It should come as no surprise that Patri Friedman, son of anarcho-capitalist professor David Friedman, and grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, is a guy who prides himself on having innovative and controversial ideas. The project he's been devoted to for the past year and a half is called the Seasteading Institute, a research center with a mission "to further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous, ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems."

Where did the youngest Friedman get this idea? "I wanted to find other countries that I could possibly settle in," Friedman said. "After researching places that people have ex-patriated to like Costa Rica, I realized that no country is better than the USA. So I looked into the idea of forming new nations. The ocean is the best place to do this, because in the ocean you don't have to fight with others as you would have to on land." The Institute defines seasteading as creating "permanent dwellings on the ocean—homesteading the high seas."

Last year, women maimed by landmines around the world competed for the grand prize of an artificial limb in the Miss Landmine beauty pageant. But this year, the Cambodian government has ordered the organizers of the second annual Miss Landmine pageant "to stop activity immediately in order to keep the honour and dignity of handicapped Cambodians, especially women." 

The pageant's organizer is Norwegian artist/actor/director Morten Traavik. According to Traavik's website, the goals of the project include "female pride and empowerment," "disabled pride and empowerment," and "global and local landmine awareness and information."

Traavik told the Telegraph:
 
"Why this situation comes now and not before two years of good relations, I do not know," said Mr Traavik. "I have requested a meeting with [the social affairs minister Ith Sam Heng] as soon as possible to try to correct the misunderstanding."

Which, to be fair, seems a little disingenuous. I mean, yes, this appears to be a case of someone not understanding (or appreciating) the whole tongue-in-cheek nature of such an event. But presumably, part of the point of the loaded one-two punch of landmines and pageants was to make people a little uncomfortable, so Traavik had to have expected (and perhaps even wanted?) a reaction like this, no?

Hiroshima and Me

As another August 6th approaches, let me tell you a little story about Hiroshima and me:

As a young man, I was probably not completely atypical in having the Bomb (the 1950s was a great time for capitalizing what was important) on my brain, and not just while I was ducking under my school desk as sirens howled their nuclear warnings outside. Like many people my age, I dreamed about the bomb, too. I could, in those nightmares, feel its searing heat, watch a mushroom cloud rise on some distant horizon, or find myself in some devastated landscape I had never come close to experiencing (except perhaps in sci-fi novels).

Of course, my dreams were nothing compared to those of America's top strategists who, in secret National Security Council documents of the early 1950s, descended into the charnel house of future history, imagining life on this planet as an eternal potential holocaust. They wrote in those documents of the possibility that 100 atomic bombs, landing on targets in the United States, might kill or injure 22 million Americans and of an American "blow" that might result in the "complete destruction" of the Soviet Union.

How's this for a "green" idea: A New Mexico inventor has created a fuel made from Mountain Dew.

The GEET (Global Environmental Energy Technology) fuel processor is comprised of about 80 percent pop and 20 percent gas. It's been used in cars, tractors, and lawn mowers, and according to inventor Paul Patone, it generates nil pollution.

Watch how the caffeinated gizmo works below:

Any cool, eco-friendly ideas you've heard about recently? Post in the comments section.

Swimming and Finance

Alex Tabarrok comments on the arms race in swimsuits that's caused world records to topple like dominos over the past couple of years:

High-tech swimming suits [...] are primarily about distribution not efficiency.  A small increase in speed over one's rivals has a large effect on who wins the race but no effect on whether the race is won and only a small effect on how quickly the race is won.  We get too much investment in innovations with big influences on distribution and small (or even negative) improvements in efficiency and not enough investment in innovations that improve efficiency without much influencing distribution.

The phrase I elided in the first sentence was "and trading systems."  Alex is analogizing swimsuits to high-frequency trading, which he suggests is societally wasteful: it's not making stock trading any more efficient, it's just changing who gets the money.  The same is true of much modern financial innovation:

There is good reason to be skeptical about regulation in general but since this product, "financial innovation," is primarily about distribution I'm less worried about regulation in finance than in fields where innovation is more closely tied to efficiency.

