car sales on econtalk

June 9th, 2008

This episode of econtalk brought in the sales manager at the Honda dealership where Roberts had recently purchased a car,  but almost walked out before doing so on getting the sense of a "bait and switch" situation.  The discussion explains much of how dealerships are paid by the manufacturers, how they obtain cars to sell, and the pricing of those vehicles.  The insight I found especially relevant having been in the car market around the time of my listening to this.

The Market for New Cars (6/9/2008) - Steve Cole, the Sales Manager at Ourisman Honda of Laurel in Laurel, Maryland talks about the strange world of new car pricing. They talk about dealer markup, the role of information and the internet in bringing prices down, why haggling persists, how sales people are compensated, and the gray areas of buyer and seller integrity.

gold on econtalk

June 2nd, 2008

These two episodes discuss gold standard alternatives to fiat money as currently handled by the Federal Reserve, the context of fractional reserve banking, Fed interest rate actions effect on the money supply, and related topics. The discussion of the Bear Stearns bailout, near the conclusion, also stands out. Roberts poses the good questions of "why" and "how".

Gold, the Fed, and Money (6/2/2008) - Gene Epstein, Barron's economics editor, talks about the virtues of the gold standard relative to fiat money. Epstein argues that privately issued money, backed by gold, would lead to an economy with much greater price stability and fewer and milder recessions.

The Fed, Money, and Gold (5/19/2008) - Allan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University talks about what the Fed really does and the political pressures facing the Chair of the Fed. He describes and analyzes some fascinating episodes in U.S. monetary history, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the gold standard and ends the conversation with some insights into recent Fed moves to intervene with investment banks. This is a wonderful introduction to the political economy of the money supply and central banks.

perspectives on good things

August 26th, 2007

See this snopes article for the background, which references the original column in World Net Daily by Craig R Smith.

As for the content...

It is certainly true that we have electricity to light our evenings, and clean water to drink, a huge variety of other goods and services, and nice libraries with reasonable access in pretty much any community across this land.  These are all good things and represent the positive efforts of all of us.  I make some of these points when reminding people how well off we are in this country when compared to the population in the rest of the world.

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kitzmiller versus dover, 2005

March 24th, 2007

A couple weeks ago I heard on Science Friday and also the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, commentaries that referred to the recent court case pertaining to teaching of evolution in the public schools.  It sounded interesting, so I looked it up on line and found the transcripts at the address noted below.

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Bodies - I am an animal

October 8th, 2006 -- Seattle, Miami, Las Vegas, New  York

Last week Saturday was the exhibition opening.  We dived  downtown to 800 Pike, Seattle and saw ...

Bones, muscles, nerves, blood, breathing, internal organs, sex,  reproduction - everything the eye can  see in the human body,  stripped back layer by layer.

Two figures stand erect, holding hands and leaning back.    One is  muscle, the other bone - from the same person - in opposition,  supporting each other.  The only remaining skin surrounds the navel.

A later dissection shows only the central nervous system - a fibrous  ghost flowing  from the brain, nerve threads descending, tracing out  what once were arms, hands, fingers, and all the other branches of  sense and control.  At the head, the eyes and their nerves appear to  be popping out.

Little displays show the arteries and veins filling the liver, the  kidneys;  large displays show the general blood flow distribution  through the entire body.  The skin is it's own display - an empty  sack, deflated on a table.  The digestive system from mouth to anus.

A dissection focuses on fat - three vertical slices through the torso  and the rest of the body.

And the poses.  People stretching out to reach a volley ball, or  poised to make a free throw (none reclined to watch TV).  One subject  shows many surgical instruments and devices - forceps spreading  muscle, metal pins and plates reconnecting a bone section cut from  the skull, ...

One display is set up like a series of MRI slices from head to toe,  with cross cuts around the joints so you can better see those details.

Diseases shown with the affected organs - lungs, liver, ...

The embryonic and fetal development room was preceded by a warning  notice and a bypass door.  Inside were displays crossing the weeks  and months before birth, and a few serious birth defects.

