30 November 2009

Weis Out

From a Notre Dame campus wide email minutes ago:
Nov. 30, 2009

For Immediate Release

Weis will not be retained as Notre Dame football coach

University of Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis will not be retained, University director of athletics Jack Swarbrick announced today (Nov. 30).

“We have great expectations for our football program, and we have not been able to meet those expectations,” Swarbrick said. “As an alumnus, Charlie understands those goals and expectations better than most, and he’s as disappointed as anyone that we have not achieved the desired results.”

Swarbrick recommended the dismissal Sunday night to Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

“We have established an evaluation process for all of our athletic programs that, in the end, results in a recommendation from Jack to me,” Father Jenkins said. “I accepted Jack’s decision and look forward to working with him on selecting a new head football coach who is the very best choice possible for the University and especially for our student-athletes.

“I am most appreciative to Coach Weis for his service to Notre Dame and our community. He and his family have my prayers and best wishes.”

Weis spent five seasons as Irish head coach from 2005-09, with his teams achieving consecutive records of 9-3 (Fiesta Bowl appearance) in ’05, 10-3 (Sugar Bowl appearance), 3-9, 7-6 (Hawai’i Bowl victory) and 6-6 in ’09 – for an overall 35-27 mark.

Swarbrick announced that Rob Ianello, the Irish assistant head coach/offense, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, will assume responsibility for football operations until a new coach is hired. Ianello has spent the past five seasons on the Notre Dame staff and previously was part of football staffs at Wisconsin (1990-93, 2003-04), Arizona (1994-2002) and Alabama (1987-89).
Huzzah. I supported keeping Weis after the abysmal 2007 and poor 2008 seasons, but no more. In fact, I'm not actually aware of anybody that has wanted to keep in for the last three weeks or so.

I hear rumors to various effects about replacements already being lined up and just needing to pound out details, but then again I hear contradictory rumors as well. Stay tuned.

JAH suggests that when a new coached is hired they release white smoke from a chimney in the Main Building. Somebody needs to make that happen.

If we're going to have a political circus, make it look like a circus

Popehat | Ken | Finally, A Principled System for Resolving Disputed Elections

Ronald Mason and Phoebe Wilson tied in votes for a city council seat. Did they bring in droves of lawyers to dispute ballots? They did not. They settled it like rational adults:
According to the witnessed affidavit submitted by Hughes, on the count of three, each candidate would turn around and assume one of the positions.
The official document describes the following:
“Round One: Mason bear; Wilson bear: outcome—tie.
“Round Two: Mason cowboy; Wilson bear: outcome—Mason wins.
“Round Three: Mason bear; Wilson ninja: outcome—Mason wins.
“Final outcome: Mason wins a four-year seat. Wilson gets a two year seat.
I would totally vote for anyone who would do that.

I’m not clear on why there is no pirate involved, though.
Count me in. I will make my first political donation ever to whichever congressman can get something like this on C-SPAN and make it a binding part of legislative procedure.

Bottom Elephants

I've used the "Bottom Elephants" tag a couple of times, and made explicit referent to it in the previous post, so I thought I'd explain what I mean.

The term is inspired by Terry Pratchett's Discworld stories, in which the world rests on the backs of four elephants, which in turn stand on a turtle, and from the following Thoreau journal entry:
No man stands on truth. They are merely banded together as usual, one leaning on another and all together on nothing; as the Hindoos made the world rest on an elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise, and had nothing to put under the tortoise.
Also, the following anecdote from A Brief History of Time:
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever", said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"
So to me, Bottom Elephants are not your first principles; they're not axioms per se (those would be the turtle), but they're the things that your world view rests on. They're the scaffolding that helps you understand the world, the simple ideas you turn to again and again to explain what you see. Your Bottom Elephants are what help you understand life better than the next guy, and the things you wished you could make everyone else learn and appreciate.

Compiling them will be an ongoing endeavor for me, especially since they're bound to change as I live and learn, but my hope is that if I were to collect all my Bottom Elephants many years from now, I would have a pretty complete outline of a personal manifesto for life. My very own Analects, as it were. (Now that's not an over-ambitious comparison or anything.)

As an aside, I also want to point out that I believe the turtle is ultimately unsupported, or if you prefer, it rests on some mysterious metaphysical stuff. It tends to be explicitly metaphysical stuff, in the case of "X is right because God tells us so," but even the atheist attempts I've seen to build a theory of the world from the bottom up rest at some level on "because it just is." There is no bottom layer we can prove. I think the only honest thing to do is to admit that your first principles are postulated rather blindly and accept that they exist either as an act of (religious or non-religious) faith, or that they are a convenience: you have to start somewhere. We must accept the limits of our own knowledge and certainty.

"Anti-Big Business Millionaires"

Porch Dog | Those Anti-Big Business Millionaires:

SB7 quotes the following to make his point (or more precisely, let’s the point make itself since it’s a recurring theme on his blog)
Factoids of the day:

1. 54% of Congressmen are millionaires.

2. Consistent with the ‘limosine liberals’ stereotype, eight out of the ten richest are Democrats.
I would like to add my own, lesser point: Can we please recognize that the financial make-up of Congress virtually guarantees that nobody is out to pass “anti-business laws?” I mean, sure, it’s possible that these guys who’ve found a way to earn/inherit millions of dollars are actively working against their own self-interests, but isn’t that just a bit naive? The truth is that Republicans and Democrats are each beholden to their own set of business interests. Legislation that appears anti-business on the surface really just helps out some other group.

And since I’ve linked to SB7 I would like to quickly add, I’m not saying that laws don’t end up having anti-business consequences, just that that is not the point.
I'm not sure if this would surprise Porch Dog, but I more or less agree.

There isn't really a unified point to the following, but here are some discussion points to consider on these themes:

1. This gets at the distinction between "pro-business" and "pro-free market." I think almost all congressmen are pro-business, while few, left or right, are truly pro-market. Ongoing confusion between the two serves both the left and right for different reasons, and hurts the public. This is a distinction that deserves much, much more attention. The fact that "good for businesses" is not congruent with "good for markets" and the latter is by far the more important is hereby declared to be a SB7 Bottom Elephant.

2. Bryan Caplan, who brought these statistics to my attention, wonders how much of this is due to over-representation of lawyers in politics. (More congressmen list their occupation as law than business). While law firms are business, they are not run like businesses in general, nor do they face the same incentives. We've been treating financial firms as sui generis over the last couple of years. I believe law firms are even more unlike businesses generally.

(A bit of explanation: most law firms' revenue is dependent on the number of hours billed, so their incentive is to use up as many hours as possible, that is, to consume inputs rather than to produce outputs.)

3. The source of voters' wealth tells you more about their political alignment than the level of their wealth. That is, business ownership even of very small firms generating modest personal income, is more positively correlated with republicanness than is high income in general. I assume the same is true of politicians. I think the source of the wealth of that 54% would shed more light on this discussion.

4. A higher proportion of bills introduced than passed can probably be viewed as being anti-market or anti-business. That's just a hunch, but I think that there is a vocal minority of legislators who are truly anti-business and anti-market, either because they are not rich and have no ties to business, they are rich enough that they will remain rich no matter what legislation they champion, they are willing to trade future revenue for popularity today, or they don't understand the consequences of their proposals well enough. If true, this makes anti-market legislation a consistently looming possibility even if you are unconvinced it is the current state of affairs.

