Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Lost Liberty Hotel

I don't know about you, but I'd book a vacation here right away: Freestar Media, LLC.

Good Country Slogans

Sometime commentor Clupbert has his own blogs, on of which has some great tourism slogans for a list of countries. Very funny stuff: Extra Strength Boredom Relief. (Note: he's a SouthPark conservative, which means he's allowed to curse, so if cussin offends thee, don't say you weren't warned. Although you should read these anyway.) My favorites are Germany, France, Jordan, and India.

Ideas Andersoned? Won't Work

Not much to say today; I tried programming myself last night to dream about important lofty topics that I could blog about this morning. Where did it get me? I woke up in the middle of the night obsessed with the following question: Why did Captain Lou Albano lower himself to do that Cindi Lauper video? I am afraid I never got beyond the question - there really are no good answers to this one.

My bachelor existence ends tonight when I fly back to Wisconsin. I won't be blogging until July 5th. I'll leave you with some quotes and comments from Marginal Revolution.


This is from Marginal Revolution (link to the left):

Why should a woman take her husband's last name? So asks Eugene Volokh. His commentators adduce a number of reasons involving children, or a desire to change an ugly last name.

The cynical economist looks for signaling explanations for why the practice persists. By taking a man's last name -- a costly move -- a woman signals her long-term commitment to the relationship. The real question is why the man does not take the last name of the woman. Yes this is disruptive of the man's career but that is precisely the point. And don't more men wreck marriages than do women, therby implying they require more constraint?

Some men do take their wives' last names, and more choose a hyphenated version of the two names. But do they not signal weakness in a bargaining game? (Do you see any professional wrestlers named Smythe-Thomson?) Could signaling strength in bargaining games be worth more to men than to women?

In my case it wouldn't work for two simple reasons: Ideas Andersoned doesn't make any sense, and referring to myself in the third person as the Andersoner would be no less egotistical than referring to myself as the Hather, but lacks that certain ring that "Hatcher" delivers. Oh, and the other reason is that I wear pants (not always the pants, but pants nonetheless).


One of the Marginal Revolution guys wrote an interesting summary of an article that explains why rental car companies shroud their prices:

A interesting paper by Xavier Gabaix and David Laibson asks why some firms shroud their prices. Car rental companies, for example, advertise low rental rates but shroud the price of insurance and gasoline fill-up. One can understand why one firm might try this, but why don't competitors advertise their prices honestly along with the slogan, "We have no hidden fees. The other guys do. Draw your own conclusions"? Wouldn't such a firm win the competitive battle? Gabaix and Laibson show that if some consumers are naive while others are sophisticated, the answer is no.

The existence of the naive, who choose where to rent based on the advertised rental price and not the full price of driving, makes shrouding profitable. But the profits attract entry, leading to an equilibrium in which rentals are priced below cost and insurance and fill-ups are priced well above cost. Why doesn't it pay to advertise and price both services closer to cost? The reason is that sophisticated consumers don't want to buy at cost -- the sophisticated consumers want to buy from the firm that attracts the naive because the sophisticated consumers know to reject the supplemental insurance and return the car after gassing it up themselves, thereby taking advantage of the low rental rate and avoiding high markups. Notice that shrouding doesn't benefit the firms that shroud (competition reduces their profits to normal); instead, it causes the dumb to subsidize the smart.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Explaining Political Hatred

Anonymous, if that really is his name' left the following comments; I've edited them down to those I'd like to comment on:

Lefties hate Rove for his words and deeds, which they believe damage their country ... Anyway, this interpretation of Rove's effect on the nation's laws naturally morphs into hatred of Rove the person.

It's not as clear to me that conservatives' hatred of the Clintons is so closely tied to their effect on policy. Bill contributed to some things that principled conservatives should have found acceptable ( actually ending welfare as we knew it, pushing free trade, eliminating the deficit while concurrently cutting taxes for significantly more Americans than for whom they were raised), yet the hatred was unrelenting. In the 90's , I used to ask my Clinton-hating friends to name 3 policy changes ( i.e., differences with Reagan and/or H.W.) that they disagreed with; in the admittedly small and possibly non-representative sample, no one could do it ( although I'm sure that Hatcher could rise to the challenge). They instead seemed fixated on his private morality. At the time, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, figuring that maybe conservatives just harbored a stronger belief in the importance of private morality ( e.g., elected officials are role models who have an impact on the norms regarding acceptable behavior throughout all of society), but then , in 2000, they preferred W ( who, taking his adult life in its totality, seems to be a man of rather low moral character) over McCain. So that can't be it. I'm still puzzled.

From whence does the hatred spring? I've contemplated this often, but I think Anonymous is a little blind to the hatred emanating from the left ... it is not all based upon a hatred of policy morphing to a hatred of the person advocating the policy. "Bush = Hitler", I'm sure Anonymous would admit, is a little unhinged when you consider that Bush's main crime (in their eyes) is ridding the world of a fascist murderer. You may have preferred he be left in place, arguing he posed no threat to us, but it was impossible to say on humanitarian grounds that what we did was a bad thing. And clearly the Bush admin thought he could some day pose a threat, and why wait until Jimmy Carter negotiates a deal that allows them to develop a nuke? Why wasn't "Clinton = Hitler" for bombing the bejesus out of Milosevic? The only difference I can see is that we actually did have a security interest at stake in Iraq, whereas with Eastern Europe we had none.

