27 March 2013

Surprise! Cry Dctrw doesn't understand what free exchange is!

Bng Bng | Cory Doctorow | Summary of experimentally verified pricing heuristics

A post on ConversionXL sums up a bunch of experiments on pricing and suggests ways of combining them to best effect. All electronic goods can be had for free, so every person who buys an electronic good is essentially entering into a voluntary transaction.
Jesus wept. Allow me to re-write that for you, Cory.

Every person who buys an electronic good is essentially entering into a voluntary transaction.

That's what makes it a purchase and not theft.

And what does the first half of that sentence even mean? Practically, not all digital goods are available for free, even illegally. Even ignoring that, there's a difference between marginal and average price. And how do you begin to...

You know what? Never mind. I would need to divert entires rivers to wash away the fetid heaps marxist ignorance than Doctorow defecates all over the internet, and I have better things to be doing.

(For starters, actually running a study on online conversion behaviors rather than just reblogging summaries of summaries of other people's studies.)

PS The post Dctrw links to is worth looking over. If you're vaguely familiar with things like anchoring and decoy pricing you won't learn much, but if you're new to this cognitive economics type stuff then it's a decently practical way to dip your toes in.

PyCon Brouhaha

Jezebel | Lindy West | Woman in Tech Tweets About Sexist Dudes in Tech. Dude Gets Fired. Internet Meltdown Ensues.

Regardless of what you think of the joke itself, it is sexist to contribute (willfully or cluelessly! Ignorance is not an excuse!) to a hostile work environment for women. Full stop. If you didn’t realize you were doing it, that means you haven’t bothered to think critically about women’s comfort and needs.
Not two weeks ago Amanda Marcotte and others were pitching a fit that girls were being asked to moderate their clothing because they were a detriment to the learning environment for boys at school. They were outraged by the sugestion that people's choices affect those around them, and scorned the idea that "girls were being held responsible for boys."

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and that whole crowd is dashing about telling tech guys that they need to stop what they're doing to consider the affects on others.

And people should! Avoiding giving unnecessary offense is the polite, adult thing to do. But it's also adult to avoid taking unnecessary offense.

It cuts both ways. Don't act like you're the center of the universe when you make decisions. Don't expect other people to act like you're the center of the universe when they make decisions.
JudgyBitch | Delicate flower has her sensibilities offended. Gets her ass handed to her.

Because we all know women get to define what constitutes an appropriate work environment, what behavior and language is considered polite and acceptable and if a lady is offended then the entire world must screech to a halt to address that tragedy. Because equality.
This reminds me of a scene in the History Channel's new Vikings show. Our protagonist has organized the first raid across the North Sea into England. His brother has agreed to go with him, but not to sail under his command. They'll go only if they go as equals. Bro#1 agrees.

So they get to Lindisfarne, and they're looting and killing, and Bro#1 wants to take the only Norse-speaking monk back with them as a slave. Bro#2 wants to kill him. They argue. Then Bro#2 says something utterly baffling but entirely common in contemporary society. Paraphrasing, "You're not in charge. Your word isn't law. We're equals. I want to kill him. Therefore, we kill him."

There's no way to connect "you don't get to make unilateral decisions; we make decisions together" with "we're unilaterally doing it my way." There's simply no valid way to jump from A to B.

That's what I see with this PyCon tempest. "We're all equals in the tech world (with respect to gender)." True! "I get to unilaterally decide what constitutes appropriate utterances and what is so insulting that you should be fired!" No! You don't!

I see this at Universities all the time. So much focus is put on "cooperation" and "community" and "getting input from all the stakeholders" but at the end of the day, we're doing what whoever holds the most cards wants to do. Sometimes that's the traditional elite, sometimes its whoever can wave the biggest victim flag, but it's still a unilateral decision.