5. Consider the CPSIA and Mattel. The CPSIA was enacted in the wake of Mattel importing some potentially dangerous toys, and requires preposterously extensive (and expensive) inventory tracking and testing requirements on anyone making products for children. The kicker is that Mattel arranged to get itself certified as the only toymaker allowed to test it's products in-house, so their punishment for their iresponsibility in the first place is to be given a cost-advantage over their competitors.

The CPSIA passed 407-0 in the House and 79-13 in the Senate. Discussion question: Are those 486 congressmen who voted in favor of the CPSIA pro- or anti-business? Pro- or anti-market? Surely few if any of them owed their fortune to Mattel, or received significant political backing from them, or the toy & childrens garment industries in general. What does this case tell us about the attitudes in congress to businesses or markets?

6. Obama, who many people voted for because he was going to "make big business accountable," etc., has been very anti-market so far. Yet his policies have been very good for certain businesses: Chrysler & GM obviously, some financial firms also obviously, Fannie & Freddie if you treat them as businesses and not thinly veiled government agencies, pharmaceutical companies (but not medical device manufacturers). There have also been many firms benefiting less explicitly: the GEs and Mesa Powers and GIMs, and the multitudes of car dealerships and real estate companies and brokers and home builders, and many others.

So: Obama -- millionaire, no history in business or family history of same. Policies which are anti-market, but can be interpreted as pro-business. I guess what I'm getting at is "what is Corporatism?" I would say anti-market and pro-business, which is a very dangerous combination. The anti-business alignment as Porchy defines it may be rare, but I think the corporatist alignment as I define it is rampant.

7. One comment on the following: "I’m not saying that laws don’t end up having anti-business consequences, just that that is not the point." Where do you draw the line between the point of legislation and the "unintended" consequences of the same? I agree that anti-business consequences are not often the goal, and rarely ever the publicly stated goal, but many of the unintended consequences of such legislation is often so predictable that I have a hard time describing them as "unintended." To take it back to the CPSIA, is the point of it to put all-natural, mom-and-pop, Etsy-based toy-makers out of business? No, of course not. The point is to "protect our children." But that's putting those shops out of business is so obviously going to be the effect of the CPSIA that I have a hard time considering it to be anything but explicitly anti-business.

Or consider the "job creation plan" from Michigan a month back, which is ostensibly pro-business (or "pro-employer" or whatever) but in reality would be terrible for businesses. Do the results of that plan count as "unintended consequences" when they're so easy to predict? Is that "point" of such plans pro-business because they're described as being good for business, or are they anti-business because they would actually be bad for businesses?

PS As usual when I reply to Porch Dog, I feel like I am giving the impression that I disagree with him more than I really do. Don't read the above points as counter-arguments to his post, merely as thoughts inspired by them.

First Principles

The Big Questions | Steven Landsburg | The Oracle of Eighth Avenue:

My objection is not to Cohen’s answer (which is “no”) but to the way it’s dispensed, as if from an oracle, with no attempt at a derivation from clearly stated principles.

Here’s the best he has to offer:


Well, okay. But why? Cohen doesn’t tell us.

Nor does he test his policy against the hard cases.
Landsburg is discussing his primary objection to the NYTimes' ethics columnist, Randy Cohen. This is a very scientific objection, and I concur wholeheartedly. That is how you must endeavor to discover truth in any discipline, be it physics or ethics: start at the things you know, and work toward the problem areas. Then test the robustness of your solution by probing it with other related questions and situations.

This is, by the way, why I find religion to be valuable to society. It provides people with a set of first principles. It's perfectly possible to construct an ethical framework from whole cloth, or by assembling bits of various different traditions, but most people are not capable, dedicated, or interested enough to do so. It's good for them to have some default choices of axiom sets to live by.

This is also why I found theology to be an interesting intellectual exercise. You can put aside everything you actually believe about God and the World* and just take as given all the red bits from the New Testament, for instance. There are your first principles, proceed from there.

(* A lot of people have a hard time putting their personal beliefs aside in order to do this. Those people were immensely frustrating to have class with.)

29 November 2009

Author Trivia

Wikipedia | Joseph Conrad:

Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski; 3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) was a Polish-born British novelist, who became a British subject in 1886.

He is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in English though he did not speak the language fluently until he was in his twenties.
Wow. That's got to be pretty rare. For context, he wrote Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, and Typhoon in 1899-1900, when he would have been 42.

Discussion question (for people who know more about the history of English Lit than I do — Special Lady Friend, I am looking at you): who are the most successful English language authors who did not learn English until after their childhoods? To be clear, I'm talking about authors who are considered to have worked principally in English, not those like Eco or Borges who appear in translation.

If I changed the question from "most successful" to "most influential" then I would throw Ayn Rand into the ring. She didn't learn English until her 20's either. As enduring as her writing has proven so far, I find it to be unbearable.

In other authorial triva, I just learned that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn got his degree in Mathematics. I would love to see a list of novelists who are educating in Science and Math. Even more unusual Solzhenitsyn trivia: his first wife was also his second wife. They divorced, remarried, and divorced again.

24 November 2009

"Congressional Millionaires"

EconLog | Bryan Caplan | Congressional Millionaires:

Factoids of the day:
1. 54% of Congressmen are millionaires.

2. Consistent with the 'limosine liberals' stereotype, eight out of the ten richest are Democrats.
I wonder how much of this can be explained by the vast overrepresentation of lawyers in politics?
I wish I could say I was surprised. I wonder what a graph of proportion of congressmen in the wealthiest 1% of the population would look like over since 1787.

Obama's Obeisance

I didn't pay much attention at the time to the brouhaha about Obama's bows to Akihito and several members of his retinue. Here are my observations and conclusions a week later:
  • Everyone who doesn't like Obama thinks this is a huge breach of protocol and makes America look beta, and everyone who does like him insists this is totally NBD and anyone who thinks otherwise is a xenophobic cretin. I exaggerate only slightly. To the best I can tell, exactly zero American's have changed their prior opinions about Obama based on this, it has only reinforced whatever they already believed.

  • Do I think it makes him/us look weaker? Sure, but barely. I don't think it matters nearly as much as some people think. I think it was already pretty apparent that the guy is very popular, but that's he's running amateur hour at the White House, so another protocol breach isn't exactly a revelation. It may put him at a slightly weaker position at the diplomatic bargaining table, but it doesn't have 1% of the effect of, say, not being able to pass his domestic agenda while his own party controls the legislature. Additionally, the right wingers who think this will "embolden America's enemies" are mistaken. Terrorists don't hold off because a President stands up straight, they hold off because (a) they don't have as much taste or capacity for violence as we or they believe, and (b) at the end of the day the DOD can still kick ass and take names. A genuflecting POTUS doesn't figure into it.

  • I think we can all agree that Miss Manners is a non-partisan expert, and she says no bowing to foreign heads of state. You are supposed to act respectfully, but not subserviently. If she thinks it's a mistake to bow, I will defer to her expertise.

