Thursday, August 25, 2005

Fear and Two Questions

I tried to tell a colleague earlier this week that there were only two things that made me scared: talking to a beautiful woman and heavy squats. I was wrong. The fear of failure eats me like a rat would, in slow purposeful bites. I want to kick the damn thing to get it off of me, but I am paralyzed.

Karl Malone went to three NBA Championships with the motivation from this fear. Michael Jordan won six NBA titles without fear of failure. It is the difference between being good and great. As long as fear of failure consumes me, one cannot be great.

What would have happened if government did not take over money printing?

What would have happened if government did not incubate the internet?

Both of these questions are threatening to destroy my philosophical foundation.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sarah Vaughan Singing "My Favorite Things"

Two professors proposed an alternative to traditional economics. But instead of rejecting the idea that economics is science, they said that we have to adjust our methods to make it more scientific. One concentrated on improving empirics. The other concentrated on changing the limiting assumptions that handcuff economics.

Neither one has convinced me that they are right. Economics is philosophy, and one cannot make it more scientific without rejecting its didactic lessons. James Buchanan put it best, "Economics is a very peculiar "science."

It should be a fun semester.

There are two songs that stimulate my tear ducts: Dave Brubeck's "Somewhere" and Sarah Vaughan singing "My Favorite Things".

"Somewhere" reminds me that the emptiness man feels is matched by a Truth (God) that is somewhere waiting to be found.

"My Favorite Things" is lyrically and musically pretty simple, but Vaughan's unrelenting attempt to be cheerful in the midst of hopelessness destroys the protective shell that functional adults must erect.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I Might Be Breaking Copywrite Law, But Something Wonderfully Said Needs A Wider Audience

TIA Daily Feature Article

9. From Shindler to Sheehan

How Two Mothers Demonstrate the Convergence of Faith and Feelings

by Robert Tracinski

For the next issue of TIA Monthly, I have recently been finishing up a feature article on the life of Pope John Paul II and the Terri Schiavo case--and what they show, philosophically, about the relationship between faith and freedom. Along with the unenviable task of slogging through long, poorly written papal encyclicals, this work emerged me back into some of TIA Daily's coverage of the Terri Schiavo case. And while reading through the details of that case--particularly stories about Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo's mother, who fought against the court ruling which ended her daughter's living death--I got an eerie feeling of deja vu.

I was reminded of the whole "feel" of Schindler's campaign: her maudlin, emotional appeals to the "special bond" between mother and child; her imputing of her own religious views onto her daughter, contrary to evidence about her daughter's actual views; her unscrupulous campaign to smear Michael Schiavo as a wife abuser and murderer; her willingness to ally herself with any crazy fanatic or showboating politician, from abortion-clinic bombers to Jesse Jackson; her apparent enjoyment of the role of the victimized mother and the time it gave her in the spotlight--and, above all, the willingness of conservatives to play along with this circus, as when Daniel Henninger, in the March 25 Wall Street Journal (see came out in favor of "her poor mother, whose connection to her child-like daughter is more authentic and earned than anything that existed between Terri and Michael Schiavo."

Does any of that feel familiar?

Today, down in Texas, we have another mother, who is demanding an American surrender in Iraq, and her campaign has exactly the same "feel": her maudlin, emotional appeals to her grief over her lost son; her imputing of her own political views onto him, contrary to evidence about his actual intentions; her unscrupulous campaign to smear President Bush as a liar and "terrorist"; her willingness to ally herself with any crazy fanatic or showboating politician, including open terrorist sympathizers; her apparent enjoyment of the role of the victimized mother and the time it gives her in the spotlight--and this time, it is liberals who are playing along with this circus, as when Maureen Dowd, in her August 10 New York Times column (now only available in their pay-per-article archive), granted Cindy Sheehan an "absolute moral authority"--never mind the views of the thousands of other parents and spouses who have lost loved ones in this war.

Cindy Sheehan, in short, is the left's answer to Mary Schindler. And the circus surrounding both women is equally nauseating.

The common element is clear: each case is a pure, raw appeal to emotion. And worse, this is not an appeal to the viewer's _own_ emotional reaction--that is, it is not an attempt to elicit the viewer's own spontaneous evaluation in response to certain facts. Rather, it is an utterly second-handed appeal: it is an appeal to Mary Shindler's or Cindy Sheehan's emotions, on the expectation that this other person's emotions should influence or outweigh our own conclusions and evaluations.

