't.

And then she concludes her run through the list of candidates with this cryptic remark about Giuliani:

I forgot Rudy Giuliani. That must say something. He is reasonable but not desirable. If he wins somewhere, I'll explain.

From there, she closes with two paragraphs of observation and advice for the Democrats who happen to win and lose-- given that "much of the drama is on the Democratic side".

If Mrs. Clinton wins, modesty is in order, with a graceful nod to Mr. Obama. If she loses -- well, the Clintons haven't lost an election since 1980. For a quarter century she's known only victory at the polls. Does she know how to lose? However she acts, whatever face she shows, it will be revealing. Humility would be a good strategy....

For Mr. Obama [interestingly, she implicitly assumes he will win]: a lot of America will be looking at him for the first time, and under the most favorable circumstances: as the winner of something. This is an opportunity to assert freshly what his victory means, and will mean, for America....But what is it besides a break from? What is it a step toward, an embrace of?

Ron > Rudy in NH?

Again, from this weekend's WSJ, excerpts from an op-ed piece by Andrew Cline, the editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader...

Cline anticipates a strong performance by Ron Paul-- even to the point of beating Giuliani.

Beyond Cline's speculation, this gets to another possibility emerging from Iowa and NH: what if a presumed top-tier candidate (like Giuliani) is beaten by a presumed second-tier candidate (like Paul)? Would that be devastating or just a blip?

Many Republican operatives in New Hampshire, even those affiliated with other campaigns, think Mr. Paul is headed for an impressive, double-digit performance. That he has been polling in the high single digits for months is discounted, because the polls may be missing the depth of his support.

Why? For starters, he appears to be drawing new voters. Polls that screen for "likely" voters might screen out many Paul supporters who haven't voted often, or at all, before....

There is another reason to discount the polls on Mr. Paul. The one thing that unites his supporters is a desire to be left alone, not only by government, but by irritating marketers and meddling pollsters, too. Mr. Paul's supporters might well be screening their calls and not-so-inadvertently screening out pollsters....

Mr. Chicoine and other Paul supporters say that, contrary to conventional wisdom, most of Mr. Paul's backers are Republicans, not independents. But everyone agrees that Mr. Paul draws an unusual mix of libertarians, fiscally conservative Democrats, conservative Republicans, home-schoolers, vegans, gambling aficionados, anti-abortion activists and others who want the government to butt out of some aspect of their lives.

But will they get out to vote on primary day?

"I've never seen a group of people that are this energetic about a candidate," Mr. Murphy said. "It's something else."

Now, if Paul can live up to Cline's expectations, he just needs to Howard-Dean-like post-game scream.

WSJ op-ed on opening day in presidential baseball

Again, from this weekend's WSJ, the editorialists they weigh in with their speculation about what various candidates "need" from Iowa...

First, a few thoughts on the timing-- as "both too early and too late"...

Iowa arrives too early this cycle in that it comes a full 10 months before the general election next November....That the Iowa home stretch is taking place this year when most families are preoccupied with the holidays is especially silly.

But Iowa comes late because the truncated nature of this primary season means the candidates have already been campaigning for more than a year....

Now, to the candidates...

This year the state's caucuses seem especially important to the Democrats. Barack Obama and John Edwards need a victory to show they can challenge the Hillary Clinton juggernaut. Mr. Edwards has invested heavily in the state, and if his message of "two Americas" can't win amid the liberals who dominate Iowa's Democratic caucus-goers, it's not going to win anywhere....

As for the Republicans, Iowa may do little more than knock out the minor players. The rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as the favorite of many social conservatives has complicated Mitt Romney's strategy of betting on early state victories to catapult him into the lead elsewhere. A second place finish would be a blow to Mr. Romney...

Iowa is also Fred Thompson's chance for a breakthrough....Both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have downplayed Iowa, so their first big tests will come in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Thompson's emergence looks unlikely given the numbers. Then again, doing better than expected is often a PR victory. McCain is looking strong in NH, while Giuliani may finish well-down the list there (how big of a problem is that?)-- ironic given that it's a state in the northeast. Giuliani needs to survive through NH and begin to thrive in SC. That doesn't seem as likely to me as it does to far more-experienced pundits.

what's a caucus?

Excerpts from Sarah Nussauer and Nick Timiraos in this weekend's WSJ, a helpful "primer" on Thursday's Iowa caucus-- and how it is distinguished from its more famous (and intuitive) cousin, the primary...

How do the Iowa caucuses work? The Iowa caucuses are different from primary elections, in which voters cast secret ballots at polls as they do in a general election. Caucus participants gather along party lines in 1,784 county precincts -- at a school, or even a home -- where they try to persuade fellow caucus-goers to support their candidate.

In a Republican caucus, participants can speak on behalf of candidates, after which votes are cast on blank ballots. Democrats gather in a corner of the room based on whom they support, so their decisions are public. Candidates who don't receive support from at least 15% of participants are "eliminated," but their supporters can realign with another group.

The article is not clear whether the 15% rule applies to both parties, but from Wikipedia's entry on this-- apparently, it is for the Dems only. Another difference, not made explicit by the WSJ article is that GOP votes are cast by secret ballot.

A final head count at the Jan. 3 gatherings will determine how county-level (not statewide) delegates will be apportioned. Neither party is nominating delegates for its national convention -- that requires several more steps that take months -- but caucus results have been regarded in the past as a bellwether for voter sentiment, giving winning candidates momentum and losing candidates more to prove going into later nominating contests.

