Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Deflating your pessimism III

So, turns out the economy hasn't quite hit a recession yet. Growth in the first quarter of 2008 was 0.6% - not great, but not negative. After all the financial mishaps of the last 6-8 months, the U.S. economy is still bigger today than it was in August last year.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gas Tax Holiday

For the record - this gas tax holiday idea that McCain/Clinton have supported is the height of idiocy. If you thought it was a good idea - stop that. Stop. No. It would be inconsequential to your actual gas purchase price (why? because we have insanely low federal gas taxes). It is stupid to suggest that we should try to generate new energy sources, but at the same time do anything we can to lower the cost of the old ones.

You want cheaper fill-ups? Buy a more efficient car or take the bus.

More Hockey Watching

I got to watch the whole Rangers/Penguins game on Friday (game 1). Kind of. Between going outside to push swings, remedying ice-cream-dropped-on-lawn incidents and the like, I was in and out of the house the whole time. I still got to watch a lot of hockey. Except that in a 5-4 game that started out 3-0 NYR before the Pens mounted a furious comeback I saw precisely ZERO goals. It's like the red light goes off in the kids heads 30 seconds before it actually gets lit up in the game (note to self - take kids to Vegas). Every time I came in (usually to wash my hands and retrieve a new beer) I'd do a double take and see that the score had changed. Unbelievable.

(As I write this - Pens are now up 5-3 on the Rangers in game 3, and looking at a 3-0 series lead. When they need to score, they seem to be able to do it at will. Do I smell Stanley? Hmmmm.)

Your Cognitive Surplus

This guy has an interesting idea about all that free time you've been racking up in front of the boob tube.

"So how big is that [cognitive] surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that's finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation."

My only problem with this is that Wikipedia (or any other internet project, like writing stupid blogs) might simply be a way of making public the amount of trivial fiddling we do all the time. In other words, before Wikipedia, the same dorks who update Wikipedia spent their 100 million hours of thought doing dorky things besides watching TV. It's just that now, their efforts are public (and, yes, useful). So I'm not sure I see this big surplus of time/effort out there to exploit. To a first approximation, people are lazy and stupid and it seems to me that this isn't changing just because the internet came along.

To put it another way, people may have put in 100 million hour on Wikipedia, but my guess is that the total time spent searching for boobs on-line is something like 5 billion hours.

So what are you going to do with your TV time?

Boo China

So this has to be right up there for the "Irony of the Year" award.

"Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say. The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile."

More proof that incentives matter. If people can make money - screw ideology.

Yeah China

So this is a really interesting piece of economic research (no, seriously). Broda and Romalis, in a paper you can find here, look at inflation in the price of goods for different income groups. What they find is that the inflation rate for the goods that rich people buy (which tends to includes expensive services like financial planning and legal advice) is much higher than the inflation rate for goods that poor people buy (which tend to include much of the inventory of Wal-mart).

The reason for this, they point out, is that services are not generally tradable (you can't replace American tax advice with Pakistani tax advice) while the inventory of Wal-mart is highly tradable. This has two big implications:
1) Inequality in purchasing power between rich and poor people is not nearly as large as inequality in income. So while we might decry the increasing wage gaps observed in the U.S., you can sleep better knowing that rich people pay higher prices than you do.
2) Trade with places like China is absolutely a positive, even for the poorest people. They benefit immensely from cheap Wal-mart stuff, and this probably far outweighs the (as-yet-unestablished-by-decent-empirical-work) lower wages that trade might induce for poorer people.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

For no good reason

One of my favorite Monty Python sketches of all time. It's worth it solely for the line "Venezuelan Beaver Cheese".

NHL Playoffs

Second round starts tonight. So far I'm worried about the Red Wings - they look typically skittish and I'm not convinced that Datsuyk and Zetterberg are really the playoff assassins that you need. Also, who on defense is chasing down all those guys on Dallas who are skating at 100mph? The Stars look hot, and now that Turco has actually won a postseason series, maybe he is going on one of those runs that takes them to a cup.

