Thursday, March 31, 2005

Scenes from the Front: Mold

By: Charles J. Sykes

The scene is a school board meeting of a semirural Midwestern community. Parents have mobilized opposition to the new Outcome Based Education curriculum in the district and a junior high teacher has been designated to reassure them. She is neither shrill nor doctrinaire. In fact, she is every good teacher you ever had.

She assures the parents how much she cares about their children, and obviously means it. But she wants to set the record straight: She wants to teach her students more, not less, and all this talk about “dumbing down” the curriculum misses the point. Her goal, she says, is to try to teach “what is important for kids to know.” That means ditching much of the traditional – useless – science curriculum, such as teaching “the names of the nine planets and how far they are from the sun, “ which she calls “facts that are not applied; facts that are not used.”

She explains that she and other junior high science teachers have diligently tried to determine what exactly is scientifically “important.” To determine this, she says proudly, they consulted experts. In this case high school science teachers.

The real change, she says enthusiastically, is that from now on she and other teachers will approach science from a “whole learning” perspective. By this she means she will integrate other subjects into science. For example, teachers now “incorporate writing and reading into science.” She appears to genuinely believe that this is a remarkable innovation. (The work of Ptolemy, Descartes, and William James apparently don’t count. They are, needless to say, also not part of her curriculum.)

“Education practices,” she insists, “have to meet where we are going.” The lights dim and she begins a slide presentation on where, apparently, we are going. She wants to show the parents children “doing things.” Despite what they may have heard, the children aren’t doing anything “kinky or weird.”

Just dull and trivial.

She doesn’t see it that way. She insists that the new hands-on science is exciting, enriched, packed with higher-order thinking skills. No longer do kids sit neatly in rows and have rote facts jammed into their heads; in her classrooms, the children are doing science themselves.

They grow mold.

In poster-board presentation after poster-board presentation students demonstrate: How We Grew Mold.

There was, teacher says, “a lot of communication and a lot of observation. We really emphasized the higher order thinking skills.” What she meant, of course, was that they talked about mold, looked at mold, and compared mold. This was no mere rote mold. Not simply information about mold. This was higher order mold.

Of course, mold does have its illustrious place in the annals of science. But the teacher makes no mention of penicillin or the story of its remarkable discovery through mold. The emphasis here is on relevance. Reads one poster board: Moldy Pizza and Mold.

“We know how to grow it,” she tells the parents. “We know hot to avoid it.” This, no doubt, is an example of how higher-order thinking skills can be applied in, say, the refrigerators of college dorms. For the teacher this “usefulness” is in obvious contrast to the frivolous and unnecessary study of – and this is her example – the solar system, the knowledge of which cannot be applied to lives as conveniently as the mastery of the properties of mold.

Contemporary educators are convinced, as were their fathers and grandfathers in progressive education, that the driving force behind education must be the interest of the child. It is an article of faith that kids can only be engaged in the study of science or history if it is made directly relevant to their own lives. But the same folks who talk so much about making learning “interesting” also imagine that mold is more likely to fire a child’s imagination than space.

Outside of the classroom, youngsters are devoted fans of Star Trek and Star Wars; they understand the difference between impulse power and warp speed; they devour science fiction novels; video games beyond number presuppose intergalactic travel. There are no popular video games based on mold.

Excerpted from: Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can’t Read, Write, or Add. Charles J. Sykes, St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

GMU Update

After about half a week of vainly trying to get a hold of Pete Boettke (who wrote in an e-mail recently that I could call him if I had any questions), I got an e-mail from GMU. Apparently he’s re-reviewed my application and put me on the wait list for the PhD program, which is awesome. That’s the good news: I still might get into the PhD program.

Apparently the GMU people are trying to get as many waitlisted into the program and those that don’t get passed on to a different group so they can be considered for the masters. That’s the bad news: I might not get into either.

BUT, apparently my constant nagging earned me something as Pete has taken an interest in me and they’ve “flagged” my file, which means they’re going to try harder to get me in. How much harder and how many others are flagged, I don’t know. But my chances are better than they were last week. That’s the good news.

