Bubble Economics

Today the phrase “Bubble Economics” occurred to me as a way to describe the kind of over-valuation and ‘irrational exuberance’ that occurred during the recent real estate bubble and the previous Internet bubble.

One of the disappointing aspects of Internet search is that you can find out very quickly that you were not the first person to come up with a brilliant term like Bubble Economics. For example, here is a Slate article on the topic.

However, the idea that came to me this morning is that Bubble Economics possibly applies at a much bigger and higher level than isolated bubbles like real estate and Internet stocks. (Oh yes, I just thought of the 17th-century tulip bubble in Holland as another example, although interestingly the Wikipedia entry introduces some doubt into this old story.)

My thought, disturbing as it is, is that the entire growth-oriented globalizing economy can be seen as an unsustainable bubble. If true, that would imply that the widespread aspirations for a continually-expanding global middle-class might be ultimately unattainable.

Recent thinking around the peak oil issue speaks to this question. Going back further in time, E. F. Schumacher’s “Small Is Beautiful” book is interesting as well.

AB — 26 January 2009

Peak Oil Notes

Originally posted on The Reluctant Geek:

Just wanted to pin down a couple of resources on the topic of peak oil — the idea that world demand for oil will bump up against the limit of what can be extracted, refined and distributed, resulting in catastrophic shortages. Most advocates I have encountered think this will happen soon.
This is an item that aired on NPR today on Weekend Edition:
Here is a report from energy consulting firm CERA taking serious issue with the peak oil argument:
Chris Martensen’s Crash Course in Economics lays out much of the reasoning behind peak oil thinking, as well as some very interesting ideas about the broader economic environment and limits to growth. Martensen’s course is also an interesting approach to presenting information.
AB — 12/13/08

Edited Movies

Porting this post over from Socialtext:

A few years ago, I heard about CleanFlicks, a service that would allow you to “rent” edited DVDs. I don’t watch movies with sex scenes, nudity, profanity, or gory violence, so CleanFlicks seemed like a nice idea.

I should say that their position was that they didn’t rent movies, but that their customers were asking them to edit movies on their behalf. Too fine a distinction maybe, because CleanFlicks got hit with a lawsuit by entertainment interests who forced them to shut down.

I think the argument of the plaintiffs was that the copyright holder should be the one who gets to profit from editing movies. That might have been the technical legal reason, but I tend to think some professional moviemakers just didn’t like the idea of someone tinkering with their creative product and removing certain content to cater to customers’ preferences in that way.

CleanFlicks recently reopened, offering prescreened movies rather than edited movies — possibly a good idea. These are movies that they have previewed and certified to be more friendly to those who dislike profanity, sex scenes, and other undesirable content.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend them, as they have refused to even respond to numerous emails I have sent them about something I paid for and never received. It’s not that they contest my complaint — they just don’t even respond. That’s even stranger than the many companies with poor customer service, which we have all come to expect.

I checked out some other purveyors of edited movies and eventually settled on FamilySafe Movies, which has a good selection and reliable service.

In my search for a provider, I also found Flick’s Club (this company might somehow be associated with FamilySafe Movies, because the DVDs I receive from them often bear the Flick’s Club brand) and Hollygood Films.

AB — originally posted 21 March 2007

Open-Source Crime-Solving

Porting this post over from Socialtext:

I was struck by this article on the BBC:

Amateur sleuths keep cold cases alive

It struck me that this is another application of the open-source model — Internet technology can possibly be used in crime investigations to bring many dedicated minds to bear on problems that can’t be solved by the efforts of a few professional investigators.

AB — originally posted 23 April 2007

Comments on Rhetorical Intimidation

Porting this post over from Socialtext:

I wrote up some comments this morning on my Reluctant Guru blog about the way people use rhetorical intimidation to gain the upper hand in disputes.

Some of the phrases I commented on are “pure and simple,” “just plain wrong” and “pseudo-science.”

Here’s what I wrote — I will use this space here to write updates:

“Pure and simple” — As in, “This is theft, pure and simple.” This is sometimes used to add artificial certainty to an assertion, to make things seem black-and white.

“Just plain wrong” — Used in similar ways to “pure and simple” to impose an oversimplified certainty to your own side in an argument.

“There is no dispute that ….” — Followed sometimes by a statistic, sometimes simply by the speaker’s opinion. My immediate urge when I hear this is to respond with, “I hereby dispute you.”

“Nonsense” — Used to describe someone else’s idea and to position your own as superior.

“Utter” — This one occurred to me just now, as it is sometimes used with a word like “nonsense” or “hogwash” to make the other person’s idea sound even more unreliable.

“Pseudo-science” — Used to describe an area of inquiry that conflicts with your own deeply-held opinions. A celebrity not long ago used this term to disparage psychiatry. It is often used to describe any investigation into the paranormal, and is sometimes used by partisans on either side of the evolution-intelligent design debate to describe one another’s models.

“Ideology” or “belief system” — Used to describe someone else’s values or way of thinking. Seems to me that using these terms places a slightly negative spin on the other person’s position — as if my own way of thinking is truly objective, whereas the other person’s is tainted by extremism. I guess a good test might be to ask, Am I willing to describe my own way of thinking as an ideology or belief system?

AB — originally posted 22 March 2007

Crimefighting by Crowdsourcing

Here is an investigation by Dutch police of a 1995 cold case in which they are inviting outside participation, with a reward offered:


Also, here is the website for Victoria (Australia) Crime Stoppers, inviting assistance with solving crimes and finding fugitives:


Here is an interesting article on CNN about how the Internet was used to solve an old mystery:

Amateur sleuths keep cold cases alive 

AB — originally posted 15 May 2007

Rattling around in the box.

Some readers won’t like this illustration and, missing the point, will declare that you have to think outside the box. Just saying that ahead of time to forestall platitudes.

We live our lives inside a box. When we’re younger, the box is bigger, so we don’t run into the walls quite so often. But as we get older, the box gets smaller, so we keep running up against the limitations.

AB — originally posted 2 May 2007