Friday, October 31, 2008

This Is Why I Hesitate to Complain at Restaurants

I will spare you a Rocky Road reference.

Lew Rockwell Interview With Naomi Wolf

I am not exaggerating, this is quite possibly the best interview I have ever heard in my life. (Just click on the link and then play it from within your browser.) During the show itself, Naomi Wolf comes to see why libertarians are so opposed to the IRS and the Department of Education. She (at least twice) says, "Oh my God, you are so right." Hint: it's not because we hate poor people.

The Wrong Way to Prevent Jingle Mail

If this is the way to stop the profligate from mailing in their keys, the old Wall Street adage rings true on Main Street: "Bulls make money, Bears make money, but Pigs make more money than anyone."

"The Federal Housing Administration began Hope for Homeowners on Oct. 1, aimed at making as many as 400,000 mortgages affordable. Under the program, lenders will refinance loans to 90 percent of a house’s current value, automatically giving the owner 10 percent equity.
The loans will be insured by the government, which will take a share of any gain when the house is sold. If a sale occurs in the first year, the government takes it all. The second year, it takes 90 percent; and so on down a sliding scale. After five years, it takes half the gain."

WTF? I don't have a problem with helping people manage their bad bets if that's going to stabilize the housing market. But why give away the upside?

Would not a better plan be to create a personal recourse lien on the real estate, that accrues no interest (aside from some kind of indexed adjustment which is capitalized), requires no monthly payments, and is only repaid upon reversion?

An example: Joe the Dishwasher bought a $500,000 house with no money down during the bubble. Joe's house is now worth $400,000. For some strange reason he's now unable to pay his mortgage. Miraculously, dishwashers can support payments on a conventional $400,000 mortgage. Let’s recast the mortgage to $400,000, and continue getting payments from Joe. The $100,000 for which we’ve shown forbearance will be returned to us later as part of the reversion, or if there’s still a deficiency, we’ll garnish Joe’s wages. This keeps Joe locked into his house, he doesn’t want to carve up that fat dishwasher paycheck.

The current plan is partly a subsidy to business to artificially create labor mobility, and mostly a farce to prop-up property prices. Joe can now dump his castle for $360,000, walk away clean, and all the denizens of the ‘hood will see their assets re-priced accordingly. Once again, they’ll petition FHA to forgive and recast their mortgages under the threat of Jingle Mail, and we’ll continue our spiral down.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Slim Idiot

Last week -- it's late now, I'm about to go to bed, and too tired to hunt up the link -- Limbaugh posted the idea that the big market drop of day X was due to businessmen being in touch with reality, and realizing that the high likelihood of an Obama win spelled disaster for American businesses. Now, the first piece of rubbish here is that the mountain of bushit contends, in many other posts, that there is NO likelihood of an Obama win, and that the race is neck-and-neck. But the second can only be seen in retrospect, when this week, as the Dow scored its second highest gain ever, Limnuts failed to make a post saying, "Oh, gee, I guess business has decided Obama is fine after all!"

That's a sign of pure partisan hackery -- EVERY sort of evidence "supports" you're position.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meditation upon the Epistemology of Circumstance

God had just created Adam and Eve. "Welcome to the World," He said. "I have a birthday present for each of you. You get to choose who gets what."

"What are they, huh, what are they?" said Adam.

"Well," God said, "One is, I give you a little hose to pee through, so you can pee standing up."

"Oboyoboy," said Adam, "Pee standing up--I want that one!"

"OK, you got it," said God. "Eve gets the multiple orgasms."

Demon Poem

> Sneaking It Past the Demon
> I live with a demon most terrible.
> She shits blood in the night.
> It drips up through the ceiling.
> Her eyes encircle her head, and she never sleeps.
> The first day I slipped it under my coat.
> The circlet of eyes never blinked, but she knew.
> The first week I tried mailing it,
> Rolling it in a rug, giving it a fake ID,
> But always she knew.
> I would have sold my soul.
> I bargained, but to no avail.
> She wanted it all.
> The pet store delivered a snake.
> "Bon appetit," said I,
> And later released the snake.
> She purged it.
> It isn't natural, you see:
> Demons were made before nature.
> 050203 Thu 1430-1545
> 050211 Fri 2000 stanzas
> Hey, a first for Boy Scout me: a poem about infidelity!
> (c) 2005 by Walter Bloch, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What Will Disappoint Me from Obama?

If he don't stop that mojo shit he be directing at McCain and Palin!

(Hat tip to Henley.)

Our Nobel Ideate

Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

"What’s happening, I suspect, is that the Bush administration’s anti-government ideology still stands in the way of effective action. Events have forced Mr. Paulson into a partial nationalization of the financial system — but he refuses to use the power that comes with ownership."

"Whatever the reasons for the continuing weakness of policy, the situation is manifestly not coming under control. Things continue to fall apart."

Uh, Paul:
1) An administration with an "anti-government ideology" does not engage in "a partial nationalization of the financial system".
2) An administration with an "anti-government ideology" does not increase the size and scope of government faster than any administration in my life.
3) Your preferred policies are failing. Time to admit it.

(Hat tip to Elen.)

Obama Is Good for Crash Landing

Yesterday traffic to Crash Landing was 732% higher than the previous day. I assume this has something to do with Andrew Sullivan's link (HT2 Ralph Raico) to my "How could Obama disappoint you?" thread. Woody, let's start another argument!

