Thinking about Hayek, thinking about economics

October 31, 2006

One of the law survey courses I’m teaching has had an economics unit added to the introduction to the course, which struck me as a good idea. However, I am not fanatically happy about the execution. In my search for links that accurately and dispassionately describe Marxism and modern free marketry, I came across this comment on Hayek and the application of his ideas to: Who the heck is Hayek?

There are several good places to get information on Hayek and free market stuff on the web — but where to find Marxism? Any ideas?

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to miss the joke

October 29, 2006

Surely you saw this one coming, O you student of history?

Grimm and Garfield

Grimm and Garfield

(Mother Goose & Grimm by Mike Peters; cartoon published October 29, 2006; copyright 2006, Mike Peters –

Update, October 30, 2013:  Image not licensed for use here.  See Mike Peters’ website, here.

Texas better than Paris (France)?

October 29, 2006

I think such comparisons are usually a bit on the odious side — but this blogger, Faux Parisianne, balances it with a “Why Paris is better than Texas” post.

All beside the point. The best part of this post is the photo, with the one line caption.

Go see.

Read the rest of this entry »

Condemned to repeat history

October 29, 2006

There is a moral in this story. On Thursday, October 26, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald faced a woman proposed as an expert witness in the defense of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney accused of obstruction of justice.

The woman forgot history. Literally. She could not recall exactly what she had written in the past, and in a dramatic confrontation, she appeared to have forgotten that she had been cross examined by Mr. Fitzgerald in a trial before. Details from the Washington Post. How does her credibility stack up for the judge, do you think?

There were several moments when Loftus was completely caught off guard by Fitzgerald, creating some very awkward silences in the courtroom.

One of those moments came when Loftus insisted that she had never met Fitzgerald. He then reminded her that he had cross-examined her before, when she was an expert defense witness and he was a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in New York.

Libby’s defense team declined to comment.

Santayana’s ghost isn’t exactly smiling, but did take note.

The mighty pen

October 29, 2006

2006 is the 100th anniversary of the Mont Blanc company, the company that made fountain pens a luxury item even while fountain pens were still the state of the art of pens.

Today is the 61st anniversary (according to CBS “Sunday Morning”) or 62nd anniversary (see Wikipedia) of the introduction of the ballpoint pen in the U.S., at Gimbel’s Department Store, in New York City. It was based on a design devised in 1938 by a journalist named László Bíró. Biro produced his pen in Europe, and then in Argentina. But in the U.S., a businessman named Reynolds set up the Reynolds International Pen Company and rushed to market in the U.S. a pen based on several Biros he had purchased in Buenos Aires.

On October 29, 1945 (or 1946), you could purchase a “Reynolds Rocket” at Gimbel’s for $12.50 — about $130 today, adjusted for inflation.

Today I continue my search for a ballpoint or rollerball that will write in green, reliably. I use a Waterman Phileas ballpoint, a Cross Radiance fountain pen, a Cross Radiance rollerball (Radiance was discontinued about a year ago), a full set of Cross Century writing implements, a lot of Sanford Uniballs in various colors, and a lot of Pentel Hybrid K-178 gel-rollers, and some Pilot G-2 gel pens (though the green ink versions are unreliable). I also keep several Marvy calligraphic pens for signing things with a flourish. I have a box of $0.10 ballpoints in a briefcase for students who fail to bring a writing utensil.

Jefferson probably wrote the Declaration of Independence with quills he trimmed himself. Lincoln probably used a form of fountain pen to write the Gettysburg Address, but he had no writing utensil with him when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. President Johnson made famous the practice of using many pens to sign important documents, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964; he made gifts of the pens to people who supported the legislation and worked to get it made into law.

And who said it? (Brace yourself)

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Lytton, in Richelieu, act II, scene ii, a play he wrote in 1839. Yes, he is the same Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the novel Paul Clifford in 1840, whose opening line is, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

New push for history education in Ho Chi Minh City

October 28, 2006

Many of us still remember it as Saigon.

In holding on to history, people need to start somewhere. To cure ignorance of Vietnamese history, Ho Chi Minh City officials are posting banners honoring women in Vietnam history, according to that story at Viet Q.

History poster in Ho Chi Minh City

Citizens view a poster relating the role of women in Vietnam history.

Would posting history in the street work in Dallas? In Houston? In Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or Boise?