But it seems that at the end of each day, I actually know less and my future seems more uncertain. Why do I get the feeling I’m the victim of some kind of prank?

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Of late I have been discussing with a friend some possibilities for revamping the curriculum and methods of teaching at Beloit College. This is mainly a thought experiment.

My latest response began like this:

It seems to me that if all these ideas are as viable and workable as you claim, they would have been tried by now. Doesn't the fact that no college has a curriculum like you want suggest that the market has determined that this is not the best outcome?

I should be ashamed of myself, and I am. I adhere to what I consider truth: that markets solve problems, and when a problem exists the market actively works to solve it. However, I took it a step too far in assuming that if the market (in this case, the college system) had yet to try something, then it was hardly worth looking at. This logic of course precludes all forms of entrepreneurship. To say that an idea is not workable because if it were, then "the market would have already done that" ignores that the market is a dynamic process. I am not the only one to commit this fallacy (heck, I probably find myself guilty of it regularly). How many times has a student been told that a research topic, if valuable, would have already been researched? I have seen (and probably done it myself) friends dismiss new products under the guise that they can't possibly be innovative.

And of course my favorite tale is one of a teacher I once had, who claimed with absolute sincerity, that there was nothing new that could be thought of or done; all the "newness" was exhausted.

Clearly, this is a fallacy of thought. It is especially a fallacy of economic thought. But I do not know what to call it. The fallacy of premature dismissal? Ideas?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Them Crazy Canadians

Mike sent me this article to cheer me up. My favorite part is that their health care system is so bad, Canadians are being sent to the states to get cared for. Makes you think what they would do if we followed their "amazing" system.

Woot!...Or Not So Much

“Woot!” was the original title I was going to use when I found out GMU accepted my application for their PhD program. I was so sure I’d get in I can’t even list all the things I had going for me (notably the recommendation and help with the application from a well-respected alum of program). Then I called them today to ask why my application status seems to be stuck on “Complete ready for review,” especially since I had no idea what that meant. They told me the committee turned down my application.

Looking back, I think the number one thing I did wrong was turn it in too late. Even though it was still months before the deadline, if they got it December 1st instead of December 21st (especially since that’s four days before Christmas) things might have been very different. Who knows?

So now I’m taken aback and not sure what to do except start looking for jobs and try to figure out what’s next on the list. Apparently my application was referred to the masters program. I have no idea what that means, though I sent an inquiring e-mail.

At least the whole ordeal has been a learning experience. Here’s what I’ve learned (and am learning).

- Never put all your eggs in one basket, even if the basket’s made of a springy material that protects eggs.
- Everything happens for a reason, so long as you make that reason happen.
- Be grateful for friends that you can call when something bad happens. Sometimes all you need to do is talk.
- Never try to find out the status of your application while all you’re college friends are in class.
- Never try to find out the status of your application while your old professor is out of her office.
- Getting what you want is like fighting a war: use every advantage you have to its maximum capacity (so long as you don’t violate the Geneva Conventions).
- Always remember that no matter how bad things seem to be, there’s always someone from high school you didn’t like that’s worse off than you.
- Be grateful if you learn these lessons while you’re still young so you have the opportunity to apply them and you don’t get totally screwed when you discover them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Science Lesson

I was never really great at the hard sciences (especially biology), mostly because there’s too much to remember. Parts of the cell, organs, chemical names, rules for how they combine—it can get overwhelming very quickly.

But science’s growing complexity and fundamental role in economics (like genetic engineering) and politics (like the EPA) warrants everyone to learn some science terms to better sort through the issues. Here are two such words I found while reading Challenging Environmental Mythology, by Jack W. Dini.

The first is bioavailability, which describes the amount of a substance that’s available for interacting with other agents in the environment. Toxins might have a high bioavailability in the lab (thus making it very likely some amount will kill a given organism) while in nature that same amount of toxin could have a lower bioavailability for the same organism (thus making it less likely to kill it). Most evidence suggests that soil, for example, greatly lowers the bioavailability of chemicals.

