25 October 2011


jwz | jmc rip

You may have heard that John McCarthy died yesterday at 84. As the inventor of Lisp, the world's second-oldest programming language, and coiner of the phrase "artificial intelligence", it's fair to say that (aside from Turing) there's nobody whose contributions to computer science have had a bigger impact on my life.

(Though being a neural rather than symbolic AI guy, I might bump Frank Rosenblatt above McCarthy on my list of influences.)

I never got around to commenting on the passing of Dennis Ritchie last week. Like Ritchie, McCarthy is as influential as he is obscure. If I had to re-run the 20th century, but without one of either Ritchie, McCarthy or Steve Jobs, I would bench Jobs without a second thought.

Illka has some great JMC links. I had read this wonderful collection of his aphorisms before, but it is well worth re-visiting. I had not realized what an anti-Malthusian he was. He would have made a great guest for EconTalk.

PS — Paul Graham on Lisp, in 2001:
It's worth understanding what McCarthy discovered, not just as a landmark in the history of computers, but as a model for what programming is tending to become in our own time. It seems to me that there have been two really clean, consistent models of programming so far: the C model [co-invented by Ritchie] and the Lisp model. These two seem points of high ground, with swampy lowlands between them.
I'm not sure I can overstate how outsized the impact of these two men has been on the last half century.

23 October 2011

In which I actually -gasp- defend the Obama campaign?

Well, sort of.
Atomic Nerds | LabRat | Bad-Breath Distance of Poe’s Law

So, to recap: In order to glitz up Obama’s message about supporting and creating jobs for Americans, Obama wishes some Americans to work for him for free with not even a guaranteed hope of so much as potentially in any way gaining future jobs from the non-job. That’s a messaging fail it takes some genuine talent in the field of arrogance and tone-deafness to achieve, it’s not a mundane fail.

The only way I can follow the campaign’s thought process here is that it genuinely has no idea that 2012 will be at all different than 2008.
This is, obviously, an enormous political misstep. And I think LabRat's diagnosis of the cause is right on. (Read the rest of the post if you haven't heard of this story before; I don't have the time to recap it now and LabRat does a great job of it.)

So, big ol' fail by the Obama campaign, right? Well, yeah, but — and I can't believe I'm about to type these words — I want to defend this. Obviously it is politically bad, from a "messaging" standpoint, or whatever you call it. But I don't think there's anything actually wrong with this program.

(1) Campaigns regularly ask people to volunteer distributing signs, making phone calls, etc. Often the only compensation, besides the warm-and-fuzzies I am told some people get from contributing to the moral clusterf### of electoral politics, is a chance to shake hands with — or even be in the same room with — the candidate.  Why not ask designers to contribute along similar lines?

(2) The campaign made an offer to designers: make a poster; you'll probably get nothing; but maybe you'll get a memento. If you don't like the deal, don't take it. If you do, do. It's between the campaign and anyone who wants to take them up on the offer, and no business of mine.

I would vastly prefer if Obama was willing to offer me the same courtesy to make employment offers on whatever terms I want. That will be a cold day in Hell arid summer in DC, but nonetheless, being the magnanimous man that I am, I am willing to refrain from judging any trades he wishes to offer to willing participants, no matter how ridiculous I find the terms.

(3) Yes, yes I see the irony in promoting a message about "creating jobs" in a way that doesn't create jobs. But there's a difference between national policy and individual action. What makes sense for the nation may not make sense for this organization in isolation. Hypocrisy has become the non plus ultra sin of American politics, and I don't think it should be.

Besides, this is hypocritical only on the superficial, most easily seen level. Let's say you think re-electing Obama will result in lots of job creation. (I don't have any clue why you would possibly think so, but let's assume you believe that in good faith.) Sacrificing a couple of design jobs now in order to secure many jobs in the future is a reasonable thing to do under this assumption set.

Again, I would vastly prefer if he took a moment when hectoring the rest of us about "good jobs" to acknowledge that different potential employers have different circumstances leading them to make different decisions about job creation, and those differing decisions are not ipso facto wrong.  But the problem with the contradiction between his actions and his rhetoric lies in his rhetoric, not his actions.

The way to resolve this hypocrisy isn't to discontinue this program (though that is exactly what will happen if indeed it has not already) but to stop bullying a heterogenous group of people with a heterogenous set of needs into making a homogenous set of hiring decisions that meet his personal opinions about what constitutes a "good job."

PS I've heard complaints about design contests before.  There are now companies devoted soliciting design proposals with only the winner(s) getting paid.  I believe Stack Overflow used one (99designs?) and caught some grief for it.  I've heard similar complaints about some newer stock-photo services which use a similar system.

I honestly don't understand the problem with these.  If you don't like the terms, don't participate. If it's acceptable to the buyer, and it's acceptable to the seller, then it's acceptable to me.

The objections seem to boil down to "but I'm a professional!" Good for you. If you can't execute your craft better than the amateurs lining up to submit to these contests, that's your problem. If you can execute, then you can also command higher prices or better terms.  You don't get to prevent competition from amateurs because it hurts your business or wounds your pride.  (Or because it exposes the fact that other people don't value your output as highly as you think they ought to.)

"The network of global corporate control"

I woke up to this story on Boing Boing:

Cory Doctorow | Densely-linked cluster of 147 companies control 40% of world's total wealth

Normally I would not step into the abyss of economic ignorance which is Bng Bng, but I am rested, and feeling strong, and I have actually written a paper on network analysis in business, so I thought I would flip through the paper Doctorow references (Vitali, Glattfelder & Battiston: The network of global corporate control [PDF]).

I will say this once, and clearly: What the authors definitely DO NOT claim is that 147 companies control 40% of the world's total wealth. What they claim is that those companies control 40% of the gross operating revenue of the transnational corporations in their data set. Revenue is not wealth, and the wealth of some large firms is not the wealth of the entire world.