Little Balls

A friend of mine who plays go a lot found this on her go server. Mathematicians post stuff there, she said, and, being mathematicians, they post problems, not answers.

"You have a collection of 11 balls with the property that if you remove any one of the balls, the other 10 can be split into two groups of 5 that have the same weight. If you assume that all the balls have rational weight, there is a cute proof that they all must weigh the same. Can you find a proof? Can you find a way to extend the result to the general case where the balls have real weights?"

Solving the implied system of 11 equations in 11 unknowns is fairly trivial and gives a proof, but it isn’t “cute” by any stretch. I have been unable to come up with either a cute proof, or a proof, cute or otherwise, which depends on the unknowns being rational.

Does anyone see what I missed?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You Have More Than Two Choices

Both in the Crash Landing thread and the spin-off on Unqualified Offerings, some people seem to be misunderstanding my challenge. To repeat, I want pro-Obama people to list some concrete things that a President Obama could do, that would make them admit (at that time) they were foolish for having supported him now.

As I said, several people are misunderstanding. They say stuff like, "Even if Obama did horrible thing X, my support would only be a mistake if we assume McCain wouldn't have done horrible thing X, or even worse thing Y. And I have no reason to think that."

But that's not what I'm asking; we all know you have weighed the evidence, and right now you expect Obama will be better than McCain. Regardless of who wins, we will never know the answer to that question, since history will go down one path and not the other.

To return to my own example: I am not sure what John Kerry would have done, had he been in office during the financial panic. Maybe he would have seized 85% shares in Freddie and Fannie, instead of Bush's 79.9%.

But that's not really the point. Back when it was a toss-up between Gore and Bush, I was rooting for the latter because I thought, "Yeah, he's an a-hole on rights for people on death row etc., but at least he's a free market guy." It would have been absolutely inconceivable to me, that a President Bush would agree to partially nationalize the banks.

So if Obama nukes Iran, or uses the Fairness Doctrine to somehow get Rush Limbaugh off the air, then he is not the guy his supporters think he is.

A few people have said, "We only have two realistic choices, and so I'm supporting the one that I think..."

That is false. You have many many choices you can make, as an individual. It is a choice to vocally support either candidate, for example. It's not just a matter of, "For whom will I cast my vote?" You can abstain. You can put yard signs up (or not). You can work phones (or not). You can make blog posts critical of one or both (or neither).

So this is what I'm talking about. Obviously, we can intellectually assess which candidate would be "better."

The government wants you to believe, "We have two choices for how to conduct ourselves." Don't believe their lie. It is entirely possible for you to say, "Either of the these candidates will do evil things once he becomes the most powerful person on the planet. I cannot in good conscience 'support' either one of them; I reject this system altogether. Now having said that, I predict that it would be better if so-and-so won..."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Things Have Gotten So Bad

that McCain staff members are now knocking their own VP candidate!

Nothing between him and the sky!

Is baldness now a job requirement at Treasury?

Trying out blogwrite

From my iphone. Here's emma:

Let's Decide Beforehand What Obama Could Do to Disappoint His Current Supporters

In a previous post, I admitted that I now feel quite foolish for being afraid that if Gore won the White House, he would have "wrecked the economy." (Again, I didn't vote for Bush, but I was rooting for him against Gore. I rooted for Kerry, though again I didn't vote for Kerry.) I warned that those who are pro-Obama because he's the "peace candidate" may have similar feelings, a few years from now.

So as a fun exercise, I would like the pro-Obama people to come up with specific things that would make them admit they are mistaken right now, in their advocacy of Obama. For example, if Obama orders the use of nuclear weapons on Iran, surely that would count, right?

To be clear, I'm not talking about things like, "Aww man, he could raise tax rates and cause slower GDP growth!" I'm saying, what if he starts arresting journalists?

So no matter how ludicrous you have to make the events, surely you will admit right now that there are some things President Obama could do, that would make you regret your current support. I would just like to have a record of those things, before he actually takes over.

What I'm trying to guard against is something like this: Surely if you had asked the average American in February 2003 whether we should go into Iraq, if no WMD would be found, there would be more than 4,000 US killed, and we would be there at least 8 years, there would be very little support. And yet, many of those same people still DO support it now, because it's already a done deal. Their views have morphed to avoid cognitive dissonance.

So I don't want that to happen here. Some of you very vocal Obama supporters, please write down some things, no matter how ridiculous they now sound to you, that would make you have to admit (should they come to pass) that you are being fooled right now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Government Makes Sure No One Slips Through the Cracks

Two people have now emailed me this short video on what to do if you have an analog TV; it's pretty funny.

State Fugue: An American Tragedy


Well, He's Not Fat Anymore

Flipping round the AM dial on my way home from work I found Rush Limbaugh on a local station. God, what a pathetic, partisan hack he's become. Is the McCain campaign paying him? He was insisting that the presidential election is very close, and that Palin is helping the GOP ticket! He must of gotten a hold of some oxycontin again.

(Far from being "very close," McCain is so far down that GOP operatives aren't even waiting until after the election to start blaming each other for the landslide loss coming.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's All in Schumpeter (Not)

I recall, after raising objections to what I felt was Murray Rothbard's unneccesarily savage trashing of Adam Smith in his history of economic thought, having some defender of Rothbard's tell me, "Well, Schumpeter reached the same conclusions!"

