Sunday, May 31, 2015

William Zinsser: An Excerpt From "Writing Places - The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher"

Here is an excerpt from William Zinsser's  "Writing Places - The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher" that shows what a good writer he is.

Pamela Fiori, editor of Town & Country, which for a century had catechized  its readers  on the
manners  of the Eastern  estab­ lishment, found  me useful  as her  house  WASP,  a writer  born
into  that  milieu  who  knew  its curious  customs.  One  day  she asked me to write a piece about
my lifelong rebellion against my WASP heritage  and my difficulty  in coming to terms  with it. I
tried to beg off, but she was adamant.

“How  many words?”  I asked. “A thousand words,” she said.

“You’re  asking me to write the story of my life in a thousand words!” I said.

“Yes,”  she said. She had no pity. I went and tried to write the story of my life in 1,000 words,
but it came to 1,800 words,  all awkwardly  born.  I took it home and told Caroline  I was hope­
lessly stuck. She went off to read it, and when she came back she said, “The good news is, it’s
salvageable.” That’s  all any writer really  wants  to  hear,  and  I wrestled  the  piece  down
to  1,000 words.  Called “A Reluctant WASP”  in Town & Country, it had an early passage that
mentioned some of my old resentments:

My parents  had great humor  and charm.  In a word,  they were attractive.  Their   house  was  
attractive  and  everything  in  it was attractive. That  was the point  of being a WASP: to be attractive. The  laws were coded  into my metabolism at an early age. Gaudy  clothes  and flashy 
cars were  out.  Understatement was in. A sweater  the color of oatmeal was as attractive as you 
could  get.  I was careful  never  to be seen in a green  jacket  or tan shoes, or to use the wrong 
 language.  I said “curtains,” not “drapes.” I said “rich,” not “wealthy.

Still, attractive as I was,  I hated  the  word.  “Is  he attractive?”  or “Is she attractive?” 
my mother or my sisters  would ask when  I talked  about  someone  I had met.  “Why  don’t  you ask  whether  they’re   interesting?  Or  smart?” I  would  snap, crabby as an old socialist. But the 
word has never stopped following me around. Nor has the incessant  naming of names. When  I run  
into my WASP friends  I know  I’ll soon hear  the tinkle of tribal connections. “You’ll never guess 
who I saw last week.  Muffy  Pratt!  She knew  your  sister  at  Smith,  and  her sister Cissy was 
my roommate at St. Tim’s.  Wasn’t her brother Chip  in  your  class  at  Deerfield?” Even  if  he  
was,  I  don’t admit  it. I deny  all memory  of the people  mentioned in these conversations.

But   I  knew   I  couldn’t   get  off  that   easy.  Anybody   can complain,   and  many  writers
 do,  especially  memoir   writers, masters  of retroactive blame.  The  hard  job is to get beyond
 the ancient  grievances  and arrive  at a larger  point—some moment of acceptance  and healing.
Without such a point my piece could never succeed; it would be mere whining,  not helpful to anyone else. Caroline had long urged  me to stop knocking  my heritage and to acknowledge  its strengths,
which had shaped  my values. Of course she was right,  and so was Pamela Fiori.  It was time to
grow up.

Here’s how my piece ended:

And yet . . . who am I kidding?  My origins leak through every effort to conceal them.  I look like 
an old WASP (horn-rimmed glasses) and I have the habits  of an old WASP.  I always wear a tie and a jacket in the city and on planes and trains.  (The  jacket comes from  J. Press.)  When  I see a 
picture in the  newspaper of a businessman without a tie,  I just  know  I wouldn’t  want him  
handling  my  business.  I always  wear  a hat.  I have  very few clothes.  I don’t  own any 
electronic  gadgetry. I drive  what my wife calls “an incredibly self-effacing car.”  I’m punctual. 
I never make a scene in public.  I write personal  letters  by hand.

I’m aware that WASPs are a dying class. They  are the only ethnic minority that other  Americans  
may safely deride.  But I also know that no class has so deeply imprinted its core values on the 
national  character: honor,  hard  work,  rectitude, public service. By today’s standards of civic 
and corporate governance those  values  look good,  and  I’m proud  to be associated  with them.
Today  I often  recognize  fellow  WASPs  of my  generation on the sidewalks of New York. They are always “nicely” dressed—old men  and  women  facing the  day with  vigor  and good cheer,  
disregarding the  infirmities of age as they  hurry to their  next hospital  board meeting  or 
school tutoring session or  fund-raising event  for  some  underfunded worthy   cause.
There’s  something about them that’s—well, attractive.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

John Lott takes Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma to task concerning guns

Here is a link to John Lott's article that takes Columbia University's Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma to task for its complete lack of objectivity concerning guns.

