“Ending The War”
February 28, 2009, 3:02 am
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Matthew Yglesias characteristically responds to Obama’s announcement (i.e. words) that he’s going to order the re-stationing of a majority of troops currently stationed in Iraq by referring to it as a move “…to End the War in Iraq”.

You see, by the logic we’ve all become inured to these past five years, having U.S. troops stationed somewhere is automatically and forever a “war”. We have U.S. troops stationed in Iraq (doing…? um, what exactly? doesn’t matter!) so that gets called “the war in Iraq” or even more amusingly “The Iraq War”. One can only assume that if we have a contingent of troops stationed in Iraq 30 years from now, they will still call that “The Iraq War” and walk around thinking that something called “The Iraq War” is still taking place.

But now, after some future point in time, Obama plans to reduce the number of troops we have stationed in Iraq. (Something which was going to happen anyway, incidentally.) Amusingly, this gets called – by thinkers like Matthew Yglesias – “ending the war in Iraq”. Troops somewhere? War. Stationing (most of) those troops somewhere else? “Ending the war”.

Annoyingly, this is how some people actually think.

It’s worth adding that most such people are the same people who, 2-3 years ago, were insisting that Iraq was “mired” in an intractable “civil war”. Even back then it was clear that they were not connecting the dots of their own logic (if it’s a civil war, how will removing our troops “end” it?). But the reality is that they’ve forgotten they ever said that altogether. Like everything else these people say, it was just an argument they found it convenient to put forth to try to get what they wanted.

Global Warming: The Questions
February 27, 2009, 4:56 am
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“Global Warming” means a lot of things to a lot of people. Mostly oversimplified things to simple people.

It is also complicated by ideology to the point that the debate isn’t even honest. It is not uncommon to hear a GW advocate say something like “but even if the theory is wrong, we should still [limit CO2, whatever], because of [some supposed vague social benefit involving 'equality' or somesuch nonsense]“. People who say this type of thing are admitting they don’t actually care about the scientific debate at all, not really. After all, they’d support limiting CO2 if there were no such thing as global warming and nobody had ever put the theory forth in the first place – they just said so themselves!

But anyway, the issue is important (or could be), and here is a framework for how the issue could be usefully addressed, if it had not been cartoonized and co-opted by creepy ideologues like Al Gore:

  1. Q: Has the earth been getting warmer recently, on average? Scientists say yes. Or, at least, we are told that scientists say yes, and I have seen certain temperature timeseries that seem to indicate yes. There are some subtleties here that shouldn’t be glossed over so quickly though. First of all the idea that we know how warm “the earth” has been at any point in time – where does that come from? How warm was some point out the middle of the Pacific Ocean in 1873? You. do. not. know. Nobody knows. (The Pacific Ocean is fricking HUGE. Ever seen it?) We have temperature records in some places: cities, shipping routes, etc. But the Earth is HUGE and those “some places” do not even come close to covering it. In some places there are also true scientific means (ice core samples, satellite measurements of radiative intensity, etc) of backing out what the temperature probably (if certain theories/assumptions/models hold up) must’ve been at this or that time. This can help. Then scientists basically average/interpolate all their findings together and fill in the gaps somehow. But there are a lot of gaps. Are they filling in the gaps in a reasonably way? (And what is “average” temperature anyway? L1-norm? What?) But ok, it seems reasonably clear that they’re getting the direction right. My answer: Yeah, if they say so, sure.
  2. Q: Have humans caused this? This is an interesting debate to observe. Pro-GW folks say yes. “Skeptics” say no. My answer: Doesn’t matter! Think about it. If GW is bad, doesn’t matter whether we’ve “caused” it or whether it was 100% “natural”. Either way, it’s bad and we should try to do something if we can. Right?
  3. Q: What will the future weather be like if we keep things status quo? Al Gore seems to think that climate modellers know the answer to that: it will get much much warmer. Personally, unlike Al Gore, I have worked on climate models. These models do not impress me as being all that more sophisticated than the models used to create cartoon oceans for Pixar cartoons. In fact, they are basically the same models. Which is to say they can get pretty good, state-of-the-art, and make nice cartoons, but I am not certain they don’t leave out or can deal with potentially important effects (cloud formation, cosmic rays); they use bootstrapped ad hoc rules of thumb for other important effects (turbulence); they make simplifications (coarse grid-size, shallow-water approximations). In my judgment such models are not appropriate bases for significant mass action/public policy. My answer: Probably a bit warmer, based on current trends, for a while. We don’t really know in any reasonable detail, with any certainty.
  4. Q: Will this future weather be bad? Not so obvious. All weather is “bad” at some times, for some people. (And by the way, the important thing is how things are for people. It’s people that matter, not “the Earth” per se. Let’s keep that straight.) Even if the weather were ideal by whatever criteria Al Gore uses, wouldn’t there still be the occasional hurricane, flood, fire? No? Of course there would. So the real questions become: given this or that future-path of weather, how bad (or good) is it, for how many (or, for which) people? One could imagine trying to come up with a “cost” function for each possible future weather-path, for each person, and then add up the “cost” to each person of such-and-such weather type. Compare the “cost” of this weather-path to that and then you have a basis for calling one “bad” compared to the other. But constructing the “cost” in the first place is the sticky wicket because it would involve choices. Let’s say that weather path X is good for people in Alaska but bad for people in Florida. Who’s more important? Are they “equal”? But Florida has more people? But maybe they’ll be less affected on average? And how do you compare one badness to another? Weather X causes increased malaria in Somalia, weather Y causes increased pneumonia in Siberia – what’s more costly, how do you attach a relative “cost” to the two? Here’s the problem: once you start down this road (and you have to!) you are no longer being scientific. You are being political. This has become an inherently political question now. You can ignore the political ramifications of this question but that just means you’re answering this question haphazardly and sweeping the political ramifications under the rug (and then coming up with a solution where a political choice has implicitly been made but not acknowledged). My answer: I really don’t know, on balance. I would guess net-flat: the “cost” of the future weather path will not be measurably worse than current weather conditions we have seen the past 100-300 years.
  5. What can we theoretically do to alter the future weather? It’s ridiculous that I need to point this question out. To hear Al Gore talk, “we” can just change the future weather at will, like turning a dial on a thermostat. Just reduce CO2 emissions. That will change the future weather significantly! It’s just that easy. In reality, I’m not so sure. Even if the earth has gotten warmer, and even if it’s been due to CO2 emissions, what makes us think that reducing CO2 emissions by any feasible amount can significantly cool it? What if it just doesn’t work like that? What if there’s a feedback effect occurring now? The question here needs to be answered before we do anything at all. Yet everyone assumes the question away. My answer: I don’t know. I gather that models where the amount of CO2 is used and varied as a “forcing” term give people the idea that we know what these sensitivites are and they are material. But as I said, I do not have a lot of faith in those models. I doubt we can affect future weather a whole lot at present.
  6. What can we feasibly do to alter the future weather? This is a different question than the previous because even if there is something we could theoretically imagine doing that would scientifically have the effect of improving future weather, it may not be feasible to get it done in practice. It may not be feasible politically. It may lead to unintended consequences that have the effect of negating the action. For example I do believe that we, plus Europe could set up a cap-and-trade carbon emissions system. However, this would not necessarily actually reduce global CO2 emissions. One problem is that China, India, and Russia would not sign on. Or, if they would sign on, they would cheat and collect a bunch of $moola from us (which is what I believe the current European system amounts to – Eastern Europe swindling naive Western Europe out of dough). Or, they would collect the dough, and use the emission credits to attract Western companies to relocate their plants – which just relocates emissions, not reduces them. None of these things are actually methods of or would have the effect of reducing carbon emissions in practice. So, even though “reduce carbon emissions” may be a theoretical solution to something, it may not actually be feasible, in practice, to get human society to actually do it (short of perhaps nuking everybody through intentional global genocide – although that too probably isn’t feasible, let’s hope). My answer: Probably nada. Whatever we try that is anything like an emissions-reduction will just amount to shooting ourselves in the foot and being taken advantage of by Russia and China and the like.
  7. At what cost? But ok let’s say (a) the future weather will be net-bad, and (b) we have the power to alter it (both theoretically and feasibly). How much will it cost us to do so? This is important because the whole point here (I thought) was to avert the “cost” (see point 4.) of the future weather. If that cost is $X trillion but we spend $2X trillion to prevent it, then sorry but what’s the freaking point? And couldn’t it possibly be cheaper to just address the symptoms as they come? What gives anyone the idea that “change the weather” is a more cost-effective thing to do than, say, “build floodgates in lowland areas”? Maybe it is, but you can’t know that without knowing the cost of your GW solution at all. So the cost of any proposed global-warming solution has to be taken into account for me to take the argument seriously. Of course, most GW advocates don’t even bother trying. The closest some of them come is to try to pretend that we should use a discount rate (for the “cost” associated with future weather-paths) of 0, which is arrant nonsense and is really just a way of avoiding the cost-benefit question by trying to load the equation so that they can pretend that the “cost” of future GW weather is INFINITE. (If the “cost” of something is INFINITE then you don’t even have to do cost-benefit analysis, because it’s worth trying to prevent at all costs….). But in the real world, nobody uses a zero discount rate. (If you think you do or claim you do, give me $1,000,000. I’ll just promise to have my great great grandkid pay yours $1,000,000, and we’ll be square.) My answer: Probably large, and underestimated by most, with unintended consequences for society and government.

The above questions, at minimum, need to be answered by anyone who wants to seriously make a case for mass action when it comes to global warming. The answers need to be along these lines: Yes, future weather will be bad (compared to now) based on status quo. Yes, there is something we can do, that is feasible. And its cost will be less than the cost of doing nothing.

Anyone who can support those definitive answers to my above questions will convince me of the need to take action on global warming. As things stand, my answers are equivocal and do not add up to a convincing case for mass action at this time. Perhaps some of my answers are wrong. Perhaps I could be convinced of that.

The problem is, given the current state of the science, anyone who thinks they can give definitive answers to all of the above questions is a freaking liar and/or craven ideologue, and not worth my time. And yes I’m looking at you Al Gore.

“This Is A Student Free Zone”
February 25, 2009, 3:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Truer words were never spoken. I’ll give him that.

HT: Volokh

Smelt It
February 25, 2009, 3:03 am
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I was quite amazed by the hubbub made about the chimp cartoon last week. I keep going it over and over in my head, and any way you slice it, it still seems to boil down to:

1. Someone drew an editorial cartoon featuring a chimp.

2. A bunch of stellar minds saw the chimp and thought of President Obama.

3. And then cried: “that’s racist!”.

Read 2. again. And then go ahead and read 3. again.

I don’t know about you, but seeing an editorial cartoon featuring a chimp does not and did not make me think of President Obama. It made me think of that chimp who went nuts in Stamford. And you know why? BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THE F**KING CARTOON WAS REFERRING TO.

What sort of obtuseness and lack of self-awareness does it take to cry “racist” because you saw a chimp in a cartoon and you thought of President Obama?

Just like with the controversy when Arnold Kling used the word thugs, this sort of thing says far more about those doing the complaining and (mis)interpreting than about the supposedly offensive act. I think it’s high time we take heed the old tried-and-true adage,

“He who smelt it, dealt it.”

February 24, 2009, 3:43 am
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Work-starred = starred at work, for the uninitiated.

  1. Mario Rizzo has a great article explaining that all these “Keynesians”, who think Keynesianism supports the Obama ‘stimulus’ approach, don’t actually seem to have read or understood Keynes. Not altogether surprising now that I think about it.
  2. The Anti-Bono: A foxy African economist explains why “aid” to Africa sucks. Here’s a taste:

    What do you think has held back Africans?
    I believe it’s largely aid.