The Lanche don't scare me - this is a 1998 All-Star team. San Jose is San Jose - and they'll cough it up to Dallas because I don't think Joe Thornton is really the guy you want taking you to the Cup.

In the East, I'm totally pulling for the Penguins. They were fun to watch as the dismantled Ottawa. The Rangers are playing well, but my "New York gets too much attention anyway" radar is on and I'm not inclined to like them right now. Montreal scares me because while they have speed, I'm not sure I trust Price in net and the near collapse to the Bruins is disturbing. That said, what does Philly have going for them? Briere? Okay, but Derian Hatcher is 78 years old now and how do they stop someone with speed like Montreal?

Think before you protest

Um, does the name Jesse Owens ring a bell?

Best. Magazine. Ever.

It's devoted solely to meat. All things meaty and based on eating animal flesh. Again, why didn't I think of this?


During WWI, 93 years ago, the first Australian and New Zealander troops landed on the isthmus of Gallipoli, which is at the mouth of the Dardenelles, the entrance to the Black Sea. The British were attempting to capture Istanbul and open a sea route to Russia. The mastermind of this invasion was one Winston Churchill, at the time First Lord of the Admiralty, and he based his recommendation on faulty information regarding Turkish troop strength provided by one T.E. Lawrence (yes, Lawrence of Arabia).

The invasion was a disaster. The Turkish commander, Mustafa Kemal, had far more troops available to defend the straits than the British thought. His masterful defense won him universal acclaim in Turkey and led to his more commonly used name Kemal Ataturk. His success at Gallipoli led to his leadership of a group of patriots known as the Young Turks who deposed the Sultan and established Turkey as a secular republic several years later.

As a percent of their initial force, Australia and New Zealand were the most damaged forces, and Gallipoli is often credited with making these countries see themselves as individual nations, as opposed to British offshoots. ANZAC day (April 25th) remains the biggest holiday of the year in these countries (think Fourth of July and Presidents Day all in one - white sales AND fireworks).

The scale of life lost is staggering, considering that the area fought over is only about 60 miles long and maybe ten miles wide at its widest. The numbers are pretty scary:

Country(Killed - Wounded)
UK (21,255 - 52,230)
Australia (7,594 - 20,000)
N.Z. (2,701 - 4,456)
India (1,358 - 3,421)
Turks (55,801 - 140,000)
Total(all) (99,893 - 237,037)

For comparison purposes, there were about 8,000 killed and 27,000 wounded at Gettysburg. The Union Army lost an estimated 110,000 men during the entire Civil War.

Mmmmmmmm cute

The best part of making brownies.

How to win an argument

From Dave Barry, a few rules to make sure you win that next verbal bout you find yourself in. It's a link from some New Zealand website and the link doesn't work without.....nevermind. I just pasted the text here:

I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me. You too can win arguments. Simply follow these rules:

  • Drink Liquor.

    Suppose you're at a party and some hotshot intellectual is expounding on the economy of Peru, a subject you know nothing about. If you're drinking some health-fanatic drink like grapefruit juice, you'll hang back, afraid to display your ignorance, while the hotshot enthralls your date. But if you drink several large martinis, you'll discover you have STRONG VIEWS about the Peruvian economy. You'll be a WEALTH of information. You'll argue forcefully, offering searing insights and possibly upsetting furniture. People will be impressed. Some may leave the room.

  • Make things up.

    Suppose, in the Peruvian economy argument, you are trying to prove Peruvians are underpaid, a position you base solely on the fact that YOU are underpaid, and you're damned if you're going to let a bunch of Peruvians be better off. DON'T say: ``I think Peruvians are underpaid.'' Say: ``The average Peruvian's salary in 1981 dollars adjusted for the revised tax base is $1,452.81 per annum, which is $836.07 before the mean gross poverty level.''

    NOTE: Always make up exact figures.