Furthermore, as best I can tell from their numbers, that 40% figure assume a threshold model of control, so that if Company A owns 51% of Company B, and B owns 51% of C, A "controls" all of the revenue of A, B, and C. This threshold model (and to a lesser extent, the softmax model they mention) is naturally going to lead to a concentration. No way around it. I will leave it to the business governance experts as to whether this is a good assumption or not, but my inclination is that it entirely ignores agency problems, which can not be a good thing. (Good enough for the statistical and network analysis methods Vitalli et al. wanted to demonstrate; not good in terms of accurately understanding the world economy.)

PS: "A relevant additional fact at this point is that 3/4 of the core are financial intermediaries." Is it not the purpose of financial firms to invest in other firms? It sounds kind of scary to hear Merrill Lynch controls 1% of the revenue of the network, but then you realize "oh that just means my 401k is invested in large multinational firms; what the hell else do you expect Merrill to do?" Corporations aren't these alien things; they're us.

PPS – Edited to add – Naked Capitalism addresses the faulty assumptions in this paper regarding ownership here.  This is a good example of why physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists who do this sort of network analysis, machine learning, systems modeling or statistics on data sets in other fields really, really ought to find a co-author with good domain knowledge.  The authors here do some interesting work calculating influence* on cyclical graphs.  Too bad it's muddied up with dubious business interpretations.

* I mean "influence" in the limited, value-neutral sense with which it is used in network analysis, not in the broader, negative sense of potentially nefarious control over another person.

12 October 2011


Bng Bng | Mark Frauenfelder | FBI agent and federal prosecutor take Ferrari for joyride and total it; owner out of luck – Boing Boing

A man's $750,000 Ferrari was stolen. It was recovered, and while the government was holding it as evidence an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor took it for a joyride. They totaled it. The owner sued. The judge threw out the case, citing "a law making the government immune to lawsuits when property is in custody of law enforcement."

Hopefully, the owner was a Wall Street banker.
Really, Frauenfelder? Really? I can see wanting to make taxes more progressive, wanting to specifically raise them on the financial industry, maybe even wanting to do so for punitive rather than revenue-raising reasons. I disagree, but I get it. You're angry about the privilege enjoyed by some financiers. Fine.

But how the hell do you get from there to hoping that their property is stolen by criminals, and then appropriated by other people — people who are supposedly the guardians of legality and justice and also very privileged themselves! —who then destroy it for their own amusement? This is what you want to happen in our society?

In our society of rules, you want powerful people to be able to appropriate the property of unpopular people and use it to have a little fun for themselves? This is something you wish to joke about? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?!

You're supposed to be the sane one at Bng Bng, Frauenfelder.  Grow up.

11 October 2011

Buddy Rich

For whatever reason I'm far more hostile to the notion of even considering politics today.*

(* I blame being stuck in the gym last night unable to change the channel or adjust the volume while MSNBC played on the TVs. Other factors include having a president who claims the prerogative to kill anyone, and the persistence of a mass movement whose views are so mystifyingly alien to me I question whether I belong to the same society as its members.)

Instead, here's some video of Buddy Rich taking care of business in a big way.

Via Merlin Mann

You know what? That hit the spot. Can I get a... two times?

Even better.

10 October 2011

Occupation Digest

ThinkProgress | Matthew Yglesias | Occupy The Admissions Office?
What’s interesting about this, to me, is that while for now this particular complaint [having high student loan debt and low income] is being lumped in with the general Occupy Wall Street message, it seems like the more natural outlet for this particular grievance will ultimately be the universities themselves. After all, while a poor economy is exacerbating the problems with the higher education system, the fact that many degree-granting programs are offering students a poor value-proposition is fundamentally the fault of the universities and not “corporate greed.” Indeed, in a lot of ways, it highlights the limits of some of these anti-corporate frames. It turns out that some powerful and privileged folks who are screwing people over run law schools or crappy no-value-added master’s programs rather than having anything to do with the formally for-profit sector.

On a related note, I wonder how many of the people kvetching about their student loan debt blame themselves for not having also bothered to learn some marketable, productive skills in college, and how many of them think that someone owes them a job just by virtue of having been to college. How often does "shit, I should have taken those accounting classes!" cross these people's minds? To put it more bluntly, how often do these people question their own role in their situation, and conclude it might be at least partially their responsibility?

I'd love to see a poll of all these people complaining about their loans to see what they majored in. If they only consumed education rather than investing in it, I don't find them to be very deserving.

∞ ∞ National Review Online | Josh Barro | We Are the 99 Percent—Even Rich People
A lot of liberal bloggers are drooling over the We Are the 99 Percent blog that is associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I actually find the blog pretty annoying. Partly that’s because because it is so heavy on complaints from people with college (and even postgraduate) degrees, a group that certainly is not bearing the brunt of the economic downturn. But the bigger problem is that the blog is based on a premise that is unhealthy not just for the left but for our political discourse as a whole.

The 99th percentile of Americans, by income, starts with households earning incomes of $593,000. The “We Are the 99 percent” branding puts somebody making $500,000 per year on the oppressed-and-downtrodden side of the wage divide. Indeed, “99 percent” is so expansive a designation that it includes most of the bankers working on Wall Street.
(0) Very good point to keep in mind.

(1) All movement claim to be global, or nearly so, in their own way. I don't recall seeing one that was so explicit about it though.

(2) As Russ Roberts pointed out in this week's EconTalk,* people talk about "The One Percent" as if it is a static category of people, an exclusive group to which no on else can gain entrance and no one ever leaves. This is not how things work in general. (The exception seems to be some farmers, financiers and prison psychiatrists who figured out how to make the dirigiste plundering of taxpayers work for them on an ongoing basis.)

Does anyone have or know where I can find an estimate of how many people consistently have incomes over $593k, as opposed to bouncing over that line and into the illustrious "One Percent" in abnormal years?

(* With guest Bruce Meyer on the subject of "the Middle Class, Poverty, and Inequality.")

