Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nuther Debate

Inspired, I listened to another debate (see my previous post). For this one the proposition was this: Global warming is not a crisis. I am increasingly for that proposition, but I wouldn't be willing to place a bet. However, for the moment, I'm going to assume that the science in the IPCC is entirely correct. I'm swayed by others who have much doubt about some of the science. But let's forget that for now. Let's assume that the science is entirely correct.

Here's what I want to know: could we be better off in a world that's warmer and richer, than a world that's poorer and cooler? I think the answer is yes.

In 1900, a category 4 hurricane hit Galveston, TX. Sustained winds were about 135 mph. Estimates on the death toll from that storm vary from 6,000 to 12,000 (also here). The population of Galveston at the time was 37,000. This translates to somewhere between 16% - 32% of the population was killed from the storm. This was the deadliest natural disaster in US history.

Let's compare this to a more recent event: Hurricane Katrina, which is the deadliest storm in recent times. Many have argued that the strength and intensity of storms like Katrina results from global warming. And it's true, that the deadliest modern storm was a much stronger storm than the 1900 Galveston hurricane. Katrina was a category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph. This represents an exponential amount of additional energy in Katrina compared to the 1900 Galveston storm.

Katrina killed over 1800 people. Katrina hit an area with a population of over 1.3 million in the metro-area. As a percentage of population, Katrina killed about 0.1% of the metro-population of New Orleans.

A much more powerful storm, hit a much more populated area, and while still very deadly, killed many many fewer people. Katrina was a terrible tragedy. But compared to 32% of the population being killed, 0.1% is beyond astounding.

So why the difference? We're wealthier. That wealth afforded rapid transportation. It afforded telecommunications so that people could be informed. It afforded structures like the superdome so that those who had no place to go, still had shelter. It afforded satellites to monitor the storm. Computers to predict the track. Meterologists to estimate the impacts. It afforded people taking time off of work to go down and help after the event so that fewer of those who survived wouldn't perish in the weeks after. It afforded news coverage, not just to people in New Orleans, but to the world so that we could be informed that New Orleans might need help.

And all of that wealth contributed to saving lives when facing a natural disaster. If Katrina had the same effects that the 1900 Galveston storm had, it would have been a tragedy that would have been unequaled in history. 32% of the metro New Orleans area is 415,000 people. 415,000 people who's lives were saved as a result of the wealth that we currently possess.

So even if the climate scientists are completely right, they may be wrong about the best way to mitigate the consequences of global warming. Perhaps a federal law forcing carbon reductions is one way to do mitigate those consequences. But such a law also has costs down the road in reduced wealth, and not just a little bit of reduced wealth. A 1% reduction in GDP over the course of 100 years adds up to reducing wealth by more than 50% (compared to what it would have been). Wealth that might be better at saving lives than the carbon reductions are. Wealth that might afford structures deep under water and rapid transportation to them to avoid hurricanes altogether. Wealth that might afford technology that, in my wildest imagination, I would never come up with. All that technology and infrastructure deployable in the event of a natural disaster.

So, are we better being richer and warmer rather than poorer and cooler? I think we might be *MUCH* better off.

P.S. The title of this post stems from something that I say occasionally, but try to avoid, and that my wife says frequently while taking glee in my annoyance. Let me give you an example:
mjh: Hey! You gave all the kids a piece of the pie, but didn't save one for me?!?

wife: Calm down, honey, there's a whole nuther pie right here.
Of course, the "correct" language would be either "another whole" or "a whole other". It's funny that I stress about this, because language is an emergent phenomena. No one decides the rules. They evolve. I *should* accept "a whole nuther" as an emergent phrase with meaning that everyone understands. But it still irks me.


A friend of mine pointed me to the Intelligence Squared US debates. I *love* this. This is got me written all over it. Come up with a proposition, pick smart people on both sides of the proposition, vote before and after the debate, and see who changes more minds. Of course, the fact that I just love arguing may have something to do with why I like this so much.

On most of the propositions, I have an opinion and I find myself leaning towards one particular side. I am frequently surprised by how much I am swayed by the side that I didn't start off agreeing with, and how they are able to change my mind on some topics. While I like to think of myself as open-minded, it's not as true as I'd like it to be. I am ideological. I want to be open-minded, but on some topics I'm not. I simply don't believe the other side. So it's surprising to me that on some topics, I'm more open-minded than I thought I was. This is good news.