    If an opponent asks you where you got your information, make THAT up, too. Say: ``This information comes from Dr. Hovel T. Moon's study for the Buford Commission published May 9, 1982. Didn't you read it?'' Say this in the same tone of voice you would use to say ``You left your soiled underwear in my bath house.''

  • Use meaningless but weightly-sounding words and phrases.

    Memorize this list:

    • Let me put it this way
    • In terms of
    • Vis-a-vis
    • Per se
    • As it were
    • Qua
    • So to speak

    You should also memorize some Latin abbreviations such as ``Q.E.D.,'' ``e.g.,'' and ``i.e.'' These are all short for ``I speak Latin, and you do not.''

    Here's how to use these words and phrases. Suppose you want to say: ``Peruvians would like to order appetizers more often, but they don't have enough money.''

    You never win arguments talking like that. But you WILL win if you say: ``Let me put it this way. In terms of appetizers vis-a-vis Peruvians qua Peruvians, they would like to order them more often, so to speak, but they do not have enough money per se, as it were. Q.E.D.''

    Only a fool would challenge that statement.

  • Use snappy and irrelevant comebacks.

    You need an arsenal of all-purpose irrelevant phrases to fire back at your opponents when they make valid points. The best are:

    • You're begging the question.
    • You're being defensive.
    • Don't compare apples and oranges.
    • What are your parameters?

    This last one is especially valuable. Nobody, other than mathematicians, has the vaguest idea what ``parameters'' means.

    Here's how to use your comebacks:

    • You say: ``As Abraham Lincoln said in 1873...''
      Your opponent says: ``Lincoln died in 1865.''
      You say: ``You're begging the question.''


    • You say: ``Liberians, like most Asians...''
      Your opponent says: ``Liberia is in Africa.''
      You say: ``You're being defensive.''

  • Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler.

    This is your heavy artillery, for when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong. Bring Hitler up subtly. Say: ``That sounds suspiciously like something Adolf Hitler might say'' or ``You certainly do remind me of Adolf Hitler.''

So that's it: you now know how to out-argue anybody. Do not try to pull this on people who generally carry weapons.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


THIS is why Ben Folds is my favorite musician today. This is how you cover a song.

(MOM ALERT: I wouldn't push play if I were you)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


So Esquire magazine has a list of 75 things a man should know how to do. I thought I'd take a crack and see how I stand up:

1) Give advice that matters in one sentence. (Yes - "Don't let magazines dictate your life")
2) Tell if someone is lying. (No. Or was that a lie? Hmmmm..)
3) Take a photo. (No. I'm terrible at taking, and being in, photos)
4) Score a baseball game. (Yes.)
5) Name a book that matters. (Yes. Ender's Game and The Coming of the Third Reich)
6) Know at least one musical group as well as is possible. (Yes. Ben Folds)
7) Cook meat somewhere other than a grill. (Yes.)
8) Not monopolize the conversation. (No - did I tell you about how bad I am at this?)
9) Write a letter. (No.)
10) Buy a suit. (Yes-ish. If I take Kirstin with me.)
11) Swim three different strokes. (No - Abby is already a stronger swimmer than I am.)
12) Show respect without being a suck-up. (Yes? Was that right? Did you like the answer?)
13) Throw a punch. (No.)
14) Chop down a tree. (Yes - it was a long time ago, but I've done it.)
15) Calculate square footage. (Seriously? This has to be on the list? Is this hard for people?)
16) Tie a bow tie. (No. Clip-on, baby.)
17) Make one drink, in large batches, very well. (Yes. I make a great bloody mary.)
18) Speak a foreign language. (No.)
19) Approach a woman out of his league. (I married Kirstin, didn't I? See #12)
20) Sew a button. (Probably not.)
21) Argue with a European w/o getting xenophobic or insulting soccer. (Yes.)
22) Give a woman an orgasm so that he doesn't have to ask after it. (##############)
23) Be loyal. (I hope.)
24) Know his poison, without standing there, pondering like a dope. (Yes. Absolut and tonic, tall.)
25) Drive an eight-penny nail into a treated 2x4 without thinking about it. (Yes.)
26) Cast a fishing rod without shrieking or sighing or otherwise admitting defeat. (Probably not.)
27) Play gin with an old guy. (Yes - if you allow Grandma to stand in for the old guy.)
28) Play go fish with a kid. (Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Dear God let it end, Yes.)
29) Understand quantam physics enough to accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass through the table when dropped. (Yes - but you aren't surprised by that, are you?)
30) Feign interest. (With the best of them.)
31) Make a bed. (Me: Yes. Kirstin: No.)
32) Describe a glass of wine in one sentence without using the terms nutty, fruity, oaky, finish, or kick. (Yes. "It's good.")
33) Hit a jump shot in pool. (Maybe.)
34) Dress a wound. (Yes - but only with Princess band-aids.)
35) Jump start a car, change a flat tire, change the oil. (Yes. Yes. Yes.)
36) Make three different bets at a craps table. (Just three? Big Yes.)
37) Shuffle a deck of cards. (Yes.)
38) Tell a joke. (Yes. Make it funny? Maybe.)
39) Know when to split his cards at blackjack. (Yes.)
40) Speak to an 8-year old so they will hear. (I'll tell you in 4 years)
41) Speak to a waiter so he will hear. (Yes.)
42) Talk to a dog so he will hear. (Yes.)
43) Install: a disposal, a thermostat, or a light fixture w/o asking for help. (Yes.)
44) Ask for help. (On what?)
45) Break another man's grip on his wrist. (Better rule - know how to NOT get grabbed by other men.)
46) Tell a woman's dress size. (Yes. If she looks fat - say 6. If she doesn't look fat - say 2. Always works.)
47) Recite one poem from memory. (There once was a man from Nantucket....)
48) Remove a stain. (Yes. "That's alpaca - you gotta blot that shit!)
49) Say no. (Yes. I have two kids.)
50) Fry an egg sunny side up. (Yes.)
51) Build a campfire. (Maybe if you spot me a lighter.)
52) Step into a job no-one wants to do. (I'd have to think about that)
53) Sometimes kick some ass. (Literally or figuratively?)
54) Break up a fight. (What's with all the violence?)
55) Point to the north at any time. (Yes.)
56) Creat a playlist in which ten seemingly random songs provide a secret message to one person. (Yes.)
57) Explain what a light year is. (Yeah, but do you know what a parsec is?)
58) Avoid boredom. (Umm, I guess.)
59) Write a thank-you note. (No.)
60) Be brand loyal to at least one product. (Diet Coke. Hienz ketchup. Johnsonville brats. The Packers.)
61) Cook bacon. (Duh.)
62) Deliver a eulogy. (Thankfully untested at this point.)
63) Know that Christopher Columbus was a son of a bitch (I think the author was getting punchy here.)
64) Throw a baseball overhand with some snap. (Yes.)
65) Throw a football with a spiral. (Yes - usually.)
66) Shoot a 12 foot jump shot reliably. (No - but I can snap a wrist shot and skate backwards.)
67) Find his way out of the woods if lost. (Seriously, what has happened to the author recently?)
68) Tie a knot. (Yes.)
69) Hold a baby. (They don't call me the sleep Nazi for nothing.)
70) Shake hands. (Yes.)
71) Iron a shirt. (It takes a while, but Yes.)
72) Stock an emergency bag for the car. (Isn't it more important to put it IN the car?)
73) Caress a woman's neck. (#################)
74) Know some birds. (Orioles, Blue Jays, and Cardinals. Are there other kinds?)
75) Negotiate a better price. (No.)

So, I'm not sure whether I'm uber-manly or not, but I think I ended up with more than half Yesses. I'm gonna go drink beer and punch someone.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hockey Night in Houston

So here's a rough rundown of my night:

One fresh six-pack of Harp. Kirstin taking a bath and fully aware that she will not be allowed to manhandle the remote control tonight.