ProfessorBainbridge.com | Stephen Bainbridge | The Absurdity of the Anti-Corporation Movement

Reason: Hit & Run | Matt Welch | Hooray for "fear of extremism and mob violence"!

Errata Security | Robert David Graham | Independent reporting of #OccupyWallStreet

Errata Security | Robert David Graham | I was just threatened by #OccupyWallStreet protesters
The irony of populism is that it’s really the first step of facism.
He's right, but that's not irony. That's just the nature of populism.
The fascist chick’s comments reflected this. Even after I made it clear that I didn’t support the protest, she insist that I help them anyway because they were serving “everyone’s interest”. It’s not true, most “everyone” has made it clear they aren’t interested in the protester’s brand of socialism.
Paging Eric Hoffer.

∞ [unknown]

I don't know where this came from. I'm actually a little surprised TinEye shows no results, since I've seen it all over the internet in the last couple of days, though the first one to bring it to my attention is the lovely Mrs SB7.

Anyway, bravo to whoever made this.

Bng Bng | Xeni Jardin | Occupying Los Angeles: portraits

I don't know what this particular guy's politics are, but I think it's safe it's to assume he buys into the general anti-corporation, anti-market sentiment.

See those stickers on the bill of his hat? There's a reason the fashion in the last decade or so has been to leave those on. Most people who do it probably don't think about the semiotics and only do it because it's fashionable.  But the purpose of walking around looking like a jake with your headwear covered in stickers is to signal that you can afford to buy lots of new (genuine) stuff. It signals "I am so financially secure and I buy so much stuff that even this hat is brand new; Only poor people [ie poorer than me] would be so gauche as to wear a hat that was old enough to be broken in." It's a message that is explicitly pro-consumption, and thus explicitly in opposition to the movement this guy is hanging around with.

Bng Bng | Xeni Jardin | Occupy Wall Street Sign of the Day

I feel like there are so many excellent signs at these Occupy Wall Street (and Everywhere) protests, we should just be featuring one a day on Boing Boing while the movement lasts. All these mainstream news reporters keep saying "But what do they want?," so maybe posting one excellent sign a day is the way to show them.
Okay, cool idea. I'm not above being entertained by some pithy signs, even from people I disagree with. Plus I would like to understand what these people desire, propose and expect.

So what's the first choice Jardin makes for this?

Wh..? Wha? Whyy? WTF? How is this possibly going to make people think this mass movement is anything other than a lump of emotional dissatisfaction decoupled from analysis or plan? This is what she chooses to show people what protestors want? They want "sh*t" to be "less f***ed up and bullsh*t"? There's rational, sound policy proposal if I've ever heard one.

Also, check out the sign in the background that reads "Private ownership of industry is theft!" What does that communist BS mean? Seriously, what does "theft" mean without a theory of private property to go with it?

Student Loans

The Atlantic | Megan McArdle | Debt Jubilee? Start With Student Loans

As much as it would benefit my family, I can't support a plan to forgive student loans. Making them dischargable in bankruptcy is more appealing, but I still think the moral hazard it too high. Reforming the student loan system for the future is a whole other story though. That I can get behind. This is a one of those "if it can't go on forever it won't situations," and we still have -- just barely -- the chance to make sure it winds down in a somewhat orderly way.
If the degree caused pain now rather than pain later, they might also think harder about whether what they were studying was likely to deliver a solid return on that investment. I'm not faulting the students--the future is a pretty hazy concept when you're eighteen. I'm just arguing that it's not necessarily helping to enable them. [...]

Moreover, I take seriously the arguments that no everyone who currently goes to college should be there. Calm down--I'm not arguing for some society of morlocks and eloi where many are born to labor in the dark without end.
I see two subsets of morlocks. One group probably shouldn't go to college. You don't need a college degree to be a mason or a nautical welder or even an accounts receivable clerk. The other group should go to college. That's your engineers, actuaries, chemists, etc. We need more morlocks of both types.* The problem isn't morlocks. It's Eloi. That's all the people who go to college but shouldn't,** consuming education rather than investing in it.

"Morlock" is a term I, and others [1, 2, 3], use favorably. Not unlike the transition "geek" has undergone in the last decade. I even, coincidentally, spent 15 minutes I don't really have drafting a morlock tattoo a couple of nights ago. (Don't worry, Dad. I'm not getting one. It was just a self-imposed design exercise.)

** Okay, I'm in no position to say who should and who shouldn't go to college. But I feel comfortable saying who I should and shouldn't have to subsidize going to college.

09 October 2011

Digest: 9 Oct 2011

The Economist: Democracy in America | W.W. | When socialism and libertarianism collide: Who's to blame for American health care?
In my preferred version of the story, the woeful American health-care system is the wreckage of a collision between between the left's intense desire to put the finishing touch on the so-called "Second Bill of Rights" and the American majority's vaguely libertarianish hostility to socialist institutions. Liberals have tossed up one legislative Hail Mary after another only to get slapped down by public opinion and settle for half-measures which have led cumulatively to the patchwork absurdity of the status quo. [...]

If I had to lay blame for this mess on any single conviction, it would be the left's insistence that positive rights, such as the putative right of access to decent health-care, are best secured by a comprehensive system of government guarantees and regulatory supervision. This is the belief that, when Democrats try to put it into practice, wrecks repeatedly against the shoals of American public opinion. The problem is not so much the notion that access to health care is a human right—a notion I think most Americans endorse in some form or other—but the distinctively progressive vision of government's maximally extensive role in managing the provision of the entitlement. That is to say, our stupid health-care system cannot be attributed to the influence of the likes of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, neither of whom opposed a universal entitlement to health care. On the contrary, we would have long ago achieved the dream of universal access to decent care had liberals let go of their dream of big government's supervisory role and paid more attention to the likes of Messrs Hayek and Friedmen when they talked about about how to get this sort of thing done.
The division between the state's roll in financing and the state's roll in production and procurement is not appreciated often enough. This also applies in education.

