Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

December 31, 2004

Self-Parody Imitates Parody

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:20 pm

This is one of the worst cases of “life imitates art” I have ever seen.


The Economics of Dueling

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:50 pm

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen of GMU has an interesting post on the economics of dueling.

Lost in Translation

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:35 pm

For those of you following the story (below, second half of story) on the Vatican allegedly condeming Israel for refusing to help Sri Lanka after The Wave, when in fact Israel had offered such aid but Sri Lanka had refused it….

Rest easy, it might have all been a translation error.

Meryl Yourish and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein are reporting that the Catholic World News is retracting the story, blaming it on a translation error. In other words, the Vatican didn’t condemn Israel for something it didn’t do after all. They condemned Sri Lanka for declining Israeli assistance, which Sri Lanka did do. More here.

I told you this didn’t sound like today’s Vatican….

Unfortunately, reversing something in translation does sound like today’s journalists….

Hate Speech Roundup

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:00 pm

Jeff Jacoby’s column today contains his eleventh annual political hate speech roundup. Roundups for previous years still online: 2003, 2002, 2001, and 2000.

Tsunami Amateur Videos

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:52 am

Tsunamis hit beaches, beaches have tourists, tourists have video cameras, and you can see the results here.

December 30, 2004

Bush Didn’t Lie

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:59 pm

Clayton Cramer has now produced pretty much definitive proof that the Bush administration did not lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What’s really amazing is he did this without actually finding any WMDs. (Not surprising, since he’s in Idaho, so even if he found WMDs they wouldn’t be in Iraq.)

What’s even more amazing is that no one thought if this before. I say this admiringly, and without any sarcasm — or criticism, since I didn’t think of it either — and it’s so obviously spot-on. Then again, I often think that sort of thing after reading Clayton Cramer’s blog.

Peace through Disaster

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:44 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how, here in the United States, people from ethnic and religious groups that are constantly fighting elsewhere often get along fine. I used to live in a neighborhood with lots of Indians and Pakistanis, and they shopped at the same grocery stores, sari shops, jewelry stores, and so on. I grew up in an area with a lot of Asians, and I knew Japanese and Koreans who were good friends with each other. And of course (of course?) , I’ve known Muslims who shop for kosher food, since it meets and exceeds the requirements of halal.

The same seems to be true elsewhere as well, as shown by this story of some tourists in Thailand — an Israeli couple and a Palestinian couple who rode out The Wave on top of the same van:

Yossi and Inbar Gross said they were spending their honeymoon in the Thai resort of Phuket when the area was overwhelmed by a wall of water.

“What happened was, we and this Palestinian couple jumped on the roof of this Ford van,” Yossi Gross told Israel Army Radio. “Below us was a raging river, a sea that washed up into the city and dragged everything along with it. Everything was wrecked, everything was ruined.”

Gross said they stayed with the Palestinian couple on the van’s roof for more than four hours before they were able to climb down.

[He] said he and the Palestinians exchanged phone numbers and intend to keep in close touch.

“Friends?” he said. “Of course we are. Absolutely.”

It also says the Israeli did not give the names of the Palestinians he’s now friends with. Good thing, since if he did they’d probably be killed when they got home for “collarborating with the Zionists.”

Marine Morticians

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:31 pm

These guys have got to have the most sobering job in the entire U.S. military. And they can’t even “hang out,” since it’s considered bad luck for other soldiers and marines to talk to them.

Playing politics with the tsunami

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:10 pm

From the time of the earthquake, it took less than an hour for the wave to hit Thailand, two hours to reach Sri Lanka, six hours to reach Somalia … and two days to hit Israel.

Israel? No, the wave didn’t actually hit Israel, but the politics of it did. It seems that within hours of the disaster, Israel put together a team of 150 medical and relief personnel to send to Sri Lanka to treat the injured. On Dec. 28, the Washington Times reported:

Israel is flying three aircraft with doctors, nurses and medical supplies to Sri Lanka, which suffered thousands of fatalities from a weekend earthquake.

The army spokesman said the delegation comprises 150 rescue and medical personnel — specialist doctors, nurses and paramedics.

It plans to assemble a medical facility comprising of emergency, internal medicine and pediatric departments as well as a laboratory and X-ray facilities.