So, now I'm reading Schumpeter, and I find: "But though the Wealth of Nations contained no really novel ideas and though it cannot rank with Newton's Principia or Darwin's Origin of Species, it is a great performance all the same and fully deserved its success."

And what about the charge that Smith was a plagiarist? " charge of plagiarism can be made either against Smith or on his behalf against others."

So, not so much in Schumpeter, after all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Bush Admits He Lied"

I was following some YouTube links and came across one with this title. I was curious and clicked it. At first I was thinking, "Huh? He's not admitting he lied." But by the end he basically does!

Hey Kids, Spot the Math Mistake!

(Wabulon, please give someone else a chance before posting the answer.)

A while ago I sent my brother Peter Bernstein's book Capital Ideas.* I was trying to get him interested in becoming a "financial engineer," i.e. one of the Wall Street whiz kids who can tell you how safe mortgage-backed securities are. (Now you know why I cannot charge for my advice.)

Anyway, he was looking at it again and noticed a pretty dumb mistake. I reproduce the relevant excerpt below. The author is referring to Cowles (whose first name I forget):

[Cowles] must have been a fiendish bridge player. Here is one passage from his notes on the game:

"If each of 50 million bridge players in the US plays 200 sessions of 40 deals each, this adds up to 50 million*200*40 = 400 billion hands dealt each in US (sic). The probabilities on any given hand being dealt with 13 cards of one suit are .00000000000156. The chances of a hand with 13 cards of one suit being dealt in the US in any given year, therefore are 400 billion times .00000000000156=.624."

I will post the first comment to this thread, giving a hint from my brother.

* Isn't it odd that in that sentence, it seems for a second that my brother is Peter Bernstein? Cuz he's not.


I was working in the yard and, when I came inside, I looked at my jacket and thought, "I've gotten something slimy on it." Then I looked more closely and saw that someone else was getting something slimy on it: a slug was crawling up my chest, soon to nuzzle against my neck.

(Dr. Tyson's Chicken, I've given you a big opening here: what can you do with it?)

By the way, Bob soon will not be the only one blogging somewhere else: watch for the exciting announcement in these pages soon!

Murphy vs. Cowen on Business Cycles

I have finally made it; Tyler Cowen links to me (sort of) at his blog. So here is my original article, "The Importance of Capital Theory." Then Tyler acknowledges it parenthetically in this post, though he chooses to filter it through a foreign website (presumably for tax purposes).

Incidentally, my article above lays out the basics of how capital consumption can give the illusion of prosperity for a brief time, but then reality sets in and a "recession" is physically inevitable. If you don't really get what I am talking about, but are interested to understand what physically might have happened with the world economy over the last few years, I recommend the big section in the article titled, "A Sushi Model of Capital Consumption." I.e. you can probably skip the first sections where I quote Krugman and Cowen, and jump right into the "model."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Meaning of Human Life

As I was planting a rhododendron today, I discovered the above! I realized that, while many creatures (think elephants) before us have uprooted plants, we are surely the first to uproot them from one place and then stick them back in the ground somewhere else.

We exist to offer plants mobility!

Matt Welch Cites Me

as someone at (T)reason who was calling for better oversight of Freddie and Fannie years ago.

UPDATE: Bob Murphy reminds me how it is endlessly funny, even the 5000th time it is done, to spell the name of this magazine (T)reason -- so the post is suitably amended.

Ed McMahon Rapping

(Hat tip to Elen.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Comment Verification On

Aargh! Some virulent spammer found Crash Landing tonight and posted about 30 spam comments in 5 minutes. So, unfortunately, I feel compelled to turn commnt verification on.


Friday, October 17, 2008

A Libertarian Finally Appreciates Shock Doctrine

I have been very frustrated with many libertarians smug dismissal of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine; as usual, the piece de resistance in this area comes from my favorite GMU professor.

But Joe Stromberg sees things my way in the October Freeman, so now I can stop asking, "Is everyone taking crazy pills?!"

Some good excerpts:

The core thesis of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine is that American foreign and domestic policies of the last 30 years have shaped a new corporatism. Corporatism, Klein writes, “originally referred to Mussolini’s model of a police state run as an alliance of . . . government, businesses and trade unions . . . in the name of nationalism.”...

Klein’s case is tightly organized, well presented, and overwhelming in cumulative impact. She makes a complex argument dealing with what are, indeed, complicated matters. Some reviewers complain that Klein forces the evidence into a pattern. They say her treatment of the views of certain psychologists, economists, and military planners and her comparative account of how those views are (were) implemented, are “unfair,” especially to the economists. But Klein rightly pursues the ideas in question across these fields of knowledge (and action) by analogy—a perfectly good Aristotelian and Thomistic procedure. “Hooding” a captive and “blacking out” an entire city by bombing are analogous, because they are done for the same reason—to disorient and confuse, and so on, through further stages of comparison.

