Good for America

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

James K. Glassman thinks that letting the UAE’s DP World run American ports is Good for America:

Using Schumeresque logic, the U.S. should ban flights into the U.S. by airlines from Arab countries, and we should certainly bar any cargo from being loaded in Arab ports and bound for the U.S. (‘If you are worried about a bomb in a box going off in New York, you need to worry about who loads the container overseas rather than the terminal operator who unloads it in the U.S.,’ says someone who actually knows something about port security, Theodore Price of Optimization Alternatives, a Texas company that provides terminal-operating software.) In fact, one would suppose that Dubai, with billions at stake, would be more careful — not less — about assisting in anti-terror activities at U.S. ports if it is actually operating them.

Word Cloud T-Shirts

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

SnapShirts is offering a free web service to “automatically generate a word cloud from your blog” — a word cloud that fits nicely on a brand new t-shirt from SnapShirts.

Free Parking versus Free Markets

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

In Free Parking versus Free Markets, Dan Klein reviews Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking:

The book is marvelous and wonderful. It explains that parking policy is stuck in a self-feeding cycle. It brilliantly criticizes the culture of parking policymakers. It tells all facets of the history. It provides theoretical underpinnings. It displays rich empirical evidence. It makes novel connections and illuminates old issues. It bubbles with illustrations, cultural allusions, and ripe quotations. And its 734 pages are gracefully written. It is one of the best policy books I know. The book represents a life-work in understanding the problem and enlightening the public.

The meat of the review:

Fundamentally, the policies in question are just two: city governments (1) mismanage curb parking and (2) require developers to provide extensive off-street parking.

Pesky policy-wonkery? Shoup shows that the magnitudes are huge. About 87 percent of all trips in the U.S. are made by personal motor vehicles, and parking is free for 99 percent of these trips (p. 590). But free parking is not a spontaneous outcome. The required parking lot at a restaurant usually occupies at least three times as much land as the restaurant itself. Shoup reckons this a subsidy to parking, and estimates the U.S. total of such subsidy between $127 billion and $374 billion a year. “If we also count the subsidy for free and underpriced curb parking, the total subsidy for parking would be far higher…. Do we really want to spend as much to subsidize parking as we spend for Medicare or national defense?” (591)

Like freeways and free schooling, free parking isn’t free. “We don’t pay for parking in our role as motorists, but in all our other roles — as consumers, investors, workers, residents, and taxpayers—we pay a high price” (2). Meanwhile, when motorists drive downtown and cannot find a parking spot, they curse and increase congestion. Exactly like on freeways.

The extent of free parking is so enormous and so normal that people just think it nature’s endowment, like air. Everyone feels entitled to free air and free parking. Hence, “most people do not see it as being any subsidy at all” (591). “Because parking costs so much and motorists pay so little for it, the hidden subsidy is truly gigantic” (591).

(I’ve blogged on The High Cost of Free Parking before.)

Musings About the War on Drugs

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

George Melloan, of the Wall Street Journal, offers his Musings About the War on Drugs:

Milton Friedman saw the problem. To the extent that authorities curtail supplies of marijuana, cocaine and heroin coming into the rich U.S. market, the retail price of these substances goes up, making the trade immensely profitable — tax-free, of course. The more the U.S. spends on interdiction, the more incentive it creates for taking the risk of running drugs.

In 1933, the U.S. finally gave up on the 13-year prohibition of alcohol — a drug that is by some measures more intoxicating and dangerous to health than marijuana. That effort to alter human behavior left a legacy of corruption, criminality, and deaths and blindness from the drinking of bad booze. America’s use of alcohol went up after repeal but no serious person today suggests a repeat of the alcohol experiment. Yet prohibition is still being attempted, at great expense, for the small portion of the population — perhaps little more than 5% — who habitually use proscribed drugs.

