Sunday, April 29, 2007


Last week was Shakespeare's day (people believe he was born and died on the same day - April 23rd).

My favorite passage of his is from Hamlet, and it takes place when Hamlet is anguishing on whether he should or not kill the king. Here it is:

"What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unused. Now whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on th’event –
A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward – I do not know
Why yet I live to say this thing’s to do,
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
To do’t. Examples gross as earth exhort me,
Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit, with divine ambition puffed,
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great
Is not stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour’s at the stake.


Ah, these crazy selfish Americans and their imperialistic ideas.

Who are they to try to help other people? What if people don’t want to have bathrooms inside the house? How about that uh?

Don’t these people know that this is all part of their plan to conquer the world?

Michael Moore needs to make a mockumentary about this. ASAP!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hey hey hey

Leo Monasterio showing up (or off :-)) in my favorite blog.


Friday, April 27, 2007

He is the future

I’ve always thought that Mangabeira’s Portuguese was incomprehensible. After reading some of his texts in English I come to realize that the problem is not really the language factor.

But hey, he’s supposed to be a genius. Maybe my intellect is just too limited to grasp his greatness.

I think it’s poetic justice that such an obtuse man was chosen to be the head of Brazil’s “special secretariat for long-term actions”.

Just perfect.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Trade fallacies

This one comes from Dani Rodrik’s blog (via Smart):

Trade and procedural fairness

Economists fail to appreciate sufficiently that globalization often runs into a procedural fairness roadblock.

Imagine some change in the economy leaves Tom $3 richer and Jerry $2 poorer, and I ask you whether you approve of this change. Few economists, regardless of their political and philosophical orientation, would be able to give a straight answer without asking for more information. Is Tom richer or poorer than Jerry to begin with, and by how much? What are their respective needs and capabilities? And what exactly is the nature of the shock that created this redistribution of income? It would be one thing if Tom got richer (and made Jerry poorer) through actions that we would consider unethical or immoral; it would be another if this was the result of Tom’s hard work and Jerry’s laziness. In other words, most of us would care about the manner in which the distributional change occurred--i.e., about procedural fairness. The fact that the shock created a net gain of $1 is not enough to conclude that it is a change for the better.

The thought experiment clarifies, I think, why the archetypal man on the street reacts differently to trade-induced changes in distribution than to technology-induced changes (i.e., to technological progress). Both increase the size of the economic pie, while often causing large income transfers. But a redistribution that takes place because home firms are undercut by competitors who employ deplorable labor practices, use production methods that are harmful to the environment, or enjoy government support is procedurally different than one that takes place because an innovator has come up with a better product through hard work or ingenuity. Trade and technological progress can have very different implications for procedural fairness. This is a point that most people instinctively grasp, but economists often miss. (Notice that even in the case of technology, we have significant restrictions on what is allowable—c.f. human-subject review requirements—and wide-ranging debates about the acceptability of things like stem-cell research.)”

The problem here is the concept that we can define the fairness of trade. Child labor does sound horrible, but the bigger question is: What were those children doing before they went to work in a dirty factory? How do you want to force that country to send all these children to clean and safe schools?

I’ve read once (I believe it was at Johan Norberg's) that Sweden had a serious problem with child labor. The solution was not new laws but pure and simple economic development. Once society is richer and education is more valuable to parents than sending kids to work for $1 a week in sweatshops they will stop doing so. I even believe that government can accelerate this process but only up to a point.

In any case, globalization and technological advances are important because they make the pie bigger. That in turn makes better choices and social organization possible. To think that this is the other way around is dangerous. This is not only the case of “You can't have your cake and eat it too” but the simple truth that you cannot expect to have a cake without the appropriate ingredients in place.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Jonathan Rauch

This is a great interview with Jonathan Rauch. He is what I would call "my type of journalist". Here is why:

"reason: Who are some of the villains in journalism for you?

Rauch: Well, if you'll take this not in the personal sense that there's anything wrong with the people, but if you take this in a sense of having played a counterproductive role, I think I'd say Maureen Dowd.

reason: In what way?

Rauch: I'm not a fan of the idea that the journalist and the journalist's attitude should be front and center. I think that a good journalist's duty is to get out of the way. The hardest thing about journalism--the hardest thing, a much higher art than being clever--is just to get out of the way, to show the leader of the world as the reader would see it if the reader were there. Just to be eyes and ears. Calvin Trillin, another writer I greatly admired who steered me towards journalism, once said that getting himself out of his stories was like taking off a very tight shirt in a very small phone booth. He's right.

I think Maureen Dowd is very good at what she does. But the problem is that lots of people who aren't any good at it think this is journalism. It's what we should all be doing, showing off our attitude. I think that sets a bad example. The blogosphere tends to further the [notion] that journalism is about opinion and not about fact. I think that's wrong.

Most people think they know truth and think that what they know is right. They're usually wrong. Journalists are among the few people in society who are actually paid to try go out and learn things. Checking is the core of what we do. David Broder once said that the old slogan in journalism is, "If your mother says she loves you, check it."

The article is long but it's worth reading all of it. Also, check this one out:
The Convenient Truth

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Root of All Evil

“I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man's being unable to sit still in a room.”

Blaise Pascal

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What People Earn - 2006

After you filter out the BS, this article has some interesting information:


“By most economic measures, 2006 was a great year. Despite rising interest rates, high oil prices and the sharpest housing downturn in 15 years, inflation was low, productivity rose steadily, corporate profits reached a 40-year high, the stock market soared and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6 percent -- the lowest level in more than five years.”

It’s good to remember that people were predicting that 2006 was going to be horrible…


“Last year's 1.1 percent average raise was their first real pay increase in a long time. Workers' productivity grew an impressive 18 percent between 2000 and 2006 -- but most people's inflation-adjusted weekly wages rose only 1 percent during that time. This was the first economic expansion since World War II without a sustained pay increase for rank-and-file workers.”

That of course doesn’t take into account benefits. Tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance will definitely cause distortions. But I also think that global competition is a factor in the huge jump in productivity, as well as the improvement of internet related technologies.

The Hottest Jobs (No College Degree Required)

The need is expected to grow 26 percent by 2014: $43,000-$100,000

Insurance adjusters
These jobs aren't easily outsourced or replaced by technology: $34,000-$75,000”

The Hottest Jobs (For College Grads)

“Logistics manager
Plan, implement and control flow of goods or services: $35,000-$118,000

Physical therapist
Aging baby boomers will drive the increasing need: $34,600-$74,000”

Interesting how the salary difference is not that large in some cases. The key word seems to be specialization, no matter if it requires a degree or not.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Where is Europe?

Where does Wal-Mart get its products? (Via MR)


View of Bellevue and surrounding mountains on a nice, clear day.

If I Were King

From the series “10 simple rules that would make the world a better place”:

1 – Everyone would pay the same flat tax. This would include income and stocks/saving earnings. Maximum would never be over 20%. Only exception would be for all levels of politicians, who would pay 30% more than everybody else.

2- Social security and free health care for anyone below the poverty line. No benefits at all for everybody else. Everyone would contribute an extra fixed percentage (1%) of their income for this social fund.

3- Government budgets in all levels are limited to spend 90% of tax income. The remaining 10% would be used to pay exclusively: unemployment insurance (which includes basic health insurance) up to 1 year as long as proof of job search is provided. The only exception would be times of war.

4 – Abortion would be completely legal. The only requirement is that these women would have to get their tubes tied at the same time (except when there is a clear danger to the mother’s life, baby’s life or rape was involved).

5 – Every prisoner would be forced to work in government projects. Each day of work would cut sentences in half day. Life prisoners would work anyway.

6 – All import tariffs would be limited to 10%.

7 – In order to carry a gun, people would have to go through a preparatory course and test (think driver’s school for guns). The license would need to be renewed every 2 years. Buying a gun to keep at home would remain legal without extra requirements.

8 – Drug consumption in public places would get you fines. Very expensive ones. Drug trafficking would continue to be punished by jail time.

9 – The US would route all its international aid through NATO instead of the UN. Only NATO members would be eligible receivers.

10 – Politicians would have to register a plan of government during the first 2 months of the campaign (or at least 6 months before election). This plan would be legally binding.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Top three problems

This tragedy at Virginia Tech (where I got my masters by the way) is a classical example of what I consider the three biggest problems in the U.S. nowadays. These are:

- Moral relativism and social determinism
- Big Government impulse
- The media circus

Moral relativism and social determinism

Have you noticed how the media keeps trying to find something special about this guy? First, he must have been crazy. He was writing violent poetry. He even used to have lunch by himself at the cafeteria! I bet he was depressed. Probably played violent videogames too…

I am not saying that it's not possible that he had some mental disturbance. But the thing is that people never even consider the option that this guy had total control over his actions and still decided to do this evil, coward thing he did.

By trying to fit him in some kind of group or condition, people are basically saying that there is no choice between good and evil. For the moral relativists, Evil doers are insane so it’s not really their fault. There is no other option.