Still, with that said, I take your point - many of the Clinton policies were desirable to conservatives, principally welfare reform and NAFTA. He signed the welfare reform bill out of necessity, unceremoniously at midnight; it was a matter of political survival. NAFTA he campaigned on, so there is no caveat placed on his role in extending free trade. Deficit reduction, like welfare reform, was pushed on him by the Republican Congress, and while I am not sure the numbers support this argument ('cause I'm too lazy to check), I suspect much of the deficit reduction came from his ability to reduce military expenditures with the Cold War behind us (showing that the Reagan deficits paid dividends down the line). Other conservatives have pointed out the centrist achievements of the Clinton administration - Norman Podhoretz did a long article in the late 1990s in National Review saying that Clinton had effectively saved the Democrats from its McGovernite tendencies, though they seem to be slipping back in that direction.

But the same question could be posed with respect to Bush - the medicare drug entitlement that he created should have liberals dancing in the streets; he's increased the size of government; he's expanded a Department of Education that Gingrich wanted to eliminate in 1994; he's pledged more money to fight AIDS in Africa than anyone prior. But still liberals think the guy wants to starve and torture puppies.

So let me offer my non-partisan take on the illogical hatred that goes both ways. In the 1990s, the tranquil foreign policy scene elevated the culture war to a higher prominence in domestic politics. Roe v. Wade has made that battle more heated; such culture issues have tended in the past to not matter all that much in times of war, but even that changed with Vietnam. Independent of the actual policies implemented by a President, or the things that Presidents say, people on both sides of the aisle lump them into one side of the culture war. When that President champions a cause that is to the liking of the other side, the other side typically views as it as motivated by expediency at the expense of principal, and believe that if they are not vigilant in opposing the President, he'll let his true colors show whenever possible. They both resent him for tacking to the middle and for going away from the middle, under the theory that if he would only be consistent with his principles, he'd be voted out of office in a heartbeat.

That is what the two sides share in common in their political hatred. But their hatred manifests itself in different ways, because they hold different personal qualities in high regard. Our status-consciousness makes us vested in whether or not the man who heads the nation mirrors our image of the good man. The political left tends to value intellect above all else, confusing it with virtue in a rather self-serving manner. The political right tends to value integrity and character above intellect; they are not wowed by a wonkish Southern president, and tend to focus upon his lack of character, character they regard as being necessary for leadership. The guy could talk intelligently about policy all day long, but I can't get the image out of my head of him talking about the latest Sara McClachlan CD with Monica Lewinski - he's just a really smart teen-ager, not really worthy of any vaunted status. People who worshipped his intelligence, and there are many, excuse his severe shortcomings; his bountiful intelligence, an intelligence he so selflessly offers up for our service, more than makes up for his lack of character. We should let him grope, rape, etc. - small price to pay.

Now think of the number one thing liberals like to flatter themselves about with respect to Bush - how comparatively stupid he is, on their reckoning. His "Bushisms" give it away - really intelligent people are apparently, to a man, great extemporaneous speakers. I always think of Ed Prescott here, my Macroeconomics teacher and Nobel Prize winner, who makes Bush sound like Churchill. Because they've anointed themselves as smarter than Bush, their intelligence permits them to insult, because after all lack of intelligence is equivalent to lack of virtue; and having it excuses them for calling a guy they don't know a moron. They did it with Dan Quayle, and to some extent with Reagan.

There is also the class angle that tends to seep in. Bush gets no credit for changing his life, because he was born with the silver spoon in his mouth. The myopic materialistic view of the left is that only the poor are capable of struggles in life; those of the rich, especially those of the offspring of a famous parent, are treated as the whines of the spoiled. Clinton's solidly middle-class background is always played down to the level of near poverty to make it look like he's overcome great obstacles. I've seen his boyhood home in Hot Springs - it is a nice home on a very sizable lot - we're not talking a southern kid running around barefoot with ringworm. No doubt materially he has progressed further from where he started, but that is easier when one hasn't as far to fall. But more importantly, professional success is not all that a man should be judged upon, and I frankly thing Bush's dedication to his family versus Clinton's dedication to his sexual appetites makes Bush the better man by far. (That said, I think that there is a high probability that if they switched wives, I'd be saying the opposite).

Monday, June 27, 2005

Hillary Enjoys the Support of the Troops

The American Spectator

Conspiracy Theories - If you liked The Da Vinci Code, you'll love the Downing Street memo. By Christopher�Hitchens

An interesting take from Christopher Hitchens, someone we coaxed into the right-wing conspiracy by orchestrating 9-11; prior to that he was a leftie (and still is on many matters): Conspiracy Theories - If you liked The Da Vinci Code, you'll love the Downing Street memo. By Christopher�Hitchens

Vodka Swilling Commie Posted by Hello


Phrenology, the science of determining intelligence and personality traits of an individual via examination of their heads, was once state of the art psychology. Now it is of course entirely debunked, but yesterday’s abandoned theory can always find an application on the internet. So what does the Face Analyzer have to say about the Hatcher?