I've listened to a few of these debates. But there was one debate in which I found myself disagreeing with *both* sides. It was on this proposition: Universal health coverage should be the federal government's responsibility. I am very much against this proposition. But I'm not against it in the way that debate panel was against it. The panel against this proposition spent precious little time talking about the problem associated with 3rd party payers. They let the other side get away with the assumption that the only way to avert financial catastrophe associated with a health emergency is to have the government to pay for it.

Here's what I wished would have been argued.

Health insurance that we have today is unlike every other insurance that we use. Insurance is an effective tool for covering high cost, but low occurrence events. Think about car insurance. It doesn't cover the cost of filling up, or tire replacement, or engine checkups, or oil changes. It covers accidents, which occur very infrequently, but can be very expensive when they happen. Nor does homeowners insurance cover the cost of utilities or other activities that take place inside the house. It only covers rare, but expensive events.

These insurance markets work. They work because everyone pays a little bit into a pool, that then has the money to pay out for the expensive, but rare, events. If the events really are rare, then this works. Everyone gets to deal with the risk of expensive events, but no one pays a lot because most of the time people are only paying in and not getting coverage out. Most of the time it's worth it to pay a little out, on the assumption that nothing's going to happen, for the assurance that if it does, you're covered.

Unfortunately, insurance can't work when the covered events are frequent or common. And, this is how our health insurance works. It covers everything. Any time you go to the doctor, get a prescription, do anything related to health care, you use your insurance to pay for some or all of it. There is no system of insurance that can work efficiently when it has to cover every event, not just rare ones. This has prompted economist Arnold Kling to stop calling it health insurance and instead call it "insulation". Because what happens is that the "insurance" provider insulates us from the cost of the doctor's visit, or the trip to urgent care, or the prescription that we receive. We're still paying for it, but instead of paying the doctor $200 for the visit we pay the insurance provider $600/mo.

There are two problems that come out of this:
  1. Over consumption: People who don't know the cost of something, will consume more of it. In other words, we will start going to the doctor for everything, because we don't see a cost associated with it.
  2. Increased premiums: the insurances companies have to get the money to pay for the medical bills that we're racking up. The only way for them to do that is to increase the premiums.
And if you want to see this in action, you should try living on a health insurance plan that really is insurance instead of insulation - where you pay for everything yourself except for the catastrophes. I currently live under such a plan. Very little is covered. And what I've found is that the doctors offices simply don't know the price of things. I've gone to the doctor with my child trying to get stitches for a cut. Before I went in, I asked what this was going to cost, because I was going to have to pay for it. They didn't know.

Stop for a minute and think about this. Is there *ANY* other service provider that you pay for, where they have zero idea of what the cost is going to be?

The reality is that the doctor's office didn't need to know. Their job is not to let the patient make an informed decision about the cost and benefit of the procedure/service that is being performed. Their job is to do the service and take care of the billing later.

Do you know how much it costs to get stitches put into a kid? Only after the procedure is done, and you no longer have a choice to pay for it, you find out from the billing department that it costs about $500. This is an extremely routine procedure, which requires hardly any specialized equipment, and little training to perform. Compare that price with lasik eye surgery. Their are lasik centers who charge less than that to perform a task that requires expensive specalized equpment and requires significantly more skill and training. And the lasik surgeons offer free consultations *BEFORE* the procedure to discuss with you what will be done, what the impacts will be *AND* how much it will cost.

So why is there such a difference? Stitches are covered by insurance. Lasik is not. Every lasik surgeon knows that to win your business he has to make the cost/benefit case to you. Every *other* physician knows that he can earn a high wage without having to discuss it with you. The reality is that the cost of eye surgeries has been going dramatically down over the last few years while the cost of every other medical procedure has been going up.

My opinion is that the problem boils down to 3rd parties paying for routine events. I can't tell you how much I wish that most of the rest of the US had only catastrophic health insurance. We could then unleash market forces onto health care providers and get the costs down.

Now, that does *NOT* mean that I think we should get rid of catastrophic health coverage. I absolutely think people should have insurance for what is insurable: rare and expensive events. Also, I don't think that the best organization to provide this coverage should be the US Federal Government. But this problem can *NOT* be solved by replacing private 3rd party payers of routine services, by a public 3rd party payer of routine services. This problem can only be solved when there are pressures on providers and consumers to work on each individual transaction and determine what the cost and benefit is. No central government authority can ever hire enough people to know what health procedures people need or want most. And no central government authority can successfully lower costs by hiding the costs from the people getting the services.

