Thursday, November 29, 2012

Smart Take On The Stock Market

Matthew Yglesias:
"Lots of people have hobbies, especially if they're affluent, and men in particular seem drawn to a broad class of hobbies that's structurally similar to short-term stock market speculation. You obsessively track minutia of data. You gather "insider" information that doesn't actually make you well-informed enough to beat genuine insiders. You run risks based on systematic overconfidence. And basically the whole thing makes sense if you think of it as a entertainment that's harmless when engaged in by the sufficiently affluent, but potentially destructive to a minority of people who are sucked into addictive behavior and wager money they can't afford to lose. If you try to think of sports gambling as income-maximizing investment activity, it looks incredibly puzzling but nobody looks at it that way. Stock picking is much the same.
And it's all fine as far as it goes, though as Keynes noted a long time ago it seems problematic to let this process have an undue weight in driving a country's overall capital expenditures."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One Law Of Complex Systems To Rule Them All

Brit Brogaard suggests consciousness might be physical since its development might follow the fundamental law of complexity - which is also physical. Might all be true, but it doesn't solve many of the other puzzles about the relationship between consciousness and the physical, and so not sure if it's physicalism in the ways everyone thought physicalism was interesting. Still interesting in its own right, of course.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not Out Of The Woods Yet

Remember, one of the main drivers of the big recession and slow recovery was the massive private debt - people couldn't pay for their housing loans and credit cards. Private debt is always one group's problem until it's everybody's problem.
"The proportion of U.S. student loan balances that are in delinquency — that is, unpaid for 90 days or more — surpassed that of credit-card balances in the third quarter for the first time, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Of the $956 billion in student-loan debt outstanding as of September, 11 percent was delinquent — up from less than 9 percent in the second quarter, and higher than the 10.5 percent of credit-card debt, which was delinquent in the third quarter. By comparison, delinquency rates on mortgages, home-equity lines of credit and auto loans stood at 5.9 percent, 4.9 percent, and 4.3 percent respectively as of September."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thomas Nagel Reviews Haidt

I don't endorse full Nagelian "transcendence" route, but agree with the main point: if you ignore the reason-based aspects of morality and moral theory you will arrive at a theory that makes no sense at all.
"Reflection and argument of this kind have played a significant role in moral reform, but Haidt’s picture of different moralities as composed, like different cuisines, from different blends of the six moral modules, suitably adapted to social circumstances, leaves little room for the pursuit of moral understanding and progress through rational reflection and the search for consistency. Yet this kind of thought is part of moral life, including Haidt’s, and any theory of moral psychology should try to understand it. Social cohesion may be a necessary function of an acceptable morality, but it is not the only one."

Either We Had A MASSIVE Shortage Of Administrators 10 Years Ago...

...or maybe it's cronyism.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

People Like Throwing Their Weight Around

For all that people carry on about freedom and the oppressiveness of government and institutions, remember that tons of people who don't know you like to weigh in on whether you should be fired from your job or not. I don't really see how it's a free speech issue, as the headline suggests. She did something dumb and disrespectful, and it's up to her employers whether they keep her on or not. But I don't see how it's anybody else's business.

Defense Spending

There is a lot of wasteful spending.
We can’t close without saying that our hands-down favorite, so to speak, among the Pentagon-funded work targeted by Coburn for downright foolishness was a UCLA anthropologist’s examination of whether men holding pistols are considered taller, stronger, and more masculine than those holding a range of other objects, such as caulking guns, drills, saws and paintbrushes. He found they were.
The study was financed by the Air Force’s Office of Scientific Research under a $681,387 grant, according to Coburn’s report.
A graduate student would find a way to run 2,000 studies of this sort for that much money.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I Know Somebody That Really, Really Needs To Read This

Regarding prepositions.


Obamacare has to be one of the most talked about yet misunderstood pieces of legislation in modern times.