By race, I am 61% Eastern European and 39% Anglo Saxon. Not even close, but my rather severe expression no doubt led to the impression that I am a vodka swilling commie, so I’ll give them a break on this.

My intelligence ranks 7 out of 10, characterized as very intelligent, but still a little on the low side if you ask me. I don’t know if this translates to 70th percentile, but if so, my SAT scores would have landed me at the Harvard of the Pine Berrins, and I wouldn’t have all of this free time to screw around because I’d be employed in a job that requires me to actually work.

My “gay factor” ranks 2 out of 10. Some might think this would be a binary ranking – you either are or you aren’t – but sexual identity is a much more complex phenomenon, involving the hormones you were exposed to en utero, genetics, viruses, same-sex parent relationship, and culture. Bottom line - if the right man were to meet me in prison, I might be singing show tunes all the live long day. So I am not upset with the 2, although my guess is that they increased me from a 1 based upon the red hair, under the assumption that I’d otherwise have limited options. (I did read in Freakonomics that guys with red hair who subscribe to internet dating services get something like 30 percent fewer responses than otherwise).

My promiscuity also ranked 2 out of 10, but I cannot say whether it is true in all male cases that this correlates perfectly with the gay factor. Though I suspect it might. A guy is usually as promiscuous as others allow him to be. Being married, of course, they got me all wrong, and my rating should be a zero. I think they were just being charitable here in the event that I was single, as single guys with red hair have extremely limited opportunities to display any promiscuity (see above).

My income was predicted to rank between $30,000 and $50,000. It did not specify the time period I was supposed to make this in, so I cannot definitively say that it is wrong. But this might be consistent with possibility that the intelligence ranking is roughly 70th percentile, and moreover the fact that they’ve understandably mistaken me for a vodka swilling commie, they might have assumed that I dedicate my time to lauding the wonders of the Cuba healthcare system, or otherwise organizing the proletarian revolt.

My celebrity match was Ben Stiller. Just goes to show the lengths I will go to contort my face in order to not have Ron Howard as my celebrity match. It took some 43 pictures to get me to Ben. It’s a great victory for the Hatcher.

My personality type is the Beta Artist, described below with my comments:

Beta Artist: Somewhat intelligent. Adopts styles like goth; styles that are unconventional and are intended to show their uniqueness. Expected Occupations: Social Worker, Chef, Music Producer, Theater Actor, Theater/Film Director, Physical Therapist,

That’s me, a goth who does Social Work by day, and is an actor in the theater by night. How is this consistent with the gay factor of 2?

Your main drive is to be admired by those with similar interests to you. Money and influence is not of your concern. You are interested and may be active in certain political movements which you consider to be moral.

See – they think I’m a commie.

You may act or dress in a unique way to reflect your eccentric personality. Your emotions fluctuate fairly often resulting in you going through incredible highs and devastating lows.

That’s me – a manic depressive goth.

You may enjoy using drugs to escape reality and explore different perspectives.

Who doesn’t?

You consider Boss type to be egotistical and selfish so you may only interact with them during your employment.

Clearly they don’t know I’m married. (Sorry honey, it's just a joke. Please don't punish me)

For the most part you do not interact with Academic types for you'd rather take it easy.

Cause academic types work soooo hard. (Actually, the ones I know do).

You may like certain Academics because of their knowledge of interesting subjects. You tend to avoid Charmers because they may attack you verbally. You consider Gambler types to be duplicitious loners. You do not interact with the White collar or Blue collar types, for you consider them to be slaves of conformity. You sympathize with Drifters. Other types' view of you You do not concern Boss types for they look down on you; they believe that you waste too much time. For the most part Academic types do not respect you, however there are some Artists that they give some credit to. Blue collar and White collar types think that you are unrealistic and immature. Charmer types see you as an attention seeker and are often the people who criticize you. Gambler types see you as a fool who has no focus on financial success. Drifter types may enjoy your relaxed personality; they believe they can relate to you.

Great, so I am apparently compatible with homeless people, but no others will give me the time of day.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Hatcher Saves Republic from Hillary

Yesterday I systematically proved that a second Clinton presidency would provide us our second confirmed rapist in the Oval Office, a contingency that scares me despite the fact that I will bet scores of money on it and become a rich man. That's small solace, though, because she'll just tax it all away when she's not too busy stealing the White House furniture. So here I propose a market based solution to a potentially seriously flawed election process (although the process ran great in '80, '84, '88, '00, and '04).

It seems to me that many voters would like to mitigate the risk of certain people on the other side of the aisle from ever becoming president. Many deals come to mind – possibly going as far as to commit to voting for a more moderate candidate from the other side of the aisle should that candidate secure his party’s nomination. For example, I might offer up a deal where I would commit myself to voting for Joseph Lieberman (trying to forget that whole association with Al Gore) should he be nominated by his party, or more generally to voting for a group of candidates that do not make me physically ill. If I could bind myself to this agreement, and others would follow suit, that would be a powerful incentive for Democrats to nominate someone other than Hillary. It could work the other way as well. Alternatively, I could agree to vote for a Republican candidate acceptable to Professor Vic in the primary season in exchange for him doing the same on the Democratic side. We’d then both be free to vote for whomever in the general election.

