Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Social Networking Sites Still Make Me Anxious

Why am I still weary of MySpace and other social networking sites? Well, this article certainly doesn’t help matters. The takeaway:

The new figures Cooper announced Tuesday include only those offenders who created MySpace profiles using their real names, according to a document given to state lawmakers. But officials believe there could be more offenders using the site, possibly under fake names.

This article doesn’t help my confidence in having a face book profile either.

Ben Casnocha stated the ease of use in keeping tabs via face book thusly:

I'm fascinated to see what happens as my age demographic moves into college and then the workforce. Facebook reached the masses when we were in high school. We went to college with at least 200 existing weak ties from high school classmates, and in college we'll accumulate probably twice as many. By the time I graduate in 2011, I expect my average college friend will have at least 500 connections on a service like Facebook that are legitimate (i.e., genuine weak ties that resulted from some shared experience or interaction).

500 connections to people you went to school with. 500 people for whom you remember their name and interests with a little help from a social network. 500 people for whom you have updated contact information, location, and career status. At age 22. Society, in other words, is going to be flooded with the most networked generation ever.

Obviously, there are tremendous benefits to social networking. I mean, really, it is just so easy. Then again, the more people there are in the network, the more targets there are for identity theft. That is, unless you take out your birthday, you make your profile private, and you are selective of whom your online friends are. And if they really are your friends, then they should know most of the important stuff anyway.

I will admit that I am not the most thick-skinned individual, and with that in mind, to receive an invitation from someone you have cut ties with is one item I dread to come upon. But it has happened to my own friends (the real ones whom I speak to, not the online ones). My friends have relayed stories with me in which someone from their past puts in a “friend request” as they ponder to themselves, “They don’t remember what they did to me?”

But clicking a button is another easy thing about online social networking and online dating. The sheer ease and minute marginal cost to click a button in order to make a request for friendship or a date is most likely impossible to resist. Unless, you’re like me, and you abhor rejection no matter what the medium. One of my favorite lines in this regard is from the movie, You’ve Got Mail, in which case Scott Zahn’s character states, “As far as I'm concerned, the Internet is just another way to be rejected by a woman.”

While my good “masters degree in communications” friend Kevin would most likely explain that people might differ in how they participate online as opposed to the terrestrial reality I like to interact in, I still think that if you’re timid in the real world, a lot of that timidity would transfer to your “online persona”, unless you are lying, of course, to yourself and to others.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Forget Using Commas - No Need to Pause

In The Washington Post, Robert Samuelson bids the comma a farewell, for which, even I will miss it along with other activities where we get to take a pause in life.

The takeaway:

It is true that Americans have always been in a hurry. In "Democracy in America" (1840), Alexis de Tocqueville has a famous passage noting the "feverish ardor" with which Americans pursue material gains and private pleasures. What's distinctive about our era, I think, is that new technologies and astonishing prosperity give us the chance to slacken the pace. Perish the thought. In some ways, it seems, we Americans have actually become more frantic.

This reminds me of how I touched on the same subject earlier

In my experience, not being married or having children, it still takes time to write a twice per week blog/op-ed while having my day job, and other personal hobbies. Our technology has given us the ability to be engaged in so many other activities and interests that it is easy to spread yourself thin. And if you book yourself with a well thought out schedule, you still might get burned out.

While I took a break from writing a month ago, I was still working my day job. And further to the point, please think about your friends and family who go on vacation. When there is a family involved, it becomes almost impossible to make it a “real vacation.” Let Scott Adams (creator, writer, and producer of everything Dilbert)
So Plan B went into effect, and that meant continuously trying to figure out how to entertain eight very different people, ages 6 to 79, without everyone going their own way and defeating the purpose of the trip. It was like solving a Rubik’s Cube seven times a day.

