Showing posts from April, 2009

Libertarian Wack

Peter Thiel made a billion or so bucks on Pay Pal and Facebook . This essay suggests to me that the pain of having to pay taxes may have driven him over the brink - though he claims he always was. A few of the other things that really piss him off: democracy, women getting the vote and the suggestion that he won't live forever.

Cliff May

I caught this sorry torture apologist being interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show . Even if his message were not so dishonest and odious, his annoyingly chipmunklike chattering would still deserve exile to some dark place of silence.

NY Times Can't Count Either

Check this front page labor graphic graphic Less than 100 days, much of it during the Bush administration, none of it plausibly affected by any action of the Obama administration. ... Mumbles inarticulately.

Mara Eliason, Idiot

I've never been impressed with the political acumen of Fox and NPR political hack Mara Eliason, but she can't count, either. This morning on NPR, about Obama's first 100 days: Remember, this is only one tenth of his Presidential term. Obama's term is scheduled to be 1461 days (365 X 4 + 1).

Conservatism as an Intellectual Handicap

Jason Linkins reports on a study showing that conservatives don't get Stephen Colbert - or perhaps humor at all. ...conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism... Surprising perhaps, but I can definitely see it. Irony apparently involves some sort of higher brain functioning that conservatives mostly lack - a sort of intellectual equivalent of Asperger's syndrome. This could explain a lot - like why conservatives seem to think Rush Limbaugh is funny. And why they tend to be so nasty. Always being the one who doesn't get the joke must be rather humiliating. And what other theory could explain Ayn Rand?

Climate Beyond the Greenhouse

Motl, Barton and the usual suspects make a lot of the fact that the Earth seems to have frequently been a lot warmer in the past than it is today. We are solidly in the territory of the colder periods of the Phanerozoic . This is not mainly an effect of CO2, though current CO2 levels seem to be low by the standards of 50 to 600 million years ago. The biggest effect on climate (aside from the very slow warming of the Sun) is the position of the continents. Our current cold spell, during which we humans and much other life evolved, started when the Isthmus of Panama closed 5 Mya. If it opens again the effect on climate is likely to be as important as a couple or 3 CO2 doublings. These things are well known to climate scientists, and don't affect their arguments (assuming the worst plausible feedbacks - methane clathrate melting) don't occur. Those who believe that anthropogenic CO2 will end the planet, or even the human race, are likely to be dissapointed. It probably will s

Torture Prosecutions

Tyler Cowen points out a probably fatal flaw in the idea of prosecuting the Bush war criminals: At many blogs (Sullivan, Yglesias, DeLong, among others) you will find ongoing arguments for prosecuting the torturers who ran our government for a while. I am in agreement with the moral stance of these critics but I don't agree with their practical conclusions. I believe that a full investigation would lead the U.S. public to, ultimately, side with torture, side with the torturers, and side against the prosecutors. That's why we can't proceed and Obama probably understands that. If another attack happened this would be all the more true. On top of everything else, major Democrats in Congress are likely complicit and the Democrats as a whole hardly made this a campaign issue in 2004; in 2008 the economy was their winning issue, not torture. The public, or a large fraction of it, still believes in torture. Chances of a "Not Guilty" verdict are excellent. Inabilit

Swine Flu

Tyler Cowen finds this: Cities that instituted quarantine, school closings, bans on public gatherings and other such procedures early in the epidemic had peak death rates 30 percent to 50 percent lower than those that did not. That is from a study of the pandemic of 1918-1919 and here is more, from 2007. The best place to follow what is going on in Mexico -- where such restrictions are now common -- is ElUniversal. People in Mexico are dying of the flu every day; what is the chance that only the benign version of the virus crosses the border? It may be too soon to adopt such measures of panic - but not by much. It's easy to forget that our rapidly available weapons against the flu are only slightly better than they were in 1918.

Theep Dought

Avoid unneccessary discussions with crazy people. They are bad for the blood pressure - and insanity is contagious.

David Broder is Not a Senile Idiot

Let me just challenge the conventional wisdom that David Broder is a senile idiot. Broder has always been a partisan hack - and an idiot.

Persuasion II

Every once in a while, an apparently intelligent person writes something so gob-smackingly wierd and illogical that you know that they have to have a screw loose. Such people are frequently libertarians. Consider the case of Alex Tabarrok: Intelligence Squared has held a series of debates in which they poll ayes and nayes before and after. How should we expect opinion to change with such debates? Let's assume that the debate teams are evenly matched on average (since any debate resolution can be written in either the affirmative or negative this seems a weak assumption). If so, then we ought to expect a random walk; that is, sometimes the aye team will be stronger and support for their position will grow (aye after - aye before will increase) and sometimes the nay team will be stronger and support for their position will grow. On average, however, we ought to expect that if it's 30% aye and 70% nay going in then it ought to be 30% aye and 70% nay going out, again, on average. A