Thought Catalog | Chelsea Fagan | Street Fashion Photography Is Messing With Me
What the hell are these people doing? I’m sorry, but a 50-year-old Asian man wearing a Paul Smith suit, a denim jacket, a mink stole, a Louis Vuitton backpack, Air Force Ones, and shutter shades — WHERE IS HE GOING? Does he work at an accounting firm run by Kanye West and a 10-year-old girl? Is he late for an appointment with Willy Wonka at the World Bank? Seriously, this man had one thing and one thing alone on his agenda that day: Stand awkwardly on the corner of the street, smoke a cigarette, and wait for people to come take his picture.
The Antiplanner | Randal O'Toole | The Density Fallacy

"Some density is good" does not entail "more density is good."

Captain Capitalism | The Bubble and Burst of Ballroom Dancing
And all men, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow will soon realize you don't use attention to get women (that's where indifference, ignorance and lying about your income come in). You use it to reward the nice sweet ones that treat you nice and don't play games and like you for you.
I wish someone had told 14-year-old-SB7 this.

Via Fourth Checkraise

Think Progress | Matthew Yglesias | Copyrights And Creativity
If you’re talking about a very capital-intensive field, then you won’t have any new products unless there are large financial incentives to innovate. But if you’re talking about a field with low needs for capital inputs, then creating the large incentives is less important and strong IP rights are mostly acting as an obstacle to innovation. The rise of digital technology has made it much cheaper than it was before to produce and distribute most kinds of media. The correct policy response is to adopt somewhat weaker intellectual property rights. Instead, we’ve moved in the opposite direction to shore up firms threatened by potentially disruptive technological change. It’s a mistake.
Kids Prefer Cheese | Mike Munger | Every Solvent Country is the Same, But Each Insolvent Country is Insolvent in its Own Way

Reason: Hit & Run | Emily Ekins | Did Those Automaker Bailouts Work?
The variation in perception of bailout efficacy across partisan identification is clearly troubling. This question did not ask about what people expect to result from the policy, but rather their perception of an actual policy outcome. When different political groups consider the same facts and information and come to widely different conclusions, it calls into question how meaningful compromise can be achieved in the political process.
As Daniel Patrick Moynihan (?) said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

Cafe Hayek | Russ Roberts | The Great Stagnation in the UK
Hmm. One percent a year, corrected for inflation isn’t exactly “barely any improvement.” And that may understate the gains if British inflation measures are overstated as they are here in the US. [...]

So the median (worker? occupation?) grew a measly 57 percent in real terms over 30 years. That’s 2% per year. That’s a crisis? That requires radically transforming society? They’re even crazier across the pond than we are here.
What is the actual goal for the Trades Union Congress? What value would what metric need to have for this group to pack up shop after announcing that British workers are doing just fine?

Popehat | Ken | What’s The Law? It’s What University of Wisconsin-Stout Administrators Feel That It Is, On Any Given Day.

This is important.

If I was taking a kid around to college information sessions I would be asking the adminstration what their opinion was about this. (This would likely mortify my child, but college vists are already peak mortification times, so why not?)

Does FIRE release college rankings? They should, or at least do more of this.

Rhymes with Cars & Girls | Sonic Charmer | The Fake Jobs Test

The Big Questions | Steve Landsburg | There He Goes Again

Landsburg planing of Krugman makes my day.

Reason: Hit & Run | Lucy Steigerwald | A Secret Panel Put Anwar al-Awlaki, Others, on Government Kill List

I'm not sure which is more terrifying: American citizens being killed because the POTUS just got it in his head one day to have them offed, or having an entire committee dedicated to figuring out whom to execute. Do you like your despotic proscriptions to have that old-school personal touch, or do you prefer that they have a more 20th century bureaucratic flavor?

Institute for Justice | John E. Kramer | IJ Challenges “Policing for Profit” in Massachusetts: New Report Documents How Civil Forfeiture Invites Abuse

The Daily What | War On Medicine of the Day
In late June, the Obama administration reversed its policy of leniency toward medical marijuana dispensaries, saying that so-called “pot shops” were subject to prosecution in accordance with federal anti-drug laws.
This was one of very few Obama policies I was happy about during his campaign, but like everything else its turned out to be hot air, abandoned at the earliest convenience. From where I sit, he's followed through on all the promises I didn't want him to keep, and abandoned the few I actually liked.

See also:
The last is the most troubling, because it's not just CA's US Attorneys that think that, it's ... seemingly the entire Administration and most of the Left.

Sidenote: why would anyone at all want to actually run one of these dispensaries? It sounds like the worst possible investment I can imagine. Everything you put into it, both time and money and sweat, could disappear at the drop of a USA's hat.

HuffoPo | Radley Balko | U.S. Drug Policy Would Be Imposed Globally By New House Bill
The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill yesterday that would make it a federal crime for U.S. residents to discuss or plan activities on foreign soil that, if carried out in the U.S., would violate the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) -- even if the planned activities are legal in the countries where they're carried out.
Because our drug policy and law enforcement generally is so rock solid that we ought to start enforcing hypothetical crimes.

Reddit | I Was A Writer's Assistant on Arrested Development

Don't miss the parts about the plans for Lucille II and the Cabin in Season 4.

Investor's Business Daily | John Merline | ObamaCare's Growing List Of Broken Promises

The Weekly Standard | Noemie Emery | Lifestyles of the Rich and Political

Via my buddy JAH

06 October 2011

Digest: 6 Oct 2011

GQ | Lisa DePaulo | Is This the Sanest Man Running for President?
If you're seeking the presidency but no one notices, are you still seeking the presidency? Gary Johnson was governor of New Mexico for eight years, balanced the hell out of his budgets, and climbed Mount Everest with a broken leg. You'd think that would at least give him a shot at the GOP nomination. Nope. Lisa DePaulo hits the surreal non-campaign trail with the most compulsively honest Republican in the race—and returns with some disturbing truths about the Kabuki shit show we like to call modern presidential politics
Gary Johnson is the reason I still register GOP. Once every decade or so I may get the chance to check a box for a guy like him in the Red Team primaries. It will be an entirely futile gesture, but if even one party boss thinks for one fraction of a second that maybe his members don't want ignorant, pandering, populist xenophobe chest-thumpers but instead want guys like Gary Johnson, it will be worth it. That scintilla of consequence is more of a tangible outcome than all the rest of my ballots combined will have.

