Other Things You Should Be Reading
June 29, 2010, 12:12 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Right after you finish reading this entire blog of course.

  • Robin Hanson’s open letter to angsty teens.
  • Seth Roberts is not impressed with the results of genetics research. You mean it was supposed to produce results, and not merely $100k+ jobs and nice suburbs houses for PhDs? Guess I was misinformed.
  • This plea from Rick Grant to real estate agents to stop waiting for the government’s next trick & get back into actual real estate selling seems symptomatic of a larger issue I was screaming about over a year ago: when the government is this large and bulky and throws around this much money/regulation this haphaardly, the government becomes the economy, the government is the economy. If real estate agents are (as is implied) somehow on the sidelines keeping an eye on when/whether the government will extend this or that tax credit, or whatever other giant macro government goody/subsidy, well – who can blame them? What single other factor is going to have a larger effect on housing than this or that monstrous, ill-conceived, corrupt, rent-seeking, ill-informed government act by this or that government blowhard egomanic? What chance do old-fashioned rational market forces stand when the government can decide to “stimulus” ten billion phony dollars this way or that on the whim of some stupid-ass Senator? Grant wants real-estate agents to ‘get back to work’, but in light of the government’s whimsy, they’d be pretty stupid to. Actually, everyone would.
  • Arnold Kling notes the irony in having the EU warn about a collapse of democracy.
  • Norman Geras rebuts anti-sport sentiment via the parable of Erica.
  • Dafydd ab Hugh has figured out the most loathsome thing about lefties.
  • Please also read Dafydd on the one-size-fits-all none approach to salt among health nazis. Why is it that the most strongly, passionately-held lefty beliefs seem to be so ill-informed?
  • Steve Sailer points out the whiteness of soccer. Predominantly white, and yet you get Diversity Bonus Points for liking (i.e. pretending to like) it – no wonder lefties like (the concept of) soccer so much!
  • Per Kurowski letter to the FT on risk-weights.

    But when the regulators allow, as they do, the bank to hold only 1.6 percent in capital when lending to AAA rated clients, which implies a leverage of 62.5 to one (100/1.6), then the expected net result on capital for the banks when lending to AAAs, before credit losses, becomes a whopping 31.25% (.5×62.5).

    And of course, a bank, and bankers, being able to make 31.25% before credit losses when lending to no risk-AAAs, would be crazy going after the much more difficult 50% margin before credit losses available when lending to the riskier small businesses and entrepreneurs.

    Seems to me that between this, and salt regulation, and genetics research, and climate-change regulation, etc etc, I keep encountering a larger pattern, which has these properties:

    • a system or theory (risk weightings are good financial regulation, salt-is-bad research, carbon controls to stop climate change) set up by Smart People that has the surface trappings of rationality/science, i.e. the lingo, the jargon, the Peer-Reviewed Papers, etc.;
    • it is argued (not in the open marketplace but generally through the political/bureaucratic system) by Smart People that the system/theory should be put in place i.e. that it be given the force of law and whatever enabling executive power necessary;
    • only Smart People (i.e. the people who study/work with the system) really understand it in either its evidential support or its implications, because the rest of us, even if we could understand it (which many many could), are basically busy with our lives and don’t have the time;
    • in reality, the system/theory is not all that well thought-out and is really rather poor/flimsy;
    • but thousands of Smart Peoples’ jobs, livelihoods, lifes’ work, upper middle class lifestyles depend on it staying in place.

    And so it does.

    Seth Roberts calls this phenomenon, in the context he writes about, ‘cargo-cult science’.

    I think from a larger point of view it should be thought of as part of a larger pattern of Parasitic Meritocracy. Meritocrats create and populate self-perpetuating parasitic institutions that feed off the rest of society so as to make life nice and easy for…meritocrats. In fact it should not be surprising that they do this. By definition they are the ones who are good at talking, arguing, and convincing others to follow their ideas because their ideas are good and people who don’t agree with those ideas are stupid and low-class.

    Just try to argue against the salt regulation push at a cocktail party with highly educated upper class types for example. See how quickly and totally you are shunned….

  • Arnold Kling agrees with me that soccer needs more scoring, echoing my commenter Arthur Doohan that the low scoring encourages lucky/random outcomes (Kling’s point being, that this is bad not good).
  • zbicyclist makes an important point I totally agree with about the limits of government/regulatory power (in the context of the oil spill). He doesn’t go as far in extending this logic to consideration of whether various attempts at financial ‘reform’ make sense, but he should.

    That would go against the Parasitic Meritocracy however. And that could cause embarrassment.