Absent the ability to legally commit, there would be incentives to abide by a voluntary commitment insofar as elections are a repeated game, and if enough people have signed on to such a deal mass cheating could be detected. But going beyond that, it would seem to me that people who wish to make their vote public information should have that right, although clearly not the obligation (except for dead people in Chicago). People could then legally bind themselves in a contract that allowed for horse trading. These exchanges would not be permitted to involve any cash transfers, although cash punishments could be permitted for breach. So DNC activists picking up homeless people and giving them $10 and a pack of cigarettes would still be illegal.

There would be a coordination problem, but this would probably be less severe now that we have the internet. Establish a website, perhaps by state, where people sign up to exchange and stake some money to cover breach on their part. Both sides subscribe to the same site; if more people sign on one side versus the other by a certain date, randomly choose a subset from the larger group that will be bound to the contract, and inform the others they are permitted to vote freely. Monitor that people have abided by the contract, and keep the stake of those who haven’t to be distributed to those on the other side of the contract on a pro rata basis.

Can you tell I sit up at night thinking of creative ways to ensure that Hillary never becomes President?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

How do you like my Nikes? Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Depends on the Meaning of the Word "Rape"

I failed to mention that Bill Clinton followed me by a day to New Delhi on my most recent trip, coming in late Wednesday night. There was a big kerfuffle regarding the use of cars sent from the US embassy versus those provided by the Indian authorities to pick him up at his plane; Clinton insisted upon seven limos from the embassy, each necessary to carry all of his cargo. These cars hadn’t been cleared with the Indian authorities, who were worried about security issues, but eventually relented after an hour or so standoff. My guess is that, while security is important to Clinton, the US embassy there probably knows that there are certain appetites that Clinton would seek to have catered to in the immediate aftermath of 20 hours of flying. And I’m not talking about food.

Pictured above is our very ex-President, in India, with a traditionally dressed mature Indian women. At first the tawdriness of Clinton’s outfit jumped out at me, but later, after doing some internet research on the significance of such apparel and whether or not it conveys subtle cultural signals in India, I came across a link to the India Guide to Sexual Tourism, which described just such an outfit as a signal to mature India prostitutes that you were in the market for some Kama Sutra level pleasure. Could explain his earlier heart problems.

Of course, the Clintons are in the news again with the latest book on Hillary by Ed Klein, which alleges that Bill told a friend in Bermuda that he was going back to his room to rape his wife. Now, as a guy inclined to believe all manner of bad things about this guy, I was nevertheless inclined to disbelieve this allegation. But then I thought about it. The truth of the claim depends on what the meaning of the word “rape” is. My guess is that Hillary, with her roots in the radical feminism of the late 60s and early 70s, happily burned her bra while reading her icons as they droned on about the slavery of marriage and how all sex within marriage is rape. Indeed, Hillary herself once said that marriage is slavery. How can a slave be said to truly have consensual sex with her putative master? By her own definition, then, it would seem that him raping her was a highly probably event, in that sex within marriage tends to be quite common while vacationing in Bermuda.

Their denials can only mean one thing – that she raped him! He apparently is the slave in the relationship, which explains why he stays in it. And with Juanita Broderick, that makes both Clintons rapists. Do we really want to subject ourselves to another Clinton presidency, wherein Bill finally spills this fact out in a teary-eyed interview with Dan Rather? Why don't we let these two be the highly disfunctional people they are in private, perhaps in a trailer park somewhere?

Father's Day Advice for Fathers Aspiring to Have a Son

I had a great father’s day weekend in Wisconsin. Played golf both days with my father-in-law in weather that was surprisingly good for Superior, which can have morning temperatures in the high 30s at this time of year if the wind is coming in off of Lake Superior. I flew back Monday, leaving wife and kids behind for 10 days. On Sunday night, while tucking the twins, I explain to them that I will be leaving very early the next morning because I have to go to work. Joey asks quizzically: “So you came hear for just three days to play golf with Papa?” Uh, er, that’s not all I did. Later in our brief conversation I say to them that I had fun playing with them this weekend, and again Joey, innocent as can be, says “I don’t remember you playing with us dad.” That’s cause your memory isn’t all that good at this age, Joe, which is a blatant lie, because he especially remembers everything.

We got Charlie baptized and purged of original sin. I was close to slipping the priest some more money to dip Jake again, ‘cause it doesn’t look like the first baptism took. But that’s a story for another day.

I know it’s a little late in the game for Father’s day advice, especially after your kids innocently point out you failings as a dad, but there is one area that the Hatcher often gets queried on where I can obviously provide great advice. Guys often ask me, Hatcher, how can I guarantee my next kid will be a boy? Who better than me to provide that advice. And the kicker is that I have sure-fire advice for them that has never failed. Here are the instructions, and it is important that they be followed to the letter.

