Monday, January 31, 2011

I've Got the Power (of Two)!

I've often admired the tales of the great ascetics who, for instance, lived for 37 years on top of a pole. However, I think going to their extremes would break me, so I have started down my own ascetic path with a small first step: I am only setting the timer on my microwave to integral powers of two, so that my food can only cook for, say, 32 or 64 seconds, but nothing in between.

Your prayers are appreciated.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Are Basketball Coaches Irrational?

Find out here.

You Say 'Methodology', I Say 'Method'

Folks, don't say 'methodology' when you mean 'method.' You had a method with which you conducted your recent study, not a methodology. 'Methodology' is what you do when you, say, study different ways of doing such a study and compare them.

This may seem like nitpicking, but it is important because it is an exemplar of a general class of problems: the idea that using fancier language somehow makes our results 'deeper' or more 'scientific.' Such a notion is, of course, destructive of real insight, since the blizzard of high-falutin' words serves to obscure rather than to reveal the reality one seeks to explore.

Try goggling 'methodology' and scanning the results: in almost every case on the first couple of pages, either the word 'method' or the word 'methods' could have replaced the word 'methodology' with an increase in clarity.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Something's Telling Me It Might Be You...

Here is an author who wants to "present... a summary of recent results obtained in game and social choice theories."

The funny thing is that 17 out of the 27 papers cited are... by the author of this paper. I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

The Scott Sumner Full Employment Program

"Here’s how I think about jobs. First, what do we want? If those things can be provided with very few workers, don’t despair, ask what we want after we have gotten our first wish granted. And so on, until all the workers are employed." -- Here.

I'm a Bit Put Off by That Last E-Mail

Whoever writes the error messages for Microsoft Exchange is very droll. Today, as the program crashed, I received the following:

"Microsoft Echange has encountered an inconvenience and must exit."

An inconvenience? Well, maybe it was all my fault! Perhaps Exchange was busy chatting with Excel and Word over by the CPU cooler, and I disturbed it by asking it to send an e-mail. I should really be more considerate, and not bother Exchange when it's otherwise occupied.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Glenn Beck, Ignoramus


"And then confused as Beck prattled on about the etymology of 'gossip' and how King George sent spies into our land telling them to 'go sip' in the pubs with the Colonial rebels and thereby gather intelligence. That’s how 'gossip' came to mean what it does according to Glenn Beck."

If you have any wits, the second you hear that story, you ought to recognize it as almost certainly made up. (I say "almost certainly" because once in a while, an etymology like this is real.) And it took me about five seconds to look up the actual etymology online.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Acting Butcherer

In my recent survey of television (after getting one for the first time in five years), absolutely the worst actor I've encountered in any major role is Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Ghost Whisperer. She basically has a single gesture that makes up the entirety of her "acting" repertoire: she scrunches her eyebrows together in a move that is supposed to show "caring."

But Jennifer does not stop there: she is also the English Butcherer. She says, for instance, "Whenever a ghost comes to me in anyway, it's looking for help somehow."

Now, remove the words "in anyway" and "somehow" from that sentence. We get "Whenever a ghost comes to me, it's looking for help." Simpler, stronger, more direct: so why did some writer put in those seemingly superfluous words? There was a strategy there, but what was it?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

French Fries

After following two posts on cooking french fries, I realized the take home lesson is: don't bother. As one commenter said, "The cold reality is that McDonalds has forgotten more about french fries than any of us will ever know."

So just spend two dollars.

(By the way, I was shocked at how inferior the fries were at a "French" "bistro" I went to for brunch the other day in Cobble Hill to Mickey D's. These things were a sodden, greasy mess, straight out of the fryer -- and at double the cost!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reading Leeson, Part II

So, here is the main quote I want to take up in this installment of commenting on Pete Leeson's book, The Invisible Hook, because it expresses something that underlies a lot of "While [government] is based on force, the [condo association] is purely voluntary" (p. 51).

First of all, this ignores the distribution and rules of property that allow the founders of the association to set it up in the first place. I may agree to buy a condo from them, given that, somehow or other, I find them with lots of armed force behind them asserting they "own" that land. But no one alive today ever agreed to more than a tiny fraction of the tangled past of appropriation, theft, fraud, public domain seizures, etc., etc. that led to current property assignments. It's nice to dream of a world where all property titles are "clean," but that world never was and never will be.

What's more, setting aside the questions of ownership, let us consider a young Pete Leeson, growing up in Celebration, Florida. His parents, certainly, voluntarily agreed to the community rules, at least given the caveat noted above that they never agreed to the property distribution that gave Disney ownership of the land Celebration was built upon. So Pete grows up there, makes friend there, has other family there, goes to school there, and one day, turns eighteen. The next day, tragically, his parents drop dead, killed by the heart attacks they have when they realize he has gotten a supply-and-demand tattoo on his bicep.

