Please note that my opinions are my own, and the opinions of the anyone or any institution quoted are theirs. The opinions expressed herein do not reflect the opinion of North Carolina State University, its board of directors, the College of Management or any other college, Student Media Authority, or WKNC Raleigh.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

This Blog Has Moved!

Keeping with the pace of changing times, and owing to my desire to create a more professional identity for myself, my blog has moved to Failure to Refrain. Failure to Refrain is the title of a new radio show I'm hosting on WKNC 88.1 FM. Check my cohost and me out at http://www.failuretorefrain.com.

It's still very much a work in progress, but stop on over if you have a chance to participate in the discussion. Please update your bookmarks and update your subscriptions by clicking this link. Thanks!

Monday, July 30, 2007

WWMD: What Would Malthus Do?

An article in this week's Economist discusses recent history and current trends in world population.

If you'll recall the "Logistic Equation" from precalculus or calculus, you know that certain things, such as population growth and predator-prey relationships, can be shown with a nifty formula, involving an ugly thing called the natural number "e." When graphed, this renders an s-shaped curve, or what looks like a sideways graph of tangent.

Basically, it means that populations tend to grow slowly at first, then reach a critical number that sends the species population soaring through reproduction, until environmental effects (shortage of food, disease, predators, or crowding) force members of the population out, or dead. The curve levels out and maintains what would appear to be a long-term stable number, ceteris paribus.

Numbers are still growing; but recently—it is impossible to know exactly when—an inflection point seems to have been reached. The rate of population increase began to slow. In more and more countries, women started having fewer children than the number required to keep populations stable. Four out of nine people already live in countries in which the fertility rate has dipped below the replacement rate. Last year the United Nations said it thought the world's average fertility would fall below replacement by 2025. Demographers expect the global population to peak at around 10 billion (it is now 6.5 billion) by mid-century.

I would wager this recent inflection point has something to do with the signals we are receiving from our environment. Increased income, wealth, and abundance of materials has given rise to a shift in attitudes among young professionals, whom would rather use disposable income to enjoy themselves than save for a child's college, especially when costs are rising as rapidly as their are in the knowledge economy.
Think of twentysomethings as a single workforce, the best educated there is. In Japan (see article), that workforce will shrink by a fifth in the next decade—a considerable loss of knowledge and skills... In Japan, rural areas have borne the brunt of population decline, which is so bad that one village wants to give up and turn itself into an industrial-waste dump.

Well, hardly a poor use of resources if its a choice willingly made. But it begs the question: how much does the "labor" or "human capital" part of the production function really affect the makeup of an economy?
States should not be in the business of pushing people to have babies. If women decide to spend their 20s clubbing rather than child-rearing, and their cash on handbags rather than nappies, that's up to them.

Really? That's interesting, because an article from Medical News Today discusses some of the incentives Estonia is using to entice its young females to have multiple children. From that article:
Estonia provides employed women who have children with their monthly salary, up to $1,560 monthly, over a 15-month period and unemployed women with $200 monthly.

Whatever the measures, governments tend to protect their investments in capital and infrastructure and have been known to wage war, from time to time, over resources. So why not protect human capital as well?

more people + better education = economic growth

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Which Mayor Makes the Better President?

A one Mr. Rudolph Giuliani?

Or perhaps, a Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

The similarities are obvious from this article from the Economist describing Mr. Ahmadinejad's rise to power:

And in 2005 presidential elections produced an unexpected victory for Mr Ahmadinejad, then a little-known former mayor of Tehran.


Public Viewing of Cadavers: A "Vein" Hope for Immortality

Just what exactly is our obsession with viewing preserved dead bodies? Whether its animals or humans, it seems that those with no tangential interest in anatomy take extreme interest in the display of a bare-bones (or muscle-wrapped, or anything in between) cadaver. The only thing odd may be that I haven't seen yet an advertisement that included a cadaver with the skin intact. Maybe because skin is just too personal... and creepy when its dead.

A recent exhibition in Raleigh piqued my girlfriend's own interest. I understood her curiousity, and felt a bit myself. But how would I take it, having lost both parents and countless influential people in my short life? I put it off.

Then an exhibit at Charlotte's Discovery Place caught her attention and interest, as well as a few of my other friends and family in the area. So far, it looks to be of less quality (and more affordable) than the Raleigh exhibit. I don't have a way to dodge this yet, but luckily the pressure has been low.

