Tuesday, September 2, 2014

doing business like a refugee

that's the name of this podcast from NPR's Planet Money: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/07/30/336117663/episode-557-doing-business-like-a-refugee

Refugees are often allowed to stay, but not work, in their host countries. The host country fears the refugees will take jobs from the local populace. The thing about labor is that there is always demand for more labor. It's one of a few goods that people always want more of. But importantly, the more you allow business formation, the more jobs are created. It's a win-win. The problem is the government usually blocks business formation. It does so by using arcane licensing regimes that pretend to be in the public interest, but are really in the interest of incumbents and not the public at all.

This podcast looks at the problem in a stark way with refugees, but we only have to look around our own home towns to see how this problem applies to the people from our own communities. We make it far too hard for people to start businesses in the US. Local governments establish "taxi commissions" to monopolize the personal transportation business and lock out entrants, cosmetology boards create absurd training requirements to get a license to cut hair or do nails (please, where is the public risk that justifies this sacrifice?), public health agencies don't let people sell food they cooked in their own homes (favor to the restaurant incumbents). 

10 books that influenced me

My friend and former boss Vivian tagged me on Facebook to identify the ten books that "touched me". I am interpreting "touched" as those books that had a profound impact on me. There are many more, but I think this is a good sample in chronological order. The date in parentheses is when I first read the book. I've included some notes about why they were important to me.
  1. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. (1979) Like many young people, it was my first brush with true heroic literature. It made me want to be a story teller.
  2. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. (1988) I've talked about this book many times. I read it in the basement of the YMCA and it spoke to me about how I should lead my life and who I wanted to be. 
  3. The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy. (1990) The complexity of love and life. Recommended to me by Vivian. Beautifully told mixture of tragedy and redemption.
  4. Facing Up: How to Rescue the Economy from Crushing Debt and Restore the American Dream, Peter Peterson, with Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman. (1994) I think I picked this book up off a discount rack outside of Walden Books (remember Walden Books?). I was big into my investment phase at that point and I was reading anything that sounded like it could help me get a better grasp on investing. This instead opened my eyes to the reality of how politicians were driving our country into the ground through excessive spending. It was the moment I discovered the third way of libertarianism: socially liberal, fiscally conservative. I don't think any of the authors intended that, but it's what happened. 
  5. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt.(1998) Brilliant story telling. The author believably tells the story in a voice that progresses from a young child's point of view to a young man's point of view. The story is complete with all the awkwardness of discovery childhood brings. It is crushingly sad, but at the same time incredibly hopeful. I haven't read anything else by McCourt. I don't think he could have written anything more powerful. Part of why I liked the book was because it seemed it was an Irish version of what my father went through as a kid. I guess I have a soft spot for tragedy, since I have Prince of Tides up there, too. I do read some positive stuff, too, of course. But a good tragedy wrings feeling from your soul.
  6. The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, Oliver Williamson. (1999) We read this book in a Ph.D. course at UMass I joined while working on my MBA. It was a survey of important business books of the 20th century. My reaction to Williamson's book was, "This is economics?" Before this book, I had thought of economics as rather dull supply and demand charts and calculations of marginal product. Williamson pulled back the veil on so much of human behavior that I knew I wanted to study more.
  7. The Language of Life, Bill Moyers. (2001) Bill Moyers' collection of interviews with poets about their craft and samples of their writing helped me rediscover poetry in my own life again. I had stopped writing poetry in college after taking a couple of creative writing classes and finding myself deeply discouraged. I started again after hearing these poets talk about how much they loved language and story. It was around this time that I got the courage up to start submitting my work for publication.
  8. The Art of Drowning, Billy Collins. (2004) I stumbled on Billy Collins' work and immediately said, this is the voice I want to try to emulate in my poetry. I love his earlier work; his recent work is not as exciting to me. But this collection of poetry was like rediscovering poetry all over again for me.
  9. Practical Gods, Carl Dennis. (2006) Like Collins, I stumbled on Dennis probably on a discount rack. Dennis and Collins have similar but very distinct voices. They are likewise similarly willing to bend reality in their writing. As with Collins, I have read and re-read Dennis' work to try to absorb some of his voice.
  10. The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith. (2009) I was introduced to this book in a period when I was perhaps at my lowest point in my adult life. I was sure I was going to fail out of my Ph.D. program and none of my dreams were going to come true and that all of the sacrifices I had made were pointless. Reading Smith's lesser known book (this is the Smith of Wealth of Nations) helped me right myself again. It's not a page turner, but it's strong medicine for all that is wrong with modern society.
what were your 10?