Believing in Belief

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

Michael Shermer reviews Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell in Believing in Belief:

In a 1997 episode of the animated television series The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson discovers a fossil angel. Suspecting a hoax, she takes a piece of the fossil to the natural history museum where Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (playing himself) analyzes it. The age-old conflict between science and religion then plays out in this ne plus ultra of pop culture. The town evangelical Ned Flanders bemoans: “Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends.” When Gould announces that the test results are “inconclusive,” Reverend Lovejoy boasts: “Well, it appears science has failed again, in front of overwhelming religious evidence.” Marge counsels Lisa’s skepticism with motherly wisdom: “There has to be more to life than just what we see Lisa. Everyone needs something to believe in.” Lisa’s rejoinder is classic skepticism: “It’s not that I don’t have a spiritual side. I just find it hard to believe there’s a dead angel hanging in our garage.” The Scopes-like trial that ensues ends when the judge issues a restraining order: “Religion must stay 500 yards from science at all times.”

This is, in fact, Gould’s conciliatory solution he called NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria), and it is the primary target of Tufts University philosopher Daniel C. Dennett in his latest book, Breaking the Spell. All restraining orders are off, as Dennett calls for “a forthright, scientific, no-holds-barred investigation of religion as one natural phenomenon among many.” The spell to be broken is the taboo that science will render incapable “the life-enriching enchantment of religion itself.”

PlayStation 3 Breaks the Bank

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

From PlayStation 3 Breaks the Bank:

In the videogame business, hardware makers generally sell new consoles at a loss, making their profits by charging licensing fees to videogame publishers. But according to an analysis by, Sony is paying an unusually steep bill for its upcoming PlayStation 3 console. The system’s components cost between $725 and $905, analysts estimate. The biggest culprit: Sony’s new Blu-Ray disc drive, which will play high-definition movies as well as games. With the PS3 console expected to sell between $299 and $399, Sony will lose hundreds of dollars per console.

Don’t be too surprised if the hardware hackers buy it for its parts.

Fossil Overturns Ideas of Jurassic Mammals

Friday, February 24th, 2006

Fossil Overturns Ideas of Jurassic Mammals:

The discovery of a furry, beaver-like animal that lived at the time of dinosaurs has overturned more than a century of scientific thinking about Jurassic mammals.

The find shows that the ecological role of mammals in the time of dinosaurs was far greater than previously thought, said Zhe-Xi Luo, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

The animal is the earliest swimming mammal to have been found and was the most primitive mammal to be preserved with fur, which is important to helping keep a constant body temperature, Luo said in a telephone interview.

For over a century, the stereotype of mammals living in that era has been of tiny, shrew-like creatures scurrying about in the underbrush trying to avoid the giant creatures that dominated the planet, Luo commented.

Now, a research team that included Luo has found that 164 million years ago, the newly discovered mammal with a flat, scaly tail like a beaver, vertebra like an otter and teeth like a seal was swimming in lakes and eating fish.

The team, led by Qiang Ji of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing, discovered the remains in the Inner Mongolia region of China. They report their findings in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.
The new animal is not related to modern beavers or otters but has features similar to them. Thus the researchers named it Castorocauda lutrasimilis. Castoro from the Latin for beaver, cauda for tail, lutra for river otter and similis meaning similar.

Willy the Hog Pairs With Antelope at Zoo

Friday, February 24th, 2006

Pig-like animal meets deer-like animal in Willy the Hog Pairs With Antelope at Zoo:

This photo released by the Los Angeles Zoo shows Willy, a 10-year-old, 187-pound Red River porcine, right, nuzzling his new companion Nicole, a 16-year-old bongo antelope, in their exhibit at the zoo Feb. 13, 2006, in Los Angeles. Willy’s mate Ruby died last summer of cancer and within a week the hog turned to the antelope for companionship.

Peggy Noonan

Friday, February 24th, 2006

Peggy Noonan speaks for all of us when she attacks airport security:

This is a flying nation. We fly. And everyone knows airport security is an increasingly sad joke, that TSA itself often appears to have forgotten its mission, if it ever knew it, and taken on a new one — the ritual abuse of passengers.

