Don’t get yourself stuffed when you die …

This time Russ Roberts really nails it, in my personal books, by managing to find an economist who holds a degree in electrical engineering. I hold electrical engineering, or at least an electrical engineer, close to my heart and always appreciate their ability to find error wherever it lurks, even if it lurks in the apple of their eye. But here these two economists find error in their own ways and in so doing return to good old Adam Smith, to his much neglected Moral Sentiments. The error lies in expecting two person interactions to be the same as larger group interactions, and not being able to measure trust and goodwill which mess up the maximum utility equations. Well, they explain it much better than I could, and really I was mostly excited because they mentioned Jeremy Bentham, a figure who figured quite prominently in my childhood but then appeared not to have taken the world by storm, despite having been stuffed upon death so he could continue to attend meetings of the Royal Society.  They had to give him a wax head after his own head decayed in a macabre fashion due to poor mummying techniques:


Be that as it may, here is the inimitable Russ Roberts helping to explain why economists are getting it wrong:

 Vernon Smith on Adam Smith and the Human Enterprise

Nobel Laureate Vernon L. Smith of Chapman University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how Adam Smith’s book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments has enriched his understanding of human behavior. He contrasts Adam Smith’s vision in Sentiments with the traditional neoclassical models of choice and applies Smith’s insights to explain unexpected experimental results from the laboratory.

And they mention Jeremy Bentham. My dad would be delighted, so I am being delighted on his posthumous account, and am grateful that he is in an urn in my dining room, and not on wheels. Good call dad.

Posted in ECONOMICS, LIFE | 50 Comments

World’s Worst Novel: Chapter Twenty-Four

Download the PDF file .

Posted in RANDOM, WORLD'S WORST NOVEL | 45 Comments

The Wheels on the Bus go Clop, Clop, Clop …

What is the matter with people? And how many posts could I begin that way? As many ways as roads Bob Dylan never lets you know there are, and dangers lurk at every corner.

So my first thought was not this is the silliest programme I have ever heard of, it was this is one of silliest names for one of the silliest programmes I have ever heard of, the Walking School Bus.  It pains me to link to their website, lest you also feel your intelligence seeping out your ears as you plow through sentences like this one:

This represents the first step towards the creation of a new School Active Transportation Support Network that will strengthen collaboration with the City of Ottawa and Green Communities Canada to support active travel initiatives (walking, cycling, skateboarding etc.) while making the journey to and from school safer and more convenient for more families.

I live in a rich neck of the province, and a cold one, and we have an extensive wheeled school bus system that picks up kids who live further than 1.5 kilometres from their school right up through Grade 8.  In high school it is 3.2 kilometres.  [Let me digress for a second, or a hectasec, about Canada’s conversion to the metric system when I was a dyslexic 12 year old, and suddenly short measured two different ways. It was a lot of work. And 1.5 kilometres turns out to be just under a mile, and 3.2 kilometres is just under two miles. So we didn’t exactly convert the distances, just the way we named them so it is really inconvenient.  Why not 1.5 and 3 kilometres? Because it is fresh European paint on an old rusty colony and it has cultured up our world with decimal places.]

But back to our little fat campers. Now it turns out that those kids will all still be riding their happy school buses. This new initiative is the brain child of a modern nitwit who rediscovered the joy of walking to school with her little one while on maternity leave, and wanted him to still walk to school after she went back to work. So she convinced the city to spend $44 thousand dollars to train people to walk children less than a mile to school, because she didn’t want her kid getting fat and lazy when she dropped him off at school as she drove to work.

Here dear, a healthy person I have got the taxpayer to pay for is going to take you to school while I get in my SUV and drive to an office tower where I convince people to create green initiatives. Have a lovely time sharing your thoughts with the paid stranger, enjoy after-school care with the nanny, and daddy and I will see you after the fundraiser for troubled youth.

Oh, sorry, let me let her tell it in her own words, with a little context from the fawning news story:

The family lives about a kilometre from the school, so the walk took about 10 to 15 minutes. But Boyd says it was often the best part of the day.

“I really liked the time in the morning to connect with him,” she says. “It was the best time to hear what was going on in his life. If he was practising for a test we could talk about it on the way to school….

But this year, Boyd has returned to work. And like so many parents, she doesn’t have time to walk with Malcolm and Farley, who is now in junior kindergarten, then walk home and leave for the office.”

I guess little Farley [he will hate you for this] doesn’t deserve what little Malcolm got, the best part of the day.

Walk your kid to school.  Get a neighbourhood kid to walk your kid to school. Do anything other than this. I thought my first born was too young for the school bus, and I was too encumbered with her siblings, in and out of utero, so we skipped junior kindergarten. Then we skipped all the rest of the years up to when she was 11, and asked if she could go to school. But that’s just me. However, I sure got my kids to school every morning, even if we didn’t have to leave the house.

