Sunday, December 14, 2008

Doctor Doctor

I tried to comment on a blog post at New English Review, but can't see the reply. I don't want to lose it, so here it is:

In Westport, Connecticut works a physician named Doctor. He is Dr. Doctor. His wife is a doctor. Together they are the Doctors Doctor. The physicians who treat them when they are ill are the Doctors Doctor's doctors. Not exactly "onions, onions, onions", but factual.

Conan Doyle chose Watson to be a doctor. It convinces because we know some doctors to be clear and precise.

James Michener described his success as being able to get people to read to the end of the page. Not a fan myself, but his popularity and the heft of his tomes suggests that he had found the knack.

Are clarity and precision essential in getting people to read to the end of the page? Usually, I would say, even when seeming to write about nothing. The writing may be desultory, or have no main topic whatsoever, may have no point or direction, yet capture and hold the reader's attention. Still, on that random walk, one expects clear and precise narration.

Exceptions abound. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" comes to mind. Wonderful, but in part because of what is left unreported and unclear. "A pair of ragged claws" is imprecise, but effective.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Drill and conserve

Obama claims that we who support drilling in the outer continental shelf (OCS) are ignorant and that we are proud of being ignorant. Why? He claims (wrongly) that Americans could save as much oil by properly inflating their tires as could be produced by drilling for it offshore. He claims that to deny this is ignorance and to flout one's denial is to be proud of being ignorant.

He implies that those of us who support offshore drilling oppose proper tire inflation. As McCain said about inflating tires (and conservation in general), "Do that. But also drill". Obama assumes we are too stupid to realize that we can do both.

I guess his argument works with some people. It's very simple to contradict:

Consider what a child would do. Tell the child you've hidden a candy bar in the kitchen and a candy bar in the bedroom. Which will he search for? Well, some children would search in the kitchen. Some would search in the bedroom. But 99.999% of the children would search both rooms and get both candy bars. Because even little children know that if some is good, more is better.

Can Obama show one good reason why drilling offshore would prevent us from also properly inflating our tires (or vice versa)? If not, he is presenting us with a false choice.

You'd have to be ignorant to fall for that false choice. Obama assumes we are.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Free Our Oil

Editorial in today's WSJ: Free Our Oil

In Alaska, the citizens get cash payments from the royalties derived from Alaskan oil drilling. Wouldn't it be nice if we had some offshore royalties coming in to shore up sagging Florida state gov't revenues? Wouldn't it be nice if we had a Taxpayer Bill of Rights that limited growth in state spending -- and the offshore oil royalties were pouring in? Wouldn't it be nice if Florida had to send out royalty checks to its citizens -- per capita checks benefiting rich and poor, young and old, black and white, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking alike?

The only thing standing between us and those checks are the Dems in Congress. Does anybody doubt that, if the Republicans still formed a majority in Congress, the offshore oil ban would be history? If Newt were Speaker instead of Nancy, Congress would have presented a repeal of that ban for the President to sign on the same day he lifted the Executive moratorium.

And oil dropped by the biggest one-day percentage in some 16 years -- second big drop this week. This on the day after the President ended the moratorium. But we're told lifting the ban would not affect oil prices for years to come.

If Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramhoff and Mark Foley could sink the Republican majority in 2006, this issue -- Democratic obstinacy on offshore drilling -- could sink the Democratic majority. Did any of you see the electoral disaster for Republicans at this point in the summer of 2006? A steady drumbeat of criticism could do in the Congress who has overseen the doubling of oil prices and refused to respond.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Interesting lectures at

I just listened to a very interesting lecture called Rothbard as Historian that derided the use of GDP alone to gauge the health of the economy. You can hear it in the podcast available from

The relevant comments come about 25 minutes into the lecture. The issue is that much of GDP is gov't spending and gov't spending is a net drag on the economy (given that its revenue subtracts from economy in nearly equal amount as it spends). What Rothbard suggested is that we measure Private Product Remaining (which the gov't does not measure) which is GDP minus what the gov't takes out.

The lecturer, Thomas Woods, uses 1946 as an example. It supposedly was a bad year looking only at GDP figures. GDP dropped because wartime spending ended. GDP would lead you to believe the previous years were better, but in fact WW2 was not a time of great prosperity. True, unemployment was low (11 million people were in the military and some of them died -- this was not an ideal situation). In fact, lots of goods were rationed during the war. People were scraping by -- they had money, but nothing to buy. In 1946 soldiers came back, re-took their old jobs when they could (9 million of them) and replaced the less productive, less skilled people who had been doing this job (women, young and the very old). Is it reasonable to believe that productivity shrank by 22% in that year as GDP would indicate?