The said psychologists, economists, and military planners dwell endlessly on certain themes because they see the world as a manipulable object and proceed from shared mechanistic, Hobbesian, positivist premises, whereby actual people are mere atoms, objects, or empty ciphers on indifference curves. We cannot be surprised that these experts’ activities complement one another in real life and reveal an indifference to “unforeseen consequences,” while a kind of mathematical Platonism underlies the supposedly “empirical” performances. Shared themes include “shock,” “shock therapy,” crises as experimental opportunities, and “clean slates” (Hobbes’s “clean paper”) on which to plot out new worlds. They talk this way; Klein makes nothing up.
The Sri Lankan case must suffice here. There, long-established fishermen, having survived the tsunami, were barred from their beach holdings, so that resort hotels favored by the World Bank, U.S. operatives, and investors might expand. This is precisely what a Chicago Law and Economics (Coasean) judge would do. The fishermen are “socially inefficient.” They got no “growth.” Away with their land! They may come back in the reformed “free market” as waiters and busboys.
There are some problems of language throughout the book. Reading it, one might think the author deplores any conceivable free markets whatsoever. Klein uses “capitalism” and “free market” to refer to assertions made by policymaking ideologues merchandising corporatist and imperial policies. I wish she had somehow separated official rhetoric from other possible, face-value meanings of these words, by putting them in quotes or occasionally writing “state-capitalist.”

This is, in any case, an important, insightful book. Klein’s specific critique of new-wave corporatism outweighs any disagreements some might have with her “third way” politics. Accordingly, I hope people read the book before falling into predictable, knee-jerk reactions.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'm Hoping for a Decisive Win

I'm not really rooting for McCain or Obama; I think either of them is equally capable of presiding over some awful developments in federal policy. As I've said before, it's true that McCain sounds more likely to bomb Iran, but by the same token, he will be under less pressure to prove what a tough guy he is, and also, he is probably more likely to grasp whether something really would be infeasible from a purely military point of view. I.e. I think Obama wouldn't want to bomb Iran because of the dead babies, whereas McCain might think, "Nah, we're too bogged down right now. Putin would have an even freer hand if we opened up another front in the Middle East."

So, since I am not going to get all worked up hoping for one or the other, what I will say is that I hope one of them wins decisively. At this point, of course, that means I hope Obama really wins. (But if there is a late October surprise, the polls could swing in a matter of days.)

What would be absolutely terrible is if the election is razor-thin, and then Republicans bring a bunch of lawsuits claiming voter fraud, or that Obama isn't a US citizen, etc. I realize that some hardcore libertarians would say, "No, that will be great! Maybe the American sheeple will wake up and realize they don't pick their leaders."

But it could also mean that the people "get used to" the fact that sometimes elections need to be postponed indefinitely, blah blah blah. E.g. what if Bush tries to stay in office for another 6 months until the courts can figure out who the next president is? I realize that sounds inconceivable right now, but what exactly would happen if he did it? Remember, in the scenario I've painted, 40% of the country is going to be dead certain that Obama won, while another 40% will be dead certain McCain is the true president. So long as Bush prattles off how the review process will be fair blah blah, I think most people will sit and home and b*tch about how screwed up the country is, rather than start rioting. Keep in mind that Obama himself could go on national TV, urging his supporters to be patient and let democracy play out.

Like I said, even I don't really think the above is plausible, but then again, if you had described all of the Paulson BS 6 months ago--especially the part about the American public vocally opposing it 9-to-1 or more--I would have laughed at you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ah Democracy

I haven't watched any of the presidential debates, so I thought tonight I should probably get to know the guy who will lead us into official socialism. I had a freshly opened beer, and was putting off balancing my checkbook. And yet, the debate was so intolerable, I turned it off. That's right, I decided I would rather balance my checkbook than watch these clowns.

In the same paragraph, possibly the same sentence, McCain excoriated Obama for not backing a free trade deal with our ally Colombia, who after all had done so much to stem the flow of drugs into our country. (Just let that one sink in.)

For his part, Obama said "we" need to guarantee loans to automakers, but also hold them responsible for not building the fuel efficient cars of the future. You see, Obama doesn't think we should import cars from Japan or South Korea. Oh, he also said he was for free trade.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hiking in Pennsylvania

Click on photo for a larger image:

The view from the top of High Knob -- that's New Jersey on the horizon.

Peck's Pond.

Hearty mountaineers..

Steelers Beat Writer

I saw that graphic underneath a talking head on a sports channel the other day, and thought "Oh my God, and entire pro football team pummeling some poor journalist!"

Then I realized the talking head was a writer who covered the Steelers' "beat."

Marketing Director Needed

The name of Key Foods frozen fish concoction? "7 Crunchy Fish Portions"

Fish portions... mmmmm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Henry Paulson Must Listen to Eazy-E

So in case you haven't heard, let me inform you that Paulson has just decided that more than $125 billion* will go to healthy financial institutions. This reminds me of some lines from Eazy-E:

Bankin, I specialize in ganking
Whites, Mexicans, brothers and others.

* Initially RW put the figure at $135 billion, but now he is not sure. The phrasing is a little off in the article, so it's hard to know. So to be safe, just say it's at least $125 billion.

Sunset Poem

Dropped rock fire the red sun down
Golden evening bridge gate crossing the bay.
Chopped blue gray glad steep freehold finding
To save light.

(c) Copyright 2008 by Walter Bloch, all rights reserved.


Greetings! This is from a wonderful book that Gene and Elen turned me on to: Leonard Mlodinow, The Drunkard's Walk (Pantheon Books, 2008). For simplicity, assume that gender in successive children is 50-50 independently for each child.

(i) A family has two children. What is the probability that both are girls?

(ii) A family has two children, one of them a girl. What is the probability that both are girls?