WSJ: Real Time Economist | Kathleen Madigan | It’s Man vs. Machine and Man Is Losing
Since the recession ended, businesses had increased their real spending on equipment and software by a strong 26%, while they have added almost nothing to their payrolls.

EconLog | Bryan Caplan | Marsh vs. A Simple, Effective Way to Avoid Poverty, Bryan Caplan
If you really care about poverty, you should overjoyed to learn that people can massively reduce poverty by slightly changing their behavior. Of course, this realization will also reduce our sympathy for people who refuse to change their behavior. And it should.
Caplan is talking specifically about not having a child before you're married. If you can manage to do that, and also manage to not use drugs and not drop out of high school, you'll do alright for yourself no matter where you start.

His observation here gets at the distinction between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor, which is a thorny one. Failing to have out-of-wedlock children moves you away from the former category and towards* the latter. Unfortunately many people want to deal with the difficult distinction between these two groups by treating ever poor person as deserving. (The converse is also true, and also a bad idea.)

* Note that I said "towards" and not "into."

ProfessorBainbridge.com | Stephen Bainbridge | What would happen if the NCAA adopted Dodd-Frank?
Accordingly, as Christopher Bruner aptly observed, “the shareholder-empowerment position appears self-contradictory, essentially amounting to the claim that we must give shareholders more power because managers left to the themselves have excessively focused on the shareholders’ interests.”

In sum, the shareholder empowerment measures adopted before the crisis did nothing to prevent it and may well have contributed to it. The new provisions included in Dodd-Frank thus are unlikely to prevent another such crisis and may even increase the odds of some similar crisis induced by excessive risk taking.
(1a) The ability to align the desires of strangers is one of the most powerful features of markets.

(1b) Misalignment is, concurrently, one of the greatest causes of discontent and friction in markets.

(2a) These problems of misaligned incentives are just as common in other forms of societal organization.

(2b) However because incentives were never aligned in the first place, this issue is much less obvious, to the degree that people think it does not happen (e.g.).

(3) I am continuously astounded by "reformers" who are not only fighting the last battle, as if they lived in static environments, but are doing so in a way that would have lost the prior battle. Dodd-Frank's exec compensation rules seem to me an example of this.

Science: Editorial | Andrew Grove | Rethinking Clinical Trials
We might conceptualize an “e-trial” system along similar lines. Drug safety would continue to be ensured by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While safety-focused Phase I trials would continue under their jurisdiction, establishing efficacy would no longer be under their purview. Once safety is proven, patients could access the medicine in question through qualified physicians.
This "e-trial" system is interesting, though I'm not convinced. At the very least, safety and efficacy need to be decoupled. I don't see any reason those should be linked. (Nor any reason the State should be the arbiter of the latter. Certainly no more so than they ought to be able to sanction or outlaw diet and exercise regimens.) We also need to move beyond the idea that new drugs must be effective on average.

Information Dissemination | Feng | Evolution of PLAAF doctrine/training
Even though [People's Liberation Army Air Force] can see the importance of training, the ideological types in PRC leadership thought it was capitalistic to train. PLA has historically adopted a "people army" motto that relies on the large Chinese population and land mass and the ideological types wanted PLA to go back to that and to spend more time on communism ideology. Once the Cultural Revolution started, the ideological types won out in PLAAF's development. By 1966, PLAAF pilots were averaging less than 24 hours of training a year. [...] Due to high accident rate from low training hours, the training program became more and more simple. Even the pilot selection program for PLAAF changed from selection based on performance to based on their obedience of Mao's communist ideologies. Mao even gave orders to compress flight school program from 2 years and 4 months to 1 year. Much of the flight training and aircraft related manuals were destroyed as part of the Cultural Revolution, because that's what happened to anything book or cultural related at that period.
Mao, like Stalin and three year olds throughout history, could not conceive of the world as an objective reality external to his own mind. Flying a plane is an actual thing you do to manipulate reality. It is not subject to ideological purity or politics. You can not magic that skill into existence by decree.

Reason: Hit & Run | Lucy Steigerwald | Ron Paul, Gary Johnson Among Those Not Keen on U.S. Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki

Steigerwald also notes that Glenn Greenwald, despite being firmly form the Left, has been unwaveringly critical of executive abuse of civil liberties like this even with a Blue Team guy in the White House. I didn't explicitly say it yesterday when I quoted him, but good for him. The country could use more Glenn Greenwalds.

Reason: Hit & Run | Matt Welch | Ron Paul: Assassination of al-Awlaki Might Be an Impeachable Offense

Might be?

EconLog | Arnold Kling | This Should Not be News
the majority of small businesses, which are concentrated among skilled craftsmen, lawyers, real estate agents, doctors, small shopkeepers, and restaurateurs.
Good point here about innovation, but I just wanted to point this out because I think most people have a misconception about what "small businesses" actually tend to be in practice.

This is only tangentially related, but I also want to point out something Obama said in one of his innumerable recent addresses. He made some promise about 98% of business not paying more taxes, since the Fortune 500 aren't drivers of job growth. The problem is that there are, even rounding down heavily, on the order of 10,000,000 payroll businesses in America. The largest 2% of that is 200,000 businesses. That's "Big Business" according to his rhetoric. That includes not just GE and Exxon and the rest of the Fortune 500, but also places like my local hardware store with its three locations and the local pizza chain with ten stores or so, and 199,498 other local companies people have never heard of.