Left his parents' condo in their will, Pete is now a property owner in Celebration. There is simply no sense in which Pete 'voluntarily' agreed to abide by Celebration's rules. I suggest the situation Pete would face is very much that of a current resident of the United States, who never voluntarily agreed to the rules that govern the US. Both are faced with the hard choice of abandoning the place they know, family, friends, a job, etc. and voting with their feet, or living with a set of rules that come to them 'from outside', as it were. This example demonstrates that even if the current US government were dissolved and its territory completely occupied by ancap communities, with the passing of the founding generation all of the communities would be back in the "non-voluntary" state of current governments.

But it is not just the children of the original members who would find themselves in such a state. Despite their initial agreement to all of the rules of the ancap community, the initial residents will as well, due to the fact that rules do not interpret themselves. It is a near certainty that any particular member, despite having agreed to live by a set of rules, will at some point find themselves in disagreement (perhaps profound disagreement) with how some rule or other is interpreted. For instance, she may have been happy agreeing to live by a rule that forbids "public nuisances" (with her contract giving examples such as public drunkenness). But when one day the community association decides tobacco smoking is a public nuisance, she is shocked and dismayed, and finds herself "coerced" to follow a rule to which she never agreed.

Another attempt in the book to clarify this distinction: "Voluntary choice requires that our options aren't framed under the threat of force" (p. 50). How many people would pay for their groceries if the grocer was just going to say, "Hey, you, come back here with that," when they walked out without paying, and never used the threat of (police) violence to stop them? So it turns out buying groceries is not voluntary.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reading Leeson, Part I

A while back, I mentioned that it wasn't clear to me why people were representing Pete Leeson's book The Invisible Hook as a story about "the economics of anarchy." Well, I'm reading it now, and I'm more puzzled than ever: it seems to me the correct description of the history Pete relates is that "even pirates, desperate scoundrels though they were, saw the need for government and were able to cooperate to establish such."

For instance, Pete quotes a political speech advocating the election of a particular pirate as captain, where the speaker recommends electing a leader who can "ward us from the Dangers and Tempests of an instable Element, and the fatal consequences of Anarchy" (p. 23). You see, the speaker wanted this guy elected to avoid "the fatal consequences of Anarchy"... and he thought avoiding that would be a selling point to his listeners.

A few pages later, Pete tells us that "each pirate ship required a leader" (p. 27). Of course, the basic meaning of 'anarchy' comes from the Greek αναρχια -- without a leader. So, if they 'required a leader', they were avoiding, not embracing, anarchy! The pirates themselves discussed "how shatter'd and weak a Condition their Government must be without a Head" (p. 27).

More on the dichotomy Pete posits between 'coercive' government and 'purely voluntary' governance, in 'Reading Leeson, Part II,' coming soon to a blog near you.

In the meantime, let me say this is a lively, well-written book, and well worth reading even if you wind up disagreeing with some of its conclusions.

Keynes Versus Hayek

Over at ThinkMarkets.

Back to Gold?

Bob Murphy suggests an interesting way for the US to return to a (sort of) gold standard: simply have the Fed target a gold price in dollars, rather than target an inflation level (or NGDP level, a-la Scott Sumner).

I had not thought of that.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Scientific Breakthrough of the Century!

Laser made from bull semen! (Hat tip Thoreau.)

Phobias: So Yesterday!

So, I'm watching Criminal Minds, and the FBI agents are all atwitter because the "unsub" used the "antiquated" term "phobias": "Now," they tell us, "they're called 'anxiety disorders.'"

Ah, how the field of psychiatry advances: re-label things!

The Last Psychiatrist has a great post on this topic:

"And so if you're thinking that the craziness is that psychiatry is the doing away with the concept of narcissism you have fully missed the point: the issue isn't whether narcissism exists or not, the issue is who gets to decide if narcissism exists or not... Never mind that the new terms have no more validity than the old terms, and are equally invented."

By the way, I once spent a week programming the DSM-IV ailments into a web application -- the most depressing programming job I ever had.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

OK, Kind of Holy S*&t Sort of Thing and All...

but Paul Krugman has now cited Bob Murphy in his NY Times column.

Soon, we will discover that Tycho Brahe was right about the solar system, and the ether really does exist.

Patrick Morkan's Horse...

plods round the statue of King Billy in quiet desperation. Emerson arrives and tells him to slip from his bridle and gallop out the door.

