December 06, 2004

Telemarketing: The National Do Not Call Registry

I recommend to anyone who does not like getting telemarketing calls (that is to everyone) that they sign up for the national do-not-call registry here. It is very easy to do so-- only about three lines of information. The email the site sent me after I registered says
Once you have registered, your phone number registration will be effective for 5 years. It will be illegal for most telemarketers to call you, and you will be able to file a complaint if a telemarketer does call you. The website provides information about filing a complaint.
There is an interesting negative externality from signing up, though not necessarily an inefficient one: the telemarketers will call somebody else instead. This is like the externality from visibly protecting your home against burglars with obvious alarms or signs, which diverts the burglars to other homes instead. If the people who are most bothered by telemarketers are the ones who sign up, though, the diversion could be efficient, its value exceeding the cost of running the do-not-call registry.

I don't understand why action against telemarketers and spammers has not been a prominent political issue. Surely many people would be grateful to a politician who cracked down on this very common annoyance. The registry was finally created, but why didn't Bush take more credit for it? Perhaps because most people haven't signed up yet, and would blame him for not doing more. Or, more likely, because he, like many politicians, uses telemarketing for fundraising. We need an outsider like Howard Dean to make this into an issue.

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December 03, 2004

The Third Day of Christmas: Leafblowers

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

3. Leafblowers, and the Electric, Sears Craftsman ones in particular. $35. I think I paid more for mine, but the device would be cheap at $80. It is not unduly noisy, and makes a nice change from raking. Plus, you can use it to clean leaves out of the garage.

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September 08, 2004

Steve Sailer on the Soccer Mom

Steve Sailer puts the case against the Soccer Mom very well:

Another reason kids don't go outside anymore is because leaving the house has become an enormous production number. When I had a baseball game as a kid, I merely grabbed my glove and walked or biked to the park. No trouble.

My son's adolescent teammates, in contrast, never arrive for their league games in anything less massive than a Ford Explorer, because the crime rate is too scary for their parents to let them walk and the traffic too dense for them to pedal. Further, they have to lug not only a duffel bag full of baseball impedimenta, but at least one, and preferably, both parents, lest they grow up to write self-pitying screenplays about how nobody ever came to watch them play.

People thought America was terribly bourgeois back in 1965, but we are far worse now. We are more materialistic, more cowardly, more concerned about what our neighbors think, and more oriented towards formal group activities. We have fewer kids and educate them less morally and intellectually, but we grouse more about what trouble they are because we spend all our time ferrying them in cars from one formal group activity to another.

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August 25, 2004

NPR Approves of Spanking

It's nice to report good news once in a while-- and on subjects other than technology.

NPR yesterday had an amazing little oral essay by a lady about how she just spanked her 3-year-old boy for the first time. The theme is that spanking is good, to the narrator's surprise! After a hellish time with a boy who wouldn't sit in his carseat, a short spanking resulted in two hours of good humor for all.

It is interesting that so many liberals oppose spanking but favor, instead, various diabolically cruel psychological punishments. Why is that?

Of course, with my own kids I find that spanking is not really a physical punishment. Rather, it is a sign of heavy parental disapproval, so heavy that the crying really is unrelated to the very slight physical pain. I'm not very severe, though I try to be unstoppable, so I usually I will give a count to 5 or thereabouts before I carry out the spanking. By now, 2-year-old Benjamin will usually say, if I say, "I'll spank you if you don't do X before I count to five..." with

"Daddy, don't count!"

and obedience, sometimes grudging, sometimes complete. The very act of counting shows that I truly disapprove, and that's counting enough.

The worst pain is when I really show alarm. Last night, Benjamin tried to be helpful by giving me the hammer I needed to put up the train poster in his bedroom. I barked a sudden warning to put it down (it was heavy metal hammer, that he had to swing around to try to give to me), and he rushed to a corner and buried his head in a pillow for five minutes, despite my reassurances that he hadn't done anything very wrong.

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August 18, 2004

Asset Returns, 1928 to 2002

Asset Returns I came across a table of real annual yields from 1926 to 2002. The source and meaning were unclear enough that I won't even give them, but here are the numbers:

T-Bills 0.8
Long Government bonds: 2.9
Long corporate bonds: 3.2
Large company stocks 9.0
Small Company stocks 13.5

I'm not sure whether this will continue or not. Economists refer to the strangely high return on stocks relative to bonds as the Equity Premium Puzzle. Quite possibly, the stock price run-up of the late 1990's eliminated that puzzle, since stock prices rose high enough that they will likely not have such high returns in the future. Still, I'm investing in stocks now, after my retreat and shorting during the bubble.

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August 17, 2004

Nostalgia, Four-Square, and Uni High

I was happy with how this photo from the Uni High Foursquare reunion turned out. I captured father and son both in action (the father is the bearded patent lawyer with the baseball cap). It was quite a good reunion, aided mightily by having so many children running around, though the kids make it hard to stay in one place long enough for heavy-duty nostalgiazizing. Unipeople start late, but do seem fertile enough once they get started.

That new word in the last paragraph didn't quite work. Nostal-zizing? No. I can't figure out a word that works properly for "talking fondly about past people and events in the company of others who experienced them".

At any rate, the theme of the reunion was the game of Foursquare. From 1971 to 1976, when I was at Uni, Foursquare and Bridge were the two dominant games. Chess, of course, featured largely, with people like Jim Worley on the team, whose success (2nd in the state my senior year, I think?) contrasted interestingly with the performance of our basketball team (something like 97 straight losses, a national record).

Here is a synopsis of the rules from Brian Brinkerhoff, '81:

The playing field is composed of four squares that are arranged so that theyform one larger square. The Squares are lettered from A-D. Each square is occupied by a single player. The player in the A-square serves the ball into any square they choose. The serve consists of a single bounce in A-square followed by the ball being directed into an adjacent square of the server's choosing. Play continues until someone fails to return the ball into someone else's square. When a player is out, he or she leaves the Four-Square court and a new player enters into D-square. Other players move up to fill the vacated space.

Players waiting to play form a line. The player in front of the line serves as Line Judge. It is the Line Judge's responsibility to serve as a referee. The Line Judge is the final authority on calls that are contested or disputed.

Four-Square is an old elementary school game, usually played rather gently. Uni High's version of Four-Square is not. Slamming a ball into a square so that the receiving player must run it down is legal. Putting unusual spins on the ball is widely practiced, and all manner of shots that are delivered from unusual angles such as between the legs and behind the back are heavily utilized by some players. As a result, our version of Four-Square looks much more like the Globetrotter's magic circle than it does the elementary school game from which it was derived. In the pursuit of this "flashier" style of play, it has been traditionally accepted to let some palming of the ball to go overlooked, not unlike travelling in the NBA!

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The Sultan of Brunei's Presents to George Bush

From "Saudis, Italians Most Generous to Bushes," National Post, August 7, 2004, p. A3:

The Sultan of Brunei, among the world's wealthiest men, gave Mr. Bush a $30 CD of country kusic, a lemon cream cheese cake and a box of McDuffies shortbread cookies.

I like that. The Sultan perhaps knew that the President could not in any case keep expensive presents.

I wonder if such people as the Prime Minister of Canada, the Chancellor of Germany, and the President of France can keep expensive presents? I don't know, but from general impressions my bet would be that legal presents of this sort amount to tens of thousands of dollars of extra income for them. .

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