Have you ever taken a good look at Capitalism Magazine? Ever notice their laissez faire attitude toward their except policy? No? Well, they allow you to take as much as 250 words from an article, as long as you provide a link to the original article. Noticing that loophole, I decided to exploit that policy as much as possible when writing my weekly big post. This means, of course, I sought out Walter E. Williams’s ten part lecture note series, "Economics for the Citizen," so I could piece together something longer than 2500 words really quickly. I ended up borrowing just below the maximum allowable total. Doctor Williams’s text will be italicized. Now, throw in a good quote for added validation:
"As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights. Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions."
-- James Madison, National Gazette essay, March 27, 1792
The first lesson in economic theory is that we live in a world of scarcity. Scarcity is a situation whereby human wants exceed the means to satisfy those wants. Human wants are assumed to be limitless, or at least they don't frequently reveal their bounds. People always want more of something…
Scarcity produces several economic problems: What's to be produced, who's going to get it, how's it to be produced, and when is it to be produced? For example, many Americans, and foreigners, too, would love to have a home or vacation home along the thousand miles of California, Oregon and Washington coastline. Shipping companies would like to use some of it as ports. The U.S. Defense Department would like to use it for military installations. There's simply not enough coastline to meet all the competing wants and uses. That means there's conflict over coastline ownership and its uses.
There are several methods of conflict resolution. First, there's the market mechanism -- let the highest bidder be the one who owns and decides how the land will be used. Then, there's government fiat, where the government dictates who gets to use the land for what purpose. Gifts might be the way where an owner arbitrarily chooses a recipient. Finally, violence is a way to resolve the question of who has the use rights to the coastline -- let people get weapons and physically fight it out.
At this juncture, some might piously say, "Violence is no way to resolve conflict!"
It isn’t the best, Williams, but barring the free market, there are few other realistic ways of solving the problem.
Which is the best method of resolving conflict over what's produced, how and when it's produced, and who's going to get it? Among the methods for doing so were the market mechanism, government fiat, gifts or violence. The answer is that economic theory can't answer normative questions.
Normative questions deal with what is better or worse. No theory can answer normative questions. Try asking a physics teacher which is the better or worse state: a solid, gas, liquid or plasma state. He'll probably look at you as if you're crazy. On the other hand, if you ask your physics teacher which is the cheapest state for pounding a nail into a board, he'd probably answer that the solid state is. It's the same with economic theory, as opposed to economists. That is, if you asked most economists which method of conflict resolution produces the greater overall wealth, they'd probably answer that the market mechanism does.
…The bottom line is that economic theory is "objective" or non-normative and doesn't make value judgments…
The importance of knowing whether a statement is non-normative or normative is that, in the former, there are facts to settle any dispute, but in the latter, there are none. It's just a matter of opinion, and one person's opinion is just as good as another. A good clue to telling whether a statement is normative is whether it contains the words should and ought… (I) tell students that my economic theory course will deal with positive, non-normative economic theory.
I understand you, Williams, but at times, I’ve seen this argument used for defending some shady moral relativists. In other words, I like the sword, but am cautious of how the sword can be misused.
Production is any behavior that creates utility, that is, raises the want-satisfying capacity of something. When a mill smelts iron ore, it raises the want-satisfying capacity of the material by changing its form. The metal's want-satisfying capacity is raised further when it's made into steel and the steel into rails, girders and the like. Production also includes changing the spatial characteristics of a good. Navel oranges have no want-satisfying capacity for Philadelphians if the oranges are in California.
Consumption is simply the reduction of the want-satisfying capacity of something.
The essence of exchange is the transfer of title. Here's the essence of what happens when I buy a gallon of milk from my grocer. I tell him that I hold title to these three dollars and he holds title to the gallon of milk. Then, I offer: If you transfer your title to that gallon of milk, I will transfer title to these three dollars.
Whenever there's voluntary exchange, the only clear conclusion that a third party can make is that both parties, in their opinion, perceived themselves as better off as a result of the exchange; otherwise, they wouldn't have exchanged. I was free to keep my three dollars, and the grocer was free to keep his milk. If you think it's obvious that both parties benefit from voluntary exchange, then how come we hear pronouncements about worker exploitation?