The masters of the mill ridicule Emerson: "The circle," they say, "is the most reasonable geometric figure, and you have offered no empirical evidence for the worth of breaking out of it."

Be Sure to Pick Up a Copy!

Of The Meanings of Michael Oakeshott's Conservatism. I wrote one of the chapters.

Donald Knuth Comic!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Has Their Ever Been a Wackier Political Career...

than that of Jerry Brown?

Ah, the Irony!

Does anyone else find it ironic that the New York State Lotto is advertising with the theme song of Boston's 'More Than a Feeling,' given that it is a song about loss and bereavement? Yes, indeed, that is the likely result of playing the lottery... but they're boasting about it?

The Chocolate Croissant Escapade

The other night one of my favorite bartenders, whom, for the purposes of this story, we will call Jonah, but whose real name is absolutely nothing like that, offered me a ride home. Now, this seemed like merely a nice gesture, at first. But things would soon take a darker turn.

The first sign of trouble appeared when, after we got into the car, Jonah locked the doors. He looked over at me with a maniacal grin on his face. "Man, I ate a bunch of pot brownies tonight. I'm a little baked." Then he started off up the street.

Good God, what had I gotten myself in to? I knew someone under the crazed influence of that evil herb was probably planning to do unspeakable things to me, such as making me listen to a CD by the band Kansas, or perhaps even worse. I had just begun to look for a chance to escape, when Jonah announced "We're stopping at the bakery for croissants!"

What in his druggie world was that code for? I damned well knew there was no place in my neighborhood you could buy croissants at three in the morning. We pulled up to the curb at an intersection of darkened buildings, with no sign of this wee-hours "croissant shoppe" in sight.

"Stay in the car!" Jonah ordered, as he hopped out. I trembled with indecision. Who were these so-called "bakery people" whom he was meeting? I supposed they were actually drug dealers, who were going to aid him in getting even more "baked." Was he ordering me to stay in the car to keep me under his control, or was he actually protecting me, in case the "croissant deal" turned violent?

Before I could make a break for it, Jonah was back in the car, bearing a large, white bag. "What do you want to start with, sweet or savoury?" he asked me. I assumed this was more of the same "drug lingo," where "sweet" meant, perhaps, crystal, and savoury meant the Big H. Whatever, I was not about to lose my head by imbibing any of that crap. I had limited myself to only about 15 White Russians that night (I am "the dude," you know) and wasn't about to muddy my mental acuity with drugs!

I had to think fast, though. "Sweet" I replied. Jonah reached in the bag and drew out what appeared to be... a croissant! Those devils! They were filling innocent-looking chocolate croissants with crystal meth!

I took the "croissant" from Jonah and lifted it to my lips. Then, as he looked into the bag and avidly sought his own "fix," I heaved my croissant at him. He screamed as the molten chocolate ran down his face. I flung open the door, and fled into the night, his cries of, "But you haven't even tried a ham-and-cheese yet!" echoing cruelly in my ears.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What Is On the Casting Director's Mind

When, for instance, he casts Kyra Sedgwick as a Georgian with a deep accent? She sounds like someone at the local bar doing a bad imitation of a southerner.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Greatest Discovery Ever

I'm reading Gregory Zuckerman's The Greatest Trade Ever -- not bad, if a bit "baby-talkish" at times -- and I just learned that Isaac Newton discovered gravity (p. 112)! You see, before Newton, no one realized that things fell to the earth.

I also learned the the trader who made the "greatest trade ever," John Paulson, had a marketing director who told potential clients that paulson "might never match the home runs that some rivals were scoring in adventurous areas..." and that his "returns might be more unpredictable than those who carefully spread their money around..." Soooo... lower returns and higher volatility! Who could resist such a marketing pitch?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Conflating the Imaginary with the Real

Roderick Long offers these definitions of conflationism:

"Left-conflationism is the error of treating the evils of existing corporatist capitalism as though they constituted an objection to a freed market. Right-conflationism is the error of treating the virtues of a freed market as though they constituted a justification of the evils of existing corporatist capitalism. "

Let us modify this to be more realistic:
"Left-conflationism is the error of treating the reality of existing corporatist capitalism as though it had anything to do with the purely imaginary 'totally freed market' that anarcho-capitalists have in their minds. Right-conflationism is the error of acting as if the imagined virtues of the imaginary freed market constitute a justification for the reality of existing corporatist capitalism."

Power long pre-existed the State. The State is, in fact, an attempt to control and channel power. It doesn't always work; sometimes it works very badly indeed. But thinking that getting rid of the State will eliminate power relationships is like thinking that getting rid of hospitals will (mostly) eliminate dying, since hospitals are where most dying takes place!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Cliché-go-round

A good writer avoids clichés whenever possible. The more popular and trendy some phrase or construction fad is, the more it is to be avoided.