One woman who expressed this view the strongest was Marina Sokolovsky, a 26-year-old who has been uninsured since she was 17. Earning about $1,500 each month, she’s near certain to qualify for new benefits. But when she looks out at the insurance system now — broken, fragmented, and out of her reach — she just doesn’t think it will work.
“Change is good, and it may be a real change, but if it was doable, it would have been done by now,” she says. “For how complicated things are, it would be a really big shift to find something functional. I just don’t think that’s possible.”
This view seemed to be pretty pervasive throughout the focus groups, where at least a handful had the experience of being denied a government benefit they’d pursued. This law may help other people get insurance, the thinking seemed to go. But somehow, someway, it won’t help me.
Even though the law bans pre-existing conditions, Tim Perot, 30, told me he still thought insurers would find a way to “reject” his coverage. He has let his diabetes and Hepatitis C go largely untreated since he lost his insurance and his job as a cook, two years ago.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Computing With Light, Rather Than Electricity...

...will make computers about 100 times faster, even faster than Netscape.

"You think your sleek new laptop is fast? A slow-footed plow horse compared to what Ritesh Agarwal has in mind. Rather than perform computations by manipulating the flow of electricity, he wants to manipulate the flow of light - outstripping the speeds of today's computers by a factor of at least 100, by his estimate.
In a recent study, Agarwal and colleague Brian Piccione reported that they had induced the slender wires to act as switches - clamping down on the flow of the light through a given wire by hitting it with another laser.
That's what a computer is, after all: a dizzying array of on-and-off switches, combined in such a way as to allow the sending of e-mail or predicting the next hurricane.
In their study, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, Agarwal, Piccione, and coauthors described how they had combined several of their microscopic light-activated switches to make a logic "gate." A gate is the basic computational unit of a computer - sort of an electronic version of a fork in the road, in which two conditions must be met in order for the signal to go forward.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wouldn't Be Funny In A Script...

...but since it's real life, it's absolutely hilarious.

"City lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would prohibit nudity in most public places, a blanket ban that represents an escalation of a two-year tiff between a devoted group of men who strut their stuff through the city's famously gay Castro District and the supervisor who represents the area.
Supervisor Scott Wiener's proposal would make it illegal for a person over the age of 5 to "expose his or her genitals, perineum or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet or plaza" or while using public transit."

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Now that the election is over and holidays are coming up, there is probably going to less stuff that jumps out at me as bloggable material. If anybody has any questions or topics they want me to blog about (e.g. the fiscal cliff?, what's potentially bad about fiscal debt?, philosophical puzzles?, etc.) please let me know in the comments section.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hard To Blame Obama For The Bad Economy...

...when he did better than just about anyone else. As always, we could have done better and could be doing better now, but stimulus was and still is good, while austerity is bad while in a slump.

Wouldn't Have Guessed These Numbers Correctly

The sex habits of college students.

The Motive Is Obvious

Sarah Kliff tentatively offers a motive for why Republican governors are insisting that the federal government (big gubment), gets its greasy paws all over state health exchanges, but masks it a bit because...journalism. They want all the credit if it goes well but none of the blame if it doesn't. A lot things that are supposed to be about principles are really about CYA when it comes to politicians.

Romney Is A Joke

Often the difficult question is whether these people are stupid or evil. Romney reveals that he just might be stupid. Still hard to tell though, since he was talking to donors who might be the stupid one. In any case, Romney offered the rich a 20% tax cut which amounts to a much greater "gift" than anything Obama did. Obviously. OBVIOUSLY.

"Mitt Romney told his top donors Wednesday that his loss to President Obama was a disappointing result that neither he nor his top aides had expected, but said he believed his team ran a “superb” campaign with “no drama,” and attributed his rival’s victory to “the gifts” the administration had given to blacks, Hispanics and young voters during Obama’s  first term. 
Obama, Romney argued, had been “very generous” to blacks, Hispanics and young voters. He cited as motivating factors to young voters the administration’s plan for partial forgiveness of college loan interest and the extension of health coverage for students on their parents’ insurance plans well into their 20s. Free contraception coverage under Obama’s healthcare plan, he added, gave an extra incentive to college-age women to back the president."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

People Tend To Vote In Their Self-Interest

The rich know who'll keep their bread buttered. I've had the "Democrats are truly the party of the rich" meme thrown at me a few times. The truth is that both parties have large coalitions, and some poor people and some rich people vote for each party. But, for the record, rich people vote for Republicans more often than for Democrats, and poor people vote for Democrats more often than for Republicans. AND, Republican policies are much more favorable to the rich. This is all to be understood as true of the contemporary time slice of American politics, not timeless truths, of course.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Walked To The Library Today...

