The only investment advice you will ever need

One day when my daughter was about seven, we were watching TV together and an advertisement for a psychic came on. Miss Cleo, the ad claimed, could tell you all about your future. “Can I call?” my daughter begged.

“No,” I told her. “Let them call you.”

She was puzzled. “How would they know… Ah.” She got it. If these psychics were so expert at seeing the future, divining a customer’s phone number should be no difficulty at all. She was very impressed by the solidity of this logic. From then on, whenever the ad would repeat, she would rub her temples and intone, “Call me, call me.” A little girl’s mockery, sweetened with a tiny dose of hope. They never called. Continue reading

The Stone Age Didn’t End Because We Ran Out of Stones.

This article originally appeared on Five Thôt.

“The Stone Age didn’t end because humanity ran out of stones.”

— Ronald Bailey

We used to be afraid of something called Peak Oil. Peak Oil was the idea that oil production had reached its zenith, or would soon, and was poised to plunge; we inevitably faced a drought of the black gunk. In 2007, CNN reported:

The world has reached the point of maximum oil output and production levels will halve by 2030 — a situation that will eventually lead to war and disaster, a report claims.

The physicist Niels Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” Some time has passed and we can see how this particular prediction has panned out. Continue reading

Just another failed startup

This was once Facebook.There have been a zillion start-ups and dot-coms and new-economy companies, so I don’t blame you if you only remember the ones that succeeded. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter you know, of course, and you might even remember some near-misses like Friendster and MySpace. But you probably never heard of Orkut or QQ or Fubar or CherryTap or Cyworld or Daum or the thousands of others of social-networking sites. You’ve heard of Amazon.com, but probably not its less successful competitors Pet.com and Tiger and CD-Now and WebVan. Only fans of business disaster remember them.

There was even a website called Fucked Company, which maintained a gleefully mean-spirited list of start-ups that were dying or dead, for the entertainment of gleefully mean-spirited people like me. In 2007, the website itself went bankrupt, dying in an abrupt and memorable burst of irony.

But only the true connoisseurs of failure remember Keedoozle. Continue reading

You’re Welcome, Part Two: Elections

I try to take comfort Winston Churchill’s claim that “democracy is the worst form of government… except all the others that have been tried,” but sometimes it’s difficult.

Every election year, I start seeing signs, “Vote for Prop C”, “No on Prop 68”, whatever. No argument, certainly no explanation of what the proposition actually is. At best, you would get some wholly generic slogan – “It’s important”, “For your children”, “What San Francisco needs” – that could apply to anything from vaccination to nuclear war. Continue reading

The Pope is wrong, again: usury is not unjust

You have probably heard the expression “papal infallibility”. Roman Catholics believe, or claim to believe or are encouraged to believe, that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra (literally, “from the throne”) on matters of faith and morals, he is “preserved from the possibility of error.”

Wisely, popes don’t like to push their luck and history’s 266 popes have together issued a grand total of only seven statements ex cathedra, most recently in 1950.Lighten up, Francis

Whenever he isn’t speaking ex cathedra, which is most of the time, the Pope has the same privilege of being wrong as the rest of us.

Pope Francis, however, is abusing the privilege. Continue reading