    I love it. :-) At least go look at the picture.

    (HT corner Derb)

  3. Some people actually think grades should be based on “effort”. The mind boggles. I had to read the following part twice to make sure I was reading what I thought I was reading, and I still can’t quite believe that any halfway intelligent person holds this view:

    “I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

    “If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.

  4. Important issue: the differences between Isla Fisher and Amy Adams. I once watched a whole movie starring Isla Fisher (Definitely, Maybe) thinking it was Amy Adams, the girl from Enchanted.
  5. Cobb actually made me laugh at work, which is worth bonus points:

    I have yet to see any comment on any blog noticing how ridiculous it is that there are commercials on television featuring talking babies that buy and trade securities. Think about it. How stupid are we? That stupid. My hat’s off to the marketing geniuses at ETrade. You are selling snow to eskimoes, no, you are selling salt and pepper to the grigoes in the cannibal stew pot. What a country! PT Barnum would be proud.

February 24, 2009, 2:39 am
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I was on the subway reading a book and listening to my iPod. When we got to my station, it was time for me to pack up for the walk home. So, without thinking much, while keeping my book open I switched off/packed up my iPod and started to put it in my bag….

Wait, huh? That doesn’t work. It’s the other way around of course.

What Happened To “The Multiplier”?
February 22, 2009, 3:31 pm
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Yahoo news seems to have made itself into a useful conduit for administration trial balloons and spin. Here’s a top story now: Obama plans to slash deficit in half.

Hold on. What? Cut the deficit?


I thought we were all Keynesians now! I thought it had been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Keynes was in fact correct in his ultrascientific macroeconomic theories, rather than wrong and antiquated and steeped in 1930s-1950s thinking that served Britain oh so well in its socialism.


After all, as we all now agree, there’s such a thing as a “multiplier”! (And it’s not a phony oversimplification at all.) And this multiplier has been tested and measured and it’s greater than one. Always. In English this means that the more money the government spends, the richer we all get. Which is one of the most scientific concepts I’ve ever heard of! (Because Keynesianism is, as I’ve said and wish to reiterate without any sarcasm whatsoever, totally scientific.)

But so then if the “multiplier” is bigger than 1, why would we ever want to reduce the deficit? Deficits are great. The bigger the deficit, the more money the government is spending (which is good!) relative to revenues. Reducing the deficit is bad according to Keynesianism.

That’s what we all supposedly now believe, because it was supposedly proven in September of last year, when the crisis spiked, conveniently right before the election!

What gives?

Ok, let me just read the article….oh wait, what’s this?:

The official … said the deficit will be shrunk by scaling back Iraq war spending, ending the temporary tax breaks enacted by the Bush administration for those making $250,000 or more a year, and streamlining government.

Oh. Oh I see. Oh yes I get it now.

Here’s another way this article could have been headlined:

“Obama plans to scale back Iraq war funding.” (But why? What about the “multiplier”? Spend spend spend, the more the better. Spending on the Iraq war = jobs for munitions factory workers and the like. Right?)

Or: “Obama plans to raise taxes on the high tax bracket.”

Or: “Obama plans to ‘streamline government'”, except “streamlining government” is a bogusly vague concept they tossed in there that doesn’t really mean anything.

Anyway, all this really proves is that – just as nobody really cares about “the deficit” when they find spending they like – it also seems that none of these newly-spun Keynesians really believe in “the multiplier” when they find spending they don’t.

P.S. Notice how once again we are treated to the “words=deeds” thinking of the Obama administration. A whole news story gets spun out of the (meaningless) fact that Obama “plans to” cut the deficit in half. Will he actually do it, in practice? Does anyone really believe that? Doesn’t matter! He “plans to”. Good enough for me.

Or at least, for most people.

The Cynic Reigns
February 22, 2009, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A lead story on Yahoo a couple days ago was Obama nixes plan to tax motorists on mileage. This set off a Weirdo-Alarm in my head.

What “plan”? There was such a “plan”? Who put forth this “plan”? Oh yes, I remember:

President Barack Obama on Friday rejected his transportation secretary’s suggestion that

In other words, the Obama Administration put forth this “plan” (such as it was). But never fear, Obama “nixed” it!

You know, if I were a cynic, I’d figure that this was a trial balloon sent up to gauge peoples’ views about a mileage-tax. Obama had his transportation secretary “suggest” the idea (in some interview). See how people react. If there is grumbling, Obama can always “nix” it – and look like he’s anti-tax. In reality his actual plan is just to crank up the gasoline tax anyway. Right? Well, this way at least Obama’s on the record “nixing” a far more regressive, onerous tax.

“You can’t say Obama always raises taxes! Remember when he nixed the mileage tax?”

That’s what the cynic in me would think was going on here. Of course, lately, the cynic in me reigns.

Worst of Both: President Obama, One Month In
February 20, 2009, 11:35 pm
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It occurred to me today that based on what we’ve seen from President Obama so far, he is combining the worst elements of his two Presidential predecessors, Presidents Clinton and Bush.

From Clinton he seems to have inherited the vacuousness of image-control-as-policy. Obama’s administration, like Clinton’s before him, is an administration in endless campaign mode. Policy is PR. Press conferences and public appearances before a friendly, cheering audience look exactly the same (and sometimes they are, perhaps? I can’t tell). This gives all his decisions and actions, even the really important and weighty ones, the fluffy and substanceless vibe of a TV infomercial, not really real or worth paying attention to (even when they should be).