If you want the best source of facts about concealed carry and related gun issues, I strongly recommend John Lott's book "More Guns Less Crime".

Walter Williams: "Is Health Care a Right?"

Here is a link to an article by Walter William, "Is Health Care a Right?".

I think that WW is correct.

George Will: "A Summer Break From Campus Muzzling"

Here is link to George Will's column, "A Summer Break From Campus Muzzling".

George is on target.  Too few people understand what "freedom" is.  Rather, they are all too convinced that they know what is best for others and are willing to enforce it, if necessary.

Don Boudreaux shows how and why Do-Gooders often do bad.

Here is a link to a letter by Don Boudreaux to the Los Angeles Times concerning the economic ignorance of its fashion critic, Booth Moore.

DB is on target.

Do-Gooders who are ignorant of basic economics often advocate actions that are intended to help others, but actually would hurt them.  Booth Moore is a good example.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Old New York - Don't Miss It

Here is a link to pictures of New York, many years ago.

The pictures are in the New York Public Library.

John Lott: Where's the coverage of heroes who stop mass killings?

Here is a link to an article by John Lott, "Where's the coverage of heroes who stop mass killings?"

John is right.  The benefits from responsible citizens carrying concealed weapons is usually ignored.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Cochrane's Rebuttal to Thaler - On Target

Here is a link to John Cochrane's rebuttal to Richard Thaler (the famed behavioral finance advocate).

I think that Cochrane is right and that Thaler and his cohorts over-generalize the results of their behavioral research.

One problem I have with the behavioral research crowd is that they generalize behavior in unrealistic research environments to more complex real life situations - sort of like sampling one population and claiming that the estimated characteristics then apply to another population.  Game behavior does not necessarily indicate what people will do in real life situations.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Matt Ridley: Fossil-fuel divestment makes no sense

Here is a link to an article by Matt Ridley,  "Fossil-fuel divestment makes no sense."

Matt is on target.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Grammar Is Important

Don Boudreaux: Industrialization’s Staggering Effect on Humans

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:
Your recent photo-essay entitled “Humans’ staggering effect on Earth” – featuring pictures of the likes of crowded cities, debris in an ocean wave, and factory emissions – is from a new book entitled “Overdevelopment Overpopulation Overshoot.”  The intent, as revealed by the caption to the first of your series of photos, is to frighten viewers into believing that we are pointlessly destroying the environment with “materialism, consumption, pollution, fossil fuels and carbon footprints.”
This photo-essay is all emotion and no perspective.
Never mind that nearly half of the photos are from countries such as Brazil, Ghana, and Russia with poor records of protecting property rights and encouraging market activities that promote the modern industry, trade, and economic growth that the publishers of this book think are harmful.  Instead, consider running a follow-up photo-essay entitled “Industrialization’s staggering effect on humans.”  This photo-essay would feature full-color, hi-def pictures of benefits that would not exist without modern industrialization and global trade.  Photos, for example, of
– grandparents in Arizona smiling to reveal their own straight and gleaming white teeth (as opposed to the toothless gums of pre-industrial grandparents);
– the hard roof and solid floor of a middle-class home in London (as opposed to the dirt floors and thatched roofs of the flimsy huts that were the norm for most of human history);
– one of the central-heating ducts in that London home (as opposed to the sheep and goats that slept in pre-industrial families’ huts in order to help supply warmth for the family);
– a flush toilet in Marseilles (as opposed to a hole in the ground);
– antibiotic pills (as opposed to the dead bodies of children who were routinely killed by pneumonia or even by infections caused by simple cuts);
– an ordinary woman standing erect in jeans and a fashionable blouse in Vancouver (as opposed to a pre-industrial woman made stooped and hunched by malnutrition and dressed in drab and filthy homespun);
– a mother and father in Brooklyn surrounded by their three happy and healthy children (as opposed to the pre-industrial family in which the wife died while giving birth, one of the three children died of dysentery, and the still-surviving children with faces scarred by smallpox).
Such a list can be greatly extended.  Its point is to make clear that while economic growth isn’t costless, its benefits are easy to overlook precisely because they are today so common.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Don Boudreaux: Off The Money

Here is a short comment by Don Boudreaux providing insight into the uncritical thinking that often goes on concerning what makes you better off.

