Friday, January 16, 2009

150 Posts in 1 Year Deserves a Furlough

The recent increase in the number of posts here is partially due to the free time I had over the holidays; but it is mostly an effort to get out my backlog of thoughts before I take a break. Starting today, on my 1 year blog-iversary, I will refrain from posting and reading blogs for the next 30 days. The main goal is to evaluate just how much time and effort I put into it. Since the creation of the Bottlenecked blog I have been debating about my benefit, reader's enjoyment, and possible selfishness of personal blogging. I'll be back in a month, rested and eager to share.

Also, here are some posts in progress you can expect when I get back: the economics of relationships, solutions to democracy, evidence against tithing, why this recession might be a good thing, and a guest post on Obama's inauguration from a current expat. If I find something I just have to share, I'll post it in the Bookmarks. See you on February 16th!

Emptying the Bottle: January '09 Links List

Here is a biggie sized edition to hold you over during my hiatus:

1) Mortality cost of smoking: $25 per pack.

2) Judge a book by its 69th page.

3) Humorous legal immigration flowchart.

4) Meaning of the name Brookie.

5) Popular Russian academic predicts a United States civil war.

6) Discover the details of your personal genetic information.

7) Does birth order really matter? I still think so.

8) Interactive map of the entire outer space:

9) Humorous man baby pictures.

10) Great chart on past presidents first 100 days.

11) Student auctions off virginity for millions of dollars.

12) What the other team in a Disney sports movie feels like.

13) Part one and two of a series on congestion pricing of roads (before).

14) Do you speak 2009?

15) Economics of brushing your teeth.

16) Top gifts for people you hate.

17) My job is ranked 127 out of 200. How about you?

18) Kelly Blue Book for health care.

19) Hiter was not a very good economist.

20) Adult-proof cell phone ring.

*I'll share any interesting stories on my Bookmarks while on break*

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Do We Have an Upside-Down Government?

With all the talk of businesses and individuals not covering their debt, it got me thinking, does our government even have the assets to cover its debt? When a business buys a building it can usually borrow the full price of the building. If it goes under it can always pay back the loan with the resale of the building. Like a business, our government owns a lot of capital: highways, roads, bridges, government buildings, parks, etc. Like a business our government has debt: currently over 10 1/2 trillion dollars. Now that's big, but how big depends on your measurement. Here is a chart that puts it in perspective:

As you can see, our debt is increasing at an increasing rate. But the second graph shows that our debt as a percentage of what we produce is actually much lower than the days of the New Deal. But what exactly does that mean? I wasn't totally sure myself, so I decided to ask someone smarter than me. I sent an email to the economists over at Marginal Revolution to see what they thought. They were kind enough to respond to my question: "Does our government have the assets to cover its debt?"
Tyler Cowen: I say yes, but raising taxes makes us poorer...
Although I appreciate Tyler's short and sweet answer, I feel like Alex hits the nail on the head:
Alex Tabarrok: The government has the power to tax - so its ultimate asset is the wallets of the American people. In that sense, yes the government has enough to pay off our future debt.
So our government can pay its debt (which is why people around the world still invest in US government bonds). That said, total debt and debt % has been on the increase since the 1980's. The graph above shows that a large portion of that debt is non-government. In fact, household debt percentage of GDP has doubled since 1980 (from 50% to 100%). Also, the financial sector has increased their debt from 21% of GDP in 1980 to 116% in 2007 (this helps explain its recent vulnerability). So what is the solution to the current economic problem? On this one, Tyler Cowen gets it perfect:
Tyler Cowen: Spend less, save more, be poorer for a while.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Look Who's Pictured on Clemon's Homepage

Me. But sadly the article has nothing to do with yours truly. I guess they just wanted a strapping young man who looks good in blurry.