First, if you already have kids, get rid of them for at least 24 hours – find a baby sitter you trust or relatives who live nearby. Conceiving a baby boy must begin with a romantic dinner, preferably in a spot that is new to your wife, but perhaps reminiscent of other romantic places you’ve been. Order red wine only. Meat is preferable to fish, although a fish appetizer can help, though it’s not necessary. Make the dinner conversation partly about the past – fond memories of when you met, your wedding, etc.; and partly about the future – the plans you share. Try to dine close to a safe park or river walk where you can take a romantic stroll after dinner. You don’t want to eat too heavy, so skip desert. Take her home, but arrange for a neighbor to alight your living room with many candles and set some Tony Bennett or some such music playing softly shortly before you arrive. A trail of rose pedals from the living room to the bedroom will also a nice touch. Dance with her slowly, cheek to cheek. Look deeply into her eyes, but don’t blow it with petty conversation. Lead her up to the bedroom, and slowly and seductively undress her, but leave your own clothes on.

Then, call me!

I have to confess I blatantly ripped this joke from a friend, but what joke isn’t blatantly ripped off from somewhere.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Why I'll Let My Kids Play Video Games

Today's post highlights a part-time Oaklyner, home town to the Hatcher. Paul Perrone used to spend his summers in Oaklyn, despite growing up close to the coast - which should tell you something about his unconventional nature. Back then he was the proud owner of a Commodore 64, which could barely keep pace with an abicus. He quickly grew bored of spending sunny days stuck inside playing video games, and instead chose to spend sunny days digging into the underlying code. Now he is on the cusp of winning $2 million by having his manless vehicle Tommy travel 140 miles through the desert (with no water!).

He lives in Charlottesville, where he has become a gentleman robot maker, and he has named the team he has assembled after Thomas Jefferson. Perrone, inspired by the lack of cheap of domestic labor following the Emancipation Proclamation, has set out to have his household chores performed by robots. (Of course, the robots provide no Sally Hemmings potential, but they still have their advantages.) Here is a link to his website, an article concerning his recent advancement in the competition, and below is an article from the Philly Inquirer. If any you comparative underachievers have an interest in supporting something big, you can offer a sponsorship - contact me and I'll put you in touch with Paul.

Dune buggy progresses
A Va. engineer with South Jersey ties moves ahead. A Moorestown man is out.

By Rusty PrayInquirer Staff Writer

For Mike Selzler, the Moorestown man who entered a competition to develop a fully autonomous vehicle, the race is over - at least for now.

For Paul Perrone, an electrical engineer with close ties to South Jersey, the run just got really interesting.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an arm of the Defense Department, announced last week that 40 vehicles would move on to a national qualifying event. Selzler's converted 1995 Ford Bronco was not among them; Perrone's gas-powered custom dune buggy, Tommy, was.

The semifinalists will compete Sept. 27-Oct. 5 at California Speedway in Fontana, where the field - originally 195 - will be cut to 20. The final will be Oct. 8 in the Southwest.

DARPA is offering $2 million to anyone who can build an autonomous vehicle that completes a rough desert course of 140 to 150 miles - sometimes at speeds greater than 40 m.p.h. - in the shortest time within 10 hours.

Congress has given the Defense Department until 2015 to make one-third of the Army's ground fleet robotic.

Perrone, 36, grew up in towns along the Jersey Shore, including Somers Point, and graduated from Holy Spirit High School in 1987. His parents still live in Mays Landing, and he has family all over the area.

"It's one really large Irish-Italian family," he said last week.

Perrone, who lived for a time in Florida in the mid-1990s, last year bought eight acres outside Charlottesville, Va., where he lives and works full time on teaching Tommy how to drive without a human.

Perrone, who has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Rutgers University and a master's degree from the University of Virginia, finances the project largely through the two companies he runs, Perrone Robotics and Assured Technologies.

He estimates the project has cost $64,000 so far, and expects to spend $35,000 more before the semifinals. That does not include the value of donated time from a group of about 10 who form what he has named Team Jefferson.

Perrone said he had decided to enter the competition, called the 2005 Grand Challenge, largely to showcase robotics software he created.

He had been using it for small robots his company developed for security and surveillance applications, but he wanted to try it on something bigger.

"We like to say we can run a rat-, cat- or elephant-size robot," he said. "We already had mobile, autonomous robots scurrying on the ground, so we decided to take on the elephant-size bot."
At 12 feet long, 6 feet wide and 6 feet high, egg-shaped Tommy is not quite the size of an elephant. The idea of creating a robotic vehicle is.

Tommy performed well in testing before DARPA officials last month. The dune buggy made three perfect runs with no human intervention and no driver on board, three times navigating a 200-meter off-road course that featured rugged terrain and randomly placed obstacles.
Selzler's Bronco failed to complete each of its three runs on a course set out on the parking lot at Atco Speedway. His wife, Alice, said they probably would remove the custom equipment and drive the Bronco around this summer. They'll decide whether to continue the project after the competition. If there is no winner this year, another will be held next year.

Perrone, meanwhile, believes Tommy has a shot. "We already know the vehicle can travel the distance," he said. "We're kind of worried about obstacles jumping out at you. But the fact that we're worried about exceptions is a good sign, I think."