This short essay by Jim Leaviss in The Telegraph is a fine candidate for Worst Economic Analysis of the Month.  (The competition for this dubious honor is, alas, intense.)  In summary, Mr. Leaviss proposes that cash be banned in order that government can exercise even fuller and firmer control over people’s economic activities.  Here’s a key passage, predictably revealing the wrongheaded man-in-the-street notion that the driver of economic well-being is aggregate spending:
And once all money exists only in bank accounts – monitored, or even directly controlled by the government – the authorities will be able to encourage us to spend more when the economy slows, or spend less when it is overheating.
I’m now too busy with grading and other matters to devote a lot of time to this essay.  I’ll content myself with making only two points.
First, it is astonishing that an adult can be so utterly trusting of any government as this Leaviss fellow apparently is.  He writes as if he never once considered even the possibility that government officials might abuse the awesome power that he wishes to give to them or that government officials might exercise that power in mistake-filled ways.
Second, reading this Leaviss piece makes me think that people can justifiably be divided into to camps, depending on how they answer the following question that appears below in italics.
Smith works really hard and creatively, churning out rivers of new and wonderful goods and services that consumers worldwide voluntarily rush to buy.  In the course of only fifteen years, Smith nets from his entrepreneurial efforts a personal fortune of $10 trillion.  But Smith spends almost none of it.  He takes his fortune all in the form of Federal Reserve notes, stashes these notes in a warehouse, and one day burns the entire $10 trillion of cash before going off permanently to Tibet to live as a monk.
Does Smith’s refusal to spend his accumulated fortune make the rest of us richer or poorer?
Most people, who we can put into camp #1, will answer “poorer.”  Only a relatively small handful of people – those in camp #2 – will answer “richer.”  Camp #2 contains people who think soundly about economics.  Camp #1 contains people – including, I’m sorry to report, not a few professional economists – who think unsoundly about economics.  This Mr. Leaviss would likely be a counselor for camp #1.

Don Boudreaux on the Minimum Wage

Here is a link to an article by Don Boudreaux on the minimum wage.  Don makes good points and uses examples that provide considerable insight into the inconsistent thinking that usually goes on concerning the minimum wage.

• Don Boudreaux: Another Open Letter to Barack Obama.

Here is Don Boudreaux's open letter to Barack Obama.

Probably, most people make the same mistake Boudreaux attributes to Obama.

Dear Mr. Obama:
I applaud your recent support for freer trade.  Yet I cannot help but note that all five of the benefits that your administration’s website ascribes to freer trade are beside the point.  Each of your “5 ways that trade is linked to our economic strength” highlights ways that freer trade helps American producers.  Your list contains not even a hint of the chief and overwhelming economic justification for freer trade – namely, the greater access to lower-priced goods and services that freer trade brings to consumers.
By ignoring the immense benefits to American consumers of having access to a larger variety of lower-priced imports – by instead promising only that freer trade will increase American producers’ profits, wages, and exports – you distort and, hence, imperil for the long-run the case for free trade.
Celebrating free trade for the benefits it yields, not to consumers, but to producers is akin to celebrating new life-saving medical breakthroughs for the benefits they yield, not to patients, but to physicians and big pharma.  It misses the point completely.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pithy Quotes

Robert Fuller:

"He that has no fools, knaves, nor beggars in his family was begot by a flash of lightning."

George Chapman:

"Young men think old men are fools; but old men know young men are fools."

Wernher von Braun:

"I have learned to use the word "impossible" with the greatest caution."

Shakti Gawain:

"Problems are messages."

Oscar Wilde:

"Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them."

Barry Farber:

"Crime expands according to our willingness to put up with it."

John Shanahan:

"Skating on thin ice is better than skating on no ice at all."

John Galsworthy:

"Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem."

Herm Albright:

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."

Yiddish proverb:

""For example" is not proof"

Ralph Hodgson:

"The handwriting on the wall may be a forgery."


"Democracy passes into despotism."

Frank Dane:

"A liberal is a man who will give away everything he doesn't own."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

George Will on Huckabee

Here is a link to an article by George Will in the Washington Post, "Mike Huckabee’s appalling crusade".

I am largely in agreement with Will.

My bet is that if Huckabee is the Republican Presidential Nominee, the Republicans will lose big.

Don Boudreaux: Robert Reich Is Repeatedly Wrong on the Minimum Wage

Here is a link to a letter from Don Boudreaux to Robert Reich, "Reich Is Repeatedly Wrong".

As Don notes, " it is especially interesting, and perhaps even scary, to recall he was once U.S. Secretary of Labor."

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Matt Ridley on Climate Change, Renewable Energy, and How Failing to Consider Tradeoffs Can Lead to Poor Decisions

Here is a link to an article by Matt Ridley, "Electricity for Africa" that illustrates how failing to consider tradeoffs can lead to unintended adverse consequences.

Matt makes a lot of good points.  However, he fails to consider that economic progress requires stable governments that provide an environment favorable to commerce - notably lacking in many countries with low standards of living.

George Will Gives You a Peek at How You Are Not Free

Here is a link to George Will's article "Shriveled Grapes, Shriveled Liberty".

George is on target - our Government is oppressive, and its meddling hurts us.