Update on the Mouse Situation

Deer MouseIt’s now over two months since I wrote, My MouseHunt. In that article, I told the story of the mouse who had gotten into my house and how I trapped her and released her. For me, that was the end of the story. But I suspect that most people thought I was just a silly boy. Indeed, the story was not over.

After four days without any mice, I noticed more scat. So I put out the trap and it caught another mouse, which I duly released in the front yard. And every three or four days, there was another mouse. I got to thinking that the local mice community had fingered me as a mark. I imagined one of the mice telling all the others, “You go inside this box where you can have as much peanut butter as you want. Then you go to sleep, and in the morning, this guy comes by and puts you outside.”

I like mice, but I don’t like feeling like a mark. So I decided to release the mice far from home. The problem with that is that the traps are super sensitive. So many times, when I opened the back door, there was no mouse inside. I didn’t like the idea of trudging a half mile away to release the little thing.

There was another problem: I am kind of a mark. I didn’t like the idea of the mouse being all alone — far from its family and friends. And then it might be eaten by a hawk. Or it might get into someone else’s house and have its cranium crushed just when it thought it was going to have a delicious meal.

But I found a spot that I thought was rather good. It was covered with trees and leaves. And I figured there was a good mouse living to be made — but clearly not as good as the peanut butter train in my house.

I had noticed during the month and half of constant mouse collecting there were clearly at least two mice. One was small and the other large. Now they might have all been different and I’m just noticing females and males. I don’t know. But the first mouse was small that I delivered far away in the land where a mouse could make a good living. The second mouse was large. And then, just like Keyser Söze: poof! They’re gone.

Was it just two mice who were living by my house? I’ll find out soon enough. I like the narrative though. There were two mice: a girl mouse and a boy mouse. And I relocated them together where they can make a good and honest living. Of course, I’m aware of the truth. Mice in captivity can live up to three years. Some specially bred mice have lived to almost five years. But mice in the wild rarely make it past one year. It makes me want to get a cage and keep them. But I’m not sure I’m up for that. If I really did have a girl and a boy, I wouldn’t want to have babies.

So the adventure continues…

Fred Hiatt and the Balanced Budget Myth

Fred Hiatt“Balanced budgets goood! Budget deficits baaad!” That’s a reference to Phil Hartman’s Frankenstein, which is itself a reference to Frankenstein (or perhaps more accurately Young Frankenstein). It implies a gut reaction to things — not a considered intellectual opinion. It’s great fun in the films and parodies, even if it is rather the opposite of what is going on in the book. But what bothers me is that supposed serious political analysts don’t usually have any more depth of thought, “Balanced budgets goood! Budget deficits baaad!”

That brings us to Fred Hiatt who is upset that the federal government isn’t balancing its budget, but he’s very happy about something, One Governor Bucking the Bipartisan Tradition of Passing the Buck. It is such a load of Villager idiocy that I’m not going to even go into it. It’s filled with the usual “Both sides do it!” nonsense, even though the Republicans are responsible for everything he’s actually complaining about in the budget that Congress just passed. He’s also on about “unaffordable pensions” for public sector workers. I wonder what Mr Hiatt would think if someone came in and told him the pension he negotiated with The Washington Post 34 years ago is “unaffordable” and will have to be cut.

Right now, the federal government can borrow money with 10-year treasury notes for 2.24%. The lowest this number ever was during the Clinton administration was 4.44%. And most of the time it was close to 6%.

What’s absurd is that Hiatt compares the state and federal governments as though they are comparable. States have to maintain more or less balanced budgets; governments with their own currency (like our federal government) do not. Given that, you might wonder why everyone makes such a big deal out of balanced budgets. And the truth is, the times when we ought to worry about them are exactly the times when people like Fred Hiatt don’t worry about them.

Think back to glory days of the late Clinton administration. We had a budget surplus! And everyone of Fred Hiatt’s caliber of analysis thinks it is because we cut spending and raised taxes. But that was a very small part of it. In fact, although these policy changes would have decreased the deficit, they wouldn’t have come close to balancing the budget. What did it was the roaring economy, which brought in loads more in taxes from people who didn’t only got jobs, they god raises for the only time in the last four decades.