…I must have seen myself as being better off taking your offer than my next best alternative.
Exactly why I disapprove of price floors, Williams. I want to determine what my labor is worth!
Specialization is said to occur when people produce more of a commodity than they consume or plan to consume. Specialization can occur on an individual, regional or national basis. Here are examples of each. Detroit assembly-line workers produce more crankshafts than they consume or plan to consume. Californian citrus growers produce more navel oranges than they consume or plan to consume. Brazilian coffee growers produce more coffee than they consume or plan to consume.
There are two requirements for specialization. There must be an unequal endowment of resources and trade opportunities. The unequal endowment part means that an individual has the skills or a region or nation has the kind of resource endowment of land, labor, capital and entrepreneurial talent whereby it can produce certain things more cheaply than another individual, region or nation.
For example, while it's possible to grow wheat and corn in Japan, it would be an expensive proposition. Why? Because crops like wheat and corn use a lot of land, and Japan is relatively land poor, and its land is expensive. By contrast, the United States is land rich; hence, grain production is relatively cheap. Therefore, it makes sense for the United States to take advantage of what it can do more cheaply -- specialize in grain production -- and for Japan to specialize in what it might produce more cheaply -- say camera lenses.
In order for specialization to occur, there must be trade opportunities. …It's really individual Americans trading with individual Japanese through intermediaries.
I think we approve of globalization for the same reasons, Williams.
To reinforce the idea that price is not the full measure of cost, imagine that you live in St. Louis, Mo. The barber who cuts your hair charges $20. Suppose I told you that a barber in Charleston, S.C., would charge you $5 for an identical haircut. Would you consider the Charleston haircut cheaper? While it has a lower price, it has a much greater cost. You'd have to sacrifice much more in terms of time, travel and other expenses in order to get the Charleston haircut.
People often erroneously think of costs as only material things, but that which is sacrificed when a particular choice is made can include clean air, leisure, morality, tranquility, domestic bliss, safety or any other thing of value. For example, a possible cost of a night out with the boys might be the sacrifice of domestic bliss.
Costs affect our choices in many ways, and for the purposes of this discussion, we're going to assume that all of the costs associated with a given choice are borne by the chooser.
The law of demand can be expressed several ways: The lower the price of something, the more will be taken, and the opposite is true for the higher price. We can also say there exists a price whereby one can be induced to take more or less of something. Finally, there's an inverse (reverse) relationship between the price of a good and the quantity demanded.
Relative price is one price in terms of another price. Here's an example; actually, it's a trick I pull on freshman students. I say, "Suppose your company offered to double your salary if you'd relocate to its Fairbanks, Alaska, office. Would you consider it an good deal and accept the offer?" Some students thoughtlessly answer yes. Then, I ask, "What if upon arrival you find out that rents are more than double what you're paying now and the prices of food, clothing, gasoline and other items are three and four times more expensive?" The end result is that while your absolute salary has doubled, your salary, relative to other prices, has fallen.
A bit trickier example of how it's relative prices, not absolute prices, that influence behavior comes with the observation that married couples with young children who can't be left alone tend to choose more expensive dates than married couples without children. The couple's income and tastes have little to do with their decision; it's relative prices. Keeping the numbers small, say an expensive date, dinner and concert, has a $50 price tag and a cheap date, a movie, $20. The choice of the $50 dinner-and-concert date requires that the married couple without children sacrifice two and a half movies that they could have otherwise enjoyed.
The fact that sellers charge people different prices for what often appear to be similar products is related to a concept known as elasticity of demand, but we won't get bogged down with economic jargon. Think about substitutes. Take the reggae song's advice about not taking a pretty woman as a wife. Pretty women are desired and sought after by many men. An attractive woman has many substitutes for you, and as such, she can place many demands on you. A homely woman has far fewer substitutes for you and cannot easily replace you. Hence, she might be nicer to you, making what economists call "compensating differences."
