The Muppets Sing “12 Days of Christmas”

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Last year, for his Christmas episode, Jimmy Fallon sang “12 Days of Christmas” with the Muppets (and the Roots):

The “original” version featured John Denver and appeared on the album A Christmas Together and on the 1979 TV special A Christmas Together with John Denver and The Muppets — which does not appear to be available on DVD. Sigh.

I miss Jim Henson’s voice, of course, but I must admit that I like Pepe the Prawn and Rizzo the Rat.

The song has a number of variations:

It has been suggested by a number of sources over the years that the pear tree is in fact supposed to be perdrix, French for partridge and pronounced per-dree, and was simply copied down incorrectly when the oral version of the game was transcribed. The original line would have been: “A partridge, une perdrix.”

Some misinterpretations have crept into the English-language version over the years. The fourth day’s gift is often stated as four calling birds but originally was four colly birds, using another word for a blackbird.

The fifth day’s gift of gold rings refers not to jewellery but to ring-necked birds such as the ring-necked pheasant. When these errors are corrected, the pattern of the first seven gifts all being birds is restored. There is a version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that is still sung in Sussex in which the four colly birds are replaced by canaries.

A minor variant includes the singing of “golden” rather than “gold” rings, to avoid having to stretch “gold” into two syllables (“go-old”).

Five things you probably didn’t know about penguins

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Dan Ksepka shares five things you probably didn’t know about penguins:

  1. Penguins are ancient birds.
  2. Giant penguins once swam the southern oceans.
  3. Penguins did not evolve in cold environments.
  4. Some extinct penguins were spear-fishers.
  5. Ancient penguins wore coats of red and grey feathers.

At this time of year, the key fact to remember is that penguins live near the South Pole.

    Nick Patterson

    Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

    Nick Patterson has had an interesting career — or string of them:

    He was born in London in 1947. When he was 2 his Irish parents learned that he had a congenital bone disease that distorted the left side of his skull; his left eye is blind. He became a child chess prodigy who earned top scores on math exams, and later attended Cambridge, completing a math doctorate in finite group theory. In 1969, he won the Irish chess championship.

    In 1972, Dr. Patterson began working at the Government Communications Headquarters, where his research remains classified. He absorbed through his mentors the mathematical philosophy of Alan Turing, the genius whose crew at Bletchley Park — the headquarters’ predecessor — broke Germany’s encryption codes during World War II. The biggest lesson he learned from Dr. Turing’s work, he said, was “an attitude of how you look at data and do statistics.”

    In particular, Dr. Turing was an innovator in Bayesian statistics, which regard probability as dependent upon one’s opinion about the odds of something occurring, and which allows for updating that opinion with new data. In the 1970s, cryptographers at the communications headquarters were harnessing this approach, Dr. Patterson said, even while academics considered flexible Bayesian rules heretical.

    In 1980, Dr. Patterson moved with his wife and children to Princeton, N.J., to join the Center for Communications Research, the cryptography branch of the Institute for Defense Analyses, a nonprofit research center financed by the Department of Defense. His work earned him a name in the cryptography circle. “You can probably pick out two or three people who’ve really stood out, and he’s one of them,” said Alan Richter, a longtime scientist at the defense institute.

    In 1993 Dr. Patterson moved to Renaissance Technologies, a $200 million hedge fund, at the invitation of its founder, James H. Simons, a mathematician and former cryptographer at the institute. The fund made trades based on a mathematical model. Dr. Patterson knew little about money, but the statistical methods matched those used in code breaking, Dr. Simons said: analyzing a series of data — in this case daily stock price changes — and predicting the next number. Their methods apparently worked. In Dr. Patterson’s time with the hedge fund, its assets reached $4 billion.

    By 2000, Dr. Patterson was restless. One day, he ran into Jill P. Mesirov, another former defense institute cryptographer, and mentioned his interest in biology. Dr. Mesirov, then director of computational biology at the Whitehead/M.I.T. Center for Genome Research, which later became the Broad Institute, hired him.

    “Really, what we do for a living is to decrypt genomes,” Dr. Mesirov said. Cryptographers look at messages encoded as binary strings of zeros and ones, then extract underlying signals they can interpret, Dr. Mesirov said. The job calls for pattern recognition and mathematical modeling to explain the data. The same applies for analyzing DNA sequences, she said.

    One common genomic analysis tool — the Hidden Markov Model — was invented for pattern recognition by defense institute code breakers in the 1960s, and Dr. Patterson is an expert in that technique. It can be used to predict the next letter in a sequence of English text garbled over a communications line, or to predict DNA regions that code for genes, and those that do not.