How could those dynamics shape the vote? With no clear front-runner among the Democrats and Mike Huckabee showing a slight lead over Mitt Romney on the Republican side, the caucuses could hinge on turnout and on which candidates' supporters will be most persuasive in a crowd.

For Democrats, a voter's second choice can also play an important role because of the 15% rule. A poll taken this past week shows John Edwards is the second choice of 23% of Iowa Democrats, followed by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, with 18% saying he is their second choice, and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, with 16%. But 23% of likely Democratic voters say they have no second choice, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey.

It also will tend to lessen the prospects of Democratic minority candidates. If Biden et. al. are not able to muster 15% in many (if any) caucuses, they could be shut out-- despite having 5-10% of the vote. Beyond the practical implications of this, it's ironic that the Democrats are better known for protecting rights of minority groups-- and that their name is related to democracy rather than republic.

Bruce Almighty

Last night, the family settled down for a quiet evening. I started a game of Nexus Ops with our oldest. (#2 deferred, laying on the couch, not feeling too well.) Tonia played Bible Bingo with the youngest two.

We had the TV on, at first, to watch America's Funniest Videos-- a real crowd-pleaser with young kids, don't ya know. After that was over, Bruce Almighty came on. Tonia and I had seen about half of it previously. Knowing the themes, we decided to make it an impromptu family movie night. (That said, we had to turn the movie off for one scene-- and had to cover a few other "situations" with them.) It allowed us to wrestle with some good real-life and theological questions.

One great moment comes when Carrey is frustrated at God, goes for a drive, and asks/demands God to show him a sign. He passes a flashing road sign (with an appropriate message for him), but he ignores it. Then, literally, a whole truckload of signs cuts in front of him. Again, he doesn't see what God is obviously trying to say to him-- at least, it's obvious to the objective outsider! And then, this (from a CT essay):

With precise timing, Bruce's beeper goes off. He pulls it out, and sees the numbers: 555-0123. [In a following scene we discover that God is paging him.] Deadpan, he says, "Sorry, don't know you. Wouldn't call you if I did."

Also from CT, an interview with director Tom Shadyac and an overview of his films-- which is excerpted from a longer interview-- in both cases, a lot of interesting thoughts, including the portrayal of flawed humanity and redemption.

There are many subtle things along the way, but the most obvious theological theme is the tension between man's free will and God's "hope"/desire that man would love him.

Here's an excerpt from CT's review by Anna Waterhouse:

Make no mistake: Bruce Almighty is Judeo-Christian to its bones. Even a gift of prayer beads from Bruce's girlfriend can't quite bestow on the film that glossy "all religions are one" hue. After all, with God the Father represented by the venerable Morgan Freeman; with grace embodied by the all-loving, all-forgiving, faithful-to-the-end girlfriend; and with the Holy Spirit writing on the cardboard placards of a homeless man, it would be tough to argue that the film's foundation is skewed.

Granted, there is no ultimate sacrifice here, and therefore no true redemption. But that's not the story Bruce Almighty is trying to tell. The film is more a primer on God's existence and his active presence in our lives. Before it's done, Bruce discovers that God is not only loving—he's as close as our breath, and we are his feet, hands, and heart.

Yes, there are flaws...Yes, there's "language." But these characters simply speak the way most people speak, and most people will find them real and sympathetic.

Less easily brushed aside is the sexual relationship between Bruce and Grace "without benefit of clergy." Director Tom Shadyac, a Christian, defends this choice by underlining that, while Grace longs for marriage, Bruce has yet to grow up. "Bruce wasn't mature enough yet. That's why the movie ended up [with the characters finally getting engaged]."

Back when I thought publishing books would be easier (after my first book had been published), I had wanted to write a book on culture from a Christian perspective (summarizing an already vast literature and adding commentary on the relevant biblical passages) and writing chapters on particular movies which were not explicitly Christian but had great Christian themes.

At least for now, I'll have to content myself with the occasional blog entry (like the earlier one on Stranger than Fiction)! For those interested in such things, I recommend Books and Culture.

Friday, December 28, 2007

blondes get the last laugh?

Shelly Emling (of the Cox News Service) reports on new research from France which indicates that men and women both have lower mental performance when exposed to pictures of blonde women.

From Marilyn Monroe to Paris Hilton, "blonde" has long been code for a woman who's long on looks and light on brains.

Now French researchers have found that the stereotype can actually affect mental performance.

A recent study showed that otherwise intelligent men performed below par on general knowledge tests after viewing photos of blonde women.

The real surprise? Women's performance also dipped in the tests.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, examined people's ability to answer Trivial Pursuit game questions after viewing photos of women with different hair colors.

Exposure to blondes resulted in the lowest scores.

Thierry Meyer, joint author of the study and professor of social psychology at the University of Paris X-Nanterre, said that the study proves a general phenomenon.

"There's a decrease in performance after an unobtrusive exposure to a stereotype about people who have the reputation to be cognitively impaired," he said.

In plainer language, blondes might make people act in a less intelligent manner because the people believe — whether they want to admit it or not — that they are in the presence of someone who's not very smart.

Previous studies also have shown how information from a person's social context can influence their behavior.

For example, when people are exposed to elderly people, they tend to walk and talk more slowly. When people sit beside someone who is fidgeting, they tend to fidget as well.

"The mere knowledge of a stereotype can influence our behavior," said Clementine Bry, another author of the study.

It's not clear how the stereotype of the dumb blonde came about, although some researchers point to the 1950s movie "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" starring Marilyn Monroe.