Last summer, on the way to Scout summer camp, Troop 355 from Duncanville, Texas, stopped for a night in Memphis, Tennessee. After dinner (at Hard Rock Cafe, where we discovered the waitress had an Eagle Scout boyfriend and the waiter was an ex-Scout who still loves backpacking), I noticed there on Beale Street a chunk of history required for Texas students, in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS): Across the street from Hard Rock Cafe was the historical marker for the site of Ida Tarbell’s newspaper reporting days. No, I couldn’t interest a single kid in walking across the street to read the marker, though Ida Tarbell tends to show up on tests with some regularity.

I wonder where the Ho Chi Minh City officials got the idea?

Hard Rock Cafe, Memphis

(The Ida Tarbell historic marker is just out of this picture, to the right)

Chalk it up to art in the name of science

October 26, 2006



Owl, by Chrys Rodrigue

You should read this post. It demonstrates why P. Z. Myers is one of the most-read bloggers in the world — he writes so well, on topics that are so dramatically interesting.

Myers tells an interesting vignette of a professor of gross anatomy who was a wizard of illustration in colored chalk.

Visuals, especially spectacular visuals in color, contribute to the ability of students to learn the material illustrated. Drawing is rapidly becoming a lost art, a victim of too-easy-to-use clipart and Bush’s dour view of education that excludes music, dancing, painting and drawing, anything that might distinguish us from lower animals or otherwise bring delight and insight into human existence (and other factors). How could PowerPoint seriously compare to live art in a classroom?


Presentations are always made better with specific, relevant illustrations. Most people are at least partly visual learners, with about four times as much information going through eyes on illustrations than going through ears hearing a lecture, or eyes reading text. I use a simple tree to illustrate the Constitution, its roots in the consent of the people, its three branches of government, and fruits of liberty and freedom. Students — whether budding lawyers, eager Boy Scouts, or complacent high school kids — get the point, and do well on the exams.

Myers’ tribute to Professor Snider is touching, informative, and inspiring. Where is Professor Snider today?

Cutting to the bottom line: Carnival of the Liberals #24

October 25, 2006

Though you might think liberals would take anyone who applies, the Carnival of the Liberals #24 was limited to ten posts.  One of the posts from this blog made the cut, the one on intelligent design and pigs that don’t fly.

I wondered whether it would make the Carnival of Conservatives, too, but no word from that quarter.

Am I outed as a liberal?  Whatever will my friends among the Republicans and Reaganauts say?  Or, is it that certain issues lean one way?  Or is it that liberals have really open minds?

Go see for yourself:  Carnival of the Liberals #24 at Perspectives of a Nomad.

Free market failure: Electricity deregulation

October 24, 2006

Free markets generally outperform regulated markets — except sometimes.

Deregulation of electricity offered hope of lower electric bills for consumers in the south during the summer, and consumers in the north in the winter. A handful of states pushed through legislation that allows companies to compete in electric rates in a fashion similar to telephone competition: Different services on the same wires.

But electricity deregulation also cut loose the power generating foundation of electrical supply from the customer delivery services. Consequently, customer demand has not played as large a role in the creation of new electrical generation as anyone would have hoped. Many markets in the U.S. today face massive shortages of electrical generating capacity, not because of environmental concerns, but because the finances of deregulation discouraged power plant construction.

David Cay Johnston’s article in the New York Times yesterday details some of the problems: Read the rest of this entry »

Ken Lay conviction vacated; average joes pay penalty

October 22, 2006

Oh, the Justice Department promises to use civil cases to try to get back from Ken Lay’s estate some of the money he pirated, in order to compensate the little fishes who lost their retirement funds, college funds, houses and more in the Enron collapse.

But Ken Lay is still dead, and it is still true that he stole from the poor to pay the wealthy.  Quite apart from revenge, those who suffered most from Enron’s collapse wish Lay had lived.

Please note that, among many other things the current Republican Do-Nothing Congress left undone, Congress adjourned without passing a change in the law that would have allowed Lay’s victims to get compensation.  Congress’s adjournment let Ken Lay’s crimes go unpunished:

Prosecutors offered no counter-argument in the case, but had asked Lake to hold off on a ruling until next week so Congress could consider legislation from the Justice Department that changes federal law regarding the abatement of criminal convictions. Congress recessed for the elections without considering the proposal.

Arrgh, as Charlie Brown might say.

Justice and the public schools: Nobel for Andy Fire

October 22, 2006

You know what? It’s not easy tracking down the elementary and high school records of Nobel winners! Most biographies of Nobelists skip from “born in the city of . . .” to “Ph.D. at . . . ” without noting elementary, junior high or high schools. I’ve noted before, I track this issue half-heartedly as a 30-second response to the claim that private schooling is vastly superior to public schooling. Can’t tell that from Nobel winners.