  • Speaking of expertise, Obama has none in this arena and apparently has a poor relationship with the Chief of Protocol, who is specifically asked with providing such experience. I need to verify with my friend at State, but there is apparently a huge amount of friction between the two of them. I believe the current C. of P., who serves the White House but is a State Department employee, was appointed at the request of Hillary. Obama has plans to revive a long deprecated White House-specific Protocol Office, independent of State, so Hillary can have her lackey and he can have his own. Until he does so, however, he is flying blind with respect to protocol, which explains this incident, the prior bowing to the Saudis, and the ridiculous gifts to QEII and the PM and his family.

  • Some protocol experience was really needed here. This is not, as many on the left have framed it, a matter of when-in-Rome. It is actually a breach of Japanese custom for a visiting head of state to bow to the emperor, as he is inviting them to share his hospitality as equals. From what I understand, Akihito was about as embarrassed by Obama's bows as you might be if you invited your in-laws over to your house for dinner and they left you money on the table at the end of the night to pay for it.

Somewhat related: In addition to a new protocol coordinator, Bainbridge thinks the White House needs a new sommelier. Just putting that out there.

SNL finally gets feisty

LiveLeak.com - SNL Parody of Obama & Jintao Press Conference in Beijing

People are excited that someone besides Jon Stewart is finally making jokes at Obama's expense. Indeed, it's about time:

I noticed something along a similar vein flying back into BWI Sunday night. There have always been shops in and around DC that sell kitschy, semi-jingoistic, government-logo'ed stuff to tourists, like the perennially and inexplicably popular shirts with "FBI" on them in big block letters. One of these shops in the BWI terminal had a table full of stuff that made me literally double back to see if it was really there: a selection of anti-Obama gear. For some reason I was really surprised to see that stuff in the airport shop; it was very out of character for that type of store and the zeitgeist in DC. Vendors love Obama stuff, presumably because people snap up Obama stuff with True Believer zeal. It was interesting to see a non-partisan retailer tacking the other way for the first time. This logo was on a couple of things:

One of the other shirts had the following P.J. O'Rourke quip, though uncredited:
"If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free."
I know this isn't exactly revolutionary. This stuff has been available online for a long time, and a lot of you may even own some of it. I was just surprised to see it in a shop like that because they usually try hard to stick to nationalistic platitudes and avoid making waves.

Update: I meant to mention that I don't find the skit above particularly funny, but then again I haven't found hardly any of their show funny in the last 15 to 20 years. I'm just happy they're getting their bats off their shoulders and taking a few swings.

The 'Dilettante Rugged' Style & Inauthentic Authenticity

An Affordable Wardrobe | Giuseppe | The Pop Up Flea: Voice of Dissent

Pop Up Flea just wasn't 'all that' ( as the kids were saying when I was still a kid). I didn't snap a single photo, because, frankly, we've seen everything they had on offer over and over ad nauseam for at least a year now. You know the scene by now: overpriced boutique-issue 'heritage Americana'...read, replications of poor people's clothes at rich peoples prices.

I get it, but I don't. Sure, there's beauty to be found in a well made piece of hard wearing, rugged clothing, but something about 'designers' trying to sell me a wool flannel shirt for hundreds of dollars in a 'trim cut' just rubs me the wrong way. How can you call this 'design'? These things have existed for a century. Perfect replication at a high ticket is not design...its a marketing and p.r. game.
Preach on!

I told Special Lady Friend as we were browsing at the mall last weekend that I will pay plenty of money for something that demands plenty of money but I won't pay big bucks to look like a lumberjack. There's something perverse about spending lots of dough on something like a flannel shirt. Flannel shirts are all about simplicity and ruggedness and function-over-form. A $200 flannel shirt is the sartorial equivalent of the Hameau de la reine. At that price point you're no longer wearing a flannel shirt, you're pretending to be the kind of person who wears a flannel shirt. It becomes a game of dress-up for coddled urbanites.

Don't get me started on the selvage denim people. Like Giuseppe said, how can you brag about perfectly replicating designs from 100 years ago? That's not design, it's recycling. It's indistinguishable from trying to perfect an authentic Renn Faire costume. If that's what floats your boat, cool, but don't expect me to get all tingly about the prospects of spending many orders of magnitude more than necessary for what amounts to a historical costume.

Just like jokes, clothes should not need to be explained to people. If you need to say that the design for your trousers are 105 years old and they're made on a pre-WWII loom in order for them to impress people then your trousers fail.

Clothes should be judged solely by how you feel wearing them, not on the quality of their backstory. And if you need a good backstory in order to feel good in your clothes then you are not just dressing yourself, you are reaching out for an identity or authenticity you lack.

"Every Man an Anchor on the Goodship Palin"

Julian Sanchez | Every Man an Anchor on the Goodship Palin

In a lot of areas, swarm media really has diversified and deepened news consumption, but in politics it seems mostly to have lowered the bar for the minimum speck of chum required to spark a mass feeding-frenzy. At this rate I feel like 2012 may well be a three-way race between a LOLcat, Balloon Boy, and a hilarious YouTube of a masturbating chimp.
He says that as if those things are somehow worse than the current crop of prevaricating freakshows we pack off to Washington every go-around. Personally, I'd vote for a licentious monkey every day and twice on Tuesdays. Or if I was from Chicago, twice a day and thrice on Tuesdays.

But seriously, I'm glad he makes the distinction between new media and politically-focused new media. The hand-wringing about the "death of journalism" conflates the two. All the talk about how bloggers just piggyback on the "real reporting" done by mainstream journos assumes that all blogging is political blogging. There's tons of original work being done by bloggers writing about art, food, travel, sports, culture, technology, style -- all the sections of a newspaper besides the front page (and even that's debatable), which also happen to be all the sections people actually want to read, not the ones they're told they ought to want to read.

I don't care for the rest of Sanchez' post much though. I see his point about blogging allowing a lot of people to be "news anchors" rather than reporters or editors, and thus allowing them to spout off about random political trivia that they don't really understand. That's true, but that doesn't mean people who blather about things they don't understand get an audience. As to the yahoos that do generate an audience, the problem is that there are idiots who like to listen to fools, not that the fools get to speak their mind. The problem is the listeners, not the speakers. (Which is a lot less satisfying of a conclusion for some, because it boils down to "the problem is all of us" rather than "the problem is the bloggers/technology/change.")

Sanchez salvages the post at the end though, with this closing:
If Jorge Luis Borges had a talk show on a cable channel run by M.C. Escher, it would look like CNN right now. Welcome aboard the Goodship Palin, now sailing from the desert of the real.

18 November 2009


David Peterson, writer & artist of Mouse Guard, explains how he decided to use a very unusual square format for his books. It's an interesting piece, but this diagram of some possible panels layouts on a square page with a 9-panel grid was interesting to me all by itself:

It reminds me of my favorite Ellsworth Kelly paintings, both of the Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance:

In personal news, I'm headed out of town for another conference. Blogging will be light to non-existent, depending on the quantity of internet access in the conference center, the quality of the talks, and the exhaustingness of 90 hours of Science.

(Via TJIC)

"I don't suffer fools gladly"

Atomic Nerds | LabRat | What It’s About:

I like to think I’m a good person, but I also know I’m not really what you could fairly call a nice person in a lot of ways. I don’t suffer fools gladly, I’m introverted as hell and I find the company of most other people draining rather than refreshing or desirable, and you won’t find being inoffensive anywhere on any of my priority lists. I play Violent Video Games ™ (scare chord). The only sport I enjoy watching (boxing) could fairly be termed a blood sport.
When I go for video games they're mostly of the build-an-empire variety, and my sport of choice if football, which might be more accurately described as ritualized combat rather than blood sport, but still, that's a fair description of me as well.