The EPA doesn’t pay attention to bioavailability factors when it determines how harmful a substance is. The same goes for other studies done by scientists who are either ignorant of the phenomenon or have a vested interest in overestimating risk. It’s like citing experiments that drown people in water to conclude water is toxic. Bioavailability can vary dramatically (28.2% to 99% decline between six different soils) and diminishes with respect to DDT, DDE, DDD and dieldrin via earthworms.

The second term is chirality which describes the form of amino and nucleic acids. All such molecules can manifest as either “left-handed” or “right-handed,” even though they are comprised of the same atoms with the same quantities of each. Sometimes the “mirror image” is inactive. Other times, it can be dangerous. In 1957 thalidomide was used to lessen morning sickness, but its mirror image caused birth defects. Doses administered with both versions led to the false conclusion that the chemical itself was bad.

Mixed doses can be common (25% of all pesticides, for example, have mirror images), and the EPA doesn’t even acknowledge chirality as a factor. This is reflected in past environmental data which never distinguished which forms of the chemicals in question were present. A 1999 Nature report noted that traces of DDT derivatives, PCBs and plasticizers aren’t really as bad as once thought once you’ve adjusted for chirality.

I have to point out that if we didn’t politicized science and kept it in the private sector, these gaps wouldn’t be as bad because there’s a private sector incentive to recognize poor science and correct for it. Politics, however, isn’t about truth; it’s about perception. And that means never having to admit you were wrong.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Blame the Turks

Two years after we invaded Iraq we finally have an answer to help explain why our forces continue to meet with resistance to this day.

I thought that a major insurgency was inevitable—after all we’re messing with the internal affairs of a sovereign country, creating general chaos with no clear plan for rebuilding, and we’re not really well liked in the Arab world to begin with.

But apparently it didn’t have to be so major. Donald Rumsfeld announced yesterday that if Turkey let us invade via their border, then “a considerably smaller number of the Baathists and the regime elements would have escaped.”

There’s some logic to the argument: a lot of intelligence and military personal escaped to the north when the US invaded from Kuwait. But isn’t it likely that they did this because we weren’t invading from Turkey and if we did, they would have simply disappeared elsewhere. Iraq isn’t the largest country in the world but it’s still pretty big and the personal certainly knew it better than we did.

There’s simply no way Rumsfeld could know that the difference is “considerable” and it’s just another pathetic attempt of the administration to cover up the fact that they had virtually no post-war plan. When’s someone going to be held accountable for this screw up? Oh well. At least now we can be sure that the Turks hate us.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

French Get Angry For Being Googled At

For years I’ve dreamed of the day when a major and well-known corporation with a funny name got into some controversy. That way, talking about it would be that much more enjoyable, the face of capitalism would be more playful, and I’d have a lot more fun writing headlines.

That day has finally come.

A French news agency is suing Google (note who did the ads for the article…that’s too funny) on grounds that it’s news service reproduces wire news stories without authorization. If you’ve never been to Google News, the page is basically a list of headlines gathered from papers all over the world and organized based on topics. All the information is taken from other websites (including the headline and summary).

The French’s case doesn’t work because the only way to get the full story is to click through to the page(s) Google got the words from. (The headline for the story snipet is always links to the original story of that headline and that snipet.) This is free advertising, so stop bitching.

Google officials also point out that the only way an article be included in Google News is if the company chooses to be indexed for Google News. Hmmm…

The best part about this story is that I found it via my Home Page: Google News.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Strangling Science

William M. Connolley is up for arbitration. So far, most of the wiki members are voting in favor of him, which is sad. WMC isn’t keeping up with the idea of mutual respect and compromise. (Most notably, he’s deleted my attempt to add the “disputed” label to the global warming article. He doesn’t even want people to know there are those who challenge conventional wisdom.)

The vote for it came from the user I only know as Cortonin, a scientist who’s much more middle of the road than I. Talk pages suggest he and WMC have been going back and forth for a while.

Mike thinks I should give this up (and I have taken a break from it), but so much about the article (and more importantly the edit wars of the article) have rubbed me the wrong way. It’s becoming to represent so much of what I dislike about today’s state of affairs.