And a few weeks ago, an article about pharmaceutical pioneer Sir Wellcome's odd medical collection stated:

The permanent exhibitions contain quite a few human specimens... Next to the chairs stands a head-to-toe slice of a human corpse. Londoners, though, seem cavalier about viewing body parts as art. A diamond-encrusted cast of a skull by Damien Hirst, recently on show in a Mayfair gallery, was noticed far more for its over-the-top bling than for any connection with the human brain.

It seems to me that this obsession with human cadavers is no more than man's fascination with his own mortality. To see what I'm talking about, look at any local bar for a gent with tattoos, and I'll bet you'll find most of them have tatoos of skulls or skeletons. Even the most docile of us wonder about The Great Beyond and Eternity. Perhaps the prospect of having one's body displayed to the world, or the prospect of having it preserved, is our own attempt tricking the mind into accepting death by serving its egoistic tendencies.

It's quite interesting though, that this behavior serves no evolutionary purpose, insofar as I can tell, as most humans stop reproducing far before they expect to die, and far after their children have left the nest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oil Ref-Irony: A Minor Observation

Global warming threatens to thaw the world's arctic climate, which is exactly where the Bush administration talked about drilling a few years ago in Alaska.

The irony is rich: if we drill in Alaska, we threaten wildlife there; if we don't global warming will eventually kill them off (if global warming is even a significant trend).

Even more ironic is a recent note I heard about oil taxes floating a few indigenous tribes in the arctic, who would have been forced to assimilate a long time ago if not for oil revenues, but whose way of life (e.g. hunting seals, polar bears) is threatened by the "global warming trend." There has to be a cliché to describe this predicament...

On Enabling Poverty

Yesterday, I yelled at a bum. And I felt like a complete jerk. I was on the phone with customer service, trying to get an RMA for something I had to return, when the guy walks up to the bus stop on the university-side of the street (which they nearly never do) and asks the guy next to me to buy one of his ball caps.

I was looking for a sheet of paper to write down what the customer service rep was saying, when the guy started his spiel on me. I let him have it: "Sir, I'm on the phone, you're going to have to take that somewhere else." I think he muttered some curses and went off.

There I sat, realizing I wasn't practicing good Christian ethic, and feeling like a general scumbag. There that guy was, obviously trying to do some good. I mean, he went through the effort to find (or steal) those hats. He wasn't asking for a hand-out (per se). But I treated him just like dirt.

It occurred to me, as I was reading an article posted yesterday over at City Journal, titled "In the Heart of Freedom, in Chains" by Myron Magnet (thanks to Betsy's Page for alerting me to this), this poor black man might have given up trying to get a "real job." He probably felt like the white man was keeping him down. But that's just it. Too many black Americans feel that way, whether or not its the truth. Its a cop out, a way of living a lifestyle that's been glorified by popular culture.

Well, I refuse to keep any black man down. Its just not right. So what am I going to do next time one asks for for change, or tries to sell me a hot item?

I'll hand 'em a business card with the following on it, and repeat aloud, while maintaining good eye contact:

"I refuse to keep you down. By giving you something for nothing, I take away your dignity. You are an important, dignified person. You are valuable to society. You were created with a purpose. The only thing keeping you down is lost direction. You can succeed. I know it."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

YouTube: Pachelbel Rant

"A comedian rants about how much it sucks to play Pachelbel's Canon in D on a cello. Recorded live at Penn State, this piece by comedian/musician Rob Paravonian has been a favorite on the Dr. Demento Show."

Thought everyone would enjoy this little piece. Great connections to other pieces of music.

The Market for Body Odor

I read this comic strip the other day. I found it to be humorous, and could relate to the experience. Walking out of Subway today, I noticed the polite man holding the door for me smelled like tacos. Interesting, you might say, considering Subway doesn't sell tacos.

Then it hit me... that taco smell was plain, ol' funky body odor. The classic BO.

Which got me to thinking, maybe deodorant is an under-provided good. You know, there's a positive externality in using the stuff, everyone benefits from your refreshing floral smell. Don't get me started on the enormous cultural differences that make it difficult to sit next to an international student in the movie theater...

Maybe the government should subsidize its production, tax "polluters" and make them pay to stink, or just sign it into law as mandatory to wear. Heck, this is one situation I could stand for a little statism!