    The most interesting finding of his recent “hobby” involves human evolution:

    Some human DNA regions trace back to a much older common ancestor of humans and chimps than other regions do, with the ages varying by up to four million years. But on the X chromosome, people and chimps share a far younger common ancestor than on other chromosomes.

    After the researchers tested various evolutionary models, the data appeared best explained if the human and chimp lineages split but later began mating again, producing a hybrid that could be a forebear of humans. The final breakup came as late as 5.4 million years ago, the team calculated.

    Electric Delivery Fleets

    Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

    Electric vehicles may or may not make solid economic sense for many consumers, but they have their advantages in commercial delivery fleets:

    Staples has ordered 41 trucks from Smith Electric Vehicles of Kansas City, Mo., and will start receiving them in January. There is “a real strong chance we’ll make a second order for 40,” Mr. Payette said.

    The trucks, which have a top speed of about 50 mph and can carry 16,000 pounds, cost about $30,000 more than a diesel, but Staples expects to recover that expense in 3.3 years because of the savings inherent in the electric models, Mr. Payette said.

    Staples said the annual maintenance cost of a diesel delivery truck is about $2,700 in most years, including oil, transmission fluid, filters and belts. For an electric truck — which has no transmission and needs no fluids, filters or belts — the cost is about $250.

    And since it costs much more to maintain an internal-combustion delivery truck than a car, the cost savings for truck fleets is greater than for consumers buying an electric model.

    One big savings comes in brakes. Because electric trucks use “regenerative” braking, which returns some of the force of stopping to the batteries in the form of electricity, the brakes don’t wear out as fast. That means the brakes last four or five years, not one or two, before they need a $1,100 repair.

    Electric trucks also don’t need the urea exhaust-cleaning system of diesels, which costs about $700 a year to maintain. And electric motors are far less complex than diesel engines, last much longer and the training required to work on them is minimal, Mr. Payette said.

    On top of this, Staples says it will save each year roughly $6,500 in fuel costs per electric vehicle over a diesel model.

    Each of Staples’s electric delivery trucks will run a daily route of under 70 miles and then come back to be recharged at night. In addition, since its nonelectric trucks get about 10 miles per gallon, the savings in fuel costs with an electric is more dramatic that it is for consumers buying an electric car.

    On the flip side, electric trucks cost substantially more. A Smith model with a 50-mile battery range and basic equipment would go for about $90,000, compared with about $60,000 for a diesel model, Smith Electric said. Mr. Payette declined to say what Staples is paying for models with a 100-mile range.

    Add it all up and Staples expects to save nearly $60,000 over the 10-year life of an electric truck over a diesel model.

    One impediment to wider adoption of electric trucks: few finance companies offer leases on them. That’s because finance companies are unsure about how to value the lease “residual,” a truck’s worth after a few years of use. Many large companies, including Staples, prefer to lease trucks to avoid the large capital requirements of an outright purchase, Mr. Payette said.

    Still, some big truck customers are trying out electrics.

    FedEx is using 19 all-electric vehicles in London, Paris and Los Angeles made by Modec of Great Britain and Navistar International Corp. FedEx Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith has been outspoken about his desire to see electric vehicles proliferate, in part to cut the U.S. dependence on imported oil.

    Frito-Lay, meantime, has ordered 176 Smith electric delivery trucks. The snack foods maker intends to convert up to half of its 4,000 medium-duty trucks to battery-powered models.

    “We are not making a trade-off and doing a good deed for the sake of a good deed. There is a great return on that investment,” said Mike O’Connell, director of fleet operations for Frito-Lay.

    Mr. O’Connell estimates his company will reduce fuel consumption by 500,000 gallons a year with its first batch of electric trucks.

    The Practical Chinese

    Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

    Younghusband cites this amusing line about the practical Chinese, who are building a railroad in Saudi Arabia:

    Some firms would have been put off by the fact that non-Muslims are barred from working in Mecca, so China simply converted hundreds of railway workers to Islam.

    Just Don’t Call It Moonshine

    Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

    “From the farmer’s perspective,” Derek Grout explains, “the only way to increase the value of an apple is to make it into spirit and put that in oak.” But adding value has some legal hurdles:

    After Prohibition, laws made production feasible for only a few huge distilleries. A craft distilling movement began on the West Coast about 20 years ago, but restrictive state regulations kept it from spreading. In the last few years, though, as states sought new forms of revenue, they cut astronomic licensing fees and gave incentives to producers who got the bulk of their raw materials in-state, as with New York State’s Farm Distillery Law in 2007.

    Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group, said the number of distilleries nationwide has grown to 220, from 24 in 2001, and is expanding.