Monday, September 1, 2014

what's a poor pot farmer to do?

According to the Post, with the price wholesale price of marijuana falling due to legalization, pot farmers in Mexico are no longer growing the crop:
Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.

“It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”
Unfortunately there apparently is something that is a good production substitute - poppies for heroin:

Growers from this area and as far afield as Central America are sowing their plots with opium poppies, and large-scale operations are turning up in places where authorities have never seen them.

more here

Saturday, August 30, 2014

banana cocoa marshmallow vegan dessert pizza!

I'm doing a week of vegan eating (ends tomorrow), so I was more limited in my choices than usual. But then I saw the overripe bananas on the side board and thought, I wonder...

banana and marshmallow pizza

So I rolled out the dough and let it rise, then mashed up the bananas and spread them on like sauce. They spread pretty easily. Then I placed marshmallows all around, and sprinkled some cocoa powder on top.

I cooked the pizza on my grill - it was a hot night here in Texas - it's August! - so I had the pizza stone out on the grill already from my dinner pizza.

banana and marshmallow pizza

Came out great! I'll definitely do this one again.

JT just pointed out the marshmallows have gelatin - an animal byproduct! So much for this being vegan, or even vegetarian! Uggh!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

fight the power

I'm a huge fan of the Institute for Justice, and I've always meant to donate. It was the crap swirling around Ferguson that finally put me over the edge and I broke out the credit card.

If you care about individual dignity, especially the kind of dignity that arises from a people who enjoy the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, you should give to IJ, too.


Fight the power.

I'm a little less necessary

I was walking through the grocery store yesterday picking up some things for the house and, as I walked by the cheese display in the deli, I thought to myself, I should pick up some fresh mozzarella so I can make S. (my oldest daughter) some caprese salad. She's a vegetarian, has been since grade 5. We tried to get her to go back to eating hot dogs and chicken a few times, but she's stubborn like her mother, and once she decided she was a vegetarian, that was it. So we've been accommodating this alternative life style ever since. Thinking about what the kids will and will not eat, trying to both please them and keep them eating healthy, is something I think all parents do. At least we do. Probably too much. OK - we're total push overs and the rest of you parents probably make your kids eat whatever you're eating. I've been in the habit of making three meals for dinner each night for years. And so when I know something simple like caprese salad (mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, and basil - vegetarian fast food, in other words), I get excited.

Except as my mental hand was reaching out for the ball of mozzarella in the tight little package, I remembered she was in Massachusetts, a couple thousand miles away, and wouldn't be home for dinner again until December.

That's when it struck me, really. Not at the airport when she walked off with her mom to get on a plane. Not even when I saw the pictures of her at college. It was when I realized I wouldn't be planning her meals anymore that I really felt how things were going to be different.

So now it's pretty much down to just making two meals a night, though sometimes it's still three when the remaining daughters can't agree. But it's strange how the sense of change only really hit when I was confronted with the humdrum, day to day tasks. She doesn't need me to cook for her anymore. She doesn't need her mother to do the laundry for her. It's good. It's how I always dreamed it would be. But it's strange to be a little less necessary.

supporting newspapers as an obligation

I've been thinking about this over the last few months and the events unfolding in Ferguson have convinced me: we have an obligation as citizens to support newspapers.

Newspapers have been dying over the last decade as they have lost their monopoly power due to the opening of competition across markets by the internet. I'm a fan of competition, and there were a lot of crappy newspapers out there, and the demise of many of them is no real loss. But I think its time we rethink our relationship with our remaining newspapers and news gathering organizations.

It's time we start thinking of them as public goods.

Newspapers (I'll use newspapers as a stand in for all news gathering agencies) protect us from unscrupulous actors - whether that's out of control police forces, out of control politicians, out of control unions, or out of control corporate bosses. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and we need newspapers to pull back the curtains on our society.

If you don't currently subscribe to a newspaper or news magazine, I suggest you do so. Give your support to both a national and a local news source. Consider it a charitable donation, even though they are money making corporations. The work they do may keep a Ferguson from happening in your home town.