I also appreciate what LabRat's saying in the rest of the post about target shooting being too involved and complicated for it be a violent fantasy, as many (non-shooting) people suspect it of being. Shooting isn't one of my hobbies -- I wish it was, but the nearest ranges are too far away for my schedule and it's a bit pricey to pick up for someone with a near non-existent disposable income -- but I've had similar experience with being consumed by recreational activities. When I've been in the wood studio, or metal shop, or visual effects lab, there's nothing else in my head. You're too consumed with doing what you're doing well to be thinking about other concerns. That focus is the best part of having an active hobby, and especially one that provides clear feedback about how well you're doing. I'd wager nothing has more immediate and objective feedback than target shooting.

17 November 2009

“Laptop Musician” Luke DuBois

I'm really interested in generative/algorithmic/functional art, but I tend to focus on the visual side of things rather than functional musical composition. Today's Rocketboom episode was a nice take on that neglected musical aspect.

They mention Mozart's "Dice Game" to generate a random minuet. I just read about that a bit in the introduction to Keith Tyson's Fractal Dice. Instead of making dance music, Tyson starts with a cube and let's the dice determine which face to extrude, and how much of it, and by how far, and what color to paint it, etc, and ends up with objects like this:

There's a reason they call it "The Opposition"

They're meant to oppose things...
dispatches from TJICistan | idiot Democrats complaining that Republicans are not also Democrats


WASHINGTON – Despite early pleas for bipartisanship, President Obama is forging ahead with his domestic agenda with a largely single-party strategy, unable to corral more than a handful of Republicans on a wide range of major legislation before Congress.

I don’t recall the Globe lamenting that Bush’s attempt to privatize social security was a one party agenda, despite his calls for bipartisanship.

Seriously – wt* ?

Obama wants to socialize the country, and wants everyone to help, and when half the people say “Hell, no, if you like France so much, move there”, this is some great failing of the Republican party?

Vowing to bring change to Washington, Obama had hoped to draw Republicans into the development of sweeping proposals on the environment, health care, the economy, and the workplace.

Yeah, and I’d like to draw Obama into my proposals for cutting taxes by 90%...
Rule: Whenever anyone says they want more political cooperation or bipartisanship it always means they want the other guy to give up his position and do whatever the first guy wants to do. Always.

I'm not making that up. There's good empirical political science work that shows that's what voters really mean, and it's patently, absurdly obvious that that's what politicians mean.
opposition, noun

1. a.The act of opposing or resisting.
1. b. The condition of being in conflict; antagonism.
2. Placement opposite to or in contrast with another.
3. Something that serves as an obstacle.
4. often Opposition; A political party or an organized group opposed to the group, party, or government in power.
I say viva la oposición because (1) a divided government is a friend of Liberty, and (2) it's arrogant to think, as the party in power always does, that the opposition is opposed because they're stupid or hate America or don't care, rather than actually having different opinions.

16 November 2009

Nihil Novum

The Perpetual Three-Dot Column | Jesse Walker | Idea for a Miniseries

Extraterrestrials come to Earth promising hope and change. Gradually their sinister plot is revealed: They will take over the planet and run it pretty much the same way it was being run before.
I love it.

Governing under false colors

EconLog | David Henderson | Bush Admits His Errors

In a speech last week, former President George W. Bush admitted that he had erred in imposing new layers of regulation on the U.S. economy. Here's the news story:

Former President George W. Bush, outlining plans for a new public policy institute, on Thursday said America must fight the temptation to allow the federal government to take control of the private sector, declaring that too much government intervention will squelch economic recovery and expansion.
'History shows that the greater threat to prosperity is not too little government involvement, but too much,' said Mr. Bush

Mr. Bush went on to express his regret at nationalizing airport safety, carrying out illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens, raiding medical marijuana clinics, bailing out General Motors, AIG and other companies, and socializing prescription drugs for the elderly.
Of course, this last paragraph is a joke. So is Bush.
Hear, hear!

By falsely wrapping themselves in the banner of small government, corporatist busybody scoundrels like Bush do as much damage to freedom as unabashed statists like Pelosi.

An American company older than America

A Continuous Lean | American Percussion: Zildjian Cymbals

The Zildjian company is the oldest family owned business in the United States, tracing its origin back to Turkey in the year 1623. The company was established in America in Quincy, Mass. in 1929 by Aram Zildjian who perfected the art of cymbal manufacturing. Now after many years of making some of the finest cymbals in the world, company is coming up on its 400th birthday. The 14th generation of the Zildjian continue to operate the famous percussion supplier at their headquarters and factory in Norwell, Massachusetts.
Bully for them.

ACL has a couple of cool videos of a Zildjian factory tour, as well as this drum battle between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. I'm not a huge Jazz guy, but Krupa and Rich are a couple of my favorites.

This calls for "Far More Drums" off of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Further Out, even though I have no idea if drummer Joe Morello used Zildjian cymbals.

Interesting trivia about Time Further Out:
Wikipedia | Time Further Out

The tracks are ordered by the number of beats per bar, starting with "It's a Raggy Waltz" and "Bluette" in 3/4, "Charles Matthew Hallelujah" in 4/4, "Far More Blue" and "Far More Drums" in 5/4, "Maori Blues" in 6/4, "Unsquare Dance" in 7/4, "Bru's Boogie Woogie" in 8/8, and concluding with "Blue Shadows in the Street" in 9/4.
That's intriguingly conceptual.

14 November 2009

"Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march"

Popehat | Patrick | Einstein Comes To Harvard

Parenthetically one wonders what the world would be like today if America had been more open to Jewish emigration from Europe at the dawn of the last century, or had stayed warlike after 1918, but of course America has never been able to save Europe from its barbarous self. Europe is the cradle of our civilization, and its grave.
Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

— Walt Whitman, "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" (1855)

On the other hand, I often doubt that Americans are a "youthful, sinewy race" anymore either, and that makes me sad.

Backhanded compliment of the month

The Big Questions | Steven Landsburg | Krugman to the Rescue

It’s always impressive to see one person excel in two widely disparate activities: a first-rate mathematician who’s also a world class mountaineer, or a titan of industry who conducts symphony orchestras on the side. But sometimes I think Paul Krugman is out to top them all, by excelling in two activities that are not just disparate but diametrically opposed: economics (for which he was awarded a well-deserved Nobel Prize) and obliviousness to the lessons of economics (for which he’s been awarded a column at the New York Times).

It’s a dazzling performance. Time after time, Krugman leaves me wide-eyed with wonder at how much economics he has to forget to write those columns. But today’s, on why America should consider European-style employment protection, is his masterpiece.
Personally I think Krugman has turned out much worse than today's column, but I concede the point for now.

13 November 2009

Still think centrally-planned economic developments are a good idea?

