Friday, August 29, 2008

Norm Stamper on the drug war

A must-watch video from Reason:

Stamper is an ex-cop who very eloquently lays out some of the basic problems with the war on drugs.

In related news:

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Celebrities are ordinary people

And, just like all the other ordinary people, they're ignorant enough to think that the next president can do anything about gas prices (Language NSFW):

Also, wah wah wah wah wahhhhhhhhhh. Read more.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Montauk Monster

What is this freakish, beaked, hairless, clawed aberration, you ask? It's a rotting raccoon. But don't let that stop you from speculating that it's a genetically engineered government warbeast. Or perhaps a creation of The Shredder.

For more in the department of Rotting Animals Sometimes Look Different from Whole Animals Because Different Parts Decompose at Different Rates (it is a fun department to work in), see the the ol' plesiosaur/basking shark mess. Read more.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Todd Barry on astrology

About halfway through this video. The language is probably not work safe.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008


Greg Mankiw comments on another unfortunate Obama quote:
Are oil companies, I ask, more morally culpable than other industries that would not be subject to Obama's proposed [winfall profits] tax?

"Not in the view of most economists," Obama replies. "I'm well aware of the argument (about) singling out oil companies rather than soda pop manufacturers," he says.

Yes, but what does Obama himself believe?

"I think oil companies are amoral. They want to make as much money as they can for their shareholders, which is what corporations do," he says. "The difference is the nature of the kind of outsized profits they make that may have no relationship to their investments or their production. The fact, for example, the shortage of refinery capacity could actually increase their profits so the less they invest the more they make indicates that you are not dealing with someone making widgets out there."

Obama is right about the amorality (not immorality) of oil companies. But he seems to suggest that oil markets are fundamentally different than others. In fact, in all markets, reduced production capacity would increase prices and, sometimes, would increase profits as well. That is why farmers can benefit from policies that induce them to leave land fallow. (I can't say about widgets--empirical studies of that market are hard to come by.)

Maybe Obama is saying that the forces of competition are absent in the oil market and that the deliberate decision by oil companies to keep capacity below competitive levels is the reason for today's high prices. That would be a logically coherent story, but not an empirically plausible one. It is not lack of competition that is keeping oil prices high but, rather, the basic forces of supply and demand. Even if you blame OPEC for noncompetitive behavior, that fact would hardly provide a rationale for taxing domestic oil producers, as Senator Obama is proposing.
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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Public Works

Megan McArdle explains something it seems several people don't know about these days:
the idea of using infrastructure spending as a stimulus is a complete fantasy. This is not your grandfather's stimulus spending. FDR could spend whacking great sums on dams and roads and rural electrification, and hope to have an immediate effect, because FDR was working on a multi-year depression, and in the pre-1960s regulatory environment.

Between the environmental impact statements, public review periods, and byzantine bidding process, the development cycle for anything more complicated than painting a bus station is now measured in decades, not years. This wouldn't even work to get us out of the ten-year Great Depression, much less the more modest recessions of today. As my father likes to point out, if Bush had come into office declaring that his number one priority was shoring up the levees in New Orleans, by the time Katrina hit they might, with luck and a huge amount of political pressure, have been ready to put the EIS out for public review.

If stimulus is your goal, public infrastructure projects no longer cut it. We've effectively signed this one off as a "never." Read more.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Your daily dose of crazy

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Hey hey, long hiatus

Not much to talk about in the way of politics, as I've been away from the blogs for a while, so instead a few quick notes about games I've been playing.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is just going through the motions. I like how lighthearted it is--it doesn't pretend for even a second that the main story is even remotely interesting, and most of the "story battles" are completely unrelated. Instead the game focuses on a lot of sidequests, which often tell little stories of their own. None of which are any good, but the game is just an excuse to fight some tactics battles and make a ridiculously strong party anyway. The reason this glorious shallowness doesn't work entirely is because the game is really, really, really long. Not so much if you don't do the side quests, but like I said, the main story is as boring as it gets. Once you get far enough into the game, the battles all run together. The quests are all the same. The characters have no personality. The stories aren't engaging enough. The law system has occasional little glitches that trip it up and make certain actions arbitrarily illegal.

So it was nice to go from that to The World Ends With You. Hey, Squaresoft still has some originality left? How absolutely lovely! Read Jason Moses' blog for a glowing description; I can't add any more.

I really wanted to talk about Lufia. I tried this game on emulator, years ago, noticed an immediately grating mechanic (as in the original Final Fantasy, if a character attacks a blank space where a dead monster is, it registers as a miss rather than attacking the nearest living monster) and turned it off. I got ahold of a copy recently and, revisiting it, it's really good. The monster-miss thing isn't a problem because 1) As in Dragon Warrior, monsters appear in groups, which will not suffer the monster-miss problem, and 2) As in Dragon Warrior, battles are really really fast. Very little flashiness to behold here. Get in, attack a few times, take a little damage, get out. People who are more Final Fantasy-oriented tend to hate this kind of presentation, but I'm ever-amazed by how much more tolerable it makes an RPG. Lufia's story is simple and poorly-translated, but I'm still compelled to keep going because I know how little effort and time it will take in the end.

The payoff, of course, is that it will (hopefully) give me a better appreciation for Lufia II, which I also never finished. Lufia II is a prequel, and in fact the throwaway characters at the beginning of the first game are the heroes of the second game, making the beginning of the first a huge spoiler for the second. Maybe. I've never found out if Lufia II adds anything more after the grim fade-to-black in the intro of its predecessor. I'll tell you when I find out. Read more.