...and I saw three different women wearing neon orange sneakers.

That's it.

This Is Why I Think There Is Something To Non-Cognitivism

I don't think normative judgments are entirely non-cognitive, but I do think they often have practical or motivational import. I don't think this lady believes that if her husband voted, then Obama wouldn't have won the election. Rather, I think she had a plan that they would vote, and he frustrated her plan.
"GILBERT, AZ - A Mesa woman was arrested Saturday after she allegedly chased her husband around a Gilbert parking lot in an SUV during an argument over the presidential election.
The woman finally ran over her husband, leaving him with critical injuries.
According to a Gilbert police report, the argument started over her husband's lack of voter participation in the recent election.
Holly Solomon, 28, apparently believed her family was going to face hardship as a result of President Barack Obama's re-election."

Read more:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Efficient Charitable Giving

Felix Salmon makes the case that while giving to Red Cross is good for some things, it is not always the best way to get help to people who need it quickly.
"With $117 million in donations comes an expectation that the Red Cross can and should be everywhere it’s needed, when it’s needed, rather than in a handful of places, a week later, offering food but no shelter or blankets or power or lights. But probably those expectations are unrealistic. The US is fortunate in that it’s not a permanent disaster zone: it’s not a country where Red Cross volunteers are ever going to be experienced in responding to such things. And mobilizing thousands of volunteers and tens of millions of dollars to provide food and shelter in areas without electricity or pharmacies or heat — that’s a logistical nightmare.
The Red Cross, in the event, proved incapable of rising to the occasion. Other large organizations did amazing work: ConEd brought power back, and the MTA brought public transportation back, in much less time than virtually anybody had dared to hope. But those organizations had experienced and dedicated workers who knew exactly what to do and how to do it, rather than a rag-tag band of well-intentioned volunteers worrying about what they were authorized to spend, and a fleet of trucks located in unhelpful places up and down the Eastern seaboard."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Michael Spence Is A Conservative Nobel Prize Winning Economist...

...and also a communist. Well, I've been told that people who think governments play a crucial role in maintaining a well-functioning society and that the U.S. should be investing more in infrastructure are communists, but I have to do some follow up on that.
"Indeed, in the United States, lessons from the Katrina experience appear to have strengthened response capacity, as shown by the rapid and effective intervention following Hurricane Sandy. But investments designed to control the extent of damage seem to be persistently neglected.
Redressing this imbalance requires a focus on key infrastructure. Of course, one cannot at reasonable cost prevent all possible damage from calamities, which strike randomly and in locations that cannot always be predicted. But certain kinds of damage have large multiplier effects.
This includes damage to critical systems like the electricity grid and the information, communication, and transport networks that constitute the platform on which modern economies run. Relatively modest investments in the resilience, redundancy, and integrity of these systems pay high dividends, albeit at random intervals. Redundancy is the key."

Read more at 

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I thought choosing Paul Ryan for VP candidate was a mistake. And I don't think he'd make a good presidential candidate, in the sense that I don't think he improves the GOP's chance of winning an election. (I also don't think he'd make a good president for our country's sake either, obviously.) People overlook that his unfavorables are very strong, unlike Romney's. Romney had large unfavorability numbers, but they faded a lot once he became the candidate of choice because people merely sort of didn't like him; they didn't strongly dislike him. But people strongly dislike Ryan already. It's actually possible that Ryan couldn't win his home state of Wisconsin, which is often viewed as one of the swing states.