Several of us have difficult preferences to satisfy. For example, I can’t be in the sun for more than ten seconds without bursting into flames. I fall sound asleep in any darkened theater. I’m a vegetarian, I require shaded temperatures between 68 and 75 degrees and continuous access to the Internet. Now throw the other seven freaks of nature into the equation and try to optimize everyone’s happiness without generating a slap fight. It can’t be done.
I still chuckle whenever I read that. I assume that at some point when I get too busy, I’ll have to discontinue this blog, but until then I have still have time to comment on the news, academic working papers from economists, and some of my other hobbies. I can only hope that the populace continues to have the time to do the things it needs to in order for their lives to be fulfilling. And in the end, that really does require a pause.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blog Format

Because I never stated my format before, I thought I would let readers know that they should expect my posts to come about once or twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) for my near 500 word op-eds. Other smaller posts and simple links will be thrown in sporadically. As usual, I will try to let you know when I take breaks.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The State of Iraq

The great thing about the right to free speech is that you can make almost any comment you want, and refute any comment you want as well.

Although, I must say that when people use “pen names” in order to make snide comments, refute a piece of journalism or statistics that really sticks in my craw.

Take this piece of news from McClatchy Newspapers on July 10th written by Mike Drummond and Mohammed al Dulaimy on the number of car bombs during our nation’s “surge.” “Air Force Guy” commented that the article was misleading and stated at the end, “You may not be interested in killing a radical Islamic terrorist, but there are several that are interested in killing you.” What kind of ridiculous platitude is that? What does that have to do with the article?

In the words of John Stossel, give me a break. I might as well just tell “Air Force Guy” that he may not be interested in tax reform, but that the IRS may be unfairly pulling him in with the Alternative Minimum Tax.

While anyone can argue against McClatchy’s calculation and use of their statistics – they use the first week of each month when insurgents and sectarian fighters in Iraq like to carry out their attacks - car bombs have still gone off in Iraq. Drummond and al Dulaimy state that the death tolls are still large and unacceptable.

They write:

The tactic took on a horrifying new dimension this past weekend when about 170 Iraqis were killed in five car bombs — as many as 155 of them when a produce truck laden with explosives leveled houses and shredded bodies in Armili, about 100 miles north of the capital.

The commenter did none of that on statistics. He simply said that the article was misleading and he asked for more time. He didn’t even bother to argue the statistic that I found shaky, which was to only survey the first week of the month. Apparently Air Force Guy thinks we need another four years, or indefinite occupation, something our president said he would not do when he was running for election in 2000.

Drummond and al Dulaimy also provide some caveats:

Overall civilian deaths dropped significantly in June, when a four-day curfew was in effect. "When insurgents are captured or killed in one area, they will try to move their operations and activities to another just to show they are still in business by killing more innocent people, as you saw in," Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, said at a news conference Monday.

So, a question: Is it a win for the US/Iraq if insurgents still set off bombs, but just in a different location, such as Armili? I certainly don’t think so, and I pray that someone who calls themselves, “Air Force Guy,” would care a little more about the brave soldiers who are in the lines of fire, instead of trying to convince their selves to the idea that we’re succeeding without having any evidence to back it up. I care too much about our military personnel to allow their deaths and sacrifices in another country’s civil war to be tallied as some sort of success. You want more time, fine, then ask, but also realize that you’re asking for more deaths as well.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon’s 6th LP, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, came out recently, and once again we have an album with and eclectic sound that Spoon has become known for.

For any music critic who tries to argue that they’re becoming stagnant, I think it’s time that we all realized Spoon’s albums have always been an eclectic sound. So, just because the band still tries to offer the same amount of differences, we shouldn’t overlook the differences. This, to me, is Spoon’s finest album.

My favorite track: Finer Feelings


No, this isn’t my farewell to my very faithful friends who read this blog, but rather another music review; this time for Ulrich Schnauss’ latest album, Goodbye. Don’t look for any change in musical direction as opposed to Schnauss’ last two albums as he continues further on into the electronic genre of shoegaze and ambience.

While most people tend to completely disavow of the electronic genre as some mindless bit of formulaic noise, Schnauss has continuously been able to put together tracks and compositions that are both deep and emotionally moving. There is nothing baseless in this album, or any of those he did prior.

My favorite track: Stars

Cinco de Mowo

Mocean Worker’s (a.k.a. Adam Dorn) fifth album sees a continuation of the jazz and big band breaks that were in Enter the Mowo, as well as the continuation of the Mowo moniker that Dorn has fallen in love with.

Just like his fourth album, there’s very few things to not like, so long as you have a taste for all things jazz and electronic music that in no way resembles anything close to the progressive house, or trance genres people associate with the umbrella genre. This is another one of those albums where I dare you to listen to it and not smile.