Also in Clemson news: The university is now ranked the 22nd best public school in the nation and our men's basketball team is still undefeated.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Undead Personal Finance

From Indexed:

Debunking Thirteen Medical Myths

Here and here are the facts:

1) Sugar does NOT cause children to be hyperactive.
Scientists have even studied how parents react to the sugar myth. When parents think their children have been given a drink containing sugar (even if it is really sugar-free), they rate their children’s behavior as more hyperactive. The differences in the children’s behavior were all in the parents’ minds.
2) Suicide rates do NOT increase over the holidays.
One study from Japan that looked at suicides in 1979-94 showed that the rate of suicide was lowest in the days before a holiday and highest in the days after the holiday. In contrast, in a study from the United States of suicides over a 35 year period, there was no increase before, during, or after holidays.
3) Poinsettia's are NOT toxic.
In an analysis of 849,575 plant exposures reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers,17 none of the 22,793 cases involving poinsettia resulted in considerable poisoning. No one died from exposure to or ingestion of poinsettia, and most (96%) did not even require medical treatment. In 92 of the cases, children ingested substantial quantities of poinsettias, but none needed medical treatment, and toxicologists concluded that poinsettia exposures and ingestion can be treated without referral to a health care facility.
4) A disproportionate percentage of body heat is NOT lost through the head.
A more recent study confirms that there is nothing special about the head and heat loss. Any uncovered part of the body loses heat and will reduce the core body temperature proportionally.
5) Eating late at night does NOT cause excess weight gain.
But just because obesity and eating more meals at night are associated, it does not mean that one causes the other. People gain weight because they take in more calories overall than they burn up. The obese women were not just night eaters, they were also eating more meals, and taking in more calories makes you gain weight regardless of when calories are consumed.
6) There is NO cure for hangovers.
No scientific evidence, however, supports any cure or effective prevention for alcohol hangovers. A systematic review of randomized trials evaluating medical interventions for preventing or treating hangovers found no effective interventions in either traditional or complementary medicine.
7) People should NOT necessarily drink eight glasses of water a day.
Furthermore, existing studies suggest that adequate fluid intake is usually met through typical daily consumption of juice, milk, and even caffeinated drinks. In contrast, drinking excess amounts of water can be dangerous, resulting in water intoxication, hyponatraemia, and even death.
8) People do NOT only use 10% of their brain.
Evidence from studies of brain damage, brain imaging, localization of function, microstructural analysis, and metabolic studies show that people use much more than 10% of their brains. Studies of patients with brain injury suggest that damage to almost any area of the brain has specific and lasting effects on mental, vegetative, and behavioral capabilities.
9) Fingernails and hair do NOT continue to grow after death.
As Maples and numerous dermatologists explain, dehydration of the body after death and drying or desiccation may lead to retraction of the skin around the hair or nails. The skin’s retraction can create an appearance of increased length or of greater prominence because of the optical illusion created by contrasting the shrunken soft tissues with the nails or hair.
10) Shaving hair does NOT cause it to grow back faster, darker, or coarser.
In addition, shaving removes the dead portion of hair, not the living section lying below the skin’s surface, so it is unlikely to affect the rate or type of growth. Shaved hair lacks the finer taper seen at the ends of unshaven hair, giving an impression of coarseness. Similarly, the new hair has not yet been lightened by the sun or other chemical exposures, resulting in an appearance that seems darker than existing hair.
11). Reading in the dark does NOT ruin your eyesight.
The majority consensus in ophthalmology, as outlined in a collection of educational material for patients, is that reading in dim light does not damage your eyes. Although it can cause eye strain with multiple temporary negative effects, it is unlikely to cause a permanent change on the function or structure of the eyes.
12) Eating turkey does NOT make you especially drowsy.
Actually, turkey does not contain an exceptional amount of tryptophan. Turkey, chicken, and minced beef contain nearly equivalent amounts of tryptophan.
13) Cell phones create considerable electromagnetic interference in hospitals.
A 2007 study, examining mobile phones "used in a normal way," found no interference of any kind during 300 tests in 75 treatment rooms. In contrast, a large survey of anesthesiologists suggested that use of mobile phones by doctors was associated with reduced risk of medical error or injury resulting from delays in communication.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Economics of Debate

With all the news of bankruptcy and bailouts, it got me thinking about what it might look like if an individual got "too big to fail." Have you ever found yourself so invested in a discussion that it becomes less about the topic and more about your ego? For me, at least, there have been times where a political, religious, or marital argument has gotten so intense that there is no chance to save face. In those instances I have seen rational people, myself included, fight to the bitter end on a string on illogical arguments. It is times like these when we should admit our argumentative bankruptcy. So if you ever find yourself "too big to fail", close down for the betterment of future business (discussion).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

