Saturday, December 29, 2012

One Reason I'm Not Good At The Academic Game

I don't have much confidence in just about any provocative thesis. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the big ones is that I think empirical evidence is important and yet most findings are false. It's hard to get into the mindset of defending something controversial to the death for purely instrumental reasons.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I'm Sympathetic

One dude's view on why not to go to grad school for a literature degree:
But, I told the Should I Go to Grad School? editor, I couldn’t speak about graduate school education in general for two reasons. First, it seems intuitively true that for subjects such as history, philosophy, the hard sciences, and even some of the softer ones, it would be hard for me to make a case against graduate study.
But grad school for literature, I can't advocate. I escaped Yale before it became the center of the frenzied fad for French literary theorists, as a result of which students read more about arcane metaphysics of language, semiotics and the like than the actual literature itself. But, even though many of the most sophisticated contemporary intellectuals who once bought into this sophistry (such as Terry Eagleton) have abandoned it, the tenured relics who imposed this intellectual regime are still there, still espousing their view that literature itself is only to be understood through their diminishing deconstructing lens. I can testify to it, having sat through enough seminars at the Shakespeare Association of America conferences to last a life time. Please don't waste your life this way.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Republican David Frum has been very good on guns (he's originally from Canada - to most other wealthy countries, our gun policies look absolutely insane, even to conservatives; the same is true on health care). People who want to appeal to the 2nd Amendment have a few problems with interpreting it, but let's grant, just for the sake of argument (I wouldn't grant it otherwise), that the 2nd Amendment grants an individual to own a gun even when not part of a well-regulated militia. Still we are very familiar with contrasting rights. Gun nuts never explain why the 2nd Amendment is a stronger right than all other rights. When other rights present danger to the public, we curb them. One can't yell fire in a crowded movie theater (I gather the jurisprudence on this matter is much more complicated than this, however). Free speech is of course a protected right. Importantly, one can't threaten to harm people with their speech. One has the right to practice one's religion. However, one cannot threaten to kill people, or actually kill them, as part of sacrificial rituals, etc. One has the right to assemble, but one cannot simply assemble anywhere or anytime - that power would conflict with other rights, so we curb it and regulate it.

Clearly, as Frum and many others have pointed out, the presence of guns - one of the most technologically advanced tools ever created - presents a threat to the public in many situations, including, for instance, firefighters fighting a fire. Since we have a conflict of rights, and a very clear track record of guns harming peacefully assembled people in the public, there is an airtight case that guns ought to be regulated, just as free speech, free religion, free assembly, etc. are, even if we assume a misguided reading of the 2nd. The fact that in some cases guns have protected a group is relevant, but these cases are very infrequent and are greatly outweighed by the damage done by guns in far more cases - we are on pace to have more gun deaths than traffic deaths in the U.S. This does not even take into account the alarm and panic caused just by the threat of guns - one's rights are violated if one is threatened with a gun, even if one is not actually physically harmed.


Read the whole thing. One of many tasty bits:
O’Sullivan, wearing a pink oxford and Wayfarers perched on the tip of his nose, discussed issues as diverse as modern slavery, Hispanic Catholicism, male prison rape, and the preservation of “the Anglosphere,” which he defined as the former British colonies “who use English as their common means of communication.”
During a discussion of Iran, a tall, jovial foreign-policy columnist named John Thomson was shouted down by everyone at the table for calling Barack Obama “an intelligent man.” “He’s not with us,” whispered a woman named Nancy from Key Biscayne.
I casually mentioned that the phrase “Anglosphere” was perhaps unfortunate given the right’s image problem as a majority white party. O’Sullivan agreed they might need a different word.
“We haven’t done our marketing that well,” conceded Thomson. “That was Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney messaged whiteness. That was one of his greatest failings. ‘I’m a white Anglo-Saxon.’ ”
Melissa O’Sullivan, the Alabaman wife of John, wasn’t buying the idea that Republicans had alienated minorities. “We’ve invited them to join us!” she insisted...
But Ms. O’Sullivan again took umbrage. As everyone went silent, she recalled a conference she attended in Australia in which a liberal nun (who “didn’t even have the decency to wear a habit”) criticized America for its “inner-city racism.” Offended, Ms. O’Sullivan recounted what she wished she’d said to this nun:
“Pardon me, madam, but I have been in your country of Australia for ten days and the only Aborigines I’ve seen have been drunk on the street, and at least if we were in my country they would be serving the drinks at this conference!”
Ms. O’Sullivan then warned against watering down the purity of the conservative agenda to placate minorities or, as she put it, rather succinctly, “the bastardization of the product.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Economics And Anthropology

