Jon Stewart Skewers Media Bias Against Libertarian Ron Paul

The hilarious (but also seriously sad) clip above is embedded from the Mon., August 15, 2011 “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
(Note: I thank Deirdre McCloskey for letting me know about the clip.)

Cougar Dies in Connecticut Three Months AFTER Government Declares It Extinct

(p. A19) Boulder, Colo.
You have to admit, the cat had moxie.
The 140-pound cougar that was spotted last month among the estates of Greenwich — and was later struck and killed on the Wilbur Cross Parkway — has been the talk of southern Connecticut. New England, along with most of the Eastern United States, hasn’t been cougar country since the 19th century, when the animals were exterminated by a killing campaign that started in colonial times. So where had this cougar come from?
Now we know the answer, and it couldn’t be more astonishing. Wildlife officials, who at first assumed the cat was a captive animal that had escaped its owners, examined its DNA and concluded that it was a wild cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota. It had wandered at least 1,500 miles before meeting its end at the front of an S.U.V. in Connecticut. That is one impressive walkabout.
You have to appreciate this cat’s sense of irony, too. The cougar showed up in the East just three months after the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar extinct, a move that would exempt the officially nonexistent subspecies of the big cat from federal protection. Perhaps this red-state cougar traveled east to send a message to Washington: the federal government can make pronouncements about where cougars are not supposed to be found, but a cat’s going to go where a cat wants to go.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID BARON “The Cougar Behind Your Trash Can.” The New York Times (Fri., July 29, 2011): A19.
(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated July 28, 2011.)

“A Brilliant and Exhilarating and Profoundly Eccentric Book”


“David Deutsch.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. 16) David Deutsch’s “Beginning of Infinity” is a brilliant and exhilarating and profoundly eccentric book. It’s about everything: art, science, philosophy, history, politics, evil, death, the future, infinity, bugs, thumbs, what have you. And the business of giving it anything like the attention it deserves, in the small space allotted here, is out of the question. But I will do what I can.
. . .
The thought to which Deutsch’s conversation most often returns is that the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, or something like it, may turn out to have been the pivotal event not merely of the history of the West, or of human beings, or of the earth, but (literally, physically) of the universe as a whole.
. . .
(p. 17) Deutsch’s enthusiasm for the scientific and technological transformation of the totality of existence naturally brings with it a radical impatience with the pieties of environmentalism, and cultural relativism, and even procedural democracy — and this is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes creepy. He attacks these pieties, with spectacular clarity and intelligence, as small-­minded and cowardly and boring. The metaphor of the earth as a spaceship or life-­support system, he writes, “is quite perverse. . . . To the extent that we are on a ‘spaceship,’ we have never merely been its passengers, nor (as is often said) its stewards, nor even its maintenance crew: we are its designers and builders. Before the designs created by humans, it was not a vehicle, but only a heap of dangerous raw materials.” But it’s hard to get to the end of this book without feeling that Deutsch is too little moved by actual contemporary human suffering. What moves him is the grand Darwinian competition among ideas. What he adores, what he is convinced contains the salvation of the world, is, in every sense of the word, The Market.

For the full review, see:
DAVID ALBERT. “Explaining it All: David Deutsch Offers Views on Everything from Subatomic Particles to the Shaping of the Universe Itself.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., August 14, 2011): 16-17.
(Note: ellipses between paragraphs added; ellipsis in Deutsch quote in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated August 12, 2011 and has the title “Explaining it All: How We Became the Center of the Universe.”)

Book under review:
Deutsch, David. The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World. New York: Viking Adult, 2011.

“How Painfully Dim the World Was before Electricity”

(p. 112) We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle – a good candle – provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100-watt light bulb. Open your refrigerator door and you summon forth more light than the total amount enjoyed by most households in the eighteenth century. The world at night for much of history was a very dark place indeed.

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

A Case for Epistemic and Technological Optimism


Source of book image:

Horgan is well-known for writing a pessimistic book about the future of science. For him to write such a positive review of a book that reaches the opposite conclusion, is impressive (both about him and the book he is reviewing).
From Horgan’s review and the reviews on Amazon as of 8/7/11, I view the Deutsch book as potentially important and profound. (I will write more when I have read it.)