EconLog | David Henderson | Obama's Budgetary Sleight of Hand

Reason: Hit & Run | Mike Riggs | One Year After Beating University of Maryland Student John J. McKenna, Two Maryland Police Officers Indicted

Thanks to citizens' ability to record cops, since, IIRC, the police's own footage was mysteriously "missing."

Popehate | Clark | conventional wisdom, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Graham, and how shit is about to get real

This is the first post by Popehat's newest contributor, and it's a good one. It actually reminds me of Graham, in the way that starts over here, drifts over there towards something technical or scientific, and then winds back to make a conclusion that's not obviously related to where we began but follows very well. I look forward to reading more from Clark.

04 October 2011

Debit card fees

Reason: Hit & Run | Peter Suderman | You Can't Call It An Unintended Consequence If You Knew It Was Going to Happen

Traditionally, financial institutions have charged retailers interchange fees for every debit card transaction. Retailers weren't pleased with this and successfully lobbied to have those fees capped at substantially reduced rates. Starting this week, a Dodd-Frank amendment sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin will cut the average per-transaction fee from about 44 cents to roughly 24 cents for large banks. [...]

[Debit card fees are] exactly what critics predicted would happen. Indeed, it is perhaps the least surprising regulatory consequence of the Obama administration's tenure so far. Here's Todd Zywicki of the Mercatus Center predicting the outcome back in 2010, while the fee cap was still being debated:
A reduction in interchange fees will have to be offset by increased revenues elsewhere or a reduction in costs. For example, issuers could try to increase the revenue generated from consumers through higher interest payments, higher penalty fees, or reinstating annual fees.
I've seen BofA's new fees reported in a dozen different media outlets and not a single damn one of them mentioned that this is an entirely foreseeable reaction to a couple of senators "helping" by picking winners. As if the costs of running a debit card business, or the desire to make a profit from the investment in doing so, are just going to go away because Dick Durbin waves a magic wand.

Of course MSNBC wouldn't mention Dodd-Frank as being related to this, but Fox didn't bother to either. The WaPo and NYTimes didn't see fit to mention it. Even the WSJ radio skipped over this. Don't these reporters look for causes of events?

(NB: I haven't done an exhaustive search of these outlets. For all I know they eventually mentioned this. But in the initial reporting I saw/read/heard, none of them brought it up.)

I heard one person explain the cause of the new fees was "bankers' greed." I told him that's about as good an explanation as saying a plane crash is caused by gravity. Bankers were greedy last year, when these fees didn't exist. They are greedy now, when they do exist. Either they got substantially more greedy in the past few months, they were too stupid to think of doing this before now, or something else in the world changed to make this happen.

We still need a word for unintended consequences that are entirely foreseeable. See also: when unintended consequences aren't.

PS I'm actually happy with the new set-up.  I haven't used a debit card to make a purchase in years. During those years I was paying for a debit card system I never used, but those payments were obfuscated by being channeled through higher prices any time I bought something from a merchant who accepted debit cards.  I'd be happier with a system which charged users per-transaction rather than per-month, but this still inadvertently moved us closer to having the people who use a system being the ones paying for it.


Reason: Hit & Run | Ron Bailey | Bipartisan Plan for Climate Geo-engineering Proposed

The New York Times is reporting that the D.C.-based Bipartiscan Policy Center is releasing a new study developed by an 18-member panel of researchers and policy wonks calling for research on ways to cool the planet down through geo-engineering, or as they prefer to call it, climate remediation. From the Times:
In fact, it is an idea that many environmental groups have rejected as misguided and potentially dangerous....
I'm open to geo-engineering if it is done in using incremental methods, but it does strike me as hubristic. Of course the certainty with with many climatologists pronounce about the future of the world seems similarly intellectually arrogant. I'm not sure how you accept the latter as justified, but label study of the former as dangerously prideful.  If scientists really understand the climate as well as I am so often told they do, why wouldn't engineers be able to take that understanding and put it to use?
Last week, various environmental activist groups urged the British government to stop a minor experiment in which British researchers plan to hoist a hose via helium ballons into the air and spew out water droplets.
I'm sorry, I thought the AGW movement was 100% congruent with being pro-science. Apparently it is "pro-science" to block experiments now?  Or perhaps it's not as simple as "this side supports Science and the other side hates Science."

I continue to believe that most of the support behind the AGW movement is less about concern for the environment than it is about gaining leverage to tell other people -- especially ones who consume or produce the wrong things -- what to do. It's the simplest explanation I can think of which explains this situation.

A question for the Workers World Party member that made this sign

This is the second guy I've seen pictures of with this Workers World Party sign:

(This one by way of The Atlantic, the previous one from Reason)

Those look an awful lot like capitalist shoes from New Balance, a corporation with over $1.6 billion in revenue last year [pdf]. Those are capitalist khakis. Ditto the polo shirt, bag, hat, crocs, rubbish bin, as well as the printing press which made that sign and the paper mill which made the card it was inked on.  Even the very asphalt this man slumbers on was created by capitalism.

I'm willing to bet almost everything else this guy finds useful is similarly the product of capitalism. So this raises the question, if capitalism doesn't work, what does? Because I don't see anyone carrying this sign clothing themselves in the output of marxism, or anarcho-syndicalism, or stalinism, or workerism, or fascism, or chavismo, or mercantilism, or maoism. How am I supposed to take seriously this man's desire to end capitalism if he won't even give it up himself?

~ ~ ~

PS That Atlantic piece describes the Tea Party thus:
The Tea Partiers' anger is directed squarely at the U.S. government. It began due to dismay at the bailouts and the massive Obama stimulus package. The Tea Party wanted less government interference in the economy.
The two big, ground-up politics movements du jour, one on the Right and one on the Left (though we should see if this Occupation last more than a fortnight before considering it to be in the big leagues) both claim to have an opposition to bail-outs at their core.  Interesting symmetry there.