He Speaks My Language

I heard the tail end of this on NPR the other day and thought to myself, I really like what this guy has to say about the stimulus package. Then I realized, it's Tyler Cowen and I read his blog everyday. I guess I know who I like and I like who I know. Listen here, it's only about 2 minutes long.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wisdom from Comic Books

Some days you just need to relax, get into some sweatpants, and head over to Barnes and Noble for some free light reading. I did so just that the other day, and like I usually do, headed right for the comic book isle (I'm not snobby enough to call them graphic novels). So just what wisdom can these decades old characters offer? A theme central in most good comics is this idea: growth through pain. It is the hard times in our life that make us more of who we want to be, if we will let them. The death of Bruce Wayne's parents made him seek justice as the Batman. The destruction of Krypton created Superman. The list goes on: Spider-man, Beast, Flash, all three Robins and of course my favorite, V for Vendetta. Without their loss, they would not have become great. But let's not forget, pain can also break us. Two-face and Dr. Octopus are just a few examples of how sorrow turned into destruction.

Although I have been fortunate so far, I will experience massive loss in my life. I, not my circumstances, will determine the effect it has on my life. The true test of character is when things get hardest. Luckily, we don't have to go it alone. Clark Kent had his adopted parents, Tony Stark had Jarvis and even Batman had Alfred. These relationships help to steer our heroes towards their destiny.

And you thought comics were just for kids.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Pattern Recognition Theory of Humor

Or why comedy improv is funny (read the whole thing):

The theory is an evolutionary and cognitive explanation of how and why any individual finds anything funny. Effectively it explains that humor occurs when the brain recognizes a pattern that surprises it
Speaking of, I make my fifth appearance tonight at the DSi Theater.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Six Words for Obama

Here is the project:

In six words, give him guidance. Or offer ideas for his inaugural address. Or share six memorable words for January 20th and beyond.

In six words, a president can say a lot: "Malice toward none, charity for all" (Abraham Lincoln, 1865), "Like a thousand points of light" (George H.W. Bush, 1989).

Here are mine: "Be a policymaker, not a politician." What are yours?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Plugging Friends' Blogs

Here are some highlights of recently added friends' blogs:

Bryan on CEO bonuses:

Brown's opinion is that this CEO shouldn't get the bonus, but (and I'm sure you already guessed it) my opinion is that he should get the bonus. Many people hate the idea of the huge CEO compensation packages and ask, "if the company does badly, why should they get paid millions?" But let's extend this logic...

Let's say we pay a surgeon only if she saves the patient's life. The result will be that surgeons only operate on patients that are a safe bet. The severely sick and injured patients (the ones who need the best care) will suddenly be unable to find doctors willing to help them*.

Paul's First Law of Engagement:

Premise 1: Women have diamond rings to show they are engaged.
Premise 2: Diamonds are a girl's best friend.
Premise 3: Dogs are man's best friend.
Conclusion: Men should have engagement dogs.

Chi on the power of saying yes:

Moreover, there's something to be said about the confidence a yes brings over a no. In the simplest of terms, a yes is a risk and thus would put you as a risk taker. Now it is safe to say that not all risks are equal but as the idiom goes: nothing ventured, nothing gained.And while this idiom is used many times in business, it seems to apply equally well to social interactions as well. Specifically, in regards to my fellow men, our perspective is that we need to step up and be a Yes instead of a No. We need to collectively discard our reservations about rejections and initiate interaction. There's no doubt that things can go horribly wrong but by the same token there is no guarantee that by waiting things will ever come to be.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Colbert Report in SC's 4th District

I found this after watching Justin's post on the Colbert Report. It's an interview with Bob Inglis, the representative of my home district. He actually says some intelligent things about gay marriage, especially for a Republican. This also reminds me that I would never go on the Colbert Report. I'm not smart enough to not look stupid.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a District - South Carolina's 4th - Bob Inglis
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Revisiting the New Deal

There is a lot of controversy of the effectiveness or failure of the New Deal. Here is a long (35:31) but incredibly informative discussion on the old new deal and the possible new new deal. Pay close attention to the American economists Russ Roberts and Lee Ohanian.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Afraid of the Intangible Gift

The Freakonomics Blog describes another kind of Christmas inefficiency:
Last week I did something that felt very 1990’s: I purchased a compact disc. The CD wasn’t for me; it was a Christmas present.