(p. 17) . . . Mr. Deutsch knocks my 1996 book, “The End of Science,” for proposing that the glory days of science–especially pure science, the effort to map out and understand reality–may be over. Mr. Deutsch equates my thesis with “dogmatism, stagnation and tyranny,” all of which, for the record, I oppose. But he makes the case for infinite progress with such passion, imagination and quirky brilliance that I couldn’t help enjoying his argument. More often than not I found myself agreeing with him–or at least hoping that he is right.
. . .
If we acknowledge our imperfections, Mr. Deutsch observes, then, paradoxically, there is no problem that we cannot tackle. Death, for instance. Or the apparent incompatibility between the two pillars of modern physics, quantum theory and general relativity. Or global warming, which Mr. Deutsch believes we can overcome through innovation rather than drastic cutbacks in consumption. He gores the sacred cow of “sustainability”: Societies are healthiest, he declares, not when they achieve equilibrium but when they are rapidly evolving.

For the full review, see:
JOHN HORGAN. “BOOKSHELF; To Err Is Progress; How to foster the growth of scientific knowledge: accept that it is limited no matter how definitive it may seem.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JULY 20, 2011): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Source information on book under review:
Deutsch, David. The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World. New York: Viking Adult, 2011.

Chinese Government High-Speed Trains Are Financial “Black Holes”

(p. A11) BEIJING-A high-speed train from Beijing is scheduled to glide into Shanghai’s Hongqiao railway station on Thursday after its inaugural run, an event meant to showcase China’s technological prowess but one that lately has become part of a national debate about the pitfalls of megainvestment projects.
. . .
Detractors focus on corruption and safety problems that have lately tarnished the project’s image. Pricey tickets, they say, underscore China’s already huge rich-poor gap–and doom the trains to run half-empty, straining the national budget for years to come.
. . .
“Physically, they are good assets,” says Ding Yuan, an accounting professor at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. “Financially, they are all black holes.”
More broadly, the high-speed rail problems underscore the shortcomings of a growth strategy that depends ever more heavily on investment in projects whose economic payoffs are uncertain.
. . .
Railways Minister Liu Zhijun proselytized for high-speed rail, telling leaders from Hubei province in January that they needed to “seize the rare opportunity to accelerate the development of the railway,” according to a Railways Ministry report.
. . .
Government spending on rail projects ballooned from 155 billion yuan in 2006 ($24 billion) to a budgeted 745 billion yuan ($115 billion) in 2011, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. The ministry’s debt ballooned to about 5% of GDP in the first quarter of 2011 from about 2% in 2007.
The project’s flaws became painfully clear in February, when Mr. Liu was fired amid allegations that he embezzled around $30 million. Although government investigators didn’t cite criticisms of the railway project, Mr. Liu’s successor, Sheng Guangzu, has scaled back plans to focus on projects already under construction, rather than expansion. Railway consultants say work has been suspended on new lines, including Hubei projects the fired minister was pushing.

For the full story, see:
BRIAN SPEGELE and BOB DAVIS. “High-Speed Train Links Beijing, Shanghai; Cornerstone of China’s Rail Expansion Illustrates Megaprojects’ Speed Bumps.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JUNE 29, 2011): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Krugman’s Ultimate Keynesian Solution to Economic Crisis: Pretend Space Aliens Are Invading

I was watching economists Kenneth Rogoff and Paul Krugman being interviewed by Fareed Xakaria on the CNN show “Fareed Zakaria GPS” in the late morning on Sunday, August 14, 2011. I started laughing when I heard Krugman suggest that a perfectly acceptable Keynesian solution to the economic crisis would be for scientists to pretend that space aliens were invading earth. (We then would pull together and get everyone employed.)
What we actually need is less government deception and less government intervention, so that entrepreneurs can go back to creating new products, new businesses, and new jobs.
Here is a transcript of the relevant part of the interview:

Ken Rogoff: Infrastructure spending, if it were well-spent, that’s great. I’m all for that. I’d borrow for that, assuming we’re not paying Boston Big Dig kind of prices for the infrastructure.