But through the years a wide range of blonde actresses — from Mae West to Suzanne Somers to Goldie Hawn — have perpetuated the stereotype.

Bry was quick to point out that there is "absolutely no scientific evidence" to support the stereotype of the dumb blonde.

OK, but Miss South Carolina didn't help much-- with her pageant performance earlier this summer!

Cave City's unique motel: Wigwam Village

From the C-J two Sundays ago, Katya Cengel on a cool lodging opportunity-- and slice of "Americana"-- near Mammoth Cave...

Wigwam Village Inn 2 near Cave City, Ky., is celebrating its 70th year. The village, one of only three still standing, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since the late '80s.
When Sahidur Mir first heard about his brother-in-law's plan to buy Wigwam Village Inn 2, he was skeptical....Almost three years later, after managing the 15 "tepees" that make up Wigwam Village "7 days 24 hours," Mir still doesn't know the difference between a wigwam and a tepee.

Of course, Wigwam Village is neither. Its cabins are neither dome-shaped like a wigwam, nor are they mobile like a tepee. They are steel-reinforced cones stretching 30 feet tall that form a semicircle around a more-than-50-foot central cone....

Cave City is the second of seven Wigwam Villages, and one of only three still standing. The other two are in San Bernardino, Calif., and Holbrook, Ariz....

It is thanks, in part, to Hollywood Westerns, with their tepees and smoke signals, and in part to affordable automobiles, that Wigwam Village exists, says Rachelle Green, who wrote her master's degree thesis on the motel. Green, who recently graduated from the University of Kentucky and who spoke by phone from Lexington, had planned to cover something more authentically American Indian, but changed her course after hearing about Wigwam Village....

Built by Frank Redford in 1937, it was the second of his villages and is constructed so that the cabins face a natural grassy depression. The other surviving Wigwam Villages are "squared off," says Smith, who spoke by phone from Nashville, Tenn., where he works as a high school science teacher.

And despite a neighboring fast-food restaurant and a laundromat, Wigwam Village Inn 2 maintains a "country feel," says Smith. It was this ambience, coupled with the 1930s-era bentwood furniture and the general kitsch of the place, that captured the attention of Smith and his wife, Anita Hartel, when they stayed there in 1984....

Afzal Rahim likes to tell his business students at Western Kentucky University that real life is not like the classroom. Wigwam Village is a case in point. When Rahim, who teaches business management at the university, bought the place in 2005, he says, he thought it would make money. And it might have, if he hadn't had to replace the electric lines, which dated from the 1930s, and the water lines and repair numerous leaks.

"I did not investigate enough," he says, seated in the basement office of his Bowling Green home. "But as I look back, I am not unhappy. It is going to make money (starting) next year."

In the beginning, Rahim spoke of constructing replica Lincoln cabins at Wigwam Village. Historical preservationists objected, he says. Now, the only changes he makes are improvements. The hickory and cane furniture from the 1930s remains in the rooms, space heaters have been added, and the no-longer-functioning steam radiators have been covered.

The cabins' unique design makes the bathrooms a challenge, with the mirror and wall curving, and a closet smaller than 5 feet tall.

When trains pass by, the unremarkable painting of an Indian woman, her long, black hair blowing in the wind, vibrates and wobbles.

Towels are stiff and amenities basic -- a coffeepot and TV set. But if creature comforts and predictability are what visitors are seeking, Rahim says, "Wigwam is not for you. You don't understand it."

cat crazy

OK, it's Christmas break, so I'm going through my list of things-to-blog-- and I ran across this Speed Bump by Dave Coverley from October 16.

In addition to being funny, it gives me the occasion to mention research which indicates that having cats can make you crazy. This story describes Toxoplasma gondii-- a parasite that can migrate into one's brain and change behavior!

As such, it joins a short but interesting list where cause and effect are difficult to ascertain-- examples of false-cause fallacy, something covered in the first chapter of every Econ book.

Other examples: We used to think that elderly people fell and then broke their hips. Now, they think that they often break their hips while standing-- and then fall. Or a policy example: if guns purchased and crimes increase in a given year, are people buying guns to commit crimes-- or are they buying more guns (to defend themselves) because more crimes are being committed? Without better data, the inferences from the data will be driven by one's priors/biases.

flip the switch on winter

From the C-J awhile back, a helpful hint to reduce those painful winter heating bills...

And it warms the heart of an economist to say that-- unlike most environmental regulations, ethanol subsidies, and so on-- this is both environmentally, economically, and socially efficient!

There are plenty of costly ways to save on your utility bills this winter, but there also are ways to cut energy usage that don't cost a dime.

One of them is making sure you flip the switch -- on your ceiling fan, that is.

The Hunter Fan company says a ceiling fan that's sized appropriately for the room and operated correctly can save you up to 10 percent on your heating bills.

Most ceiling fans have a switch that controls the direction of the blades. When the fan runs counter-clockwise, Hunter says, it blows air down, providing the cooling effect desired during warm months. By running the fan clockwise, during cold months, it circulates the warm air near the ceiling.

This makes the room warmer, which decreases demands on heating systems and allows you to turn down your thermostat to save on energy costs.

nearing the end of a key technological advance?

One key factor in economic growth over the last 25-45 years has been the reduction of the top marginal income tax rates from 91% to 70% under JFK and from 70% to 28% under Reagan.