    I love the marketing spin passed off as reporting:

    Like Mr. Grout, virtually all craft distillers use small pot stills rather than the huge column stills used by the industry giants. Though more labor-intensive, these more faithfully capture the essence of fruit and grain, and let a distiller precisely select what part of the distilling run to use to create the most nuanced styles and flavors.

    Insiders and Outsiders

    Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

    Arnold Kling just got around to reading the book that has been his strongest intellectual influence, The Symbolic Uses of Politics, by Murray Edelman:

    The book (or, more specifically, chapter 2) has a long and deep influence on me because it was perhaps the favorite political theory of my father Merle Kling, a political scientist who earned a mention in the acknowledgments. My father constantly invoked the terms “symbolic reassurance” and “political quiescence” in commenting on political events. He would have immediately understood and appreciated my application of the terms to Elizabeth Warren and her role in the nascent financial consumer protection agency.

    Imagine you are a 1950′s intellectual, Kling suggests:

    To put the book in perspective, I think it helps to try to recreate the intellectual atmosphere of the 1950′s, the milieu that produced Alfred Hitchcock and J.D. Salinger. In five-factor personality jargon, the Fifties stand out for strong Neuroticism. Symbolic Uses was published in 1964, which was a few years before the phrase “Do Your Own Thing” was coined, marking the true onset of the Sixties and its Openness. The book had been in gestation for a long time — the interaction with my father would have taken place in 1961, when I was seven years old. We spent a semester in Champagne-Urbana, when my father took a sabbatical at the University of Illinois, where Edelman was a colleague.

    To an intellectual of the 1950′s, the human psyche is dark. Freud’s shadow looms large over all discussion pertaining to human nature. You take it as given that terrible demons lurk in both the individual and collective unconscious. All About Eve could be the story of any one of us. The phenomenon of Adolf Hitler is most easily understood as having sprung out of the collective unconscious of the German people. Suspicious that a similar phenomenon could occur anywhere, you scan the American scene for signs of impending fascist tendencies. Edelman will cite Adorno, The Authoritarian Personality (1950) as well as Lipset on “The Sources of the Radical Right” (1955) and “working class authoritarianism” (Political Man, 1960).

    You see the ordinary social interactions of American life as ritualized, superficial, and inauthentic. People are playing games (although Berne’s book will not appear until 1967) and engaging in dramaturgy — I think of Goffman (1959), but Edelman cites Kenneth Burke.

    The lack of authenticity is typified by the United States position vis-a-vis China. We insist that one of the five seats on the Security Council is to be occupied by Taiwan, while refusing to recognize Red China. How can this be explained other than as a need to use a charade in order to mollify a public’s deep-seated, irrational fears? (If you are inclined to believe that the relationship between the public and the government has matured in the last fifty years, I have two words for you: airport security)

    It is in this Fifties context that you should place the terms “symbols” and “quiescence.” The term “symbol” is meant to suggest the essential phoniness of politics, just as The Catcher in the Rye was meant to expose the phoniness of middle-class society. And the term “quiescence” suggests a mass populace with a rage that has been quelled, like a formerly vicious dog rendered meek by Pavlov-Skinner conditioning or a Randle McMurphy lobotomized by Nurse Ratched.

    Kling summarizes Edelman’s view by saying that the political world is divided into Insiders and Outsiders:

    Given these differences, the Insiders use overt political dramas as symbols that placate the masses while using covert political activity to plunder them. What we would now call rent-seeking succeeds because Outsiders are dazzled by the symbols while Insiders grab the substance.

    In other words, expect the banks to be able to do a more efficient job of rent extraction with Elizabeth Warren in place than before.

    Edelman thought of insiders as exploiting outsiders, in almost a Marxist sense. For Edelman, symbolic reassurance and political quiescence were somewhat troubling phenomena. The masses were being lulled by symbolic gestures into accepting adverse political outcomes.

    Buy TBT

    Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

    Eric Falkenstein’s semi-sarcastic financial advice is to buy TBT — an ETF short US Treasuries — because he’s pretty bearish on the US over the long run:

    I know, many people have thought things would peter out before, and we are wealthier than ever, so the optimists have historically been correct, but things change. In the 1970′s people were sour on capitalism and were wrong. I remember talking to my old Northwestern professor Robert Eisner, a famous Keynesian, and he noted that in the 1980′s there was basically a huge re-education among his kind, that Marxism/Socialism was not going to overtake capitalism, and capitalism by itself does not self destruct. This was not a minor shift in opinion, but a major one, because the pessimists expected another Great Depression all the time. It is easy to forget that back in 1975, 1980, the Marxists thought it was the endgame for capitalism. Ten years later when the Wall fell, they basically retreated to Scandinavian-style welfare states as their objective, quite a change over ten years.

