July 2003

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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Happy Birthday, Milton! 

Today is Milton Friedman's 91st birthday.

I saw his Free To Choose series on PBS in 1980 and was very impressed; not just with how bright and convincing he was, but with how thoughtful, kind, and patient he was with people who didn't understand his arguments.

The series inspired me to go out and read Free To Choose, and then Capitalism and Freedom.

Milton Friedman was an important influence on me, and I'm sure he'll continue to be a great influence on others for many years to come.

I heard him on a radio interview a few months ago and he still seemed very sharp. I hope he's having a great time!


Monday, July 28, 2003

Fucking Great Legal Document 

The Smoking Gun has already picked its 2003 Legal Document of the Year.

It's hard to argue with their confidence.

Does anybody have any insight about why people let hearing words upset them so much? I can understand how hearing horrible ideas could be upsetting, but this kind of thing always struck me as incredibly foolish.


Thanks For The Memories 

Bob Hope died late last night at 100.

I've always enjoyed and admired Hope for his great humor and cleverness; but also for his tireless efforts to entertain American troops wherever they were stationed.

He said he wanted to be remembered "for the laughs."

He will be, and for much more.


Thursday, July 24, 2003

Telemarketing 

Tyler Cowen has been blogging about telemarketing at the Volokh Conspiracy here, here, here, here and here.

In that last post Tyler says:

YOU ARE EMBOLDENING ME: Being a contrarian by nature, the more you all attack telemarketing, the more I like it.
The ideal situation would be to have a market in telemarketing. That is, you could contract for how many calls you would receive, and what kind of calls. You might, for instance, get a discount on your phone service for allowing ten calls a month, or whatever. Plus we can imagine various kinds of intermediaries, perhaps computer-based in nature, to "screen" your calls, offering to take them at varying prices, based on your previous instructions.
I can imagine fifteen reasons why this is impractical, but I bet that lasts only for a short time. Europe has already experimented with lower cost phone service, if you are willing to hear an ad before you place a call (see my What Price Fame? on this, updates on where it has gone, if anywhere, would be welcome).
So five years from now we could have such a market. Now, does the do not call list hasten or slow down this development? On one hand, it may hasten it, by forcing telemarketers to buy consent. On the other hand, the blanket prohibition of the list may make it harder to arrange these future transactions. After all, you would first have to get your name off the list, I wonder how responsive our government would be, and how liability would work if there were mistakes, lags, etc.
I could imagine that a do not call list could make it harder to make the transition to a real market in unsolicited phone calls. In which case we are back to the do not call list as perhaps being a bad thing.

I think he's right that we should have a market in phone-call access. Telemarketing isn't all bad. Some people like to get these calls. Most of us wouldn't mind an occasional interruption if it was for something that we'd be likely to be interested in, and/or if we could get paid for it a price we specify. And it's an interesting question whether the Do-Not-Call list will help or hinder our path to this.

I currently think it will help, because before we can have a market in phone-call access, we need a legal framework that obliges marketers to comply with the wishes of the recipients. The Do-Not-Call program is a crude, but first, attempt at this.

We probably also need a similar mechanism to address e-mail spam. And, perhaps, even snail mail junk-mail since unwanted snail mail imposes costs on us, too. It takes our time to sort through, and if we get a lot of junk mail we're more likely to miss an important message in the pile.

But, I think he's wrong to consider this as a purely economic issue. I think there are rights involved and these should supercede consideration of whether violating them maximizes aggregate want-satisfaction. I think people should be able to avoid unwanted interruptions in their home by taking steps to declare which messages are welcome, which are not, etc. This should be respected, and violating these wishes is wrong, even if some people actually want interruptions and allowing interruptions would lead to more genuine want-satisfaction than a simple "No Solicitors" mechanism would.

To see what I mean, consider this: If you were to find that there would be an aggregate increase of true want-satisfaction if men forced themselves on women who said "No" (some of them really mean "Yes" and many of the men are really interested, etc.), would you advocate allowing it?

So, I agree that telemarketing can be a good thing, but I insist that it must be voluntary. I think it's important to give recipients control of who can access them in their homes.


Tuesday, July 22, 2003

It's Official! 