(iii) A family has two children, one of them a girl named Florida. What is the probability that both are girls?

According to the author, Florida was a rather popular name in the first decades of the 20th Century, although it has since been very much in decline.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I Know It Was You, Larry, And You Broke My Heart

I caught "free marketeer" Larry Kudlow in a whopper that actually made me embarrassed for him.

Sidewalk to Nowhere

Why shouldn't Obama move to the center? The people are generally morons.

Warning to Obama Supporters, From Burned Bob

I think that things are going to be awful over the next four years, regardless of who wins the White House. Now I know some people (even staunch libertarians) are very passionately hoping for an Obama win, because they would rather a Marxist than a Mad Bomber.

I agree that in a perfect world, Obama would be much more peaceful than McCain. But of course, we don't live in a perfect world. And I have seen nothing to indicate that Obama will implement the peaceful policies that (I agree) he personally desires.

The most classic example is Obama saying something like, "North Korea, Iran...these are tiny countries that don't pose us any threat." Awesome. Somebody needed to say it. And yet, within a few days (maybe even just one, I can't remember) later, he completely reversed himself and said something like, "I have always said that Iran and North Korea pose serious threats to this country." So forget the blatant lie, it's rather that he is lying about something so crucial.

A more recent example concerns the "negotiating with rogue leaders" issue. Obama clearly said he would be willing to sit down with no preconditions with the leaders of "terrorist" states. Awesome. Somebody needed to say it. And yet, when Palin tried to embarrass Biden with that, what did Biden do? He lied about it, and said "Barack never said he'd sit down without preconditions..." or something like that.

I have been personally burned in this matter, so I am warning libertarian Obama supporters not to make the mirror-image mistake. Back in 2000, Bush was running against Al Gore, and I was terrified of a Gore presidency. I thought if he won, Gore would impose a carbon cap on US businesses, raise taxes on rich people, blah blah blah. I didn't think much about it, but yeah I probably would have conceded that Bush was more likely to blow up foreigners, but still, for me at that time, I thought Gore was the clear and present danger because of his socialist tendencies.

I think we see how ridiculous my worries were. (Note that I have NEVER voted for George W. Bush. I can't remember if I did vote in that election, but if I did, it was straight third-party down the line, either Libertarian or Constitution Party depending on who was available.)

It is a myth that Republicans are good on economics while Democrats are good on foreign policy. Nixon closed the gold window and instituted wage and price controls, while Truman nuked babies and LBJ bombed the crap out of Viet Nam.

Let me close with this final observation: If Obama wins and there is another terrorist attack on US soil, he is going to "have to" take aggressive action such that future libertarians will ruefully conclude, "Yeah, President Obama believed in diplomacy the way President Bush believed in free markets."

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Winner's Curse" in Publishing?

This is the kind of thing Gene would complain about, so I'm posting it here rather than at Free Advice. In this post, Tyler Cowen summarizes an article that claims:

In economic theory the winner’s curse refers to the idea that someone who places the winning bid in an auction may have paid too much...The same thing may be happening in scientific publishing, according to a new analysis. With so many scientific papers chasing so few pages in the most prestigious journals, the winners could be the ones most likely to oversell themselves—to trumpet dramatic or important results that later turn out to be false. This would produce a distorted picture of scientific knowledge, with less dramatic (but more accurate) results either relegated to obscure journals or left unpublished.

By itself, this is just goofy. There are probably a good 7 things wrong with this theory. (I confess I haven't read the paper, so maybe they address all 7.) Here are some big problems, some of which I thought of myself, and others which people at MR came up with:

* As with other nifty things, like the criterion of falsifiability, this idea above falls apart if you apply it to itself. Or, as I put it in the comments: "I have tried for years to get a paper published that says the refereeing process tends to select papers with true hypotheses, but no journal was interested."

* This really isn't the winner's curse. So even if it's true that "the most interesting papers are probably wrong"--which is how either Steve Landsburg or Bryan Caplan (it was one of the two but I can't remember which) phrased it several years ago--that's not really the winner's curse. As an MR comment explained: "[T]he winner's curse applied to papers would be that published papers present more information than was necessary to get published, IE they could have published 2 papers instead of the one. Therefore, I refuse to read the paper because I disagree with the conclusion from the snippet Tyler posted... Why does the extra information have to be incorrect? Doesn't the Journal check the validity of the information before it is published? (And I'm not talking about the economist.)"

* The guy's comment quoted above actually had two points, the second of which I handle here: Even given the tendency for referees to be more interested in "unexpected" results, why can't they be aware of that and scrutinize the paper more carefully? E.g. in the actual winner's curse literature, in Nash equilibrium rational bidders don't overbid. They are aware of the forces that would lead a group of naive people to consistently fall prey to the winner's curse, and so they adjust for it. So do economics referees not understand game theory? Maybe they don't, but the point is, you can't do a model of the refereeing process that yields this perverse outcome, unless you plug in that the referees (in the model) are morons. So yeah, no kidding if the referees are morons, then we can't trust the papers they publish.

* Finally, here's a great point someone brought up (and note he is quoting from the article in the beginning):

"Dr Ioannidis based his earlier argument about incorrect research partly on a study of 49 papers in leading journals that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists. They were, in other words, well-regarded research. But he found that, within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies. For the idea of the winner’s curse to hold, papers published in less-well-known journals should be more reliable; but that has not yet been established."