Fareed Zakaria: But even if you were, wouldn’t John Maynard Keynes say that if you could employ people to dig a ditch and then fill it up again, that’s fine, they’re being productively employed, they’ll pay taxes, so maybe Boston’s Big Dig was just fine after all.
Paul Krugman: Think about World War II, right? That was actually negative social product spending, and yet it brought us out.
I mean, probably because you want to put these things together, if we say, “Look, we could use some inflation.” Ken and I are both saying that, which is, of course, anathema to a lot of people in Washington but is, in fact, what basic logic says.
It’s very hard to get inflation in a depressed economy. But if you had a program of government spending plus an expansionary policy by the Fed, you could get that. So, if you think about using all of these things together, you could accomplish a great deal.
If we discovered that space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months. And then if we discovered, oops, we made a mistake, there aren’t any aliens, we’d be better –
Ken Rogoff: And we need Orson Welles, is what you’re saying.
Paul Krugman: No, there was a Twilight Zone episode like this in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace. Well, this time…we need it in order to get some fiscal stimulus.

Source of embedded clip and transcipt: “GPS this Sunday: Krugman calls for space aliens to fix U.S. economy?” posted August 12, 2011, 2:09 PM; aired Sunday, August 14, 2011. URL:

(Note: bold in original; the ellipsis in the final paragraph is in the original CNN transcript. Here is a transcipt of the final paragraph without the ellipsis: “KRUGMAN: No, there was a “Twilight Zone” episode like this in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace. Well, this time, we don’t need it, we need it in order to get some fiscal stimulus.” The source of this transcript is the News Busters blog at: )
(Note: Commenting on the CNN blog entry, “Wild Bill” suggested that the source for Krugman’s policy advice was not an episode in the “Twilight Zone” series, as Krugman had said, but the “Architects of Fear” episode that aired in 1963 on the “Outer Limits” series. In spite of this error, “Wild Bill” maintains that the “dude is still a flippin’ genius.”)

Inventor of Mason Jar Died Poor, Alone and Forgotten

(p. 74) In 1859 an American named John Landis Mason solved the challenge that the Frenchman François (or Nicolas) Appert had not quite mastered the better part of a century before. Mason patented the threaded glass jar with a metal screw-on lid. This provided a perfect seal and made it possible to preserve all kinds of foods that would previously spoil. The Mason jar became a huge hit everywhere, though Mason himself scarcely benefited from it. He sold the rights in it for a modest sum, then turned his attention to other inventions – a folding life raft, a case for keeping cigars fresh, a selfdraining soap dish – that he assumed would make him rich, but his other inventions not only weren’t successful, they weren’t even very good. As one after another failed, Mason withdrew into a semidemented poverty. He died alone and forgotten in a New York City tenement house in 1902.

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

Consumption Is More Equal Than Income

HowAmericansSpendTheirMoneyChart2011-08-03.gifSource of graph: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.

Income inequality is widely derided. But inequality in consumption is more meaningful than inequality in income. The wonderful graph above, and the commentary quoted below, show that consumption per person is much more equal than the usually-used income per household.
(Click on the graph to pop up a larger version that is easier to read.)

(p. 14) It’s true that the share of national income going to the richest 20 percent of households rose from 43.6 percent in 1975 to 49.6 percent in 2006, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has complete data. Meanwhile, families in the lowest fifth saw their piece of the pie fall from 4.3 percent to 3.3 percent.

Income statistics, however, don’t tell the whole story of Americans’ living standards. Looking at a far more direct measure of American families’ economic status — household consumption — indicates that the gap between rich and poor is far less than most assume, and that the abstract, income-based way in which we measure the so-called poverty rate no longer applies to our society.

For the full commentary, see:
Cox, W. Michael, and Richard Alm. “You Are What You Spend.” The New York Times, Week in Review (Sun., February 10, 2008): 14.

Chinese Local Governments Hold Bad Infrastructure Debt

(p. C14) There is no such thing as a free stimulus.
At first sight, China’s response to the financial crisis looked cheap. A fiscal deficit totaling 3.1% of gross domestic product in 2009 and 2.6% in 2010 compares with 12.7% and 10.6% in the U.S. The reality is that it was considerably more expensive than that.
China’s response to the crisis came primarily from bank loans rather than central government debt. With many of those loans now threatening to turn bad, the cost may still end up on the government’s balance sheet.
The heart of the problem is debt taken on by local government financing vehicles in the course of two years of huge infrastructure investment. These are entities created and backed by local governments to get around legal constraints on their borrowing. No one knows how much debt they have.

For the full story, see:
TOM ORLIK. “Post-Stimulus: Who Pays for China’s Bad Loans?” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 23, 2011): C14.