From Bush (particularly second-term Bush) he seems to have inherited the inability to govern as an executive, to choose personnel wisely, to follow through on words to ensure they translate into desired policy. To President Obama (as was too often the case with Bush), and unfortunately to his followers and the media, his word is deed – he “said” it therefore he did it (even when he didn’t, and won’t, or will do something different from what he said). This gives him good-sounding quotes and soundbites all the time and makes people approve of him, but when the rubber hits the road, other people are left to pick up the fumbled policy and run with it, beyond his control. Unless he’s just always lying about his intentions. (cf. recent statements on “Fairness Doctrine”)

Reading over the above, this combination strikes me as especially disastrous. Vacuity and PR obsession is one thing. Inability to control bureaucrats and make wisely pragmatic win-win compromises another. But in tandem they suggest that nothing President Obama says is going to be worth paying attention to: literally, nothing he says means anything whatsoever either way. You have to watch what he, or to be more precise, what the government does.

If this continues, we will have a total disconnect between image/reputation, and actual effect. Between words and actions. It will be as if instead of being the President, Obama is a sort of genial spokesman for some really likable, but fictional President – and meanwhile, the actual Administration (perhaps in secret accordance with President Obama’s secret commands, but perhaps not – who knows?) will carry on, engage in actual, meaningful, good or bad actions that have almost nothing necessarily to do with what Obama says. But because he is popular (as the fictional President-spokesman), and most people don’t really pay much attention to the government’s actual actions, he’ll get easily re-elected.

In short, I judge President Obama’s performance disappointingly poor thus far. And I judge him even more likely to be a two-termer than I did a month ago.

My 25 Most Played
February 20, 2009, 2:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

One thing that’s become clear with my iPod listening habits is that the age of the mp3 ruins a big chunk of the listening experience. When I listen to an album I have a lot more…. let’s say, patience.

Here’s how I enjoy a good album: I’ll listen to the filler songs. The filler songs are part of the experience. And they make the Great Songs better. And the order is important. One song will end and I’ll know which song comes next and I’ll get excited. The next song’s beginning feels like a continuation of the previous. The previous song would be incomplete if it weren’t followed by the next song. Indeed if I hear a song on the radio that’s from an album I own, when it ends I feel disoriented because the Next Song doesn’t come. Or, when I listen to a song from a “Greatest Hits” album, it feels really messed up because the “wrong” song comes next.

I’m a fan of the Album.

The mp3 has not only destroyed the entire Album experience but it’s even changed my taste as well. Songs that ordinarily I’d enjoy as part of the album, I end up skipping on the iPod. I skip a lot of songs. It’s almost like I don’t actually like most songs except as part of this or that album. So what do I end up listening to? The songs I stick with, and don’t skip, tend to be extra something. Extra hooky, extra fast, extra heavy, extra catchy.

If it doesn’t have that extra-something, I just skip it. Impatient.

Maybe it’s because I mostly listen to the iPod when walking somewhere, moving, commuting. It’s not a “sit at home and put music on in the background” type of thing. In any event here’s what the iPod says are my top 10 most-listened (according to a comment I found somewhere, iPods count the # listens by how many times you got to the end of the song, so if you listen to 90% of the song and then skip, it doesn’t count. So these numbers are somewhat flawed, but good enough).

I’ve added lyrics if they’re cool, videos if I can find ‘em.

Obviously I really like Sloan, it seems. The Sloan songs below come from about 3 different albums. But there are many, many albums I have on my iPod that aren’t represented below.

I guess I skip all their songs.

1. “Now That You Are Gone”, by The Mr. T Experience

I shifted gears
I faced my fears
I cried some tears
I did a lot of heroin
it took so long
but now I’m moving on
now that you are gone

2. “I’m Not A Kid Anymore”, Sloan

3. “I Love A Long Goodbye”, Sloan

4. “HFXNSHC”, Sloan

homemade video:

5. “Dreaming Of You”, Sloan

6. “An Idea For A Movie”, The Vandals

homemade video:

7. “I’m A Dick”, The Muffs

8. “Up-A-Ways”, Tim Rogers and the Twin Set

9. “She All Right”, Dr. Frank

She can pick a pony she can shake and bake a chicken leg
she’s, like, smoking and sitting on a powder keg
so I’m out standing in the fog
calling for her cat while I’m walking her dog
peel her bark, feel her bite
she my baby, she all right

10. “I’m In Love With What’s-Her-Name”, Dr. Frank

Each day and night I thank the lord above
for sending me a what’s-her-name to love
and what’s-her-name can’t get enough
when we do those things
and especially when we do that stuff

11. “Mess Around”, Redd Kross


12. “Teen Competition”, Redd Kross

13. “Kiss The Goat”, Redd Kross

14. “Right Or Wrong”, Sloan

15. “Set In Motion”, Sloan

16. “Correspondence”, Tim Rogers

17. “Things Gonna Get Ugly”, Tim Rogers

18. “James the Second”, Tim Rogers

19. “Fucked-Up Girl”, The Vandals

20. “Carmelita”, Warren Zevon

Well, I’m sittin’ here playing solitaire
With my pearl-handled deck
The county won’t give me no more methadone
And they cut off your welfare check

Carmelita hold me tighter
I think I’m sinking down
And I’m all strung out on heroin
On the outskirts of town

21. “Tapin’ Up My Heart”, The Mr. T Experience

What we have is difficult to explain
it’s equal parts of boredom joy and pain
it’s delicate like an angel’s wings
based on trust and a couple of other things

22. “Crush Me”, The Muffs

23. “Honeymoon”, The Muffs

24. “Pretty Please Me”, Redd Kross

25. “You Lied Again”, Redd Kross

February 19, 2009, 1:41 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Cool thing, from Dan Meth:

The striking thing is that I’m in substantive agreement with most of these. Usually we focus on disagreements here, in this place, this On-Line. What I like about this graphic is that I think that most people would basically agree with the majority of rankings, or at least the relative rankings.

