Showing posts from January, 2011


A dear old friend sent us one of those emails, marked up in 5 colors, of outrages some nutso judge claims to have found in the healthcare law. He cites, but does not quote, the relevant passages. Because I no longer have the patience, I don't bother to track down the reality.

Because I'm too nice a guy, I didn't reply: "Dear X. Suggest you stop smoking crack and listening to Glenn Beck. It's rotting your brain."

Dostoyevsky Takes an Axe to Nietsche and Consequentualism

I saw an impressive theatrical version of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment tonight. I'm not sure how the adapters managed to cram the sprawling novel into 90 minutes, but they did, and to excellent effect. This is a story with some important intellectual weight, and Raskalnikov does as much damage to Nietsche and Consequentialism as he does to the hapless murder victims.

Experts Unstrung

String theorists are very smart. We know this because: (a) you need to know a lot of physics and even more math to understand string theory (and Math is Hard! - Barbie) and (b) because they keep telling us so.

Because people (Ok, their moms and other string theorists, anyway) have always told them they are so smart, some string theorists have found it convenient to set themselves up as experts in all sorts of stuff - climate change, for example. And volcanology.

CNN at least is convinced. Lubos finds CNN interviewing Michio Kaku, string theorist and science popularizer, about the Yellowstone supervolcano (more Yellowstone here and here). Not that I blame Michio. If Rebecca Hillman or other hot Anchorette wants to interview me, I'm available. I can talk about anything, including superstrings, the Superbowl or volcanology - and I even experienced the last big Yellowstone quake.

Actual volcanologist Erik Klementi was not amused. I guess he wanted to be interviewed. Or maybe he t…

What's The Matter With Kids Today?

I was having dinner with some of my contemporaries - that is to say a bunch of other old geezers and geezerettes - not so long ago, and the conversation turned to the manifold intellectual deficiencies of today's students. It started with the film prof complaining that his students didn't know who Gregory Peck or understand the old Hollywood studio system. What little I understand of the "old Hollywood Studio system" was probably embedded Sunset Boulevard - the Lloyd Webber version - but I didn't want to dwell on that. Others complained that most students couldn't write a decent essay - true dat - and so on.

I couldn't resist stirring the pot, so I had to ask how many of us knew who Ke\$ha was? I also wondered how our insights compared with the fact that IQs seem to keep rising, and the fact that the current generation is not only a lot smarter than us, but is even a lot smarter than we were before we became senile.

I've never been one of the popul…


Tyler Cowen and other semi-conservative economists are flogging the notion that the unemployed are unemployed because they aren't worth their keep - that they aren't being hired because they can't produce enough value for it to be worthwhile for an employer to hire them. Economically speaking, they can produce only zero marginal product.

The advent of the automobile caused the transportation value of the horse to drop below the value of the cost of maintaining him, so a lot of formerly useful horses earned a ticket to the glue factory. Is that the designated fate of the American unemployed, metaphorically anyway?

Paul Krugman and other Keynesians maintain that the actual problem is insufficient aggregate demand - there just aren't enough people willing and able to buy stuff. At one level, both explanations are almost tautologically true. Given large enough demand, everyone would be hired. If employers were convinced the hiring someone would produce a profit for th…

More To Chua On

Amy Chua has got to be the most successful self-promoter since Glenn Beck emerged from the ass-cheeks of Zeus - or wherever it was he came from. It's somewhat interesting to wonder how she managed to push so many people's buttons. I think she manages to play on common fears - the fear of every parent that they aren't doing right by their kids and the fear that China is surpassing and threatening the US, for example. She also manages to make herself at once threatening and unlikeable - she's judgemental, anti-American, racist, hypercompetitive, and impossibly full of herself.

Janet Maslin of the NYT weighs in:
“There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests,” Amy Chua writes. She ought to know, because hers is the big one: “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a diabolically well-packaged, highly readable screed ostensibly about the art of obsessive parenting. In truth, Ms.…

Feed Your Head

Paul Krugman takes us back to Grace Slick in the sixties as preparation for tomorrow's column.

I was never a doper of any sort - unless you count beer, but this song definitely made a big impression on me when I was a young soldier. Somehow the ambiance transcended both it's mileau and it's own message. Ditto for Hair - it feels like the anthem of my generation even though I was never of it.

From Wikipedia:

Slick and Tricia Nixon, former President Richard Nixon's daughter, are alumnae of Finch College. Grace was invited to a tea party for the alumnae at the White House in 1969. She invited the political activist Abbie Hoffman to be her escort and planned to spike President Richard Nixon's tea with 600 micrograms of LSD. The plan was thwarted when they were prevented from entering after being recognized by White House security personnel, as Slick had been placed on an FBI blacklist.