Here’s a thought for the mum who came up with this: set an example by doing with your child the things you want him to enjoy. Set aside forty minutes in the morning to walk him to school. They do what you do, not what you say.

And here’s a thought for the namers of the programme: it isn’t a walking school bus it is a person in an orange vest paid to guide children through the perils of suburban Ottawa, perils probably created by those kids’ mums dashing off to lawyerland, while leaving their kids with strangers.

We used to let kids play at school before school, in the yard, but apparently these schools have locked yards and the kids can’t get in before a certain time. Maybe these paid city employees could just supervise the school yard?

Do we really have to have more money than brains here so often? In a rich city with public housing riddled with bed bugs?

Who will hear about little Farley’s day? Not me said the little rich mum …

Posted in LIFE, RANTS | 56 Comments

25 years ago, starting last night, a misheard news conference and a nice man …

changed the lives of millions for the better:

The Man Who Disobeyed His Boss And Opened The Berlin Wall

berlin wall25 001 wide 6dfb8e5d66e56f5de9690e42d4b40f7264f55df1 s40 c85 600x337  25 years ago, starting last night, a misheard news conference and a nice man …

The Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, 25 years ago this weekend. East Germans flooded into West Berlin after border guard Harald Jaeger ignored orders and opened the gate for the huge, unruly crowd.
Alain Nogues/Sygma/Corbis

A wonderful moment, without a single shot being fired.  If you have never watched

you are in for a serious treat. [Sorry for the ads, guess that’s capitalism for you!]

I was all geared up for a cynical rant about the Ottawa Walking School Bus, but that will have to wait for my sarcasm to rebuild in the face of actual history.  Have a peaceful Monday, but if you do see a school bus with legs, please take a photo, preferably a selfie with the bus, a sort of us-ie when there are two of you, or in this case a busie, and send it to me.  It only cost forty-four thousand loonies, so it should be easy to catch.

Posted in LIFE | 8 Comments

World’s Worst Novel: Chapter Twenty-Three

Download the PDF file .

Posted in WORLD'S WORST NOVEL | 106 Comments

Will the war on drugs ever end? Not if you ask for the drug squad’s advice …

Recently our delightfully resourceful government has been blaring hard-core anti-marijuana ads on prime-time that seem at odds with the average person’s understanding, perception and intent when it comes to smoking pot.  It is quite clear that the ads are not aimed at the youth they claim to be concerned with and my youngest child and I were wondering, essentially, wtf?  Why are these suddenly on television, how much did they cost, and why are they suddenly on television?

Canada’s largest mental health organization recently came out very clearly on the let’s legalize the stuff and deal with addiction problems correctly, and not be so drug specific about them, and stop imprisoning people with health problems.  Many states are loosing the hatches, and we have yet to see piles of stoners, unable to wash or feed, on the lawns of the neighbours.  And the main opponent to the Prime Minister in the next elections has declared that he will legalize marijuana ….

Ah, that explains the timing. Nothing like running your campaign with government funds, and of course both sides do it when in power. But this time it seems particularly ugly, with the ad showing a brain full of neon tubes hissing and steaming.  Remember those ads showing your brain and your brain on drugs, with an egg on one side and it sizzling in a pan on the other?  Those led to a great line of t-shirts showing a grey brain on one side and a rainbow brain sitting in a deck chair on the other with lines like This is Your Brain in St Lucia.  Almost an ad for drugs as it turned out.  Hard to know how to mock this one.

So I decided to try to find out when this ad campaign had been launched, and while I didn’t get that far I did get closer to the genesis for this latest round of drug-related mayhem and disaster, a “strategy” launched as the result of a campaign commitment to screw things up for youth in particular and everyone else in general by protecting us by throwing us in jail.  And before I fell asleep amidst the self-justifying introduction where it was explained that it was all based on documents and files … yes, it even mentioned documents and files [lions and tigers and bears, oh my!] specifically, bothering to explain that the

methodology employed to evaluate the Strategy made extensive use of performance data, evaluations, documents, files and other data compiled on the various components and action plans.

I.e., they used the information they collected to write the evaluation.  What else were they going to do?  Pull it out of their … hats?  Well, actually, in a sense yes.  Because I finally found the key sentence that explains the whole catastrophe.  They forgot to ask the citizens of the country what they wanted, and asked those with a vested interest in keeping the war on drugs going instead.  And guess what we need?  Gentle swat teams.

There was consensus amongst evaluation interviewees that there is a continuing need for programming that contributes to a reduction in demand for illicit drugs and disruption of illicit drug operations in a safe manner while targeting criminal organizations at the national and international levels.

If that isn’t fascism Canadian-style I will eat my toque!  But what it also so clearly reveals is this nauseating idea of “capture”, where people turn to the experts to seek advice and get the advice that they need more experts, just like them.  Amazingly,

Almost all (98%; n=50) departmental representatives confirmed that the objectives of the Strategy are consistent with the strategic outcomes and priorities of the Government of Canada.

