I want one of these

I Want One:

A hoverbike that can reach 10,000 feet and 173 MPH. It can do this, if the claim is accurate, with an engine substantially smaller than my motorcycle's.

The expected introductory price is $40,000 -- a lot for a car, but not all that much for a private aircraft!


Michelle Bachmann for President:

The Wall Street Journal believes she is running, and so do I; for some time her fundraising emails have clearly intimated the intention to run. Sarah Palin has been running an obvious stalking horse "campaign" for some time, which means that she's been trying to draw fire from someone else: I suspect that Bachmann is that someone else. The recent sniping between a Bachmann advisor and Ms. Palin's camp is the sort of thing we'd expect to see with a stalking horse; the point of the action is to strategically communicate distance -- and suggest disagreement -- with the dark horse your stalking horse is protecting.

The importance of this approach to Rep. Bachmann's chances is the extraordinary success that opponents had in defining Sarah Palin. Rep. Bachmann will need nothing more than to avoid falling prey to the same systems of thought and rhetoric that were used to destroy Ms. Palin's chances. Today's interview with the WSJ shows her taking on the expected thrust directly.

Ms. Bachmann is best known for her conservative activism on issues like abortion, but what I want to talk about today is economics. When I ask who she reads on the subject, she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. "I'm also an Art Laffer fiend—we're very close," she adds. "And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises," getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like "Human Action" and "Bureaucracy." "When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises."


Her political opponents on the left portray her as a "she-devil," in her words, a caricature at odds with her life accomplishments. She's a mother of five, and she and her husband helped raise 23 teenage foster children in their home, as many as four at a time. They succeeded in getting all 23 through high school and later founded a charter school.
If you wanted to caricature the portrayal of Ms. Palin that was so effective in the media, you might say that it was 'three parts dumb to one part evil.' Rep. Bachmann, expecting to be portrayed as Sarah Palin II, is thus asserting an intellectual streak combined with a biography that is strongly pro-family and filled with acts of charity.

What to make of her choice of von Mises? My own favorite economist is Schumpeter, but von Mises will surely be reassuring to many of you. Here's the summation of "Bureaucracy":
[I]t would be a fateful error for the citizens to leave concern with economic studies to the professionals as their exclusive domain. As the main issues of present-day politics are essentially economic, such a resignation would amount to a complete abdication of the citizens for the benefit of the professionals. If the voters or the members of a parliament are faced with the problems raised by a bill concerning the prevention of cattle diseases or the construction of an office building, they may leave the discussion of the details to the experts. Such veterinarian and engineering problems do not interfere with the fundamentals of social and political life. They are important but not primary and vital. But if not only the masses but even the greater part of their elected representatives declare: “These monetary problems can only be comprehended by specialists; we do not have the inclination to study them; in this matter we must trust the experts,” they are virtually renouncing their sovereignty to the professionals. It does not matter whether or not they formally delegate their powers to legislate or not. At any rate the specialists outstrip them. The bureaucrats carry on.

The plain citizens are mistaken in complaining that the bureaucrats have arrogated powers; they themselves and their mandatories have abandoned their sovereignty. Their ignorance of fundamental problems of economics has made the professional specialists supreme. All technical and juridical details of legislation can and must be left to the experts. But democracy becomes impracticable if the eminent citizens, the intellectual leaders of the community, are not in a position to form their own opinion on the basic social, economic, and political principles of policies. If the citizens are under the intellectual hegemony of the bureaucratic professionals, society breaks up into two castes: the ruling professionals, the Brahmins, and the gullible citizenry. Then despotism emerges, whatever the wording of constitutions and laws may be.
Several of you could have written that (and, indeed, have written in my comments section minor variations of it at least several dozen times).

I haven't seen anything from the candidacy so far that I felt the least inclined to support; but I think that I shall back Rep. Bachmann in her run. I have disagreements with her on foreign policy (for example, I supported, and still do support, the Libya adventure). We have come far enough down the road that foreign policy is no longer the chief concern.


True Selves:

We all have different impulses competing for dominance, and a voice of reason trying to govern them -- or at least to prioritize and set means for obtaining those desired ends. How do we know which of these is our true self?