You can't define an appropriate environment as whatever the most easily offended person wants. Jezebel thinks you can, ought and must do it that way. But I know they're wrong. You know why? Because Jezebel itself thinks it's absurd. They're totally cool with using that standard when it comes to dick jokes, but when it comes to breast feeding suddenly it's outrageous (eg one, two). Mothers can't be expected to make decisions based on the whims of whoever is most repulsed by strangers' breasts. Well guess what? That means I shouldn't be expected to conform my behavior to whoever leasts wants to overhear terrible puns about dongles.

(PS See also: "Back to the USSR by Way of Twitter")

25 March 2013

victimization-based ideologies continue to confuse me

This is even weirder when you consider that leftists (corr(feminist,leftist) ≈ 1.0?) consider most employments to be slavery rather than voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange.

It seems that employers are definitionally exploiters, unless we're talking about SAHMs.

In any other context Big Business is evil, until someone mentions housewives, and then suddenly COO of Facebook is the most virtuous thing you can aspire to be.

Q: Are driverless cars illegal? A: Cops don't give a shit about legality, so who cares?

Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | Are driverless cars illegal?

There are different notions of the word “legal,” but from a practical point of view what the police will let you get away with is surely relevant. It seems to me that your protected sphere here is quite small.
His point is well taken, but I see very low correlation between what is illegal and what the police will attempt to punish you for.

Would Cowen say that nibbling breakfast pastries into gun-like shapes is legal or illegal? How about photographing public buildings or uniformed police? How about demanding that the government follow its own laws? Are these things legal?

If you think the police let you get away with legal things but not illegal ones, you haven't been reading Popehat. And frankly, you haven't been paying attention.

Again, Cowen's point is a good one, but the underlying assumption*
(which is unfortunately increasingly accurate)
is that we do not live in a society with the Rule of Law any longer. It matters more what the guy with the gun and the badge will let you get away with than what the actual, ostensibly legitimate, legislature has decided.

Just one more reason your precious "social contract" isn't worth the imaginary paper it's (not) written on.

20 March 2013

Miscellany for 20 March 2013

The New Republic | Adam Kirsch | The New Essayists, or the Decline of a Form?: The essay as reality television

Recommended. This touches, incidentally, on why I have never been able to stand David Sedaris, et al. Sedaris — err, excuse me -- the "David Sedaris" character that David Sedaris writes about, is a miserable person to spend time with.

That's only a side point. The main theme of the piece is that our contemporary essayists are both narcissistic and a-truthful. That is, they inhabit a borring in-between which is neither turthful enough to be non-fiction, nor untruthful enough to be fiction.

L'Hôte | Freddie | bullshit social climber faux-antiracism

Has all the privilege checking in every cultural studies class in the history of creation ever put clothes on someone's back or food in their belly? Ever stopped a single cop from beating a black man senseless? Don't mistake your purification rituals for progress, please.

∞ Cafe Hayek | Don Boudreaux | Sequester Question for Minimum-Wage Proponents

If employers of low-skilled workers can, in order to remain profitable in the face of a 24-percent increase in the minimum wage, rather easily and with success adjust the ways they manage and work low-skilled employees, why cannot Uncle Sam, in order to continue to ‘serve’ the public as before, adjust the ways it manages and works its employees so that the effects of a 3-percent budget ‘cut’ are unnoticed by the general public?

Hit & Run | Katherine Mangu-Ward | New Bill to Legalize Gun-Shaped Pastry in Maryland Schools

Jesus wept. Do we really need the state legislature to pass a law recognizing that there exists a difference between a thing and a symbol of that thing??

No! Don't answer that. It will only depress me.

As It Should & Ought to Be | Morgan Warstler | Guaranteed Income & Auction the Unemployed

This is a very interesting proposal. However, I think Warstler is papering over a lot of problems. For example: doesn't it become practically impossible to purchase labor at any price between $7 and $10? What if you don't have 40 hours/week worth of tasks to be done? Why do we want to subsidize hiring by small/less efficient companies but not large/efficient ones? I love feedback and reputation systems, but how will it protect the reputation of employers in situations like this? Aren't we being a little optimistic about how little friction their will be in assuming that every single person will be able to be matched with some job every week?