I know Andy Fire, the 2006 Nobel winner in Physiology or Medicine, attended public schools. From the op- editorial in the Daytona Beach, Florida, News-Journal, I know that Fire attended Hollenbeck Elementary School in Sunnyvale, California. I also know he was picked on by bullies. The full story is below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

History as a part of science

October 22, 2006

Santayana’s line at the top of this blog is a key justification for what historians do. Avoiding bad results by studying history is not only an exercise in diplomacy and economics, however. Knowing what happened in the past often offers windows into what is happening today, in economics, diplomacy, education, agriculture, transportation, health care, a hundred other fields, and in wildlife management — and what we should do about it

Ralph Maughn’s Yellowstone region-specific blog is one of my late favorites, Yellowstone National Park being part of my childhood in so many way. My wife and I honeymooned in Yellowstone (in January — have you ever had Old Faithful in the moonlight, with only you and a dozen bison as witnesses, no other humans?). My oldest brother is interred there, after a career that saw him finally achieve recognition in the desert southwest — he still preferred the Yellowstone.

Human observation of the area is too recent to make a lot of long-term predictions. We simply do not know how the enormous ecosystems in that relatively small area behaved in response to natural and artificial changes in the past. So we read these articles talking about change with trepidation. Do they show trends? Is this the future that must be, as Scrooge asked the third angel?

Articles in the Jackson Star-Tribune probably will not be picked up by the news syndicators and published in a dozen newspapers nationally, let alone a hundred or more. News of our National Parks, our national treasures, often is limited to the regions where they are. But they affect all of us. The Yellowstone area strides two river drainage systems, the Missouri to the Atlantic, and the Columbia to the Pacific. It is a centacosm (too big for a microcosm) of what is happening worldwide.

To Yellowstone, we are Scrooge. If only the path we need to pursue to be the new Scrooge were clear, decisions would be easier. And so we study history, seeking sources for history of natural things that can tell us what happened 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, and longer ago.

89th Carnival of Education

October 19, 2006

At Poor Starving College Student.

Yorktown victory’s 225th anniversary – today!

October 19, 2006

Cornwallis surrender

Trumbull’s painting of Cornwallis’ surrender, Sons of the American Revolution

Bernarda notes in comments:

This is the 225th anniversary of the Franco-American victory at Yorktown. The French Defense Minister, Alliot-marie, will be attending the commemoration on October 19th.

Funny, no news about it in the MSM, or you might say thundering silence. Where is the rightwing press, 0′Reilly, Hannity, et al? Do you think they will mention it on the 10th, and the following detail?

“Did You Know?

The 9,000 American forces were in the minority during the Yorktown Campaign. The French army and navy combined for over 25,000 men, while the British army and navy participants numbered over 21,000.”

More history kids ought to know better, and today’s a chance to tell them about it.

Texas Republicans urging Marxism be taught?

October 19, 2006

Lenin at Goff's Hamburgers, Dallas (2003)

Lenin does Dallas

No rational person would believe Texas Republicans would call for Marxist economics to be taught in Texas high schools, not even as a part of a “teach the controversy” movement.

The one-semester economics class does not lend itself to giving students backgrounds in economic models that compete with the consensus, free-market view, and even if it did, Marxism would be way down the list of what most Texans would think appropriate to teach. For illustration, consider that when the Soviet Union broke up, a Soviet-produced statute of Lenin was purchased by a Dallas hamburger magnate, placed outside one of his outlets with a plaque commemorating the Cold War, and noting: “America won.” (Alas, Goff’s is gone, as is the statue.)

So, either the Texas Republicans have gone non-rational, or they just were not thinking when they put in their party platform a requirement that alternative theories and their controversies be taught, in social studies.

Confused yet? Tony Whitson at Tony’s Curricublog explains:

But why is this provision regarding social studies tucked into the platform point on “Theories of Origins”? Apparently it reflects an agenda that includes teaching from a creationist standpoint not only in science, but in social studies and other subjects as well.

Someone who’s familiar with curriculum conflicts over recent years will recognize the entire education section of the platform as coming chapter and verse from Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. The agenda they are pushing here is not something home-grown in Texas, but an agenda that we can expect to see being advanced all over the United States.

Well, Texas politics being what it is, the likelihood that a plank from any party’s platform could make it into law is a bit remote right now. And it seems clear that the intent was to go after science and evolution, not economics. Udall’s Law of Unintended Consequences says such efforts will produce unexpected and undesired results, and here we have a good case in point.

People are gearing up for fights on history and biology texts in Texas — economics, too? Ouch.

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