Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Quote of the Week: Taleb Channels Bastiat

Katrina, the devastating hurricane that hit New Orleans in 2005, got plenty of politicizing politicians on television. These legislators, moved by the images of devastation and the pictures of angry victims made homeless, made promises of “rebuilding.” It was so noble on their part to do something humanitarian, to rise above our abject selfishness.

Did they promise to do so with their own money? No. It was with public money. Consider that such funds will be taken away from somewhere else, as in the saying “You take from Peter to give to Paul.” That somewhere else will be less mediatized. It may be privately funded cancer research, or the next efforts to curb diabetes. Few seem to pay attention to the victims of cancer lying lonely in a state of untelevised depression. Not only do these cancer patients not vote (they will be dead by the next ballot), but they do not manifest themselves to our emotional system. More of them die every day than were killed by Hurricane Katrina; they are the ones who need us the most – not just our financial help, but our attention and kindness. And they may be the ones from whom the money will be taken – indirectly, perhaps even directly. Money (public or private) taken away from research might be responsible for killing them – in a crime that may remain silent.

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan, p. 110.

September 15, 2008 Posted by | Politics, Seeing | Leave a comment

What is Not Seen

I wonder if this:

Hungry Haitians stormed the presidential palace Tuesday to demand the resignation of President Rene Preval over soaring food prices and U.N. peacekeepers battled rioters with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Food prices, which have risen 40 percent on average since mid-2007, are causing unrest around the world. But nowhere do they pose a greater threat to democracy than in Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries where in the best of times most people struggle to fill their bellies.

is related to this:

The recent rise in corn prices–almost 70 percent in the past six months–caused by the increased demand for ethanol biofuel has come much sooner than many agriculture economists had expected.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this year the country is going to use 18 to 20 percent of its total corn crop for the production of ethanol, and by next year that will jump to 25 percent. And that increase, says Marshall Martin, an agriculture economist at Purdue University, “is the main driver behind the price increase for corn.”

The jump in corn prices is already affecting the cost of food. The most notable example: in Mexico, which gets much of its corn from the United States, the price of corn tortillas has doubled in the past year, according to press reports, setting off large protest marches in Mexico City. It’s almost certain that most of the rise in corn prices is due to the U.S. ethanol policy, says David Victor, director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University.

“All things that use corn are going to have higher prices and higher cost, to some extent, that will be passed on to consumers,” says Wally Tyner, professor of agriculture economics at Purdue University. The impact of this is being felt first in animal feed, particularly poultry and pork. Poultry feed is about two-thirds corn; as a result, the cost to produce poultry–both meat and eggs–has already risen about 15 percent due to corn prices, says Tyner.

April 9, 2008 Posted by | Environmentalism, Food, Seeing | 2 Comments

On Learning to See: What is not Heard

A while back I was talking with a friend of mine and I mentioned that I favored getting rid of the Department of Education. He seemed taken aback. “How could you be against Education!” I explained that I wasn’t against education, just against having a federal Department of Education, and the conversation went on from there.

Now I mention this not because I think the Department of Education is a bad idea (I do, but that’s a separate issue). Rather, I bring the conversation up because it seems emblematic of the way in which our minds play tricks on us when it comes to thinking about social policy. What I said was “I’m against the Department of Education.” But for whatever reason, my friend didn’t hear the words “the Department of.” What he heard was “I’m against education.” Continue reading

February 3, 2008 Posted by | Law, Seeing | Leave a comment

On Learning to See: What is Said and What is Done

And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. – Genesis 1:3

The awesome majesty and power of God can be seen in this: that not only is His word law, His word is reality. He says “let there be light” and simply by saying this, there is light. He says “let the earth bring forth living creatures” and it does. Reality itself is in utter conformity to His will, and is molded to His thought.

Human beings are made in the image of God, but they are not like God in this respect. We cannot, simply by speaking, conform reality to our will. We cannot make the world a certain way simply by commanding it to be that way. Continue reading

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Health Care, Seeing | Leave a comment

On Learning to See

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs constant struggle. – George Orwell

When I was in law school, one of my professors told me about a rather interesting psychological study. The participants in the study were taken to a basketball game and told to try and keep track of the number of times the ball was passed in the game from one person to another. During the game, a man in a giant bee costume was brought out onto the court, and danced around a bit while the game was going on. The interesting thing (and the real purpose of the study) was that after the game, many of the participants had no recollection of a guy in a giant bee costume coming onto the court. They were so focused on one thing (keeping track of the number of passes) that they did not notice what was right there for anyone to see. Continue reading

January 17, 2008 Posted by | Seeing | Leave a comment