Post-Election Wrap Up

I'm not saying following points are the most important, they are just things that I want to point out:

1. Keeping everything near status quo seemed unimaginable 2-6 years ago. We had sweep after sweep, and the conventional wisdom was that there was little chance Dems could keep the Senate with so many seats up for grabs, plus a number of retirements. But, if someone told me Obama would win AND Dems would not merely hold the same number seats, but gain, I would have thought they take back the House for sure. But they didn't. One possible explanation for the GOP keeping the House was that in 2010, when the GOP dominated in the House and in state legislators, they were able to lead re-districting efforts. The gerrymandering is thought by some to be favorable to the GOP, which allowed them to retain majority in the House.

2. Super-PAC's and millionaires (and billionaires!) allowed the Romney campaign to pull in more cash (counting everything) than an incumbent president's campaign - pretty unusual. But it was pretty close, as Obama received a massive amount from small donors. He received a lot from rich donors, as well, but the Obama campaign's  ratio of money from small donors to rich donors dwarfs Romney's. I don't know what that means for the future, but I think Dems should worry a bit about the possibility of not always being able to pull in this kind of small donor money.

3.The GOP really overlooked how much the wave election of 2010 was due to anger about the recession, and how that's really a one-time deal if things are getting better. People who thought you'd have a similar turnout in 2012 were kidding themselves. That being said 2014 is a bit of mystery, since we don't know if the  economy will improve and if so by how much. However, Dems shouldn't kid themselves into thinking their demographic advantage in presidential election cycles will serve them as well as non-presidential election cycles. Young people don't vote in off years, but seniors do. I don't know why this is, but it is extremely important.

4. It looks like we will have gridlock for at least the next two years, as looked to be the case for awhile now. No, the GOP will not "learn a lesson" from the election, and no, it's not clear that what they have been doing is a bad strategy, as far as getting elected is concerned. There are still a lot of members of the GOP Congress who believe exactly the same thing they have for the last two years. Dems might be able to use the looming "fiscal cliff" to get some sort of deal, but I'm not optimistic it will be anything big.

So it goes...

Friday, November 9, 2012


David Gelernter:
 We’ve seen an important (though far from decisive) battle in the slow-motion civil war the nation is undergoing: The blue states want to secede not from America but from Americanism. They reject the American republic of God-fearing individuals in favor of the European ideal, which has only been government by aristocracy: either an aristocracy of birth or, nowadays, of ruling know-it-alls — of post-religious, globalist intellectuals (a.k.a. PORGIs). As I’ve said before — many others have too — you can’t graduate class after class after class of left-indoctrinated ignoramuses without paying the price.  Last night was a down payment.
But we’ve won civil wars and preserved the Union before. We’ll do it again — if we face up to the fact that we need to replace our schools and colleges now; the grace period has lasted a generation, but it’s over. I know we can do it and I’m pretty sure we will do it. Americanism is too strong and brilliant and young to die.

Pretty Much

What he said.
"The white establishment, undone by hordes of various-colored people who demand stuff. Even as he admitted the white bloc was too small to win, O'Reilly still saw the winning side as an undifferentiated counter-bloc, rather than a coalition of Americans.
Obama won the Latino vote, 71 to 27. He also won the Asian vote, 73 to 26. Those voters all look the same to the losers. That's why they're the losers."


Though he seems hardcore, he gives himself plenty of loopholes. The Beatles? Come on!

"All family and friends, even close family and friends, who I know to be Democrats are hereby dead to me. I vow never to speak to them again for the rest of my life, or have any communications with them. They are in short, the enemies of liberty. They deserve nothing less than hatred and utter contempt.
I strongly urge all other libertarians to do the same. Are you married to someone who voted for Obama, have a girlfriend who voted 'O'. Divorce them. Break up with them without haste. Vow not to attend family functions, Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas for example, if there will be any family members in attendance who are Democrats.
Do you work for someone who voted for Obama? Quit your job. Co-workers who voted for Obama. Simply don't talk to them in the workplace, unless your boss instructs you too for work-related only purposes. Have clients who voted Democrat? Call them up this morning and tell them to take their business elsewhere.
Have a neighbor who votes for Obama? You could take a crap on their lawn. Then again, probably not a good idea since it would be technically illegal to do this. But you could have your dog take care of business. Not your fault if he just happens to choose that particular spot."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

High Information Is Consistent With Conspiracy Theories

I'd like to see what would happen if the parties were flipped. I'd bet low information Dems would be skeptical, but I wonder about high information Dems...