Maybe similar effects exist for halitosis. Who knows?

Debunking the Obvious

In an article on the WSJ's Economics Blog, it is reported that frat boys drink more. Now this seems obvious at first glance, but being a member of a fraternity, I feel that I should voice my own opinion.

The academic chicken-or-egg question at hand is whether frat membership causes drinking, or whether frats just attract drinkers who would behave the same way without frats. The circumstantial data is telling: Surveys suggest that 64% of frat members were drunk in the past 30 days and 42% of nonmembers. “Undoubtedly, students choose to join fraternities in part because of pre-existing preferences towards behaviors that membership facilitates,” he writes.”

And, appearantly, fraternities are bad for campuses:
And the higher the fraction of college students who belong to a frat on a campus, the more heavy drinking among students who aren’t frat members.

Aside from disliking the word "frat" and all its (not so) subtle connotations, this news doesn't bode well for already falling enrollment in men's organizations all across the country. I don't believe we foster that kind of atmosphere in Delta Upsilon, but I definitely have noticed a year-to-year struggle between academics and "socializing."

To those of us who pride ourselves on diversity and tolerance, any statistical paper showing a "general trend" seems to promote sometimes-harmful and self-perpetuating stereotyping.

And as for spillover effects, I suspect the results to be quite foggy, though I haven't read the actual paper.

It is refreshing to see the experts take a moment to be rational about all this:
“It would be erroneous to assume that these unconditional… differences accurately portray direct effects of fraternities.

To any parents out there: I suggest getting to know your son, his interests, hobbies, and habits as well as the ones any organization he wishes to join foster. This should be fairly easy to discern among all the polite BS during recruitment season. But of course, why should I be giving you advice? You're all intelligent people.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Moved to Feedburner

I've switched to feedburner for syndication. Subscribe using the new button in the sidebar, or update your readers with the following feed:

You can also now subscribe using e-mail. Just put your address in the sidebar and hit subscribe!

The Best in American Idiocy: Neocon Quotes from AlterNet

An article dated yesterday from AlterNet discussesalarming trends in conservative American thinking.

The following made my short list of favorite quotes:

"Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

"Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get."

Ward Connerly is the only black person in the National Review posse, a 67-year-old Louisiana-born businessman, best known for leading conservative campaigns against affirmative action for black people. Earlier, I heard him saying the Republican Party has been "too preoccupied with… not ticking off the blacks", and a cooing white couple wandered away smiling, "If he can say it, we can say it."

Dinesh D'Souza announced as we entered Mexican seas what he calls "D'Souza's law of immigration": " The quality of an immigrant is inversely proportional to the distance travelled to get to the United States."

In other words: Latinos suck.

"The civilised countries should invade all the oil-owning places in the Middle East and run them properly. We won't take the money ourselves, but we'll manage it so the money isn't going to terrorists."

"Couldn't they just do experiments on Muslim stem-cells?" I ask. " Hey - that's a great idea!"

If this is the direction conservative thought is going in this country, I might as well apply for my British visa today. So much for our country being a bastion of tolerance, acceptance, and moderation. I believe the Founding Fathers would be ashamed.

Nod to BoingBoing for alerting us all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Altadis to be purchased by Imperial Tobacco

The Wall Street Journal just reported on its website that Altadis has agreed to be purchased by Imperial Tobacco.

This especially affects our European friends, where Imperial Tobacco will be a tobacco "giant with leading market shares in the U.K., France, Spain, Germany, &c...

Will this decrease the quality of tobaccos that just seemed to get a revival under new blenders? How do you suspect this will affect prices for tobacco in Europe and America?

The long drawn-out battle for Altadis marks perhaps the last big deal in a series of acquisitions consolidating the industry in Europe. As cigarette sales slowly decline and smokers in the major Western European markets kick the habit and younger generations avoid the products, multinational cigarette makers have bee buying one another to cut costs through economies of scale.

The author of the article seems to think it will decrease prices, if in fact, there are economies of scale still to be exploited in such a large industry.

Since Altadis also holds a 49% stake in JR Outlets (a big online seller of cigars, bigger still in North Carolina), what will this do for cigar retail, which is arguably far more sensitive to industry changes than pipes and pipe tobacco?

Let's hear your thoughts!