According to Al-Bawaba, an Arab news organization based on Amman, Jordan, Sri Lanka rejected the offer of the medical team, but is willing to accept a planeload of tents, blankets, nylon sheeting, and water containers contributed by the Israeli Army. At first glance, this sounds like a case of “Keep the dirty Jews out of our country — but sure, we’ll take the supplies,” but it may be more complicated than that. After all, they did accept an earlier, smaller team of civilian doctors from Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and they did allow Israel military personnel to fly in the supplies. And according to Al-Jazeera, Sri Lanka claims they have enough doctors, and only need the supplies. New Kerala quotes Sri Lankan Ambassador Tissa Wijeratne as saying, “We have friendly ties with Israel and this is a measure being adopted vis-a-vis everyone as we are unable to provide the large number of rescue officials, already operating in Sri Lanka, with necessary facilities.” (Needless to say, the Al-Jazeera and Al-Bawaba stories do not include the first part of that quotation.) However, Sri Lanka did accept a small team of doctors from Cyprus. Meanwhile, Israel has sent medical and search-and-rescue teams and relief workers to India and Thailand.

UPDATE: The quote below has been retracted by the Catholic World News — it was apparently based on a mistranslation . See above for details.

But then it gets jucier: apparently, not everyone believes that Sri Lanka rejected Israel’s help; some think it was the other way around. The Jerusalem Post and the Catholic World News are reporting that the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. CWN has removed the story from its website already, but it said in part:

The Vatican newspaper has denounced a decision by the Israeli army to deny emergency help to disaster victims in Sri Lanka.

Calling for “a radical and dramatic change of perspective” among people “too often preoccupied with making war,” L’Osservatore Romano singled out Israeli military leaders for declining a request for emergency medical help. The Vatican paper observed that in what “should be a time for unconditional solidarity,” some world leaders seem incapable of escaping a “small-minded approach that restricts their horizons.”

This is, of course completely backwards — and quite out of character for today’s Vatican (though not, sadly, the Vatican of, say, the 1840s). I tried to find the original story or editorial in L’Osservatore Romano, but apparently they only make available the first page of the paper on their website. My Italian reading skills are somewhat limited, but enough to verify both that the article wasn’t on the first page of any papers issued since The Wave struck, and that the other pages weren’t there. The fact that CWN took down the story is kind of interesting, but I haven’t seen any word of an official retraction or correction.

Blogger Meryl Yourish is tracking the story, and even got quoted in the [New Zealand] National Business Review.

And of course, Indy Media Watch reminds us that this has precedent, almost a year ago to the day: after the December 27, 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran refused Israeli assistance in digging survivors out of the rubble. At the time, a spokesman for Iran’s Interior Ministry said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran accepts all kinds of humanitarian aid from all countries and international organizations with the exception of the Zionist regime.”

I am having trouble imagining that any official of a government who had to face the survivors as voters would say such a thing. Which is yet another reason we need democracy in the middle east in order to have any hope of peace there.

P.S. If you’d like to donate to the relief effort in a way that is more or less guaranteed to help those who love their families more than they hate the Jews, consider donating the relief efforts of Chabad of Thailand whose efforts are outlined here.

December 29, 2004


Filed under: — Different River @ 12:36 pm

The Diary of a Snow Shoveler is absolutely hilarious! Especially for those of you who (like me) grew up in a warm climate and then moved to a “snow zone.”

December 28, 2004

Bloggers tortured in Iran

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:29 pm

Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a former Vice President of Iran, has a blog, in which he reports that in Iran, dissident bloggers are being arrested and tortured. The intended end-point of the torture seems to be to make them confess to crimes which have nothing to do with blogging. I don’t read Farsi (Persian), so I’m relying on the translation here. Buzzmachine has some more information here. Hat tip to Instapundit.

This is the sort of thing that reminds those of us in the U.S. how valuable freedom of speech is — not just in the Constitution, but in the implementation. And to think that some really smart people thought that was too obvious to need to spell out.

The Wave

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:24 pm

It hardly seems appropriate to talk about anything else without at least mentioning what is probably the worst natural disaster in the last decade — the tsunami (“tidal wave”) that struck the Indian Ocean coasts of 11 countries after a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake.

As I write this, the current death toll estimate is 45,000 with 27,000 confirmed dead already. The total could go up as they find more bodies, or down as people “unaccounted for” show up alive. Pray for more of the second than the first. Both will no doubt happen — recall that on Sept. 11, 2001, the estimated death toll from the terrorist attack kept dropping as people who escaped the buildings (or were not there as expected) checked in.

There is some good news — lots of people survived. Of course, if it hadn’t happened, they would all have survived, so calling this “good news” is a relative thing. There is a collection of amazing survivor stories here, complete with text messages sent by cellphone from a scuba diver who ended up stranded on the roof of a hotel to her family in England. There is also a story of an entire family that survived even though their house got hit; they found their 20-day-old baby alive on a floating mattress. And, of course, there is the celebrity angle. Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was on vacation in Sri Lanka; he survived but was stranded and rescued by the Sri Lankan Air Force. Also, a famous model survived by hanging onto a tree for eight hours with a broken pelvis and internal injuries. After initial reports of dead bodies stuck in trees, it’s nice to hear some of those people stuck in trees are alive. It’s not so nice to hear that her boyfriend is still missing, like tens of thousands of other people.