Most notably is the sloppy science weaved in the article. In December of last year WMC demanded Cortonin to show him evidence of global cooling after he put up a similar dispute notice. WMC responded, “Again, I'm very familiar with both of those pages and they are perfectly compatible with this page, so (given your failure to find a model for cooling) I've removed the NPOV header.”

Models are not evidence, as WMC suggests. By definition they are based more on assumptions than observed data. It is items like this that make me think of the tag line on his blog: “Taking Science by the Throat…” Yes William, because you’re trying to kill it.

(Maybe I should stop keeping track of these articles. I have better things to do and talking to brick walls isn’t going to help me. Something to ponder.)

World of Contracts

Some weeks ago, a friend suggested I try the online game, World of Warcraft. I never played a game that required monthly fees before so he said I could just play on his account when he’s not using it. After I got into it, he said that when he hit the maximum level, he’d stop and sell me the game for about $50 (the price of the software).

This was not a problem for the majority of our arrangement. My friend took evening classes and played to the wee hours of the morning; I would play in the afternoons and while he was at class. He got it weekends (when I work).

Last week my friend decided his schedule was too screwed up and reset it, staying up for 31 hours straight. Instead of waking up at four or five (and go to class soon after), he was waking up at 11 or noon, about the time I do. Our schedules now severely overlapped.

I didn’t think much of it because he was only a couple of levels away from the max (level 60). I was even thinking about paying more than the fifty bucks for the game as he suggested he could sell the account on ebay for $100.

Everything changed a few days ago. In the kindest way possible, he said he was tired of sharing the account and because he’s starting a new character, he won’t be getting tired of the game anytime soon (Blizzard’s will also be offering hero classes to advanced levels soon).

So I now have to buy the game, set up an account and—worst of all—create a new character from the ground up (I was at level 36…the timer told me I’ve spent more than a total of nine straight days getting there.)

Reliable contracts are a key component of a functioning society, but how broadly should we define contract? Does it have to be written? If not, how formal does the verbal promise need to be? Could implied contracts count? On one hand, making it too casual obviously opens the door to abuse. On the other hand, de-formalizing contracts could help us get rid of those pesky lawyers.

So question becomes this: what—if anything—does my friend owe me for breaking contract?

Friday, March 18, 2005

All Hail Kirk

This makes me sad but it's a valuable lesson: fascism can don the most noble of masks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Faces of Catan

Glen, you should appreciate this.

Alcatel—a French telecom company—is putting out a promotional version of a classic board game. The Communication of Catan is a high-tech take on the German original with a definite free market tone.

The best part: the robber dynamic from Settlers is now embodied by government regulation. How perfect is that?

Iowa Gets Video Cameras

Iowa’s known for many things: caucuses, corn, flooding, soybeans, pigs, an education system that used to be number one in the nation but has been declining for several years…corn, again.

We’re also known for being the future birthplace of Captain Kirk, specifically in the small town of Riverside (eight miles south of Iowa City). As Iowa’s most positive claim to fame, it’s about time they got their own show.

On March 29, Spike TV will launch their mini-series (“Invasion Iowa”) where William Shatner leads a cadre of Hollywood types to the Iowan hamlet so they can shoot a major motion picture. This would be the first time Shatner’s ever visited the town.

And what better way to start a relationship than with a lie? The movie’s a fake and the entire point of the series is to screw around with the small town and see how they react to the absurd changes justified by movie production. The last episode will air on April 1st (Whoa! It’s like they planned it that way!)

I love Spike TV, I love Star Trek, I love Joe Schmo (the series that inspired this one) and I really love it when national television covers my home state. Like everyone else in backwater country, I enjoy feeling recognized. Make some more shows about us, America, and I promise we’ll stop talking about ethanol and insisting we should be the first caucus for the presidency.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A Cleaner Harvard?

Don’t you just hate not having everything? Lots of people do and there’s basically three ways to respond.

The first is working hard and contributing something valuable to society, earning money to pay for lots of cool stuff.

The second is taking stuff from others and using it yourself. This always involves some kind of force so it’s particularly common in government.

