Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jeans and Economic Theory

My little sister, who is going to a sort of boarding high school in Minnesota (for athletes not dopers or delinquents), was in town this weekend and informed me that I needed new jeans. I agreed, however she pointed out that since I had a big boy job, I should start spending big boy iron on clothes. She proceeded to pull up various $200+ jeans on the internets to show me what she meant. Now, I dress well, but I try to dress on the cheap. I pull it off for the most part, but little EK told me pulling off cheap jeans is impossible. I agreed to meet her in the middle and will tonight buy a little EK approved pair of jeans. Who cares? Well, since I am finally going to be forced to go shopping, I will also be picking up a copy of Freakonomics, THE economic buzz book of the day.

I am stoked.

The blog is fantastic as well, especially the post about peak oil.

The cover story of the New York Times Sunday Magazine written by Peter Maass is about "Peak Oil." The idea behind "peak oil" is that the world has been on a path of increasing oil production for many years, and now we are about to peak and go into a situation where there are dwindling reserves, leading to triple-digit prices for a barrel of oil, an unparalleled worldwide depression, and as one web page puts it, "Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon."

One might think that doomsday proponents would be chastened by the long history of people of their ilk being wrong: Nostradamus, Malthus, Paul Ehrlich, etc. Clearly they are not.

What most of these doomsday scenarios have gotten wrong is the fundamental idea of economics: people respond to incentives. If the price of a good goes up, people demand less of it, the companies that make it figure out how to make more of it, and everyone tries to figure out how to produce substitutes for it. Add to that the march of technological innovation (like the green revolution, birth control, etc.). The end result: markets figure out how to deal with problems of supply and demand.

Expect a Freakonomics review by next week while the ladies will decide if the jeans were worth the big iron. Expect some extrememly positive reviews...

Mohammed McQueen?

This is an incredibly interesting story, although undoubtedly it did not end on a hilltop with a gatling gun.

The 105th Military Police Battalion, charged with running Camp Bucca in the scorching desert of southernmost Iraq, knew something was amiss: Undetectable to the naked eye, the field's changing color was picked up by satellite imagery. The excavated dirt was also clogging the showers and two dozen portable toilets. The dirt was showing up under the floorboards of tents; some guards sensed that the floor itself seemed to be rising. Mysteriously, water use in the compound had spiked.

Hours before the planned prison break on March 24, an informant tipped off the Americans, who then drove a bulldozer across Compound 5. What they discovered was breathtaking: a fully completed tunnel that stretched 357 feet, longer than a football field. Inside were flashlights built from radio diodes and five larger spaces to provide ventilation. The tunnel's walls were as smooth and strong as concrete, sculpted with water and, the Americans believe, milk. The exit, beyond the compound's fence, was camouflaged with sand-colored cardboard. It opened into a partially concealed trench that would lead the detainees to freedom.

I think it's time for quite a crackdown at the prison where an uprising was staged earlier in the year.

Around 8:30 a.m., the company commander and prison commandant, Lt. Col. T. Paul Houser, a social worker from Catawba County, N.C., heard the commotion. Houser jumped in the back of a covered cargo truck and headed for Compound 3. As he approached, a chunk of cinderblock struck him in the left eye, fracturing his cheek in three places and breaking three teeth.

"I turned and just caught it in the face," said Houser, who was flown by helicopter to a military hospital, where a doctor told him his protective glasses had saved his eyesight.

Suddenly, everything the Americans had provided the inmates over the previous months was turned against them, according to guards and a videotape of the riot made available by the military. The cinderblock had been chiseled from the concrete base of a tent pole. The detainees used floorboards as shields. They hurled socks filled with a cocktail of feces, dirt and flammable, slow-burning hand sanitizer, the Americans said. One of the crude devices ignited a Polaris all-terrain vehicle.

How, only a few months after this display, the terrorists were still being treated with kid-gloves and guards were giving them the unsupervised time to build a reinforced tunnel is beyond me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

You Can't Trust Russ

An unnoticed gem from Kevin Bleyer (what the hell happened to the "star" that were supposed to be on HuffBog?) on at the HuffPo.

And now this: Yesterday on “Meet The Press,” Sen. Russ Feingold revealed that he asked a top general in Iraq when he thought troops should be withdrawn from Iraq.
Problem is, at the time he asked him, it wasn’t on “Meet The Press.” Nor was it for the press.

Mr. Feingold?

I said, "Off the record, your own view, would it help if we had a timeline to let the world know that we're not staying here forever?" And this is what he said, verbatim. He said, "Nothing would take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents more than having a timeline in place."

Remind me: what does “off the record” mean? Just whisper it to me. I swear I won’t tell anybody. Verbatim.

So uh, off the record Russ, do you EVER plan to squeeze helping out Wisconsin in during this term, or is it solely Presidency or bust, constituents be damned?