Persuasion I

What's the best reason for changing your mind? How about because you were wrong? Maybe you didn't know the most relevant facts, or maybe you were making a mistake of logic. Watching a debate might offer some fact or explanation that persuades. Mostly, though, we don't change our minds much on important matters, and when we do change, the change is at a glacial pace. Among the most significant changes of my lifetime were the change in racial attitudes and the change in attitude toward gay people. Relations between the sexes have changed greatly as well. Each of these changes took place over at least one or two generations, and none of them has been very complete. Some of the change is just due to the older attitudes dying out with the people who held them, but not all or probably even most. I vividly recall hearing of (or seeing?) an interview with an older Southerner who said he had been anti-black and had persecuted blacks all his life, but his perspective was now changed


Conservatives questioned about their opposition to marriage for gays usually claim to believe that it would threaten "their kind" of marriage. When asked to say how, they seem to become inarticulate. So are they just wrong? (as proponents of marriage equality claim) My instinct is to guess no. Widespread fears usually have a basis in reality - which is not to say that they have a valid real justification. Conservatives usually come up with a variation of the slippery slope argument - the idea that "that way lies incest, bestiality," and people marrying their tractors. Stanley Kurtz gives this argument the old manly try in NRO here . I don't quite buy it, but I think that he is getting warm. Those familiar with my thought know that I have a penchant for evolutionary psychology based explanations of social phenomena. One aspect of that argument is that religions are ubiquitous in civilization because they serve crucial social functions. Such religions alway

Hey Mr. Taliban

Some, at least, think that there is a realistic probability of Islamabad falling to the Taliban , and with it, probably, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. This prospect is pretty scary for nearby powers India, China, Iran, and Russia, not to mention the US, Israel, and much of the Middle East. Not only does Pakistan have lots (150?) of nukes, but it also has the capability to deliver them at some distance. Should the Taliban triumph, it would give rise to the following scary movie scenarios: a)Crazy Taliban attack India, the US in Afghanistan, Saudi Oil, Iranian Shia, or Israel. b)India, the US, and/or Israel attempt to sieze or destroy nukes to prevent (a), probably failing and causing (a) c)Big states decide first strike is only option to prevent (a), with all that implies. The Bush/Obama plan for Pakistan doesn't seem to be working out very well.

KJ and I

Every week or three I get a call from my buddy KJ. KJ has kind of a one-track mind. He always has the same question: “I just need to check, what the serial number on your printer is?” Now at first I used to ask him why he wanted to know, and why, but his answers always seemed a bit vague, so I eventually decided that a more nuanced interrogatory might be needed. From our last conversation: KJ: Hey, I just need to check, what’s the serial number on your printer? CIP: Who is calling please? KJ: This is KJ, my boss just wanted me to check what the serial number on your printer is. CIP: Hey K! It’s been a while. I hope you haven’t forgotten about that beer you owe me. KJ: What? CIP: You know. From the kids soccer game against the Outlaws. Last Fall. KJ: Huh? CIP: So is Jamie going to stick with the Flame next year? The transition to under twelve is a biggie. KJ: I’m from Dataline. I just wanted to check the serial number on your printer. CIP: You aren’t the KJ whose son plays on the soccer


ABC's This Week had its balanced round table today: Conservative Cokie Roberts, professional right-wing liar George Will, professional right-wing airhead Peggy Noonan, and Sam Donaldson. After Will uttered forth his usual spew of bombastic nonsensical pomposity, this time on the subject of teabags, taxation and American history, Donaldson punctured it with a sentence: "the tea parties were about hating Obama."

Anger Management

The tea baggers are really angry people. Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and his billionaire sponsored (Coors, Koch) Astroturf organizations have succeeded in stirring up a lot of rage in at least a few people. So what is the real target of their anger? I have a lot of trouble believing that it's because Obama plans to raise taxes on those making over $250,000 per year to a few percentage points less than they were when Reagan was President. Most of them don't look like they have ever seen that kind of money. There are a lot of people who are just crazy angry, of course, like the guys who shot up the schools, police, etc. Those people can be stirred to rage on almost any account. I have to think that it's mostly about race, though. They just can't stand it that a black man, expecially a black man who is clearly a lot smarter than they are, is President. There is a strong undertone of race hatred in much of what we hear. Of course it doesn't help that history has pa

Left-handed, Snot-nosed, Four-eyed Freaks

Bee has a post asking whether success in physics is more a function of talent or work. Put me down for talent, though nobody is going to be a great (or even mediocre) physicist without some work. Talent in mathematics and similar activities often shows itself at early age. It doesn't seem to be particularly dependent on training, or at least formal training, either. The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth by Benbow et. al. looked at the talent issue in considerable detail. Those who have studied the data have found a number of seemingly independent correlations that suggest a physiological basis. The mathematically talented, and especially the very talented, tend to be more myopic than either their families or the general population. They are also more likely to have allergies and be left-handed, and, overwhelmingly more likely to be male. All of which seems to suggest that the popular stereotypes are dead on. Twenty year follow ups show that the early indicators of