Of course I think that's only superficial symmetry.  (Which is still interesting, just in different ways.) I don't really believe that the Occupation opposes bail-outs. Not in general anyway. You don't see them demanding GM and Chrysler return their money. I haven't seen any of them so much as mention Solyndra. Most of them are calling for new hand-outs to businesses, as long as they're in the "green energy" or "infrastructure" fields. That doesn't seem very principled to me.

(Edited to add – this Occupier actually says paying any attention to Solyndra is "total nonsense.")

03 October 2011


The Bay Citizen | Queena Kim | Who Are the '99 Percent'? : Anti-Wall Street protesters have differing motivations

I don't understand anything these protestors are quoted as wanting. It's all emotion; no substance. Hardly any of it even has to do with Wall St. What are the actual grievances these people have, and the actual policy changes they would like to see happen to address them?

I don't know the politics of the Bay Citizen. I assume they did a reasonable job of finding articulate supports, or at least did not looking for the most mush-mouthed cranks to quote. If this is even a random sampling of what the Ragers want, they strike me as even less coherent than your typical picket sign-waver.

NYC General Assembly | Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

Okay, this document makes their demands slightly clearer. I still wouldn't call them coherent, but at least it's moving from emotions into thoughts.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality [...] that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth [...]
This is the exact opposite of reality. A corporation does not get your money unless you agree to do business with them. A government does what it likes to you, regardless of what you choose. Perhaps it deigns to find the support of 51% of your neighbors, but your opinion is irrelevant to it.

I think divide between the way I see this and the way the "NYC General Assembly" sees it is one of the single most fundamental differences in America right now. I don't see how I can have a productive conversation with someone who sees market transactions as coercive but governmental action as voluntary.

I really don't want to spend the time fisking the rest of this thing, but this line caught my eye:
[Corporations] have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
I hate bailouts as much as anyone. Far more than most, actually. But corporations can't take bailouts. They must be given. In America, they were given by that very same government that the writers of this manifesto claim derives its legitimacy from the people.

Getting mad a company for taking free money is like getting mad a dog for eating the pork chop someone put in its bowl. You should be mad at the guy who put the chop there, not at the dog for chowing down.

PS At first I didn't want to give these clowns the satisfaction of using their self-styled label of the "NYC General Assembly," but I am all in favor of people convening their own governments and parliaments and organizations whenever and wherever. I would vastly prefer they do so in a way that leaves everyone else free to go about their business,* but they do have every bit as much right to run NYC as the "official" government of New York city, which is also the exact same right as I do governing NYC. I doubt you would find many people in this "General Assembly" who were actually in favor of such dynamic geography and distributed republics and fluid sovereignty and other structural libertarian solutions though.

* In the main, I agree with Josh Barro in that linked piece. But he does says that "But alas, an amorphous clot does not have lawgiving power." Actually, it does. It does not have legislation-creating power, but amorphous clots are the source of all laws.

Reason: Hit & Run | Matt Welch | Occupy Wall Street: Ghosts of Seattle '99 and Nader 2000

Welch runs down some of the other manifestos and demands and tantrums. I have neither time nor inclination to try and make sense of this, but one of the other huge disconnects I see between me and them is a massive, probably irreconcilable difference over what a job is. To me, an income is what you get when you produce value for other people. To them, it is something that the world simply owes you. It has nothing to do with your productivity, or your ability to satisfy other people's demands, or the choices of employers. To them, someone, somewhere, needs to give you something to do and then give you resources for doing it, and that payment has to be based not on what you've produced, but what you demand to consume. This view of job-as-right rather than job-as-voluntary-transaction is made explicitly, for instance by these Maoist fellows:

Here's another Rager, Lloyd J. Hart, making this explicit as well:
Demand one: Restoration of the living wage. This demand can only be met by ending "Freetrade" by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market to level the playing field [...]. Another policy that must be instituted is raise the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hr.
I have to wonder how the Workers World Party member feels about his fellow traveler throwing workers in the rest of the world under the bus like that?


Skeptically Speaking | #131 Neurology Past & Present

You should really listen to at least the first 12 minutes of this podcast, which contains an interview with Thomas Naselaris of UC Berkeley, who is one of the researchers behind the new paper "Reconstructing visual experiences from brain activity evoked by natural movies." You probably saw the YouTube video associated with that paper, even though you never heard of it, or Naselaris or his colleagues by name:

This was a pretty widely reported science story last week. Much of that reporting was pretty terrible, including Berkeley's own press release, which opened with " Imagine tapping into the mind of a coma patient, or watching one’s own dream on YouTube." That is entirely NOT what this research did.  The reporting on this was so bad I didn't want to post about it at the time.

What I really like about this interview is that Naselaris is very good about extinguishing that wild speculation and presenting this a straight-forward application of what we already know about the primary visual cortex. (Which is rather a lot. The neuroscience of perception, and especially of vision, is a couple of orders of magnitude more advanced than what we know about higher functions like attention or planning.)

As Naselaris is good enough to point out, this work only models what happens in V1/V2 when people are actually watching a moving picture in front of them. There is a vast gulf between that, and what happens when you remember a scene, or imagine one, or dream one. This is an important step in that direction, but this is not that. Anyway, my hat's off to Naselaris and his colleagues for their modeling work. It's good enough work as is. No need for people to blow it out of proportion.

~ ~ ~

Slate | Ron Rosenbaum | The End of Evil? : Neuroscientists suggest there is no such thing. Are they right?

I'm just going to stop right there with the title. Maybe this is a fine article, interviewing fine neuroscientists, who make fine points.  Dinnae ken.

I need to get this off my chest before reading further: Neuroscientists don't have any answers for you about things like this.  I say this as someone who's work falls loosely under the penumbra of neuroscience.  We're in the dark when it comes to something like Evil.  Lights-out, curtains drawn, alarm-clock-unplugged dark.  Neuroscientists can't agree about the mechanisms behind you remembering a phone number. We're still a ways away from understanding "Evil."