This sounds to me like

1) We don't know how likely papers in other journals are to be refuted, so we don't have a sense that the ones in highly regarded journals are *unusually* likely to be refuted;

2) Even if they are unusually likely to be refuted, I'd like to see an argument that it's because they're *worse*, not because the extra attention paid to them due to their place of publication has led to more efforts to replicate/refute their results.

Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Slender Liar

I have been a political/economic news junkie lately, and so I try to catch Rush at lunch and Glenn Beck at night (when I take my son to the park after work). Incidentally, Glenn Beck has really been awesome lately. I don't know if it's just his niche and he ran with it for ratings, but in any case he has been passionately opposed to the bailout, and has been urging his listeners to "stand up for what you believe--someone has to say 'NO' to this!" Etc.

Anyway, Woody will be glad to know that I caught Rush completely distorting the excerpts he played from Barack Obama's audio book Dreams From My Father. (I know because my wife and listened to it on a road trip several months ago.) Rush was playing the part where Obama talked about hanging out with Nation of Islam guys, and how they hated whites as a race, not just individual white jerks. And Obama said something like, "This conflicted with the subtle morality I learned from my mother, where you gave people the benefit of the doubt until they proved you wrong." And then a sentence later he said, "I found I couldn't shake this framework" or something.

So naturally, Rush told his listeners, "You see folks? Here we have the anointed one, the messiah, Barack Hussein Obama, telling us how his peers hated whites, and that he could not shake their worldview, try as he might. And note the rhetoric here, folks. This is the messiah who is supposed to unite us? Preaching class warfare as virulent as that of Jeremiah Wright?"

It would be difficult to be more intellectually dishonest than Rush was here. How the frick would someone heal racial tensions except through openly discussing what militant black guys say when there are no whites around...and then admitting that it is wrong? (To be clear, Obama was saying he couldn't shake his childhood morality, not the new hatred of whites he was learning as a young man.)

For what it's worth, I think Naomi Wolf hit the nail on the head in her "paranoid" video. Near the end she says something like, "We are in coup time now. People who think we need to vote for Obama, and that Bush would hand over power to him...That's just crazy talk."

Note that McCain didn't stoop to "personal attacks," until this week. It is now clear that he was saving them for the end, or, at the very least, he was trying not to use them but now thinks they are his only shot. If we get a week out and Obama still has a comfortable lead, I just may stock up on canned goods. Who knows what the heck "crisis" will then emerge.

The Terrorists Made Me Beat Her!

David Pryce-Jones describes the hardships of getting a Visa in the UK:

"We took a cab as parking a car is out of the question in central London. Another $25 (and the same again leaving.) Approach roads to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square have been narrowed, and fortified with bollards, concrete barriers and wire fences reminiscent of Baghdad’s Green Zone. British policemen were cradling sub-machine guns — not long ago the British were specially proud that their police were unarmed. We queued for almost an hour until reaching the metal detector. Car keys with locking devices were not permitted, but had to be deposited in a pharmacy some hundreds of yards away (and for a fee.)

"Eventually we reached the embassy itself, received a number and sat in a vast room with the other visa applicants — they do seven hundred a day, every day. Around me were people speaking Russian, Greek and French, also people from India and Africa speaking languages I couldn’t identify, the old and the young and babies in arms. Several hours later, our number was called, and we received a visa valid for ten years, plus the information — gently delivered — that it was unnecessary."

So what does he conclude? That our governments are huge, stupid, wasteful bureaucratic nightmares? Nope:

"That terrorists have contrived to add a new level of ugliness to the surroundings, and much bureaucratic inconvenience, which is a success of sorts for them."

Oh, the terrorists made me stick electrodes on prisoners' testicles! They made me kill a million Iraqis! And when I drank too much last night -- the terrorists made me do that, too.

Buy and Fold

The NASDAQ index now stands at 1581. Given that from here to eternity the NASDAQ returns 7% per year, when will an investor who got in at the top (5048) break even?

My calculations show that will happen in, oh, about 2035 or so. So if your were 30 when you got in, the much vaunted "buy and hold" strategy will give you exactly the dollar-amount of funds you put in at just the time you're set to retire -- although, of course, the 2035 dollar will be worth a lot less than the 2000 dollars you invested.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The (Ideological) History of Science

I just picked up The Scientists by John Gribbin. I had thought I was bying a book on the history of science, but unfortunately I've discovered I have bought a work of ideology disguised as history.

Gribbin opens by saying "The most important thing science has taught us about our place in the Universe is that we are not special." Oh really, and just how did science discover that "fact"? Is there some "specialness-omter" scientist have invented recently? What is the measure of "specialness" that proves Gribbin's assertion?

There is none, for of course the assertion is sheer rubbish. The contention of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and so on is not that humanity is special in possessing some unique physical property -- which science might be able to disprove -- but that humanity is spiritually special. Buddhism, for instance, contends that humans are spiritually uniquely positioned to achieve enlightenment. Just how is science supposed to have "taught" us that this is not so?