    I’m sour on American democracy, and as the American Founders noted, every democracy has committed suicide, ergo, we need a democratic republic. The difference between a democracy (where we are going) and a democratic republic (where we started) is that the masses are kept one-step away from decision-making in a democratic republic. The masses are stupid, having an average IQ of only 100, a whole standard deviation below that of your average college grad of 115, and this is below that of George W. Bush, who most people think is the world’s biggest idiot — they have no idea what average, let alone below-average, is. People basically think profits and social value are inversely related, so basically most successful innovators and entrepreneurs are parasites, much as the Nazis thought Jews were parasites because they were successful, as opposed to being a key component of pre-WW2 German excellence. The masses are morons, and pandering to them is like letting your kids stay up late: no one is happy the next day. We are basically making policy for everything real-time via Nielson ratings.

    The US has been living off Ponzi schemes (Social Security) and a growth in government too long. Our federal deficit is 10% of GDP, and as interest rates are historically low, there is no incentive to try to reduced this. The states have similar problems, making this much worse than it appears. Further, the debt is significantly underreported because of off-balance sheet items like social security and pensions. No one can turn away the simple redress of paying out huge amounts to people who’s only claim is being pathetic. The problem is that while we have an appetite for a certain amount of GDP, the ability to get that out of GDP via taxes is not straightforward: there is a Laffer Curve. Sure, you can raise taxes to 90% and people will still work; they just won’t tell the government about it at the same frequency, as the rampant tax avoidance in high-tax countries like Greece and Italy shows.

    Consider the following expenditures that recently ran across my browser. They exemplify our inability to say ‘no’:

    Washington DC schools are an abject failure: poor performance, $20k/child expenditure. In response, voters ousted the reformer mayor in favor of the status quo, and this week a new $100MM secondary school building was proposed.

    The Pigford settlement decided to give $4.6B to Black farmers for discrimination. They never proven an actual case of discrimination, it just is proven statistically, and through threats of being called racist. Given that criteria — disproportionate success — bank loan recipients (of course), econ PhDs, traders, quants, computer programmers, and bloggers, all discriminate against black people, meaning, I am daily awash in rampant discrimination, and thus all of my acquaintances are racists. I find this accusation offensive, because calling someone a ‘racist’ is the modern-day version of calling someone a witch: demeaning and nonfalsifiable. An estimated 95K plaintiffs will receive payments even though only 33k black farmers existed during the time Pigford targets, implying a remarkable extra-effort by racist FDA bureaucrats. To scutinize this give-away is considered evil, because the Chinese are giving us the money to spend.

    The Obama-McConnell tax bargain with an extension of a tax credit for ethanol that costs about $6 billion a year, and with an extension of a tariff on ethanol imports. Ethanol is so uneconomical that Congress supports it three different ways — with a mandate for its use, a tax credit to subsidize it, and a tariff to keep out competitors. Even Al Gore and Obama science adviser Stephen Chu now admit this is a boondoggle, but it continues. Sugarcane yields about eight units of energy for every one unit invested to grow, harvest and convert the cane into ethanol; corn is 1:1.4. So, of course, we put tariffs and quotas on the more efficient sugarcane to help American farmers. In October, the EPA approving an increase in the amount of ethanol — a hydrophilic, corrosive, low-heat-content fuel — that can be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply from 10 percent to 15 percent.

    The 9/11 first Responders Bill allocates $5B to cover 50,000 responders and survivors, creates a mandatory spending program until it sunsets 10 years from now. basically, free medical for everyone who did anything related to the cleanup of the 9/11 disaster. If you go to the 9/11 site, you’ll see a bunch of medical studies, with lots of analysis of methodogoly and ‘post traumatic stress’, but nothing demonstrating any effects on lungs, etc. (see here.

    These are all examples of spending when you think you have an infinite amount of money: you don’t make priorities, you simply spend on pathetic target groups to show you are doing something. You know, like the $220MM BP spent on sand berms to catch oil in the Gulf that captured 1k of the 5MM barrels released of the spill. They had to do something according to The Mob.

    As long as interest rates are low this will continue. Like the ‘affordable housing initiative’ that targeted historically disadvantaged groups — who were historically denied housing because they could not afford it — it was impossible to change this without something major happen (alas, the FHA has yet to get the memo). So, something major will happen, and it won’t be an internal re-evaluation, it will be solved via inflation or default. Meth addicts don’t turn around until they hit bottom.

    The Atlantic Turns a Profit

    Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

    The Atlantic, which is 153 years old, gave voice to the abolitionist and transcendentalist movements of the 19th century. It first published the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.