~ ~ ~

But what if academics, en masse, deploy errors that are equally foolish? This week Sander Nieuwenhuis and colleagues publish a mighty torpedo in the journal Nature Neuroscience. They’ve identified one direct, stark statistical error that is so widespread it appears in about half of all the published papers surveyed from the academic neuroscience research literature.
Keep this in mind when someone tells you that scientists have figured out morality.

Judge, Jury, Executioner

Salon | Glenn Greenwald | The due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens is now reality
What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government. [...]

So for you good progressives out there justifying this, I would ask this: how would the power to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process look to you in the hands of, say, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann?
Jesus wept. I don't have words for this. The President of the United States of America unilaterally claimed the power to execute his fellow citizens based on nothing but his own say-so. That actually happened in real life. How are people not seething with anger about this? Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one that gives a shit about the rules? MARK IT ZERO!

The only people who seem likely to be upset by this are either (a) satisfied because the deceased has a funny sounding foreign name and/or didn't love Jesus; (b) trust that he must have had it coming because the POTUS says so and that this is a good enough reason for everything even though they thought it was a terrible reason for anything prior to Jan 20, 2009; (c) charmed out of their wits by a glamorous, smooth-talking tall man with a nice smile and can't even consider his actual policies and decisions; or, (d) busy seeing and being seen by all the hip people who are out protesting small-change chickenshit grievances like Goldman's executive compensation levels.

~ ~ ~

What you whispered should be screamed

If US soldiers were fighting for our freedom, they’d be fighting in the White House.
Our CinC has declared himself judge, jury and executioner of American citizens. I would imagine this would concern some of our servicemen, especially the ones he has appointed to be his own personal Jack Ketches.

~ ~ ~

LA Times: Opinion | Jonathan Turley | Obama: A disaster for civil liberties
But perhaps the biggest blow to civil liberties is what he has done to the movement itself. It has quieted to a whisper, muted by the power of Obama's personality and his symbolic importance as the first black president as well as the liberal who replaced Bush. Indeed, only a few days after he took office, the Nobel committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize without his having a single accomplishment to his credit beyond being elected. Many Democrats were, and remain, enraptured.
I find it really, really amusing that there's a big ad in the middle of this article directing me to the Obama 2012 campaign website. Someone needs to review their keyword buys a little more closely.

~ ~ ~

The Daily Beast: The Dish | Andrew Sullivan | The Un-Bush

Why does Sullivan label Obama the "Un-Bush"? Because he's "winning" and Bush was "losing."* I can not recall ever seeing a more nakedly consequentialist position staked out my a commentator.

(* Also, no one is being tortured. Let's accept that as factual, for the sake of argument. Is that really something to be happy about? "Sure, the POTUS gets to unilaterally execute people, but at least he's not water-boarding them." That's supposed to be an improvement?)

My own position is that we are at war, and that avowed enemies and traitors in active warfare against the US cannot suddenly invoke legal protections from a society they have decided to help destroy.
I see where's he's coming from, but that's a flimsy position. It's similar to how I feel about execution: I'm okay with killing criminals in the abstract, but in the here-and-now I don't trust the government to decide who gets killed and who doesn't. I'm okay with denying traitors the comforts and protections of the society they violently reject, but I don't trust the government to decide who's a traitor and who isn't. Lots of regimes have tried that in the past, and it NEVER ends well.
The Onion | Historians Politely Remind Nation To Check What's Happened In Past Before Making Any Big Decisions

"In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues," Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. "And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not."

"It's actually pretty simple: We just have to ask ourselves if people doing the same thing in the past caused something bad to happen," Collins continued. "Did the thing we're thinking of doing make people upset? Did it start a war? If it did, then we might want to think about not doing it."
PS Here's Sullivan again:
And since Cairo, we have witnessed the real flowering of democratic forces in the Middle East - unseen during the Bush-Cheney years.
Is Sullivan actually claiming some kind of causation flowing from Oabam here? Someone tell that to all the dead Syrians.

02 October 2011

Thing I do not believe but desperately want to be true of the day

The Daily What | Breaking Arrested Development News of the Day

Breaking Arrested Development News of the Day: Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz, at the New Yorker Festival cast reunion, just announced plans to bring back the critically acclaimed TV series for one more season — ahead of the long-anticipated Arrested Development movie.

The New York Times‘ Dave Itzkoff reports that the new season will be composed of 9-10 “where are they now” episodes, providing context for the film.

Update: I've now seen confirmations from Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, so it looks like this is really happening. The Bluth Company had the best response: "Taste the happy, Michael"

Update 2: Ummm, maybe never mind? Linda Holmes pours out some soberingly cold water on these new announcements.

01 October 2011

Training Table

WSJ | Kevin Clark | College Football's Last Frontier: Better FoodLooking for an Edge, Top Programs Are Devoting Strategy, Resources to Player Nutrition; the Grilled-Cheese Game Plan

As college programs struggle to maintain their dominance in the face of increasing parity, the issue of how much the players eat during the season—and what they're eating—has been elevated from a running joke to a serious matter that includes teams of chefs, dietitians and volunteers, and that's becoming part of the way some teams prepare for games.
Something to chew on [Heh!] while catching today's games.

Teams can't compete by paying players. But they can compete by paying chefs, and nutritionists, and dietitians. The NCAA's comittment to "amateur" athletics is noble, but ultimately misguided if the athletes are amatuers and the thousands of coaches, trainers, and other support staff surrounding them are professionals.

Monica Van Winkle, the Washington Huskies' team nutritionist, says a 280-pound lineman who is trying to maintain his weight will typically consume around 5,200 calories in a day. A wide receiver would eat 4,100. At Florida, the typical meal for a big eater consists of a steak, perhaps chicken teriyaki, three to five crab cakes, sesame chicken, a carbohydrate option like pasta with marinara sauce and a plate of sushi.