Archive for the 'schadenfreude' Category


All linky, no thinky 2: The Linkening

So I’m joining the rising tide of anti-intellectualism that’s destroying Classical Liberal Arts Institutions, or whatever, and taking a course on reactive programming on Coursera (one of those MOOCs that’s destroying &c.).  Feels good to stretch my brain again; I’ve wanted an excuse properly to learn Scala for a while, and maybe this time around I’ll actually grok monads.  (If you’re wondering what “reactive programming” is, it’s writing Erlang in languages that aren’t Erlang.  So far as I can tell, at any rate.)


Is fairness a process thing or an outcome thing?  I suspect most of us’ll pick one until we come across an instance of the other we don’t like, at which point things go all Black Monolith and we club each other with femurs.

Money shot:

As I see it, many upper middle class parents desire their child to be slightly more successful than they are, and in related but not identical fields and ways.

Duh, you say, which tells me you haven’t read it.  “But why wouldn’t you prefer to hire a better worker?”  Why didn’t you buy a Bentley Mulsanne instead of a used Camry?  “So practical!”  Shut up, you’ve made my point.  Why hire a superstar developer for a gajillion dollars when all you need is someone to poke node.js with a stick?  “But assholes drive Bentleys!”  You think Mark Zuckerberg’s an asshole, don’t you?  “Huh?”  Just scroll down already.

The real insight here is into the minds of so-called “consumer advocates”.

Teetering dangerously close to reaggravating my outrage fatigue.

Oh look, a nice comforting hobby-horse.  Meta-analysis shows that “saturated fat is not the problem”.  No shit, buttercup.  Fat loss is widely correlated with improved cardiovascular health, and a fat loss diet is, de facto, high in saturated fat coming from your own god damn adipocytes.  Here’s the paper’s author giving me an enormous confirmation-bias boner:

Saturated fat has been demonised ever since Ancel Keys’s landmark “seven countries” study in 1970. This concluded that a correlation existed between the incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol concentrations, which then correlated with the proportion of energy provided by saturated fat. But correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, we were advised to cut fat intake to 30% of total energy and saturated fat to 10%.” The aspect of dietary saturated fat that is believed to have the greatest influence on cardiovascular risk is elevated concentrations of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Yet the reduction in LDL cholesterol from reducing saturated fat intake seems to be specific to large, buoyant (type A) LDL particles, when in fact it is the small, dense (type B) particles (responsive to carbohydrate intake) that are implicated in cardiovascular disease.

We make kids go to school because it’s “good for them”, and everyone agrees that it’s “good for” kids to go to college.  So why not round them up at gunpoint, herd them into cattle cars, and send ’em off to West Bumfuck State?

As odd as it may sound, the majority of time and resources of the FTC is not spent on punishing bad business practices as authorized in the FTC Act. The agency overwhelmingly concentrates on enforcing another act also passed in 1914, the Clayton Act, and specifically section 7, which prohibits mergers and acquisitions where the effect “may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly.”

This is why I don’t blog about politics any more:

Pierce, Rogers and Snyder find that political partisans are more upset about an election loss than a random sample of parents were upset by the Newtown shootings.

An interesting discussion on how humans can add value to computer programs when those programs are really, really good.  The context there is chess, which is a pretty well-understood game of finite complexity.  I claim that humans have been doing this for decades in software development, whose practical complexity is limited only by what you can convince your publisher is actually possible.  Worried about computers taking over your job?  Computers have taken over mine on the regular over the past two decades, and as a result I keep getting better and more interesting jobs.

“Creative destruction” is something that most people who aren’t raging anarchocapitalists like to write off as abstract, idealistic propaganda.  Fortunately, Bryan Caplan is a raging an-cap, and he’s set it all out in time-series graphs so you can actually see it.

I have to admit, I threw this in just for the shock value.  But see previous no-think-link about college being good for kids.

Why do altruists help people?  Because they want to be seen helping people.  This should surprise precisely no-one.

Rob Ford lol.


Tune in next time for part 3, when we’ll discover whether this series is better-on-evens (Star Trek) or better-on-odds (Back to the Future)… or just shit (The Fast and the Furious).


Reality is always right

So there’s been an awful lot of discussion on the Big Truck about the GOP’s rather optimistic interpretations of the polls, which gave rise to (among others) George Will gleefully predicting a landslide victory in the electoral college.  Well, there was a landslide EC victory all right, but it didn’t exactly go his way.  It turns out that if you want to use numbers to determine which of two things is larger, you’re probably better off with a Bayesian statistical model rather than a sheer fucking fantasy model.  Just saying “our model predicts such-and-so” only gives you the appearance of credibility until reality intervenes.