It's all a matter of substitutes for the good or service in question. Business travelers have less flexibility in their air-travel choices than tourists. Women generally see themselves as having fewer alternatives for emergency auto repairs. A man might have more knowledge about making the repair or be more willing to risk hitchhiking or walking. A prostitute might see a sailor on shore leave as having fewer substitutes for her services than the area's residents. Motorists traveling from city to city are less likely to have information about cheaper choices than local residents.
Politicians seem to ignore the fact that when the price of something changes people respond by seeking cheaper substitutes. New York City raised cigarette taxes, thereby making a pack of cigarettes $7. What happened? A flourishing cigarette black market emerged.
In 1990, when Congress imposed a luxury tax on yachts, private airplanes and expensive automobiles, Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell crowed publicly about how the rich would finally be paying their fair share of taxes. But yacht retailers reported a 77 percent drop in sales, and boat builders laid off an estimated 25,000 workers.
Property rights refer to who has exclusive authority to determine how a resource is used. Property rights are said to be communal when government owns and determines the use of a resource. Property rights are private when it's an individual who owns and has the exclusive right to determine the non-prohibited uses of a resource and receive the benefit there from. Additionally, private-property rights confer upon the owner the right to keep, acquire and sell the property to others on mutually agreeable terms.
Property rights might be well defined or ill defined. They might be cheaply enforceable or costly to enforce. These and other factors play a significant role in the outcomes we observe. Let's look at a few of them.
A homeowner has a greater stake in the house's future value than a renter. Even though he won't be around 50 or 100 years from now, the house's future housing services figure into its current selling price. Thus, homeowners tend to have a greater concern for the care and maintenance of a house than a renter. One of the ways homeowners get renters to share some of the interests of owners is to require security deposits.
It's the miracle of the market and prices that gets the job done so efficiently. What's called the market is simply a collection of millions upon millions of independent decision makers not only in America but around the world. Who or what coordinates the activities all of these people? Rest assuredly it's not a bakery czar.
There are a number of ways to allocate goods and services. They include: first-come-first-served, gifts, violence, dictatorship or lotteries. When the price mechanism performs the allocation function, we realize efficiency gains absent in other methods. The price mechanism serves as a signaling function. Prices rise and fall, reflecting scarcities and surpluses. When prices rise as a result of higher demand, this acts as a signal to suppliers to expand output. They do so because whenever the price exceeds the costs of production, they stand to gain. They ship the goods to those with the highest willingness to pay.
Let's look at just one of the baker's needs -- flour. How does the wheat farmer know whether there's a surge in demand for bakery products? The short answer is that he doesn't. All he knows is that millers are willing to pay higher wheat prices, so he's willing to put more land under cultivation or reduce his wheat inventory. In other words, prices serve the crucial role of conveying information. Moreover, prices minimize the amount of information that any particular player involved in the process of getting flour to the baker needs in order to cooperate.
Here's one that has considerable popular appeal: "It's wrong to profit from the misfortune of others." I ask my students whether they'd support a law against doing so. But I caution them with some examples. An orthopedist profits from your misfortune of having broken your leg skiing. When there's news of a pending ice storm, I doubt whether it saddens the hearts of those in the collision repair business. I also tell my students that I profit from their misfortune -- their ignorance of economic theory.
Then, there's the claim that this or that price is unreasonable. I used to have conversations about this claim with Mrs. Williams early on in our 44-year marriage. She'd return from shopping complaining that stores were charging unreasonable prices. Having aired her complaints, she'd ask me to go out and unload a car trunk loaded with groceries and other items. Having completed the chore, I'd resume our conversation, saying, "Honey, I thought you said the prices were unreasonable. Are you an unreasonable person? Only an unreasonable person would pay unreasonable prices."
The long and short of it is that the conversation never went over well, and we both ceased discussions of reasonable or unreasonable prices. The point is that whatever price a transaction is transacted at represents a meeting of the mind of both buyer and seller. Both viewed themselves as being better off than the next alternative -- not making the transaction. That's not to say that the seller wouldn't have found a higher price more pleasing or the buyer wouldn't have been pleased with a lower price.
How about your parents' admonition that "Whatever's worth doing is worth doing as well as possible"? That's not a wise admonition.
Well, I must say I budgeted my time really well here. Imagine if I’d tried to write all of this! Glad I’m being more frugal with the limited resource we call time! Thanks for writing for me, Dr. Williams!
I forgot that hot-linking code I wrote in that letter would work on Blogger! See how easy it is to spread mallicious code?
I wrote this letter to someone who asked for my opinions on cyberwarfare, and it came out pretty good:
Thanks for giving me so much time, I’ve had a full plate for some time. Yes, all computers comes with an internet protocol address. These addresses are usually made up of four numbers (with each number varying from zero to 255) separated by periods. For example, here mine: 22.214.171.124 (In binary: 11111111.11111111.11111111.00000000)
Please note that this is the address of my router, and not actually my computer. If my router were wireless (I‘d hate to pay for all the Ethernet cable), and I boosted the signal enough, I could place it a considerable distance from myself.
The most common way to counter someone tracking your IP address is to route through a “proxy server.” As the internet grew, a phenomenon of servers scrubbed of IP numbers, or skipping numbers, popped up. These are often used by people most concerned about privacy.
Emails also come with IP numbers written into the header file. Thanks to privacy concerns, major suppliers (like Hotmail) scrub the sender’s address and replace it with their server’s. They do, however, keep them in their logs. In the United States, the government can subpoena the provider for the records, if they have reason to believe a crime was committed, but it is my understanding most will volunteer the information if a federal agent asks.
I simple means of tracking the behavior of a user is to install spy ware.
Spyware tracks the browsing behaviors of users for the purpose of determining what sort of advertisements to through out. Internet Explorer users are showered in these programs from the very moment they go online.
Many people fear that cookies serve as a form of spy ware, but I haven’t witnessed that to be the case. Their purpose is for an individual website to keep a record of your activities on their site. A cookie is what prevents you from repeatedly leaving anonymous reviews on a chapter at Fictionpress. Notice that many users circumvent this.
I should also point out that any server administrator has the tools necessary for monitoring traffic that’s routing through his system. I briefly described this when depicting a Saudi police network in a story of mine.
“Secondly, is it legal for large multinational corporations to maintain
well-armed, well-trained, and well-equipped security force a lá Roger
Gordian's Sword? Or is it even possible?”
Not only is it legal, it has gained a high level of approval in the United States. Blackwater USA, which I mentioned in my story about Sword, actually exists, performing the duties I attributed to them. Their main job is to train paramilitaries or police in operating firearms. They do this on a huge range in Camden County, North Carolina.
But they also function as armed security guards. When he had Roger give that speech about contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, I was referring to a real event. Private Military Contractors (PMCs) are usually paid by the State Department to guard leaders of host nations. For example, last year when President Karzai of Afghanistan was ambushed, one could clearly see members of a PMC in Rayban sunglasses and body armor returning fire with MP-5s.
Addressing your third question, you’re not correct in believing you need to hack into a server to disable a network. That’s because you can effectively disable one (assuming it’s on the world wide web) by stealing its bandwidth. I recall that the first serious worm unleashed on the net, Code Red, infected millions of ordinary personal computers (through a now sealed Internet Explorer exploit) in order to use them all as spam relays aimed at the White House website server. All this traffic aimed down one cable is what makes visiting the site too sluggish. It is a traffic jam, if you will.
You’ll note that sites like file planet are persistently slow on normal days. That’s because they don’t have enough bandwidth for their high density of traffic.
I’m not sure such an attack could be sustained; once people grasp what type of attack is occurring, they’ll work on fixing it. Patches will be distributed, a backup server will come online, infected computers are shutoff, et cetera.
On the other hand, Windows computers are infected by a worm the first twelve minutes its online, and most users out there just don’t seem to learn. Firewalls aren’t used, most people don’t update their virus archives, they still use Internet Explorer or AOL, and they never sweep for spy ware. Most people who are infected, in fact, equate a slowing computer with obsolescence or old age, and replace their machines with newer ones. In a few months, the same cycle repeats.
The point is that a truly malicious worm will continuously find new computers to convert into zombie warriors against a pipeline.
And that’s the more difficult way to choke off bandwidth. I simpler way would be to repeatedly hotlink images from someone’s server. If the programmers were lazy enough to overlook adding code for prohibiting hot linking of images on their website, an attacker could set up countless free sites on the web, repeatedly writing an instruction like this:
This will suck up bandwidth necessary for moving a picture. On a government site, it could be a large .pdf file, preferably an illustrated one. Or a flash player presentation.
A third method of disabling a sever without directly hacking it is of course a physical attack. Bullets will break mainframes, and remember, private sector ones aren’t properly protected against a determined assault. Security guards are suited best for preventing people from sneaking in and accessing the computer terminals.
Okay, FINALLY, if the other options are exhausted, one should consider hacking the machine. You recall I outlined port scanning in a story. This isn’t really a difficult process. There are legitimate reasons for scanning ports, so buying the software should be easy. Without going into details (though I can, you know), you do this to determine which port is “open,” accepting incoming data. All computers on the internet have ports accepting incoming packets of information, where all those bugs are floating. Surfing the internet is sort of like taking part in an orgy in an aids clinic. Bad packets get transmitted, and an immunodeficiency disorder ensues. The trick is transmitting malicious packets of information a firewall won’t disrupt. It always has to be novel, because if it isn’t, the servers constantly-updated library of known malicious code will recognize it, and the firewall will get in the way.
That’s how you plant the seed. As for a killer payload, computers are highly complex instruments, so there are countless combinations of code that will cause operations to breakdown.
Now here’s why I’m contemptuous of what I call “the myth of the super hacker;” most failed programs cause problems. Anyone that’s taken a tutorial in C++ has built a problematic program that’s caused hang-ups in a computer. Skilled programmers will spend countless hours debugging their programs so they can run in different systems without breaking anything. The unskilled ones are those who continually build the Frankenstein monsters.
A virus-writer, at his minimum, simply makes a trainload of these faulty machines, gives them a self-replicating function, and ships them out. It is contemptuous and darned easy to throw a wrench in a gearbox, and that’s all it is. Most nest into the Win32 folder, where many of the critical wheels turn, where some mischief can be made.
It annoys me to no end that these programmer school rejects are hailed as geniuses.
The fourth question. Yes, if a considerably strong outbreak of avian flu or SARs broke out (both of which have happened before), you can be sure the World Health Organization and possibly the American CDC and the international Doctors Without Borders organization will all be allowed to fly in. China’s taken to capitalism now, and is open enough to accept outside help. Especially after they learned their lesson about hiding the SARs outbreak from the rest of the world. I think they’re open to assistance.
I’m not sure they’d pay attention to the make of the helicopter. The US Army is prone to use any model of utility helicopter for humanitarian missions, I distinctly remember a Pave Low used to assist a flood village in… was it Tanzania? Also, air traffic is extremely heaving around Hong Kong, air traffic controllers are stretched pretty far at peak hours, and a controller could seriously lose face with his pears if he allows a humanitarian helicopter to crash in the sea.
As to your final question, I can’t answer it definitively, but the command structure of the People's Liberation Army is structured more vertically than in a structure like the United States. The politburo controls the military, schedules training exercises, directs diplomacy, and holds the ultimate authority. The registry of members for their military commission and political counsel, in fact, have the same members!
China is also heavily involved in world trade now, and that means improving the country’s image to investors. It sounds strange for men indoctrinated to serve a Marxist ideal can be in practice so preoccupied with capitalistic concerns, but that’s the reality today. A commander wouldn’t doubtlessly dispatch a flight element from his regiment to intimidate the attacker, but wouldn’t risk firing an infrared missile. An auto cannon shot is possible, if the aviator were convinced he was doing the right thing.
I’m not so sure the past is a proper guide for the future, but the PLA have shot down recon flights before. Orion and SR-71 pilots can tell you of bellicose interference conducted against their missions from time to time. Plus there a ramming accidents.