The most under-rated boost to economic growth was the de-regulation of key industries by Carter and Reagan-- airlines, phone, shipping, and trucking. This allowed "transaction costs" (the cost of making a trade happen) to decrease sharply. (For example, a long-distance call in 1981 was $.80 per minute.) As it becomes easier to communicate and transport, engaging in mutually beneficial trade becomes easier-- competition increases, prices drop, quality increases, etc.-- as we see, for example, with increased regional and global activity.

Probably the most famous key determinants of economic growth over the past 30-50 years has been technological advance connected to transistors and silicon chips. But from Sunday's C-J, the AP's Jordan Robertson reports on "Moore's Law" and the likely end/limits of advances in that technology...

Sixty years after transistors were invented and nearly five decades since they were first integrated into silicon chips, the tiny on-off switches dubbed the "nerve cells" of the information age are starting to show their age.

The devices -- whose miniaturization over time set in motion the race for faster, smaller and cheaper electronics -- have been shrunk so much that the day is approaching when it will be impossible to make them even tinier.

Once chip makers can't squeeze any more into the same-sized slice of silicon, the dramatic performance gains and cost reductions in computing over the years could suddenly slow. And the engine that's driven the digital revolution -- and modern economy -- could grind to a halt.

Even Gordon Moore, the Intel co-founder who predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors on a chip should double every two years, sees that the end is approaching -- an outcome the chip industry is scrambling to avoid.

"I can see (it lasting) another decade or so," he said of the axiom known as Moore's Law. "Beyond that, things look tough. But that's been the case many times in the past."

Preparing for the day they can't add more transistors, chip companies are pouring billions of dollars into plotting new ways to use the devices, instructing them to behave in different and more powerful ways....

The transistor was invented by scientists William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain to amplify voices in telephones for a Bell Labs project. It earned them the Nobel Prize in physics.

On Dec. 16, 1947, Bardeen and Brattain created the first transistor. The next month, on Jan. 23, 1948, Shockley, a member of the same research group, invented another type, which went on to become the preferred transistor because it was easier to manufacture.

Transistors' ever-decreasing size and low power consumption made them an ideal candidate to replace the bulky vacuum tubes then used to amplify electrical signals and switch electrical currents. AT&T needed them to replace clattering telephone switches.

Transistors eventually found their way into portable radios and other electronic devices, and are most prominently used today as the building blocks of integrated circuits, another Nobel Prize-winning invention that is the foundation of microprocessors, memory chips and other kinds of semiconductor devices.

Since the invention of the integrated circuit in the late 1950s -- separately by Texas Instruments' Jack Kilby and future Intel co-founder Robert Noyce -- the pace of innovation has been scorching.

The number of transistors on microprocessors -- the brains of computers -- has leaped from several thousand in the 1970s to nearly a billion today, a staggering feat that has unleashed previously unimagined computing power....

"The Truth about Music Lessons"

From Jeffrey Tucker on

I am a violinist and one who ran a music studio for four years (when I was a graduate student). I concur with much of what he says here-- except that I would say that most children as young as five can make reasonable or remarkable progress (depending on your "expectations") on the violin-- with a reasonably competent teacher and (daily) involved parents.

At some point when a child is very young, many parents consider pushing the kid into music lessons. This sometimes results in a year or two of piano or violin under a private teacher – and then nothing comes of it. I’ve seen this for years. The 1st-year class starts with 50 kids and it is cut by half by the 2nd year, and so on until there are only a handful remaining.

The parents begin these lessons with great enthusiasm and then it all wanes in time. Rather than become a great musician, the child then becomes yet another exhibit in the appalling spread of astounding musical illiteracy of our time, and hence the popularity of garbage music in all areas of life....

So what goes wrong? Most parents start kids on playing an instrument too early, particularly if violin is the instrument of choice. They hear from the Suzuki teacher that three years old is a fine age, and start them with a ¼ or even a 1/16th size violin. They don't make progress for a year, and the kid drops out. The parents are relieved.

The problem here has to do with expectations. There is nothing wrong with starting very early but there will be very little progress for years to come. And you have to expect this from the beginning. The truth is that whatever progress the child can make between 3 and 6 the same child can match in a few months starting at the age of 7.

So there is nothing wrong with holding back a bit. This is especially true for piano. The child is just not ready until the age of 8 or so. There are exceptions, but the main point is not to get into too much of a hurry here. And if you do start early, prepare for a long haul of very little progress. The earliest years are the best time to learn to listen to good music, not seriously attempt to play it.

Why do parents want to start the kid so early and push them so hard? Here we must discuss an uncomfortable topic, and it deals with the core problem of music education today: the parents themselves.

Parents have this view of their children that is wildly distorted. It begins with the assumption that the child is the most special, most spectacular, most talented child who has ever been born. How can the parents know this? It must be the case because the parents gave birth to the child, so their high estimation of themselves is transferred to the child.

The only issue for parents is discovering precisely what the child is brilliant at. It could be sports. It could be engineering or math or maybe modeling or some other glamorous thing.

At some point, the parents imagine that the child might be the next Mozart or one of those child-prodigy Japanese violin kids who is playing with a major symphony orchestra at the age of 9. So the parent tries music lessons as a means of discovering whether this is true.

When progress is slow and intermittent the parents give up in frustration. They are often pushed into this by the child himself, who is evidently not enjoying the violin or piano as much as he did at the age of 4, when first starting. So rather than push through the first major hump, the parent gives up.

"Violin wasn't really his thing."

"Piano just wasn't right for her."