I'm now the #1 result for "Reasonable Man" in a Google search.

You can't argue with that (and be right, too)!


Representative? 

This exchange between congressman John Dingell and Ward Connerly is amusing but embarrassing to me as a citizen (as is this recent incident).

The congressman was so proud of his stupid letter that he put a link to it on his web page. What an idiot!

I'm glad Connerly's response got published. It's pretty good.


Buffy 

We just got the Fourth Season DVD set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and we're loving it. Excellent quality and some cool special features.

I was a latecomer to Buffy. I saw the movie a long time ago and didn't like it that much. And, I'm not usually big on fantasy stories that center on magic and demons, etc.. But, lately, I've been watching old epsodes (captured by Tivo) with my son and having a blast. The writing is excellent. The dialog is great, the action is fun, the characters are interesting, and the stories often involve interesting and important ideas.

So, if you aren't already into Buffy, you might want to check it out. And if you are, but don't have the DVDs, I can at least recommend the Fourth Season set. The descriptions of the earlier seasons' sets didn't strike me as being quite as compelling (hard to say why), but they might be worthwhile also.


Monday, July 21, 2003

War On Terror 

Steven Den Beste has a great review of what the War On Terror is all about and why many of the current criticisms of the war, and its justifications, are mistaken.

Check it out.


Friday, July 18, 2003

Scary 

Wow. I just noticed that somebody hit this site by searching Yahoo for: anti-Masturbation device for your son.

I'm hoping that it was just a search out of morbid curiosity, and not out of an intent to inflict such a thing on someone.

Let there be no ambiguity. This blog supports the right of people to masturbate. And to dance. And to do weird web searches. Any attempts to prohibit people from ever doing these things are evil.

Ok?


Thursday, July 17, 2003

Marriage 

There has been a great deal of discussion online lately about whether gay marriages should be allowed, or whether the Federal Marriage Amendment should be passed, etc.

My opinion (the reasonable one, of course) is that there's no good reason to deny homosexuals the legal benefits of marriage nor the social recognition of their relationships.

But, the larger issue that this brings up is: Why is this a legal issue at all? Why should the government be in the business of deciding whether or not to promote or disparage particular relationships? Is that really required to secure liberty?

A lot of these controversial issues (e.g. teaching Creationism along with Evolution in schools) are only problems because the state has gone way beyond its proper scope. The government should set up the miminum framework required to protect people from force and fraud and otherwise leave people free to define and pursue their own relationships, values, etc.

I understand that many legal issues (e.g. inheritance, immigration, child custody, forced testimony, etc.) hinge on whether there is a special relationship between people and we use marriage as a surrogate for these. It's an easy "bright line" to test for that makes enforcement simpler. But these issues can be resolved by appropriate contracts and tests to satisfy the requirements of each situation.

We should be past the days when all of people's religious values have to be enshrined in the law.

I realize that many traditions encapsulate a lot of knowledge, but why do they have to be defined legally? If some groups want to recognize some relationships as "marriage" and not others, let them set up private organizations to grant their official seal of approval (as with Kosher foods) and leave the government out of it.


Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Immoral Bush 

Ok, I defended Bush and his administration in the last post. Now it's time to bash them.

I don't know that much about Bush, personally; but my sense is that he's probably basically a decent guy. He's certainly not as dumb as many liberals would like to believe, but probably not as clever as many conservatives would like to believe. I think we're pretty lucky that he was president during 9/11 because he and his advisors have a good sense of what the problem is and how it must be faced.

But, I'm not one of those who is comforted by his religion-guided sense of morality. It bothers me a lot. It's a bit scary to me that he seems to believe that he's on a mission from God. I'm disturbed by his proclamations about how "America" has decided to act to do various things to address all the badness in the world (as evidenced on his recent trip to Africa). He is not America. He's its servant. He should remember whose money and lives he is committing.

And his economic policy is immoral. Republicans complain about the problems of big government, and have always blamed the Democrats. But now we have a Republican-controlled White House, Senate, House of Representatives and we have record-breaking overspending. We've seen huge agricultural subsidies, tarrifs on steel and timber, new drug benefits, etc. It's an attack on the economy and economic liberty of the country; now and in the far future, all for the sake of winning the next election. It's awful.