Side note: I think the idea of a 40-hour work week is going to be increasingly antiquated. Low marginal product workers will have difficulty getting up to 40 hours a week, especially in the current regulatory environment. High marginal product workers will be salaried and work much more than 40 hours. Let's not forget that 40 is a plucked-from-the-magician's-top-hat magic number not a law of nature.

Minding the Campus | David Wilezol | CNN Notices the Value of An Associate's Degree

Nearly 30% of Americans with Associate's degrees now make more than those with Bachelor's degrees, according to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. And some data is suggesting that community college grads are outearning bachelor's degree holders altogether in certain states. [...] The truth is that, in the aggregate, the value of a B.A. is shrinking because a greater percentage of bachelor degree holders are majoring in subjects for which there is little demand.
I would rather save money to let my future children study something practical for an associates and then front them money to start their own company than save money in a 529 for them to go to a four year school if they're going to study liberal arts.

Crisis Magazine | Jeffrey Tucker | There Is No Third Way

I want to print copies of this and leave them all over ND's Center for Social Concerns.

Asymmetric Information | Megan McArdle | What Happened at Intrade?
Rajiv Sethi, a Columbia economics professor, suggests that they may have failed to properly segregate their trading accounts:
My best guess is that the margin posted by traders was not held, as it should be, in segregated accounts separate from company funds. [...]
That would explain a lot. It would also, of course, be exactly what happened at MF Global. This is starting to look like some sort of epidemic. Which is rather odd, if you think about it. While I'm generally pretty pessimistic about the ability of regulators to keep ahead of financial innovators, this seems like the sort of thing that regulators should be pretty good at enforcing. If we can't even ensure that trading firms segregate their clients' money from the firm funds, then the state of financial regulation is even worse than I thought.
This would make a good jumping off point for a game of Left/Libertarian Ideological Turing Test. The progressive response is based around "see, this financial firm was shady; we need more regulation to protect us from their malfeasance!" The libertarian response is "this was clearly illegal already; if we can't trust regulators to catch & enforce these rules why would we give them new rules to enforce?"

I worry that this will cast a shadow over the entire concept of prediction markets, which is a bloody shame.

Ars Technica | John Timmer | We broke the tomato, and we’re using science to fix it

This is a great piece. I am very excited about science enabling me to get something better than the styrofoam stripped mined red things that pass as tomatoes around here. However, this 'graph grinds my gears all sorts of ways:
In the words of a panel at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of science, we "broke" the tomato by allowing the plant breeders to respond to the needs of farmers, instead of the tomato's end-users: consumers. As a result, their breeding has produced a product that most people don't actually enjoy eating. And that's a public health issue, given that tomato-rich diets have been associated with a variety of beneficial effects.
By this standard everything is a public health issue. Anything which is marginally good or bad for your health, however broadly defined, is now something that "the public" — which in practice means "the state" — has an excuse for meddling in.

Also I'm going to disagree with the very notion that modern tomatos are liked by farmers but not consumers. Sure, I hate them. Strike that: I hate how they taste. I love that they stay (mostly) fresh forever and that they cost less than $2/lb and I can get them all year round. Of course I want the best tasting tomatoes. But I want the best of everything, provided I don't have to pay for any of it. If it was true that modern tomatoes are liked by producers but not consumers then the producers wouldn't have been able to sell them.

I'm really tired of journalists putting the cart before the horse on this. Have these people ever tried to sell something? You have to respond to consumer desire; you don't get to tell consumers what to want.

CostCo as Bootlegger

Rhymes With Cars & Girls | Crimson Reach | Another case of ‘liberals’ being against the little guy

In the course of making some larger point I’ve already forgotten, Matthew Yglesias said, casually,
Liberals tend to like Costco since it’s a relatively high-wage employer for the retail sector, and thus a vocal supporter of minimum wage hikes that would create problems for lower-paying competitors...
This struck me. I realize that here Yglesias is just doing his occasional stark-honesty thing. But it’s worth pausing to ask ourselves: Why do ‘liberals’ ‘like’ anticompetitive regulation? Why is that a given nowadays?
I like RWCG's "binning" theory.