Why? They also have a tendency to blame the teacher, or, more likely, they conclude that music isn't somehow inside the child. He or she is not a "natural talent," which, in today's way of thinking that disparages hard work and diligence and merit, is the only kind of talent there is.

But it is an incredible myth. It's true that some people have a greater aptitude for music than others, but high aptitude is no guarantee of accomplishment any more than being "tone deaf" is a sure guarantee of failure. The truth is that no serious musician has ever achieved anything in absence of grueling work stretching over many years. Endless hours of practice is what it requires, and amazing intellectual and emotional convulsions are part of it as well.

Not understanding this, and believing that all greatness in life should be a snap, parents pull their kids at the slightest appearance of anxiety or difficulty, and attempt to put them on paths that will more readily reveal their underlying genius, which parents take for granted if only because the child shares their gene pool.

And that's the end of the great foray into music. Or perhaps the child will pick it back up again in junior high...

Hence, the first step in a child's music education has to be an attitude adjustment on the part of parents. You don't make sure that the child learns math solely because you plan for the child to win the Nobel Prize. Right? There is a point to learning math even if the child doesn't become a mathematician. This goes without saying. Why doesn't it go without saying with regard to music?

So deal with it now: your child will not become a famous recording star, will not major in music in college, will not get a music scholarship, will not dazzle millions with astonishing talent. What he or she will gain is a great sense of art and the discipline that comes with learning something that requires more than surfing the net. Truly, people learn music today the same way they did in the ancient world. It requires mental discipline, diligence, and daily practice time.

To be sure, your child might become famous, but that cannot be the goal. It follows as an after-effect of daily hard work. It cannot be the sole reason for music lessons.

There is another ingredient that parents overlook: their own involvement. There is no teacher in the world who can really teach a child to play an instrument. The most the teacher can do is be a guide and a source of weekly correction and assistance.

The analogy here might be the skill of walking. A teacher can provide a path, coach the student to stay on the path, explain how to walk well and correct for mistakes. But, in the end, it is the child himself who must put one foot in front of the other.

But no child of 8 or 10 or even 14 is prepared to do this on his or her own. The parent must be there to provide daily encouragement. This means more than blasting away at the child and demanding that he or she practice for 30 minutes per day.

A parent must take a detailed interest in the matter directly, learning music notation, noticing the way fingerings on the keyboard or the violin work, and understanding the task of the week. This ideally means attending the lessons along with the child – but not interfering in what the teacher is doing – or asking the child to reiterate the contents of this week's lesson and the task ahead.

In violin, it means that the parent should get a violin too and practice with the child. To do this does not require that you already read music. It means that you learn alongside the child, lesson by lesson. This will provide the parent with the means to offer guidance between lessons.

In piano, the parent should also spend time attempting to play the first lesson book, which is not that difficult. This way the parent can empathize with the student and provide more sympathetic guidance along the way.

As for progress, it comes slowly and systematically and should be counted in years, not months much less weeks. A child learning violin will need to play 5 to 8 years before he or she is capable of providing a truly beautiful rendering of a simple piece of music. On piano, the progress is quicker but here too, you are in for the long haul. It will consume years of work and practice.

Parents today don’t expect this because we live in an age of instant musical gratification. The greatest performances of the greatest music are a few clicks away, often downloadable for next to nothing. Something that accessible seems easy. The truth is that learning to perform music is no easier now than it was in the ancient world. It is an intellectual process that requires vast time and effort, and there are no shortcuts.

As a culture, we are somehow less willing than we once were to put in the hours to make excellence happen. So why should we bother at all? Because learning music is a living metaphor for life itself. We live in an age with all facts at our disposal and every trick for learning technique is more instantly acquired than ever. In economic terms, the value of facts is declining while the value of true excellence in art is increasing. Those who understand what excellence requires will excel in the future, and music studies are the outstanding way to impart the ethic of hard work and tenacity to young minds. Also, the student who understands music will carry a gift throughout life: namely the capacity to distinguish true beauty and true quality from their imitations.

To recover musical talent in the young will also require a rethinking of the parents’ role in education generally. Ever since the state came to monopolize education, a culture has developed that regards education as someone else's job. It is for institutions. The job of the parent is just to shove the kid in the front door and pick the kid up at the appointed time. This mentality has led to disaster in every subject, but it has hit higher forms of learning, such as literature, art, and language, especially hard.

It should not surprise that in an age of state-dominated education, people would not know languages, music, or literature. These require vast investment on the child's part, and the close assistance of those who love them. States do not love. They run bureaucratic machines, and these machines tend to produce other machines.

So there is a way in which the praiseworthy goal of wanting music instruction for your child is a revolutionary act in the best sense. It amounts to saying no to the regime that puts down art simply because the regime cannot make art happen. But you can. To give your child an appreciation for art and assist in helping that child become not only an intelligent consumer of art but a producer also is a wonderful act of generosity.

Remember that it is not a gift that you can purchase or produce automatically, and nor is it a gift that yields its fruit in a short period of time. It requires great sacrifice and unbelievable work, but it is worth every bit of both.

Screwtape vs. I Am Legend

Marvin Olasky, in World, with a compare & contrast between Will Smith's movie, I Am Legend, and an off-broadway performance of The Screwtape Letters.

Want to be in show business? How much money do you have?

With $100 million, you can make the newly opened I Am Legend (PG-13 for violence and intense action). It stars Will Smith (expensive, but worth it) plus a computer-altered portrait of a decaying, grassy New York City populated only by Smith, animals, and hairless, pale ex-humans turned bloodthirsty by a cancer cure gone horribly wrong.