Perhaps I'm wrong and this is all an incredibly clever scheme to fight big government. Perhaps this is necessary to gain a stronger control of the congress, and make it politically feasible to address the crisis that this will help bring about; with massive cuts to spending, regulations, and programs; as well as the approval of liberty-respecting Supreme Court nominees.

This is a case where I hope I'm wrong. But I suspect I'm not.


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Technically Accurate 

Michael Kinsley, and Eugene Volokh have both criticized the Bush administration for claiming that Bush's State of the Union statement about Iraq trying to purchase uranium from Africa was "technically accurate". I disagree with them (and sent Eugene a message with basically this post's content).

Here's the quote: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Their argument is that when Bush says "The British government has learned X" he implies "And I believe X to be true." And if X turns out not to be true, or if Bush wasn't convinced that it was, then his statement was not accurate.

I think that when somebody says "The British government has learned X" it doesn't mean "And I believe X to be true," I think it just means that they (the British government) believe that it's true and whether or not you should believe that it's true depends on how trustworthy you believe British intelligence gathering and analysis is. Otherwise, why mention the British government at all? Do people really care about trivia such as the history of various pieces of intelligence? I don't think so. I think it means: here is a claim, here is the source, I haven't been able to verify it independently, so treat it as you think appropriate.

I agree that, in this context, it implies "And I think it might be true", but that much is technically accurate; as far as I know.

And even this implication is not true in all contexts where we speak of "X learned Y". For example, if I say "Palestinian children learned that Jews drink Arab blood" it doesn't mean "And I believe it's true, or might be true." It just means something like "The claims were presented to them and they generally accept it as true."

Another technical point is that this claim is about acquiring uranium from Africa not just Niger and not just the incident with the forged documents.

In any case, the administration has admitted that the statement should not have been in the speech because if its potential to mislead. I think they are right about this and that they're right about it having been "technically accurate". I doubt that anybody supported the war largely because of this one statement. So, I'm a bit confused about what the big deal is.


Thursday, July 10, 2003

Ageism 

Eugene Volokh has written some very good posts about the Dusty Baker controversy here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Briefly, Baker (a black manager of the Chicago Cubs) got into trouble for saying the following:

"Personally, I like to play in the heat," he said. "It's easier for me. It's easier for most Latin guys and easier for most minority people.
"You don't find too many brothers in New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right? We were brought over here for the heat, right? Isn't that history? Weren't we brought over because we could take the heat?
"Your skin color is more conducive to the heat than it is to the light-skinned people, right? You don't see brothers running around burnt and stuff ... running around with white stuff on their ears and nose and stuff."

Eugene (rightly, I think) says that this shouldn't be a big deal; that if the statements are indeed false it is an honest mistake, and not the sort of generalization that should be considered rude or offensive.

But, this observation of Eugene's caught my attention:

Things are properly different, as a matter of good manners, when the allegation is tied to something that people generally see as a character defect. Lack of intelligence falls into that category (maybe it shouldn't, but it generally does); so does uncoachability. When we suggest that people have such attributes, we are properly held to a higher standard of proof. We can see that even if we set aside race: "I'm pretty sure my acquaintance Joe Schmoe might be prone to heat exhaustion" is something that we can comfortably say on very little evidence. "I'm pretty sure my acquaintance Joe Schmoe isn't smart" is something that we would generally pause a little longer before saying -- especially if we're saying it in public.
Moreover, when we suggest that people as a group have such attributes, those members who lack those attributes understandably bristle -- the generalization is felt as more of a personal attack. Again, I think we see this even outside the context of race. Generalizations about groups (fraternity members, people who engage in certain occupations, residents of a particular area) are, especially if they're accurate, quite acceptable if they relate to a relatively morally neutral property. But if they relate to a morally troublesome trait (stupidity, dishonesty, and so on), they cause more bristling, even if they are statistically well-supported, though not as much as when they're made about groups that have a more self-conscious identity (such as racial, ethnic, or religious groups).

Have you noticed that it's very common for people to make this "character defect" sort of generalization about children, and it's considered quite acceptable? In fact, just today I noticed James Lileks wrote this:

Who believes that hypocrisy is somehow the greatest sin of all? Adolescents. Which ought to tell you something.