    In the 20th century, Jeremy Peters says, it seemed more comfortable as an academic exercise than a business, but it has reinvented itself for the 21st century, and it is on track to turn a tidy profit of $1.8 million this year. For the first time in at least a decade, The Atlantic will make money:

    “We imagined ourselves as a venture-capital-backed start-up in Silicon Valley whose mission was to attack and disrupt The Atlantic,” said Justin B. Smith, president of the Atlantic Media Company, who arrived at the magazine’s offices in the Watergate complex in 2007 with a mission to stanch the red ink. “In essence, we brainstormed the question, ‘What would we do if the goal was to aggressively cannibalize ourselves?’ ”

    What that meant more than anything else was forcing one of the nation’s oldest magazines to stop thinking of itself as a printed product.

    Separations between the digital and print staffs in both business and editorial operations came down. The Web site’s paywall was dismantled. A cadre of young writers began filling the newsroom’s cubicles. Advertising salespeople were told it did not matter what percentage of their sales were digital and what percentage print; they just needed to hit one sales target. A robust business around Atlantic-branded conferences took off.

    The strategy is not a cure-all template for troubled media companies, of course. The Atlantic, a tiny enterprise compared with vast corporate magazine empires like Time Inc. and Condé Nast, has only about 100 business and editorial employees and a circulation of 470,000. A scale that small means that a few million dollars could push the company over the top — an amount that would barely register on the balance sheets of many other publishers.

    Since 2005, revenue at The Atlantic has almost doubled, reaching $32.2 million this year, according to figures provided by the company. About half of that is advertising revenue. But digital advertising — projected to finish the year at $6.1 million — represents almost 40 percent of the company’s overall advertising take. In the magazine business, which has resisted betting its future on digital revenue, that is a rate virtually unheard of.

    A Positive Account of Rights

    Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

    David Friedman describes three kinds of rights — including his own idiosyncratic definition of positive rghts:

    If I have a normative right not to be killed, that means that if you kill me you have acted badly, are a bad person, and ought to feel guilty. If I have a legal right, that means that killing me is against the law. If I have a positive right not to be killed, that means that the consequences to you of killing me are such that you probably won’t. Normative rights are moral claims. Positive rights, as I use the term, are descriptions of behavior.

    A positive right could, of course, be the consequence of belief in a normative right. If enough people think that killing me is bad and are unwilling to do bad things, I am unlikely to be killed. Alternatively, a positive right could be the result of a legal right — people don’t kill me because if they believe that if they do they will be arrested, tried, convicted, and hanged.

    That last notion — that “an interest qualifies as a right when an effective legal system treats it as such by using collective resources to defend it” — which Stephen Holmes and Cass Sunstein make in The Cost of Rights, is, according to Friedman, widely held and demonstrably false:

    The simplest evidence that it is false is the fact that positive rights, in the form of territorial behavior, predate not merely human government but the human species. Since birds and fish do not have governments or legal systems, those cannot be the source of that behavior or of the associated right.

    The logic of territorial behavior is simple and relevant. An individual of a territorial species claims a territory by marking it in a way recognizable to other members of that species. Other members of the species, as a rule, either do not trespass or retreat when confronted by the owner. What enforces this pattern of behavior is a commitment strategy. The claimant has somehow committed himself to fight a trespasser more and more desperately the farther the trespasser penetrates into the territory. Unless one of the two combatants is much more formidable than the other, a fight to the death is a loss for the winner as well as the loser. Hence the trespasser, perceiving the commitment strategy, realizes that continued trespass is a mistake and retreats. The result is a positive property right in the sense in which I have just defined it.

    Its source is not a legal right. Could it be a normative right? One cannot dismiss out of hand the possibility that species other than ours feel moral obligations, although it is unlikely that they have moral philosophers to analyze them. But in the case of territorial behavior, it seems natural to interpret any moral feelings involved —  guilt felt by the trespasser, shame felt by a proprietor who fails to enforce his claim — as consequence rather than cause. Given the logic of the commitment strategy, a potential trespasser who is unwilling to trespass will be more likely to survive and reproduce than one who does not. Given that potential trespassers recognize commitment strategies and their strength, the potential proprietor whose strategy is supported by what in a human would be considered moral considerations is more believable, hence less likely to have to either make good his commitment to defense or to his territory, and — quite possibly — his opportunity to reproduce. So it may make sense to think of some moral feelings in animals as patterns of behavior produced by Darwinian evolution in the context of territorial behavior — and perhaps of other moral feelings, including those of humans, as produced in a similar way in other contexts.