New London's crash-and-burn hasn't snapped you out of that yet? Then check this out:

(Via Tyler Cowen)

Karma's a Bitch

Megan McArdle | Landmark Eminent Domain Case Ends In Tragedy

Unless you're a libertarian, or a lawyer, you probably didn't pay too much attention to Kelo v. New London, an eminent domain case that worked its way all up to the Supreme Court. New London wanted to hand over its ability to seize private homes to a private entity, the New London Development Corp, in order to "develop" the area for Pfizer, which had a plant in the area. Libertarians objected strenuously, and helped Susette Kelo push her claim to the highest court of the land . . . which then ruled against her.

Now Pfizer is pulling out, following their merger with Wyeth. Incoming mayor Robert M. Pero wanly says: "Basically, our economy lost a thousand jobs, but we still have a building".

Alex Tabarrok coins an aphorism: "Those who would sacrifice property rights to development end up with neither." Too true--it's worth noting that the other landmark eminent domain case, Poletown, was in Detroit. But it's not really that tempting to gloat, because this is a pretty tragic disaster for New London.
I respectfully disagree. This is no tragedy for New London; this is exactly what they deserved. They stole from their neighbors, and their plans went awry.

It's a tragedy for Susette Kelo and her neighbors, but it was already a tragedy when the State, including five of our Supreme Court Justices, decided the property rights of a bunch of poor people weren't that important. It was a tragedy when it became lawful for some municipal committee to seize people's homes because they supposedly know better what should be done with the land. The tragedy is in the original theft, not the botched development.

It would have been equally tragic had Pfizer actually built the new complex. It would have been just as tragic if the development scheme worked out. The tragedy is that a bunch of little people were screwed over by powerful people. The city government of New London, and every citizen of that town who failed to fight for their neighbors' rights, getting shit on? Forget tragedy. That's exactly how I want the universe to work.

(Check that. Ideally the thieves would also be swinging from lampposts.*)

* Yeah, I'm not in a loving mood today. Can you tell?

In which I do a favor for reporters

Reporters: do not ever allow a source to present changes in the average of some occurrence and claim the change is important unless you also get the results of a statistical significance test. Ever. That is no better than modern arithmancy. If necessary, calculate such results yourself, or find another source who can do so for you.

I use Student's t-test most often. Here is a very reliable and easy to use online calculator. It even interprets the results for you with a sentence like "By conventional criteria, this difference is considered to be not statistically significant," before giving you the full statistical information. There is no excuse for not doing this.

For chrisake even Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of Car Talk, mention the statistical significance of an informal study they did on relative cost of repair at dealerships vs. independent shops. (They have to make Marge Innovera earn her keep somehow, after all.)

Why do I bring this up? Jacob Grier rebuts another piece of shody reporting — in an op-ed from an MD, no less! — about rates of heart attacks and smoking bans. Look, there are plenty of good health reasons not to smoke. Maybe you even think those reasons justify certain legislation. Fine, make your case. I'm all ears. But don't rest your argument on piss poor statistics. Frankly, it's insulting to all the numerate people out here.

12 November 2009


Via my buddy JAH, some stats concerning Weis' tenure as ND head coach:
-Under .500 over the last 3 seasons
-Against teams with winning records: Weis 8-19 (.296) Faust 12-23 (.343) Willingham 12-15 (.444) Davie 18-22 (.450)
-0 wins against teams finishing in the top 10 of any of the major polls.
-0 wins over a team with less than 4 losses
-1 (1-13) win against teams finishing in the Top 25
-Worst two year stretch in Notre Dame history (10-15)
-First coach to lose to Navy since 1963 (twice)
-First time in 73 years (the first year of polling) that an unranked Navy team defeated a ranked Notre Dame team
-Worst loss to a service academy in 44 years (blown out by Air Force)
-First coach in Notre Dame history to lose to an eight-loss team (Syracuse 2008)
-0-5 against USC
-Average margin of defeat against USC: 19.8 ppg
-Losing records to Boston College: 1-2, Michigan: 2-3 and Michigan State: 2-3
-Losses by 20 points or more: 8
-More shutout losses: 3 (Boston College, USC, Michigan) in four years than Notre Dame had from 1965-2001
-First 9-loss season in school history
-First 0-4 start ever
-First 0-5 start ever
-Has lost to more teams that finished outside the top 50 (MSU 2007, Purdue 2007, GT 2007, Navy 2007, Syracuse 2008) than Willingham, Davie and Faust… combined (5-4)
-Last overall offense in the country in 2007
-Last overall in yards per play in 2007
-Last overall in yards per game in 2007
-Lowest average yardage in the history of Notre Dame football in 2007
-Worst rushing team in ND history in 2007
-Lost to Navy, USC and Michigan in the same year… twice
-Set an NCAA record (58) for most sacks allowed in a season in 2007
-Notre Dame finished 90th in the country in the 2007 Sagarin ratings… below Richmond, North Dakota State, Delaware, Navy, Florida Atlantic, James Madison and Wofford.
-3-16 record since 2007 against teams that finished with a winning record
-Only coach in ND history to coach for five years and not score 50 points in a game (56 other teams topped 50 points during Weis’s tenure)
-Weis has given up 40+ points in a loss 6 times, 30+ in a loss 19 times
-Currently has the 84th ranked defense in the country
-Will miss the BCS three straight years
-No BCS wins in five years of coaching
Jesus wept. The numbers are skewed by a terrible year in 2007 partially due to a gaping recruiting hole left by Willingham, but still... ouch.

I think the biggest problem is the abysmal record against even middling good teams.

(They are also available on NDNation here.)

Our Faithful Companions

I remember going to a cog sci talk a while back and the speaker was presenting his research in support of the idea that animals have emotions. Apparently this was the minority view in psychology. Probably still is. His opponents were of the opinion that animals had instincts and we just interpreted their actions as being emotional because that was our frame of reference.

I sat in the audience the entire time thinking "Jesus, isn't this an open and shut case to anyone who's had a dog? How can this even be up for debate?" These guys weren't arguing about emotional hornets or jelly fish, they were talking about rats and primates and canines. Well here are exhibits A through J for the hypothesis that at least dogs have emotions. I am equally as certain that dogs have true emotions as I am that you, dear reader, have them. If they're biomechanical robots, then so are you, and from your point of view, so am I.

I can't resist posting one of these, but they're all worth watching. Seriously. Go, watch.

(Via Radley Balko and TJIC. Like them I won't even pretend that I didn't get a little teary watching some of these.)

11 November 2009

Ugly curves, ugly outcomes

EconLog | Arnold Kling | Marginal Tax Rates:

Clifford F. Thies writes,
When you take into account the loss of means-tested benefits (e.g., cash assistance, food stamps, housing subsidies, and health insurance), and the taxes that people pay on earned income, the return to working is essentially zero for those in the lower two quintiles of the income distribution.
Read the whole thing. And note that Greg Mankiw shows that health care reform will make this worse. For that matter, so might health care vouchers.

There are two potential solutions. One solution is to base eligibility for means-tested benefits on total income, including other government benefits programs. Another approach would be to abolish a lot of specific programs and replace them with generic cash assistance.
This is really scary to me. Those are the kinds of perverse effects that can bring a society to a halt.

Here are the two graphs Thies presents in his post:

The tax code is such an ugly hackjob. I think if you stripped the labels off of those graphs any engineer worth his salt could tell you that they described a cobbled together system lacking even the suggestion of logic or elegance. It doesn't even matter what the domain is, those curves scream suboptimal. Hell, they scream random.* Which is exactly what they are after a century-plus of congressional sausage-making.