John Kay discusses the blinders ideology puts on us all if we are not careful.
For the anthropologists, the custom of standing a round represented ritual gift exchange. They drew an analogy with Native American potlatch festivals, where tribes would gather to eat, sing, dance and confer lavish presents – sometimes treasured or essential possessions – on each other. The economists preferred a more hard-nosed explanation. Buying drinks in rounds rather than individually was a means of reducing transaction costs. The number of dealings between the customers and the bar was reduced, and the need for small change diminished.
I proposed an empirical test between the competing hypotheses. Did you feel successful or unsuccessful if you had bought more drinks than had been bought for you? Unfortunately, the result was inconclusive. The anthropologists believed their generosity enhanced their status. The economists sought to maximise the difference between the number of drinks they had consumed and the number they had bought. They computed appropriate strategies for finite games and even for extended evenings of indeterminate length. The lesson is that if you want a good time at a bar, go with an anthropologist rather than an economist...

A narrow focus is characteristic of scientific method but gets in the way of understanding social phenomena. That was my error when I sought the “true” explanation in the pub. The custom of the round has both economic and social advantages, and it is likely that both help to account for its prevalence and persistence. The earnest missionaries and misanthropic economists who want to shut festivals down because they damage the economy have missed the point that the prospective enjoyment of such events is the reason we engage in economic activity in the first place.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Republican Josh Barro On Why Current Orthodoxy Among Republican Elites Is Bound To Fail

Here are the goods.
If you don't understand that 2009 was a worse year than 1979 -- because most people support themselves by working, not by investing in bonds -- then you don't understand why the Republican Party is losing touch with the middle class.
This misunderstanding explains how Cruz came up with "opportunity conservatism," which is not a new policy agenda, but rather a new way to market conservatives' existing policy agenda. He says "we need to conceptualize, we need to articulate conservative domestic policy with a laser focus on opportunity, on easing the means of ascent up the economic ladder." In other words, he thinks tight money and a smaller safety net are good for middle-income Americans, and we just need to explain to them why.
Cruz then outlines five planks of "opportunity conservatism." The first is "jobs and the economy," and it doesn't really have much policy content. He says Republicans should talk about the importance of small business and entrepreneurship and that they should point out that unemployment for minorities has been extremely high under President Barack Obama. He doesn't propose any new ideas to lower unemployment. Isn't this basically what Mitt Romneydid in his campaign?
Then Cruz does start talking about policy specifics. And his speech gets even worse. That's because his next four planks are old conservative hobby horses: school choice, Social Security private accounts, "Sound Money" (meaning deflationary monetary policy) and gun rights.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Real Science

There's actually a lot of good scientific evidence that playing violent video games or watching violent media makes people more aggressive. There's virtually no scientific evidence that it doesn't - all there is is the lack of significant effects in some studies. I think liberals don't like to hear this, but it just seems like a bias to me. Note that I am not advocating any particular policy response. I just think people should be aware.
The results showed that, after each day, those who played violent games had an increase in their hostile expectations — after reading the beginning of the stories, they were more likely to think that the characters would react with aggression or violence. And the violent video game group also gave their opponents louder and louder headphone blasts after each day of game play.
Participants who played nonviolent games showed no increase in hostile expectations or aggression.
“Hostile expectations are probably not the only reason that players of violent games are more aggressive, but our study suggests it is certainly one important factor,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.
“After playing a violent video game, we found that people expect others to behave aggressively. That expectation may make them more defensive and more likely to respond with aggression themselves, as we saw in this study and in other studies we have conducted.

It's Sad Part II

War on women - we've almost broken their will, just need to push a little harder and they'll never have sex again.

It's Sad

Amanda Marcotte's right.