The Niggardly Son: A Leftist Parable

Apparently, according to leftists and New Keynesians, being prodigal is a virtue. So if being prodigal is a virtue, what of its opposite? And if Jesus really were a socialist, how different would the parable had been?

The Parable of the Niggardly Son.

Once upon a time, there was a man who had two sons. One day, he decided it was time to give each of his sons their share of the estate. So he divided all his property between them.

“While he’s been selfishly inhibiting circular flow, have I not been helping it along with my drinking and debauchery?”

The first son was prodigal, and immediately set about spending his newfound wealth. This greatly pleased his father, as it meant that the resulting increase in GDP would stimulate the economy. But the second son was niggardly. He selfishly liquidated his assets and placed them in sound interest-bearing investments, greedily hoarding his wealth and decreasing aggregate demand through the Paradox of Thrift.

He went out from his home and spent many years away, amassing a great fortune, placing himself in the hated 1%. Until finally, one day, he returned.

As he approached his boyhood home, his father saw him, and ran to him and put his arms around him. The first son, the prodigal son, who initially didn’t realize what was going on having been in the middle of a particularly raucous night of economic stimulus, saw his brother returning, and became angry.

“Father!” he shouted, with a prostitute on each arm. “All these years I have obeyed you! I have given up selfish greed and avoided recession and sticky prices by spending whatever money I could at the time. I have renounced Say’s Law. I have sacrificed greatly by going into debt to help keep enough inflation going to grow the economy. I have given token amounts to the poor so that they may eat for another day. I have obeyed you in all things! But now this son of yours comes home, and you just welcome him, despite the fact that he has forsaken all that you have taught us?” Continue reading

2014 Just Isn’t Realistic

Hi, um, it’s Ian, uh, Ian Kilhansel of Bogus Publishing Group, and, uh, I got your manuscript in for your futuristic novel, 2014, set 30 years in the future.

“I mean, you’d have to be pretty dumb to fall for that.”

And, don’t get me wrong, we are wanting to work with you and we think you would be a good novelist for us and we could make a lot of money publishing your novels, but this manuscript as you’ve sent it to us, well, frankly, it needs a lot of work.

Continue reading

Solar eclipse on the moon

In a previous blog entry, I speculated as to what a lunar eclipse might look like on the moon (which, from that point of view, would be a solar eclipse). No more speculating—the Japanese Kaguya probe took a picture of exactly that!

Now, this isn’t a fully total eclipse, as you can see from the sun brightly peeking out from the lower right, but it is enough to show the halo. Due to refraction, the parts of the halo near the sun turn red, while the parts of the atmosphere further away scatter blue light. All of this is for the same reasons that the sky is blue and sunsets are red. If the sun were directly behind the Earth, you likely would see a red halo all the way around.

It’s not only a beautiful sight, but it’s also wonderful when you consider that no human being in history has ever seen this before!

It’s the International Year of Astronomy

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. Astronomy isn’t just about studying things in the sky that have nothing to do with our life here on Earth. Discoveries of extrasolar planets allow us to have an insight into our own world, and other discoveries such as Dark Matter and Dark Energy serve as a reminder of how little we know, and how profound and wondrous the universe really is.

However, there are a lot of things we do know. One of the most amazing is the fact that we know with accuracy the components that make up the universe (even if we don’t understand the nature of most of it). We also know the age of the universe to within 1%. Another fact which is not only amazing but also has the added benefit of upsetting creationists is the fact that we can even extract energy out of a complete vacuum–literally getting something from nothing!

So, enjoy the Year of Astronomy, and keep enjoying it for many years to come. You don’t have to spend any money, or do any studying, and there’s no math involved if you don’t want to do it. You don’t even have to buy a telescope. Just spend a little more time outside at night looking up.