Yet, though there is a great deal of consensus on the importance of this ideal, there is far less agreement about what it actually tells us to do in any concrete situation. Consider again the case of Mark Pierpont. One person might look at his predicament and say: “Deep down, he has always wanted to be with another man, but he somehow picked up from society the idea that this desire was immoral or forbidden. If he could only escape the shackles of his religious beliefs, he would be able to fully express the person he really is.”

But then another person could look at exactly the same case and arrive at the very opposite conclusion: “Fundamentally, Pierpont is a Christian who is struggling to pursue a Christian life, but these desires he has make it difficult for him to live by his own values. If he ever gives in to them and chooses to sleep with another man, he will be betraying what was is most essential to the person he really is.”
The author points out that the philosophical tradition (which includes the Western religious tradition, here) is clear on the answer: and that most of humanity would really prefer the other answer.
If we look to the philosophical tradition, we find a relatively straightforward answer to this question. This answer, endorsed by numerous different philosophers in different ways, says that what is most distinctive and essential to a human being is the capacity for rational reflection. A person might find herself having various urges, whims or fleeting emotions, but these are not who she most fundamentally is. If you want to know who she truly is, you would have to look to the moments when she stops to reflect and think about her deepest values. Take the person fighting an addiction to heroin. She might have a continual craving for another fix, but if she just gives in to this craving, it would be absurd to say that she is thereby “being true to herself” or “expressing the person she really is.” On the contrary, she is betraying herself and giving up what she values most. This sort of approach gives us a straightforward answer in a case like Mark Pierpont’s. It says that his sexual desires are not the real him. If he loses control and gives in to these desires, he will be betraying his true self.

But when I mention this view to people outside the world of philosophy, they often seem stunned that anyone could ever believe it. They are immediately drawn to the very opposite view. The true self, they suggest, lies precisely in our suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions, while our ability to reflect is just a hindrance that gets in the way of this true self’s expression. To find a moment when a person’s true self comes out, they think, one needs to look at the times when people are so drunk or overcome by passion that they are unable to suppress what is deep within them. This view, too, yields a straightforward verdict in a case like Pierpont’s. It says that his sexual desires are what is most fundamental to him, and to the extent that he is restraining them, he is not revealing the person he really is.
>In vino veritas!

There's an interesting discussion in the comments between advocates of the primal urge school, and advocates of having principles.

Libya rapes

He said there were reports of hundreds of women attacked in some areas of Libya, which is in the grip of a months-long internal rebellion.

There was evidence the Libyan authorities bought "Viagra-type" medicines and gave them to troops as part of the official rape policy, Moreno-Ocampo said... "The rape is a new aspect of the repression. That is why we had doubts at the beginning, but now we are more convinced that he decided to punish using rape," the prosecutor said.
Agence France Presse, "Kadhafi 'ordered mass rapes' in Libya: ICC," June 9th, 2011.
Christian society found it necessary to transform chivalry, and in this way the knight himself was transformed into not only a defender of the Christian virtues, but into one who could be placed in the service of the defenseless, the needy, and the downtrodden.... As the Knight reads [in Ramon Lull's Book of the Order of Chivalry], we learn that God created the Order of Chivalry be cause the world was lacking in charity, loyalty, justice, and truth, for in deed, enmity, disloyalty, and injustice prevailed as well as falsehood.
Antonio Disalvo, "Ramon Lull and the Language of Chivalry," Mystics Quarterly (now called The Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures), vol. 14 no. 4: 199-200.

A reader sends this Czech master's page. That is remarkable work by a true artist.

Depletable Self-Control

Depletable Self-Control

"Why can't more poor people escape poverty? Psychologists have a radical new explanation," reports The New Republic. In the 1990s, studies suggested that exerting willpower in one context made it more difficult to exert it in others soon afterwards. Hungry subjects, for instance, were offered a choice between radishes and chocolate; the half who were instructed to take the radishes were found to be less able than the control group to focus on a difficult geometry problem. (Or maybe they were just too hungry?) The conclusion: exerting self-control exacts a psychic cost and leaves you weaker.