Most amazingly, this kind of lunacy is not restricted to the lefties. The cuckoo right wingers keep trying to find some crazy connection with the fact that the guy was an immigrant.

Now that we can (unfortunately) see these idiotic videos that this loser taped, it is obvious that he was completely in control of his actions. He planned the killing; he even tried to push the guilt of this thing away from him by saying that he was “pushed into a corner” and that “he wasn’t going to run anymore”. A typical coward. And yet, I feel that there is this unconscious effort to create some type of rationalization of why this guy did all of this. Nobody openly calls this guy names or say he was a disgrace to his family. They don't even talk about his family! What if people actually knew that their parents would be openly disgraced if they did something like that? Wouldn't that be a deterrent?

In my opinion, this attempt to transform this scumbag into a victim is not only unfair to the real victims but it is also an open invitation to copycats.

Big Government impulse

Immediately after the shooting you could see headlines that linked the murders with gun ownership. I heard people on the radio actually saying that this was again Bush’s fault because he was in favor of selling guns to anyone.

Now, maybe you all haven’t heard about it but Virginia Tech is actually a “gun free” zone. That is, even if you have a license to carry a gun in Virginia you can’t bring it into Virginia Tech.

That might explain why thousands of students and hundreds of professors in that one building heard dozens of gun shots and did not react at all.

In any case, this idea that whenever a tragedy occur it is the government’s fault is a big cultural vice in America nowadays. It happened during Katrina, and it happens daily for a variety of problems. People blame the real state downturn on the government. They blame the fact that kids are fat on the government!

This not only means more and more money being spent in stupid programs but it also means people getting less prepared to deal with the very situations they should be ready to.

It’s a dangerous vicious circle.

The media circus

Watching the VT president’s press conference on the day of the murders was one of the most irritating experiences of my life. Here is a guy trying to explain the unexplainable, doing his best to list the details of what is probably the worst day of his life and what did the reporters do? They were asking the most stupid, inconsequential and populist questions you could ever imagine.

Something very wrong has happened to the American media. Maybe it is just plain ideology that moves these people into transforming every single issue into some sort of crusade that helps their cause. Maybe it is just pure incompetence. Maybe it is just the reflection of a large part of the population that has this “can’t look away” instinct that makes these things profitable.

In any case, I believe the fact that the American media makes this circus around every single bad thing that happens here brings more and more negative results to the country. It happens in Iraq, and it happens locally. I have no doubt that showing all these movies and pictures of this dirty bastard will at some level motivate others to do similar hideous things.

How is it even legal to show this material? Isn’t it obvious that this is a reward for the murders? Why not say that they received letters and videos and that they will not show it on the air because this loser doesn’t deserve it?

It really seems to me that the press is always on the wrong side of things. They don’t want to inform, they want to shock. No matter what the cost is.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A victory

'Partial-birth' abortion ban upheld.

For those who think this is just a corner case, read this:

"More than 1 million abortions are performed in the United States each year, according to recent statistics. Nearly 90 percent of those occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and are not affected by Wednesday's ruling. The Guttmacher Institute says 2,200 dilation and extraction procedures - the medical term most often used by doctors - were performed in 2000, the latest figures available."

And let's not forget that this was a 5x4 vote. That means this would never be possible without Bush.

For those who think that babies are just "balls of cells" this is probably bad news. After all, some women will have to actually acknowledge the consequences of their acts. God knows, maybe they will have to go through the murderous process of giving up these babies for adoption instead of killing them.

For me, this means that thousands of lives were saved. I know people seem to be more interested in death, but to me this is great news.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Call a spade a spade

This is from a Time article.

The thing that really pisses me off about the abortion discussion is how the pro choice people pretend it’s a different issue.

It is not a baby, it’s a fetus.

It is not killing, it’s “an interruption of possibility of life”.

And of course, the reasons for doing an abortion are always noble ones.

I just wish they had a poll where they asked the income of these women that say “can’t afford a baby”.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Direita no Brasil

"Não existe direita no Brasil, no sentido clássico do conceito... O pensamento conservador filia-se a uma tradição ocidental que estabelece como pilares da ordem a família, a propriedade, os costumes. O nosso conservadorismo não é nada disso. Tem a ver com clientelismo, patrimonialismo, uso indevido dos recursos do Estado. Ele não é composto de um ideário, e sim de aproveitadores. Por que a 'direita', no Brasil, apóia todos os governos, não importa qual? Na história recente, ela apoiou os militares, apoiou o Sarney, apoiou o Collor, apoiou a mim, apóia o Lula. Porque seus integrantes não são de direita. Essa gente toda só quer estar perto do Estado, tirar vantagens dele."

