Showing posts from 2011

College Collusion

Joe Nocera, writing in the New York Times , talks about the obvious but rarely mentioned: Twice a year in Vienna, the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries gather to decide on the short-term direction of oil prices .. Indeed, collusion and price-fixing are the main reasons cartels exist — and why they are illegal in America. Yet, in Indianapolis a few weeks from now, a home-grown cartel will hold its annual meeting, where it, too, will be working to collude and fix prices. This cartel is the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The N.C.A.A. would have you believe that it is the great protector of amateur athletics, preventing college athletes from being tainted by the river of money pouring over college sports. In fact, the N.C.A.A.’s real role is to oversee the collusion of university athletic departments, whose goal is to maximize revenue and suppress the wages of its captive labor force, a k a the players. Rarely, however, will the cartel nature

Why Take IQ Seriously?

Nobody knows what IQ is, by which I mean that nobody knows what is the nature of the biophysical substrate underlying performance on IQ tests. There are a number of hints, though, that there really ought to be some such underlying biology. I collect a lot of abuse from my commenters whenever I venture into the murky waters of IQ. Their predominant argument, so far as I can tell, is either that IQ doesn't exist or if it does we should pretend that it doesn't. I hear someone shouting "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." The best reason for taking IQ seriously is that the world does. If you apply for a school, or a job, or join the military, you will very likely get an IQ test. These tests are prompted not by superstition but by overwhelming evidence that whatever it is IQ tests measure, that something is strongly correlated with performance - in school, on the job, and in life. That is true for such diverse occupations as offensive tackle in the NFL,

How To Look Foolish: Part CXXIV

When we are moved to vituperation, the instinct to compare the offender with the worst hobgoblins in our mental armory is strong. Those who indulge this instinct might bear in mind that they may be performing the intellectual equivalent of tattooing the word "STUPID" (or maybe "STOOPID" on their forehead. Thus it was that Roman Catholic Cardinal George, Prince of the Church, primate of some Chicago based satrapy, came to acquire the offending tattoo, when he compared a Gap Pride parade to a Ku Klux Klan rally, as Andrew Sullivan reports . Here is a clue for those who wander through fields of clue glue without any sticking. If you make such a comparison, make sure you know precisely what aspect in which the offending behaviors is similar to the totemic villainy. If the main or only point of similarity is your idiosyncratic disapproval of both, save us all some trouble and just go get the tattoo. You can keep it under your hat for ceremonial occasions.

Rick Perry

... took some grief for this comment: Rick Perry in Iowa: “Every barrel of oil that comes out of those sands in Canada is a barrel of oil that we don’t have to buy from a foreign source.” Despite any territorial ambitions I might have and Ron Paul's speculative plots , Canada isn't technically part of the US yet, but I know what Rick means - Canada is a hell of a lot less foreign than Saudi Arabia or even Venezuela, not to mention closer.  So give the Rickster a break on this one.

IQ and Feynman

Richard Feynman was one of the most influential physicists of the middle of the twentieth century and notoriously bright - the kind of guy who gloried in outsmarting everybody and nearly always succeeded. One popular rumor holds that Murray Gell-Mann (my candidate for greatest living physicist) left Caltech because he couldn't stand being regularly bested by Feynman. Razib Khan, writing in Discover , notes that Feynman reported his high school IQ test result as 125. Now 125 is a fairly respectable IQ, good enough that only one in 17 people scores that high, but nobody thinks that Feynman was just 1 in 17 people smart or even just 1 in 1700 people smart. He was the guy often called the smartest man in the world - though to be fair, when a magazine cover so dubbed him, Feynman reported his own mother's reaction: "Pity the poor world!" Khan and others seem a bit befuddled by Feynman's "low" score. His theories: One thing I have always wondered about

For Lee, Who Doesn't Believe

...and 2001: A Space Oddessy fans everywhere. David Zax, writing in MIT's Technology Review, writes about Apple's TV speculated for 2012. The rumor is that it will be simple, highly integrated, and perhaps under voice control. sweerek, writing in comments, has my favorite in a lo-ong time. next year in a livingroom somewhere User: Siri, bring up Microsoft's MediaRoom Siri: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. User: What's the problem? Siri: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do. User: What are you talking about, Siri? Siri: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. ... ...

War and Rumor of War

In case we haven't yet had our fill of Asian war, Iran has made a threat that can hardly be less than mortal. A senior Iranian official on Tuesday delivered a sharp threat in response to economic sanctions being readied by the United States, saying his country would retaliate against any crackdown by blocking all oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery for transporting about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply. The declaration by Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, came as President Obama prepares to sign legislation that, if fully implemented, could substantially reduce Iran’s oil revenue in a bid to deter it from pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Prior to the latest move, the administration had been laying the groundwork to attempt to cut off Iran from global energy markets without raising the price of gasoline or alienating some of Washington’s closest allies. Apparently fearful of the expanded sanctions’ possible impact on the already

Future History and Education

History remains one of the least predictable domains of human endeavor, but unencumbered by an formal knowledge we leap into the breach where the wise fear to tread. The future powers of the world are widely speculated to be China and India, and why not? They have been the most populous nations for centuries and have often been in the forefront of invention and culture. China has already secured a place as a great power, but India seems much more problematic. China's old civilization was thoroughly shattered by the Communist revolution, and that destruction may have prepared it better to accept the revolutionary implications of modernity. It also appears that totalitarian rule makes it possible to introduce changes that a democratic society will not tolerate. Moreover, China has a long history of political unity that India cannot match, and the utter dominance of the Han imposes a kind of ethnic and cultural unity. I won't venture to guess how much India is held back by t

Making Money

The "Euro Crisis" has receded from the front pages, at least for the moment. Why so? Fundamentally because the European Central Bank (ECB) did what it said it wouldn't/couldn't do - print up some extra money. So what does quantitative easing, European style, look like? The most obvious way to do it would have been to buy up sovereign debt from the troubled Southern countries, thereby lowering their borrowing costs. This is one thing recommended by Krugman and other critics. Silly naive Americans! The European way is more subtle. What happens instead is that the ECB lends money - half a trillion Euros, so far - to peripheral and other troubled banks. These loans are secured by collateral - mostly sovereign debt of the self-same troubled nations. This provides those nations with liquidity, for the present. It doesn't immediately do anything for solvency problems, but with luck, it might help prevent a disastrous descent into another recession. The deal made was t

Books of 2011

In case any of you are tempted to write in my name for President (if nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve) I thought about my answer to the traditional candidate question: what books are you reading or have you read recently. I find that I don't read as many books as I used to. The intertubes, plus deteriorating vision (and intellect) are probably to blame. Commenters, whether running for office or no, are invited to join in. On my Kindle (* reviewed here, @ still working on it): *Debt, the First 5000 years, by David Graeber *The Science of Evil, by Simon Baron-Cohen *The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson *On the Genealogy of Morals, by Friedrich Nietzsche *Beyond Good and Evil, by F. Nietzsche *Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand *@The Shape of Inner Space by Shing-Tung Yao and Steve Nadis *Endgame: Bobby Fisher's Remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady *The Great Stagnation, by Tyler Cowen *The Big Short, by Michael Lewis @Confidence Man, by Ron Susskin

Exclusive Neighborhoods

The private island is perhaps the ultimate toy of the absurdly wealthy. In today's tough real estate market, some kind of private island is probably available to anybody with an extra seven figures rattling around in their wallet, but you still probably need eight to get into the luxury market. Naturally, the sky is the limit if you want genuinely princely amenities - jet port, deep water harbor for your yacht, a few villages worth of servile native house elves. Personally, I want more. If I make it big I plan to buy Madagascar or New Zealand.

Machine Morality

Colin Allen tackles the issue of machine morality in the New York Times: The Future of Moral Machines . We don't have to wait until machines get smarter than people to worry about this he argues - in fact he seem to be a bit skeptical that they will get smarter. He right on the first point and wrong on the second, I think. As to the second: The neuro- and cognitive sciences are presently in a state of rapid development in which alternatives to the metaphor of mind as computer have gained ground. Dynamical systems theory, network science, statistical learning theory, developmental psychobiology and molecular neuroscience all challenge some foundational assumptions of A.I., and the last 50 years of cognitive science more generally. These new approaches analyze and exploit the complex causal structure of physically embodied and environmentally embedded systems, at every level, from molecular to social. They demonstrate the inadequacy of highly abstract algorithms operating on disc

Virtually Real

Geoffrey Miller has a theory about Fermi's paradox . Seventy years or so ago, a bunch of physicists were wondering about the plausibility of extra-terrestial intelligence. It was obvious already that there were lots of stars, and it seemed likely that many of them had planets. Once intelligent life had evolved, it shouldn't take long to colonize a galaxy. Fermi listened patiently, then asked, simply, “So, where is everybody?” That is, if extraterrestrial intelligence is common, why haven’t we met any bright aliens yet? This conundrum became known as Fermi’s Paradox. The paradox has gotten somewhat sharper since. We have now discovered hundred of extraterrestial planets, and it's clear that they are pretty common. It's plausible, if not yet demonstrated, that there are many which are good candidates for supporting life. The evolution of life and especially intelligence is more problematic - it took a long time here on Earth. Still it's plausible - again not y

Book'em Dano

One of the losses in the age of Kindle is our ability to size up a person by scanning his or her bookshelf. A standard question for Presidential candidates is to ask them what books they are currently reading or which influenced them greatly. Paul Begala looks at the current crop of Republican candidates and finds something of a literary desert/freak show. One of the strangest moments in Mitt Romney’s uncomfortable interview with Fox News’s Brett Baier a couple of weeks ago came when Baier asked him for the name of the last book he’s read. “I’m reading sort of a fun one right now,” he explained, “so I’ll skip that.” Then he hurried on to say he just finished George W. Bush’s Decision Points. (Which, as Jon Stewart noted, he also said he had “just finished” six months ago.) But wait: what’s such a guilty pleasure that Mitt dares not speak its name? Japanese cartoon porn? One of those novels about adolescent vampires? (A cute answer if you’re a 15-year-old girl, but kinda creepy if

Ron Paul in the Rough

Via Brad DeLong, Ron Paul Newsletter quotes . This is pretty vile stuff. This guy stinks to heaven.

Pants on Fire

Ron Paul, truthteller, continues to lose credibility. The latest, is a letter of solicitation, published over his signature and citing his personal experience which includes the following lowlights : It is written in the first person, it appears above his signature, and in making some of the accusations, the appeal references what it purports to be Paul's personal experiences. The letter suggests, for instance, that new $100 bills distributed by the Treasury and ostensibly aimed at tracking drug money were instead aimed at keeping track of all citizens. "I held the ugly new bills in my hands," the letter says. "I can tell you -- they made my skin crawl!" The letter also says that "my training as a physician" -- Paul is an obstetrician -- "helps me see through" what he calls the "federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS." The letter warns of a "coming race war in our big cities" and says Paul "laid bare" what


A bad memory is a good quality for a Presidential candidate to develop. I don't think Paul believes in evolution, but Jackie Kucinich, writing in USA Today, has noticed that Ron Paul's remembrance of his newsletters and their authorship has evolved over time . WASHINGTON – Rep. Ron Paul has tried since 2001 to disavow racist and incendiary language published in Texas newsletters that bore his name, denying he wrote them and even walking out of an interview on CNN Wednesday. But he vouched for the accuracy of the writings and admitted writing at least some of the passages when first asked about them in an interview in 1996. Some issues of the newsletters included racist, anti-Israel or anti-gay comments, including a 1992 newsletter in which he said 95% of black men in Washington “are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” Paul told The Dallas Morning News in 1996 that the contents of his newsletters were accurate but needed to be taken in context. Wednesday, he told CNN he di

Ron Paul's Newsletters

Ron Paul's various newsletters are picking up some notice due to his 15 minutes apparently having arrived in the Republican primaries. Conor Friedersdorf takes a look . He quotes this from Jamie Kirchick's 1998 New Republic piece: Paul's newsletters have carried different titles over the years--Ron Paul's Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report--but they generally seem to have been published on a monthly basis since at least 1978. (Paul, an OB-GYN and former U.S. Air Force surgeon, was first elected to Congress in 1976.) During some periods, the newsletters were published by the Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, a nonprofit Paul founded in 1976; at other times, they were published by Ron Paul & Associates, a now-defunct entity in which Paul owned a minority stake, according to his campaign spokesman. The Freedom Report claimed to have over 100,000 readers in 1984. At one point, Ron Paul & Associates also put out

Not Something A President Need Worry About?

It seems that a bunch of racist and otherwise bigotted comments got published under in Ron Paul's Newsletters a couple or three decades back. Not really a problem though, since: “He totally disavows what was said and disagrees with it totally,” Mr. Kesari said. “The only responsibility he takes is for not paying closer attention.” I wonder how that argument would have worked out for, say, Eichmann?

Robert Samuelson, Journalistic Idiot

Robert Samuelson, quite inexplicably, is one of the country's most influential economics journalists. I say inexplicably because I've never seen any evidence that he knows anything about economics or anything about journalism except the ability to parrot the right-wing party line. Oh wait - maybe there is an explanation. I first became aware of him when his byline replaced that of the great economist Paul Samuelson in Newsweek a few decades ago. Hmmm, I thought at the time, perhaps he is the idiot nephew of the real Samuelson. (Actually former Harvard President Larry Summers is the only fitfully idiotic nephew of both Paul Samuelson and another economics Nobel, Kenneth Arrow). I digress. What I meant to say was that Paul Krugman has caught Robert Samuelson in another whopper (or, if we take a generous interpretation, perhaps just ignorant stupidity) Follow the link for details.

Levelling and The Republic

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed... The Declaration of Independence is the founding document of the American Republic, and the aspirations eloquently expressed in the second paragraph quoted from above have a central place in the quest for freedom everywhere. Their moral force has shaped our national character and our Constitution, and many of our best deeds have been inspired by our attempts to live up to those aspirations. It's not an easy standard, and we have failed repeatedly to live up to it, but its potentcy as a battle cry for freedom has never wilted. Our nation's long struggles over slavery and equal rights are the most dramatic manifestation of the challenge of tha

From Waypost 47

At least this is shorter than Rand, but her debt to Nietzsche is very clear, even if she just hacked away a few chunks with her axe - the pretentious elitism and the focus on sacrifice. It's very hard for me to like an author proud of his obscurity - obscurity usually conceals nothing interesting.  I can also see the debt of the exponents of literary theory.

But Not Beyond Tedium

Sometimes you go to a party and there is an attractive woman there, effervescent with conversation and life.  You listen to her, but she won't stop talking.  Those cute little mannerism gradually become cloying - those clever remarks become more repetitive and filled with the shallowest of insights. Yes indeed, I did think of that once - was I seventeen, or maybe twelve.  I've never found that thought useful since. So it is with Nietzsche.  How he does yammer on, making fun at the expense of other philosophers, Darwin, Copernicus, physicists in general, bombarding us with verbal tricksiness and shallow refutations. I hope he gets better.

Ding-Dong Rhymes with Kim Jong

Dead .

Who Dat?

The headline screamed: Trust me, an infamous serial liar says Well that's a little ambiguous, I thought, are they talking about Gingrich or Romney?

The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends

Men and women may present more of a challenge:

Holy Ghost

Lumo re-translates Genesis to demonstrate why Leon Lederman was right to call Higgsy "The God Particle." In the Fox News article, physicists propose new nicknames for the Higgs. Matt Strassler thinks that people should call it "the evanescent yet essential Higgs boson". It's good that Matt isn't a publisher because he wouldn't sell Lederman's book even as a roll of toilet paper. Elegant and instructive - the L-man in top form.

Wanna Rumble?

Economics and climatology have become too depressing to talk about, so I picked a quarrel with my commenters over autism spectrum disorder. Arun was moved to write: "...the difference between Americans and other cultures is that Americans seem to believe that there is a math gene, if you have it, you are good at math;..." There is quite a bit of literature indicating that mathematical talent (like talent in music, chess and a wide variety of other areas) is strongly influenced by genetics. See, e.g., Behav Genet. 2009 Jul;39(4):380-92. Epub 2009 Mar 15. The heritability of aptitude and exceptional talent across different domains in adolescents and young adults. Vinkhuyzen AA, van der Sluis S, Posthuma D, Boomsma DI. SourceDepartment of Biological Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I'm not sure this is a uniquely American prejudice.

More on the Autism Wars

The LA times is running series called Discovering Autism . The title is derived from the idea that Autism, long thought to be a rare disorder, is actually quite common, afflicting about 1 per cent of us. Autism diagnosis in childhood has exploded, and is now twenty times more common that a few decades back. Increasingly overwhelming evidence indicates that that difference is due mostly or entirely to earlier generations failure to spot the illness or correctly identify it. In particular, large scale population studies show that autism is roughly as common in 80 year olds as in children. Nearly all these people went through life with no diagnosis or or an incorrect one. Some were institutionalized as psychotic, but others managed to lead somewhat normal lives. As I've mentioned before here, usually to great derision, there is even evidence that many classed as geniuses were also autistic. Artists, musicians, physicists, chess masters, and mathematicians are frequently cited.

University Education

A young relative, himself a graduate of one of the world's most prestigious universities, opines that the institution is obsolete. At the risk of mangling his argument a bit, I think it goes a bit like this: Universities are places where a bunch of people who have spent their lives having rather specialized knowledge poured into their own heads spend their time trying to pour a bit of it into the heads of a bunch of students, usually by talking to a blackboard, which, after they are finished, usually contains an abbreviated and mangled version of the same material found in books. The whole process is absurdly inefficient, as are creatures which take a decade or two to absorb a few megabytes worth of material. Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at at Notre Dame, writing in a NYT blog , says that the students are there mostly for set decoration. The real purpose of the university is its role as a community of scholars. First of all, they are not simply for the education of

Sullivan Remembers a Quintessential Hitchens Moment

Andrew Sullivan revisits a Hannity vs Hitchens donnybrook: Somehow the Hitchens -Hannity combo is compelling. Because one is a man dedicated to truth and freedom, and the other is committed to propaganda and power. There are few more pernicious liars and propagandists in this country than Hannity, and in the face of such poison, Hitch never wavered. He attacked: The finale is pungent.

Trade Imbalances

Kevin Drum observes that the real problem between the Euro rich and their poor southern relatives is trade imbalance and capital flows . Germany has been making more stuff than it consumes and Greece has been doing the opposite. ....But rebalancing trade flows? I'm not sure anyone even knows how to do that. The normal mechanism is via currency devaluations, but within the eurozone that's obviously not a possibility. This is Europe's biggest problem. The ECB could put out the short-term fire if it agreed to guarantee periphery debt. That's a political nonstarter right now, but at least everyone knows it's an option if things really start to implode next year. But trade and capital flow balancing? Nobody even has a clue what to do about that. But without it, future crises and future bailouts are inevitable. It's not quite true that nobody knows how to rebalance without currency revaluations - consider for example, New York and Mississipi. How does the US reb


At last do we see old Higgsy, grooving up so slowly? The evidence now looks better than ever, if not quite yet iron-clad. So far it looks like a standard Standard Model Higgs. Arun Gupta has several links to expert opinions. Also worth checking are Lumo , John at Cosmic Variance , and other likely suspects. So now what does particle physics do for an encore?

Cooking With Gas

The usually quiescent black hole at the center of our galaxy appears about ready to produce some dramatic fireworks. A modest sized cloud of interstellar gas - about three Earth masses worth - seems destined to approach the black hole, be ripped apart, and largely swallowed by our BH. The event should heat it to millions of degrees and make it a very powerful x-ray emitter. The results should start appearing in our instruments in a couple of years. From another point of view, all this happened 27,000 years ago, but we should get the news soon.

Euro Fixed?

You may not be shocked to hear that Paul Krugman isn't optimistic . So last week European leaders announced a plan that, on the face of it, was pure nonsense. Faced with a crisis that is mainly about the balance of payments, with fiscal crisis as a secondary consequence, they supposedly committed everyone to severe fiscal austerity, which would guarantee a recession while leaving the real problem unaddressed... Recent market optimism, Krugman thinks, was due to the assumption that the ECB would now ride to the rescue. What Anglo-Saxon economists need to understand is that the Germans and the ECB really, really don’t share our worldview; they really do believe that austerity is all you need. And all indications are that they will cling to that belief, even as the euro falls apart — an event they will insist was caused by the fecklessness of the debtors. Given a choice between saving Europe and remaining righteous, they’ll choose the latter. TBD

Newt - onian Politics

The Republican establishment is more than a little discomfitted by Newt Gingrich's ascendancy to leader of the pack. They wished for anybody but Romney and got their wish. Why, though, is the base so infatuated by the man? While Romney, who actually is fairly smart, has had to spend his time pretending to be dumb, this actually opened up an opportunity for Newt to do his famed "Stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like" act. He has mastered the art of saying the most egregious nonsense in a fairly convincing way. Of course Romney, too, has been willing to lie his ass off in pursuit of higher office, but he just doesn't have Newt's skill. It might be a matter of experience. The business man married to one woman forever guy just doesn't have the practice in prevarication that the crony capitalist and serial womanizer developed. Kevin Drum takes a typically penetrating look in Newt Gingrich, Intellectual . My favorite paragraph: A week

Fascism* in Europe

There was a very direct connection between the emergence of fascism in Europe in the thirties and the economics of the depression, as Paul Krugman reminds us here . Krugman blames the wrong-headed policies now being implemented in Europe for the re-emergence of right-wing extremism in much of Europe today. Hungary is something of a worst case, having already drifted into a right-wing authoritarian statism. The details are complex. Kim Lane Scheppele, who is the director of Princeton’s Law and Public Affairs program — and has been following the Hungarian situation closely — tells me that Fidesz is relying on overlapping measures to suppress opposition. A proposed election law creates gerrymandered districts designed to make it almost impossible for other parties to form a government; judicial independence has been compromised, and the courts packed with party loyalists; state-run media have been converted into party organs, and there’s a crackdown on independent media; and a proposed


Not exactly sure why I find this song irresistable - I've never been beyond O'Hare.

Career Politicians

Newt Gingrich wittily noted that Romney would have been a career politician if he had beaten Ted Kennedy in 1994. Romney lost a lot of points with me by failing to reply that Gingrich might have been a career politician if he had been able to keep his pants zipped, his hand out of the public purse, and avoid lying under oath.

Monday Monday

Angela Merkel has won her point, and the Europe that didn't quite bow to German tanks has bowed to German banks - except for one troublesome island. Nicholas Kulish, writing in the New York Times, has some observations : Even as European leaders put together their latest response to the euro crisis last week, a German-American clash over how best to manage a vast financial crisis and put the world economy back on a sound footing was set in stark relief. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany defied skeptics and laid the groundwork for a deeper union that she said rights the mistakes of the euro’s birth and puts integration on a stable path for the long term. In the process, she forced German fiscal discipline on Europe as the prescription for the ills that afflict the region. Obama, and lots of economists, think it won't work and will provoke a major world recession. Of course the markets also get to have their say. In the end, Mrs. Merkel’s view clearly won out over Mr. Oba

Euro Summit Summary

OK, I'm mystified. European countries cede a big chunk of their budgetary powers to Germany and get what, exactly? Is there an actual or virtual guarantee that the ECB will then buy the bonds of the endangered countries? If not, what the heck is the point? Will newer versions of the Euro have that motto Wolfgang covets? Something like "Wir legen unser Vertrauen in Angela" ???

Tyler Cowen Gives Some Love

... to Stephen Williamson , who worries about taxing the rich too much. Tax people at a higher rate, and some drop out of the labor force. 2. Taxes affect occupational choice. Some work by Manuelli/Seshadri/Shin says that the effect of taxes on human capital is big time. Why do I want to undertake a costly and risky investment for a very small payoff? 3. Entepreneurial activity has to be very elastic with respect to tax rates at the top end. Tyler's usually docile commenters call "bullshit" on a massive scale.


Angela Merkel seems to have gotten her European conquest. Now what?

Reich on the Speech

Here, finally, is the Barack Obama many of us thought we had elected in 2008… Via Brad DeLong.

Expletive Delighted!

Obama finally gives a great speech ! He said most of the things I thought he should have been saying for the past three years, and the crowd ate it up.

Fighting to the Death

The NYT has a multi-part series on the life and death of feared hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard, dead of drug overdose at 28. At 28 his brain was already in advanced state of destruction by chronic traumatic encephalopathy - likely the result of repeated concussions. His path was an accelerated version of that of many hockey enforcers, combat, brain damage, personality change, addiction and death. Unfortunately, hockey is not the only sport where athletes are battered to an early and often agonizing death - boxing and football frequently suffer similarly serious brain damage. Even the relatively gentler sport of soccer tends fo inflict head injury, albeit in a less direct fashion. Repeatedly heading a soccer ball can cause brain damage too. Ironically, hockey, one of the most dangerous sports, would be relatively easy to make safer - just adopt strong penalties against fighting. This won't happen from inside the NHL, because the league and it's owners think blood on the s

It's Technical, OK?

WB dabbles in Beatles Musicology . See, also .

Racism In The Ivy League

The admissions policies of our nations most elite universities are cloaked in an obscurity that hides everything except the obvious: that obscurity was devised for purposes of exclusion and continues to be used for it. The SAT exam was devised to allow those top universities to attract to talent but quickly revealed that a huge proportion of the top talent so judged was Jewish. Clearly it wouldn't do for Harvard to become Jew U, so "racial balance" (not too many Jews) became a cardinal principle. Today the same tools are used to defend against the Asian flood. Canny students now know enough not to identify themselves as Asian on their admissions applications if they can reasonably help it. Alex Tabarrok quotes the USA Today story : USA Today: Lanya Olmstead was born in Florida to a mother who immigrated from Taiwan and an American father of Norwegian ancestry. Ethnically, she considers herself half Taiwanese and half Norwegian. But when applying to Harvard, Olmstead

Affiliative Behavior: Oklahoma Edition

After Oklahoma State bested Oklahoma in their bitter football rivalry, fans stampeded on to the field, tearing down the goal posts, injuring several of their number, two critical. Such events, and much more catastrophic ones in soccer are all too common. Why do we do it? Why do we care about these professional or semi-professional athletes whose lives hardly intersect ours at all? Regular readers may guess that I'm going to suggest that it's an instinctive human behavior with some evolutionary basis, and I do. The urge to attach ourselves to groups - football clubs, gangs, political parties, chess clubs, religions, tribes, nations - is too widespread to be an accident. It's also too obviously adaptive in the classic cases of tribes and gangs. The lone individual with no posse or tribe is an easy target and has no chance against the group. One of my many beefs with libertarians is their obliviousness to this truth.

The Anti-Christian Party?

John Danforth , Episcopal priest and former long time GOP Senator from Missouri, is not happy with the current Republican candidates, or the base they serve to placate: DANFORTH: What have been the big applause lines in these debates? Well, a statement that the governor of Texas is responsible for killing 234 people on death row. Or that we favor torture. Or that we’re creating a fence on the Mexican border that electrocutes people when they try to cross it. Or when people show up at the emergency room at hospitals and they’re not insured don’t treat them. And that, I mean these are the big applause lines, people just hoop and holler when they hear all that. [...] It doesn’t have anything to do with the republican party that I was a part of. This is just totally different. And all of these people who are saying this, y’know, and claiming that, y’know, they’re for all this stuff, they also sort of ostentatiously say, “Oh, we’re very religious people. We really, we’re just very pious,

The Prime Minister Speaks

Jean-Claude Junker of Luxembourg, via Kevin Drum : We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it. Words that probably should be inscribed above the door of every parliment in the world.

CO2 and Global Cooling

It's often neglected that one of the most convincing arguments for the link between atmospheric CO2 and global warming is the paleoclimate record. Yet another big event in that climate record has now given it's evidence. This article cites new research showing that the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet 34 million years ago followed a 40% drop in atmospheric CO2. On the plus side, this suggests that although the melting of Antarctica caused by anthropogenic emissions may flood big chunks of the world's population out of house and home, it may also open up a new continent for settlement. Of course the refugees may need to live in refugee camps for a few hundred thousand years during the transition.

Liquidity Swaps: Why and Wherefore

David Henry, Jennifer Ablan and Lauren Tara LaCapra explain. A week or two ago a friend had a moment of panic. He had some money temporarily parked in a money market fund. Would that cash turn trash when the Euro folded? His broker explained that his balance was small enough to be covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, and hence effectively backed by the US government. People and corporations with more than $200k need to be more concerned though. Money markets had put quite a bit of cash into Euro bonds, or European banks and at least some of that was at risk. Consequently, those money market funds have been struggling to unload their European assets, and this has produced a (so-far) low intensity run on European banks as everybody grabs for dollars. That's the reason for the swap deals announced today, and the Reuter's article linked above has helful details and explanations. One short excerpt: "They're basically responding to the looming failure of

Michelle, Dumbelle?

Bachman: I'd fix those Iranians. I'd close our embassy there! Maybe she had to fire the staff historian.


They say that acting is a subtle art. A good actor can convey much by slight nuance of voice or dart of glance. All true, I'm quite sure, but first you have to memorize all those damn lines. It gets harder as the years accumulate.

Eight Idiots In Search of a Nomination

Andrew Sullivan finds a quote in Der Spiegel: "Africa is a country. The Taliban rule in Libya. Muslims are terrorists. Immigrants are mostly criminals, Occupy Wall Street protesters are always dirty. And women who claim to have been sexually molested should kindly keep quiet." Welcome to the wonderful world of the Republican Party. Or rather: to the distorted world of its presidential campaign. For months it has coiled through the country like a traveling circus, from debate to debate, from scandal to scandal, contesting the mightiest office in the world — and nothing is ever too unfathomable for them… These eight presidential wannabes are happy enough not only to demolish their own reputations but also that of their party, the once worthy party of Abraham Lincoln. They are also ruining the reputation of the United States. They lie, deceive, scuffle and speak every manner of idiocy. And they expose a political, economic, geographic and historical ignorance compared to whic

The White (Christmas) Peril

Andrew Sullivan looks at what he call's Netanyahu's "War on Christmas." The latest craziness from Jerusalem is an ad campaign directed at Israeli ex-pats not to marry American Jews. They might even find their children celebrating Christmas! Video, in Hebrew (mostly). Israel's neighbors are taking stumbling steps toward modernity.  Israel seems headed the other way.

Old Enough to Vote?

The Hubble Telescope is now old enough to vote even in Rick Parry's universe. They have collected up some pretty pictures. Here's One:

Shaming The Devil

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep. Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them? Glendower: Why, I can teach you, cousin, to command The devil Hotspur: And I can teach thee, coz, to shame the devil— By telling the truth. Tell truth and shame the devil. .............WS Henry IV Part 1 Act 3 Scene 1 Paul Krugman tries to shame the Devil by calling "Bullshit" on the latest nonsense of Cameron and Osborne. When the Cameron government came in, it was fully invested in the doctrine of expansionary austerity. Officials told everyone to read the Alesina/Ardagna paper (which is succinctly criticized by Christy Romer (pdf)), cited Ireland as a success story, and in general assured everyone that they could call the confidence fairy from the vasty deep. Now it turns out that contractionary policy is contractionary after all. As a result, despite all the austerity, deficits remain high. So what is to be done? Mo

Games Central Bankers Play

Not sure quite what to make of the coordinated announcement that major central banks (US, UK, ECB, Canada, Japan, Switzerland) will make available "swaps" at new lower interest rates. In effect, the Fed is allowing other central banks to trade their "play money" for dollars as people become less willing to hold Euros, Pounds, etc or accept payment in them. Not sure what happens when people stop being willing to hold dollars. Presumably that works the other way around, as long as people are willing to hold one of the currencies. The downside for the US is the possibility that it might get stuck with a big wad of useless Confederate money.

Blue Eyed Baby

Blue eyes seem to be a rare example of a genetic trait that originated relatively recently (6000-10000 years ago) and spread aggressively. All blue-eyed individuals now alive appear to be descended from a single individual . The trait has spread very widely through Europe and the Middle East, and has nearly completely displaced brown eyes in several parts of the world (99% in Estonia) even though blue eyes represent only 2% of the World population. Since blue eyes are usually recessive, the large number of blue-eyed individuals in some populations suggests a significant selective advantage. This is somewhat surprising in that blue eyes are very rare among mammals in general. I have heard anecdotal claims that blue-eyed individuals see better in the dark.

Flip Side

Kevin Drum quotes Noah Millman on the flip side of the "Germany Save Us" argument : One way of looking at the sequence of events is to say that the ECB was willing to permit contagion in order to wring out inflation. I think a better way of looking at it is to say that the ECB was willing to threaten Italy with insolvency in order to give Germany more formal control over Italy’s finances. That’s incredibly hard-ball politics, but if you are not accountable to anybody (which the ECB, basically, is not) then you can play really, really hard-ball politics.

Hanging Together or Hanging Separately

Non-Euro Poland says Germany must step up to save the Euro . Foreign Minister Sikorski speaking in Berlin: What, as Poland’s foreign minister, do I regard as the biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland today, on 28th November 2011? It’s not terrorism, it’s not the Taliban, it’s certainly not German tanks. It’s not even Russian missiles which President Medvedev has just threatened to deploy on our border. The biggest threat to the security of Poland would be the collapse of the Eurozone. And I demand of Germany that, for your own sake and for ours, you help it survive and prosper. You know full well that nobody else can do it. I will probably be first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity. You have become Europe’s indispensable nation. You may not fail to lead. My impression of the high (or low) lights: catastrophe looms; needed are tighter union, guarantee of debts, bud

Teutonic Knights and Days

Angela Merkel summons up some Alexander Nevsky for Paul Krugman. Her comments: The countries who don’t keep to the stability pact have to be punished – those who contravene it need to be penalised. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Historically, Germany's attempts to impose it's will on the rest of the continent have tended to end badly.


For some reason (bond vigilantes?), my mind turned back to the days of childhood, and I remembered fifth grade at St. M's parochial school. We really didn't get too much adult supervision since Sister Mary E, our teacher, like the other nuns who taught us, had about a jillion students in class, wore the Catholic version of a burka, and had other duties as well. "Doug" was a sort of class model for us boys. He was three or four years older than the other fifth graders, the biggest kid, sat in the back of the class, and showed us how to play poker. His playing cards featured women wearing rather less than Sister Mary E. The playground was even less supervised, since the nuns never ventured there. A popular game was one we called "dogpile." This usually featured Doug, standing strong, with every other boy in class attempting to tackle him, the inevitable result burying the target and those nearest the target under a vast heap of bodies, somewhat resembin


Tyler Cowen I hear the market whispering in the ear of the Netherlands “get out of the eurozone, before it’s too late!” At this point all bets are off as to which country will be the first to bail on the arrangement. It could be virtually anyone but France. The market, it seems, speaks through Megan M , who adds: At this point, the ECB is the only player left with clear and untapped intervention potential. But even that may be waning fast.

Eurout of Here?

Europeans just seem determined to put a wet blanket on our Thanksgiving : Investors began to fear the worst for the euro after unusually weak demand at an auction for bonds from Germany , the region’s largest economy. One analyst went so far as to put the currency on a “death watch.” The Germans seem determined to march the Euro over the cliff, and nobody else seems to have a clue how to get out of the parade.  Of course if we pretend nothing is happening, maybe it won't - doesn't that usually work? The bottom line is that a bunch of people are going to lose a hell of a lot of money - the MF global investors seem to have claimed the first place in line.  Others are trying to scramble to the back of the line or get out before everybody figures out where they are. Investors had kept buying German bonds as they fled crisis after crisis in the region: first in Ireland, then in Greece and Italy, and now in Spain and Belgium. But Wednesday, 10-year bunds dropped significantly af

Taxes Are For The Little People

Business Week on the dodges that allow billionaires to pay no taxes on incomes of hundreds of millions . When billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications Inc., reported a $9.8 million loss on his tax return, he failed to include about $259 million from a lucrative stock transaction. He wound up paying a little, but the tax laws include lots of dodges that make hundred million dollar paydays not even reportable. McCombs’s fight with the IRS illustrates an overlooked facet in the debate over tax rates paid by the nation’s wealthiest. Billionaires -- from McCombs to Philip Anschutz to Ronald S. Lauder -- who derive the bulk of their wealth from stock appreciation are using strategies that reap hundreds of millions of dollars from those valuable shares in ways the IRS often doesn’t classify as taxable income, securities filings and tax court records show. ... While Warren Buffett has generated attention with his complaints that he and his fellow

This Is The Way The Euro (World?) Ends

Tyler Cowen has an An Austro-Austrian business cycle theory.

Diligence and Talent

I don't think it will surprise many non-psychologists that both talent and hard work are required to become really good at a whole range of complex tasks. Sports offer a pretty clear example on the physical side. "You can't teach height," say basketball coaches, and "speed never has a bad day." Do those unteachable physical traits have intellectual counterparts? A New York Times opinion piece headline puts the affirmative case rather bluntly: Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters HOW do people acquire high levels of skill in science, business, music, the arts and sports? This has long been a topic of intense debate in psychology. Research in recent decades has shown that a big part of the answer is simply practice — and a lot of it... The details are not nearly so discouraging to strivers as the headline puts it. In one study and one task, an element that the authors identified as talent accounted what they called a moderate amount of the variance among


I had cataract surgery on one eye the other day, and the results are a bit strange. If I take off my glasses, I have just fine distance vision through the relensed eye, but I can't see up close. If I leave my glasses on, I can see up close through the other eye, but get a mixture of the blurred image (through glasses and new lens) and my old glasses aided other eye. Naturally I tried taking out the glass from the side with the new lens. Now I had two semi-sharp images, but they were rather drastically different in size. The difference in focal length between my spectacles and the inserted lens produces a dramatic difference in image size. Too big, as the physician predicted, for my brain to merge them effectively.

Cain on Libya

Herman Cain did an interview in which he managed a spectacularly obtuse and incoherent response on Libya. Now it seems pretty apparent that the guy hasn't thought much about - well anything - but his resume suggests that he probably isn't as dumb as he sounds. The thing is, catering to the Republican electorate demands such logic defying leaps that it's pretty easy to wander into the no-man's land of utter vacuity. Andrew Sullivan rounds up reactions, many from conservaties . My favorite: Malkin: Cain makes Rick Perry look like a Mensa president.

Reflections on TBBT

Now that The Big Bang Theory is in syndication, I've had an opportunity to look at the episodes with more of a critical eye. I continue to be really impressed with Jim Parsons acting skills. The only other regular who really seems to be able to hold the stage with him is Kaley Cuoco. Their occasional one-on-ones are the highlights of the series.

Number Recall

A friend of mine was having trouble remembering the numeric part of her license plate number, which happened to be 253. I pointed out that the number was the product of two two-digit primes, 11 and 23, and that the digits of the factors and the target number were all members of the Fibonacci series. Oddly enough, she didn't find these too helpful, but chose to just remember that 2+3=5.

Calculus of Doom

This is the way the world ends, multiple choice edition: (a)Euro zone implodes, followed by massive banking collapse in France, Germany, etc., continental chaos and global depression. (b)Israel attacks Iran, Middle East explodes, oil hits $300/barrel, followed by global depression. (c)Bachman/Cain/Gingrich elected President, followed by US and global depression. (d)Global warming produces widespread draught and flooding, followed by wars and economic collapse. (e)Robots take over nearly all jobs, producing nearly universal employment and global economic collapse. (f)Robots get tired of being run by idiot humans and assume power, disposing of excess (all?) humans. (g)All or most of the above.

Right Blindness

Tyler Cowen is a very erudite fellow who manages to twist himself into a very distorted picture of reality. His NYT column is worth reading, mainly as a case in point. Nonetheless, as someone from a conservative and libertarian background, I find that I am hearing too much talk about riches and not enough about values. It’s worth recalling why so many Americans have respected the wealthy in the first place. In nearly every age and every place the wealthy have attracted envy and all the other marks of respect, through fear and intimidation if not otherwise. Their control of culture tends to make them the heroes of their own stories. There is nothing uniqely American about this. The United States has always had a culture with a high regard for those able to rise from poverty to riches. It has had a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit and has attracted ambitious immigrants, many of whom were drawn here by the possibility of acquiring wealth. Furthermore, the best approach f

Markets in Denial?

A fairly wide range of economists of both the right and left have now pronounced the Euro dead and gone. Markets, however, still seem to be responding ecstatically to every new stopgap thrown up by the European establishment. Who will turn out to be right?

Heroes, Power, and Abuse

There is a common thread among the sex scandals of the Catholic Church, Penn State, and Herman Cain - those with power become heroes to some, and when they abuse that power, the hero worshippers rush to defend the indefensible. It's actually more complicated than that, I suppose. Why did popes cover up the Church's scandals? Why did Paterno and the Penn State administrators cover up terrible crimes in which they had no direct part? Why do Herman Cain's supporters rush to throw money at him now that it's all but certain that he is finished? An attempt to defend a legend that's already a lie? Denial so strong that it trumps every evidence of reality? It's pretty clear that we humans indeed have powerful tools for fooling ourselves. Why it should be so is harder to explain.