I’ll be pleased to clarify on any of my points.
I know many of you are upset that the OpEd columns are the NYT are no longer free, so I’ve taken the liberty of writing a counterfeit Thomas L Friedman column, to sate your appetite. In case you’re wondering, I did use a basic template (but not a generator) for making it. Michael Ward deserves credit.
By Typewriter King
Last week's events in Afghanistan were truly historic, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What's important, however, is that we focus on what these events mean to the citizens themselves. The media seems too caught up in spinning the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the battle for the bullets.
When thinking about the recent turmoil, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like billiard balls, so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. Billiard balls never suddenly shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs. Two, Afghanistan has spent decades torn by civil war and ethnic hatred, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea.
When I was in Afghanistan last August, I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Afghanistan have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Afghanistan are just like people anywhere else on this great globe of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in Afghanistan? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of to Afghanistan doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so strewn with obstacles that Afghanistan will have to move down it very slowly.
Speaking with a local farmer on the last day of my recent visit, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, a well-known phrase in that region, which is a local saying that means roughly, "That tea is sweetest whose herbs have dried longest.”
I don't know what Afghanistan will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.
From the Scotsman: "A SHY pastor's daughter from the ex-communist east, Angela Merkel will crown an unlikely rise to the pinnacle of German politics on Sunday if she becomes the nation's first female chancellor. Few would have predicted the unassuming former scientist would make it this far, but a clever analytical mind and a cold readiness to sideline rivals has vaulted her to the top of her male-dominated party and positioned her to become Germany's eighth postwar leader. Merkel was born in the western port city of Hamburg on July 17, 1954 but moved with her family to East Germany when just a baby. A bookworm who guards her privacy fiercely and has only recently begun looking comfortable in the media spotlight, Merkel is married to a Berlin chemistry professor and has no children." I don't expect her to win the majority she expects, unless the German people decide that Schroder's demogogary of America isn't a solution to the problems facing Germany. The PM, however, has decided to stick with it.
"You only need to look to America to see what poverty in old age is." With quotes like that, it is evident that he's clueless. His "social paradise" currently has an unemployment rate approaching twelve percent, hardly something to gloat over. Our's, by the way, is 4.9 percent. I think Germans may actually realize this, but maybe not. I know of Americans that actually believe Canada's far superior to the USA in every measurable way. I don't know what accounts for this, but they also insist speach is better protected in the UK.
From the Scotsman:
"A SHY pastor's daughter from the ex-communist east, Angela Merkel will crown an unlikely rise to the pinnacle of German politics on Sunday if she becomes the nation's first female chancellor.
Few would have predicted the unassuming former scientist would make it this far, but a clever analytical mind and a cold readiness to sideline rivals has vaulted her to the top of her male-dominated party and positioned her to become Germany's eighth postwar leader.
Merkel was born in the western port city of Hamburg on July 17, 1954 but moved with her family to East Germany when just a baby.
A bookworm who guards her privacy fiercely and has only recently begun looking comfortable in the media spotlight, Merkel is married to a Berlin chemistry professor and has no children."
I don't expect her to win the majority she expects, unless the German people decide that Schroder's demogogary of America isn't a solution to the problems facing Germany. The PM, however, has decided to stick with it.
My blogging has grown a little more personal of late, so I've been posting in this journal right here.
I'll spare the newsies that stuff, but there have been a few post that may be of some interest to you, like the Katrina post, and maybe this civil liberties post. There may or may not be more in the next few days.
On some occasions, the hubris of the modern intellectual serves to obfuscate simple truths long known by different classes. One group of man, scholars from antiquity, followed closely many of the scholarly tenants that modern researchers practice. Science is an imperfect process in constant need of refinement; Euclid's fudged math needed modern tinkering, but there have been cases of new ideas popularly trumping the old simply for the virtue of being newer.