Rothbard claims that the only spending decisions that help when measuring the economy are voluntary transactions (rather than gov't controlled spending) because these are the only ones we can be reasonably sure are made to increase the individual's well-being. Private output increased by 30% in 1946 -- we've never had a year over year improvement as good as that. And, people living in 1946 will tell you that the American economy did very well that year, even though the standard economic measurements would have you believe it was catastrophic. is an extraordinary online resource. The lectures are quite Libertarian, so you'll hear about Rand, Rothbard, Mises, Hayek, etc. They like to take swipes (and outright attacks) against the Iraq War. I part company with them concerning foreign policy, but the economic thought is compelling.

You can find there a lecture entitled Senior Economics Seminar by Mark Thornton which examines the fallacies of alcohol and drug prohibition. It got me thinking. My son used a product which was adulterated and it killed him. He used it properly. If this were a legal product sold at Wal-Mart, his mother would be able to sue the manufacturer and probably Wal-Mart and definitely whoever it was who mishandled the product for wrongful death. Who is going to support her in her old age now that her only child has died? But because the product was an illegal narcotic and because it was sold only in an illegal market, none of the normal legal protections are available. In all likelihood, if narcotics were openly sold at a profit-making store (maybe not Wal-Mart), the capitalists who maintained that market would make sure the product was safe when used properly, lest they lose their profits through product liability lawsuits.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A defense of polygamy

In an article criticizing polygamy, Rich Lowry of National Review states:

Polygamy is fundamentally inconsistent with our values as a society...

Here is my response:

Lowry's thesis is that polygamy is inherently anti-democratic, but not all polygamy is coercive. There are remedies to the faults he lists (e.g. require that all wives after the first be over a certain age, or that in plural marriages the man cannot be more than 10 years older than his wife if she is under a certain age), as well as some he missed (i.e. the chief problem with bigamy is that one or both of the cuckolded spouses is usually not aware of the other marriage -- require consent of all spouses before approving a subsequent marriage and you have truly democratized polygamy).

In other words, the institution could be reformed in such a way as to increase women's choices. But Lowry does not want to reform it, he wants to abolish it. His aim is not really to condemn it for cause, but to condemn it as offensive to his tradition and to look for cause to justify his bias.

I have no truck with polygamy (more correctly, polygyny -- polyandry, the other form of polygamy, empowers women). I can barely serve one wife, much less take on another (and as any devoted spouse knows, marriage is mutual servitude). But I know that some women who would otherwise go manless in a monogamous society would get married if polygyny were legal. I also know that some women prefer the company of their husband's other wives (lots of available babysitters). Polygamy does not have to take on the bizarre forms that it does when society shuns it and shoves its practitioners into the shadows.

In short, I think Lowry's case against polygyny is intellectually wanting. It reminds me of the case against gay marriage, which is said to weaken real marriage. From what I can see, it merely redefines the word "marriage" in an objectionable way. There is nothing about long-term loving gay relationships that anyone despises -- anyone accept those who despise gay sex first and foremost. Most people would accept the desire of gay couples to formalize their relationships through something like marriage, even if they dislike having the word co-opted.

So to say that such relationships damage other relationships fails for lack of a causal connection. There's a stronger case that heterosexual plural marriages put heterosexual single marriages at risk, for the reason Lowry mentions in his essay: men compete for available women. But this reason founders on the problem of the great abundance of available women (and men).

Close to 40% of American adults are not married. Moreover, nearly 90% of the population age 45 and older has been married at least once. By age 55, that ratio rises to 95%. That tells me that many of those who are not married, wish to do so, but choose not to. Those who choose not to be married do not do so because of a shortage of available partners. Perhaps there is a lack of desirable partners or perhaps they have better things to do.

And the fact is, legalized polygamy would increase the number of available partners. Men and women would be free to join an existing marriage.

Finally, I think we fool ourselves if we think that people forgo their urge for multiple partners by consenting to society's monogamous fiat. People commit adultery and this leads to divorce. In at least some of those cases, polygamy could keep the original marriage intact, and that would, in my opinion, be an improvement over divorce.

Lowry claims that polygamy undermines free choice. In fact, it is the prohibition of polygamy that constrains free choice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dick Cavett vs General Petraeus

I think Dick Cavett went too far by criticizing General Petraeus for not displaying a sense of humor while testifying before Congress. He also made fun of the General's medals, believe it or not.

Cavett is not wrong about the General's gravitas and stilted language, but once again we see a man of the Left valuing style over substance. He takes issue with the General's choice of words, ignoring the content for the most part (except to say that he disagrees with the General's mission in Iraq -- which is really a beef with the Commander in Chief, not the commander in Iraq).

I think Cavett is wrong about the war, too. I am always astonished to hear people complain about the allegedly large cost of the liberation of Iraq. It is small in comparison to the cost of the liberation of France or even Belgium. But people can disagree on that point without making fun of an honorable soldier (and, by extension, the military in general).

Cavett was gracious when remembering the late WFB. What a shame to see him disgrace himself writing about General Petraeus.