I would be willing to hear arguments in favor of putting any mathematically describable curve into effect in those charts: flat, linear, piecewise linear, logarithmic, sigmoid, whatever. Some of those would be better than others, but at least they'd make sense. They'd be analytically justifiable. You can't possibly tell me there's any moral justification for the mess described by these charts. If we're going to design a system let's design it based on some principles and not the hand-waving, smoke-and-mirrors, bibbity-boppity-bullshit we're working with now.

* I meant random semi-colloquially, but now that I think about it I mean it technically too. Those curves have a high degree of entropy. The Kolmogorov complexity of those things is roughly equivalent to the length of the tax code (or the subset of it applicable to the hypothetical family Thies used to generate them), which is probably of comparable length to printing a table giving gross & net income from 0 to $160k. No good can come of a legal regime with that much entropy.

"Feds Order News Site to Cough up User Data"

Reason Magazine | Hit & Run | Matt Welch | Feds Order News Site to Cough up User Data:

Well, here's some awful news!
In a case that raises questions about online journalism and privacy rights, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a formal request to an independent news site ordering it to provide details of all reader visits on a certain day.

The grand jury subpoena also required the Philadelphia-based Indymedia.us Web site "not to disclose the existence of this request" unless authorized by the Justice Department, a gag order that presents an unusual quandary for any news organization. [...]

The subpoena (PDF) from U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis demanded "all IP traffic to and from www.indymedia.us" on June 25, 2008. It instructed Clair to "include IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information," including e-mail addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, and Indymedia readers' Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and so on. [...]

Let the record show that after a cursory glance at Indymedia.com they look like leftist wackjobs, but this still very uncool.

Maybe I don't really understand international corporate law, and maybe I've read too many Neal Stephenson stories, but I don't see why anybody with information worth protecting would continue to incorporate and host their data in America.

I guess this story redefines what data is "worth protecting." I wouldn't have previously considered the list of visitors to a news site to be in that category.

Technical and legal question: would a hosting service which auto-deleted traffic logs after an hour be a valuable service to protect against these kind of inquiries? Would that be enough to make the log useful as a diagnostic tool (which is presumably the point of logging, right?) but useless to prosecutors? Are such things around and I've just never heard of them because I haven't made it a habit to go looking for secure hosting solutions?

PS The subpeona has apparently been withdrawn after the EFF got involved. The EFF sometimes exhibits some weird priorities, but overall I think they do a good job making a stand for freedom in the technology realm.


Econlog | Arnold Kling | Status Competition:

Gordon Wood, in Empire of Liberty, writes,
After all, wealth, compared to birth, breeding, ethnicity, family heritage, gentility, even education, is the least humiliating means by which one person can claim superiority over another; and it is the one most easily matched or overcome by exertion.
[...] When push comes to shove, political income redistribution favors Insiders over Outsiders. Thus, the bailouts and the continued support for "too big to fail."

In my view, the biggest threat to America's democratic tradition is not concentration of wealth. It is concentration of political power. That is an essential theme of Unchecked and Unbalanced.


I think one of the fundamental questions underlying American politics is whether it is possible to improve your wealth by your own exertions. For generations that was taken to be so obviously "yes" that it wasn't discussed. It still isn't discussed, but I think an underlying assumption* of a lot of Leftists is that the real answer is "no." Of course, they're wrong.

I think a lot of rich leftists want the answer to be no so that they can be the ones to ride to the rescue of the poor and help them, a lot of status-rich but money-poor leftists want the answer to be no so that they have an excuse to dislike the more monetarily successful, and a lot of poor leftists want the answer to be no so that they aren't responsible for their own lives.

* Maybe it's so underlying they don't realize it themselves.

Freedom incurs responsibility; that is why so many men fear it.
— George Bernard Shaw, "Maxims for Revolutionists"

Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, "to be free from freedom."
— Eric Hoffer

Those who see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom. If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity. The passion for equality is partly a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the many which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority.
— Eric Hoffer

Memory Vindicated

A couple of days ago I said I couldn't remember if my father actually brought me in front of a TV to watch the fall of the Berlin Wall, or if I was just imagining that happening. He recently confirmed that was real. The moral stands though: be extremely skeptical of your own episodic memory, especially from childhood. We are far more suggestible than we would like to think.

My father also reminded me that I kept a folder full of newspaper clippings about the Gulf War. At age 6. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that I now keep roughly one bajillion browser tabs open and make a hobby of writing up commentary on news stories. The focus isn't military tactics and hardware anymore, but the spirit is the same. I'll have to get details from him, but I believe I also wrote a letter to the editor of a paper after a caption misidentified what type of plane was in the background of a photo. What a little war nerd I was.

PS I just got another email from my father in which he stated he endeavors to live his life "as a one man MASH episode." Words to live by, folks. Words to live by.

10 November 2009

'DC Sniper'

AP | Va. gov clears way for DC sniper's execution

RICHMOND, Va. – Gov. Tim Kaine denied clemency Tuesday for sniper John Allen Muhammad, clearing the way for him to be executed for the attacks that terrorized the nation's capital region for three weeks in 2002. Muhammad is set to die by injection Tuesday night at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. [...]

Muhammad was sentenced to death for killing Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas gas station during a three-week spree that left 10 dead across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

He and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, also were suspected of fatal shootings in other states, including Louisiana, Alabama and Arizona.

The motive for the shootings remains murky. Malvo said Muhammad wanted to use the plot to extort $10 million from the government to set up a camp in Canada where homeless children would be trained as terrorists. But Muhammad's ex-wife has said she believes the attacks were a smoke screen for his plan to kill her and regain custody of their three children.

I have conflicted opinions about the government executing people, but in this case I'm more than fine with it. I can not muster any sympathy for John Allen Muhammad, and there doesn't seem to be any doubt that he killed a string of people.

In my opinion, while 9/11 had an overwhelmingly bigger and longer-lasting effect on the zeitgeist, this inspired more fear around DC and lead people to make more changes in their lives. People were obviously scared after 9/11, but for the most part they still went about their lives. In 2002 children weren't let outside for weeks, people didn't go shopping, some people would run from parking lots into buildings because they didn't want to be in the open longer than necessary. The idea that you were exposed to danger and could be killed, in any neighborhood and at any time of day, while using an ATM, or gassing up your car, or mowing your lawn, I think that was a first for Americans, at least suburban ones. There were a lot of people that comforted themselves after 9/11 with the (rather silly) rationalization that if they didn't fly then the bad guys couldn't get them. It's a lot harder to give up leaving your house all together.

I think the prolonged nature of the sniper actions also had a very different effect on people than what we've seen from other terrorist activity. When it's going on day after day there's no pushing it out of your mind or out of the news cycle. I suppose that's also nothing new for people who lived in Belfast or Tel Aviv, but Americans have never dealt with ongoing violence like that.

(Just because I have a feeling the above paragraphs would be easy to misinterpret let me say very clearly that I don't think to 2002 sniper attacks were more important, or more influential, or more traumatic than 9/11. I'm not trying to downplay the importance or tragedy of 9/11. I'm just saying that I think the effect of a drawn out string of killings, at random, in widely scattered neighborhoods can be more concrete in some ways. If the goal of a terrorist is to make a populace change their behavior through inflicting fear, this was an uncommon but effective way to do that. I just don't want people to overlook an event -- or its lessons -- that has been largely forgotten or subsumed as years go by.)