In logic, this is a fallacy called an argumentum ad novitatem, an appeal to novelty, and has crept into science on occasion. Perhaps the root cause is a casual understanding of natural selection. Many see Darwinism deterministically, that mankind is on an evolutionary path toward utopia. The result is often a bias against any orthodoxy held for a considerable length of time. Because of this institutionalized fallacy that man is deterministically on a linear climb toward utopia, new ideas aren’t always put through the proper rigors of the scientific discipline before supplanting established concepts.
One prominent example is Adolphe Paul Oppe’s “debunking” of the traditional explanation for the Delphic Pythia’s psychosis.
Surviving first-hand accounts of the Oracle of Delphi are plenty. The most extensive ancient recording of events from the temple came from Plutarch, the most respected biographer of his age. The biographer recorded the presence of a sweet vapor rising as in the air or in the water. Pliny, Diodorus, Plato, Cicero, and Strabo all recorded similar events. As time progressed, scholars consistently noted that the gases were fading to a trickle.
Then, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the Englishman Adolphe Paul Oppe, visiting a French excavation site at Delphi, found no evidence that a chasm for releasing gases existed below the Temple of Apollo, nor did he find any emitted gases. He chose to make some bold statements in refuting over two-thousand years of convention. First, he made the broad statement that no chasm had ever existed beneath the temple, and no gases could have ever been emitted from the site.
Aided with hindsight, perhaps one should judge Oppe so harshly. After all, scientists of the time had ample reason to believe the Earth was a static place. Geography didn’t seem to move that much in the Mediterranean, after all. Ancient cities still stood, and Alfred Wegener wouldn’t popularize the theory of continental drift until 1915. On the other hand, two years after Oppe wrote his article, Mount Pelee, situated on the Caribbean island of Martinique, completely obliterated the coastal city of St Pierre. The Earth was very much active in changing its landscape in Oppe’s time.
Oppe also claimed that no gases existed that could cause the symptoms listed by Plutarch. Again, at the dawn of the twentieth century, coming to such a conclusion seemed reasonable. The pharmaceutical industry as we now know it was in a it’s nascent stage.
Finally, Oppe pointed out a seeming contradiction in Plutarch’s depiction of events. Yes, Plutarch did indeed narrate an account that deviated from the norm. However, this and other discrepancies can now be accounted for.
The return from fallacy started in the 1980s, when the United Nations dispatched a survey team to map fault lines in Greece. Jelle De Boer mapped fault lines to the East and West of the temple. It turns out that the Kerna Fault and the Delphi Fault intersect beneath the Oracle Chamber, where a drain for a water spring rests. The research team De Boer put together discovered a limestone layer filled with spring water. The layer produced different petrochemicals. They were methane and ethane.
They then took water samples from inside the temple, and discovered a mixture of methane, ethane, and ethylene. The last of which had the odor described by Plutarch. In researching the possibility that ethylene could account for the trance states of the temple’s seer, the team found the papers of Isabella Herb, who had conducted ethylene experiments on subjects. Her reports read like Plutarch’s. Given a low mixture, subjects babbled in trances. She had also witnessed that discrepancy mentioned earlier. Plutarch wrote of one Pythia going into derangement after inhaling the gas, flailing about until collapsing and dying. Herb recalled a similar incident, where a subject had rampaged until suffocating on his own vomit. The ancient accounts appeared to comport with scientific findings. Adolphe Paul Oppe, one can conclude, has been debunked.
I think Mrs. Malkin is losing her information war. When I last checked her post on Kanye West, practically all of the information she linked to had been altered. She updated to report she'd inadvertantly subjected her readers to a pornographic video, rather than her intended target. Her 'Crooks and Liars' link had also been boogered.
Amusing. At this point, all bloggers have witnessed site owners altering their site's material (which ire their rights as property-owners), often over bandwidth theft; or just to screw around with someone of an opposing ideology.
In my huble opinion, the best case of this blogosphere war spoofing was the left's use of the "Google Bomb." Just type miserable failure into Google, click the "I feel lucky" button, and so what I mean. The right quickly caught on, so Michael Moore comes up second in a "miserable failure" search.
Darn, last month I thought I'd invented the Google Bomb. Don't ask (wink). You've never heard of him.
My complete profile page
Blogroll of Truth