E-Clips of the Eclipse

Wednesday’s total lunar eclipse was a treat, as we were treated to mostly clear skies and the moon was never more than a minute or two out of view as the clouds moved overhead. I set my digital camera on a tripod and proceeded to get several pictures of the event. It’s useless to try to get a video of the event, as it happens so slowly, but with good timing I managed to get one good pic every 5 minutes or so. I put them into a video, and to simulate a proper video I had each picture fade into the next over 5 seconds. This made a video of the eclipse that was about 60 times as fast as the real eclipse occurred:

As the eclipse progressed to totality, I edged up the exposure so that the area darkened by Earth’s shadow (called the “umbra”) became visible. It turns a haunting red color, for the same reason the sunset turns red. The Earth’s atmosphere refracts the red light from the sun and it lights up the darkened portions very dimly, although quite visible with the naked eye; I always imagined this would mean that, if you were on the moon at the time (it would be a solar eclipse there), you’d see the blackened Earth surrounded by a sunset-red halo. It must be beautiful. I had to go to bed, so I didn’t get anything after totality, but at that point it’s mostly the same thing in reverse.

The lunar eclipse has always been the stuff of history. According to legend, Christopher Columbus saved his life in the New World with a well-timed lunar eclipse, his foreknowledge of which convinced the locals that he had a special relationship with God. Also according to folklore, Columbus was a genuis who knew the Earth was round, where most everyone else, including his fearful crew, believed it was flat and they would fall off if they sailed too far. I don’t know about the eclipse legend, but the second claim is complete bogosity. It was widely known that the Earth was spherical at least since the 2nd Century BC, and the lunar eclipse is one big reason why.

The reason why we don’t have a lunar eclipse every month is because the moon’s orbit is tilted about 5 degrees with regards to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. So a total lunar eclipse only happens when the three bodies align at the time of the full moon. It doesn’t happen often, but wherever you are you should see one every few years or so. That’s enough to do several good observations in a single lifteime and share those observations with others.

One observation is that the curve of the Earth’s shadow is the same no matter where the moon is in the sky when the eclipse occurs. That can only occur if the Earth is a spheroid. Not only that, but you can also deduce the ratio of the size of the Earth to the size of the moon (which, by the way, is about 3.67:1). I’ve illustrated that with this picture:

Here, I’ve made the Earth (photo from NASA) its proper size relative to the moon using one of the eclipse shots I took (if you like this picture, click it for a 1024×768 version suitable as a wallpaper). Notice that it fits the curve of the shadow perfectly. Our ancient ancestors noticed that, too, and so they knew not only that the Earth was spherical, but also how big it was relative to the moon. Eratosthenes, after his brilliant calculation of the size of the Earth, could then deduce the size of the moon–both of which he got to within 1% of the correct answer (using the most generous length for the “stadium”).

Never underestimate how clever human beings are, or how much can be learned by just looking up and using your mind.

Putting oil prices in perspective

Many pundits (when they can tear themselves away from the primaries for long enough) express complete horror and dismay at the fact that last month oil prices reached $100 per barrel.

However, that still means that it’s cheaper to get half a pound of oil from halfway around the world than it is to mail a 1-ounce letter across the street.

It starts early…

My daughter came home today and, as usual, I checked her schoolwork. She had made a self-portrait, and above it, she had written, at the teacher’s direction, “Aleena has five senses.”

If you’re wondering what’s wrong with that, you’re probably not alone. You could probably even get this answer from any given skeptic: five senses, no more. What? A sixth sense? What kind of paranormal newage woo-woo is that?

But the truth is, our bodies are much more magnificent than that. Instead of being limited to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, we have a much greater experience in sensing both ourselves and the world around us.

What about when you go outside and feel how cold it is? And come back inside to the warmth? That’s not touch; you can’t touch heat. It’s thermoception.

What about when you get hurt, or in near danger of being damaged? That pain you feel isn’t touch; it’s pain, and it’s extremely useful. This is nociception.

There’s also equilibrioception, which helps us balance and gives us a sense of acceleration. If this sense is damaged (by, say, an ear infection) it can be as debilitating as losing a limb.

Proprioception, the kinesthetic sense, lets you know where the parts of your body are and what position they’re in. When you wake up, you haven’t been keeping track of how your body has moved in your sleep, but you still know exactly what position you’re in–where your arms and legs are, what side you’re lying on, what direction your fingers are going, etc. Again, people who lose this sense (generally through nerve damage of some kind) realize how much we rely on it.