What could have been done?

We think of natural disasters as unavoidable, but they are not completely so. I mean, the events themselves are unavoidable, but the extent to which they become disasters is not.

Tsunamis are normally caused by earthquakes, and there is a delay between the time of the earthquake and the time the big wave actually hits the shore. The time is shorter if the earthquake is close to shore, but in that case the wave is usually smaller, too. So, there is potentially more time to warn people when you need to warn more people.

There is a tsunami warning system in place for the Pacific — the Tsunami Warning System, including the International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska. The system consists of underwater pressure sensors on the ocean floor, wave gauges attached to buoys, and satellite communications to tie it all to the monitoring stations. Twenty-six nations participate in the ICC, even North Korea, which normally doesn’t participate in anything with anybody. It seems like a good system, and while it’s probably expensive, it probably pays for itself the first time it gets a bunch of people out of the way of one of these things.

The reason there is a warning system in the Pacific and not the Indian Ocean is that most of the tsunamis happen in the Pacific. The system is expensive enough that nobody wants to put it in where it’s not needed. Tsunamis are fairly rare in the Indian Ocean — according to VOA, the last one in the Indian Ocean was “probably” in 1883 — 121 years ago. Knowing only what they knew before the recent disaster, India decided long ago not to spend the money to set up an Indian Ocean system. Knowing what we know now, that looks like a bad decision — but they had to make the decision based on what was known then, including what other disasters they could have — and perhaps did — spend that same money to mitigate. It’s possible that by spending money to avoid an unlikely tsunami, they had it to spend on flood relief during monsoon season. We will probably never know for sure, but it’s a good bet that an Indian Ocean system well be set up shortly, and in place for the next tsunami, whether it’s 5 years of 125 years from now.

UPDATE: A list of l organizations accepting contributions for tsunami relief is here . Hat tip to Orin Kerr (permalink).

December 26, 2004


Filed under: — Different River @ 5:48 pm

“You could not step into the same river twice; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.”

Heraclitus, On the Universe
Greek philosopher (540 BC – 480 BC)

If you put your foot in a river, then take it out and put it back in, by the time you put it back the water your stepped in before has flowed downstream, and you are stepping in different water than you did before. If the water is what makes the river, you have stepped in a different river. Even more so, you are the product of your experiences, so by the time you put your foot back in the second time, you have experienced it before, so you are not the same person you were the first time.

So it is with life — things are always changing. Some things, of course, almost stay the same, because they change very slowly — like the course of the river — and a few things really are immutable. But only a few — and the Internet is not one of them. Certainly you can’t look a the same blog more than once or twice in a row, because the blogger often adds new material, and on many blogs, readers often comment on that material. In a certain way, blogs are the rivers of the Internet.

There are basically two kinds of blogs. The first is the “Personal Blog,” an online diary of one’s own life, visible to the whole world. The second is the “Commentary Blog,” in which people comment on events of interest to the some segment(s) of the general public — news, politics, technology, movies, medicine, sports, whatever. Both types are interesting to read and interesting as phenomena. This is going to be the second type of blog — partly because I don’t think my personal life is all that interesting to that many people, but mostly because I have a lot more to say about other things that I think might be interesting. Of course, it might be that what I have to say about the world is also not all that interesting to that many people either, but the only way I have to find out is to write it, post it, and then check the server access logs. ;-)

Who am I? I currently live on the east coast of the USA, near Washington, DC, but I grew up on the west coast and went to graduate school in the middle. I have a Ph.D. in economics, but I’m one of the seemingly few economists in the Washington, DC area who is not employed by the federal government. I am male, married to a wonderful lady, and have children who I hope will turn out to be as wonderful. That’s all I’m going to say about myself right now; I’d rather you judge my writings based on what I say, rather than who I am.

For the moment, I’m going to keep this blog anonymous, in the unlikely event my employer has any objection to my expressing opinions in public. I may change this in the future, but in the meantime, if you know or figure out who I am, keep in mind that opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, my friends, my family, or even (if I am being sarcastic), me. In fact, they might not even be opinions!

What is this blog about? Well, I should probably just wait and find out like the rest of you. But, I am interested in, in no particular order: economics, politics, history, law, science, medicine, technology, religion, mathematics, and some other things. My professional expertise is in health economics, the economics of new technology, and the effects of government regulation.

However, I don’t really know all that much about rivers. They are usually pretty, usually wet, and if a river is small enough, you can put your foot in it. Once. ;-)

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