This is another demonstration of the way in which the left and right support each other. Of course, the left and right disagreed in their evaluations of the two women and their causes. The left dismissed Mary Schindler, while the right reviles Cindy Sheehan. But both sides are united in their method: when it comes to issues that form the core of their agenda, they think that emotion overrules reason. And for each side, this is an ineradicable part of their basic philosophy: for the subjectivist left, emotion is a metaphysical issue, since emotions are the shapers of reality; for the religious right, emotions are a mystical tie to God, who is the creator of the world and the source of moral law.

And so, for all of the disagreement of the two camps on specific applications, these two women show us the convergence of the seemingly opposite methodologies of religion and subjectivism, of faith and feelings.

Grand Illusions

I talked to a successful PhD candidate. He said that to be a successful PhD candidate one must memorize efficiently. He also said there is no room for creativity.

I talked to a woman who had a degree in marketing and architecture. She said she could never understand economics, because it lacked practicality.

I explained to a colleague that a failed relationship was a sunk cost. She said that everything could not be broken down into economic terms.

The traditional economics profession will collapse. George Mason will become the premier economics program in this country. Those economists whom can attack practical problems and ingratiate themselves with wider audiences will become the stars and heads of economic departments. Those whom prefer "vain playing with mathematical symbols" will regulate themselves to math departments and anonymity.

As James Buchanan said, "Economics has a didactic role." Those economists whom can teach economic lessons will succeed. Those economists whom either do not know those economic lessons or cannot teach them will be purged from the profession.

I am right with the sunk cost analogy. If a relationship cannot be repaired, then there is no use letting it affect future decisions. There is no use crying over spilt milk. I know it is hard to do, and the Romantic in me will not let me forget the past either. But, economics does have a lesson when it comes to failed relationships. "Economics has a didactic role."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

"Stealing Hearts At A Traveling Show, For Love Or Money..."*


U.S. fact of the day

Total tsunami foreign aid from the U.S.: $908 million

U.S. tariff revenue from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and Indonesia: $1.87 billion

That is from Foreign Policy, September/October issue.-----Tyler Cowen

I do not know whether to laugh or cry. Why didn't Clinton and the elder Bush campaign for free trade? What saddens me about these facts is that every consumer in the US has lost pleasure because of policy that was proven ignorant two hundred years ago. If there were no tariffs, would there have already been a tsunami warning system? I do not know. There is no economic study that can show what has been lost and what will be lost without free trade.

*From U2's "Desire"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Personal Growth

I changed clothes in front of a homosexual and felt no animosity.

I think I could handle co-ed (co-rec) lockerooms.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Stupid Things I Have Done

I see this could-be model standing alone. I talk to her. She is studying statistics. She gives me the slip not once but twice. My testicles would not let her go. I catch her again and say, "I am trying to improve the relations between our department and statistics." The girl in front of me laughs. I just shrink into the little boy that I am. What do you do?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Quote For The Last Post

"An honest man does not desire until he has identified the object of his desire. He says: "It is, therefore I want it." They [the liars] say: "I want it, therefore it is.""

Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged
pg. 1036

How To Look At A Woman

A colleague (yes, the one who called me sexist) and I have been discussing sexuality, sexism, the degradation of women, and beauty. The colleague claims I am inconsistent. She is right.

Sherri Tracinski's short essay in today's TIA Daily on correctly examining a painting states my ideal much better than I ever could. She understands that I often get entrapped in a single feature and miss the greatness or mediocrity of the woman in front of me. I try to fully observe before forming an opinion, but sometimes a single feature clouds my judgment. I want people to thoroughly examine me, and I think women deserve the same.

A plug:

(Bold and Italics Are Mine, WB)
Painting: Princesse de Broglie, 1851-53, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Thanks to TIA Daily reader Phillip Schearer, who recommended this painting, saying "if this ain't a thing of beauty, nothing is." I heartily agree. I've linked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's page on this painting for two reasons--this image has the best color representation I've found of this painting, and the museum's site allows you to zoom in to see close-up details of the painting.