All those bureaucrats supporting a strategy coming from the Minister who controls their hiring and firing … odd.  Like Putin capturing 99% of a vote.  My suspicions about this arose when I found that the loathsome strategy had originated, apparently, with the Ministry of Justice, who of course want more justice, even if they have to create an illegal product so they can have a war against it.

Torch me!

[This clip is neither work nor child-safe.]

Posted in RANTS | Leave a comment

Sometimes the nice guy does win!

A little while back attentive readers will remember that I put an election sign on my lawn for the first time in my life because of the excellent candidate for City Councillor we had running in our ward against a person whom all and sundry, it would appear, had found arrogant and hostile and astonishingly fond of developers and development.  While the damage of the last four years cannot be undone, and while we are the target of a city intensification plan that I approve of in theory but not in practice, an astonishing thing took place on Monday night. In an election that was predicted to be a squeaker, our fellow, Jeff Leiper, won by more than 3000 votes, and our ward, Kitchissippi, had the highest voter turnout in all of greater Ottawa.

Upset in Ottawa’s Kitchissippi Ward: Jeff Leiper defeats Katherine Hobbs

jeff leiper won the kitchissippi ward and celebrate with sup11 600x450  Sometimes the nice guy does win!

Mr Leiper Goes to City Hall! Bonne chance mon ami!

Posted in RANTS | 26 Comments

World’s Worst Novel: Chapter Twenty-Two

Download the PDF file .

Posted in WORLD'S WORST NOVEL | 48 Comments

Here she goes again, going to bat for Adam Smith …

Well, not exactly. But teeing up Russ Roberts, in a mixed metaphor podcast repodcasting, in which he goes to bat for Adam Smith, and then discusses how academics are captured by their audience and how economists are no more free from bias than a nicely cut dress.  I found the podcast about Adam Smith charming … and the conclusion that you should try to be not just loving but lovely is not what one might expect.  And the second podcast is, while somewhat obvious, not considered nearly enough.  We say what we think people want to hear … but of course we do and the question is how to avoid crippling public policy as a result.

The halls of academia are somewhat dusty, but these are the schools that train the policy makers and I hail the polite but insistent criticism that Russ Roberts levels at the decision makers.  And Adam Smith wasn’t the monster he is portrayed as … like Keynes he has been used as a battering ram in a polarized world.  For one, he was so prolific that he is quite inconsistent, as P.J. O’Rourke delightfully examines in The Wealth of Nations, which he reads for one, because “[r]ecognized almost instantly upon its publication in 1776 as the fundamental work of economics, The Wealth of Nations was also recognized as really long ….”  What’s more, Mike Munger, an all-star Econtalk guest, interviews Professor Roberts in a nice twist on an old friendship when discussing Robert’s latest book:

EconTalk host Russ Roberts is interviewed by long-time EconTalk guest Michael Munger about Russ’s new book, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness. Topics discussed include how economists view human motivation and consumer behavior, the role of conscience and self-interest in acts of kindness, and the costs and benefits of judging others. The conversation closes with a discussion of how Smith can help us understand villains in movies.

Russ Roberts and Mike Munger on How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life 

Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Zingales’s essay, “Preventing Economists’ Capture.” Zingales argues that just as regulators become swayed by the implicit incentives of dealing with industry executives, so too with economists who study business: supporting business interests can be financially and professionally rewarding. Zingales outlines the different ways that economists benefit from supporting business interests and ways that economists might work to prevent that influence or at lease be aware of it.

Luigi Zingales on Incentives and the Potential Capture of Economists by Special Interests

It is amazing how I can already feel defensive, posting something positive about Adam Smith.  It is a sad thought that he has been used to defend naked greed.  It is also a sad thought that Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand were friends.  At least I think I heard that horrifying fact here, and now you can too.

Where is Thor’s hammer when you need it?

Posted in ECONOMICS | 5 Comments

It was a dark and stormy afternoon …

IMG 5698 600x399  It was a dark and stormy afternoon …

when the boat set out to the bay

IMG 5699 600x399  It was a dark and stormy afternoon …

and the crew said to the mate, “Mate, I’m really wet and I didn’t eat the doughnuts.”

IMG 5704 600x600  It was a dark and stormy afternoon …

and mushrooms liked it (because they are fungi’s):

IMG 5706 600x450  It was a dark and stormy afternoon …

and were patriotic:

IMG 5708 600x450  It was a dark and stormy afternoon …

and it was occasionally very beautiful:

IMG 5712 600x450  It was a dark and stormy afternoon …

and a couple of Timbits dropped out of the box on the way up the hill to the cottage, just by accident.

Posted in LIFE, PHOTOS | 21 Comments