As I wrapped the CD, I pondered the silliness of the whole enterprise. After all, the recipient — like most of us these days — listens almost exclusively to MP3 files. In fact, I’m not even sure if he has a CD player beyond his laptop, which he will use to convert his disc-shaped gift into a more useful set of MP3 files.

But somehow it felt more “real” to give a physical compact disc, rather than to transfer the property rights to a more ephemeral MP3 file. The same thing can be said for books. I now read mostly on my Kindle. You might think that this would lead my family to give me books in the appropriate electronic format; after all, they are cheaper, easier to travel with, and more useful.
This happened to me too. My wife wanted Season 2 of Survivor: The Australian Outback (where Elisabeth Hasselbeck from The View got her start). But I knew Traci would not want to watch the season twice, so instead I got her a Netflix subscription, which was more useful and cheaper. However, on Christmas day, it felt like a cop out. Why is this?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy 2nd Engagement Anniversary!

Here's the story, narrated by Traci, of our engagement that was originally on our wedding website. Happy Engagement Anniversary Traci:

The day began with Harrison surprising me with breakfast in bed (sausage, muffins, eggs, and pancakes). This was a first for me, so I was very excited.Note Harrison's dashing sweater we found at Gap for 14 dollars!

After hanging out with Harrison for awhile I got a massage at a local spa that Harrison gave me for Christmas. It was so unbelievable. A perk of getting a massage in a really swanky place is they have tons of free samples of lotions and perfumes in the bathroom, which I definitely took advantage of. I was so loose and happy leaving the place, I wasn't totally paying attention and I hit my head on the car as I was getting in (I still had a mark to prove it.).

We had dinner downtown at Larkins on the River after going to church. We actually had reservations for the patio because it was such a busy night, but Harrison worked his magic and got us a table inside. I have never been to a nicer restaurant. The host put my napkin in my lap for me, nice touch. During dinner, Harrison told me he had joined Clemson Presbyterian, where I am also a member.

After dinner we walked around downtown Greenville. We reminisced about a time about 8 months ago when we were beginning to date and we were walking around that same area. Harrison tried to hold my hand and I wasn't quite comfortable with that, so I started pointing at things. I've come a long way.

We had dessert at this little diner. I loved it because we sat on the same side of the booth! Here, Harrison had another little surprise for me. This past summer I suggested that he read The Catcher in the Rye, because it's one of my favorite books, but he was busy with summer school and he isn't the biggest fan of fiction. But, for me, he started reading it over Christmas and we talked all about it!

Then, unbeknownst to me, we headed to Clemson. Harrison wanted to celebrate New Year's "in front of Tillman's clock tower." We got there around 11:40 and we saw a police car and big guy running into Tillman. This worried me and Harrison pretended like it worried him to. So we rode around for awhile and when we came back they had vanished. So we got out of the car and it started raining, so I suggest we go into Tillman. And Harrison suggested we explore Tillman. I wasn't too crazy about this idea because I felt like we shouldn't be there, but I followed.

We ended up going to the top of the clock tower and had a great view of Clemson. Harrison said this beautiful speech and asked me to marry him. Through my loud crying, I said yes. That was at midnight exactly, and the bell at The Carillon Gardens rang twelve times and fireworks went off for us. That guy I saw earlier was Edward and the police officer was an off duty cop supervising everything.

Then we went down the stairs a little bit and there was a rug set up with candles, roses, and wine. After that we went to my apartment and stayed up until 5am talking about weddings, babies, and everything in between. That morning I woke up to a slide show and my roses in a vase.

That morning I told Harrison that he was not allowed to spoil me with anymore surprises for a while. But of course, I really didn't mean that.