My favorite track: Olé Baby.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What Happiness Research Won't Do

Robert Samuelson pegs happiness research’s pros and cons in his latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

The takeaway:

Still, even the 1990s economic boom didn't produce a happiness boom; the survey figures barely budged. Nor has the growing income inequality since the 1970s produced an unhappiness boom. Between the richest and poorest Americans, happiness gaps have always been large. But income differences in the middle class involve modest or nonexistent differences in happiness. The old adage is true: Money can't buy happiness.

We ultimately get satisfaction from our relations with family and friends, the love we give or receive, the meaning we find in work, service, religion or hobbies. The strongest survey finding is that married people are happier than singles, particularly widowers and divorcees, says Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center. An estimated 42.5 percent of married couples say they are "very happy," compared with 18 percent of the divorced.

Ultimately, happiness research won’t show us the best path to happiness, but at least it can show anyone who is willing to have an open mind about where we fool ourselves into thinking what certain things will make us happy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Happiness Research

I was writing to a friend of mine and debating the relevancy about “happiness research.” Bryan Caplan has touched on happiness research many times (here, here, and here).

Caplan states:

Arnold could point out a lot of flaws in this literature, but F&L (Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein) have beaten him to the punch. They inventory a long list of inadequacies in existing research. But they diverge from Arnold in taking a constructive attitude toward happiness - separating the wheat from the chaff, noting areas with mixed results, and pointing out better approaches.

The bottom line is that I'm glad that smart, careful scholars like F&L are hard at work on this topic because I want the answers. Happiness is much too important to be left to the mush-heads in the New Age/Self-Help section.

And I think what really ends up happening when people want to dispute research that they simply don’t like or can’t agree with immediately off the hip is described well enough by Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post:

Much information is in some way incomplete or imperfect. The proper response to evidence that you dislike or dispute is to supplement or discredit it with better evidence. The wrong response is to suppress it. And yet, that's the agenda of these college presidents. By not cooperating with the U.S. News survey, they hope to sabotage the rankings. They say they'll provide superior information. But they want to control what parents and students see. This is soft censorship.

And to completely refute happiness research as my friend does is soft censorship as well. Papers published in scholarly journals refute misinformation well enough as opposed to unsupported frank disagreements.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Manufacturing Diversity

George Will wrote in his column about the latest Supreme Court case regarding the decision to limit how race can be used to compose the student body. That is to say, the court is refusing to tell certain children to go to a certain school all in the name of “diversity.”

In making the point, Will hits on another issue that I had while I was a Resident Assistant in school. As he put it:

Breyer said that last week's decision abandons "the promise of Brown." Actually, that promise -- a colorblind society -- has been traduced by the "diversity" exception to the equal protection clause. That exception allows white majorities to feel noble while treating blacks and certain other minorities as seasoning -- a sort of human oregano -- to be sprinkled across a student body to make the majority's educational experience more flavorful.

The point for race-mongering diversity tinkerers is their professional and ideological stake in preventing America from achieving "a colorblind mentality."

I hate to break it to some of my former fellow co-workers, but I do not think we were helping the situation ourselves. And on that note, I wonder how many of those professional staffers and other resident assistants of Residence Life in my university and so many others actually read any newspaper? Were they always reading from a pre-selected script on what diversity means, and why they should support it? The beauty in manufacturing consent is that it makes you believe that you are thinking for yourself.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wheelan on Voters

Charles Wheelan echoes some of the same sentiments as Bryan Caplan.
The beauty of representative democracy is that our politicians give us what we want. Doesn't that make us the culpable party?

Anyone want to refute that? To imitate Stephen Colbert for a moment, if you do disagree with Wheelan’s inflection, you are essentially saying that our system is broken and that we may as well be living in a communist state, comrade.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Environmental Policy

I was reading the Washington Post a few days ago, which has been running an exposé on Vice President Cheney since Sunday. In one day's feature, they explain his environmental stances.

The situation is thusly explained:

Robert F. Smith had grown desperate by the time he turned to the vice president for help.

The former Republican congressman from Oregon represented farmers in the Klamath basin who had relied on a government-operated complex of dams and canals built almost a century ago along the Oregon-California border to irrigate nearly a quarter-million acres of arid land.