1st period: Notre Dame 1 Michigan 0. Sons of bitches. Crappy D - can't let that guy across the front of the net like that.

1st period: So one of the Hanson brothers has a kid that goes to ND. My hatred for ND no longer burns with the heat of 1000 suns. More like 999.

1st period: ND 2 Michigan 0. Sons of bitches. Soft goal, Sauer. This better not become a habit (see 2007 tournament).

1st period: ND 3 Michigan 0. SAUER!!!!!! I think he might have just pissed himself.

1st intermission: American Idol shocker - that Australian guy gets voted off. (Ok, Kirstin got to touch the remote)

2nd period: Hogan replaces Sauer. Relief, fear. This might be the last time Sauer ever starts a game for Michigan. Even if we were to come back, how can you start Sauer in the Final?

2nd period: ND 3 Michigan 1. Hallelujah! Finally! A pulse. Faint, but a pulse.

2nd period: ND 3 Michigan 2. You magnificent bastards. Flying around the ice now.

2nd intermission: Bonus - Red Wings win game 1 3-1 vs. Nashville. Boston takes that first critical step towards being swept again by Montreal.

3rd period: Nerves. ND has some life back.

3rd period: ND 3 Michigan 3. Screw the Irish! We're back, baby.

3rd period: The dreaded comeback letdown rears its ugly head (see Kansas/NC). We're getting slow and they're jumping.

3rd period: ND 4 Michigan 3. As expected. Sons of bitches.

3rd period: ND 4 Michigan 4. Ah, sweet nectar of life! What a soft goal - which I guess we deserve given that Sauer apparently had money on ND.

3rd period: Tick, tick, tick. Is it me, or does every college hockey tournament game end either 5-1 or in OT?

OT: Sons of bitches. Sons of bitches. Sons of bitches.

The only quality outcome of this Frozen Four is for a comet to destroy Denver during the final game.

Rampant Ignorance

This is a quote from one Rick Pearcy:

My son and I often stop by McDonald's for a bite to eat after homeschool bowling on Fridays. But not today...

Not today, in light of reports that McDonald's has decided, apparently, to declare war on my family. And to declare war on the civilization of liberty, independence, creativity, and humanity under God that my Dad fought for in World War II.

So what could a fast food chain possibly have done to incur this kind of venom? Something that strikes at the very heart of a modern, free democracy like the United States, right? Something that warrants a lazy reference to World War II to illustrate the enormity of the crime (seriously, using WWII as a shibboleth is almost past its expiration date, isn't it? Stop trying to pluck the same heart string over and over again).

So what did McDonald's do? Have they decided to start using 6 year old Vietnamese children as a meat substitute? Did they reinstate segregation? Have they decided to open a pornography-themed restaurant in Mr. Pearcy's neighborhood?

No. McDonald's decided to donate a sum of money to the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and now a McDonald's VP sits on the board of said institution. This atrocity has offended Mr. Pearcy to the core of his being. How dare a restaurant even acknowledge the existence of people who are not EXACTLY like Mr. Pearce in every respect. Papa Pearcy didn't wade ashore in Normandy so that some freaking faggot could fatten themselves up on fries andMcNuggets. How dare McDonald's legitimize the quite Nazi-like regime of gay men and lesbian women who are, even now, plotting to exterminate homeshooling bowlers such as Mr. Pearcy and his son. Dear God, what would John Wayne say if he were alive now? The Duke must be rolling over in his grave.

Honestly, the only thing more shocking to me than Mr. Pearcy's statement is that he is actually literate enough to have expressed it in coherent English. One of my dearest hopes in this world is now that young Mr. Pearcy junior turns out to be a absolutely, ragingly, flamboyantly gay man and that he parades in front of his father wearing nothing but black leather chaps one day, causing Mr. Pearcy to die instantly from shock, and upon his approach to the pearly gates discovers Moses frenching Jesus right before St. Peter pops the trap door and Mr. Pearcy falls into the ninth circle of hell that is reserved for bigoted, ignorant, self-righteous, shitheads such as himself.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The best music video ever?