I think this gives us a valuable lesson in security as well: bomb sniffing dogs on the subway and bans on toothpaste at the airport are never going to keep us safe from these sorts of attacks. Only emergency response and police work can do that.

(I actually wrote this up before Nidal Hasan went on his spree in Ft Hood. I don't really have much to say about that except that both Hasan and Muhammad & Malvo reinforce the idea that a moderately well-trained guy with a firearm can do more damage than an idiot with C4 in his vest.)

09 November 2009

Video again (again): Berlin Wall

So since I've had such bad luck with posting videos today I'm going to take one more crack at it. Because it's still November 9th, this clip is near called for:

I think it says a lot about the importance of that speech that it's pretty poorly delivered as far as Regan's usual oratory is concerned and yet it's still one of his most remembered efforts.

I don't really have much to say about the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember my father bringing me in front of the television and telling me this is important, but I have a sneaking suspicion that's a false memory. I was only five at the time, so that's entirely possible. On the other hand, I do remember the lead-up to Desert Shield less than a year later, and I remember following the Gulf War on the news relentlessly, so it's also entirely possible my memories of the Wall are genuine.

I do clearly remember seeing a section of wall installed as a memorial while visiting a cousin who was teaching at West Point. That must have been 1990 or '91. At that point they were pretty rare things, treated almost like holy relics. Now they seems to be scattered all over.

Regardless of my shaky memories of the wall, I refer you to Bryan Caplan's commentary on the Wall, the perpetual evils of Marxism and the eery foresight Eugen Richter, a 19th German politician and writer. Caplan's conclusion:
The twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is a day for great celebration. But the sad fact is that if the world had been perceptive enough to see the 19th-century socialists as totalitarian hate-mongers in idealist clothing, the Wall would never have been built in the first place.

Video again

Looks like I'm not the only one with misbehaving computers; YouTube is spazzing out. That should explain why the videos from earlier aren't displaying. Here's something else to feed your eyeballs with prettiness because I am a total sucker for tilt/shift photography and video, even though it is getting a little overplayed at this point.

(EDITED: Well isn't this lovely. The video has been pulled by the film maker pending some sort of clearance from HP. In the meantime, Keith Loutit has some other lovely tilt-shift videos on his Vimeo page.)

HP "Create Amazing" - Director's Cut from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Argggghhh <-- this is the sound I am making right now

I am making that sound because transmission errors through the network attached storage feature on my Apple Airport Extreme have managed to corrupt yet another external hard drive. I am never using that thing again. Done.

I have TechTool banging away on it now, because the built in Disk Utility on this Mac is too lightweight, and that appears to be getting some traction. (UPDATE: Now the partition is sufficiently hosed that whenever I even plug the volume into this deck -- though not into my backup laptop -- I get a full blown kernel panic. [ANGRY NOISES!])

In addition to my beautiful LaCie hard drives being damaged,* I'm dealing with my funding agency breathing down my neck for their annual status report. They've been dragging their feet getting me the information I need to compile my section for a month or more, and now they need me to turn around with my bit by the end of the week. Fist. Today is not the day.

So... no blogging today. Instead, I give you even more videos:

* Seriously, these things are beauts. Add a TB worth of ferromagnetic platter to the monoliths in 2001, and you would have these LaCie hard drives. These are the hard drives Darth Vader would buy, if his home office were being decorated by a Scandinavian minimalist. If they were any more minimalistic they would be invisible.

07 November 2009

What do Bono & Walter Ulbricht have in common?

Yahoo! News | Outrage over wall blocking free U2 Berlin concert:

BERLIN – Irish rockers U2 returned to Berlin for a free mini-concert Thursday in front of the Brandenburg Gate, playing its classic singles and a duet with Jay-Z even as the show was obscured from public view by a nearly 6-1/2-foot (two-meter) high metal barrier. [...]

The show, which was free to 10,000 ticket holders who snapped up the tickets online last week in just three hours, drew some controversy because of the barrier surrounding the gig.

Both Berliners and tourists alike saw the irony in building a wall around a concert dedicated to the wall that already has come down.

That irony was apparently lost on U2 and MTV.

I was in a distinct minority at Notre Dame in not thinking that Bono was some kind of avenging angel of compassion and peace, spreading justice and equality and awareness to all the land with an irresistible combination of biting lyrics, televised charity concerts, and funny sunglasses.

I don't have much respect for conspicuous philanthropy. His efforts, for all his good intentions, are silly. Project Red is just a way of allowing wealthy people to engage in the same conspicuity Bono does, but on a smaller scale. ONE, and many of his other efforts like calling for a 1% "tithe" of the US budget to go to foreign aid, conflates being genuinely charitable and generous with giving away other people's money. Aid programs and debt relief in general don't work and never will. (See, for instance, Dead Aid.) When people like Andrew Mwenda try and present that opinion, Bono has tried to literally shout them down.

Bono's in it for Number One. Nothing wrong with that, I'd just like for people to stop treating him like a saint.

06 November 2009

Video Friday

I've been at a conference today and yesterday without wifi, so no blogging. I feel compelled to provide some content though, so here's some videos to ease your Friday. Enjoy.

Some humor:

Reminds me of the old "Free Tibert! (With purchase of Tibet of equal of lesser value)" shirts.

Since I'm here learning about mind-stuff, here's some perceptual weirdness:

Changing gears a bit, here's this:

If you have time to show off, it isn't really a fight. It's a show. Of course, you better make sure the other guy is on the same page as you.

Okay, it's Friday. Rock out.

05 November 2009

The Undecideds

Coyote Blog | My Last and Only Observations About The Elections Last Night:

Who are these 20% or so of the voters who slew back and forth in as little as a few months between the two parties. What goes on in their head — “The Republicans are threatening my freedoms, I better vote Democrat. Oh no, the Democrats are now threatening my freedoms, I better vote Republican.” At what point do folks wake up and say “both these parties threaten my freedoms whenever they are in power – I wonder if there is an alternative?”
I wonder about this every time pundits get to talking about "The Undecideds" 60 days or so before an election. Who are you people? How is it possible to change your minds about something like an election so easily? If you really don't have strong opinions about the candidates — and that's totally cool, there are tons of other things more worthy of our attention — then why vote? Embrace your apathy.

All the Rock the Vote and Get out the Vote and Vote or Die nonsense is just shaming people into doing something they don't particularly care about and don't have much information or opinion about. Let these people be. There's nothing wrong with not voting. I have scads of opinions and more information than I can really justify spending the time collecting, and I still don't bother to vote most of the time.

(And when I do show up to the polling place, I usually end up casting protest votes which take the form of write-ins for dead people I admire. I believe Eric Hoffer and Richard Feynman got the nod for my county council last year.)

As anyone with game theory background can tell you, one of the biggest problems with "one man, one vote" systems is that it utterly fails to account for intensity of opinions. It sounds all egalitarian, but it means our government is beholden to people that are apathetic. I say "one man, one hundred votes," and let people slice up their support for the red team and the blue team however they will. Maybe, just maybe, they may realize that both Red and Blue aren't worth their time.