In April 2001, with the region gripped by the worst drought in memory, the spigot was shut off.

Studies by the federal government's scientists concluded unequivocally that diverting water would harm two federally protected species of fish, violating the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Bureau of Reclamation was forced to declare that farmers must go without in order to maintain higher water levels so that two types of suckerfish in Upper Klamath Lake and the coho salmon that spawn in the Klamath River could survive the dry spell.

Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

My stance was always that farm subsidies never help anyone out, except farmers because the subsidies keep food prices artificially high. Not only that, but for the government to help people out when their businesses don't do well completely does away with how the free market is supposed to work.

The obvious counter to that argument is that government intervention in terms of wildlife is just that, intervention. Technically speaking, that is not very free market, although the government does have control over wildlife to the extent that people continuously vote for protection of many endangered species, which is how certain agencies are then formed. That is to say, the public does care about the environment, or at least their local environment.

As an economist, I believe the items that need government support – or intervention if that's what you would prefer to call it – are items that would otherwise create an obvious market failure. A Market failure comes in two general varieties.

First, we can think of non-market institutions that better serve the public as opposed to if they were privately run. Firefighting and policing is a good example where the state usually provides very adequate services in that nature. The other type of market failure is when a market would not produce an outcome that is actually very good for the public in the long run. An example of this I believe is the Department of the Interior, which works with national parks and wildlife refuges. Whether you believe in the effectiveness is another matter as opposed to the fact that if this were not government run, we would see another market failure.

Let's look at part of a response from a friend of mine who works in Entomology and Wildlife Ecology:

From an anthropological standpoint, diversity provides a greater number of ecosystem services to draw upon and depend on, such a medicinal plants and fertile soils. So what if a fish goes extinct, we've got so many others? The problem is, we don't know…we are still learning the relationships different species play in an ecosystem.

It would be difficult to surmise that the free market would show the environment any non-profit courtesy; however government institutions are supposed to be run in the public interest, and in light of the imposing market failure, the department of interior is necessary in my opinion.

Here is however the problem with the two departments in question relating to what we wrote about yesterday. Firstly, the Department of Agriculture, which needless to say I am not a fan of, and the Department of Interior had to each make payments from the decision that Vice President Cheney made.

Last summer, the federal government declared a "commercial fishery failure" on the West Coast after several years of poor chinook returns virtually shut down the industry, opening the way for Congress to approve more than $60 million [MK: that's coming from the department of interior] in disaster aid to help fishermen recover their losses. That came on top of the $15 million [MK: that's coming from the department of agriculture] that the government has paid Klamath farmers since 2002 not to farm, in order to reduce demand.

To put it simply, what came out of this was waste, proving that you really can't have it both ways, and that, proving John Stossel right, the taxpayers end up having to pay for it.

I have a friend whose family lives off of farming, yet I still can't reconcile how farming is sustainable by asking tax payers to artificially support it.

I certainly do not agree with what happened in Oregon, but if the same situation was happening to my friend’s dad how would I feel? I'm not sure if I could tell him, "Well, that's the risk of farming," without fear of getting punched in the face. This is probably why it's easier to be an economist than it is to be a politician.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Preconceived Notions

I’m back from a break in writing, although I still need to take a real life vacation from my day job. Moving on to today’s topic.

I realized that unless people stop vehemently stating “I don’t care what science/statistics say,” or our elected governments stop continuously building up their nanny stature, we’re going to get papers like this from Michael Baker and Kevin Milligan; papers that continuously seek looking at the efficiency of the government’s assistant programs. Milligan and Baker’s paper is entitled “Maternal employment, breastfeeding, and health: Evidence from maternity leave mandates.”

The takeaway:

We uncover several interesting and relevant findings. First, there was a substantial increase in the number of months mothers were away from work post-birth; more than three months for those eligible for leave. Second, breastfeeding duration increased sharply, with significant increases in the proportion of mothers attaining public health breastfeeding benchmarks including six months exclusive breastfeeding. Finally, we find little effect of the increase in breastfeeding (and parental care) on self-reported indicators of the mother and child (in the first 24 months) health captured in the NLSCY.

My point is that when you hear someone express that “This preschool is the best,” or that breastfeeding is so important, remember that it’s okay to ask, “Says who?”