Here are my minor exceptions (but again, I want to emphasize that I’m mostly in agreement, and how cool that is):

  • Indy 3 should be a smidge better than Indy 2
  • Matrix 2 not that bad…more like, 60% as enjoyable as 1? then a big dropoff to 3.
  • I find Alien 3 to be underrated by most people. (Obviously not as good as 1 or 2, but interesting.)
  • Some missing trilogies & my ratings on % scale 0-100: Bourne (80, 90, 40), Ocean’s (80, 90, 50), “Tricoleur” Red/White/Blue trilogy of Kryszlowszkzzi (sp?): (70, 90, 70), Transporter: (80, 80, not seen).

Observations on Blogs and Comments
February 18, 2009, 3:22 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Some phenomena I’ve noticed when commenting on other blogs, engaging people with whom I have substantive disagreements.

  1. Handle-Overreaction Psychosis. For some reason, a strong and vocal minority seems to get really hot and bothered over the handle I currently use. A common tactic is to modify my handle in some way in responses to me, y’know, like schoolkids who modify others’ names on playgrounds, which I guess is supposed to be funny and/or hurt my feelings? (Except of course that it’s not actually my name, and I’m not sure why my feelings would be hurt since it’s a made-up handle and I certainly feel no emotional attachment to it.) Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that my handle is stupid; there’s a simple, perfectly understandable, two-second explanation (which at least one reader knows) to how I quickly and haphazardly cooked up this handle but it’s too silly to explain. The point though is that I don’t see it as being inherently stupider than other handles anonymous commenters use. Is there just something about the phrase in particular that drives people nuts?
  2. Disagreement is Trolling. There are certain blogs that are echo chambers. If you disagree with the host and readers about something, and make substantive points in more than one post (like you post – get argued with – and come back to rebut), you eventually get called a “troll” and might even be banned. The definition of “troll”, as far as I can tell, is “someone who makes comments that I disagree with and doesn’t either go away or admit I’m right”.
  3. Oppo Research. This will happen (often on an echo-chamber blog): a person who disagrees with my posts will then click on my link (because they’re so angry? they just gotta CLICK?) and come to this blog, and pore over it, and try to use some aspect of it (some post from 20 days ago, the dearth of comments/readers, whatever) to try to put me down back on the blog over there. This is pretty hilarious when it happens. What do these people think they’re accomplishing exactly, and if I’m so dumb and wrong isn’t it sad they spent so much time studying my stupid, unread blog?
  4. “Personal”: A right-wing commenter commenting on a left-wing blog can get accused of making “personal attacks” at the drop of a hat (I don’t see the same thing so often in the other direction). The funny part is there need not be any personal attacks whatsoever (whatever “personal attacks” are exactly). For all intents and purposes, to some people, merely disagreeing with them is, in essence, a “personal attack”. The same people also tend to think that “you made a personal attack” is a good counterargument to virtually everything. So there will be an exchange like “Me: [something substantive, that disagrees]“; “They: That’s a personal attack!”, and They will come away thinking they won the argument.
  5. Host Doesn’t Read. If the host responds to your comment, you can be pretty sure they will have misread it (if they read it at all). They will almost certainly respond to and argue against some point you did not actually make.

February 18, 2009, 2:14 am
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Slow day at work today (my boss wasn’t there).

1. Alex Tabarrok makes a free-market case for bank nationalization. My views have been largely in line with this (although for an even better refinement, check out this fun-to-read case for doing the normal thing he links to in the update). Tabarrok hits on something that’s been bothering me for a while – lefties (e.g. Matthew Yglesias) who seem to be inexplicably infatuated with the concept of bank nationalization just for the sake of nationalization. Every time I see that sort of thing I figure they all must think it’s the left-wing thing to do. I’ve never understood why though, and Tabarrok helps explain why it’s not:

…it [the term "nationalization"] confuses people on the left who think that nationalization is a way to insure that taxpayers get something on the upside. That idea is a joke – there is no upside.


2. Mark Thoma makes fun of Judd Gregg for thinking tax cuts “pay for themselves”, helpfully citing quotes in which Gregg didn’t actually say that. I have commented there.

3. Ezra Klein explains why he thinks that control of the Census is important: because, according to him, the people who don’t answer when a government bureaucrat “knocks” on their door to count them (a phenomenon which, incidentally, has never actually happened to me – I’ve gotten little pieces of paper in the mail..) are “mainly immigrants and the urban poor”. Therefore they are undercounted and never counted. Poor them, no one knows they exist. But here’s the magical part: Ezra Klein has somehow counted them, regardless! (He must have, because this is the only way he could know that the non-census-responders are “mainly” immigrants and the urban poor.) Isn’t that good for Ezra? Oh yes, I have commented there.

4. Cute point made by Jerry Taylor in The Corner. Apparently, according to scientific research, vitamin supplements basically don’t do diddly squat. Not in and of itself all that surprising. But the point Taylor makes (which is obviously anecdotal but has the ring of truth to it) is that there is a huge overlap between the sort of person who would claim to be pro-science and that the last eight years were a scientific Dark Ages, and the sort of person who is into Whole Foods and vitamin supplements, and basically, well, ignores the actual science on the stuff. Heh.

5. Matt Springer at Built On Facts on the vast difference between how questioning, inquiry and debate works in the political sphere vs. how it works in the scientific sphere. I prefer the scientific sphere myself, which may help explain why political debates so often leave me so cold when they don’t merely irritate me.

6. More science: courtesy Teleologic, another scientist who doesn’t buy into global warming. You know, the thing that is supposedly the ‘consensus’ of all scientists. Having worked on oceano-atmospheric models myself, I can attest that this excerpt rings pretty true:

“My own belief concerning anthropogenic climate change is that the models do not realistically simulate the climate system because there are many very important sub-grid scale processes that the models either replicate poorly or completely omit,” Theon explained. “Furthermore, some scientists have manipulated the observed data to justify their model results. In doing so, they neither explain what they have modified in the observations, nor explain how they did it. They have resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists. This is clearly contrary to how science should be done. Thus there is no rational justification for using climate model forecasts to determine public policy,” he added.