Friday, June 10, 2005

One Year of Blogging

Today marks my 1 year blogiversary. That is one full year of blogging on a fairly regular basis, along with about 7 million other people who are as in love with their own opinions as I am with mine. The question I get asked most often is – how do you find the time? The answer is quite simple – there is no limit to what a man can do if he is willing to ignore his family. And then people say – how is it even possible for you to ignore your family, given its ample size? What they don’t understand is that the very size of my family makes that possible – if you have only one kid, ignoring him is quite conspicuous. But with four, my wife and kids just figure I am tending to someone’s needs at any given time, when in fact I am spending an inordinate amount of time tending to my own need for attention. So there you have it. That’s the secret. Go forth ye and multiply.

Other motivations include:
1) Getting to give friends whose names pop up in stories hip hop nicknames to keep their identities partially obscure. It’s more fun than you think. Plus, it’s great to have a public venue to be able to give a shout out to my homies, so to speak. That seems to be a staple of the rap genre – one song per album where the guy just raps out a list of names of his homies, saying “this one goes out to Wall Street G …” The Diabolical Biz Markee has a classic song in that genre – he names about 40 people, including every living cousin, and a few dead ones who I assume got caps in their asses.

2) Being able to make observations like the following, about a new reality show that features the mother of Paris Hilton as the arbiter of good taste and etiquette choosing from among 16 low brow contestants who aspire to be as classy as a Hilton. I can imagine the pitch that was made for this show – “let’s find the gold-digging wife of a third generation heir to a fortune that he couldn’t squander if he tried, let’s make sure she dresses like she’s sixteen years old and that she’s had enough plastic surgery to make her look like she is sixteen, and let’s see if we can find a women like this who also raised a young lady who has made herself famous for being a talentless slut, and let’s have this lady teach people about class.” Wow that was fun!

3) Being able to googlebate with some probability of success. Ideas Hatched, for whatever reason, sometimes ranks high when I google those words, other times very low. Once, I was on about page 17, when I found a link to Professor Vic’s CV, which lists an article he did for the paper version of Ideas Hatched back in 1999 among his publications. As fair warning, if you link to the site one day, and find that it is populated with pornography, you can rest assured that it is timed to coincide with a long meeting taking place in Worcester Massachusetts at the Catholic College of the Holy Cross to decide the tenure fate of Professor Vic.

Many thanks after a year have to go out to the frequent and infrequent commenters, which is not to say that the free-riding silent types aren’t appreciated, but if it weren’t for the frequent commenters, I might be tempted to do my job all day rather than obsessively check the site. Professor Vic, Pbryon, Incredible Dirigible, Lime, PatB, and the ubiquitous Anonymous have provided some great comments. Am I forgetting anybody? Relax, giant, I’m just kidding.

I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up the pace, and it has already slowed, but I'll do what I can. I contemplated a severe restriction on output along the model of a bar on the Jersey shore, which allegedly (i've never been to it) only opens for two weeks each year. Apparently they do a year's worth of business in 2 weeks because the very notion of making it a limited opportunity to indulge at their bar has given it legendery status.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Thoughts on Abortion

I got to thinking about abortion while reading Freakonomics. Levitt made big news with some empirical work that attributes the drop in violent crime in the late 90s to the widespread legalization of abortion with Roe vs. Wade in 1973. The theory is pretty straightforward – an unwanted son born to a woman not ready to raise a child, and likely to do so without the help of a father, is more likely to be a violent criminal when he reaches his late teens. To the extent that abortion reduces the number of boys born into such circumstances, crime 16 years down the line will be reduced.

It is not a normative argument about the desirability of abortion, though clearly some took it that way at the time. It would be a rather barbaric argument for abortion, and the authors are the first to point this out, saying that it is rather rude to tout the public benefit of a “private sorrow.” And that phrase is what struck me – that abortion amounts to a private sorrow. It seems to me that this a presumption, a big one, on the part of the authors and those with similar sentiments; it is not obvious to me that abortion is a private sorrow for all who choose abortion, and there is substantial evidence that seems to point the other way.

On the National Mall each year there is a pro-choice rally where women hold placards bemoaning the fact that Barbara Bush didn’t have the right to choose, and hawking t-shirts that proudly boast “I had an abortion.” There are those who feel terrible sorrow in the aftermath, and there is even an organized group of such women who try to counsel young women away from the choice, but they are never permitted to participate in the pro-choice rally in any official capacity.

Apparently the sorrow, for some, is permanent and they are willing to make it public to spare others the same, but the pro-choice position is not about making an informed decision, it’s about making the “responsible” decision. The roots of the very movement were eugenicist and racist in nature, seeking to advocate the choice of abortion for those considered incapable of the duties of parenthood, particularly black women. But it has morphed to become a choice that is “right” under any and all circumstances, so long as it is voluntarily chosen.

What kind of person flaunts the choice and wears it as a badge of pride? The familiar bumper sticker is “how can you trust me with a child if you can’t trust me with a choice?” There is a strange internal logic to that bumper sticker that works only under the assumption of an utter lack of kindness on the part of the woman who would think such a thing. The logic is the operative logic of Levitt’s theory: the “right” choice is to abort the baby so that you won’t abuse it as an unwanted child, which would lead only to unhappiness for the kid and perhaps others down the line. It assumes abusing your own child is an unavoidable consequence of having it. The truth is that a woman who thinks such things can’t be trusted with a choice or a child.