But poor Christians in an age of theatrical extravagance need not give up. Exhibit A: a New York performance of The Screwtape Letters, a two-actor version of the great book by C.S. Lewis that features a senior devil instructing an apprentice on how to bring a young man to hell.

Behind this low-budget but high-energy presentation is the New Jersey-based Fellowship for the Performing Arts, which aims "to produce theater from a Christian worldview that is engaging to a diverse audience." FPA had playwrights Jeffrey Fiske and Max McLean transform Lewis' letters into gripping drama, with McLean cast as an urbane Screwtape in a plush smoking jacket.

McLean does all the speaking for 85 minutes without intermission, and real sweat puddles his face by performance's end. But Karen Wright as Screwtape's secretary, Toadpipe, keeps the show from being just a talking head. A mix of Gollum and puppy, she squeaks and grunts appreciation of her boss, then mimes wonderfully the human behavior Screwtape describes in words.

The Screwtape Letters is on stage at a close-to-Broadway church that doubles as a theater, but it does not merely preach to the choir: Reviewers in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post,, and have praised it. Christians across the United States can evangelize in their own cities by putting on tiny-cast, relatively inexpensive plays of this kind.

I Am Legend, the expensive action flick, might seem the opposite of Screwtape, but some parallels emerge. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is in a hell of sorts, all alone by day and besieged by ghouls at night. His Robinson Crusoe position on the newly grassy island of Manhattan is intriguing enough to carry the first half of the film, but after an hour it's time for the plot to move.

And move it does. Neville, a scientist, is trying to find the cure for the virus that kills humans or turns them into residents of the ghoulag. But science by itself is not the hero here; it turns out that faith is essential. Early in the movie Neville drives past a truck displaying a poster, "God still loves us." Later, trying to comprehend the physical or spiritual demise of 6 billion people, he declares, "There is no God."

Rumor has it that the filmmakers tried several endings and settled on one suggesting that there is a God. That's what a mysterious woman who shows up with her son tells Neville: "He has a plan. He sent me here for a reason." She even thinks the end of civilization has some benefits: "The world is quieter now. It's easier to hear God."

Neville for three years has been weighed down with the belief that only he can save mankind. In a penultimate scene Neville shouts at the attacking ghouls, "You are sick and I can save you! Let me save you!" It turns out that he can't, all by himself, but he becomes Christ-like in one sense, and a combination of science plus faith eventually makes the difference.

The summary just given might give the wrong impression of I am Legend. It's an action flick, not a dramatic theological tract like The Screwtape Letters. Its bottom line is not hearts changed but $76.5 million grabbed at the box office on opening weekend. But the separation of church and screen has never been complete, so note well: Hollywood producers and presidential candidates both know that a little bit of religion helps an audience feel satisfied.

an important (political) distinction for Christians to consider

A letter to the editor of World...

I have no problem with an evangelical voting for Rudy Giuliani in the general election, and I won't even pre-judge someone doing so in the primaries. My problem is with the public stamp of endorsement that a high-profile Christian like Pat Robertson gave to Giuliani because he is perceived as electable ("House divided," Nov. 24). I hope it does not present to the world a picture of Robertson (still dear to me) as a politician first and a minister second.

—Nwokoma Opaigbeogu; Upper Marlboro, Md.

Opaigbeogu makes an important distinction between tacit and aggressive support for policy or candidate X. (The same can be said about tacit and aggressive opposition.)

In a word, we have four, rather than two, basic choices: active opposition (e.g., picketing), active support (e.g., sending in a campaign contribution), tacit opposition (e.g., voting against it), tacit support (e.g., talking to close friends about it). Too often, at least in talking about such things, people fail to make that distinction-- either you're for it or you're against it.

For example, it is quite difficult for a Christian to make a biblical and practical case to engage in active opposition to expanded gaming. But it is quite easy to make a case for tacit opposition.

Douglas Wilson on Ron Paul

I don't agree with everything Wilson says here, but it's still interesting (hat tip: Mere Politics)...

clarity on Huckabee's "apology" for Bhutto's death

From the original report as well as the "update"...

ORLANDO, FLA. -- With about 150 supporters crowded around a podium set up on the tarmac of Orlando Executive airport (and about 20 Ron Paul supporters waving signs outside) Mike Huckabee strode out to the strains of “Right Now” by Van Halen and immediately addressed the Bhutto situation, expressing “our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.”

[**UPDATE: The Huckabee campaign later clarified the last quote, telling CBS News: "Gov. Huckabee while speaking at a campaign event earlier this morning in Florida intended to extend his deepest sympathies to the people of Pakistan when he used the word 'apologies.' He is outraged and saddened by the attack and the loss of a world leader whose life he believes was a profile in courage."]

Thursday, December 27, 2007

yo, R-Paul for prez...that's phat!

I blogged earlier on the WSJ article which described the use of pop music-- historically, and especially in this presidential campaign.

The article said there were no rap songs involved in campaigns. But, hat tip to Buddy Dowdy, apparently some Ron Paul fans have put together this little hip-hop ditty...


see Hugh spin

I caught a few unfortunate moments of Hugh Hewitt speaking on the radio this afternoon.

In general, he's as good as most conservative talk-show hosts these days: a smart guy who's modestly entertaining and has some good insights, but has become increasingly partisan over the last few years-- as the divorce between Republican politicians and conservative principles has become more obvious and more painful in its implications. I also enjoyed hearing him give a plenary address at the Evangelical Theological Society meetings in DC last year-- when I was there to present a paper related to my book.