One of Gribbin's arguments for how science shows we are not special is the old chestnut about the Copernican system removing man from his "special" location at the center of the universe, a move that supposedly "demoted" man from a place of prime importance in creation. There is one rather serious problem with this oft-repeated tale: while it is true that, in Aristotelean and Medieval cosmologies, the center was a special place to be, that is because it was an especially bad place. For Aristotle, the center was where gross, corrupt matter descended, and it was the heavens that were perfect and unchanging, and the closest realm to God. As my lecturer in the history of science at King's College, John Milton, asked: Who was at the center of the universe in Dante's Divine Comedy? Why, Satan, of course, and hell! And Professor Milton mentioned that he could find no record of anyone at the time worried about Copernicus because man would no longer be at the center. This idea is almost certainly an invention of the same Enlightenment anti-clerical thinkers who invented "The Middle Ages," and who falsely alleged that Medieval natural philosophers held that the Earth is flat.

Gribbin continues: "It would have been natural [given the great ruins left by the Ancients] to accept that they were intellectually far superior to the ordinary people who had followed them, and to accept the teaching of the ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Euclid as a kind of Holy Writ, which could not be questioned."

But that is precisely what Medieval thinkers did not do with Aristotle. Medieval thinkers generally considered themselves the superiors, not the inferiors, of the Ancients, because they had Christ's revelation at hand. Indeed, many Christian thinkers urged their fellows to ignore the Ancient philosophers as having nothing to teach Christians. And almost as soon as Aristotle's works were re-discovered, they were questioned. The Church issued edicts as to the many contentions of Aristotle's that had to be rejected. Buridan and Orseme seriously modified his mechanics. The idea that these people unthinkingly accepted every word of Aristotle's is historical nonsense.

Euclid is a somewhat different story, for, while Euclid was unchallenged in the Middle Ages, so he was also by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Kant! It was not until the 19th-century that non-Euclidean geometries were developed.

And, ironically, the attitude of inferiority to the Ancients really came to the fore with the rise of Humanism in the Renaissance -- just when Gribbin says it was ending!

UPDATE: Gribbin actually gets much, much better once he is done with the Middle Ages. I have the feeling he actually researched the period from 1450 on, whereas he just cribbed popular opinion for his views on everything earlier.

The Week Gets It Right


Not a Recommendation

My wife for a time was the patient of a NYC chiropractor who told her, at one point in their relationship, that he treated the Grateful Dead whenever they came to town.

I would think having anything to do with Jerry Garcia's state of health was the last thing a doctor would want to publicize.

Monday, October 06, 2008

McCain and Keating Five

Part I

Part II

The Effects of an Idée Fixe

Sometimes, when you get a bee in your bonnet, you can't get it out. Here Randall O'toole, who works to lighten the burden of land-use regulation, blames the real esate bubble on... excessive land use regulation! "The key to making a housing bubble," he writes, "is to give cities control over development of rural areas."

O'Toole's explanation is nonsensical. Regulation that takes land out of use makes it more expensive , sure, just as would sinking some portion of the land beneath the sea. But this new price is not "a bubble price" -- it correctly reflects the new scarcity of land. (Yes, in the case of regulation, land has been made needlessly scarce -- unless the regulation is needed of course! -- but that makes no difference to the subsequent price analysis.) O'Toole actually seems to have re-defined the word 'bubble' to suit his agenda -- he writes, "But in the early 1960s, Hawaii and California passed laws allowing cities to regulate rural development. Oregon and Vermont followed in the 1970s. These states all experienced housing bubbles in the 1970s, with median prices reaching four times median-family incomes." Well, how does that make these "bubble" prices, as opposed to high prices that genuinely reflect the new, legally created scarcity of buildable land?

Land use regulation makes real estate prices go up -- and stay up. Not go up and crash. What is needed to explain what we have just seen is some story as to how prices got well above their post-regulation equilibrium value.

UPDATE: Think of it this way: Only a change can explain a change. You can't, for instance, explain a sudden surge in the price of oil by saying, "Well, it's useful for heating homes," because it has been for a long time now. Similarly, O'Toole's explanation can at most account for a rise in prices when regulation is enacted -- it can't account for why these bubbles pop. (Nor, of course, can it account for the huge real estate bubble of the 1920s, when, as O'Toole admits, there was almost no land use regulation.) Per O'Toole, these "bubbles" should last until the regulation is rescinded.

The Second Great Depression?


Wouldn't It Be Fun...

to smash this smug little bastard's coffee cup repeatedly into his teeth?

Palin Linked to Evil Terrorist


What Tickles a Cop's Fancy


(Hat tip to The Distributed Republic.)

The Absolute Worst Place on Earth...

only fifty miles from my house!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Turning Joe Six Pack

Great Example of the Bias Keeping Sean Hannity Up at Night

In my friendly feud with Woody, he said that the media would be destroying Obama if he were as vulnerable as Palin. I disagree. I think "the mainstream media" is as pro-Obama as Fox News is anti-Obama. For a fantabulous example, click this link and look at these two Us magazine covers. The first discusses why Obama loves his wife. The second on Palin has the headline, "BABIES, LIES, AND SCANDAL." Now what's funny is, if you read the article, it turns out the "LIES" refer to false rumors circulating about Palin. Yet that's not the impression one gets from the cover.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I Stand by My Words

In response to Bob's contention that I have posted many embarrassing things here:
I am very proud of all... most... many... some... a few... at least one of my posts here at CL.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fair and Balanced

Below, Woody posted a cringeworthy compilation of Sarah Palin clips. In the comments I said:

Please do not misunderstand me: She looks like a complete idiot in these clips, and she has no business running for office.