What he’s talking about when he refers to “sub-grid scale processes” is that, in climate models, the ocean/atmosphere have to be approximated by pretending that instead of big flowing continuua of fluid, they are, somewhat like Lego blocks, a clunky pixellated set of squares/cubes. Cubes that ‘talk to’/communicate with each other via physical laws. Now, of course, all models do this one way or another, by necessity, but when you do it, you have to get comfort that your grid size is small enough to capture all the important effects. Are you simulating Lara Croft in all her curvy flowing beauty, or are you simulating Mario from Donkey Kong? And does it matter? The problem with climate modeling is that – due to turbulence, cloud formation, and other effects, it really matters.

The grids used in climate models are typically kilometers on a side, at best. Pretty chunky Legos – or should I say Duplos?

And then there’s the part about manipulating observed data. That actually sounds a little strong (and misleading) to me, because the ‘manipulating’ they’re trying to do – if they’re doing it right, that is – is to correct for known biases and gaps in measurements. But let me just say that it was when I started to get into how, say, sea-surface-temperature data was collected and how it was used, as well as how satellite measurements were interpreted, that I decided not to actually go into climate modeling. Everyone is familiar with the rule GIGO (garbage in-garbage out), I hope.

Not That I Know Who Or What “Prada” Is, Of Course, But…
February 17, 2009, 2:49 am
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Let me embarrass myself by admitting to finding The Devil Wears Prada (the movie; haven’t/won’t read the book) surprisingly good. It’s pretty formulaic of course, but I happened to catch it randomly on TV shortly after watching Sex and the City, which makes Prada look like Citizen Kane. Course, maybe I was just happy for anything that would burn SATC out of my memory.

What interested me was the way the story portrayed, well, work. The main character was (I gather; I actually started watching 20 mins in or so) a brainy college girl, a High Achiever. She’d gotten a job being a toady for a bitchy uberwoman boss of a fashion magazine. She went through a period of disorientation and self-pity and whining. And then you know what she did? She cowboyed up, toughed it out, and tried to do a hell of a job. Most of the movie is about how and why she did that.

If you think about it, you don’t see this sort of dynamic played out in movies all that often. Not quite like that.

There was a key speech given by the Stanley Tucci character in the middle of it which I’m going to quote because it was actually the moment I realized that this movie had transcended the average and had something to say:

Andy Sachs: She hates me, Nigel.
Nigel: And that’s my problem because… Oh, wait. No, it’s not my problem.
Andy Sachs: I don’t know what else I can do because if I do something right, it’s unacknowledged. She doesn’t even say thank you. But if I do something wrong, she is vicious.
Nigel: So quit.
Andy Sachs: What?
Nigel: Quit.
Andy Sachs: Quit?
Nigel: I can get another girl to take your job in five minutes… one who really wants it.
Andy Sachs: No, I don’t want to quit. That’s not fair. But, I, you know, I’m just saying that I would just like a little credit… for the fact that I’m killing myself trying.
Nigel: Andy, be serious. You are not trying. You are whining. What is it that you want me to say to you, huh? Do you want me to say, “Poor you. Miranda’s picking on you. Poor you. Poor Andy”? Hmm? Wake up, six. She’s just doing her job. Don’t you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it. Well, not you, obviously, but some people. You think this is just a magazine, hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for… oh, I don’t know… let’s say a young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight. You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what’s worse, you don’t care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn’t kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day. Wake up, sweetheart.

Sure, this quote and story plays out in the context of some fictional, stupid fashion magazine, but if you step back and think about this speech, you’ll realize that this is a movie about business, and about the private sector, and about what such institutions can mean to, and require of, people. It’s one of the most pro-business films I’ve seen in quite some time, actually.

Now, the movie faltered near the end when the main character went through some rather cliched crises and then had a learning, growing moment. Not that that was unexpected or unenjoyable, just that it was the movie going back to formulaic so they could wrap it up.

But for a while there, Devil Wears Prada actually had something interesting to say – something good, and mature, and difficult, and grown-up, and even pro-business. This is rare for Hollywood fare which is why it surprised me so much.

UPDATE: And Roger Ebert didn’t like it, and did pick up on the universal nature of the work/business theme – so I know I’m really onto something. Though do read his negative review. It’s hilarious :-)

Deficit Schmeficit
February 16, 2009, 3:53 pm
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One of the things that seems to come up a lot in left-right talk about spending on this-that is, Howcome your guys were ok with deficit spending on X but now suddenly on Y you’re against it? And vice versa.

This seems to be because when one majority party proposes to spend a massive metric crudload of money on something, the other party usually latches onto “but that will increase the deficit!!1″ as part of their (usually ineffective) counterargument. Then when roles switch, so do the arguments.

So let me be just be the first to come out and observe that nobody actually cares about “the deficit” on either side. What they care about is what money gets spent on. They want money spent on stuff they support, and not on stuff they don’t. This is normal. This is natural. This is fine.

“The deficit” is a red herring. Nobody cares about “the deficit”. Everybody would be okey-dokey with increasing the deficit through deficit spending as long as they agree with the spending. They only bring up “the deficit” because they think it will make them sound responsible – it will imbue their argument with a sort of gravitas and garner it a respect afforded to Serious Commentators.

The idea is that the listener is supposed to think, “Ooooh, he’s not just against spending money on X because of his ideological bent. He’s worried about the deficit. I guess I better pay more attention then, because that’s a Serious Economic Argument!”

No it’s not. Nobody cares about the deficit per se. And I’ll be the first to admit: that includes me.

February 15, 2009, 2:22 pm
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For five years a standard part of the left’s criticism of the Iraq endeavor was how much money (which, for some reason, they preferred to call “treasure” in these sentences) it was costing us. A Martian visiting Earth only for the last five years could have been easily forgiven for coming away with the impression that the left hates to spend taxpayer money and seeks a more austere government.