There are many different elements that must be present in a work of art for me to consider it good, and an artist has to excel at nearly all of those elements for me to consider a work of art great. As an architect, I am quite used to talking to people about their sense-of-life reactions to a very wide range of things--from the kitchen sink to their most treasured reactions to artworks. And the one constant I've noticed in people's reactions to paintings is that for the most part, they tend to focus on their favorite element while ignoring the other elements of an artwork.

I see people gushing over so-so work because one element of the work hits them on an emotional level--while the rest of the work is merely mediocre. And I see other people react harshly to something truly great because of one tiny element that rubs them the wrong way. In both cases, these reactions are the understandable automatic emotional reactions of their sense of life. But without ever looking carefully at your reactions, you could be gushing over mediocrity while entirely missing greatness.

So when you first look at this painting, note your most positive and most negative reaction about the painting, making your own judgment of this painting's greatness. And then at the end, ask yourself if you considered all of the elements of the painting. If your reaction was anything like Phillip Schearer's, what caused you to declare that this painting beautiful? Is it the princess's physical beauty, the lovingly painted details of the scene, the gentle color harmony, or the calm peacefulness of the scene? And if you look at this painting and declare it terrible, what brings you to that conclusion? Does the subject matter bother you? Do you find a portrait of a woman just standing there lacking in greatness? Do you wish there were more fire in her eye to indicate some conviction or strength of character? Or do the excesses of royalty make you cringe at the exorbitant taxes taken from the rest of society?

Let's take a look at the various elements of this work of art and discover what is good about this painting.
Let's begin by looking at the subject matter--a richly and beautifully cloaked princess. Zoom in to her face and take a look at her expression. While her features are delicate, feminine, and pretty, I can understand someone's reaction to wanting to see something more in her face--some more intense focus, some deeper emotion, some fire of conviction that would provide that emotional fuel we all look for in art. And what about what the princess is doing? She isn't creating anything, she isn't fighting for any value, she is merely leaning against a gold silk chair. My guess is that for those of you who don't see greatness in this work, your response against its might be because you find its subject matter lacking--and that is the weakest aspect of this painting.
It is a natural tendency for people to react to artwork by subject matter alone--subject matter is often the first, and sometimes the only, element of a work of art that generates an emotional response for people. But there are also many other elements to consider.

Take a look at the composition of this painting--it has a calmness and a serenity to it. The princess, all dressed in finery, rests against a chair of equal finery. The background is left quite simple by comparison and is painted in shadow so that our attention is drawn to the princess and the chair. Though our focus is allowed to linger of the richness of the fabrics, the delicacy of the lace, the preciousness of her jewelry, we are eventually drawn to her face. And we wonder, is she waiting to go out for the evening or has she just returned? She rests with her arms on her white wrap with a gold brocade edge, her fan, gloves, and a fine hat rest on the seat of the chair. Notice how the simple composition of all the details of the painting let our eyes travel slowly around the painting, quietly resting on her face. The painter has created a journey for our eyes through the painting that is as languid and calm as the princess.

Then notice the color harmony of this painting. Though the colors (the bright blue of her gown and the rich gold of the chair) are vivid and quite contrasting, we get the sense that all of the colors in this painting blend together to create the world of this painting. Learning to notice when color harmony is present and absent in a painting takes some careful observation. But greater still is the observation skills required of the artist who is able to create color harmony.

Color harmony is a natural aspect of our world and a very important element of good representational art where the laws of physics apply--including the laws of optics. When color harmony is absent in a painting, the painting looks as if it were a coloring book image--each spot of color is filled in with its own color, without thought to the colors next to it.

Then notice the exquisite detail of each material in this painting. Her skin is luminous and like porcelain. Her hair has the beautiful sheen that comes from exquisite care. The gold of her jewelry and the pearls on her wrist have a magnificent luster to them. The lace on her sleeves shine like the gossamer wings of a dragonfly. And the heavy richness of the silks of her dress and the damask of the chair beautifully gleam like only fine silks can.

So the next time you find yourself drawn to a work of art, pause to notice if it measures up in just one element, making it merely so-so, or perhaps good. The great works of art excel in every element--and noticing every element of a work of art can greatly increase your joy in viewing it.

-- Sherri Tracinski
From today's TIA Daily

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Career Intern Is An Oxymoron

No one ever said the US Government makes sense.

Monday, August 08, 2005


Read the article. It discusses the lack of rational thought in today's society.