But today was not so good. First, I heard him provide a "radio minutes" (or somesuch). He was trying to make the argument that President Bush had held the line on spending-- and so, we should elect a Republican Congress in 2008. As an experienced lawyer, I know that Hugh knows a faulty premise and a faulty conclusion from a supposition-- and we have both here. Bush did not hold the line effectively, since he left his veto pen in his pocket and failed to hold Congress to his "goal" to cut earmarks by one-half. And even if he had held the line, there is no promise at all that the bulk of unprincipled Republican politicians would now morph into fiscal conservatives if we reestablish them in power.

Second, I heard Hugh interviewing a regular guest, Mark Steyn, about the Bhutto assassination. If you don't know, Hugh is a big fan of Mitt Romney's. Today, he and Steyn used Pakistan's problems to attack Romney-rival Huckabee (and Obama) as inadequately experienced. But the real spin was in trying to avoid turning the day's events into a much bigger plus for fellow front-runner, 9/11-maven, Rudy Giuliani. They tried to do this by arguing that efforts to manipulate foreign policy from DC were ill-fated and arrogant. In doing this, they ended up sounding exactly like Ron Paul! Oh, the irony!

How do these guys sleep at night?

benefits vs. costs of govt activism (revisited)

Another unsatisfying effort from the C-J this morning (the link goes to a related article; I can't find today's update on their website) on the costs and benefits of government activism...

Let's look at the numbers presented in the article-- sadly, just the benefits-- and then try to match it to the relevant costs.

Congress completed work yesterday on a $555 billion federal spending package that includes hundreds of millions of dollars for projects in Kentucky and Indiana...

Louisville will receive more than $50 million for special projects requested by Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Today's article also mentions more than $10 billion in earmarks.

Local projects include $44.28 million for construction on McAlpine Locks and Dam on the Ohio River; $980,000 for planning and design of the Ohio River Bridges Project linking Indiana and Louisville; $1.25 million for runway work, lighting and signs at Louisville International Airport; $492,000 for mobile data computers for Louisville Metro Police; $500,000 for new sewers in Shively; and $150,000 for programs at the Louisville Science Center.

Kentucky projects include $210 million for economic-development projects across Kentucky, $191 million for various environmental programs (including money to continue cleaning up contamination at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and to dispose of chemical weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot), $48 million for health-care initiatives and research and development programs at universities around Kentucky, $7 million for Kentucky law-enforcement programs, and $1.4 million for Kentucky soil-erosion control and soil-conservation districts.

OK, now to the unanswered and unquestioned costs of this government spending-- and its impact on Louisville and Kentucky.

-$555 billion in spending (in this bill alone) works out to $1,850 per person in the U.S-- an average of $7,400 from a family of four.

-$10 billion in earmarks works out to $33 per person in the U.S.

-Jefferson County/Louisville has about 700K people; Kentucky has about 4.2M people.

-Louisville received about $50 million in "special projects" (earmarks?)-- about $71 per person. Most of that was for the McAlpine Locks and Dam-- what would seem to be standard infrastructure, not an earmark. (If we eliminate McAlpine from the calculation, Louisville received $9 per person.)

-Kentucky apparently received about $457 million in "area projects" (again, earmarks?)-- about $109 per person.

From the details presented, it's difficult to tell whether (or how) Louisville and Kentucky got a good return on their "investment". At the least, it should be explained how $1,850 in costs per person is beneficial to Louisvillians when they only receive $71 in benefits per person.

And of course, all of this misses the crucial constitutional, philosophical and practical issues of "federalism"-- why is the federal government involved in financing "economic development projects across Kentucky" or "new sewers in Shively"?

In any case, as I wrote yesterday, one would hope that the media would do a better job in objectively and comprehensively covering the costs and benefits of government. Although it's difficult to answer such a question, it's at least interesting to consider when such failures are a function of ignorance, laziness, or a statist bias that prefers not to talk about the costs of government.

Merry Christmas to me: Charlie Rangel teaches the little people about "public service"

Consider this budget beauty from Columnist Jacob Sullum (hat tip: Chuck Muth, including the first title of this post)...

"If you forgot to get a Christmas present for Charlie Rangel, don't worry. The congressman picked one out for himself, and he's sending you the bill: $2 million for a shiny new Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College. The New York Democrat's Monument to Me was one of about 9,000 earmarks in the omnibus spending bill Congress approved before going on vacation."

Update: Baron voted for this... More evidence that he's a "fiscal conservative"!

In any case, I guess we can be thankful that there isn't a Baron P. Hill Center for Public Service in Seymour.

Of course the other thing that's hilarious here: would a true "public servant" bring attention to himself like this and reach into the pockets of those he's "serving" to bring more attention to himself?

Benazir Bhutto has been killed...

In a suicide attack...

From the BBC, but perhaps ironically, a hat tip to Cyberhillbilly)...

Live coverage from SkyNews (hat tip: Drudge)...

last man standing: Novak sees McCain scenario

Wouldn't that be something?

Novak in today's

This scenario does not connote a late-blooming affection for McCain among the party faithful. Indeed, he remains suspect to them on global warming, stem cell research, tax policy and immigration controls, not to mention his original sin of campaign finance reform (with authorship of the McCain-Feingold Act). Rather, his nomination would result from him being the last man standing, with all other candidates falling. Rudy Giuliani's baggage is getting too heavy to carry. Fred Thompson never got started. Huckabee's Republicanism is even less orthodox than McCain's and seems unviable beyond Iowa. Romney is burdened with anti-Mormon prejudice and the accusation he is "plastic."