Only a market that is free can do this.

So in summary, here's what I would have argued:
  1. Catastrophic insurance: good
  2. Government provision of catastrophic insurance: bad
  3. 3rd party payment of common events: *very* bad - whether that 3rd party be government or private insurance
Update: I can't take credit for coming up with this all on my own. I am highly influenced by the writings of Arnold Kling on this subject.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Facebook Privacy Rules of Thumb

As a highly experienced facebooker (all of 2 weeks now), I decided that I needed to write down the privacy rules of thumb that I am currently using to ensure that I don't end up like some the CMS school teachers:
  1. I never accept as a friend anyone that I don't know.
  2. I divide up the people that I do accept as friends into two groups: acquaintences and everyone else
  3. I make every privacy setting to be "Friends Only" and I exclude acquaintances (howto) from certain elements, most importantly pictures of my children.
  4. I never post anything to facebook, that I would not want those in my inner circle to know.
I may refine or add to these as I learn more about FB.

Update: If you're one of my facebook friends, and I've placed you in (what I used to call) the outer circle, please don't take offense. My goal is not to say anything at all about you, but rather to recognize that you and I are more of acquaintances than friends. I seriously doubt that anyone who's in (what I used to call) my outer circle would think that we are more than just acquaintances.

Hmmm... maybe I should relabel that group. Instead of calling them the outer circle, I should call them acquaintences. Think I will.

Update 2: Here are the places in FB where there are security settings that I think are important:
  1. Settings -> Privacy Settings
  2. Profile -> Settings -> applications settings page (Edit each application and change how it can be viewed)
(I note this here because I keep forgetting how to get to #2.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Will the left ever call for deregulation?

Matthew Yglesias writes:
Horwitz cites minimum wage laws and occupational licensure requirements as examples of non-beneficial programs. I’m not sold either way on the minimum wage, but definitely agree about the licensing. At the same time, things like rules that prevent dental hygienists from practicing without being supervised by a dentist aren’t being perpetrated by “the left,” they’re being perpetrated by dentists. It’s a classic example of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. And the question, to my mind, is what is to be done about it.
How about eliminate the rules? If the left really wants to claim that they aren't perpetrating this, then how about someone on the left calling for the elimination of these rules that are in place? These rules serve only to reduce competition. They place a barrier to entry on the hygienist profession, and tying those that exist to dentists. Thus they make hygienists more scarce and raise the price that they can command. This is the case, not just for dental hygienists, but for plumbers, doctors, and believe it or not, interior designers! That's right. You need a license from the government to design interiors. Because, heaven knows the dangers that could accrue to the public if this was done without a license.

So if the left sees the issue of licensure as destructive, what do we see coming from them? Do we see them calling for elimination of government rules? Do we see them calling for decreasing the size and scope of the government? Of course not. We see the left constantly asking for *MORE* government involvement in this process to correct previous bad results. Let me know when the left starts trying to solve the problems caused by government, without calling for more government.

Now, of course, Yglesias also points out that we don't see this kind of thing from the right either:
If it were the case that electing politicians who are given to waxing effusive about the virtues of free markets (i.e., Republicans) was likely to mitigate such abuses, I would look more kindly on such politicians. But in practice, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
On this point, he is, of course, correct. Which I would think would lead the left to exploit an opportunity to find the libertarian voters. But given that we're not as powerful as the interior design segment, that's not likely to happen.

The main point of Yglesias' article is that there needs to be a subtlety when it comes to deciding which government programs are effective and which ones cause harm. He would prefer a scalpel to a hatchet (to steal terms from the campaign). I think he's right that there are some programs that are doing good, but I take a much more conservative approach. In my opinion, history shows government programs mostly causing harm, and occasionally doing good. As a result, get rid of all of them. Then later on, put forth a case for why a particular program will be of net benefit. Make sure to use economics in the analysis, and then, and only then, should we consider bringing those programs back.

If we take the scalpel approach, we'll spend all of our time trying to demonstrate why the first program is doing harm, and miss the chance to cut most of the harm causing programs. If you agree that the vast majority of government programs cause more harm than good, this is a recipe for never changing anything. Which is exactly where we have been for the last 70 years.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Black Hole of Facebook

I've started facebooking. First things first: I had no idea what a powerful tool facebook is. I've connected with old friends from highschool. I've found out what current friends are doing and what they're planning on doing. I'm even using it to get to know my cousins in the Philippines! I'm thinking of pulling out my Tagalog text books from college and practice with my cousins so that I can surprise my mom. There is no way, going in, that I could have predicted that as a possibility.