    Territorial behavior in animals is a particularly clear case, but humans provide lots of examples of positive rights enforced by non-legal means, often involving commitment strategies. Consider a feud society such as saga-period Iceland, pre-Islamic Bedouin society, or modern-day Romanichal Gypsies. What enforces my right not to be robbed is that potential robbers know that I will go to a good deal of trouble to revenge myself against them. What enforces my right not to be killed is the knowledge that anyone who kills me will either have to make a large damage payment (wergild in the Icelandic system) to my kin or risk their killing him, or possibly his kin, in retaliation. In the Icelandic case the commitment strategies were filtered through a legal system — if I brought my claim against you to court and lost the case, I might no longer feel obligated to enforce it. But the court system provided no enforcement mechanism — there was nothing corresponding to an executive branch of government. What enforced the court’s judgment was the plaintiff’s commitment to do so, supported by the commitments of his kin and allies.

    Rights in human societies, including modern ones, are based on the same pattern of behavior as territorial behavior in animals or enforcement via feud and the threat of feud, even if less obviously so. Each individual has a view of his entitlements and is willing to bear unreasonably large costs in defense of them. As long as those views are mutually consistent, as long as it is uncommon for two people to believe they own, and be willing to fight for, the same object, we have a reasonably peaceful and orderly society. The form of fighting varies from case to case, society to society — one form of combat in our society is to sue someone, knowing that both parties will bear sizable legal costs as a result. But the underlying logic of the structure is the same.

    Civil order is maintained by an elaborate Schelling point, Friedman suggests, a set of imaginary lines defining what each of us believes he is entitled to and is willing to bear large costs to defend:

    Where that order clashes with the order that the legal rules purport to maintain, the informal order not uncommonly prevails. The process has been documented by Robert Ellickson in the context of the privately enforced norms of present-day Shasta County (and modern academics) and routinely observed in the unsuccessful attempts to enforce, without individual support, laws that prohibit activities many individuals want to engage in, such as alcohol and marijuana use.

    The same pattern can be observed on a larger and cruder scale in international relations. The United Kingdom was willing to bear very large costs in order to defend a few sparsely inhabited islands near the South Pole because those islands were theirs. That was the result of a rational commitment strategy; its absence would put other and more valuable territories at risk, resulting in either losing them or having to bear more and larger costs in their defense.

    Not all patterns of rights are equally workable. What many call negative rights — variations on the right to be left alone — are quite workable, while what many people, other than Friedman, call positive rights — the right to a living wage, etc. — are not so workable:

    Negative rights are, for the most part, rights that can be defended by individual commitment strategies with only a small risk of clashes due to inconsistent claims. Positive rights — in [this] sense — are open-ended claims against the world, hence almost inevitably inconsistent with each other. My right to control my body is relatively easy to enforce, since it takes substantial effort to violate it. A right by me to control your body in order to provide me with an outcome I claim a right to would be much harder to enforce. The whole structure of rights is built on two interrelated technologies — one determining what claims humans can commit themselves to defend and one determining the costs of defending, or violating, such claims.

    What Franklin Roosevelt Accomplished

    Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

    In “The Achievement of the New Deal,” William E. Leuchtenburg defends FDR against left-wing academics, who deplore the president’s long reign as insufficiently revolutionary and anti-capitalist:

    Before 1933 the government had paid heed primarily to a single group — white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males. The Roosevelt administration, however, recruited from a more ethnically diverse medley, symbolized by Ben Cohen and Tommy Corcoran, the Jew and the Irish Catholic… though, in the entire history of the republic of nearly a century and a half before 1933 only four Catholics had ever served in a cabinet, FDR, in choosing his first cabinet, named two.

    That is what Franklin Roosevelt accomplished, Arnold Kling reminds us:

    I think that if you want to understand why Roosevelt won such a landslide in 1936 and why the “Roosevelt coalition” was a significant force in American politics at least until the 1970′s, the Masonomics concept of group status is key. The biggest surge in population in the 1920′s had been among non-Protestants — the “hyphenated Americans” from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe. Roosevelt gave them unprecedented status recognition. On rights for African-Americans, he moved forward just enough to earn the gratitude and loyalty of blacks in the North (where they could vote), while not moving forward fast enough to lose the racists of the Solid South. (The racists stuck with Roosevelt in part because they had nowhere else to go. Even as late as the 1960′s, Republicans were not willing to be as racially regressive as southern Democrats. In 1948, for example, when Strom Thurmond ran against Truman, instead of joining the Republicans Thurmond formed the Dixiecrats.)

    European Fascism stirs

    Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

    Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall were recently attacked by a mob — ostensibly protesting student fees — and their police protectors showed “enormous restraint” — that is, they did nothing — as the royal couple’s car was kicked and hit by paint bombs by “youths” who chanted “Off with their heads!” and “Tory scum!”