Brendan Nyhan:
When the September jobs report showed that unemployment had dropped to an unexpectedly low 7.8%, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch helped launch a new conspiracy theory when he tweeted: "Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers." Even though the unemployment statistics are produced by the respected and politically insulated Bureau of Labor Statistics, Welch's theory was disseminated by numerous conservative pundits and amplified by a wave of irresponsible media coverage. As we approach Election Day, it's worth taking a look back and assessing the damage.
To assess the prevalence of conspiracy theory beliefs about manipulation of the unemployment data, I contributed several questions to a YouGov poll conducted October 27-29, 2012...
 Among respondents who identify as Democrats or lean toward the party, high-knowledge respondents are more likely to believe the figures are accurate and less likely to believe they are being manipulated than individuals with low or medium knowledge. For Republicans (including leaners), however, respondents with high political knowledge are paradoxically less likely to believe the unemployment statistics are accurate than those with low or medium political knowledge. In addition, high knowledge Republicans are more likely to believe the statistics are being manipulated than low knowledge respondents. (The difference between medium and high knowledge respondents is not statistically significant.)

You've Got The Power

If you don't use it, you might lose it! Vote!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pretty Bad

Hard to be surprised by displays implicit racism, but apparently I still can be. Scott Lemieux calls out Politico:
This actually appeared in Politico, in 2012:
If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites. That’s what the polling has consistently shown in the final days of the campaign. It looks more likely than not that he will lose independents, and it’s possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000.
A broad mandate this is not.
So Obama’s coalition is broader, but it doesn’t extend to a majority of Real Americans, who are white, so it doesn’t count. Right. Shorter Politico: Democratic states should get 3/5ths representation in the Electoral College.
This makes Scocca’s recent piece about Republican identity politics even more relevant:
White people don’t like to believe that they practice identity politics. The defining part of being white in America is the assumption that, as a white person, you are a regular, individual human being. Other demographic groups set themselves apart, to pursue their distinctive identities and interests and agendas. Whiteness, to white people, is the American default.
Yet Mitt Romney’s election strategy depends on the notion that the white vote is separate from the rest of the vote, and can be captured as such.
This has been the foundation of Republican presidential politics for more than four decades, since Richard Nixon courted and won the votes of Southerners who’d turned against the Democratic Party because of integration and civil rights. The Party of Lincoln became the party of Lincoln’s assassins, leveraging white anger into a regional advantage and eventually a regional monopoly. It’s all very basic and old news, but it’s still considered rude to say so, even as Republican strategists talk about winning the white voters and only the white voters.
I’ll guarantee that if Romney ekes out an electoral college and popular vote victory, we’re not going to be hearing about how Romney’s mandate is too narrow because it’s so dominated by white men.

Parties Provide Pretty Good Voting Heuristics

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein makes the point that voting for your party's candidate is often what you would choose to do even if you have full information, so you might as well do it even if you are not very informed. Often, you have no idea what's in the mind and character of a politician, but you do know that they feel pressure from party members and will be responsive to those pressures. That's the surer bet than to try to divine a politician's "true" attitudes.

Game Changers

Here is a list of all the "game changers" this election cycle. Notice that very few actually made a difference. Please remember this fact for every election cycle in the foreseeable future.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Political Science Can Help You Vote. Really!

If you haven't voted yet, make sure you do. Boris Shor is a political scientist at the University of Chicago who will help match up your positions with those running for office in your district. Check it out:


Thought some readers might appreciate this:

Oh Please, Oh Please, Oh Please

Don't let there be significant ballot fraud this election.
"The underlying allegation is that the woman, whose name has not been released, filled in blanks on ballots turned into the county for the Nov. 6 general election. 
Sources familiar with the incident say their understanding is that the woman filled in a straight Republican ticket on the ballots where preferences had been left blank by voters."