Later researchers expanded the concept to include any kind of trade-off decision, not merely a difficult resistance to temptation. Resolving conflicts among choices creates mental fatigue. Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir then extended the theory to explain why the poor stay poor: when you lack disposable income, you can't have everything you want, but have to choose to do without an alternative almost every time you spend a dollar. As a result, the poor get tired brains and can't get ahead. But if you're rich, "deciding whether to buy the [product] only requires considering whether you want it, not what you might have to give up to get it."

I find this logic hard to follow. For one thing, the rich are if anything overwhelmed by choice, simply because they have the income to buy so many things beyond the kind of basic necessities whose purchase can be put on something like autopilot. For another, there seems to be no evidence that people who've managed to lift themselves out of poverty are mysteriously possessed of a larger store of this precious, depletable stock of willpower.

And naturally the theory lends itself to a justification of exerting additional control over the people who are unlucky enough to become the objects of our charity:

All of this suggests that we need to rethink our approaches to poverty reduction. Many of our current anti-poverty efforts focus on access to health, educational, agricultural, and financial services. Now, it seems, we need to start treating willpower as a scarce and important resource as well. . . . [M]oney itself can go a long way toward altering the dynamic that leads to willpower depletion among the poor. Government transfers of money have proven successful in Mexico and Brazil, for instance. In particular, attaching conditions to these transfers—such as requiring school attendance, regular clinic visits, and savings behavior—may allow for an end-run around the kind of willpower-based poverty traps that too frequently seem to end with the poor making unwise decisions.

H/t Maggie's Farm

The Deadbeat Dad

Deadbeat Dad Who Represents Himself Has a Fool for a Client

I guess the family court judge had had just about enough of this guy, who was rash enough to go pro se. He got $14,000 behind in his $400/month child-support payments, and must have mouthed off once too often about the things he thought he needed to spend money on that were more important. The judge ruled that he couldn't spend another dime on the following items until he got current:

    • alcoholic beverages
    • cigarettes or any tobacco products
    • food or drink of any kind from a restaurant, bar, or tavern
    • cell phone
    • television
    • computer
    • any electronic device, except medical equipment
    • DVD, DVR, digital music or digital movie
    • recreational vehicle
    • recreational licenses of any kind, including hunting and fishing licenses
    • movie tickets
    • recreational event tickets
    • airfare or train fare
    • health club membership
    • sporting goods of any kind
    • ammunition, guns, or firearms
    • fishing equipment
    • camping or hiking equipment
    • jewelry
    • magazines
    • newspapers
    • cable or satellite TV service
    • Internet service
    • campground site
    • hotel room
    • any interest in real property, except his primary residence

He can still buy the following items, but only if he gets the Probation Department's prior written permission:

    • clothing
    • furniture
    • appliances
    • motor vehicles
    • household materials for renovations, except emergency repairs
    • books

I wonder whether it isn't a better idea to stick to the traditional penalty of "pay up or go to jail." It's never a good idea for a judge to be this involved in the details of someone's life. On the other hand, when it comes to listening to the endless stream of necessities that people will put before their obligation to cover basic needs and obligations, I feel the judge's pain.

Law and Order

Law and Order

I've been inspired by Grim's discussions of lawlessness, as well as his friend's wake, to use this space to memorialize our small neighborhood's excellent County Commissioner, who died suddenly last week at the age of 63. Murph was a public servant of just the sort I revere: patient, responsive to his constituents, frugal, modest, and warm-hearted without being any kind of a pushover. He was methodical and patient about plowing through legal and bureaucratic complications.

Nothing in Murph's background would have made you guess he'd have taken on this kind of headache when he retired. He never attended college. After serving in the Army in Viet Nam, he lived and worked here for decades as a superlative phone installation man. Then he became the kind of public servant who makes it possible for communities to maintain order without drowning themselves in government.

Murph's district for the last nine years was our little peninsula at the northern extreme of the county, cut off from the rest of the county by Copano Bay, with nothing much between us and the northern horizon but cotton fields and the national wildlife refuge. We call it "Lamar," and Murph started the tradition a while back of calling its residents "LaMartians." It lies outside the city limits of either of the two main towns in the county, and traditionally hasn't had much truck with government, local or otherwise. At Murph's funeral last week, the County Attorney reminisced about their early collaboration on his dock on the local bay. The CA had obtained a building permit but allowed it to expire, and was having the dickens of a time getting an extension. Murph finally said, "Heck, Jim, this is Lamar. Let's just build it." The state ultimately got around to assessing a fine, but it was only half what the permit extension would have cost.

