December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I hope to hold off on blogging until the New Year; we'll see how that goes. In the meantime, enjoy the Pogues:

December 22, 2007

My Blog's Reading Level

cash advance



Jesus Christ. I live in that apartment complex (my building was nowhere near the fire, thank God). Given that there were 15 (!) arson-related fires in the complex this past summer, I think this is cause for alarm. Springhill Lake needs to start giving answers about what it's doing to prevent future fires, and soon. I mean, would it kill them to say something on their website about the fire? Even something as perfunctory as "No one could have foreseen this tragedy, etc." would suffice at this point.

December 18, 2007

The Efficiency-Minded Person's Christmas Tree

Slate has an interesting article on the relative merits of real vs. artificial Christmas trees. Is it better to go out and get a tree from a tree farm that you'll keep for about a month, then throw out? Or is it better to get a tree you can reuse each year, but may be coated with dangerous chemicals and will wind up in the landfill anyway? I myself like natural trees but the wastefulness of it does get to me sometimes. Not to mention that I often find big trees (which tend to be the norm) a little garish and oppressive.

One possible workaround (based on this idea by Tyler Cowen) is to get something you can keep and use in your house, but also resembles a traditional pine tree. To wit, a rosemary bush: Cut properly, it looks like a mini-pine tree which you can decorate (as seen above), it doesn't dominate your living room, and after Christmas, you can use the rosemary sprigs for cooking. Who says ornamental things can't be practical as well?

December 17, 2007

90s Nostalgia Blogging

Letters to Cleo - Here and Now:

For those who can't decipher what Kay Hanley is saying in the refrain:
The comfort of a knowledge of a rise above the sky above
could never parallel the challenge of an acquisition in the
Here and now
Here and now
How simple is that?

November 27, 2007

Deep Thought of the Day

Rum makes a better basis for cakes and sweetbreads than bourbon.

November 25, 2007

On Cold Mountain and Gone with the Wind

Am I the only one who finds it a little disturbing that the best Civil War films -- nearly all Civil War films, for that matter -- have an objectively pro-Southern slant to them? This is more true, of course, of GWTW than Cold Mountain, but still. There is a film that needs to be made, if not of the Civil War, then of the Reconstruction years, from an explicitly pro-Northern perspective. If Nathan Newman's recounting of the era is accurate, a great tragedy centered around Ulysses S. Grant could easily be written.

November 24, 2007

Movie Review: Enchanted

It was either this or Beowulf (non-3D version); and as tempting as a nude CGI Angelina Jolie may be, I was strangely not that enthused about the movie. But as far as Disney-approved satire goes, Enchanted is pretty entertaining, I must admit. It succeeds mainly on the strength of Amy Adams' performance, which is incredibly sweet and has more depth than a movie like this deserves.

Of course, if I were to write a Disney satire movie, I'd probably use this list as a jumping off point.

Good News!

The paper I co-authored with my professor and a classmate on the Law of the Sea Convention will be published in the next edition of Environmental Law and Policy.

In other news, Y. and I had a great Thanksgiving. It was the first big meal with both her parents and mine, and it went swimmingly. We also went home with an extra turkey -- Y.'s mother had gotten two turkeys expecting the 10 or so people in attendance to eat both, which, suffice to say, was not the case. So the usual 3-day turkey diet will be about 7 days for us.

October 20, 2007


I saw it last weekend with Y. at the University of Maryland, and while it was delightfully acerbic, as advertised, I would have enjoyed it more, perhaps, if it weren't also an apparent harbinger of things to come.

October 12, 2007

The Paranoid Style in Google Video

I'm currently collaborating on a paper about the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the Senate, finally, may soon ratify. The main thing holding it up has been anti-UN reactionaries, who recently have producing bizarre ads opposing ratification such as this one:

It's a pack of lies, of course, but also weirdly entertaining, I must confess.

Pain in the RSS

I like Google Reader a lot, but one of the annoying things about it -- perhaps this is true of other RSS software -- is that I will often get a post reacting to a post before I get the original post itself. So, for example, this morning I read Tyler Cowen's critique of Dani Rodrik's progressive trade vision, then read, an hour later, Rodrik's post on... his progressive trade vision. Maybe I'd be better off living backwards, like T.H. White's Merlin.

September 30, 2007

Power Outage Today

The weird part about it was that the only place affected was our apartment complex; even the nearby mall and other shops were doing fine. So Y. and I went to the movies, did some errands, bought some candles, and hoped that not all the food in our fridge spoiled by the time power was restored. Just another weekend.

September 2, 2007

Textbooks for Rent, cont.