High frequency trading is a good example of this.  Taken by itself, it's probably not that big a deal.  In the great scheme of things, the amount of money involved is small and the price paid by ordinary traders is microscopic.  Still, it's a pretty good symbol of what's wrong with the modern finance industry.  Even the CEO of a cigarette company can come up with something good to say about his product, but supporters of HFT mostly come up blank.  They mumble a bit about providing liquidity to the market, but it's obvious that even they don't really believe what they're saying.  In the end, HFT has a gem-like clarity to it: it's an unadulterated example of clever investors figuring out a way to siphon off cash from everyone else by manipulating the system in a way that has no relevance at all to the real world.  It's finance as pure game.

Others have made this point repeatedly and in better ways, but the entire purpose of the finance industry is to oil the gears of the business world.  Nobody objects (much) to Wall Street bankers earning their paychecks from things that do just that: loaning money, helping companies go public, underwriting bond issues, and just generally allocating capital where it can do the most good.  But when those become mere afterthoughts to the real money spinners — CDOs, credit default swaps, option ARMs, HFT, rocket science interest rate plays — all of which are almost completely divorced from providing more efficient services to the outside world, then the outside world starts to wonder what's going on.  As they should.  We need a finance industry that's about half the size it currently is and focused on providing actual financial services to the rest of us.  Until we get it, all we're doing is spending a lot of money on high-tech swimsuits instead of spending money on actually swimming better.

Boy, New Yorker web editor Blake Eskin must be chowing some humble pie right now. In case you were too caught up in last week's beerplomacy to finish the magazine, allow me to explain: Every week, Eskin interviews one of the magazine's mega-watt writers about a project of paramount importance. Then, just three short days after he posted a lengthy interview with Larissa MacFarquhar discussing her article about MatchingDonors.com, a sort of kidney-donor dating site, the feds up and busted one of the biggest organ-buying schemes in history right in the New Yorker's backyard. 

The piece is a look at altruism through the lives of people who become living donors, giving their kidneys away to total strangers. A week ago, we might have called them selfless. Today we'd call them shmucks.

Bonner and Associates claims to be shocked that a wayward temp in their offices sent letters purporting to be from African American and Hispanic groups to lawmakers, asking them to vote against cap and trade. This is odd, because creating the illusion of popular support for or opposition to a bill is what Bonner and Associates does. Below the jump, a few of their greatest hits:

 

Earlier today, I speculated that the "birther" movement is actually helping Obama and that the White House has no interest in further marginalizing the birthers by releasing Obama's "real" birth certificate. Now Marc Ambinder reports that the White House's strategy going forward on health care is along those lines: paint the astroturfed crowds harrassing members of Congress in their districts as crazy people. The danger for the GOP is clear:

The challenge for Republicans is to prevent the media from labeling everyone who attends a meeting with a Democratic lawmaker and who calls him or herself a conservative as a crazy person. Some polling suggests that the percentage of Republicans who don't know whether President Obama was born in the United States is fairly high, although it is hard to say how much of that confusion stems from ignorance or from a generally jaundiced, perhaps racist, view of the President.

That's why Obama doesn't want to do anything to encourage the GOP to distance itself from the birthers. If the Republicans are tied to crazy people, they're all going to start looking a bit crazy, too. Of course, the danger with not standing in the way of the opposition's embrace of crazy people is that those people might one day end up in power.

In reaction to news that UV radiation from tanning beds is just as deadly as arsenic, fake bakers are fleeing salons, reports MSNBC. It's not exactly a scientific finding, but they've at least found a few folks who quit after reading last week's report. My favorite quote:

“I mean, even just the headline,” says Jill Brizzi, who’s 26 and lives in Charlotte, N.C. ‘Tanning beds as deadly as arsenic.’ Like, what? Isn’t that poison?”

And some tweets:

shutup!! omg i've been saying forever that I'm going to stop tanning, but wow now im seriously done! Xoxox

Pretty sure I'm going to cancel my tanning membership. "Beds compared to arsenic" is a little extreme for me!

I guess I am never going tanning again…

 

A lot of print media outlets seem to think that simply putting two journalists in front of a webcam and letting them dish makes for good web video content. That's usually wrong. More often, you get something like this, and then you get made fun of like this: