Showing posts from June, 2010

The Hanging Tree

The election of Obama has made secession a once again popular topic among the fruitcake right. Here is Alex Tabarrok talking it up: After a long quote from Patri Friedman, Alex throws in his own suggestion: “Finally, don't forget: If at first you don't secede, try, try again.” May I suggest a historically more plausible slogan? “If at first you don’t secede, enjoy your dance on the hanging tree!” No doubt libertarians would find this punishment a bit harsh, but I don’t really agree. Jefferson, the rebel and revolutionary (or secessionist, if you prefer), was wise and honest enough to note that governments should not be dissolved for “light or transient causes.” Given his position, it’s quite natural that he didn’t want to go into detail, but the reasons are hardly obscure. A nation is an organic whole, and tearing it apart is a traumatic event – frequently as traumatic as ripping off an arm or a leg.

Book Review: Continued

I previously commented on Richard E Nisbett's Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. Let me summarize what I consider some of his main points: Intelligence is widely considered to largely genetic and largely immutable. This belief is not supported by the evidence. In particular, the aspects of IQ tests that were considered to be most culture free (e.g., Raven progressive matrices) have clearly been demonstrated to be the most culturally loaded. Both known and unknown aspects of nurture and culture make a big difference in IQ. Having educated middle class parents is a major factor in development of IQ. Education (both quantity and quality) make big differences. His argument is detailed and relies heavily on the data (the book concludes with 45 pages of detailed notes, citations and references.) He is also excellent at explaining the logic (and logical errors) in key hereditarian arguments such as those of Herrnstein and Murray and rushton and Jensen. Appen

An Improved Way to Score World Cup Games

Let the two teams kick the ball around for ninety minutes, then the referee could blow his whistle and flip a coin, after which some sighted person could tell him which side is up - and thus the winner. Because actually checking whether goals were scored would do too much violence to the game.

A Hot Time in the Old Town

The fantasy world occupied by the global warming deniers becomes ever more ridiculous. Seven countries in Africa and Asia set all time temperature records in the past two months. People in the countries involved are used to high temperatures, but I would be surprised if the death tolls are much lower than in the great European heat wave of 2003, which killed 30,000. We may hope that the end of El Nino means that the recent run of record global temperature months may be over, but all the evidence suggests that this year is but a hint of what's to come. Meanwhile, Arctic ice cover continues to plummet, and is currently a couple of standard deviations less than it was at a comparable time in the record setting year of 2007 (and about four standard deviations below the historical mean.) For the committed crackpot, though, facts are a minor nuisance. The important thing is the will to believe what you want to believe.

Ghana 2 - USA 1

Will we ever learn to play this game? Signs to date are not promising. As usual - horrible and horribly weak start, early goal conceded, comeback with lots of chances. Ghana had relatively few chances but exploited them beautifully. The US had many chances but could not finish - the only goal was a penalty kick and that was nearly a miss.

Rabbit Proof Fence

Rand Paul wants to fix immigration by installing an electric fence along the border – underground – inspired, no doubt, by the ones Ron used to keep him in his yard when he was a lad. Don’t forget to supply all those Mexicans with the little shock collars! The idea of an underground electric fence inspired a certain amount of scorn in the RBC, but hey, what better way to combat the Mexican Drug Underground? All of which reminds me of my important, original, and revolutionary solution to the immigration and border control problem: A twenty mile wide, sea level canal from San Diego to Brownsville. It would require a lot of labor, it’s true – fortunately there is a large supply of willing and able Mexicans willing to work pretty cheap. It would be best if all the work was done with pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. Disposal of all the rock and dirt removed might be a bit of a problem, but we could use some more barrier islands in the Gulf – and maybe a big island off the coast of San Diego.

About The Tropopause

Temperature tends to decrease with height in the troposphere, while the stratosphere it is either isothermal or temperature increases with height. The Tropopause is the boundary between the two regions. Its height above the surface varies with latitude, season and over shorter time periods as well, with the average height at the equator being about twelve miles and only 6 miles over the poles. Why is this so? John Thuburn discusses this in detail in a JAS paper from 2000 called Stratospheric Influence on Tropopause Height: The Radiative Constraint. He has the details, but the short answer is that troposphere and stratosphere are dominated by different heat budgets. The troposphere is heated mainly from below and convection dominates energy transport. The stratosphere is heated both from above and below and radiation does almost all the work of energy transport. The thickness of the troposphere depends both on the temperature at the surface and the amount of infrared absorption between

US 1 - Algeria 0

Another last minute miracle was needed to save the day, but the US side managed. England gets Germany in the next round, we get Ghana. The ancient Meso-Americans built some immense stadia for their soccer like ball game. At the conclusion of a match, according to various traditions and analyses, the losing team, the winning team, or maybe just the MVP were ritually sacrificed. My nominee would be the ref.


It's enough to make a commander-in-chief think twice about appointing a McGeneral to a major wartime command. McClellan, MacArthur, and now McChrystal. My first thought when I heard of McChr's mouthing off was that he might be trying to pull a MacArthur - get fired and try to parlay the experience into a Republican Presidential nomination. The Republicans sure as hell could use a credible candidate. On the other hand, some of his acquaintances say that he is a mouthy guy by habit - so maybe he just got caught for once. Justin Elliott blames the Bud Light Lime - but his evidence is circumstantial Light.

Politically Incorrect

The arXiv is one of the great developments in the history of scientific publication. It's very unfortunate then, that it, or at least part of it, was captured by anti-scientific cranks with no tolerance for criticism. Some time ago, some string theorists thought it would be a good idea to allow trackbacks from the papers to blogs referencing them. This was OK until some Stalinist string theorists noticed that some blogs referencing the papers actually criticized not only the papers, but the whole string theory program. The problem, it seems, was Peter Woit. Peter has an amusing update of the situation today . It seems that an anonymous new blog (started by Peter) with the proper attitude of deference (called " String Theory Fan" ) does meet the rigorous scientific standards needed to qualify for trackbacks, even if Peter's blog doesn't.

The Great Oz Has Spoken

Steven Landsburg has the habit of speaking ex cathedra , or after the fashion of someone issuing a Papal Bull, or at any rate, some kind of bull. A typical example is his recent proclamation on Environmental Economics , e.g.: A.C. Pigou taught us that we get better outcomes when decisionmakers bear the costs of their actions. Ronald Coase taught us that Pigou’s lesson cuts two ways. The shrimp boats that are sitting idle today are sitting idle partly because BP decided to drill in the gulf, but also partly because the shrimpers chose to operate in the vicinity of an oil rig. In this case, making BP feel the costs of its own decisions entails insulating the shrimpers from the costs of theirs. Now it seems that some of his commenters are largely exercised by the horror of calling the corporation formerly known as British Petroleum by that name rather than its current alias, but others point out that Coase mentioned some limitations and conditions of what others have called " Coase&#

IQ and Class

...the class structure of modern society is essentially a function of the innately differing intellectual and other qualities of the people making up these classes....................H. J. Eysenck, The Inequality of Man It can hardly escape notice that this analysis is exceedingly convenient for those in posistions of power and privilege in society, expecially for those engaged in promoting policies to protect those privileges through favorable tax and other policies. It's also a fact that Eysenck's view is widely held among the dominant strong hereditarians in the intelligence testing community. This view was codified by Herrnstein and Murray's influential book: The bell curve: Intelligence and class structure in American life, and promoted by others such as Steven Pinker. They argue that music lessons, preschool, and all the other activities parents try to promote their children's intelligence are essentially pointless, since IQ is determined by heredity and essentia

FIFA Delenda Est

FIFA sucks. The US and other countries swindled by the archaic and incompetent refereeing of FIFA should secede and promote an improved soccer game. More refs, electronic scoring and review of goals, electronic determination of offsides, replacement of throwins with kick ins and a few other modifications would make for a much better game.


It's early yet, but probably not too early for the Democrats to start thinking about whom they should run against Obama in 2012. John Stewart savaged Obama last night on his trashing of his own campaign promises to restore the rule of law. From where I sat it was well-deserved. By 2012, it's entirely possible that Obama will be completing his term with a Republican dominated Congress, an unwinnable war, and a world economy teetering into depression. Will there be any Democrat who is a credible candidate by then? I'm having trouble thinking of one.

Limited Liability

Steve Landsburg poses an interesting question: seems equally odd for a company with pockets the depth of BP’s to be engaged in as risky an activity as deep water oil drilling. Why wasn’t this project sold off to someone with a lot less to lose? The limited liability corporation is the master institution of the modern corporate capitalist state. One of its advantages is the protection it offers its shareholders - their personal risk from mistakes or midsdeeds of the corporation is limited to their equity stake. Steve is asking why BP didn't take advantage of that. By selling its interest in the well to some smaller scale corporation which would have gone bankrupt in the first days of the spill, it might have saved itself a bundle - and stuck the citizens near the Gulf with the full bill. This used to be standard practice in the West. Gold is found, a suitably small mining company grabs the gold, pays the stockholders, and declares bankruptcy, sticking everybody downstream

Charles Murray on Ayn Rand

Via Marginal Revolution Charles Murray, ostensibly reviewing two new biographies of Ayn Rand: In 1991, the book-of-the-month club conducted a survey asking people what book had most influenced their lives. The Bible ranked number one and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was number two. In 1998, the Modern Library released two lists of the top 100 books of the 20th century. One was compiled from the votes of the Modern Library's Board, consisting of luminaries such as Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Edmund Morris, and Salman Rushdie. The two top-ranked books on the Board's list were Ulysses and The Great Gatsby. The other list was based on more than 200,000 votes cast online by anyone who wanted to vote. The top two on that list were Atlas Shrugged (1957) and The Fountainhead (1943). The two novels have had six-figure annual sales for decades, running at a combined 300,000 copies annually during the past ten years. In 2009, Atlas Shrugged alone sold a record 500,000 copies and Ran

Commercial Scientific Journals

I'm not a fan of commercial scientific journals. I have a sentimental attachment to Nature and a few others with a nice history but I think that in the age of the arXiv they are an expensive anachronism. Poverty has driven the University of California to strike back. The University of California system has said "enough" to the Nature Publishing Group, one of the leading commercial scientific publishers, over a big proposed jump in the cost of the group's journals. On Tuesday, a letter went out to all of the university's faculty members from the California Digital Library, which negotiates the system's deals with publishers, and the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication. The letter said that Nature proposed to raise the cost of California's license for its journals by 400 percent next year. If the publisher won't negotiate, the letter said, the system may have to take "more drastic actions" with the help of the facult


The US apparently was quite lucky to escape with a tie against England in World Cup play. I couldn't see it because I was on the road, but I expected to be able to hear it on my XM radio. Unfortunately, searching for the right channel apparently killed the stupid radio computer, and it took me until the 35 minute mark to figure out that stopping the car and turning off the engine would reset it - nothing else seemed to. I fairly quickly learned that there was no way in hell one could follow the play from the call unless you knew the names of all the players. WTF. No normal American sport works like that. I guess that only serious fans need apply.


It's not a new idea that some smart people think that Israel was a mistake . Richard Cohen, a pretty hard core Israel supporter made the case like so: The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself. This is why the Israeli-Arab war, now transformed into the Israeli-Muslim war (Iran is not an Arab state), persists and widens. It is why the conflict mutates and festers. It is why Israel is now fighting an organization, Hezbollah, that did not exist 30 years ago and why Hezbollah is being supported by a nation, Iran, that was once a tacit ally of Israel's.

Try to tell us how you really feel

Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas needs to try to get past his inhibitions and share a bit about how he really feels: Every time the Democratic consultant Steve McMahon comes up, I always mention that he's the biggest asshole I've ever met in politics ...

Kicking Ass

I'm a bit late in commenting on Obama's declaration that he needed to meet with experts in order to find out "who's ass to kick." Now I can think of a lot of other good reasons why one ought to meet with experts about how to deal with a man-made disaster, but I'm afraid that his choice forced one image into my mind: Chloe Grace Moretz, in uniform, appearing at a BP meeting of the board of directors and announcing: "OK, you #***s, let's see what you can do now."

Groundhog Day

Why do I sometimes feel like George Bush is still President? A seemingly hopeless war drags on, effective measures to rein in Wall Street don't happen, Oil companies are still getting away with murder, and no effective action against unemployment is even in the works. Could any of those things matter?

Relatively Confusing

In special relativity, every inertial observer is responsible for setting up his own system of synchronized clocks. One of the counterintuitive surprises is that these clocks disagree on how long ago any specific event is if the two inertial observers are in relative motion - according to the rule that t' = gamma*(t-v x/c^2), where t' is the time measured by the observer we shall call moving, v is the relative velocity, x is the distance of the event (from the standpoint of the "stationary" observer, c is the speed of light and gamma = 1/Sqrt(1-(v/c)^2). For quite modest speeds v, gamma is nearly exactly one but the time differences can still be large for distant events - that is, those for which x is large. Steve Lundburg continues to confuse and bebother his hapless readers with relativity stuff. Here is a bit of his latest effort. After noting that there are some indications that Betelgeuse might be about to supernova, he notes that an observer standing on the

Traumatic Brain Injury

One of Obama's campaign promises was that the nation would do a better job of taking care of our wounded soldiers, in particular those afflicted by the signature injury of these wars, traumatic brain injury due to blast. NPR's story today strongly suggests that this is a pledge he has failed to deliver on. Soldier interviews showed that the Army was actively avoiding its responsibility. Fort Bliss Texas was supposed to be a showpiece for the Army's treatment program, but soldiers report waiting months for appointments and getting Tylenol for treatment when they finally do get in. The base commander refused repeated requests for interviews, sticking Colonel James Baunchalk, the Medical Center Commander with that job. The Col. knew all the right buzzwords and even had a handy Powerpoint, but either he is lying through his teeth or a whole bunch of wounded soldiers are. If the implications of this story are close to true, and Obama cares anything for our wounded soldiers

How to turn a panic into a depression

Paul Krugman

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas, 89 year-old legend, became a victim of her own mouth and the vindictiveness of the Israel lobby, and was forced into retirement. To be sure, her suggestion that the Jews in Palestine should go back to Germany and Poland was absurd - two, three, or more generations down the river of time there is no way that that could happen. To pretend that it's some deadly anti-semitic insult, though, rather than just some exasperated blowing off of steam is equally absurd. I'm not the brightest history student in the class, but I never managed to figure out why the terrible crimes committed on the Jews by the Germans and their collaborators deserved to be expiated by the Palestinians - their long lost cousins who never left the original homeland. If there were a principle of fairness in the world, the Jews would have been given Bavaria or maybe Austria - I personally would have offered them Texas West of the Pecos. What is done, though, cannot be undone. Jews are not abou

Threat Analysis

Watching Liz Cheney on ABC's this week, I'm inclined to think that she is a much more credible presidential threat than Sarah Palin. Cheney has the same unflappable manner as her father, the same penetrating, reasonable sounding voice, and the same smooth skill as a liar. She was on against Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsos and Arianna Huffington, and mostly had them for lunch.

Strategic Liability?

From Helene Cooper's New York Times article: Some topics are so inflammatory that they are never discussed without first inserting a number of caveats. And so, when Anthony Cordesman, a foreign policy dignitary in this town’s think tank circuit, dropped an article on Wednesday headlined “Israel as a Strategic Liability,” he made sure to open with a plethora of qualifications. My reaction, I'm afraid, was "Well Doh!" Maybe my memory is bad, but I can't recall a recent instance when our strategic alliance with Israel profited the US. Nor does Cooper's article, appearing as it does in a charter member of the Israel lobby's press, cite any. These policies had their origin and justification fifty some years ago when we were competing with the Soviets for strategic influence. When the USSR exploded, they lost their strategic justification. We support Israel out of inertia, and because our Jewish and millenialist citizens insist on it, and have an immensely power


Some puzzles, like crosswords, depend heavily on knowledge of the outside world. Others, like sudoku, are pure logic - you only need the rules and logic to solve them. Chess and Go are also puzzles in pure logic, but in practice you need a lot of knowledge to play well - the purely logical problem is way too tough for the human brain. Mathematics seems to occupy a kind of intermediate state. It is structured as purely logical, but in practice links to sophisticated knowledge of the real world are everywhere, especially in the inspiration for its various subdisciplines. Just sayin'.

Gaza Blockade

I was filled with patriotic fury when I learned that the Israelis had murdered another American, so I will wait until I calm down to address that question. What about the fundamental issue being contested here, the blockade of Gaza? The Israelis have a clear and legitimate interest in keeping weapons out of Gaza, but their blockade goes far beyond that. Their embargo is so total as to immizerate the Gazans and prevent reconstruction or meaningful commercial activity. It also enables the Hamas thugs who run the smuggling industry. A blockade is an act of war, and in effect Gaza is an occupied territory, but the Israelis refuse to meet their legal responsibility to either rule it or give the Gazans scope for self-rule. Gaza is too small to support its population through agriculture, so Gazans are dependent on outside aid which the Israelis don't provide but permit a trickle of. Frankly, I think that donor nations should refuse to act as enablers of an unconscionable Israeli policy by