    European Fascism stirs, Borepatch says:

    The rise of fascism was spurred on by the sense of lawlessness and collapse of legitimacy in the ruling order following the end of the Great War.  Street gangs fought state law enforcement, and each other.  The majority increasingly kept their heads down, as the state showed itself increasingly unwilling — or unable — to establish and keep order.

    The man in uniform standing next to Adolf Hitler is Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, very nearly the victor in the last great German campaign in 1918.  Hitler had one of the biggest and toughest street gangs around, and an ideology of social control over much of society.  Sensing that the time was ripe, he looked for someone to add a veneer of respectability to his bully boy organization.  Ludendorff fit the bill.

    Of course, the Beer Hall Putsch failed miserably.  Even as weak and decadent a state as the Weimar Republic rounded up his gang.  But it was too weak to do much about things.  Hitler was sent to prison, but it was all but a slap on the wrist.  Not only did he become a celebrity, receiving many visitors in his cell, but he wrote his notorious polemic Mein Kampf while behind bars.  Ten years later, he was Chancellor.

    Europe has been sliding into chaos for a long time.  Large parts of Paris — the banlieus, or housing projects — are effectively no-go areas, where the police dare not enter.  Tens of thousands of cars are burned each year.  In the UK, the population has been disarmed, while the police and courts refuse to do anything about a wave of “hot burglaries” — break-ins that occur while the residents are at home.  The sense of lawlessness is palpable.  People keep their heads down.  The Ruling Class increasingly is seen to have no legitimacy.

    Now the heir to the throne is attacked in the street by a mob.  The streets belong to the gangs, from Malmo to Southend to Marseille.  The gangs are motivated by ideology — the socialist welfare state, in the case of the yobs who attacked HRH Prince Charles’ car; radical Islam in the case of the banlieus.

    Hitler would not have been possible without a great adversary.  His German National Socialism was a counter to the International Socialism offered by the Socialist International, run from Moscow.  His posturing as the defender of the old social order rallied the vast uncommitted middle to his side, or at least enough to tip the balance.

    I said a while back that it was a short, half-step sideways for Europe to go from Fascism to Transnational Progressivism.  It will only be a short half-step back.

    All that the European countries lack is a charismatic leader.  The current European Ruling Class — including Sir Paul — refuse to do anything to correct the tailspin that society finds itself in.  Society is going to reach a point where they insist that someone — anyone — do something about it.

    Read the criticism that Sir Paul finds himself under.  Ask yourself if the next time, shots will be fired.  Ask yourself what will happen after the gunfire stops.  It’s said that fascism is always descending on America, but always landing in Europe.

    How Tony DiTerlizzi Made It

    Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

    Tony DiTerlizzi (The Spiderwick Chronicles) explains how he made it as a fantasy artist:

    After graduating from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in the spring of 1992, I found myself with a diploma, a whole lot of art supplies, and back home living with my parents. I had big dreams of becoming a childrens book illustrator, but none of the big time publishers I was submitting my portfolio to were rushing out to make me an offer. So I had to keep my day job working for an organization that owned a lot of real estate down in south Florida. There, I made maps and pamphlets on land parcels that would soon be developed into shopping malls and beachfront condominiums. Not exactly the dream job for an aspiring illustrator, but at least it paid okay.

    One night at a favorite Irish pub with my friends, we came upon the novel idea of playing Dungeons & Dragons on the weekends just like we did when we were kids. We planned on gaming at a friend’s house the following evening.

    I dug out my dusty dog-eared copies of the AD&D rulebooks and found my faded Crown Royal bag full of dice and lead miniatures. Somehow I was missing my favorite, my beloved, my essential rulebook: The AD&D Monster Manual. I hopped in my sun-bleached ‘83 Honda and drove off to the bookstore to purchase a new, pristine copy.

    As the store clerk located the book and handed it to me, I realized something had changed in the years since I had played my totally radical version of D&D in the 1980’s. The slim easy-to-sneak-to-school AD&D Monster Manual had been replaced by a bulky 3-ring Monstrous Compendium that looked more like inter-office memo on monsters…and bored flabby ink blob monsters at that.

    Gone were the thick-lined tattoo-art graphics of David Trampier and the drawn-on-my-notebook scrawlings of David Sutherland. Sure, the one-sheet pages in the AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium may have been easy to use, but the images of the monsters all lacked their spark, their vis vitae, that got my imagination spinning like a 20-sider when I saw them as a kid.