The third is just encouraging less stuff across the board. That way, no one feels jealous. This is favored reasoning on college campuses, even when it concerns something colleges desperately need: cleaning.

Don Boudreaux at Café Hayek reported that Harvard students are complaining about Michael Kopko, a student selling maid services to dorm residents. An opinion piece in The Harvard Crimson claims,
By creating yet another differential between the haves and have-nots on campus, Dormaid threatens our student unity.... We urge the student body to boycott Dormaid [the name of Kopko’s company].
It goes on to argue that the service may create conflict between roommates (one wants it and the other doesn’t). Don rightly points out that this level of immaturity is hardly suiting for a college student.

Just for fun, let’s suppose the students have a point—inequality is bad because it makes people feel bad. By logical extension, all signs of different incomes should be eliminated. Nice cars (in fact, any cars) should be towed away. Televisions, microwaves, refrigerators, printers, game consoles, VCRs, DVD players and even computers that don’t belong to everyone should be removed from the dorms. All students should be limited to maximum standard of clothing and makeup. CDs, DVDs and newspapers should be stowed out of site. Decorating of any sort should be prohibitive (unless it’s with materials provided by the school). Food and dishes should similarly be taken away.

On the plus side, rooms won’t need cleaning anymore.

NOTE: Don used the words “chooses not buy” instead of “cannot afford” and inquired why he would do so. One reason is unless the service costs several thousand dollars, student can find ways to pay for it. For example, they could not buy some of their very expensive school books and instead photocopy and/or borrow them from others (I know students who do this). The nature of the case yields a second reason why any student could afford the service: they can do it themselves.

Shaking Up the Mouse Market

It’s amazing just how many problems the market can solve. I never even considered the impact of hand tremors on working a mouse. Thanks, IBM.

Movie Wars

If you’re like me you thought the last two Star Wars movies were nightmarish catastrophes. If they weren’t riding the coattails of the first three, we wouldn’t have a third one coming out in May and we probably wouldn’t have the second poison in the first place.

But it is a good universe to tell stories in and I would like see more of them. Have no fear my fellow hopefuls because in about a month, Panic Struck Productions will release a fan-created Star Wars movie called Revelations. (And the trailer looks pretty awesome.)

Until I learned about this project through Slashdot, I never knew fans made movies. I thought they limited themselves to stories and websites. But fan movies aren’t new and Lucas apparently loves to let them happen. As long as it’s non-profit, there’s no suing.

It got me thinking about copyright. What if the rules were less stringent and people could make money off the Star Wars universe? Yes people would be making money off of others’ hard work but the last trilogy ended more than 20 years ago; patents are usually expired after that. Why can’t people make a film if they only use material that’s two decades old?

I’m first to admit that it may make some really bad Star Wars movies but wake up everyone; we’re already there.

Climate Change Gets Nasty

Since contributing to Wiki’s articles on global warming and scientific opinion on climate change, I’ve had run-ins with some…savory characters in the wiki world. At the top of the list are William M. Connolley and Vsmith, both of whom are fans of reverting articles they don’t like.

Reverting is the option that basically changes any edit job to a previous version. Its use is to easily change vandalism. Some punk jumps onto an article and changes all the information to something completely false and you can quickly undo the damage.

Unfortunately, reverting is also a favored tactic of closed-minded people because it doesn’t even require you to consider what’s been added. A lot of people who don’t appreciate new ideas use it as if it was heroin. They often justify it by simply claiming it’s wrong, though the parts they delete are often others’ take on controversial topics.

For example, I added a political section to the “Scientific opinion on climate change.” It basically explained how politicized science can be hijacked by various groups and mutated into pseudo-science or even fraud. Given the politics of global warming and the fact that some people argue this is happening (most famously Michael Crichton and John Stossel), it seemed like the right thing to do.

Vsmith reverted the article, calling it “sensationalist” and “weasel-worded.” In the discussion section, he claimed it didn’t add anything new and attacked the analogy I used without offering any substantive explanation. He also called it mere conspiracy, which isn’t really accurate. (In the addition I said some people think it’s a conspiracy while other believe it’s more of a collective action problem.)