My alternative explanation is that they don't 'like' anticompetitive regulation per se. Or at least this is not an example of that liking.

Instead it's simple tribalism: they want higher wage floors, CostCo wants higher wage floors, so they like CostCo. The anticompetitiveness never enters the equation. It's simply preference affiliation.

The progressives are like Baptists, thrilled to have anyone else come inside their revival tent. Even the Bootlegers. No, especially the Bootleggers, because that let's them throw it back in the face of their opponents. "See, even this guy thinks we have the right idea!"

Sadly, the Red Team usually lets them get away with this. Their rhetoric about free markets is so shallow, and they spend so much time hiding behind crony groups like the Chamber of Commerce, that they're powerless to defend against the Blue Team's "even this business supports our policy!" The GOP has so many arguments-from-authority that rest on incumbent businesses that they can't fight back when the Dems use the same bullshit against them.

Anytime you treat, e.g., "it's good for Dow Chemical, therefore it's good" as the beginning, middle and end of an argument you're inviting the other guys to do the same to "it's good for CostCo, therefore it's good."

Neither party has any interest in differentiating between "good for these businesses" and "good for free markets."

12 March 2013

ObamaCare vs IT

Asymmetric Information | Megan McArdle | Administration Extends Obamacare Deadline Yet Again

At some point—some point very soon, I think—it will simply no longer be possible to get a state-based federal exchange up and running in the required time. It's not clear to me why HHS is running the risk of a major, catastrophically embarassing delay, rather than simply acknowledging that they're probably going to be running exchanges in at least half the states, and moving forward accordingly. So far I have three possible theories, all of them unsatisfactory:

1. HHS has a crackerjack squad of IT Ninjas who can parachute into a state on March 1st and deliver a fully working data application, securely integrated with local agencies, insurance companies, and the IRS, less than nine months later.

2. It will be less complicated than I think to build this system, or it does not require nearly as much procurement or integration with local agencies and companies, so that functionally you can just stamp out 25 or 30 identical copies of the exchange in very little time.

3. HHS has wildly underestimated what is involved and is going to badly slip its deadline in the desperate hope of coaxing a few more states on board, most of whom would anyway badly slip the deadline.

As I say, I don't find any of these entirely convincing. But one of them must be true.
I think I can resolve this. Which is more likely to be true of the decision makers at HHS who are doing this: are they (a) acutely aware of software engineering difficulties and IT processes, or (b) are they focused on political problems and processes?

If you ask a software engineer if it will be easier to deal with a technical roadblock or a beauracratic one, he'll tell you the latter is easier. Technical problems require real man hours hunched over a keyboard; political problems are solved by clueless people blathering at each other across conference tables.

If you ask the beauractrat the same question, he'll tell you the former is easier. Technical problems are things you can hire geeks to deal with; political problems require him to have uncomfortable conversations that may lead to his reputation taking a hit.

So who did HHS put in charge of rolling out these exchanges? I don't know, but I'll eat my shoes if that person knows their way around a Makefile.

07 March 2013

Anyone who can do serious damage to a crowd of people with a pen knife doesn't need the penknife to be dangerous

Banning such jumped-up letter openers never protected us from violent terrorists. It just protected us from inept terrorists. Which (a) are not the people we need protection from and (b) is the entire point of the TSA theatre troop, when you think about it.
View from the Porch | Tam | "Soft, docile, toothless creatures..."

At this rate I expect solid evidence of h. sapiens' eyes migrating towards the sides of the cranium over the next few generations.

I am so stealing this idea if I ever write a post-apoc/far-future space opera comic book.*
(will never happen)
There'll be whole tribes of neotenous eloi, like a combination of a baby white tail and Lily Cole, frightfully scanning the horizon 300° around them for pocket knives and other dangers.

That superb banquet

WaPo Right Turn | Jennifer Rubin | Obama’s atrocious statement on Chavez’s death

Our president actually says something so meaningless it is impossible to decipher whether he thought Chavez was a friend or foe.
People: when will you catch on? This is what Obama always does. Indeed, this is his genius. No politician is better at the sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing act.