Coulter blows up Huckabee (again)

He presents a target-rich environment-- so she obliges...

Apparently he responded to her column last week-- not a good idea when you have a weak hand to play...

Excerpts from today's effort at

Huckabee is a "compassionate conservative" only in the sense that calling him a conservative is being compassionate.

Huckabee opposes school choice, earning him the coveted endorsement of the National Education Association of New Hampshire, which is like the sheriff being endorsed by the local whorehouse.

He is, however, in favor of school choice for kids in Mexico: They have the choice of going to school there or here. Huckabee promoted giving in-state tuition in Arkansas to illegal immigrants from Mexico -- but not to U.S. citizens from Ohio. "I don't believe you punish the children," he said, "for the crime and sins of the parents."

Since when is not offering someone lavish taxpayer-funded benefits a form of punishment? That's almost as crazy as a governor pardoning a known sex offender so he can go out and rape and kill.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

the most recent polls in Iowa


Clinton suddenly commands a double-digit lead-- while the Republican race tightens to a statistical tie and Paul rises from 4% to 10%.

Clinton and Obama were neck-and-neck in last week’s American Research Group poll. But in the new survey, conducted December 20-23, she leads the Illinois senator by 15 percentage points, 34 to 19 percent. Obama is now in a statistical tie for second place with former North Carolina senator John Edwards, who has 20 percent of the vote.

According to the poll, Obama has lost some ground among male voters in Iowa: Last week, he led the field with 27 percent support, followed by 21 for Clinton and 19 for Edwards. This week, the leaders are Clinton and Edwards, with 28 and 27 percent support among Democratic men. Obama has 16 percent support, and Joe Biden has 11 percent.

As Hillary Clinton appears to be breaking away from the pack, the Republican race in Iowa may be tightening up. A week ago, an ARG poll placed Mike Huckabee over Mitt Romney by an 11-point margin among likely Republican caucus-goers, but the latest poll by the group puts the two back in a statistical tie, 23 to 21 percent. John McCain has 17 percent of the vote, Rudy Giuliani has 14 percent — and Ron Paul has 10 percent in the latest poll, up from 4 percent last week.

Like Obama, the poll indicates that Huckabee’s support among male voters in Iowa may be slipping. Last week, Huckabee had 31 percent support among Republican men; this week, he and Rudy Giuliani are tied at 20 percent. John McCain and Mitt Romney both have the support of 17 percent of the GOP’s likely male caucus goers.

Evel Knievel became a Christian toward the end of his life

I thought that might be the case after hearing Knievel interviewed on the Jim Rome show the last few times. I had sensed a newfound humility that seemed to point to a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.

Now, from Lee Strobel, access to video of Knievel giving his testimony and being baptized at Robert Schuller's church.

To Christ be the Glory!

Top 10 quotes of 2007

From Reuters' Arthur Spiegelman (hat tip: Opening Arguments), a list of the Top 10 quotes with some commentary by Fred Shapiro, the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations-- and now with more commentary from me!

"Don't Tase Me, Bro," a phrase that swept the nation after a U.S. college student used it seeking to stop campus police from throwing him out of a speech by Sen. John Kerry, was named Wednesday as the most memorable quote of 2007....[T]he plea made by University of Florida student Andrew Meyer on September 17, accompanied by Meyer's screams as he was tased, beat out the [other competitors]....

Shapiro said Meyer's quote was a symbol of pop culture success. Within two days it was one of the most popular phrases on Google
and one of the most viewed videos. It also showed up on ringtones and T-shirts.

Second on Shapiro's list was this tortuous answer by Lauren Upton, the SC contestant in the Miss Teen America contest in August:

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us."

Upton had been asked why one-fifth of Americans are unable to locate the United States on a map and later apologized for her answer not making a lot of sense.

Actually, the transcript masks how bad it was-- both by eliminating some words uttered and in reading it vs. hearing it. Click here to get to the video of it as well as my earlier blog entry.

Third was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's October comment at Columbia University in New York, "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country."

Shock jock Don Imus comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team: "That's some nappy-headed hos there," was fourth. Imus created a national outcry and lost his job at CBS radio in April, but returned to the airwaves in December with Citadel Broadcasting.

Little is different with Imus back on the airwaves. Will hip-hop be any different a year from now either?

Other phrases on the list:

5. "I don't recall." -- Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' repeated response to questioning at a congressional hearing about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

6. "There's only three things he (Republican presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani) mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11." -- Sen. Joseph Biden, speaking at a Democratic presidential debate.

That's a great line, although with Joe, unfortunately, you have to wonder if it's original!

7. "I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody (Vice President Dick Cheney) who has a 9 percent approval rating." -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

Especially when he's in charge of an institution with an 11% rating!

8. "(I have) a wide stance when going to the bathroom." -- Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig's explanation of why his foot touched that of an undercover policeman in a men's room.

In the days following the revelation of this debacle, I was so tempted to do the (increasingly) wide stance in the men's room-- and then to say, "ahhh, just kidding". But it was too risky...

9. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man." -- Biden describing rival Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

OK, that's probably original...

10. "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history." -- Former President Jimmy Carter in an interview in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.

And this, from a guy who knows something about bad administrations. Whether you think his statement is accurate or not, it certainly is funny! If you think it's accurate and you have the ear of arguably this country's best ex-president, please explain the aphorisms about the kettle & pot and glass houses to him. Thanks!