I hope the day will come soon when this sort of thing makes us all bristle as much as if it was said about a race.

By the way, if you haven't read this yet, do it now!


Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Wanna Bet? 

I like to gamble. Is gambling unreasonable?

Superficially it seems unreasonable. With a few exceptions, legal gambling is an activity with a negative expected outcome. The more you do it, the more money you are likely to lose. So what good attributes does gambling have that might compensate for this costly expectation?

It's fun.

Money won is twice as sweet as money earned. That sounds immoral, but it isn't. Won money isn't stolen, it's gained honorably via a voluntary agreement. And there is something sweet about an immediate payoff.

It's creative.

Betting on an event immediately makes it more interesting. It was a very clever innovation to add this element to life. Also, depending on the game, there can be a considerable amount of skill involved in maximizing your chances to win. This can involve playing the game well (as in blackjack), avoiding really bad bets (all games), and managing your money to reduce your chances of losing your entire bankroll during the session.

It's a growth experience.

I think gambling helps you learn a lot about yourself, and gives you an opportunity to improve. It shows you how you handle both victory and defeat. You discover whether you have the discipline to limit your losses to what you decided was reasonable. If you're not satisfied with the way you do these things, you can work on yourself and improve over time. Mastering these skills benefits many areas of life.

It's dramatic.

Most of our days are rather boring. Gambling gives us a chance to add an exciting element to our lives; to do battle with uncontrollable forces; to risk something; to feel more alive. Some people get this feeling by driving fast, or by jumping out of airplanes, or riding rollercoasters.

I think there's something noble and courageous about choosing to face risks, so long as we're not being irresponsible and risking more than we can afford. Living morally might require us to risk our security some day. And success in many areas requires skill at measuring risks against rewards. Gambling can help us prepare ourselves to better deal with those situations.


Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Experience 

Apparently, Laurence Olivier said:

"Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it."

I love that!


Friday, July 04, 2003

Capitalism, Freedom, and Ingenuity 

Bill Whittle has written another great essay in time for Independence Day.

He really gets America, and can express what it's all about in a way that few others can.

So, go and enjoy it and have a great Fourth of July!!!


Thursday, July 03, 2003

Independence Day 

As July 4th approaches, my son suggested that I blog something about the Declaration of Independence. I was trying to think of what I could say that would possibly be original or interesting.

Fortunately for me, Eugene Volokh linked to this entry by Eric Muller (via John Barrett) of a previously unpublished July 4th, 1941 address by (then Attorney General and later Supreme Court Justice) Robert H. Jackson. The speech was intended to tie the Declaration principles to support for american involvement in the war in Europe, but it applies as well today, and it applies to more than actual "dictators". Here's an excerpt:

You are lifted and inspired, like generations before you, by the majestic cadence of the boldest, the noblest, and best known of all American writings. The Declaration of Independence speaks strong doctrine in plain words. It is the world’s master indictment of oppression. The fervor of its denunciation haunts and challenges dictators everywhere and in every field of life.
But the Declaration of Independence does not stop with mere denials and negations. It sets forth great affirmations as to the permissible foundations of power and political leadership among free men. It lays down a fighting faith in the rights of man — merely as man — a faith to die by if need be, or even more bravely to live by. It impresses upon all political power the high obligation of trusteeship. It established an accountability by the governing few to the governed many. That is why men abroad who wield dictatorial powers over subject peoples would silence the reading of the Declaration of Independence, would tear all mention of it from the record, and torture all recollection of it out of the minds of men. Even at home there are some who hope it will not be read too loudly.
...
We do not need to be imprudent or foolhardy, but we should recognize that no amount of cautious behavior, no amount of polite talk will earn for us the friendship and goodwill of dictator systems. Ultimately we must come to the day when we shall face their threats and their enmity for no other reason than that we persist in living the kind of life we live.
One fact emerges clear above all others. We Americans cannot cease to be the kind of people we are, we cannot cease to live the kind of life we live. We are not the kind of people the dictators will ever want in the world. They will never have any use for our kind of life, nor we for theirs.
Every American knows now, as he knew it in 1776, that there is nothing for him in that way of life.

Read the whole thing. It's not very long.