Expecting Obama not to play this card is like expecting Tim Wakefield not to throw knuckleballs or Quentin Tarantino to direct movies that aren't highly stylized revenge fantasies. This is what they do. They do it well. Accept that.

I actually have to pick on Rep Tom Cotton's reaction to Chavez's death ("Sic semper tyrannis") a little. The dude's heart is in the right place, but I've got to ask: this is what happens to tyrants? This? They die of natural causes after ruling dictatorships for fourteen years?

I'm a big fan of the saying, but it's far better suited for when the tyrant has been felled by twenty three stab wounds, not the capricious claws of Carkinos.

06 March 2013

Calligraphy Vids

Apropos to me previous post:

White House & Washington Monument

DCist | White House Tours Suspended Due to Sequestration

I don't know whether this is a routine application of the Washington Monument Ploy, or an extremely reasonable re-allocation of resources. On the one hand, this seems calculated to be a cut most noticeable and symbolic to the public. On the other hand, I would hope that the White House and Secret Service has more important things to be doing than pandering to — and encouraging — Caesarism my showing off the presidential manse. Which is it?

PS One clue from the article: "According to Politico, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani thinks stopping the tours is 'absurd.'" If he thinks it's absurd I'm going to marginally up my estimation that it's reasonable.

ETA 14:52 — On the gripping hand: Hit & Run | Nick Gillespie | Why is the White House Spending $277,000 a Year on Calligraphists?

I love good calligraphy, but come on. Any guests of the President who would prefer fancy invitations and place cards to the President being responsible with his citizen's money is not someone we should be interested in impressing.

05 March 2013

We live in a world with other people. Govern yourself accordingly.

Slate | Amanda Marcotte | Dress codes for girls: They don’t teach self-respect. Only respecting girls does that.

At my high school, the belief was that boys lost their ability to perform well in school if they saw more than an inch above a girl's knee, and in some more religiously conservative communities, general thinking goes that a glimpse of hair is enough to terminate male concentration completely. Regardless of where you draw the line, of course, the argument remains the same: Girls are responsible not only for their own school performance but also for the boys'.
Here's another argument: your actions affect the people around you, and basic decency demands that you consider those effects when you make decisions. That doesn't mean girls are "responsible" for boys' behavior, it just means girls — like everyone — have an effect on other people.

People's choices have consequences. Even when those pople are women. This doesn't mean I hate women or blame them for everything that happens. It just means cause and effect are real things.

Via @tjic

See also:
JudgyBitch | Jezebel solves the problem of women’s inequality! It’s about bloody time.
To not let women fart is to not let them be fully human. To be free to fart it up with the menfolk is a sign of acceptance, not disintegrating social norms. And the feeling that women need to hide their farts is all part of the intense, building pressure to wax, pamper, perfume, and mask the realities of our own humanness. It’s all part of a system that shames us into feeling, yet again, like how we actually are is never, ever, ever as sweet-smelling as it should be. It’s enough to shame the most bulletproof secure among us into holding in a lifetime’s worth of farts just to fit in.
You know, I think I’ve really been doing this human thing wrong. I’ve been operating under the basic premise that to be human is to acknowledge the presence of other people in my world, and to behave in a way that suggests I believe them to have some basic entitlements to respect and courtesy, which oddly includes the right to NOT have to breathe in sulfuric gases that have just escaped my ass! [...]

Do I really have to explain what is wrong with this advice? One doesn’t deliberately fart in front of other people because it is rude, it is gross, it is disrespectful, it is crass, it is deeply unpleasant and it suggests that you do NOT give one f--- about other people.

Three Questions about The Precautionary (Non-)Principle

Can we rename "The Precautionary Principle" to "The Precautionary Concept I Invoke Whenever It Is Convenient"?

Is there anything besides piously invoking The Precautionary "Principle" which allows people to so effectively shut down debate and still maintain their self-image as open-minded and intelligent?