On the other hand, Murph was prepared to use the law to protect nature in the form it takes here on the Coastal Bend of Texas. His favorite projects tended to be useful and cost-effective little pocket parks or public boat ramps that made it possible for fishermen to get their boats in the water in a pleasant setting that was equally suitable for picnics. Shortly before his death, Murph got the Commissioners Court to pass a somewhat controversial ordinance restricting landowners' ability to cut down oak trees on their own property -- oak trees being one of this county's claims to fame along our otherwise fairly treeless coast. The County Attorney challenged Murph, asking whether he seriously intended the new measure to apply in lawless Lamar. "If I call you and tell you that some troublesome old oak tree on my property fell down in the night, are you going to sic the cops on me?" he asked. Murph considered, then replied, "The leaves on that tree had better be brown."

Murph had a bad ticker. Several weeks ago, the warning signs became grave. But when his doctors advocated more invasive surgery, he said, "I don't think I want that. I think I'll go on and go to Heaven."

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Aieeee -- a Balrog

Aieeee -- a Balrog

The Puyehue volcano in Chile:

The linked Atlantic article has twenty more of these amazing pictures. Don't miss them.

As stunning as these images are now, imagine their impact on prehistoric man.

When the System Works

When the System Works

I know you've probably all heard about this case by now. Someone at Bank of America authorized a foreclosure on a house that had once had a mortgage on it, but apparently had been bought for cash at a short sale, free of the lien. When the bank filed suit, the new owners pointed out that they weren't liable on the mortgage. Somehow or other, the bank didn't agree, or didn't check, and in the end the homeowners not only won the suit but got a judgment against the bank for their costs of legal defense, about $6,000. Then, continuing with its policy of not getting it together, the bank refused to answer phone calls or letters for five months. So the couple's lawyer got a judgment lien and executed on it -- by showing up at the bank branch with sheriff's deputies, and asking them to grab computers and copiers and whatever cash was in the till. Within the hour, the bank manager had figured out how to write a check for the amount of the judgment. Hey, it turns out it really is possible to resolve this dispute! No hard feelings! The bank even apologized in a letter to the Naples News:

"We apologize to Mr. Nyegres that there was a delay in receiving the funds," Christina Beyer wrote in a statement to the Naples News. "The original request went to an outside attorney who is no longer in business."

The defense lawyer was identified as Todd Allen of Collier County, Florida, and I believe this is his firm's website. Good job, Mr. Allen.

To give you an idea of why publicity over this case should give heartburn to bigwigs at BofA, my mother-in-law mentioned last night that she had heard Bank of America was about to be closed down, and she wondered if she should move her bank account.

Malaysian Club

Malaysian "Good Wives' Club"

I'd like to put this story from Malaysia before our female readers and commenters.

"Islam compels us to be obedient to our husband. Whatever he says, I must follow. It is a sin if I don't obey and make him happy," said Ummu, who wore a yellow headscarf.

The club, founded by a fringe Islamic group known as Global Ikhwan, has been dismissed by politicians and activists as a throwback to Medieval times and an insult to modern women of Malaysia. But the group's activities, which previously included the setting up of a Polygamy Club, show that pockets of conservative Islamic ideas still thrive in Malaysia.
I love that the "Polygamy Club" is a hotbed of conservative thinking; and I'm quite sure that frank and open talk about sexuality by women, in public, isn't a throwback to Medieval times. For that matter, Islam was much better to women in Medieval times than it was in either its early period or the current one: see, for example, Catarina Belo's excellent article on the Medieval Islamic philosopher Averroes and his views on the role of women in society.

However -- beyond strongly encouraging you to take the time to read the Averroes article in full -- I'm not proposing to lead the discussion. We see similar proposals (minus, alas, the polygamy) from Christian groups from time to time. What's the value of them? How much is good advice, and how much is not?

Wake of the Highlander

Wake of a Highlander:

Last weekend, we attended the wake of an old friend of the family.