You decide:

Monday, April 7, 2008

Deflating your Pessimism II

This graph shows Paul Krugman's preferred measure of the unemployment situation. It counts the percent of people in the following categories:

1) Unemployed (no job, would like a job, looking for a job)

2) Marginally attached (temp workers and the like)

3) Part-time for economic reasons (would like full time work but employer is cutting hours)

Notice that despite the "Oh God the end of our economic approacheth, lo the economy shall tremble before the power of the almighty financial crisis" rhetoric, this measure of unemployment has headed upwards to a level that is a) still 1.5% less than the highest reached following the latest downturn (2003) and b) a good 3% less than the peak in 1994.

Now of course this rate will probably climb over the near future, as it would in any recessionary environment. But there is nothing terribly dramatic about the current situation. Unfortunately "financial system meltdown" sounds really good in print.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Deflating your Pessimism

Someone asked me about the current economic situation this weekend. They had seen the job report, and were wondering whether this meant things would unravel. The stock market was falling (they just saw their first quarter 401(k) statement) and they made the comment that "pretty soon the Chinese will own everything anyway". Then they asked me how soon this might happen.

Uh....never? Let's be realistic about the economic "threat" of China. If the Chinese were going to "own everything", what would that mean? Could they buy up the whole S&P 500? Well, to buy up all the stock issued by all the companies in the S&P 500 (which represents about 70% of total stock market value in the U.S) would require about $10.16 trillion dollars. China in 2006 had a total GDP of $2.6 trillion. So if China were to a) not eat, b) not wear clothes, c) not consume any resources whatsoever for FIVE YEARS, then they could buy up the S&P 500.

Of course, the S&P is only one portion of the total assets of the U.S. You'd have to think about the value of houses, bonds, bank accounts, cars, etc. etc.. The Fed estimates total U.S. assets in 2004 at about $62.5 trillion. So China (again without the eating and stuff) could buy the U.S. in about 20 years.

But don't the Chinese hold all our government debt? No. A lot of it, yes. In total, foreign countries hold about 25% of our government debt. Which means they can do what, exactly? Collect interest? Sure. Take over? Not so much. Also, recall that every time the dollar falls, the value of those bonds goes down for the Chinese.

Okay, last thing. Let's just keep in mind the scale of what we're working with in China. If you are so scared of China and their effect on the U.S. economy, consider that China has the economic resources of the Pac-10. That is, the combined economies of Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona are about equal to the Chinese economy.

And seriously, when is the last time China made it to the Final Four?

Moses is dead

Charlton Heston kicked the burning bush. Do you think it was because of an accidental gun discharge?

You mind if we dance with your dates?

Where the boys and girls are. The overabundance of single males in California is apparently an immigration effect. Lots of unmarried Mexican males 20-30 skews the numbers. But if you're lonely tonight (and male) - I suggest booking that ticket to Atlanta soon.

Latest Book Reviews

So here's what I've read lately:

1) White Man's Burden by Bill Easterly. This is another 'popular economics' book, written by one of my favorite academic economists. Easterly spent a long time with the World Bank assisting on development projects and now has moved on to academia and poking holes in the inflated balloon that is the foreign aid business. This book is essentially one long screed against the U.N., World Bank, USAID, Bono, the Pope (at least the last one), and pretty much anyone else who publishes "Action Plan for Millenium Development Goals 2008" or other such crap.

Easterly's point is essentially that foreign aid programs are top-down planners, and have no incentive to actually get anything done, or done right, at least. From an economists perspective, this is because the incentive structure has nothing to do with what poor people need, and more to do with what political figures in rich countries need (e.g. more photo ops with Bono).

In the end, the book is one of the better popular economics books out there, and it will be a big shock to you at how little good the last 50 years of foreign aid spending has done. (To get your head around the problem, imagine that your HMO was responsible for foreign aid dispersion).