How high is the correlation between the esteem that law-makers have for The Precautionary "Principle" and the number of unintended consequences that have resulted from legislation they've authored?

04 March 2013

Technology isn't the problem

The Economist | Split screens: A tale of two Tinseltowns

Meanwhile, costs are rising. Everyone had expected technology to make it cheaper to produce films, but the opposite has happened, says Michael Lynton, the boss of Sony Pictures. A move from analogue to digital film enabled perfectionist directors to shoot more takes and touch them up afterward, using up expensive production and editing time.
Sorry, but no. Technology has not made it more expensive to make films. Technology has allowed filmmaking to be more expensive. It's also allowed filmmaking to be less expensive. Same as pretty much every other industry.

The problem is not technological trends. The problem is that social trends have failed to keep up with changing technology. Hollywood producers haven't been able to keep a tight enough leash on their directors employees. They're making a management error, but blaming it on tech.

Don't let directors shoot extra takes. Don't let them edit forever. Don't let them order the FX team to re-make a digital shot of shattering glass so that the shards briefly take the form of a blooming rose.*
True story.

Why am I even mentioning this? One, because I think it's important to disaggregate social and technological trends. Two, because Health Care. I'll leave the analogy as an exercise for the reader.

03 March 2013


Wonkblog | Ezra Klein | How the aging of America is hurting the Republican Party

As Ed Kleinbard, a tax professor at USC, points out, the share of the country over 65 will increase by a third in the next 10 years alone. That means a greater share of the country depending on the government — and, worse even than that, a greater share depending on the government for expensive health-care services.
(1) This is true.

Demographic changes are both inevitable and very, very influential. We've been ignoring them to our own detriment. No, scratch that last. Instead of simply ignoring them we've been actively initiating policies which will make them worse.

(2) This is begging the question.

Aging is inevitable; dependence is not. Being over 65 does not inexorably entail dependence on government. Klein implicitly and entirely rejects the idea that people might provide for their own twilight.

(3) This is only a small piece of the picture.

The problem is only partially that a growing cohort will be dependent on the state. The problem is that there will be just as many people consuming but fewer producing. This is true whether we have enormous social spending programs, or everyone fends for themselves. Almost everything you consume in a given year must be produced by someone working in that particular year.

This aging trend is only exacerbated by the parallel trend of younger people who do not begin producing until later and later in life, especially given that they have often already consumed large quantities of resources in the form of "higher education."

PS Bonus point #4: I would not be so quick to conclude this demographic trend will hurt the Red Team more than the Blue Team. The latter will be forced, for instance, to choose between paying the pensions of retired public sector workers and maintaining spending levels on programs for the poor, for children, etc.

01 March 2013

Franchise Film Making

The Economist | The Academy Awards: An indictment of Hollywood

So where are the terrific Hollywood movies which should have come out in 2012? Crowded out, it seems, by all the remakes, sequels and superhero blockbusters. As for the coming 12 months, we can look forward to “Thor 2”, “Captain America 2”, “Wolverine 2”, “GI Joe 2”, “Despicable Me 2”, “Monsters Inc 2”, “The Smurfs 2”, “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2”, “RED 2”, “300 2”, “Grown Ups 2”, “Percy Jackson 2”, “The Hunger Games 2”, “The Hobbit 2”, “Anchorman 2”, “Iron Man 3”, “The Hangover 3”, “Scary Movie 5”, “Paranormal Activity 5”, “Fast & Furious 6”, “Superman 6” and “Star Trek 12”.
These are all sequels but don't think they ought to be lumped together. Some of these properties, like "The Hunger Games," were originally conceived as multi-part stories. It would be weird not to make the second and third installments. Others, like "Thor," or "Star Trek" were always serial in nature. Those properties exist as story generators, not individual stories. I think there's a big difference artistically between making more movies in those series than in churning out a follow-up to things that were originally stand-alone like "300" or "Monsters Inc."

PS Cranking out new installments in series is not exactly a new thing.

It's not even a film thing. Were people looking at Conan Doyle and whinging about him writing another Sherlock Holmes story?