With Captain Phillip's rescue and killing and capturing of his captors, the US has won a small victory in the war against the Somali pirates. Why is it so hard to prevent these piracies? We keep hearing that the area in question is large, a couple of times the size of Texas, but somehow the British did a fair job of suppressing pirates in several seas and oceans a couple of hundred years ago, with wooden ships powered by sail, without radio, radar, satellites, or aircraft. It's a question of will. It would be easy to provide ships with armed crews and weaponry that could sink any pirates, but the shipowners don't want to. It would not be terribly hard to suppress the pirates at their source. Pirates could be followed back to their villages, and all of the boats of that village destroyed. If that didn't send a message, next time destroy every boat in a Somali harbor. There are various reasons not to adopt these measures, but ultimately it might be necessary. Eith

Old GOP Dead and Gone?

Some are now pronouncing the Republican party dead, a consummation devoutly to be wished perhaps, but I am not so optimistic. They clearly have gone batshit insane .

Crime and Pillishment

Some people feel strong compulsions to engage in very self-destructive behaviors, many of which are illegal. Kleptomania - stealing not out of need or greed but for the thrill of it - is a good example. I caught a story on NPR yesterday on a psychiatrist who achieved considerable success in treating kleptomaniacs with a drug developed to treat addiction. I suspect that there are many other behaviors that might fit the same kind of pattern - certain risky sexual behaviors of prominent politicians, for example, and perhaps the crimes of Bernie Madoff. Perhaps the day will come when criminals are more likely to be sentenced to pills than jails. This would be a terrible blow to those for whom "the instinct to punish is strong" to paraphrase Nietsche. Maybe they could develop a pill for them ...

Embarassed and Annoyed

Arizona State University is a big State school trying not nearly hard enough to live down its reputation as Hick U. Until recently, A-State's major distinction was its suitability for year around sun tanning and its major occasion for notoriety was its frequent presence at the top of the list of the nation's top party schools. The racist doofusses running the joint have now found another way to embarrass the Alumni , though. This year's commencement speaker is President Obama, but those yahoos decided that he was too junior in the world order to deserve an honorary degree - that despite previously having awarded honorary's to a variety minor celebrities and real degrees to a million or so bozos like your humble servant(MS, PhD). Now honorary degrees are a disgraceful bit of bogosity at best, and those with any pride should decline one, but this really is too much. Not sure what arm of the A-State octopus makes these decisions, but score another one for whichever redneck

Dirty Larry?

They call a cop dirty when he's on the take. Larry Summers is Obama chief economics advisor, and the chief economic problem he has to consider is sorry state of the big banks and the antics that got them there. It seems, though, that he has been feeding at their troughs. Hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. paid Summers more than $5 million in salary and other compensation in the past 16 months, according to a financial disclosure form released by the White House yesterday. Summers served as a managing director at the New York-based firm. Summers, a former Treasury secretary, also earned more than $2.7 million in speaking fees. Glenn Greenwald doesn't think that all that compensation passes the smell test, e.g.: $135,000 paid by Goldman Sachs to Summers -- for a one-day visit. And the payment was made at a time -- in April, 2008 -- when everyone assumed that the next President would either be Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton and that Larry Summers would therefore become exactly what

Geitner's Game

Brad DeLong's latest swig of Timmy's Kool Aid reduces me to incoherent fury. Fortunately, his commenters do a good job of exposing the fallacies he has incorporated. Meanwhile, Kevin Drum describes the plans the big banks already have for gaming the system. US banks that have received government aid, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, are considering buying toxic assets to be sold by rivals under the Treasury’s $1,000bn (£680bn) plan to revive the financial system. ....Wall Street executives argue that banks’ asset purchases would help achieve the second main goal of the plan: to establish prices and kick-start the market for illiquid assets. But public opinion may not tolerate the idea of banks selling each other their bad assets. Critics say that would leave the same amount of toxic assets in the system as before, but with the government now liable for most of the losses through its provision of non-recourse loans. The principle is simple:

Lumo vs. The Volcano

Maybe Lubos *is* the model for Sheldon Cooper. Lumo goes one-on-one against Boltzmann and his eggs (and brains) yet again. He makes a number of correct obsevations, but seems to think he is pointing out things that people like Sean Carroll don't already understand. I'm pretty sure that he is mistaken about that. He conjures up some postulates to describe Boltzmann brainiacs: there are infinitely many possible cosmological models many of them describe the past of our Universe as one that contains an infinite (or nearly infinite) spacetime volume with a nonzero density of matter in these infinite (or almost infinite) regions, all localized configurations of matter (microstates) such as those of eggs appear (nearly) infinitely many times on the other hand, the evolution from a tiny, low-entropy Universe appears only a few times it is thus infinitely (or almost infinitely) more likely that our life was born as a statistical fluctuation, from a Boltzmann egg, or our brain was dire