But now that I've started using it, I've sorta gone crazy. I facebooked my father/son camping trip. I took pictures with my phone and uploaded them as events happened. My wife logged in and was able to see what we were doing. In less than a week, I've got 60+ friends, some of whom are relatives that I had no idea even existed. I have a facebook app for my phone, and I check it frequently. Facebook can easily turn into a black hole. Get too close, and it will relentlessly suck in all available time. It's already distracted me enough to keep me from blogging for an entire week!

And then I was struck by the need to be careful. I'm putting pictures, names and lots of information about myself and my family on facebook. Who can see this stuff? It turns out, by default, lots of people. So I've decided to restrict my friendship circles. I've limited my friends to only be those who I actually know and trust. Additionally, I've made just about everything about me and my family available *ONLY* to people who I accept as friends. I've had to say "no" to some people that I know because I simply don't know them well enough. I'm trying to decide if I need to take some people out of my friendship circle that I'd already put in.

And I'm suddenly feeling snooty. Like I'm saying, "Sorry, you're not good enough to be my friend. Go back to your caste."

I'm not sure what to do with this. I like facebook. I want to continue to use it to keep track of people who I've lost track of. I want to be able to tell them about what's going on in the life of my family. But I don't want to give anyone ammunition to exploit my family, which means I need to be careful who I call my friend. What to do? What to do?

Update: I discovered that FB has some really well thought out privacy capabilities. Here's a link that describes how you can be really specific about which friends can see what. I've done this. I've created a group on FB called "outer circle". These folks are people that I know, but don't really know all that well. They don't get to see pics of my family or my address or my phone numbers. But they still get to be my friends. If I wanted, I could keep them from seeing my status updates. Very nice.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Economist, Bryan Caplan wrote a post describing one of his favorite scenes from the show The Gilmore Girls. At the very end, he links to a previous post of his talking about regrets. I'm going to quote from the earlier post, but it helps to read both posts. Anyway, he says:

I don't regret anything in my life prior to the conception of my sons. This may sound like sentimental nonsense, but I tell you it's true. Here's my argument:

  1. Basic biology: A man produces hundreds of millions of sperm every day. Each of these sperm contains (half of) the genetic blueprint for a different person. The slightest physical movement changes the position of sperm.
  2. Therefore, any change in my life prior to my children's conception would have led my children not to exist. If I had crossed my legs differently, or walked to the frig, or even chuckled an extra time, the sperm would have been rearranged, negating my children's existence. I might have had different children, of course, but they wouldn't be the ones I have.


What I'm really saying is that if you love your children just because they're the ones you got, you have a special reason to be happy every day. After all, you can survey your whole life before your last child's conception and honestly say: "It all happened for a reason. I wouldn't change a thing."

This reminds me of the movie The Family Man with Nick Cage. It's basically an inverted version of It's A Wonderful Life. In the newer movie, the main character pursues his career with gusto, and becomes extremely rich and powerful. Until he meets his guardian angel who grants him a "glimpse". He is then transported to what his life would have been had he made one key decision differently. In his glimpse, he has a modest house, two kids, and an adoring wife.

The saddest part of the movie to me is when the glimpse ends. He knows that it's going to end and he's going to go back to his actual life. The relationships that he's built with his kids will be forever gone. It's actually worse than if the kids died. Then, he could at least remember them with someone else who knew them. Instead, his kids will be a memory that he alone has because when he returns, his kids never existed.

And this has me thinking about my regrets. I understand Caplan's logic. If given the choice to go back and undo some of the dumb things that I did, knowing that it would also undo my kids, I would leave the dumb things in place. I wouldn't even think twice about it. But I still can't shake the feeling of regret.

I suspect that the purpose of this feeling is to steer me away from a repeat performance. So in that sense, there is a value to regret. It's not that you should use the feeling to try and change past behavior (even if you could) but rather it's useful as a tool to redirect future behavior.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

She Works Hard For The Money

I am a Money Map Coach. This is one of the ministries in my church. It's a difficult, but rewarding ministry to participate in. I was doing a Bible study today related to Money Map Coaching, where I read this:

10For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

11We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

14If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.