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, via Olavo de Carvalho

Friday, April 13, 2007

Keeping things in perspective

US bodies recovered from N Korea.

"More than 33,000 US troops died in the Korean War, which started in June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. Some 8,100 US servicemen are still listed as missing."

Human Development Trends

So are we poorer or richer? Is income better distributed or not?

How about the health of the world?

Who is staying behind?

Sometimes pictures do speak for themselves. Courtesy of Gapminder.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

MR and bias

"I would like for my posts on MR to be one small space where these necessary but ignoble human tendencies toward personalization are resisted and sometimes even criticized. I am biased, just as you are. But for aesthetic reasons I would rather my biases be played out in the realm of ideas, rather than directed at people. And at the margin, some of you should be just a little more like me."

One of the reasons why MR is my favorite blog.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Living the dream. Dutch style.

From the Curious Capitalist:

"Meet permanently unemployed Dutch guy Gertjan van Beijnum (from today's Volkskrant, translation mine):

The ex art school student stands in the middle of his room in a former squatters' dwelling, an old hospital in the center of Den Bosch. Since he broke off his studies in 1979, he's been unemployed. For 28 years now he's been receiving a government check of 800 euros a month. "It's not that I can't work, it's that I don't want to. I'm against paid work," he says."

According to the article, there are still 300 thousand people on welfare in the Netherlands. And that's their lowest level in 25 years!

Just to give an idea of how high that still is, it would be the equivalent of having approximately 5.5 million people in Welfare in the US. That is more than double of the actual current number (around 2 million).

Iran v. Britain: Who Blinked?

Very interesting article. I was especially interested in the part about the political power that groups like Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and allied institutions like the Basij militia have in Iran.

Whether diplomacy will really work against Iran is debatable. I do think they are unstable enough that it might work. But what concerns me is that power will soon change hands in the US and UK. And there is a great chance that in both places more “peaceful” governments will take place.

It is usually in these times when nuts go wild.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sweet irony Batman

This one is just beautiful. From the Time’s "The Global Warming Survival Guide - 51 Things We Can Do to Save the Environment”:

45. Make One Right Turn After Another

United Parcel Service took a detour to the right on its way to curb CO2 emissions. In 2004, UPS announced that its drivers would avoid making left turns. The time spent idling while waiting to turn against oncoming traffic burns fuel and costs millions each year. A software program maps a customized route for every driver to minimize lefts.

In metro New York, UPS has reduced CO2 emissions by 1,000 metric tons since January. Today 83% of UPS facilities are heading in the right direction; within two years, the policy will be adopted nationwide.”

Now you tell me if this is not the perfect allegory for this global warming discussion.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The unfairness of American theocracy

Isn’t it unfair that we Americans are working hard in this Good Friday while people all over the world are at the beach enjoying life?

Especially if you consider that America is a theocracy, while other countries like France, Germany, Spain, etc, are modern secular democracies, the greatest examples of church and state separation for the world.

God, even in Sweden Good Friday is a public holiday!

I guess this just shows how Americans are cold-hearted, profit-seekers, crazy-pagans who can’t even make a decent theocracy!

We should hire Mahmoud as a consultant. I bet Pelosi could stop by on her way home and get this all arranged. Now that’s a plan!

The world hates the US. Well, kind of.

U.S. immigration services reached its annual quota for H1B visa applications in one day.

The Citizenship and Immigration Services received a record of more than 150,000 applications for the H-1B visa on Monday, nearly double the number of visas it can grant for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2007.

The government will grant 65,000 visas to those who hold the equivalent of an undergraduate degree and possess the technical expertise in a specialized field, such as engineering and computer programming. Another 20,000 visas will go to people with advanced academic degrees who have technical expertise.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

JAGs Take a More Central Battlefield Role

"Lawyers may be advising commanders in any decision in the field."

Listen here.

Ah, these American barbarians...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

If money is power...

It looks like Romney actually raised $23 million according to MSNBC.

UPDATE:: Obama raised $25 million

But in any case, I think the numbers are a little surprising. I thought it was common knowledge that the Republicans were the money party. Hmm….

By the way, if Romney wins, you can always say you heard here first.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Where would you rather be? Afghan version

Just to please the ones who didn't like the Iraq comparison:

Fatalities of civilians and police in Rio between Feb.1st and Apr.1st:

Fatalities of coalition troops in Afghanistan between Oct. 2001 and Apr.1st 2007:

And that's no April fools' joke.