One can get an audio accompaniment, and there are interesting info-bits posted here and there (there are about 1 in 9000 people whose  internal organs are positioned on the opposite side as everyone else).

At a docent's table they have specimens that one can touch - I picked  up the lung and gripped it - solid and rubbery from the preparation treatment

And if you had not already come to this conclusion, it is also a  little creepy.  They once were people, with unique hopes and dreads,  thoughts and dreams, style and affectations, skills and habits, ...   But of course they are not "them" in any sense of the word - merely a  pattern copied in a synthetic polymer.

Fascinating, nonetheless.  See it if you can.

Bradford Dies, Liberty Survives

January 8th, 2006

I discover in my post-holiday reading that R W Bradford has died of illness.

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New Orleans flooding - who's responsible

August 9th, 2005

Here's a related article from 2001 Scientific American that has been floating around the office recently.

Today I finally took the time to read it, and find the content quite similar to the 2004 article referenced below (flood is inevitable, wetlands restoration is essential, ...).

And these are just the popular press acknowledgments of the risks, so clearly the hazards were clear for years to anyone paying attention.

<begin rant>

So, who's "job" is it to pay attention?  I would start with the people closest to the action.

An unattributed source mentioned the national Sierra Club opposition to precautionary measures;  one could infer their homes weren't at risk and one might question the legal standing of such organizations to the disposition of local concerns.  The NGM in October 2004 mentioned local fish farmers opposition to mitigating steps;  I presume they were among those flooded out when the levy broke, so perhaps there is a just god (too callous?  let me tell you about the man who enters a talent agent's office to describe a new act ...).

National politics has an attention span of about a month, while projects like this require attention over decades.  So why are any of us surprised that Bush and the FMEA screwed the pooch?  It's a huge bureaucracy led by politicos and will always be that way.  Meanwhile people make plans expecting the FMEA to help out somehow in all their local emergencies.

New Orleans has floods which are very predictable.  Cliff's earlier post clearly revealed who had the most economic interest at stake - the port system and shippers, while the other references show huge economic interest by oil and agriculture concerns.  They are the ones who had the most to lose, but I'm not overly surprised they did not make it happen - why pay for insurance if the feds will bail you out?

<end rant>

Unattributed source:

"The national Sierra Club was one of several environmental groups who [successfully] sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop a 1996 plan to raise and fortify Mississippi River levees.

The Army Corps was planning to upgrade 303 miles of levees along the river in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. This was needed, a Corps spokesman told the Baton Rouge, La., newspaper The Advocate, because “a failure could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming, if they overcame them at all.”

But a suit filed by environmental groups at the U.S. District Court in New Orleans claimed the Corps had not looked at “the impact on bottomland hardwood wetlands.” The lawsuit stated, “Bottomland hardwood forests must be protected and restored if the Louisiana black bear is to survive as a species, and if we are to ensure continued support for source population of all birds breeding in the lower Mississippi River valley.”

In addition to the Sierra Club, other parties to the suit were the group American Rivers, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, and the Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi Wildlife Federations.  The lawsuit was settled in 1997 with the Corps agreeing to hold off on the work while doing environmental impact studies."

Election predictions, 2004

November 6th, 2004

I saw [LP Presidential candidate Michael] Badnarik in Seattle last year.  At the time I deemed his approach was too obtuse for the electorate, but supported his campaign.  One of my approaches this year was to point out the workings of the Electoral College, noting that Kerry was bound to win the west, so people around here could vote on the basis of factors other than simply the fear someone worse would get elected.

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None dare...

October 29th, 2004

None dare ... call it conspiracy (because maybe this really is a hoax)

"It" being whether the real story of the 9/11 Pentagon crash has been revealed.

Actually there are lots of people who would call it conspiracy, but not me yet...

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The power of hoodoo

September 26th, 2004

It is "Monkey Business", or maybe "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer", that has Cary Grant perform the following exchange with some stuffed shirt grup:

"You remind me of the man"
"What man?"
"The man with the power"
"What power?"
"The power of hoodoo"
"You do"
"Do what?"
"Remind me of the man"
... and so on.

What the hell - see them both.