And it struck me that this is difficult to reconcile with this:

42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'"

In this passage, Jesus seems to identify directly with the poor. And he tells us that when we fail to feed the poor, we are rejecting Jesus himself. But in the first passage, we have Paul (and Silas and Timothy) telling us not associate ourselves with those who don't work. Holy Biblical contradiction, Batman!

Or maybe not. I can think of two ways to reconcile this.
  1. Maybe when Jesus is referring to the poor, he's not referring to the people who are unwilling to work.

  2. Maybe, when Jesus is referring to feeding the poor, he means something other than just tossing food their way.
I have very little input on #1. It's a possibility that I can't rule out.

But #2 is intriguing to me. I think that it might be an important part of the correct answer. I think that to feed the poor, we need to do more than just provide food for them. We need to teach them to provide food for themselves. We need teach them the value of work. Poverty is humanity's default state. Do nothing and poverty persists. It is through working that poverty is beaten back.

But what is work? Who can create jobs? After the recent election season, all the candidates - at every level - tried to convince us that they can create jobs. I don't think that's true. When the government "creates" a job what they do is take money (through taxation) from one group and use it to fund the work. Unfortunately, doing this fails to measure what jobs would have been funded by the people who were taxed. Because they can't spend that money on their own, there's a bunch of work that can't be done for them. So when the government says it "creates" jobs, it does nothing of the sort. It simply transfers the jobs from one group to another - completely ignoring the relative value that the taxpayer would have been able to give and receive had she been able to spend her money as she pleased.

So, how do jobs get created? A job gets created everytime any of us do things that are of value to other people and then trade. In fact, that is the only way to create jobs. When that happens, both the worker and the employer are wealthier than they were before the trade. The employer, valuing the work more than the money, is willing to give the money in exchange for the work. The worker, valuing the money more than the work, is willing to give the work in exchange for the money. After the exchange, both parties are wealthier than before. And that wealth is new wealth. It's wealth that never existed before in the world. But the key is the value. To fight poverty, you must be able to produce value.

But, of course, God created us all with gifts and talents. Those gifts and talents were given to us for a purpose. That purpose must be of value because it's from God. Which means that every last one of us has something of value to share with the world. And every last one of us can fight our own poverty through using the gifts that God has given us. And then trading with others.

So when I hear Jesus calling me to feed him, I don't think it means only providing food. I think that's a start, but I don't think it's enough. I think it means helping people to figure out what God given gifts they have so that they can use them to fight their own poverty. I currently do this as a Money Map Coach. I want to help people fight their own poverty by teaching people how to live within their means. Then, maybe they can find enough abundance to fund the projects that God has in mind.

That's what I'm doing to feed the poor. What about you? Are you just throwing money at them? Or are you helping them to learn how to fight their own poverty? What can you do to teach that?

Too Much Equality?

I know a guy who is a former NFL player and he recently discussed with me and some other guys what it was like to be in a locker room after the game, trying to get showered while female reporters were there trying to get interviews.

I understand that they are just trying to do their jobs. But if the situation were reversed, no female sports team would ever allow men into their locker rooms for post-game interviews. And they'd be correct to not allow that.

I understand why reporters want to interview in the locker room. The players are more likely to give raw, unrehearsed reactions to the game. Hence, it makes for a better story. Additionally, reporters have deadlines to meet. So they need those reactions as quickly as possible. But, frankly, I think it's a travesty that women are allowed to violate men's privacy after a game. If you ask me, no one should be allowed in the locker room after a game. Basic human decency suggests that a person (even a pro athlete) should be allowed a few minutes privacy to shower. But if that isn't possible, then it should be only men allowed in.

But maybe I'm wrong. Part of the criteria for convincing me will be that you have to be willing to flip all of the genders in your explanation, and still think it's a good argument.

I don't think it's possible. I think that there is a thing as too much equality. Men should not be allowed in women's locker rooms. Women should not be allowed in men's. Wishing for equality can't be taken so far that we forget that men and women are in fact different. And the behavior of both people will be slightly different when one of them is naked.


I woke up early this morning because I had a dream. In the dream, I was on the set of a movie that was shooting in the city I live. I don't remember what it was that I was doing for the filmmakers. I was important, but not in a way that would get me a lot of publicity - not even among the people working on the film. Still, I got to hang out with a few of the key people, most notably the star of the film. Who was, oddly enough, Michael Phelps. Yeah, the olympic swimmer. I guess in my subconscious, he can act, too.