Those make up our nine basic senses, but there are more besides:

Do you like spicy food? That’s due to special cell receptors which are completely different to taste. Although it activates the same nerves as for temperature, it is a different sense, and one can easily tell the difference between spicy food and food that has been heated.

You have sensors in your lungs telling you how much air is in them and how much you need to breathe.

You have sensors in your gut alerting you of gastrointestinal distress.

Your stomach has sensors that give you a feeling of hunger or fullness.

Ever felt tired or achey? That’s a response to the body dealing with some extra task such as fighting a disease.

For that matter, getting sleepy is the result of a sense, too.

We have a mild (in comparison to other animals) electroception. We can feel electric charges of a certain voltage (like static-electric shocks), and strong electrical fields (just ask anyone who’s played an electric guitar outside in the rain). We can’t use it to navigate like birds can, but it is there.

Humans have been found to have a form of echolocation, although we can’t produce any sounds other than verbally. But verbal noises, as well as attached devices that send out an audible ping, have been used in tests of blindfolded subjects to help them navigate around a dark room. It isn’t yet known how much we use this in real life.

We have pressure-detection senses, which helps us when we move from a low to a high altitude (or vice-versa).

The list goes on. There is universal agreement among scientists for the nine basic senses; whether the rest should be included, and as how many senses, is a matter of debate. By some counts, there are as many as twenty-three senses.

Why make such a big deal about this? Because the five basic senses come from Aristotle, who also said there are four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. What if we taught our children there were only four elements? Would you feel good about that? So why teach them only five senses?

What, is it because it’s easier to teach? Well, why not teach that the Sun goes around the Earth, since that’s easier for kids to understand? You shouldn’t be giving kids misinformation just because it’s easier.

I think the answer is, because the teachers just don’t know any better–and that’s a shame.

But now you do.

Disaster brings out the best and worst in people

I think I’m getting my 15 minutes of fame 20 seconds at a time. I was interviewed again by Ken Lemon of WSOC-TV‘s Eyewitness News about the trojans going around in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Some websites which are posing as charities to help Katrina victims are preying on the good and generous nature of Americans–instead of taking you someplace where you can help hurricane victims, it instead puts a trojan (a malicious piece of software) on your machine to try and steal your passwords.

As always, be diligent. It’s okay to be paranoid if they really are out to get you! Never trust anything you read in an e-mail, even if it appears to be from someone you know. Always check things out for yourself before going to a new website, and fer-gosh-sakes run Windows Update often! Better still, configure it to automatically notify you when updates are available.

And if you really want to contribute to the relief efforts (good for you!), contact directly a charity you trust, or a charity directly recommended (not in a standalone e-mail) from someone you trust. Me, I recommend Oxfam America.

Be generous, but be safe, too!

Who’s really outsourcing?

Over on my Issues page, I have an article explaining why so many jobs have been lost. I attribute most of the job loss to government regulation. This has been confirmed by new research compiled by the Cato Institute:

We hear lots of talk about exactly why (and if) [outsourcing] is happening, but rarely do pundits and commentators look at the relationship between companies moving plants overseas, and the kinds of tax and regulatory policies employed by the states they’re moving away from. As it turns out, states with business-friendly public policies attract and retain jobs. States with policies hostile to business tend to lose them.

So, do all states experience outsourcing? Hardly:

How well are states with business-friendly public policy doing at attracting and retaining jobs? The evidence suggests they’re doing well. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the only state that actually gain net manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2003 was Nevada. Nevada ranks 2nd on the SBSC’s business-friendly list. It ranks 3rd on the Tax Foundation list. It ranks in the top four of CFO’s list.

Which really only leads to one conclusion:

So the next time a local politician blasts NAFTA or greedy corporatism for the loss of local jobs, it might not hurt to take a look at just how friendly that politician’s state or city tax, and regulatory and labor policies are toward business. It’s likely that same politician’s policies are a big reason those jobs left.

You can read the entire article here.