So I finally decided to rent my textbooks for the semester, giving in to temptations I had harbored a while back. The expensive ones, anyway: it didn't seem worth it to try to save money on comparatively cheap paperbacks that are also more likely to be worth keeping, to boot. One textbook (Paul Krugman's international economics textbook) is out of stock, unfortunately; maybe has it.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

My former classmate Katherine Nehring, currently living in Benin, offers an intriguing theory:
Maybe that’s why cats are generally considered feminine, as opposed to masculine dogs – because it’s the females of one species and the males of the other that are prone to obtrusive and embarrassing displays of sexuality. While male cats may spray, for instance, I have yet to see them become enamored of anyone’s leg, and that’s a classic dog behavior. I won’t even get into the anatomical and existential questions posed by our female dachshund’s repeated attempts to impregnate our male cat, but the point stands.
There's definitely something to that -- although I would say that the differing standards of cleanliness for dogs and cats, combined with stereotypes of "dainty" women and "grungy" men, have something to do with it as well.

August 16, 2007

One of My Great Pet Peeves

Why can't Hollywood do an accurate portrayal of Washington, DC?

It's a problem that extends to the whole DC region, too. In Syriana, I believe there's a scene where George Clooney is standing outside what is obviously an Ikea -- only thing is, the only Ikea in the region is in College Park. And let's not forget the gleaming set of skyscrapers that populated Ft. Detrick in the disaster flick Outbreak, which if you've seen the actual Ft. Detrick in Frederick, is an absolute farce.

August 12, 2007

Textbooks for Rent

In my inbox, I just got a promotion for TextBookFlix, which allows you to rent textbooks for a semester, and, according to the website, save 55% to 65% on your textbook bills. As a grad student, this is quite tempting; however, is this a sustainable business model? In my experience, at least, the turnover for textbooks (and indeed, any books used for a class) tends to be rather high -- new professors come in, some classes cycle through different professors each semester, some classes are only offered occasionally, if at all, etc. Add to this the fact that professors are usually idiosyncratic about their textbook choices, and it's hard to see how this could work, at least from the point of view of the bookseller. (For the book buyer, the ultimate fate of books rented is arguably not important.) I guess that for introductory courses that everyone has to take, there is plenty of money to be made in renting textbooks; but for advanced courses, its profitability has to taper off.

August 5, 2007

Monkey Torture

Trolling through YouTube (in lieu of doing something useful), I came across this old clip from The State, and given the state of politics and the media today, I found it strangely resonant:

Let's Recall the President

I don't think it's going too far to say that the Bush years have revealed some glaring weaknesses in our system of government, not least of which concerns executive accountability: The barriers to prosecuting an impeachment are extremely high, and given the dissatisfaction of so many Americans with the President's policies, and the inability of Congress to successfully oppose the administration, we have the situation we have now, where the President can pursue policies in outright defiance of the will of the American people with impunity. And, since the President is term-limited, we can't even vote the bastard out of office.

This is why this op-ed by Robert Dallek in the Sunday Post is so fascinating: He proposes amending the Constitution to provide for the recall of the president and vice president, to be initiated by a 3/5th majority in both houses of Congress, and decided by the voters. This is an idea I've actually been toying with myself for a few weeks, and there's some merit to it:
  1. It treats the presidency and the vice presidency as a unit, which impeachment does not do, and which would be more in accordance with the post-12th Amendment Constitution;
  2. The supermajority barriers to recall are lower than impeachment;
  3. It grapples with the need to apply more accountability to the modern, term-limited, and imperial presidency;
  4. And the decision to recall ultimately rests with the people, thus maintaining a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.
It also passes the Clinton test; i.e., if a recall motion were initiated against Bill Clinton instead of impeachment, the result would have been the same -- failure. So Democrats supporting this can feel secure against charges of opportunism or Bush-hatred. (Republicans, of course, will wait until the next Democratic president to extol the virtues of recall.) Moreover, the impeachment provision would still be useful against lesser members of the executive branch.

On the other hand, there are still a number of things that even the current Congress can do to check the executive -- that is, if they showed a little more spine.

June 26, 2007

Blog Designer for the Stars

Having already created an excellent blog for journalist Chris Hayes, my brother, Paul Smith, has helped renovate the vanguard for the Sam's Club conservative revolution, otherwise known as The American Scene. Do check it out -- if nothing else, Reihan Salam needs the company.

Oh, and watch out for EveryBlock -- It will change your life forever...

June 25, 2007

God Damn the Grinning Kings

I often think about this Carl Sandburg poem, and this article about one of the most severely wounded veterans of Iraq -- who can hardly even speak -- brought it to my mind again:
A million young workmen straight and strong lay stiff on the grass and roads,

And the million are now under soil and their rottening flesh will in the years feed roots of blood-red roses.

Yes, this million of young workmen slaughtered one another and never saw their red hands.

And oh, it would have been a great job of killing and a new and beautiful thing under the sun if the million knew why they hacked and tore each other to death.