But bad writers use clichés more the trendier they are. The reason is that the clichés offer a way to engage the non-discerning reader without doing any work. If you write "How cool is that?" you are instantly "in" with the mindless hordes who have been repeating that phrase themselves since it was first made popular on TV show X.

For instance, Eamonn Brennan, discussing UConn's win over Texas, wrote: "After the win? Not so much."

If you look back at the previous paragraph, "not so much" hardly even makes sense here. He was talking about UConn's performance at Maui being forgotten. Now, after beating Texas, it will be "not so much forgotten"? The mindlessness of clichés nicely illustrated: Brennan was so desperate to drop in the cliché that he couldn't even be bothered to see if it harmonized with what else he was writing.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Tom Woods Illustrates My Point Very Nicely

Over in a heated discussion at Free Advice, I am happy to say that Tom Woods has joined in to support my view that "taxation is theft" is a terrible libertarian argument for convincing non-libertarians, because it already assumes a libertarian view of the State, and is therefore circular.

Tom makes an analogy to slavery: Of course, he points out, arguing "slavery is kidnapping" to, say, Aristotle goes nowhere. Aristotle is simply going to respond, "No, kidnapping is taking someone who has the right to be free against their will. But, as I have shown in my writings, slaves do not have that right."

To argue against the pro-slavery person, it does no good to keep saying "Slavery is kidnapping." No, what one must argue is, "These people you treat as slaves, in fact, ought to be treated as freemen." Then you won't even need to make the kidnapping argument; it will be obvious.

And so it goes with "taxation is theft"; that only makes sense after one has already decided (for some other reason) that the State is illegitimate.

Thanks for the support, Tom!

Online Sexual Solicitation of Children

Some group is running an ad claiming that "one-in-five children have been sexually solicited online."

Well, a moment's thought convinced me that this figure must be nonsense. One-in-five children? First of all, just who qualifies as a "child"? Perhaps humans between 2 and 16? Now, you can't be solicited just looking up something on National Geographic Kids. You need an account of some sort. And how many kids under, say, 10 have such an account? So that knocks out half the sample right there. And that puts us at 40% between 11 and 16. Sounding pretty unlikely, huh?

So, I looked it up, and guess what? The survey this statistic comes from does not support what the statistic apparently says at all. First of all, the survey was of 10 to 17 year-olds... and that leaves out an awful lot of children, hey? Secondly, they did not exclude solicitation of sex by other children. (Of course, the advertisement never says it means only by adults, but I think most people would assume this.)

So what this survey basically shows us is that a bunch of 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds try to pick each other up online.

There certainly are adult perverts trolling the Internet, and that certainly is awful. But that doesn't make it OK to terrify a bunch of parents by grossly exaggerating the extent of the problem.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Countdown to Infamy

For anyone who has not read these documents, it is really worth checking out Steely Dan's wry correspondence with the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame (and sundry others) about their imminent induction. Amongst other things, citing the past squabbling over which band members of various groups ought to get in, Becker and Fagen demand that they have veto power not just over which members of Steely Dan are included, but which members of any band being inducted that night may be included.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

My economics book has been out in Russian for four years now, and I just found out today!

UPDATE: Ho-ho-ho. When I translate the page to English, one of the chapter titles comes out as "No bread and full of shoe polish"!

UPDATE II: It turns out I wrote another chapter entitled: "And Sweden, and the reaper, and the dude igrets." You really have to translate the page to English and read them all.

Phil the Economic Literacy Turtle

Read all about him here.

Criminal... Minds?

Having a TV for the first time in many years, I've been watching it a lot. But we only have an antenna (no cable), so I only get a dozen or so channels. The one I watch the most is Ion Television, which shows re-runs of Criminal Minds for hours a night. (I'm typing this while between episodes!)

Two interesting things about the show:

1) The tech person, "Garcia," pretty much does three or four illegal searches per show, and no one in the FBI does (and I guess no one in the audience is supposed to) bat an eye.

2) Periodically someone in the BAU (or a guest expert) decides to put forward some deterministic theory of what "caused" the serial killers they investigate to become murderers. But the agents still get all self-righteous with the killers when they catch them. May I note this makes no sense? If the lady is a murderer because her neurons were flooded with serotonin in the womb, that's certainly not her fault!

Open Source Software and Skin In the Game

I have been tinkering in the Haskell programming language recently. Trying to up my game, I have begun reviewing and working on issues in th...