So I made some alterations (he had a few good points, like sometimes I was vague). I also added sources. In the edit heading I said “Made some requested changes, please discuss before reverting.” And hour and a half later Vsmith reverted anyway saying, “revert - don't need the political conspiracy theory.” In the discussion page, he attacked me because my main source was a novel (irrelevant for two reasons: it wasn’t my main source and the parts I used were fact). Connolley joined Vsmith, saying I should put the stuff in the article called “global warming controversy.”

This is a favored tactic of Connolley. He dumps ideas he doesn’t like and suggests people put them in different articles, assuming a front of neutrality. Thus it allows him to condense the opposing side to a mere link while he rambles on and on about his point of view, which also crowds out different opinions; Connolley also likes reverting on the basis the article is too large.

And he’s been hitting the revert button a lot on scientific opinion article. Here’s a little conversation Connolley had with a user called Cortonin after Cortonin tried to discuss the creation of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

Cortonin: RV to Marco Krohn version, includes description of IPCC formation. [RV is short for reverting.]
Connolley: Try alternaitve wording focussing on what they are rather then who chose them
Cortonin: Lets merge these two.
Connolley: No lets not
Cortonin: RV. Merging as compromise.
Connolley: Rv'ing Cortonins fake compromise
Cortonin: Then lets return to the more accurate one which comes from the reference, if you don't like the compromise version.
Connolley: Rv: your version is inaccurate. See talk.

The talk gets pretty nasty, mostly because Connolley doesn’t like the idea of including information about the politics of the IPCC and claims Cortonin is trying to discredit the organization. In Talk, Connolley says:

Well, you're finding the IPCC section quite controversial. Why not - since you really don't mind whether you do IPCC, or AMS, or whatever first - go on and do a less controversial one? But of course, thats laughable. We all know that in fact you care nothing for the others. And your version of the IPCC author seclection is wrong.

You know the funny this is that according to Wikipedia,

Sometimes, though, it is better to write a third version that takes the best bits of the other two, and combines them to get the best of both worlds. Note that reverts are not appropriate if a newer version is no better than the older version. You should save reverts for cases where the new version is actively worse. Regardless, we strongly recommend against heated revert wars.

Now if only some people would read it…

Monday, March 14, 2005

A Really Hopeful Future

Someday I’ll have it all. Someday I’ll have a computer that works reliably and will integrate with my palm pilot seamlessly (like it’s supposed to). Someday I’ll have a cell phone that gets reception in the places I go, a credit card in good enough shape to be swiped at the gas station so I don’t have to go inside and PDA that doesn’t erase its memory when it runs out of batteries. Someday all this technology will actually function while I’m holding it.

I’ve been away from LL&L that past few days because my computer has undergone a much needed overhaul including virus scans and reformatting. (I also visited Beloit in the middle of the week). After all that, I sat down to reinstall programs only to discover the left button doesn’t respond about 20% of the time. Today I grabbed a new mouse (though it cost more than I thought it would). Things seemed to be working until after the long installations needed for World of Warcraft: I couldn’t sign on. So I write this article instead.

I love technology, I really do. Entrepreneurship creates efficiency but innovation can only take you so far. Invention, however, makes our capacity for growth limitless which is why I want to dedicate my life studying technology’s role in the economy. I see it working every day though it never seems to function for me (at least not as well as for everyone else).

Someday it will all work. I swear.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

"You Can’t Take the Sky From Me."

Damn you Mike, damn you for introducing me to Firefly. I now have the theme song constantly in my head.

For those of you out of the know, Firefly is a wonderful, short-lived series that was once on Fox a few years ago. Due to poor choice in scheduling and episode order, the network pulled the series halfway through its first season. It was later released on DVD.

That was when it's popularity really took off, so much so Universal bought the rights to make a movie (due out in September). It also generated a list of fan sites (here, here, here and here, to start), along with the required fan fic (here, here, and here). I especially like the site where the author is working on a virtual season of it for Phoenix Virtual Television (here) and the site dedicated to products inspired from the series (here). All this from a mere 14 episodes.