The kings are grinning, the kaiser and the czar—they are alive riding in leather-seated motor cars, and they have their women and roses for ease, and they eat fresh-poached eggs for breakfast, new butter on toast, sitting in tall water-tight houses reading the news of war.

I dreamed a million ghosts of the young workmen rose in their shirts all soaked in crimson … and yelled:

God damn the grinning kings, God damn the kaiser and the czar.

June 24, 2007

Disconnected Thoughts on Pollution and Resource Taxes

I was watching this Bloggingheads session between Megan McArdle and Dan Drezner and at some point they get to talking about the so-called Resource Curse, where an abundance of natural resources (usually oil) actually retards the development of a strong economy and democratic political institutions. This led me to wonder about proposals for a carbon tax -- in particular, calls to use the revenue from such a tax to reduce payroll or other income taxes. Besides alleviating the impact carbon taxes would have on people, many in the field of ecological economics (e.g., Herman Daly) have argued that we should shift the tax base from labor and investment, which we want to encourage, to natural resources and pollution, which we want to curtail in the case of the former and eliminate in the case of the latter. (This post at Gristmill is representative of this view.)

The question I now have is: would a reliance on resource or pollution taxes have an eroding effect on the economy or on political institutions, the way that a reliance on income from natural resources seem to have? One benefit of taxing labor is that it entails a agreement between citizens and the government that it will use taxpayer money responsibly. When the government is not dependent on citizens for its funding, it can induce leaders to behave in irresponsible ways -- which can range from, to use Tom Friedman's examples, Vladimir Putin's saber-rattling to Nigerian officials calling off local elections. On the other hand, the big difference between deriving income from natural resources directly and deriving income from resource consumption is that the human element remains in the latter: Public officials still have to answer to the people when they raise resource taxes or misuse the revenue gained from it.

Then there's the question how much we could shift from labor to resource taxes, i.e., how reliable a source of income they are, but that's for another blog post.

June 23, 2007

Rahm Plays Hardball

Via Atrios, it appears the idea to bring Dick Cheney to heel through the power of the purse is gaining traction:
Washington, D.C. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel issued the following statement regarding his amendment to cut funding for the Office of the Vice President from the bill that funds the executive branch. The legislation -- the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill -- will be considered on the floor of the House of Representatives next week.

"The Vice President has a choice to make. If he believes his legal case, his office has no business being funded as part of the executive branch. However, if he demands executive branch funding he cannot ignore executive branch rules. At the very least, the Vice President should be consistent. This amendment will ensure that the Vice President's funding is consistent with his legal arguments. I have worked closely with my colleagues on this amendment and will continue to pursue this measure in the coming days."

June 22, 2007

Zombie Lincoln

Yes, the coverage of the 2008 election is still ridiculously superficial:

Power of the Purse

Lots of people are rightly aghast at Dick Cheney's assertion that he is exempt from executive branch rules about classified information because the Vice President is not part of either the executive or legislative branches of government -- in effect, above the law. But I think there's an easy solution to this, courtesy of Jonathan Zasloff, who says that the next budget should include this item:
None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to fund or support in any way the Office of the Vice President of the United States.

June 15, 2007

The Truth About Colony Collapse Disorder

The Washington City Paper has a new article on the sudden crash in the bee population over the last year. The good news is, the culprit is almost certainly not your cell phone. The bad news is, it's probably industrial agriculture:
Compared to the bucolic trappings of small-scale beekeeping, with its stationary hives and natural feeding practices, commercial beekeeping operations are like entomological concentration camps. Large-scale apiarists maintain hundreds or thousands of hives, gorging the bees on high-fructose corn syrup in the winter, then dousing them in pesticides in the spring to kill mites (“They usually hire Mexicans to do that,” one beekeeper told me.) They then take them on the road in 18-wheelers, all the way across the country. Once the bees have reached their destination, they’re unleashed to pollinate fields and groves, then packed up and trucked back home. Transporting bees long distances is SOP for modern industrial beekeeping—but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the bees. A significant percentage of the increase in dead bees seems directly related to moving the hives.
The article also points the finger at a pesticide, imidaclorpid, that is known to cause nervous and immune system disorders in insects -- i.e., can cause bees to get sick and die. In both cases, the agriculture and chemical industries have prevented a serious examination of the issue. This is a great (if depressing) read, both because it dispels some of the conspiracy theories surrounding the bee collapse, and because it focuses our outrage at how our food supply has been put at risk by narrow corporate interests.