My Favorite Left-Wing Policy Idea
June 23, 2010, 10:11 am
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My favorite left-wing policy idea is that one which necessitates raising marginal tax rates on people who make more money than (or have larger trust funds than) the idea’s proponent, and using the anticipated revenues to fund jobs/roles for him and his college friends that involve regularly making key decisions about strangers’ lives.

That particular left-wing policy idea is AWESOME.

Know Your Soccer
June 23, 2010, 2:56 am
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Just in time for the “World-Cup”: more fun facts about soccer, based on what I know about soccer.

  • Soccer, for those of you who may not be familiar with this curious pastime, is a children’s game originally designed in 1959 by SRA (Science Research Associates, Inc.) on a limited-but-renewable 2-year government grant signed by President Eisenhower “for the cost-effective promotion of safe, wholesome outdoor play in a controlled setting” in a bill primarily focused on disaster recovery and crowd control in a post-nuclear scenario. It was distributed as a Supplemental Learning Module (along with reading/instructional materials and a filmstrip) to K-6 teachers in classrooms all across the country that fall to much fanfare.
  • During the research phase its working name was Egalometric Teamplayment. The roots of the informal term “soccer” are murky and to this day the term is still disavowed in official Department of Education communications, in favor of the official name.
  • In what proved to be one of the game module’s (1st-3rd editions) less-popular features, the original instructions specified that all officiating and player communication be conducted solely in Esperanto. This rule is only still followed in Egalometric Teamplayment Leagues in Ashland, Oregon and certain parts of Harlem.
  • The Florida Orange Council, contracting with ad agency Foote, Cone, & Belding, in 1965 sponsored a successful campaign to have “Soccer Oranges” ™ inserted into the official game materials. According to this (at the time controversial, indeed nearly filibustered by Senator Strom Thurmond, but now mandatory and near-universally accepted) rule, all the soccer-playing children must eat at least three (3) sliced oranges (the slices being 45+/-5 degrees wedge) at halftime. This was also seen as an effective measure for disposing of surplus orange crops, bolstering the price of orange futures and thereby helping the American orange farmer. Although this section of the game is not contractually included in television broadcasts, the rule is also strictly observed in all FIFA play including the World Cup.
  • The famed “red cards” and “yellow cards” that still can be seen to be displayed by soccer referees at random, unpredictable intervals throughout any soccer game are a vestige of an earlier game design. In the game’s early years, these red and yellow rectangles (which were originally triangles) were part of a larger set of shapes/colors (purple hexagons, blue triangles, etc.) similar to Tangrams. The initial SRA proposal contemplated stopping the game at random intervals, choosing two opposing players at random, and submitting them to a ‘Tiling Challenge’ involving tangram-like constructive play on a special mat that would be unfurled in the middle of the field. This was to be, in effect, an IQ test so as to identify and weed out those children too intelligent to fall into the game’s target IQ-bands.
  • The most famous soccer character in history, “Pele”, was played masterfully by an actor (nee LeRoy Jackson) from the south side of Chicago chosen by the Carter Administration after an exhaustive nationwide audition to help the DoE promote the game as part of its anti-“malaise” efforts. This project (which also helped fund the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Victory!) was deemed a success by all administrators when it came up for review in 1983, although funding was cut soon after under mysterious circumstances.
  • The CIA World Factbook cites the invention and promulgation of soccer as one of the U.S. intelligence community’s most successful disinformation/propaganda efforts, stating in part that “there are regions of the Third World and/or England where one can travel for days without encountering a single soul who is even remotely aware of the American roots of [soccer]”. Robert McNamara considered it central to his “hearts and minds” strategy.

So know your soccer! It’s the peoples’s game.

The Second Goal
June 21, 2010, 11:11 am
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I was reading this worthwhile soccer rant by Ferdinand Bardamu when I recalled my idea for fixing soccer:

Add a second goal.

It could be just a little goal, even hockey-sized. Just a little goal off to the side of the main one. Still worth one point.

Can anyone honestly say this wouldn’t make soccer dramatically more exciting?

The problem with soccer, clearly, is that there just isn’t enough scoring. I gather that soccer enthusiasists would see that as an ugly-American, no-attention-span, TV-addict type of complaint. Because all Americans have ADHD and sub-Neanderthal IQs thus need constant scoring to pay attention. But that’s not the main problem with too little scoring at all. There isn’t that much more scoring in baseball yet it’s far more tense.

The main problem with soccer is that (unlike even baseball) the outcome of a game isn’t in doubt for nearly a high enough percentage of the game. At any given time in a game, if you look at the scoreboard, you’re looking at the Most-Likely-Final-Score. If it’s tied, chances are, the game will end in a tie. If one team is ahead, chances are, that team will win. So why are you still watching? is a question you can ask yourself of every soccer game – at virtually any time in the game.