However, if she got the number of US states wrong (Obama), or said that FDR went on TV to explain the stock market crash of 1929 to the American people (Biden), either of those would have been considered her stupidest statements yet.

After further research, I am even more confident in this position. Obama and Biden have both said some really incredibly asinine things. I literally had to pause the Obama clip below, because I needed a respite from the embarrassment.

And now our good friend, the plagiarist Joe Biden, who is such a liar that he actually adopted someone else's life history when he ran for president. Here's a good clip from Brainiac and Straight Shooter Joe (followed by some more good Obama gaffes):

(Note: American troops didn't liberate the Auschwitz camp, which makes Obama's story about his uncle a bit difficult to obtain membership in the set of all true statements. What seems to have happened is that he mixed the camps up.)

I submit that Biden and Obama's backtracking and idiotic statements in these clips are worse than what they've caught Palin doing. NOTE, of course I admit that Obama and Biden are (a) smarter and (b) more informed on political issues.

My point is, if you follow somebody around with a camera for a month, you will build a collection of incredibly stupid statements. Look at how many embarrassing things Gene and I post on this blog, and that's stuff we volunteer!

Question for the Old Timers

I realize this may sound terribly naive, but is this bailout episode fairly unusual? I can't remember another time during my life when the public was really opposed to something, and the feds just went ahead and did it anyway. Up till now, I really couldn't "see" the government actually implementing counterinsurgency against Americans, but now I can.

Can some of you old timers enlighten me? To clarify my position, I know there were riots during the Viet Nam era etc. But it wasn't as if the public wanted out of there 90-10, right?

Linda's Birthday Party

Fuzzy wuzzy was a Gene.

Big Adam looking all gnarly.

Lewis and Linda, my totem animals.

It's NOT a Democracy Here, Folks

A poll on CNN shows that, 71% to 29%, the public considers today's bailout to be merely a political payout to Wall St. Yet, the bill passed both houses, in an election year, by goodly margins.

Folks, these elections are not real. The incumbent almost always wins, and whichever party we elect, we get the same results -- bailouts for the rich, warrantless wiring tapping, secret prisons, etc. Obviously, a lot of Congressmen didn't want to pass this bill, but their arms were twisted throughout the week until they were almost snapped off.

America is an oligarchy.

Last Chance...

Not for love, but to read Sandy Ikeda's excellent blog on urban affairs at The NY Sun. No, they haven't fired him -- the financial crisis fired them, and the Sun is ceasing publication.

His September posts are here.

The Best of Sarah Palin

Maybe I'll Meet You on the Run...

There were a number of Hassidim wandering through Brooklyn the other day blowing on ram's horns. Why? Could it be the time has come for "a special impact on the ownership and management of land"?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Doing Nothing Is Not an Option

The above line is being used again and again to defend taking lots and lots of money from average people and giving it to very wealthy people (the bailout). This leads me to annunciate "The Callahan Principle": Whenever someone tells you that "Doing nothing is not an option," you can be damned certain that doing nothing IS an option, and probably a pretty darn good one -- otherwise, why are these folks trying so hard to convince you that it's not one?

I Curse...

all corrupt government officials, those who make bad jokes, and anyone who charges fees of poets.

(What's that from?)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Key Pads Foil Clever Marketers

So I was trying to call a business to make sure my bill was correct, and their 800 number had the name of the business as the last four digits. And yet, they didn't provide the actual numbers for people.

Since I just switched to a Blackberry with a non-classic keypad, I had to google to remind myself which letters go with which numbers. If I weren't at a computer, I was going to have to draw a picture of a phone.

Note to companies: It's fine to have easy-to-remember phone numbers, designed with the classic keypad in mind. But your customers shouldn't have to give themselves a headache trying to picture a phone in order to call you.

The Unbearable Superficiality of Being

I just ran across a post on a gardening site saying, essentially, "I'm not into lawn care at all and know nothing of the do's and don't's, but my lawn keeps dying -- can anyone help?"

Yes, I can: If you want to succeed at something, learn a little !$^*@&^!@#* bit about it! It's similar to a woman I knew who would always say, "I try to grow things but I just don't have a green thumb!" Knowing her pretty well, I understood that this meant: "I don't know a thing about growing plants and certainly can't be bothered to learn, but rather than admit my repeated failures are due to laziness and ignorance, I'll blame some magical thumb factor as the cause!"

Or someone will say to me, "I tried your recipe for X, but it just didn't come out the ways yours did!" Well, yes: I've cooked the dish 50 times before, cook almost everyday of my life, study books on cooking (not recipe books!), and have personally spent time with about half-a-dozen good cooks learning from them. The disappointed cook, on the other hand, cook once a month, has never made the dish before, can't be bothered to watch me make it, doesn't study the subject... and thinks a few lines scratched on paper will make up for those differences?!

It's a species of what Michael Oakeshott called "rationalism" -- the idea that a recipe or cheat sheet is just as good as spending years actually mastering something.

UPDATE: And the point here isn't "I cook well" -- I cook as well as anyone who puts a lot of time into it is likely to cook! -- or that there is anything wrong with not cooking well. What I am complaining about is the "shortcut" attitude -- play golf like Tiger Woods in three easy lessons! Think like Richard Dawkins with only these four simple rules! (Oh, wait, that would be easy.) Think like Aristotle with only these four simple rules!

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You...