My father always credited my mother with my academic success. She reads all of the time. But, she does not read anything of importance. She reads modern fairy tales. My father does not read much anymore, but he made me read thought provoking books. When I was twelve or thirteen, he suggested I read Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. He also suggested I read On the Beach about a nuclear apocalypse. My mother has never read any of these books. I tried to get her to read The Plague, but she could not finish it. She did finish Nickel and Dimed though. I love my mother. She is a great nurse and a better person, but I see that she is part of the problem. She is susceptible to irrationality.


Modern economists know math but have no common sense. Smith and Ricardo explained trade completely without any calculus. Calculus has its merits, but economics does not need it.

Everyone should have to learn the implications of the Edgeworth Box Diagram.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

AgNews Today, August 4, 2005

I have never seen so much whining in my life.


Mr. Johanns, two wrongs do not make a right. It does not matter if other countries are subsidizing agriculture, we should not subsidize agriculture.


US taxpayers are going to pay Californian farmers for eliminating peach orchards. What do the taxpayers get in return? Higher peach prices.


"Maryland farmers want ... assurances that their way of life will endure..."

I want to continue to go to school forever, look at eighteen year old girls, and basically do nothing all day. Can I get an assurance that my way of life will endure? Maryland farmers should have to watch the ESPN special on the armless and legless professional fisherman. He just wants to be treated like all other fishermen. He does not want handouts or assurances.

I could go on, but I have to act like I am doing something.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"Less Profit"

I saw some condos today. They were cheap but had plenty of flaws. I start asking the presenter about the company renovating and selling the condos, and she says the company's mission is to build affordable college housing. I ask her if the company was non-profit. She said, "no, they make less profit than they could make." I laugh. She asks, "what is so funny?" I told her I was an economist and less profit meant out-of-business. I do not think she appreciated my humor.

I cannot stand when people tell me that they are giving me a good deal. I am the only one who can decide how happy I am.

An appropriate F.A. Hayek quote:

"If we allow freedom because we presume them to be reasonable beings, we also must take it worth their while to act as reasonable beings by letting them bear the consequences of their decisions. This does not mean that a man will always be assumed to be the best judge of his interests; it means merely that we can never be sure who knows them better than he and that we wish to make full use of the capacities of all those who may have something to contribute to the common effort of making our environment serve human purposes. "

As Compared to What?

Don Boudreaux says, "the economist's question is 'as compared to what?'" In other words, what are the opportunity costs of a decision.

Below is a link to a movie review. The movie supposedly 'humanizes trade' and 'the consequences of globalization.' I have not seen the movie, but the director (and reviewer) probably never asked the economist's question.

Something has to come over on those planes that is more valuable than the fish they are sending back. Was life better when Tanzinians were subsistence farmers?

Below is a commentary asking the economist's question and debunking retro-hippie theory. Wal-Mart is not evil; they are just efficient. Wal-Mart decreases rural poverty without the help of any land grant universities.

Will the rural poverty experts will ever read this research?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Protectionists Win

I was watching C-SPAN and caught a CAFTA speech by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. I got so mad, I jumped off the couch, and started cussing the TV. My grandfather and mother just stared at me. My dog got scared and jumped on my mother. I think I was completely justified. All that was coming out of her mouth were fallacies. It is sad that our nation's leaders do not have a basic education in economics.

When the world learns to trade, there will be no wars.

The US cannot expect China to keep buying US dollars if the US does not allow China to spend them.

Hey Baby, I Have A King Sized Bed At The Super 8 And All Night To Play

My last four days:

1. I declined the chance to live with three beautiful women for ten days.

2. I knocked down every 1950s asbestos-filled ceiling tile in my room when moving my mattress.

3. My realtor called with an attractive property after I signed a 4-month lease.

4. I worked at our video store for ten hours and realized that my father was managing it better than I could.

5. I ate and ate, but I have not exercised.

6. I hung around the local grocery store for an hour and realized that if I had any courage, I could be a millionaire.

7. The Super 8 does not allow you to order porn on the TV, but it does have wireless access allowing the same effect for less money.

This extended weekend is proof that economics is in everything:

1. Subjective Utility 2. Liability and Property Rights 3. Sunk Cost and Principle-Agent Problem 4. Wage Equals Marginal Productivity 5. Choice 6. Risk and Return 7. Opportunity Cost