Games are only interesting if the outcome is in doubt. Right? Imagine a limiting case where the goals were one inch wide. No scoring possible. The score will be 0-0, regardless of either team’s ability. Can we at least admit that this would be a boring game to watch?

Soccer is not like that, obviously. The goals are wider than one inch. They are wider than the ball. They are even wide enough to allow for (I guesstimate) about 0.9 goals per game. So soccer is unlike my limiting hypothetical ‘no-scoring-possible’ game. It’s just that it’s not unlike it enough.

Now compare soccer to basketball. In a typical pro basketball game, each teams scores perhaps 40-60 times per game. Does basketball really suffer from this? The outcome is in doubt a lot. It can swing back and forth. Yes, one team might dominate from the start (due to better ability). Shouldn’t they (if they have better ability)? But as long as teams are not hugely separated in ability, chances are, a basketball game will stay interesting to watch for most of the duration. And teams can beat better teams, it happens all the time. So there is doubt in basketball. Clearly this is a better-engineered sport than soccer. And I say this even though I’m not really a basketball fan.

If you think about why basketball is this way, it’s primarily because it’s far easier to score. Teams score on a significant percentage of their attempts (I don’t know whether it’s 20% or 40% but it’s significant.) Why couldn’t soccer be this way? What’s the reason?

One reason seems to be that offensive attacks are too hard, and defense too easy, in soccer. Well okay then, make defense harder and offense easier. One way is to just make the goal bigger. I’ve considered this but not sure that’s the way to go, because you’d just increase the number of Hail Mary-type kicks.

A ‘second goal’, however, and suddenly you’ve got something. Does the defense keep two players back? Do they still just keep the one goalie back and hope he can run to the side goal if need be? With two goals to cover, chances are only 9 instead of 10 guys get to cover their half of the field for defense. Now you’ve got more holes and lines and angles. The offense will have an easier time.

The only counterargument I can see to this is “the offense will have an easier time!” Yes, the offense will have an easier time. Exactly. Feature not bug. Do you want to make soccer better or don’t you?

I get the feeling people don’t. If soccer were more interesting, certain folks wouldn’t be able to get nearly as much mileage out of pretending to like it.

Even His Powers Have Limits
June 20, 2010, 10:35 pm
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President Obama must be surprised that his words haven’t plugged the oil leak. He has given so many speeches and interviews about it now. And it’s still not plugged! How is that possible?

Obama evidently has no experience with a tangible, real world that does not bend in obeisance to his utterances. He verbally ended The Iraq War – which is why it’s over. (He promised that all US troops would be out of Iraq within 16 months of his Presidency, i.e. by May 2010.) He also verbally closed Guantanamo Bay – which is why it’s closed. More recently and notably, Obama verbally declared that the health care bill wouldn’t threaten the plan of anyone who wants to stay on their current one – and that’s totally true too!

As I wrote shortly after he was inaugurated, Obama’s is a rhetorical Presidency. Words are actions. Speech conjures reality into existence, molds it, shapes it. He says things and they happen. This has been Obama’s experience of adult life prior to becoming President.

So how confusing and frustrating it must be that repeatedly demanding the oil leak be plugged doesn’t automatically make the oil leak plugged.

You almost feel sorry for the guy.

Not Sure If I’ve Shared My Sweden Theory Here Before
June 12, 2010, 3:30 pm
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People who like socialism, and Sweden, and cite Sweden’s (or other Scandi country’s) supposed socialism all the time as a great example of socialism, got this idea primarily because they think (or saw on TV/movies) that Swedish people are sexually attractive.

As a corollary, such people subconsciously think socialism (in particular note the obsession with government medical care) will make more people around them sexually attractive – and, in particular, sexually active. Thus increasing their (currently poor, we surmise) chances of having sex with sexually attractive people.

(UPDATE 6/14) Related: “Liberal” Matthew Yglesias fantasizes about colonialism, as long as it’s administered by “earnest Norwegians in association with an international crew of policy wonks”. Seems to me you have two choices when reading something like that: you can be utterly mystified and wonder what he’s been smoking, or you can read it simply as Matthew Yglesias’s deepest ‘desert island’ fantasy (i.e. that he would be one of the policy wonks, stranded and ‘administering’ the natives along with a bunch of hot, ‘earnest’ Norwegians). I know which one survives Occam’s Razor.

Socialism: Must be doing something right.

June 12, 2010, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I hereby bequeath the below links to you, the Reader. With a special bonus: my own commentary, for free! (If I feel like it).