2) The Big Problem of Small Change - If Easterly's book is an interesting popularization of some current economics debates, this is the mirror image. A yawn-inducing "complexification" of a stale old economic question: how and when did governments get a handle on the minting of small denominations of money (e.g. pennies). I like some obscure crap, but this is beyond even my capacity for historic minutiae. To really drive home the soul-crushing boredom of their work, the authors decide it would be best to lay out a full mathematical model of their thesis. Meaning that I would suggest this to no one but the idiot savant in your family.

3) China Shakes the World. A tour through modern China with a correspondant for the Financial Times who has been in China for about 20 years. He visits a variety of businesses and villages and relates some fascinating stories of people generating new thriving businesses out of the dregs of Communist society. The pace of growth he captures is bewildering; several of his subjects go from village farmers to millionaires over the course of about 20 years. Throughout, he highlights the lingering issues that China is attempting to manage as it transitions to a more free market economy. The closest example I can dream up is this: imagine that you are in a candy store with 20 four year olds, and your job is to keep them from eating so much they get sick.

That said, the author falls prey to a couple economic myths. The first is the 'limited resource' myth. He frets over where all the 'stuff' will come from as Chinese become more affluent. He indulges in some extrapolations of current trends that are typical of this myth. "At this pace, the Chinese will run out of air by 2050" is a paraphrase, but gives you the idea. This kind of reasoning drives economists up a wall because it ignores the one thing that actually has information on scarcity - prices. As prices go up, incentives change. And the reaction to those incentives are what alter consumption patterns, technology, and resource usage. Price information is the reason we didn't revert to the Stone Age when whale oil started to run low in the 19th century.

The second big myth he falls for is the "make-work" myth. That is, there are only so many jobs to be done in an economy. What do we do with all the extra Chinese people? There is no fixed set of jobs. Again, prices (in this case wages) provide information and economies react. Pressure on wages will continue to generate incentives to invest more in China and employ their population in an ever-more complicated progression of jobs. This will not happen overnight, but it will happen faster if the Chinese government allows for more flexibility by their citizenry.

Other than these two points I found distressing, the book is a rather fun read on the state of play in China these days.

4) The Gifts of Athena. True econo-history nerd fodder. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone except students of economic history, and even then I'd vote for Lever of Riches first. Lever of Riches is a fun history of the meaningful inventions of the Industrial Revolution and their origins and diffusion. Gifts of Athena ends up sounding too much like a rebuttal to the authors acadmic critics. Let's put it this way, even I got bored sometimes reading it.

Bob Vila I am not

So I was doing my best to be crafty today. We decided to build a little bench with cubbyholes underneath that we can use for shoes et al. If you've been in our house, you know that we've got a major shoe disaster area by the back door.

Anyhoo - a big trip to Lowe's and I've got all the lumber I'll need. I sat down and drew out a pretty detailed plan for all the pieces I'd need. I head outside, set up the saw, and proceed to very carefully measure out my pieces. I'm even being clever and using the pieces I have to help measure the pieces I need (e.g. if I need two pieces of the same length, I measure one and then make the other one the same length).

So I'm feeling pretty manly - sweaty, coated in sawdust, and making loud noises with power tools - when it comes time to assemble the new bench. First 3 pieces, great. Put in the bottom support pieces, great. Go to put in the bottom shelf and....huh? Too long. Okay. Back to the saw and take a little off the end. Put is back in and ....huh? It fits, but it's crooked. There are little gaps in opposite corners.

Now how the hell did this happen? I mean, there are a million ways I could have screwed this up, but for the life of me I have no idea what I actually did wrong. With no evidence to the contrary, I'm blaming Lowe's at this point for selling defective wood. Sons of bitches.

In the end, Kirstin saved the day by mentioning the magic words - "trim pieces". Nail some decorative crap over the frame and no one will be able to see the gaps. Voila, problem sovled. Except I still have no freaking clue how straight wood run through a straight saw fails to end up straight. (Maybe it's gay wood?)