The lesson boys and girls is that in our age of technology and ethical greed, it's hard keeping a good product down. We also learned this lesson with Family Guy (Fox is bringing back the series thanks to high DVD sales). All things just keep getting better.

Monday, March 07, 2005

A Terminology of War

Last week I thought I’d enter the Wikicommunity and add what I (correctly) assumed would be a lacking but necessary voice to their article on global warming (I also updated my profile to link to LL&L).

There are a lot of fun and interesting stories that are spawning from this experience but one bears special mention: the attacks on my credibility.

For example after one of my edits, William M. Connolley—who watches the article like a hawk—visted the blog and attacked my intentions based on the March 4th post. Connolley is a fan of reverting the article (taking it back to an earlier version), undoing my work. Vsmith has accused me of “declaring war on wiki climate articles,” based off the post. Though I never used that term, it’s not an inaccurate description. I didn’t expect new ideas to be accepted and debated on these articles and unfortunately I’m right: skepticism is being met with hostility.

Thus others’ define this as a “war,” and I accept that term for two reasons. First, it takes two sides to make a peaceful exchange. If they are going to be nasty and closed-minded, then the term “discussion” is not appropriate (though I insist on taking the high ground). Second, the war anology lends itself to other useful analogies. For example, I opened a new front.

I’ve been spending time working the article and disscussion for wiki’s article called “Scientific opinion on climate change” and I’m trying to introduce a section on the politics that shape that very opinion. Again, lots of deletion and angry words.

NOTE: At the time of this writing I’ve been unable to contribute to the talk page to defend my take on the matter…something is wrong with the wiki site. Also, to view my (short lived) contributions, visit the history page and check out revisions by “Atlastawake.”

If anyone has any advice or links they could provide me to help make my cases, I’d love to see them.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Economics of LL&L

Jackie, in an effort to boast traffic on her site (and for her own amusement) posted a series of controversial posts this week. It worked and she saw a 346% growth in comments and 45% increase in visits.

I’ve often mulled over if I should try a similar tactic to boast LL&L’s traffic but Jackie’s blog and mine fundamentally different; I doubt it will make much difference.

1. Jackie’s female and I’m not (nor am I pretending to be female). Thus it’s far less sexy (and claiming I blog naked holds a lot less power).

2. Jackie writes about her personal life while I don’t (at least not in a stand alone manner). Economically, this adds greater product differentiation to Jackie’s blog—issues vary but you can probably find similar commentary on others’ blogs as you can on mine. But Jackie’s blog is THE source for Jackie news (which is enriched by #1).

3. Jackie’s been around about a year longer than mine, allowing it more time to gather a larger audience.

4. Jackie’s picture is a lot better than mine.

5. Most of the people who are kind enough to visit LL&L are people I know and do it out of courtesy. Few of them bother to read my long posts (which is why I’m been trying to be more brief). Michelle, I’m looking at you.

6. This one is just a guess but I’m thinking Jackie writes like she’s writing for a blog while I write like I’m writing for a magazine. Her articles are more open ended (leaving more to comment about) while I try to preemptively counter some arguments. This, of course, makes my posts longer (like this one is becoming).

7. Lately World of Warcraft has been eating up assloads of my time, thus I’ve been blogging less. On the plus side I’m almost up to level 36!

And when I think about it, I don’t have that many taboo ideas to write about. The most controversial was probably DDD and nothing has ever come close (that I’ve written). I also don’t want to write about my personal life too much—I think it takes away from the title, of which I’ve already strayed from.

But I wouldn’t mind the low traffic so much if more of our readers would leave comments! Let me know you’re at least reading this damn thing—sometimes I feel like I’m talking to a wall (and you just can’t get insightful responses from a wall).


I've started sharing my skeptical views of climate change using Wikipedia's article on global warming. I invite everyone to watch what will surely be mayhem and contribute to the article (I have a feeling it's going to need someone to help organize it because it's going to get messy over the next few weeks).