You know those little stickers they give you when you vote? Screw them. I want to get a bunch of buttons made up for election day next year, except instead of having a flag icon and saying "I Voted!" they'll say "I did something worthwhile today!" and you can write in underneath things that are more important than voting, like "I walked my dog!" or "I ate a sandwich!" or "I read a book!" or "I took a satisfying poop!"

Peak Oil

I was leafing through an old issue of Esquire during my morning constitutional,* and I came across their personal finance column. The admonition of the month was to invest in petroleum, and in support they advanced some arguments for "peak oil." In doing so, they presented the following quote from hedge fund manager Reagan Silber, of CommonWealth Opportunity Capital:
'If you are long oil, you are short ingenuity.' In other words, you don't believe man will find an acceptable substitute in time.
Spot on. But contrary to Silber's intent, this is precisely why I don't buy into peak oil. Never, ever, bet against the ingenuity of man. Ingenuity is the only true resource, and unlike oil, or land, or precious metals, or any of the other things popularly known as 'natural resources,' there is an ever increasing stock of it. Progress through Science, friends. Progress through Science.

Now maybe putting it down on oil is still a good play, but that's because it doesn't matter whether peak oil actually happens or not. Like all investing, the only thing that matters is whether you think it's likely to happen compared to what other investors think will happen. You're not betting on who wins the game, you're playing the line.

* October 2009? Possibly September. Not sure.

PS I have just discovered the Esquire column online here. I am sympathetic to the other large thrust of the piece — "that the tripling of debt during the first six months of the Obama presidency has basically sentenced America to a generation of struggle and wealth depletion" — but I remain unwilling to bet against human ingenuity when it comes to peak oil. Note, though, that if anything is going to beat ingenuity in America down, it is the forthcoming crushing tax burden combined with the corporatism we have seen flourishing over the last year. We may have to look elsewhere to be redeemed by cleverness, though I am not sure where. India, perhaps?

04 November 2009

Schools and liberty

Porch Dog offered me a great complement the other day by saying that he appreciates me criticizing overreach of power on both the Left and Right since that's something I really do try for, but I wanted to highlight this bit from that post:
Porch Dog | Obama’s Insidious Propaganda Machine:

Typing that above paragraph I’m reminded a time from 2oo2—back when I had “an office” (sort of)—and a co-worker a couple of years older than me stormed in in a frenzy saying “It’s gotten to the point you can’t trust your government anymore.” I looked at him in amazed disbelief. Not because he was wrong, but because your late twenties or early thirties seems about 15 years late to be developing a cynical outlook on the truthfulness of men and women in power.
So true.

I must have been about 12 when I realized many teachers — as authority figures if not necessarily as educators — were inept, and about a year after that I realized the same of principals, and two years later I realized it of school board members, and then very shortly of county executives, and pretty soon I had figured out it was foolishness all the way to the top. Few things influenced my classical liberalism as much as my experiences with Montgomery County Public Schools.

In fact, after one particularly egregious run-in with an especially incompetent school administrator in high school, a neighbor counseled me not to "let this make you cynical." Bullshit. It did make me cynical about men and women in power, and I'm damn glad it did. We are not lead by the wise and benevolent. Everything is not going to be alright if we get the right people in charge and let them do as they will. We can not rely on Authority to kiss our wounds and make everything better. They will screw up as much as they fix, because they are human, just like us. Presidents, Congressmen, Bishops, CEOs — all human.

I think schools (and teachers unions) are some of the most pro-authoritarian institutions in the country. I think the pro-freedom elements in America need to take that and turn it to their advantage. That is the perfect environment to make people appreciate freedom and despise control. We ought to teach adolescents that if they hate being treated like children, if they hate being controlled by an uncaring, illogical bureaucracy, if they hate being led by people who can't find their nose with two hands and a mirror, then they're not going to get to grow out of it. That isn't something you age out of and no longer have to deal with when you're an adult. That's the lot of a 21st century American. There is no better chance to convince people to abhor nannyism and paternalism and overbearing control than then when they are in school.

The onset of fiscal Armageddon has been postponed.

ABC News | Health Care Reform Bill Unlikely to Pass This Year

Senior Congressional Democrats told ABC News today it is highly unlikely that a health care reform bill will be completed this year, just a week after President Barack Obama declared he was 'absolutely confident' he'll be able to sign one by then.

'Getting this done by the by the end of the year is a no-go,' a senior Democratic leadership aide told ABC News. Two other key Congressional Democrats also told ABC News the same thing.

This may come as an unwelcome surprise for the White House, where officials from the president on down have repeatedly said the health care bill would be signed into law by the end of the year.


the ragbag | raynor | receiving robo-facials

the fact that modern day photo programs like picasa and iphoto have the ability to recognise my face gives me the heebie-jeebies. i have tried to disguise myself by: growing a beautiful mustache, wearing XL hipster glasses, and shaving off my exquisite unibrow to no avail—picasa can still somehow distinguish between me and my many handsome associates. how far would i have to go to keep these systems from recognising me? furthermore, what is the threshold of abstraction for a face to still be understood as a face? enter scott mccloud and his graphical abstraction scale from understanding comics.
In my recent post on Raynor and his Ragbag I forgot to mention this excellent piece of work of his. I've been meaning to reblog it for a while now. Computer vision and Scott McCloud — how could I possibly resist?

Understanding Comics is highly recommended to all readers of comics, and to students of film as well.

Vexillology, Linguistics & Other Matters

the ragbag | raynor | the flag for constructed languages

While the ziggurat/devo hat icon is totally badass and the colour fills a conspicuous void of purple among flags of the world, i find it kind of ridiculous that a concept this abstract [constructed languages] merits its own flag. where is the flag for binomial nomenclature? what colour is the flag of trigonometric functions? who gets to fly the trochaic pentameter flag?
Send out the call to the finest vexillolographers in the land! New flags are needed for abstract concepts forthwith!

For the record: Wikipedia has the flags of Francophonie, Hispanicity, and Esperanto. To me they look like the banners of a UN Commission on Hugs and Feel Goodery, a Sovereign Military and Religious Order of the Unspecified Near East and a Miscellaneous Bush-League African Military Despotism, respectively.

You are all commended to read Raynor's musings on a regular basis. He is a gentleman and a scholar. Recently he has asked good questions about sausages, and told haunting tales about Halloween.

Here are the most popular posts from the Ragbag. I can particularly commend the most recent three of those, as this one makes two visual references to my new favorite televised comedy, How I Met Your Mother, one is an excellent elucidation of the differences between Arial and Helvetica, and one has a "fairly exhaustive" list of literary eponymous adjectives.

Side note on vexillology: How do you remember vexillology is related to flags? Just remember your Dante. The beginning of Inferno's Canto XXXIV is "Vexilla Regis prodeunt Inferni," or "Forth come the banners of the King of Hell," which I've always found to be a satisfying thing to mutter under your breath when some poobah who is not to your liking approaches. To be sure, a somewhat arrogant thing to mutter, in an over-educated way, but satisfying nonetheless.

PS The above bit of Dante also appears in either Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz or its sequel Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, I can't remember which. The first of those is probably my favorite post-nuclear war novel, though if you asked me on another day I might answer Alas, Babylon. The former is more interesting thematically, but the latter has the hands-on details that remind me of Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe, two childhood favorites.