  • Arnold Kling’s remarks on U.S. mortgage finance are a helpful summary/intro to his particularly wacky way of looking at it (which I basically share 100%). If you ask me, mortgage finance in this country has for a long time been a stealth socialist program laundered through the markets by converting it into a (at times very lucrative) pyramid scheme.

    Ok, maybe my way of looking at it is even more wacky than Kling’s. But this is a view I formed, in part, while working on a mortgage-bond trading floor. Not coincidentally, in my travels I have gotten the distinct impression that mortgage traders lean left whereas other credit traders lean right: which makes total sense if you buy my theory. After all, if I am right, the entire mortgage-securitization machinery requires government socialism to exist; other kinds of credit do not.

  • iowahawk’s great Sarah Palin guest commentary from a couple weeks ago. Has it been fully recognized what a special sort of genius the guy behind iowahawk is?
  • Ilkka of The Fourth Checkraise with an interesting tidbit about Romanians in Finland. This caught my eye:

    all modern leftism is status signaling of being immune to the societal consequences of leftism

    Is leftism just another form of conspicuous consumption, I wonder?

  • Seth Roberts in talking about the Foxconn suicides has a critique of academia:

    It would be incredibly helpful to figure out what’s causing them. But few professors want to study a problem that they have no idea if they can solve nor how long it will take. They don’t want to wait ten years to write a paper. By then their funding will have run out. If funding is assured regardless of progress, then how does the funder ensure they are actually doing something? And few professors have total academic freedom. Their graduate school advisor, their academic friends, the people who control their career have certain beliefs. About which theories are good and which are bad. About which methods are “correct”. If their results contradict these beliefs, if they use a “wrong” method, they will suffer, just as all heretics suffer. So there is pressure to come up with an acceptable answer using proper methods. This gets in the way of coming up with the actual answer.

    Rings true to me. Part of why I left academics. Which is not to say I was too good for academics or anything. I was not good. But I could not figure out how to be good, or how to even identify and study something interesting, in the environment described above. Academics in practice is the business of producing papers in journals read by a handful of other people. If you get lots of papers in those journals you’re a good academic; if you don’t, you’re not. I was not. I was not interested in anything I was doing and the few papers I did get into journals, were because I had to (in one case I had an advisor throw a hissy fit when it seemed like I wouldn’t, so I did), and their subject matter was completely dictated by other people, by navigating whatever constraints it appeared that the field had placed on the subject.

  • Whiskey fire reviews Transformer 2 in a five-paragraph essay. As a grade I’d give it a check-minus with a ‘see me after class’.
  • Seen on Digg, Tribe of Ukrainian Fighting Women. Self-explanatory.

    (This hereby fulfills my weekly quota-requirement of linking to photos of dark-haired girls.)

  • ‘Do Something, Superpresident!’ at Cato@Liberty.

    …it’s worth worrying about the consequences of this view of the presidency. When the public views the president as the man responsible for curing everything that ails us–from bad weather, to private-sector negligence–presidents are going to seek powers to match those superheroic responsibilities.

    Nothing to add.

  • Good point made in a Ross Douthat column (via Betsy Newmark)

    This is the perverse logic of meritocracy. Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesn’t matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up. Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it.

    Coincidentally, who are the people who most strongly support such a meritocracy? Those who perceive themselves to be meritocrats, naturally.

  • McCovey Chronicles lets you decide what do do about Aaron Rowand, in the form of an expertly-crafted Choose-Your-Own-Adventure! I had hours of fun.

    If you don’t follow the Giants, you won’t understand the main subtext, which is that the Giants have for the past 20 years or so had a consistently baffling bias towards keeping “veterans” (such as Rowand, in this case) in the lineup, and being irrationally afraid to let younger players start, even if those younger players are, like, better baseball players who would help the team win more games.

  • Samizdata, of all places, helps me understand the money supply in the context of “stimulus”.
  • Cobb has a modest proposal for the symbol of the new 21st-century radical: smoke!
  • In this blogger’s humble opinion, the film Separado! looks like it very well may just be one of the finest documentaries featuring a member of the Super Furry Animals travelling to Patagonia ever to be put on celluloid.

    I really wanna see it.

  • Aretae’s Grand Unified Theory of History seems like something.
  • LOL: a personal letter from Steve Martin (via Jacob Grier).
  • Steve Sailer of all people shares some salient and interesting thoughts on power-pop. May well be the most riveting account of an encounter between a young Steve Sailer and Bun E. Carlos that you will ever read! Now if we can get him together with the Super Furry Animals guy.


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