Anyway, I'm sitting around the set doing something on my laptop and Michael stops by. We're just shooting the breeze, when he casually says:
Michael: Hey, do you know Angelu?

mjh: Who?

Michael: Angelu. She says she knows you.

mjh: I don't remember knowing anyone named Angelu. Who is she?

Michael: She works in the art department. She went to the same college as you.
Because, of course, Michael Phelps and I are such good buds, that he knows where I went to college.
Michael: Anyway, she says she dated you.

mjh: Is Angelu a nickname? Because I dated an art major in college named Annemarie.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, that's her. That's Angelu.
This news sent me into a tailspin. In college (in the real world) I dated Annemarie. We dated for 5 years. She was the first woman that I dated seriously for any amount of time. She was the first woman that I loved. And it was love - meaning that it wasn't just about me. It was about her well-being. But, unfortunately, it wasn't 100% selfless. And my selfishness resulted in my doing some dumb things. Really dumb things! Despite this, she stayed with me throughout college.

But when college was over, I had thoughts of marriage. She did not share these thoughts. In fact, she made it abundantly clear that it wasn't going to happen. I never officially proposed, but I broached the subject with her once. She said that she didn't know who she was. That she'd spent all of her life living in the shadow of her parents, only to come to college and meet me. Then she'd spent all of that time, seeing herself as a part of me. She didn't know who she was completely independent of anyone. And that's what she needed to go find out.

So I let go. It remains among the most difficult things I've ever done in my life.

I went off to get a job. She went off to grad school. We would call each other and chat from time to time. During one phone call she told me that she was seeing someone, and it was pretty serious. Up until that point, I had this thought in my head that I could swoop back in after she'd "found herself" and try to start over. But apparently she'd found herself and found someone else at the same time. I was devastated. Eventually, she told me that she was going to marry this guy. A few weeks after that, I made one more phone call to her. I told her that I would not be calling back, and I asked her not to call me.

A few years on from that, I realized that had I avoided the dumb things, the end might have turned out differently. And since that point, there has been exactly one thing that I wish that I could say to her. I want nothing more than to apologize, and ask her forgiveness. I want to tell her that even I realized how dumb I was, and that she was right to leave.

I tried to contact her once through a mutual friend. But Annemarie didn't want to talk to me. And ever since then, I've left it alone. I've never tried again to contact her, but I've always sort of hoped that I'd bump into her somewhere. Which is more likely than you'd think. When we left college, she went to one part of the country and I to a different part. I have since moved again to someplace new. Yet ironically, she lives only about an hour away from me. I only know this because during a few pathetic moments, I searched for her on the internet and found her. There were a few years there where she lived less then 30 minutes from me.

So back to the dream.

I stood up and walked away from Michael Phelps to go look for her. And I found her. She was sitting in a row of chairs in some back part of the set, chatting with a woman and bouncing a baby on her knee. I knew immediately that it was her child. Because that's the way that it works in dreams. She didn't see me, so I walked up to her and touched her arm. She turned to look at me.

This was my big moment. I could finally say to her what I've wanted to say for 16 years. But I didn't. I smiled and waved politely, and kept on walking. This is when I woke up.

I may never get to apologize to her. So here it is. Annemarie, if you ever read this, I'm sorry. I behaved atrociously. I hope you can forgive me. I fear, reading this, you may think that I haven't gotten over you. I have. I have a beautiful family and I'm happy. But I have this regret. That I hurt you. And for that, I am sorry. I hope, someday, to get your forgiveness.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

To The Left

Steve Horowitz has written an open letter to the left that really must be read, especially by those on the left, but really by most people who vote. I've made part of it my "quote of the moment" on the right side of this blog. What I will quote here is this:
I know, my friends, that you are concerned about corporate power. So am I. So are many of my free-market economist colleagues. We simply believe, and we think history is on our side, that the best check against corporate power is the competitve marketplace and the power of the consumer dollar (framed, of course, by legal prohibitions on force and fraud). Competition plays mean, nasty corporations off against each other in a contest to serve us. Yes, they still have power, but its negative effects are lessened. It is when corporations can use the state to rig the rules in their favor that the negative effects of their power become magnified, precisely because it has the force of the state behind it.
This is what I would want communicated to those friends of mine who think of me as pro-business. I am most decidedly not pro-business. I am in favor of institutions that effectively channel the self-interest of our entire society into social good. My friends on the left believe the only effective institution for that is the government. While I believe that the government is an extremely ineffective institution for this.