    His friend Mike the Dungeon Master said, “I bet you could do drawings for these guys,” and he went to work:

    By September, I had put together a small portfolio of my best samples. I Xeroxed pages from a module and pasted my artwork inside so the art director at TSR (fine publishers of all things D&D) could see what my work would look like in their gaming books. It was weird.

    The samples looked real, but “alternate reality” real where I was an illustrator for this game that I adored since middle school. I was proud of myself that I had stuck to this project over the summer and created The Best Submission Ever. In the back of my mind, however, was the fear of rejection. Of having to face my friends and tell them their hopes in me were for naught. Whatever, I thought. I sealed up the package and sent it off to TSR’s offices in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

    A month rolled by. No word from the great and powerful TSR. During game night I tried to forget that I sent off the samples altogether and hid my worry behind a cheerful shrug when my friends asked if I’d heard anything yet.

    Finally, late in October I received a letter response from Peggy Cooper, Art Director for TSR. She wrote that I had “a unique and interesting drawing style but it wasn’t enough to hire me as a freelance illustrator.” The letter closed with encouragement to submit more samples in the future for their files. It was a rejection.

    He friends told him to keep trying:

    The following Monday, with trembling hands, I dialed the main number for TSR — then hung up before anyone could answer.

    I had several false start phone calls throughout the day. Finally I psyched myself up, called and stayed on the line. A jovial voice, with a heavy Midwest accent, answered, “Art Department, Peggy speaking.”

    I started, “Um, Hi, Peggy. This is Tony. Tony DiTerlizzi, and —“

    “Oh, Hi Tony! Nice to hear from you, your art samples were really nice. A few of us here in the office took a real liking to them,” she said.

    “You…you did? But your letter said it wasn’t enough.” I stammered out.

    “Well all you sent us were a bunch of drawings of monsters,” she said with a chuckle. “We need characters. People. And we need to see them adventuring. Derring do, finding treasures, and that sort of stuff. Think you can do that?”

    “Um…sure. Yes.” I replied.

    “Great. Try to get me samples by the end of the month if you can. I gotta go now, I’m off to a scheduling meeting. Bye,” she said and the conversation was over.

    Make the characters as cool as the monsters themselves, his friend advised him:

    I sketched out the best player characters I could dream up. I conjured them from the spirit of Arthur Rackham, Rankin & Bass’ animated version of The Hobbit and the old Dragon’s Lair video game.

    I sent in my next batch at the end of the month, just as Peggy had asked. And do you know what? Rejected. Again.

    Peggy said the characters were designed well, but they were not active enough. Within a week I had new sketches sent up to her. This time, I created scenarios that were both narrative and entertaining. Instead of neat monsters and cool characters, I tried to illustrate elements and rules of the game. Something I thought new gamers (like my brother) would like and at the same time remind the older players of why they enjoyed playing D&D as kids.

    That November, Peggy offered me my first freelance job illustrating an entire boxed set adventure for TSR titled Dragon Mountain. The following spring, I illustrated over 100 illustrations of the first ever color edition of the AD&D Monstrous Manual. After that was completed I went up and visited the folks at TSR and was invited to be the sole illustrator on a new game line they were creating called Planescape…but that’s another story.

    Why Fewer Are Killed In Car Crashes

    Monday, December 20th, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal explores why fewer people are getting killed in car crashes:

    Technology deserves some credit, according to the data. Deaths in side-impact crashes declined between 2005 and 2008 at a faster rate than the decline for deaths overall. That suggests that side airbags are helping more people survive crashes, the researchers found.

    The Michigan study found a nearly 20% decline in deaths among young drivers, age 16 to 25. Among the possible reasons: the increasing number of states that use graduated licensing programs that delay granting full driving privileges until teens have more experience, and rising teen joblessness.

    The exact role of the economy in declining highway deaths is a big unknown. Messrs. Sivak and Schoettle highlight pieces of data that suggest that as the economy slowed down, so did motorists.

    The number of deadly accidents in which there was no evidence that the driver swerved to avoid the crash, an indicator of excess speed, dropped by more than 20% between 2005 and 2008, according to federal data. (The number of such crashes is still quite high — nearly 23,000 in all for 2008.)

    “The slower the speed, the more likely an avoidance maneuver is possible,” the researchers wrote.

    Fatal accidents during rush hours also declined more sharply than overall deaths. The 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. morning rush claimed 3,236 lives nationwide in 2008, down 16.7% from 2005. Deaths between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. fell by nearly 18%. The deadliest hours on the road? The period between 6 p.m. and 8:59 p.m. — still the rush hour in many cities. In 2008, 5,342 people died in crashes during those hours, down 13.1% from 2005.

    Star Trek Gingerbread Men

    Monday, December 20th, 2010

    Today’s FoxTrot made me smile.