He was quite a man. As the photo indicates, he was famous along two separate lines: as a grand figure at Scottish Highland games across the South, and as a biker and racer of motorcycles. In his youth, he had been a member of the Matador Motorcycle Club in Canada; one of those who spoke of him at the funeral had first met him in those days, when the speaker was a boy. "He rode up and came toward the house, all dressed in leather," the speaker said. "There was another person with him, a female, all dressed in leather, and they were coming to the door. I ran and hid in the laundry chute."

My wife and I spent a good part of our honeymoon around his fire at the Grandfather Mountain Scottish Highland Games. He was the greatest natural storyteller I ever met. His gatherings were never short of stories, or songs, or drink, or good cheer.

Bird-Cage Liners

Bird-Cage Liners

What is college for?

Suppose I start a print newspaper tomorrow. I might think I’m selling excellent journalism, while my “readers” are actually using my product to line their birdcages. It might work out fine for a while. But the imbalance in this transaction would make it difficult to talk in general terms about improving the product or whether the product is worth what I’m charging. I might think I should improve my grammar and hire more reporters. My customers might want me to make the paper thicker.

In the college transaction, most parents think they’re buying their kids a credential, a better job and a ticket, economically speaking at least, to the American dream. Most college professors and administrators (the good ones, anyway) see their role as producing liberally educated, well-rounded individuals with an appreciation for certain kinds of knowledge. If they get a job after graduation, well, that’s nice, too.

The students, for the most part, are not quite sure where they fit into this bargain. Some will get caught up in what they learn and decide to go on to further education. But most will see college as an opportunity to have fun and then come out the other end of the pipeline with the stamp of approval they need to make a decent salary after graduation.

So does Thiel’s offer suggest that a university diploma might be most useful lining a birdcage? Yes and no. He has certainly undermined the worth of a credential. But it is universities themselves that have undermined the worth of the education. It is to their detriment that they have done so, certainly, but it is to the detriment of students as well.

I didn't spend very much money on my education. My college tuition was free, because my father worked for the university (a great perk that was extended to all employees, provided their kids could meet the entrance requirements). My law school tuition was so cheap that it was less than the cost of the books. I lived the traditional impoverished-student lifestyle. Because I emerged into the job market with minimal student loans, I never had to agonize too much over whether the whole experience paid for itself in increased lifetime earnings.

These days, though, I can hardly flip through a morning's reading without stumbling on analyses of what a college education is for and whether it's worth it any more. It sometimes gets me to thinking what I was really learning for four years as an undergraduate, and whether it was just an absurd elitist detour that resulted in an essentially meaningless credential.

Lately I've been encountering the argument that a B.A. serves as an expensive substitute for the IQ tests that employers routinely used to impose on job applicants, but which were outlawed by the Supreme Court in the early 1970s. An undergraduate GPA is not the same as an IQ score, of course, but the idea is that there is enough of a rough correlation to make the information slightly meaningful in the absence of what employers "really" want. Maybe, but wouldn't an ACT or SAT score do as well, at less expense in time and money? Another idea is that, although employers don't delude themselves into thinking that the average liberal-arts major learned anything useful, he at least demonstrated some perseverance and ability to follow instructions.

So what did I really learn in college that has made me more useful to employers? Unlike science and engineering majors, who clearly learned something useful, I mostly bounced around and took a variety of general-information courses in literature, history, art, and the most basic science and math. There's no doubt the experience was valuable to me personally, but it's not clear to me how it increased my later usefulness on the job. It expanded my horizons a good bit, of course. I think it taught me how to work really hard and pour myself into an intellectual effort rather than doing the usual high-school coast. Maybe the biggest difference between my college studies and my high-school work was the first glimmer I got of how humans put academic knowledge together in the first place. In high school, we're given knowledge in a survey form mostly as a fait accompli. College was the first time I started to see how scholars develop the knowledge in the first place. There has to be a great value in beginning to see my fellow human beings as agents and not mere subjects in the field of scholarship.

Still, when it came to earning a living, I relied on very practical post-graduate training in the profession of law, followed by more practical on-the-job training, not on my stimulating but impractical undergraduate studies.