June 10, 2007

The Soundtrack of My Life

Via Megan McArdle, a new thing to do with iTunes Shuffle. Here's what I got, though, like Megan, I subbed in alternates for repeat artists. I'm due to have a strange, strange life:

Opening Credits:

My Endless Fall - chocolate genius - Godmusic

Waking Up:

Money - - Future Soundtrack for America

First Day At School:

Dead Voices - Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - Hearts of Oak

Falling in Love:

A Different City - Modest Mouse - The Moon and Antarctica

Breaking Up:

Good to Be on the Road Back Home - Cornershop - When I Was Born for the 7th Time


The Stars are Projectors - Modest Mouse - Moon and Antarctica

Carrion - Fiona Apple - Tidal

Life’s Okay:

Brothers and Sisters - Blur - Think Tank

Mental Breakdown:

We Walk - R.E.M. - Murmur


I Know What I Know - Paul Simon - Graceland


Headphones - Björk - Post

Getting Back Together:

Deeper Into Movies - Yo La Tengo - I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One


Save Us S.O.S. - Hot Hot Heat - Make Up the Breakdown

Birth of a Child:

Kiss Me Like You Mean It - The Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs

Final Battle:

Hold On, Hold On - Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Death Scene:

Baby (1968) - Os Mutantes - Everything Is Possible!

Funeral Song:

Something in the Way of Things (In Town) - The Roots - Phrenology

End Credits:

The Ballad of the Sin Eater - Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - Hearts of Oak

Young at Heart - Joss Stone - Mind Body & Soul

May 31, 2007

I'm a Terrible, Terrible Person

Because I want to subject you to the finest musical offering in the history of St. John's College. Start with "Basic Cable," and descend into uncontrollable fits of laughter from there.

April 15, 2007

Hollywood Do-Gooders Actually Doing Some Good

Fascinating story (via Stephen) in the International Herald-Tribune about Mia Farrow, of all people, spearheading a successful effort to pressure China to put pressure on Sudan to accept international intervention in Darfur. When weak-kneed liberals talk about the usefulness of soft power, this is exactly what we mean.

Debt Service

Like Oliver Wendell Holmes (or so it is believed -- scroll down) I view taxes as one's payment for civilization. That's why I find it so frustrating to learn that so much of our tax dollars go to paying off old debts, most of them racked up during the Republican spending binges and tax giveaways of the last few years. It also doesn't help when the Bush-controlled IRS is now rewriting the tax rules to favor the superrich.

April 11, 2007

Things I Didn't Know

Having gone to a small college with a small student government, I appear to have missed out on the phenomenon of political parties for student government elections. This is possibly a more instructive way of introducing students to the political process, rather than the popularity contest mindset of individual candidates running for office. After all, most independent runs for the presidency tend to be vanity campaigns, rather than expressions of a larger movement (e.g., Mike Bloomberg, if he runs).

Also worth checking out is the recent protest at the University of Maryland over the lack of housing. It's a real issue, I can tell you that.

April 10, 2007

Shorter Laurson and Pieler

Throw the peasants a bone every now and then, and they'll stop grumbling.

In a sense, though, they are right that the minimum wage (and other redistributive programs, I would add) is more about fairness than efficiency, but it's a worthwhile tradeoff. A sense that the system is fair, regardless of your own personal outcome, is absolutely necessary for a market economy, or any economy, actually. Thomas Geoghegan makes a similar argument, BTW, albeit from a much different perspective.

April 4, 2007

Johnnie Blogging

A friend of mine from college, Aaron MacLean, has an article in the American, a kind of Yankee version of the Economist, about the Islamic finance movement, which tries to provide investment opportunities to the Muslim world without charging interest, something forbidden in the Qur'an. As it turns out, sharia-compliant lending can do just as well as Western-style lending -- so long as the former functions just like the latter.

April 1, 2007

Sheep Albedo and Global Warming

Of the many April Fool's Day items this year, I'd say RealClimate's post wins the award for most brainy. NPR's offerings -- two of them this year -- were also good, though I thought the one about indigenous sculptures (follow the link to find out what that is) was much funnier than the one about the ring tone ban.

March 29, 2007

Music, Movies, Microcode, High-Speed Pizza Delivery

Alan Blinder predicts the future of globalization -- think less Tom Friedman, more Neal Stephenson. It's interesting that, for all the controversy his remarks have aroused, he never actually repudiates laissez-faire globalization, he just recognizes that the costs are much greater than advertised. So it's hard for me to see just is so terrible about what Blinder is saying, at least from a neoclassical economist's perspective, creative destruction and all that.

February 24, 2007

Discounting and the Environment

I'm thinking about writing an essay for one of my classes on the topic of discounting, which has gotten quite a bit of interest due to the recent Stern review on the economics of climate change. In part this is because I've only just begun learn about what discounting is and what it's for: It's virtually unknown outside of financial markets (and professional economists), even though it really should be a standard part of introductory economic texts. So this post is going to collect a bunch of relevant links for the purpose of coming back to them at a later time; therefore, not much substance.
At some point I'll get around to reading them all in detail.