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sweat, Blood and Tears Shops

Tyler Cowen cites a story about Chinese workers who are striking for longer hours (because they want more money). Their hours were shortened by Nike and similar companies in response to criticisms of their sweat shops.

You’d think the people who claimed they were out for the interest of the world’s poor would ask the downtrodden what they want before changing their society.

Huben's Hubris

I’ve said many times that libertarianism’s greatest obstacle is the rhetoric war. Classical-liberalism holds a lot of great cards—overwhelming evidence, a consistent philosophy, an overarching respect for freedom and humanity—but we don’t have the one that outweighs them all: the rhetoric. Understanding how to take back the rhetoric requires us to learn the challenges to libertarianism.

I found this site by Mike Huben, a FAQ about classical-liberalism done by a critic of the philosophy. Some of it is interesting, some entertaining and some completely wrong. Most of it occurs in some combination of the three.

For example,

Many libertarian arguments are like fundamentalist arguments: they depend upon restricting your attention to a very narrow field so that you will not notice that they fail outside of that field. For example, fundamentalists like to restrict the argument to the bible. Libertarians like to restrict the argument to their notions of economics, justice, history, and rights and their misrepresentations of government and contracts.

Yes we all know that economics, justice, history, government, contracts and rights all sum up to a narrow scope. It totally leaves out pizza parties, backgammon and one-inch pieces of string.

Huben then proceeds to offer questions that are good ones to ask as a response to libertarian arguments so as to coax our “questionable assumptions…into view.” These are the order in which he presented them.

-Why should I accept that "right" as a given?
-Is that a fact around the world, not just in the US?
-Are there counter examples for that idea?
-Are libertarians serving their own class interest only?
-Is that economic argument complete, or are there other critical factors or strategies which have been omitted?
-When they make a historical argument, can we find current real-world counterexamples?
-If we adopt this libertarian policy, there will be benefits: but what will the disadvantages be?
-Are libertarians reinventing what we already have, only without safeguards?

These are good questions and exactly the kind that statists need to answer, not just ask. Over the next few days (or weeks, depending on how inspired I am) I’ll answer these questions for Mr. Huben, and I hope our tens of readers will help out, too.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Temporal Disturbance in the Blogosphere

At precisely 10:46 Central Standard Time, I visited flying hedgehogs. I saw a post written by Nikki who lives in Arlington (in the Eastern Time zone). Therefore, the time of the posting could not have been after 11:46. But the post is filed under March 2, 2005, not March 1, 2005.

Nikki, when did you learn time travel?

Internet Exploiter?

Who says Microsoft is a monopoly? Two independent reports discovered that the company’s Internet Explorer browser's market share dropped below 90% as people make the transition to open source browsers like Firefox.

Virtually all accounts justify the move that IE is inferior to so many others: it’s riddled with flaws, poor at blocking pop-ups and lacks enough security. So why is the share still so high? Critics of Microsoft sneer it’s because IE is written into Windows and you can’t delete it. But since Microsoft doesn’t make anyone use it, the complainant reduces to the fact that IE is a giveaway.

Again we ask why IE is so heavily used. It’s ultimately due to three issues: knowledge, trust and costs. Most people don’t know much about computers, thus they don’t know how good things can be and they don’t bother to look for them. Even if they find an alternative, there’s little guarantee the browser is better and virus-free. Microsoft may not be perfect but few believe its products will wipe hard drives. But by now Firefox is well enough known and trusted, these barriers become less significant (though most people don’t know how much better the alternatives can be, so knowledge is still an issue). But there are significant costs to a new browser, even if it’s free.

I’m using IE now and I’m looking to switch, but I’m also dreading it. I’m used to IE’s organization and want to avoid all adapting to a new one. I have scores of sites bookmarked and they’re organized in just the way I like it. I don’t want to bookmark all over again. And all of those little things—getting used to clicking a new icon, being comfortable with a new look, learning to ignore all the minute details I may not like—encourage me to put off the transition.

Most people just want to get online. I-Mac’s success demonstrated that. Plug it in, click the icon and start searching for porn. IE’s success isn’t due to force or monopolization, its laziness. But it looks like that’s slowly changing.