That is where the pro-choice position has evolved, but its origins were captured in a slightly different bumper sticker phrasing: “we can’t trust them with a child, so we can’t let them have a choice.” And a large part of that origin still remains. There is a large segment of the pro-choice movement who treat the decision to abort, under certain circumstances, as the moral choice. Whether it be some ailment the child will be known to suffer from, or the socio-economic status of the mother (and it is more often the latter than the former) women are told it is the responsible thing to do. When the attempt is to justify abortion as the right choice, not just for the self-interest of the mother, but for the child, it betrays the deep materialism of the underlying mindset – some lives are worth more than others, and you can tell those worth living by their length and their comfort. If I were an atheist, I’d be right there with them. But I am not, and so I view the materialism of the pro-choice view as a sad philosophy that breeds a culture of death.

The legality of the practice gets so much attention that I think sometimes it obscures the ugliness of the pro-choice philosophy. There is a cold-heartedness to it that it cannot hide behind a banner of freedom as it tries so desperately to do. And the shame of it is this – that young woman, scared and facing the decision that the Supreme Court has granted them, face a culture that is clearly split on the question of the legality of abortion, but fundamentally less split on the issue of the morality of abortion. If I had a dime for every Democratic politician who says they believe it is immoral, but thinks it should nevertheless be legal, I’d be a rich man.

If you believe that, why wouldn’t you be critical of those who advocate the morality of it, who counsel countless women that it is the right choice? It never happens; instead these politicians wring their hands about legislating morality and it being a private choice. When someone claims to be a believing Christian, claims to believe life begins at conception, and then begs off of the issue by saying he doesn’t want to impose his morality on others, I want to scream that it is your duty to try to at least influence people to make the right decision. But for a guy like Kerry, his personal pro-life stance coupled with his laissez faire attitude towards the decisions of others is the equivalent of viewing heaven as being like a posh private school that he is entitled to attend, but let’s face, not all are worthy of it.

We rightly look at a woman who has abused her child and regretted her birth with moral disdain. Should we applaud the woman who, sensing she will do the same, aborts her child instead? I’d like to think that there aren’t many women who fall into this category; certainly many of them who choose to abort could and would be loving parents if they decided otherwise. That’s the choice, and the behavior, that should be encouraged and applauded. Print up t-shirts that say “I didn’t have an abortion.” That should be the badge of honor. As it stands, the “choice” has boiled down in many cases to the crassest of consumer choices.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


I managed to polish off Freakonomics on the first leg from Dulles to Paris. Count me unimpressed. For all of the hype that this book has gotten, it’s really too simple to be all that interesting. There are some interesting stories, but by and large I guess I expected more. I’ll save you from having to read it yourself by relaying to you the highlights. I have to say that if this book is a popular rendering of Levitt’s academic work, I have a hard time figuring out why he won the Clark medal, awarded to the best economist under the age of 40. I guess it is intended for a wider audience, but I feel I could have gotten the essence of it in 20 pages.

I was heartened, however, that he confesses to knowing very little macroeconomics; macro is a very dusty tool in my set and I always feel a tad guilty calling myself an economist, especially one trained at Minnesota, but they can’t take the PhD away from me now, unless they pry it from my cold dead hands.

The coolest part of the book deals with cheating among Sumo wrestlers in Japan. There are six tournaments for Sumo wrestlers each year, and at each tournament a wrestler takes on 15 opponents. Less than 8 wins drops your ranking as a wrestler; more than 10 can improve it. Your status and income are very connected to your ranking as a Sumo wrestler. So a last bout between a seven win wrestler and an eight win wrestler pits someone with little to gain or lose against someone with much to gain. Levitt found significant evidence that there is widespread cheating – in final matches pitting a seven win wrestler versus an 8 win wrestler, the seven win wrestlers won about 80 percent of the time. In looking at matches between these same opponents in previous tournaments, in circumstances where they met early in the tournament, the seven win wrestler only won about 47 percent of the time. Finally, when you look at a subsequent match that occurs between the two, the eight win wrestler won close to 80 percent, suggesting a quid pro quo arrangement. Too bad it cannot be real like the WWF.

There is also a chapter on the naming habits of parents, and how names trickle down from the upper classes to the lower over time. The chapter also deals with the differences in naming habits between blacks and whites. Two observations that struck me as funny: Jake (not Jacob) was listed as the “whitest” boys name; I forget how whitest was defined, but I am guessing that the percentage of Jake’s who are white is higher than that for any other name. It holds true in our case – Jake is in fact white. Proof beyond appearance can be offered in his horrid jumping abilities and lack of rhythm. Which reminds of Dr. Jack, involuntary subscriber to Ideas Hatched, who used to take his med school rejection letters, doctor them up, and pin them to the door of his room. One such offering had a P.S. added to the bottom of the letter with a picture of Jack, face colored in with black pen, and the dean of admissions saying that they looked into his racial background and found that he was not, in fact, a black man. Another offering kindly thanked Jack’s father for the offer of a new gymnasium, but went onto explain that the parents of a similarly under-qualified applicant already spotted the money for the new campus gym last year.

The other funny naming issue was that both Joey and Billy ranked among the top ten names used for the sons of lower class whites. In fairness, our Joey and Billy are nicknames for Joseph and William, whereas the table clearly states that the names Joey and Billy are the proper names rather than the nicknames. That said, I really have to get that car in my driveway off of the cinder blocks.