Mother of the Year

Amy Chua is the mother from hell, and proud of it - or at any rate she has a book to sell. Excerpt from her WSJ article:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

.• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

The tactics used to enforce this discipline were somewhat drastic, including insults, threats, starvation, and putting the children out in the cold …


Republicans are not likely to cooperate with Obama on much, but he might have one offer they might find hard to refuse. How about an initiative to remove obstacles to entrepreneurship? My guess is that a lot of Americans might start businesses if there weren't so many such obstacles. Here are a few, and my ideas for fixes:

1)Taxes. There are a bewildering complexity of taxes on businesses of every size, and their complexity imposes special difficulties on the small business. Solution: replace all taxes on small businesses with the easiest tax to administer: a value added tax (VAT). In particular, this would mean that all payroll taxes would be eliminated. Their revenue would be replaced by the VAT.

2)Many would be business starters are discouraged by the fact that quitting their jobs at Megacorp would cost them their health insurance. Replace employer based health insurance by a government administered basic health insurance plan (kids + catastrophic + limited extras) plus income ba…

Defending Sarah

Whatever she thinks others may have claimed, I have no reason to believe that Sarah Palin kills Christian babies in order use their blood to make Passover matzohs.
I have every reason to believe that she continues to be a contemptible and brainless twit.

Blaming Sarah

There is a school of American political press hacquettry in which the ability to see both sides of every issue is prized far above truth and logic - call it the "opinions differ on the shape of the Earth" school. Howard Kurtz, a charter member, opines today that we really need to resist the temptation to think that the assassinations in Arizona might have something to do with militarized "bullets or ballots" rhetoric being pushed by the right-wing media and many politicians. We know the rest - gunman was deranged, his politics were muddled, blah, blah, blah.

Kurtz throws in this:
Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn't act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously belie…

Bloody Footprints

The assassin who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a dozen other people today will doubtless be portrayed as a lone wacko, but I predict that the bloody footprints will lead back to the imams of Fox News and purveyors of political hate on right-wing talk radio. Sarah Palin's website has reputedly just taken down the bullseye they had painted on Congresswoman Gifford's district - but let's not forget who stirred up this and other recent incidents of terrorism.

If, as I expect, the murderer was inspired in whole or in part by professional hate mongers, they should be treated just like other terrorists.UPDATE: Josh Marshall reminds us of the huge role the Tea Party has played in the "assassinate your local Congressperson" movement:
Arizona has been ground zero for the guns and threats agitation from the right over the last two years. And as an example of the atmosphere in the state of late, back this summer her Tea Party opponent Jesse Kelly held a "Targe…

Irrational Expectations

Once more into the breach: another statistics problem from The Burg:
Suppose you’ve somehow found yourself in a game of Russian Roulette. Russian roulette is not, perhaps, the most rational of games to be playing in the first place, so let’s suppose you’ve been forced to play.
Question 1: At the moment, there are two bullets in the six-shooter pointed at your head. How much would you pay to remove both bullets and play with an empty chamber?
Question 2: At the moment, there are four bullets in the six-shooter. How much would you pay to remove one of them and play with a half-full chamber?

The hardest part of this kind of problem is figuring exactly how to frame it. Suppose, for example, that objective here is to maximize your lifetime, and that your expected lifetime, should you survive the game, is a function of your remaining wealth W, say f(W).

For question 1, then, without the payoff, your expected future lifetime becomes:
L = (1/3)*0 + (2/3)*f(W) = (2/3)*f(W), and
L = f(W-P) with the…

Boys and Girls Together...

I asked The Statistical Mechanic (AKA Wolfgang) for his opinion on the subject of the Landsburg-Motl Gotterdammerung. I hope he won't mind my quoting most of his post on the subject here:
If E() denotes expectation values, then E(x/y) is in general not E(x)/E(y). If x is the number of girls and y enumerates the boys then we have pretty much described the whole debate about this puzzle already.
Furthermore, notice that E(x/y) is in many cases not well defined and the sum or (in general) the integral Int[ dx dy (x/y) p(x) p(y) ] will not necessarily equal 1 even if p is normalized and does vanish around zero values of x, y.

Asymmetric Warfare

I visited the sites of the revolutionary war battles of Lexington and Concord this summer, and was reminded of the old joke about the great game master arranging the terms of the war:

OK, you Brits will wear red, march in close formation, and use short range guns.

Americans, you wear camouflage, hide behind trees, and use long range rifles.

Ready, set, go!

So why don't the guerrillas usually win? Because it was discovered long ago that there is another side to the asymmetry. The more powerful force uses its superior firepower to destroy the means of sustenance of the population in which the guerrillas live. Thus Sherman broke the back of Southern resistance in the American Civil War by creating a swath of destruction across the South.

Collective punishment is a war crime, but war is always collective punishment.

Meanwhile, the world puts up with terrorism mainly sponsored by weak countries. A vast armada is deployed in a mainly futile effort to suppress piracy based in Somalia, but a…