Was it all a pose? Yes, of course it was. Did I ever take it seriously? No I did not. Do I feel vindicated in not having taken it seriously? Yes, of course I do.

This illustrates a larger problem with debates that take place in the public sphere: so much of it cannot be analyzed, let alone critiqued and debated, logically. Because so much of it is insincere – a pose, a posture, a positioning gambit for the purpose of winning political battles rather than a genuine argument for the purpose of winning over rational minds.

The left did not want us to invade Iraq. Instead of relying purely on actual pro-con arguments, they spent a lot of time and effort into posturing and distraction techniques: for example, pretending to be REALLY HAWKISH on Afghanistan instead (supposedly where the “real war on terror” was, and supposedly where they were keen for us to “focus” on). Pretending to care about the soldiers. And of course pretending to be anguished over how much “treasure” it was costing us.

If anyone took this seriously they might well be shocked by the seeming about-face that has taken place ever since a (D) got put after the President’s name instead of an (R). After all, judging from the stimulus package, it’s pretty clear that the left wants nothing more than to spend, even waste, taxpayer money. The more the better! Indeed, there are prominent left-wing commentators (cf. Matthew Yglesias) who couch their argument in these explicit terms: more spending = better, waste is not bad. Where is the oh so sincere handwringing over the deficit we saw in, like, 2004-2006? Distant memory.

What is the point of political debate with people whose arguments are just poses and not sincere?

Cylons Are Humans
February 14, 2009, 3:20 pm
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This season seems to find Battlestar Galactica finally starting to come to grips with what has always been the central, nagging contradiction at the heart of the show’s setup:

Some human-looking people are called humans, whereas other human-looking people are called “Cylons” and constantly referred to as “machines”, even though there’s no good philosophical reason whatsoever to separate the two.

As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the “skinjobs” (human-looking people who consider themselves, and are considered, “Cylons”) have always just been humans with high technology (including memory-download technology). That’s it. They’ve never been “machines”. They are autonomous individuals in human form, with human biology, human free will, human personalities, and the ability to interbreed with humans. They are humans!

For most of its run, the show didn’t seem to realize this. Certainly few characters on the show seem to have realized this. Even when a relationship has developed between a human and a “Cylon”, and/or the subject of the difference has come up, no one has ever stepped up to say “Hey wait a minute folks, is there any reason to treat these so-called ‘Cylons’ any differently at all, or to even consider them non-human?” Heck, for at least the first season or two we were constantly told that there was no biological way to distinguish between the two. No biological distinction means they are the same, dummies!

They did since drop that pretense as evidently somewhere along the way Baltar seems to have genuinely developed a ‘Cylon test’ of some sort. Nevertheless, it’s clear that whatever the biological distinction, it’s fairly trivial and at the molecular level or somesuch. ‘Cylons’ appear to be humans. They have bodies and brains macroscopically indistinguishable from that of humans. And they can procreate with humans. Newsflash: this means they are human. I’m not even sure what the definition of ‘human’ could possibly be if that definition somehow excluded BSG’s skinjobs.

This apparent philosophical error has often made the show grating to watch for me. However, I’ll be the first to admit that the writers are sewing up some loose ends pretty well in season 5, and the ‘skinjob’ issue is no exception. We now have more of the backstory and it seems to be along these lines:

  • there were 13 tribes (of humans!)
  • the 13th tribe were ‘the Cylons’. These were humans! (Humans who had resurrection technology – augmented humans, if you like)
  • the 13th tribe settled on earth whereas the other 12 settled on the 12 colonies.
  • the 13th tribe gradually stopped using resurrection tech.
  • “the five” rediscovered it and used it to survive an earth holocaust and rejoin the 12 colonies

This is all quite consistent with the idea that Cylons are just high-tech humans; indeed, that’s probably the best way to understand all these events. The distinction between humans and ‘Cylons’ has always been spurious and forced and it appears that the writers of BSG are intelligent enough to have finally figured that out.

February 14, 2009, 3:07 am
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Highlights from posts I’ve flagged in the past week or two.

1. Remember way oh way back in late 2008 when the left suddenly discovered the concept of “vetting” and instantaneously decided that the ability to “vet” was the single most important qualification for a Chief Executive? Jim Treacher reminds us of the irony.

2. Frank Tipler:

Macroeconomists should realize that the inability of their theories to make accurate predictions means that they do not know what they are talking about. We non-economists should realize this also, and realize that our leaders, who are being advised by macroeconomists, haven’t got a clue where they are leading us.

3. Matt Welch calls Obama on a strawman in a post that’s already too thick, rich and juicy to excerpt effectively. Although here’s a taste:

There is one charge here that I for one am happy to embrace: We can indeed “ignore…energy independence”…because there’s no such as thing as energy independence. Really. It’s bullshit.

4. Jawa Report has an inspiring video of a US soldier cussing out Iraqi police. I felt tears welling up with pride as I watched.

5. “The notion that we have an “unregulated free market” is false.”

6. Don Boudreaux cracks me up sometimes:

The ability to write letters on a board in the form of an equation, to give those letters names that seem to correspond to some imaginable economic things, and to assemble quantitative data on those things, is not necessarily good science.

7. Lawrence Livermore, Why San Francisco Will Remain An Overpriced Slum:

….in the kneejerk, reactionary world of the San Francisco “activist” community, which strives at any cost to preserve the status quo even when (especially when) the status quo is just plain crappy. And after all, why do they need new businesses in the Valencia Corridor when right around the corner on 16th Street there’s already a thriving trade in heroin, stolen goods, and muggings? That’s the “real” Frisco that these nutbags romanticize….Here’s another example: a group of activists, many of whom don’t even live in the neighborhood, fighting to maintain the Tenderloin as a containment area/wildlife preserve for crackheads, beggars and lunatics, despite the fervent protests of local residents, many of whom are hardworking immigrants trying to raise families in the area.

He’s right.

