Thursday, April 30, 2009

Emptying the Bottle: April '09 Links List

1) The Wayback Machine, archived collection of over 80 billion URL captures from 1996 to the present (here's the old CNN, ESPN and Google).

2) Animals pay taxes too.

3) A statistical model predicting when gay marriage will be legalized.

4) Marriage really does make you fat.

5) Egosurfing, I know you do it. I do.

6) You are a bastard.

7) Weirdest college classes (including underwater basketweaving).

8) The history of Abraham Lincoln's beard.

9) Giving Anonymously, a non-profit organization facilitating nameless generosity between people.

10) The economic miracle of the pencil.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Discovery Would Make You Doubt God?

Ever since the Age of Enlightenment (about the 17th century) there has been a tension between faith and science. Even though I am a strong believer in systematic theology, I must admit there is a certain portion of trust in the unknown needed for religious faith. That said, I recently came across an extinction timeline from 1950-2050. It is a chronological list of when certain things will disappear from human society. Here are a couple of examples: 1940's- Ottoman Empire, 1970's- Smallpox, 2000's- Pluto, 2020's- Blogging, 2050's- Death.

The timeline itself falls somewhere between entertaining and just plain silly. But that last prediction, the extinction of death, got me thinking. I have heard a lot about how science may be able to stop aging and one day totally prevent death. And I have to admit it is at least plausible. The average age in the Medieval Period was about 30 years, but now it's more than twice that. I am amazed at the scientific advances I enjoy that my parents couldn't have dreamed of.

The title of this post is "What Discovery Would Make You Doubt God?", and I must admit, if science could one day end human suffering, pain, and death (which this timeline says will happen in my lifetime) I would really have to evaluate the doctrines of Christianity. If the wages of sin is death, and there is no death, then there must not be any sin, and only sinners need a savior.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Economics of Everything

If you haven't noticed, I think economics can help explain a lot about the world. A mistake many people make is that economics is the study of money or business, but that's finance, not economics. Economics, like all social sciences, is the study of people (we talk money a lot because it's easy to measure). I've tried to show this with previous posts like Economics of Relationships, Economics of Late Night Television, Economics of Debate, Economics of the First Thanksgiving, Economics of Gainful Unemployment, and the Economics of Religion. I recently came across a book, The Economic Naturalist, that's a collection of short papers using economics to answer everyday questions. The Freakonomics Blog has listed a couple from the book, here's one of my favorites:

Why do fast food places promise a free meal if you aren’t given a receipt at the time of purchase?

To deter theft, owners of restaurants and other retail establishments require cashiers to reconcile the total amount of cash collected during their shift with the total volume of sales rung up at their register … One way cashiers can circumvent this control is by neglecting to ring up a proportion of their transactions … Thus if a cashier failed to ring up a customer’s $20 meal, he or she could pocket the $20 without creating an accounting discrepancy … By offering a complimentary meal to anyone who fails to receive a receipt, owners provide an economic incentive for customers to monitor cashiers for free.
I've ordered my own copy of the book, I'll keep you updated.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Can I Call Myself an Economist?

Ever since I got my Master's in Economics I've wondered, can I called myself an economist if I don't have a Ph.D? Here's Brendan Nyhan, a Political Science Ph.D. candidate at Dartmouth on the subject:

Today, the Wall Street Journal editorial board refers to the "economist Michael Darda [...] but it turns out that Darda's academic credentials consist of a [undergraduate] degree in economics, journalism and public relations [...]

One other example -- despite having only an undergraduate degree in economics, the actor, game show host, and conservative pundit Ben Stein describes himself as "an economist" and even attacked the qualifications of Princeton economist Paul Krugman

His main complaint is "economists" with bachelor degrees in economics. He does suggest that maybe I could be included in the club:

Typically, the phrase "economist" means someone with a Ph.D. (or at least a master's degree) in economics

Unhappy with the "at least" part of that I emailed Mike Munger, economist, blogger, and former Libertarian candidate for Governor of NC. Here's what he had to say:

I'd say you would need a Masters in Econ to call yourself an Economist, and not get hooted at. But you may not care much about hooting!

I do care about hooting, but I don't think I have anything to worry about. I found this pretty difficult AP Macroeconomics quiz from the New York Times and made 15/18. Not too bad for being out of school for over a year (and Macro never really was my thing). However, I may hold off on labeling myself until after I start my AP Microeconomics course next semester. It just seems inappropriate for a history teacher to call himself an economist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

You're Doing It Right Jon Stewart/Mann

Jonathan Mann runs the site Rock Cookie Bottom, where he writes and performs an original song a day. Here's a favorite:

Part of Jonathan's commitment to write a song a day is his belief that if you produce a lot, then at least some of it will be great. He explains it well in the lyrics of his song Anthem: "just do the things that you love to do and do them all day long, just let yourself just to suck sometimes", which was recorded while he was traveling on a train from NYC. Sometimes I'm afraid to try something risky because I might fail. Some of his songs aren't that great, like "I'm So Tired of Capitalism", but some of them are pure gold, like "Obama Neurosis".

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Brain as a Word Cloud, Part II

About a year ago I ran the text in my blog through a word cloud creater and this is what I got. I ran it again yesterday and the picture is below:

The first thing I noticed was that "people" was the largest in both clouds. I talk about other people a lot, but rarely talk about my personal life. "government", "money", and "good" are still here. This shows at least some consistency. The last thing I noticed is that there was nothing about religion, or specifically Christianity. I looked back and the last time I posted on the subject was early March and before then August. Sometimes I feel awkward talking about something so personal in such an impersonal venue. It seems overly revealing. Like my faith, I take politics very seriously, but unlike faith, I feel political issues don't define who I am (or at least shouldn't). I'm not sure if this should change.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why I'm Glad I Got B's in College

One of the great things about blogging is that you can read something interesting online, share it with your friends, then they can share something they found interesting from that same site. This is one of those times. When I graduated from Clemson University (the first time) I had slightly above a 3.0 GPA, but I also had 4 years of very valuable experiences. The Brazen Careerist has a great post on 5 reasons why A's in college are overrated:

1. No one has ever asked about my GPA.
2. I didn't sleep.
3. I've forgotten 95% of it.
4. I didn't have time for people.
5. Work experience is more valuable.
During my undergraduate years at Clemson I went football games, actively participated in FCA then RUF, got into economics/politics, joined an improv group, wrote for and then ran a fake news website, joined a local church, met with academically at risk freshmen, taught football and basketball players study skills, met amazing people, asked the most amazing of those people to marry me, and did just well enough in school to to keep my scholarships, get into graduate school, and get an assistanceship to pay for it. Like I said, I'm glad I made B's in college.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

(Un)Happy Tax Day!

If you haven't paid the piper, then stop reading this and get to it. If you have, then enjoy this nice summary of taxes from

Here New Math's equations on laughter, revenge, hindsight, modern art, credit cards, dogs, rumors, barbed wire, plastic surgery and silence.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Accuracy of Wikipedia

If you've done any research in the last 5 years you've probably been told Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information. But just how does it stack up when compared to the revered Encyclopedia Britannica?:

For its study, Nature chose articles from both sites in a wide range of topics and sent them to what it called "relevant" field experts for peer review. The experts then compared the competing articles--one from each site on a given topic--side by side, but were not told which article came from which site. Nature got back 42 usable reviews from its field of experts.

In the end, the journal found just eight serious errors, such as general misunderstandings of vital concepts, in the articles. Of those, four came from each site. They did, however, discover a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, Wikipedia had 162 such problems, while Britannica had 123.

That averages out to 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia.
This study is important for three reasons. One, it shows that a free, customer run website, can be incredibly successful. It also shows that information, no matter how well edited, will always have discrepancies. Ideas aren't always facts and truth is very hard to be known, no matter how smart the writers are.

Finally, it's important in that despite Wikipedia's relative accuracy, it doesn't convince me to allow my students to use Wikipedia as a source. Not because it's slightly less accurate, but because of something I'll call author responsibility. If a paper is written using incorrect information from Britannica, then the editors of Britannica are to blame. If a paper is written using incorrect information from Wikipedia, there is no author who stands to take the blame. Other than the researcher, no one's reputation is on the line. For me, Wikipedia remains my main starting point, but never my ending point.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Twenty-three Bank Takeovers So Far

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has shut down 23 banks in 2009 (21 more than last year this time). As scary as that sounds, the government has been and continues to be pretty good at doing it without causing a panic. I try not to recommend long videos, but if you interested in what taking over a bank actually looks like, watch this 60 Minutes special. It will simultaneously scare you and make you feel safe:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Friday, April 10, 2009

Countercyclical Assets

During economic hardships it is normal and good for people to decrease or delay their purchases. However, there are goods that are purchased more (like bankruptcy lawyers), these are called countercyclical assets. Here are some of the more unusual ones I've come across:

1) Marx’s anti-capitalism book Das Kapital

2) vitamins to prevent expensive doctor visits

3) cheap birth control in the form of vasectomies

4) candy as a cheap source of comfort

5) less reliable banks and increased desperation means more safes

6) in Ireland, closed factory tour guides

7) in Italy, loan sharks and organized crime

8) online and offline companionship

9) sadly, mud pies

10) evangelical church attendance

11) businesses that allow you to break dishes to relieve stress

12) investors have moved from stocks to gold, vintage wine, parking spaces, and alpacas

13) high end prostitutes/therapists

14) inexpensive ways of self-defense, like tasers

15) Ayn Rand's pro-capitalism book Atlas Shrugged

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pickens' Arguement is Economically Unsound

For the last year, oil executive T. Boone Pickens has been pushing his combination wind, solar, and natural gas solution to our energy costs. He claims the $700 billion we spend a year on foreign oil will be the "greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind". However, this is not a wealth transfer, just a trade. Americans buy $700 billion of oil every year, because it is worth more than that to them. Using Pickens' argument, that is the "greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind".

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The G-20 and Women

Here is a response to train of women following the world's most powerful men around at the G-20. It's from Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog. I've really enjoyed her unique perspective on the world, so I've recently added it to my blogroll. Here is what I thought most interesting:

I adore Michelle Obama, and I adore Carla Bruni – First Lady and First Model, and First Homewrecker, of France. But I don't want to see them grouped together for something other than who they are. They are special and fun and innovative and strong. They do not deserve to be grouped almost randomly with other women based on who they married. I want to see Michelle and Carla hanging out together so I can have a vicarious girls-night-out in London.

While I write this post, Adam Toren has the unfortunate timing of sending me an email to tell me I have been named one of the top 100 women bloggers. I email him back immediately to ask him if he has a similar award for the top 100 men.

And here's my point: women do not need to be called out just because they are women. It's bullshit. Women are doing fine competing with men. Women are earning more than men in corporate America, women are keeping their jobs at a higher rate than men in the recession, and, Adam, when it comes to making money from blogging, the mommy bloggers knock the ball out of the park. So what's up with segregating women? What is the point?
Not quite sure what I think about this, but I there is something to it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Who Benefits From Big Government?

Washington. And I don't mean some vague notion of Washington:
As the nation's most populous metro area feels Wall Street's pain, the fourth-largest—Washington—is barely sensing the recession. In fact, Moody's estimates that metro Washington's economy will actually grow 2.5% from mid-2008 through mid-2010. New York's economy is expected to shrink 4.2%.

It wouldn't be the first time that Washington benefited from a national crisis. Back in 1930 the District of Columbia was a quiet Southern town, scoffed at by New York sophisticates. But as the federal government ramped up to fight first the Great Depression and then World War II, its population grew 65% in two decades, vs. just 14% for New York City.

This time Washington is getting a boost from government spending to fight the recession and fix the financial system, as well as the ongoing expenses of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and promoting homeland security. While President Barack Obama pointedly left Washington for Denver to sign the $787 billion stimulus package on Feb. 17, locals expect the metro area to garner a big share of the dollars.
Congratulations to those lucky enough to be moving to the Washington.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I April Fooled Myself

Whether its Google, NPR, or a Harvard Economist, April Fools has become a time for the media to play practical jokes. I even tried my hand at it last year. Apparently, I have played a not so innocent joke on myself. Since I've started blogging I've keep an email draft of ideas, slowly adding to it. However, this morning it was gone. I apparently discarded the draft, which has grown to at least 2 full pages of thoughts, links, and possible blog titles. Sad to say, this post is not one of those practical jokes.

Update: Maybe I should change the title of this post to My Wife April Fooled Me (see comments).