Now there’s a security problem. Solve that one.

Friday, February 24th, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Blink) now has his own blog at

In the past year I have often been asked why I don’t have a blog. My answer was always that I write so much, already, that I don’t have time to write anything else. But, as should be obvious, I’ve now changed my mind. I have come (belatedly) to the conclusion that a blog can be a very valuable supplement to my books and the writing I do for the New Yorker. What I think I’d like to do is to use this forum to elaborate and comment on and correct and amend things that I have already written.

Scholar’s Dictionary Of Aztec Language May Take a Lifetime

Friday, February 24th, 2006

Scholar’s Dictionary Of Aztec Language May Take a Lifetime:

Word by word, Mr. Amith is creating an extensive archive of Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs at the time of the 16th century Spanish conquest and now the first language of 1.5 million Mexican Indians. He records fables and personal histories, collects plants and insects, and keeps up a nonstop patter with locals, searching for information to add to a Web site he is building that is part dictionary, part encyclopedia and part storybook.

Tyler Cowen calls Nahuatl “the most beautiful language” he’s heard.

The Manwagon

Friday, February 24th, 2006

It’s not an SUV. It’s not a minivan. It’s The Manwagon:

Seeking to lure speed-crazy guys with kids, car makers are trying to transform the dowdy old family hauler into something new: the manwagon. In perhaps the most extreme sign of the industry’s horsepower race, some of these wagons are quicker than a Porsche Boxster. They have monstrous engines, giant brakes, track-ready suspensions and race-car-style seats — plus prices up to $30,000 higher than the base versions. But unlike a sports car, these wagons can fit strollers and coolers in the back.

This melding of speed and sippy cups may seem unlikely, but car makers say their consumer research has unearthed a surprising number of family men who thought wagons could be cool, if only they had more guts. Dodge responded by rolling out its aggressively styled Magnum wagon in 2004 and just added a faster version, the 425-horsepower SRT8. Volvo’s V70 R has 79% more power than the base V70 wagon, while Audi put together its S4 Avant by pairing an A4 wagon with a 340-horsepower V8 engine from its flagship A8 sedan. Mercedes-Benz recently began selling the supercharged E55 wagon for the first time in the U.S.: It boasts the same 469-horsepower engine that powers one of the fastest sedans Mercedes has ever built.

Soccer Ball Contact Lens

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

There’s something both amusing and disturbing about a Soccer Ball Contact Lens:

A set of ‘Magic Lens’ contact lenses with images of one soccer ball and a German flag cost 45 euros.

Explosive-eating fungus

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

There’s a fungus for almost any task, including eating explosives:

When explosives are used for mining or demolition, some may fail to detonate and get lost in the rubble. Riggs reckons the remedy could be to mix pellets of dormant fungal spores in with the explosive charge before inserting the wick into the explosive package.

The dry spores lie dormant while the explosives are in storage and, if the charge detonates as intended, will get blown to smithereens.

But if the explosive fails to detonate, water from the air should migrate down the wick and into the charge. The spores should then germinate and devour the charge, rendering it harmless.

The white-rot fungus Phlebia radiate is particularly fond of high explosives, according to the patent. And the speed at which it gobbles the stuff up depends on the number of pellets added: 5 pellets per stick for slow degradation or 30 to make it safe after just a few days.

(Hat tip to Defense Tech.)

Israeli Military Finds Perfect Vehicle For Special Ops Forces: The Llama

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

Israeli Military Finds Perfect Vehicle For Special Ops Forces: The Llama:

Israel’s military has found the perfect vehicle for special operations forces—the llama.

After extensive tests, the uncomplaining workhorse animals were found to easily out-perform donkeys. What’s more, they need refueling only every other day.

Llamas are dangerous, so if you see one where people are swimming, you shout…Look out, there are llamas! (From Monty Python’s Flying Circus.)