8. Finally, someone speaks up for doing nothing. I was beginning to think I was the only one.

9. Ex-Yahoo CEO’s daughter cut off for her “lesbian romps”. Wait, how did that get in here? Oh, but I do have a serious point to make about the (perceived?) rise and legitimization of lesbian behavior we seem to be seeing (Lindsay Lohan, et al). One of the trends others (not necessarily myself) have noted is an increase in the number of young women who participate in lesbianism seemingly as a phase, ‘just for fun’, and/or temporarily – LTG (lesbian till graduation), for example, or just girls making out at parties and whatnot. My theory about this phenomenon: it’s a mating dance, for guys’ benefit, to attract guys. Since the sexual revolution there’s been such an escalation in sexual behavior and promiscuity that at the margin the only way girls at a certain level can now compete for guys is to put on lesbian shows for them.

Meanwhile, the other more obvious and symbiotic phenomenon is the one where guys seem obsessed with lesbian behavior, acting & talking like it’s the greatest thing ever (there are lots of jokes about this on sitcoms, etc). My theory about this is that it (like ‘metrosexuals’) is a symptom of the larger phenomenon: guys becoming less manly. Why are lesbians so fascinating to guys? One part of the explanation is that the girls are being sexual but there’s no rival to worry about, let alone fight off. The inherent appeal to unmanly cowards and wimpy insecure wusses should be obvious and needs no further explanation.

Anyway, as for this Yahoo princess, I’m not sure my explanation applies. In her case, sounds like she’s just a spoiled rich b*tch.

10. How Government Created the Financial Crisis:

The realization by the public that the government’s intervention plan had not been fully thought through, and the official story that the economy was tanking, likely led to the panic seen in the next few weeks. And this was likely amplified by the ad hoc decisions to support some financial institutions and not others and unclear, seemingly fear-based explanations of programs to address the crisis. What was the rationale for intervening with Bear Stearns, then not with Lehman, and then again with AIG? What would guide the operations of the TARP?

It did not have to be this way. To prevent misguided actions in the future, it is urgent that we return to sound principles of monetary policy, basing government interventions on clearly stated diagnoses and predictable frameworks for government actions.

Massive responses with little explanation will probably make things worse.

The funny part is that I’m new to finance but I’ve been saying things like this to people with 10x my experience and they act like I “just don’t get it”. Yet nothing in the past year has given my any reason to believe that the vast majority of Wall Street “gets it” at all.

11. YA author Christy Raedeke is a contrarian on the issue of whether 2 x 0 = 0. Almost convinces me.

12. Gretchen Rubin at Slate has a post I read with amazement titled Five Ways To Outsmart Your Three-Year Old. It turns out that her wonderful advice is to lie to your children. To paraphrase some of her examples,

  1. If you don’t want your kid to do something, lie to them and tell them it’s dangerous.
  2. If you don’t want to buy your kid something, lie to them and tell them it isn’t available.
  3. To get your kid to do something, lie and say “the doctor” said they should, and if need be, send fake emails to yourself (!) from “the doctor”.
  4. Instead of giving your child advice about things they should know to do/not do, say “I know you know”, i.e. lie to them in a form that instills in them the self-delusion that they know more than they do.
  5. Lie to your kid about what signs say; if you don’t want them to do X, point at a sign and say it says don’t do X, even if it doesn’t.

To me this advice sounds like a very good way to make your kid grow up to be frightened of everything, resentful, confused about the world, timid to ask for things, mindlessly obeisant to authority, and yet unrealistically arrogant about their knowledge and abilities. Simultaneously. I’m not necessarily a TCS purist or anything but I certainly know who I’m closer to.

13. Finally, M. Simon on the diff between (D)s and (R)s, succinctly:

The Republicans steal plenty and from time to time are embarrassed by it. The Democrats steal more and think it is a right.

The Real Racists
February 13, 2009, 11:38 pm
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Arnold Kling said this about TARP and the stimulus bill:

…for me it [TARP] was like sitting there watching my house being ransacked by a gang of thugs. And now we’ve got a new gang of thugs, and they’re going to do the same thing.

Various internet type people, including James Wolcott and someone named Adam Serwer, made noises to the effect that this was racist.

To put it another way, they saw the phrase “gang of thugs” and apparently connected it in their minds with President Obama’s race. Plainly, to them the word “thug” is associated with blackness.

Who are the real racists?

Kids and Grammar
February 12, 2009, 2:52 am
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One thing I’ve noticed about my parenting which may prove controversial should I ever write that parenting-advice book I’ve long planned (just after I put on my one-man off-Broadway show) is that I don’t make much effort to correct my kids’ grammar. All kids make little grammatical mistakes (usually cute ones – “I want so the doll’s hair be’s a pony tail”, e.g.). I think there are many parents who think it’s important to correct these things at every turn.

My philosophy is different. It starts from the fact that I have never observed adults who still speak in expressions that are cutely ungrammatical in kidlike ways. (Adults may have poor grammar, but if so, it is not kid-style poor grammar.) Now, surely this can’t be because all the other adults currently alive today had great parents who taught them grammar well and swiftly corrected their grammar at every misstep when they were 3 years old. No. It must be because all kids learn better grammar as time goes by as part of the natural process of growing up.

Of course, not all adults have equal grammar, and some have quite poor grammar. But IMHO this is more a matter of people speaking how their parents spoke. So I figure, I should pay more attention to how I speak to my kids than to how they speak to me. I’m who they learn from, and as long as my grammar is decent, theirs will get there sooner or later. So I don’t quite see the imperative to stress about it now. It’s like worrying “will my six-month-old ever walk????” and stressing about “teaching” them to walk. Yes, you want to help them walk, because it’s fun, but they’re gonna walk at some point or another. It’s not like they’re never gonna if you don’t show them how.

Put another way: when my kid says “I want so you hold me”, grammar is not the first thing that comes to mind; holding them is.


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