Tomorrow – Abortion! Abortion! Abortion! Abortion! Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

One Too Many Times

I’ve made my way through customs, and having not checked a bag this time, I can avoid the hour plus time it takes for a bag to go from the plane to the baggage carousel, and head straight for the exit, where hopefully Vijay will be waiting for me. When you exit the baggage claim area, you do so via a wide path, with rails on either side, and Indian taxi drivers mixed in with people piled five or six deep on the other side of each railway. I am panning the faces for Vijay, and before I can spot him I spot my name on a sign held by a guy who is not Vijay. He takes my bags and we head for the car, and as he’s about to pile my bags into the car, another guy who just seems to be passing by helps him with the bags. I think naively that he’s just being nice, and he tails me to the door of the car saying “you give me tip” in a polite voice. So I’m supposed to give him a tip for performing a service that my driver was performing for me anyway. I reach into my pocket, grab 4 quarters, and fork it over to him.

In D.C. there are also plenty of random people on the streets offering up the service of unburdening you of your loose change, though I seldom indulge in their services. But here I figure why should I carry around a buck in loose change. He stares somewhat blankly at the quarters as if confused, and then walks away. It strikes me that an enterprising homeless beggar might do well to relocate from the streets of DC out to Dulles airport and catch foreigners coming past customs to unburden them of their local currency small change, and compete directly against the foreign exchange booths at the airport by catching American passengers headed for foreign ports of call and swapping their foreign coins for US coinage without charging a transaction fee. Now that would be a real service for all concerned. Too bad most schizophrenic homeless people lack the business vision of the Hatcher.

The incident also pounded home another lesson – Puram, my new driver, was clearly no Vijay. Vijay would never have let that guy near me to take his American money. We head out from the airport for the hotel, and moments later Puram is handing me a cell phone, and saying “Vijay.” He’s got Vijay on the line. We talk, he assures me that he will be my driver for the remainder of the week, and that he’ll be there for me in the morning, but that he was too busy tonight to pick me up. The next morning, Vijay wakes me with a call, and he’s piping mad. He tells me that Puram got to work earlier than him and took the work ticket for being my driver. He tells me not to tip Puram, and that he’ll be my driver by nightfall. Puram picks me up, drops me at the office. I tip him and tell him that Vijay is going to be my driver from here on out, so this is the last tip you’ll see from me. His English isn’t all that good, and we repeat a ritual that continues for the remainder of my trip. I tell him adios, then he asks me what time I’ll need to be picked up again, I tell him the time but also tell him I don’t need him, he says OK and repeats the time. At the appointed time, he shows up, Vijay is nowhere in sight, we drive off, and later I get a progressively more agitated Vijay calling me again at the hotel, telling me not to tip this guy.

I’m torn between my personal loyalty to Vijay and my single handed efforts to brake down the caste system. Frankly Puram represented opportunity number 2 for me to shake up thousands of years of Indian hierarchal oppression, whereas I’d already sprung Vijay from the implicit slavery of his existence. Well, maybe that’s a stretch. Coming back three months after dining with Vijay in an expensive restaurant, frankly I expected more progress based on that event. Sadly, by itself, it didn’t seem to spark or galvanize a civil rights movement in India. And as for Vijay, the event didn’t seem to raise his aspirations beyond being a driver (not that there is anything wrong with that). So clearly dining out with a rich American businessman (by their standards anyway) was no Rosa Parks moment for either him or India. But maybe taking a different driver to the same restaurant would provide a tipping point (to borrow a concept popularized by that freaky looking guy Malcolm Gladwell) for India.

Unfortunately, Puram’s English wasn’t very good, and dinner with him would have only been awkward. So the only tipping point came for me after lunch on the third day, with all tipping as it were occurring in my digestive track, when the salmonella had reproduced itself to a certain critical mass. This was in the afternoon on the third day of meetings that really only required two days. Fortunately, they had a doctor in the office who gave me Immodium AD – perhaps the greatest drug ever. Another 30 hours later and I was home for Memorial Day weekend, which I celebrated by having some physician assistant, with ink still drying on her degree, refuse to prescribe an antibiotic to me until she knows what is causing my, er, problems. Can I please have a doctor who is jaded enough to just give me what I want so he doesn’t have to hear me ask how he enjoyed his time in school in the Falklands? Or, lacking that, can I just have a doctor? Is that asking too much? And does she really think the poor lab technicians who have to work the holiday weekend are sitting around bemoaning the lack of samples to examine?

All I get for me begging, pleading, and insulting is a lesson from her that my symptoms might be caused by many things – taking an antibiotic, for example. I suppose these healthcare professionals see it all the time – guy goes to India for a business trip, eats undercooked chicken the entire time, thinks he has salmonella, but in reality the Indians lace their salmonella chicken with antibiotics so its all cool. Kind of like feeding the mayonnaise to the tuna.

That was Sunday; by Tuesday, with four fever-ridden days under my belt, they diagnose – get this – an antibiotic! What a shock – I would never have guessed that it would have been needed. And the kicker – the side effects of the antibiotic – diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. Gives all new meaning to fighting fire with fire.

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