Had we not had a surplus at that time, it would have been an excellent time to get one. Because that’s the only time it matters to have a balanced budget: when the economy is strong. The reason is because the economy is working at peak efficiency. Businesses want to borrow money to invest. If the government is also borrowing money, the cost of loans goes up. That’s really the whole story. Budget deficits are bad for the economy when there is great demand from the private sector for loans.

Is that the case now? No! Right now, the federal government can borrow money with 10-year treasury notes for 2.24%. The lowest this number ever was during the Clinton administration was 4.44%. And most of the time it was close to 6%. What this tells us is that the economy is performing poorly. The private sector is not interested in borrowing money. So if the government weren’t borrowing it, it would just be sitting there, doing nothing.

And that’s what Fred Hiatt wants. Dean Baker is always good at stabbing right at the heart of the matter, and his response was, Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt Pushes for Higher Unemployment. That’s what’s so annoying about the way we talk about economics in this country. It’s all about budget deficits and interest rates. These all sound like no-brainers — or at least morally neutral. But for Very Serious People like Fred Hiatt, the policies they push just happen to always mean that regular Americans have static wages — when they have jobs at all.

See Also

Very Serious Conspiracy Theorists
Fred Hiatt’s Circuitous False Equivalence

Morning Music: Shel Silverstein

Shel SilversteinWill mentioned that I might want to look into the history of the song “Beans Taste Fine.” He thinks it goes way back, but as far as I can tell, it is just a Shel Silverstein original, off his 1962 album, Inside Folk Songs. But since I didn’t have a theme for this week’s Morning Music posts, I figured that was an excellent idea. I could easily do a month of Shel Silverstein.

He first came to my attention as the guy who wrote one of the greatest musical satires ever: “The Cover of Rolling Stone.” And so I want to start there, even though I knew other of his songs (without knowing they were his) before that. And I’ll probably go back to some of his earlier work. I also probably won’t stick to his songs. His poetry and prose are equally good.

So we start with “The Cover of Rolling Stone” performed by Dr Hook & the Medicine Show off their album Sloppy Seconds. They did a lot of Shel Silverstein songs. Their first album had the hit “Sylvia’s Mother” and the following album had “Roland the Roadie and Gertrude the Groupie.” They are an interesting group, because it still isn’t clear whether they were a rock band or a parody of a rock band.

Certainly their association with Shel Silverstein makes that case stronger. I think he was on record as not being that fond of the art form. But if you assume that a rock band is actually meant as comedy, it is not hard to convince yourself that they are hilarious. Think of The Beatles, going from the bubblegum of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to the utter pretentiousness of “Eleanor Rigby” just two years later.

Anyway, here is the song. I’m presenting the album cut, because I really like the production. Live versions of it are distinctly lacking.

Anniversary Post: SGR 1806-20 Explosion

SGR 1806-20On this day in 2004, an explosion from SGR 1806-20 reached the earth. It is thought to be the largest explosion to be observed on the earth since a supernova was observed in 1604. SGR 1806-20 is neutron star with a particularly strong magnetic field. I have a certain fondness for neutron stars because the first paper I published involved a mathematical model of a neutron star. They are bizarre objects.

After a supernova, the star can experience a gravitational collapse — becoming small and unimaginably dense. For example, SGR 1806-20 is less than 20 km in diameter with a mass of over 12 times that of the Sun. Because all this mass is so compact, in order for angular momentum to be conserved, neutron stars spin very fast. In the case of SGR 1806-20, it rotates on its axis every 7.5 seconds.

The magnetic fields on neutron stars are enormous, but SGR 1806-20 is in a special category with even larger fields, magnetar. During the event that caused the 27 December 2004 observation, SGR 1806-20 released more energy in 0.1 seconds than the Sun does in 100,000 years. If SGR 1806-20 had been one of our closest neighboring stars, that one event would have killed all higher life forms on Earth. SGR 1806-20 is 50,000 light-years away. The closest magnetar to us is 9,000 light-years away. But that’s an evolutionary thing. If the Earth were close to such an object, advanced life would never have developed here.

Other people torture themselves thinking about terrorism. But I find this kind of stuff far more edifying. The universe is horrible. We really do exist on a particle of dust floating through space. We survive because of dumb luck. But at least it is cool. For example, if you took the entire human population and put them on the surface of a neutron star, they would be squeezed to the size of an aspirin. Where else but science do you learn things like that?