Government producing social good assumes that each individual in government can wield the power of forced taxation without becoming corrupted by it. Instead I think free markets do a much better job of producing social good. Because at the core, we are free not to fund the producers in that market. That puts a constraint on free markets that doesn't exist with the government. Instead, if government spending isn't serving us and we try to withhold that funding, the government shows up at our door with a policeman (with a gun) to arrest us for tax evasion.

In an environment where one institution is forced to serve our needs, and the other can force us to serve its needs, which one do you think will allow self-interest to become destructive?

Update: Here's the important closing paragraph of the letter:
Those of us who support free markets are not your enemies right now. The real problem here is the marriage of corporate and state power. That is the corporatism we both oppose. I ask of you only that you consider whether such corporatism isn't the real cause of this mess and that therefore you reconsider whether free markets are the cause and whether increased regulation is the solution.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Instructions from wife: Please go check on child #3. I asked him to wake up a while ago, and he's not down here.

Child #3 is 5 years old and in kindergarten. I went upstairs to his room. He was awake and sitting in the middle of his unmade bed in his PJ's. I stood there for a second thinking that my mere arrival would motivate him to move. (Yes, I am egotistical.) Realizing that I had less of an imposing presence than I had hoped for, I resorted to conversation:
mjh: Hey. I see you're still in your PJ's.

#3: [Shrugs]

mjh: You don't think we'd let you go to school in your pajamas do you?

#3: [Shaking head] No!

mjh: Actually, son, that's wrong. We'd be happy to let you go in your pajamas. How would you feel about going that way?
He thought for a second. Then his eyes got wide and he started getting dressed.

Score one point to daddy.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Do Not Call List

Where I live, we have early voting. I was able to go out and vote early last week. I had to wait in line about 90 minutes. Fortunately, the people that were around me were quite friendly. I very much enjoyed the conversation with them.

But, of course, politicians don't know that I've voted. And as a result, continue to call me to tell me about their candidate. Tomorrow this will end and I'm disappointed by it. No, really. I am. I decided a few weeks back to make a game out of this. Here's how a recent conversation went:
mjh: Hello

politico: Hi, I'm calling for the campaign of XXX and I'd like to encourage you to vote for XXX.

mjh: Oh. Ok. Tell me about XXX.

politico: [blathering on about garbage]

mjh: Wow. That's really interesting. Hey, how are you doing? You know I've read that the job that you have can be really stressful, calling people and trying to get them to listen to you about a candidate that you believe in.

politico: uh... yeah it can be, but [not even skipping a beat] I will feel a lot better when XXX is elected. He believes in a lot of things that I think will make life better for all of us. [blather blather]

mjh: Yeah. Ok. So anyway, considering how stressful your job is, how are you doing life insurance wise? I'm a life insurance salesman, and I'll bet you really don't have enough.

politico: I'm doing quite fine life insurance wise
[blather blather]

mjh: [interrupting for the first time] Do you have whole or term life?

politico: I want to focus on XXX [blather blather]

mjh: [interrupting again] I understand but really, would your family be covered in unfortunate event that stress of this job got to you?
Eventually, he hung up on me.

Another caller was persistent enough to talk to me for 30 minutes. At which point, I told her that I had voted earlier in the week, but that I was so lonely and it was really nice to talk to someone, especially a woman who seemed interested in me. I asked for her number. She hung up.

Is this mean? Yes. Do I care? Not so much. My wife, who is by far, the nicer of the two of us is even getting in on the game. Basically whenever someone calls and I'm home, she just stops them and says, "Actually I think my husband would like to talk to you." She then hands me the phone knowing full well that I intend to play with them. So if it's got her endorsement, there's really a limit on how evil it can be. My goal is twofold:
  1. First and foremost: have fun at the expense of a pest.
  2. Keep the pest on the line as long as possible so that they won't pester someone else.
Unfortunately, most of the political calls are recordings. But a precious few are people. I like to think that I made some "do not call" lists. Or maybe a "only call with recording" lists. Still with the recordings I answer the phone, and then lay it down until they hang up on me. I don't want to signal the auto-dialer on the other end, that it's ok to call pester someone else. Maybe they'll get a few less calls in that way.