Check out our new digs!

We’ve moved to our own domain!

Many new updates already, and more to come.

Much easier to remember, and not as similar to Columbia’s site.

Go there. Set your RSS feeds accordingly, and enjoy, ’cause it’s only getting better from here.


Using A Mallet to Smash Shiny Myths

The new, fully archived blog is now:

Full of whacking metaphors?! My favorite kind of review!

Marginal Revolution takes Against Intellectual Monopoly to task. In addition to all the whacking, poster Alex Tabarrok does my other favorite kind of review; one that really engages the authors and argues nuances with them.

Against Intellectual Monopoly is a relentless, pounding, take no prisoners attack on patent and copyright law. It joins Lessig’s Free Culture and Heller’s The Gridlock Economy as an instant classic and a must-read on these issues.

Many people argue that the patent system has gone wrong in recent years, Boldrin and Levine argue that the patent system was rotten from the start. James Watt they say was a “scoundrel” who with his politically-connected partner Matthew Boulton used the patent system to crush their innovative opposition and delay the industrial revolution.

During the period of Watt’s patents, the United Kingdom added about 750 horsepower of steam engines per year. In the thirty years following Watt’s patents, additional horsepower was added at a rate of more than 4,000 per year. Moreover, the fuel efficiency of steam engines changed little during the period of Watt’s patent; however between 1810 and 1835 it is estimated to have increased by a factor of five.

Will books be published without copyright? Boldrin and Levine point out that the 9-11 Commission Report was profitably published by Norton despite being available free for download. Not to mention the fact that most of the great works of literature were published without copyright. Boldrin and Levine are top-notch theorists but AIM is widely accessible and it succeeds best with its many historical discussions and contemporary anecdotes.

Read the rest of the review on Marginal Revolution >>

One Hundred BILLION Dollars!

The new, fully archived blog is now:

It has nothing to do with a nuclear-armed drill, or liquid-hot mag-ma however.

The US has spent $100 billion on contractors since 2003. And as we know, it was well accounted for, and spent prudently. Right?

The Pentagon’s reliance on outside contractors in Iraq is proportionately far larger than in any previous conflict, and it has fueled charges that this outsourcing has led to overbilling, fraud and shoddy and unsafe work that has endangered and even killed American troops. The role of armed security contractors has also raised new legal and political questions about whether the United States has become too dependent on private armed forces on the 21st-century battlefield.

This article has the scoop. Contractors outnumber troops on the ground.

The cover image from Paul Verkuil’s book really says it all. There are the billions, right on that table.

Paul Verkuil is an expert in administrative law and professor at Cardozo. His book was a huge wake-up call, and I really hope message gets out!

Just Change the Caption!

The new, fully archived blog is now:

Few newspaper pieces are so (ready for this one?) metatextual as this one about photograph manipulation.

Remember Iran’s swarms of test missiles? Remember how there were really only two? Does it matter anymore how many there were, since you saw an intimidating picture with a bunch of missiles?

Photoshop analysis by Charles Johnson, Little Green Footballs

Photoshop analysis by Charles Johnson, Little Green Footballs

As it happens, seeing something is usually enough to ingrain it in your mind, even if you know that it is false.

Better yet, don’t bother with the task of digital alteration:

The rest of the article includes a fascinating interview with digital expert Hany Farid. And yes, they bring Godzilla into it. Definitely worth a read.

The US has been at it too, especially during the Cold War. And that kid thinks that JFK is hilarious, apparently.

John Edwards and Scandal

There are few things more sociologically interesting than a big scandal. I’m not talking about the scandals themselves; the behavior in question is never actually shocking. In fact, considering the Britney craze, and now John Edwards, they’re another thing entirely.

This is a conflict between Edwards and his wife, amplified by all the other folks who disapprove of his behavior. So he does something you don’t like. Politicians constantly do stuff I don’t like. In this case, at least it wasn’t any of my tax dollars misspent.

Yes, there's a chapter on presidents.
Yes, there’s a chapter on presidents.

Ari Adut studies scandals. He’s a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin.

On Scandal cracks these trends open wider than my musings can.

For a really good cross-section of popular attitudes, though, check out the comments section of Maureen Dowd’s column about John Edwards. Hundreds chime in, and opinions are all over the map.

To sum up many of them, here’s a representative example:


Absolutely agree with everything you wrote. There is a pathetic insincerity to Edward’s “preening apology” that makes me want to gag. And what does it really matter that he did it when his wife’s cancer was in remission? As if that is somehow supposed to makes it (and the public) more accepting. Get real!!


Another important dimension is reflected in Elizabeth Edwards’ own blog post about the whole ordeal. Not surprisingly, she just wants everyone to shut up and leave her alone.

Darwin Letter Friday

We’ve moved!

Here’s the post you’re looking for.

E.P.A. Will Require Ethanol in Gas

The Environmental Protection Agency will continue to require that ethanol be used in gas, as the NY Times reports:

…the goal of reducing the nation’s reliance on oil trumps any effect on food prices from making fuel from corn.

Look, I’m not a fan of higher food and grain prices. I love beer, and boy oh boy, it’s getting pricier every month from this squeeze, as are my home brewing supplies.

Food prices aside, this seems to be a purely economic, and not terribly environmental decision. Are weproducing ethanol efficiently enough yet? Corn farming is devastating to the environment, and

Click to Embiggen
Click to Embiggen

processing it is very energy-intensive. I’m not certain that we are creating enough fuel to justify the energy input. On top of that, it’s cost-effective because we subsidize it!

This is frustrating.

Here’s a graph from Mother Jones detailing the price relationships. According to this source, it’s a 1:1.3 relationship of energy input:output. Not too great.On the other hand, the folks wishing to lift the ban run cattle feedlots that fatten beef on corn (something they’re not supposed to eat). Which side am I supposed to take? Am I making any faulty assumptions?

Anyone with more expertise in this matter, sound off!