People can say whatever they like, of course, and if partisan hacks didn’t spout off nonsense I’d have a lot fewer things to blog about.  Still, it’s about time the truly fantastical ideologues got some push-back.

On a similar note: Remember when Citizens United was going to destroy democracy as we know it because those evil awful one-percenters were going to just buy every election in perpetuity?  I remember that like it was last Monday, which in fact it was.  Yeah, about that:

Spending by outside groups, it turns out, was the dog that barked but did not bite. Obama and other Democrats had long made dire predictions about the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissionwhich allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on elections and created a new class of wealthy political groups.

I don’t need to tell you how that turned out, do I?  In the cold light of day it’s clear that voters are a heck of a lot less vulnerable to teh ebil advertisings than the Cassandras among us would like to portend.  Why, it’s almost as if the dire predictions of unlimited plutocracy were mere ideological bloviations after all!

People can say whatever they like, of course, and if partisan hacks didn’t spout off nonsense I’d have a lot fewer things to blog about.  Still, it’s about time the truly fantastical ideologues got some push-back.


I guess I should write something about that election

Today is “funny stories about Canadians” day, I guess.

Well teenagers, it’s been four years, time to line up again.

Ballot measures look much more encouraging this time around.  Civil rights look to prevail in ME, MD, MN, and probably WA.  As I write this Colorado’s shitting on the drug war 53 to 47.

On the way home I stopped at the liquor store to stock up on bourbon, for reasons which I really hope I don’t need to explain to you on election night.  This’d be about 6pm PST.  The counter clerk was shaking like a cat shitting a cactus, eyes glued to the flatscreen TV showing Romney up, I dunno, 104 to 30 in electoral votes.  Yes, this is what happens when Georgia and Texas report before New York and California.  I don’t think she could’ve gotten any more agitated if I’d told her that a swarm of flesh-eating zombie wasps had just infested the building.

This leads me to compare Presidential elections — at least when watched by Canadians — to NASCAR.  You get a bunch of people who write it off as “boring politicky shit” and a core of fascinated fans who’re mesmerized by the spectacle of cars flying past each other and zooming around corners in huge packs.  Then you get joy-killing nerds like me, who point out that the one guy only took two tires last pit stop and is getting just a little bit too loose exiting the corners, and thirty laps later when they call California for Obama and you go OH WOW DID YOU SEE THAT HE WENT RIGHT PAST THE OTHER GUY we say “Yeah, toldjaso, now what’s happening in Ohio?  He’s making his tires last?  He oughta be able to leapfrog NC in the pits, take fuel only, and get right back up to the front on the last stint”.  And then you’re all like “It’s no fun when they gain places in the pits, you’re such a nerd, don’t you want to watch something exciting?” and I’m like “learn2spreadsheet, noob, now let’s look at the Senate races.”

(Insert “NASCAR’s boring, they only turn left” political joke here, you clever reader you.)

Finally, a number of my friends who’re too sensible to follow politics (let alone foreign politics) for more than five minutes a year have approached me wondering why anyone beyond a raving psychopath would even consider voting for a hate-filled fucked up bag of evil like Romney.  I ask them what Romney’s done to out himself as a hate-filled fucked up bag of evil, and they just kind of sputter until one of us wanders off.  Really, guys?  We had a chance to see Romney contrasted against some genuinely unpleasant people, like Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, and it turns out he’s about as bland as a sawdust milkshake.  If he’s in the “hate-filled fucked up bags of evil” big leagues, it’s only because he’s selling peanuts in the stands.  Not coincidentally, he’s also leading in the popular vote as I write this, and doing better county by county than McCain could ever have dreamed of doing.

After Akin and Mourdock, I rather suspect that the next Republican president will become so by taking a cue from Stephen Harper and snapping an Elastrator around the neck of every GOPper who looks like he might maybe utter the word “rape” or even “abortion”, and if the ballot measures keep going the way they are now s/h/it might do the same for anyone who looks like agitating about teh ghey.

Now in an entirely unexpected turn of events, my glass of Wild Turkey has become more interesting than this fucking election.  Try to shut up for three and a half  years, will you?


Standing athwart the tide of history, yelling…

…”What’s goin’ on?  Who took my glasses?  You damn kids and your rock ‘n’ roll….”

Andrew Sullivan likes to think of himself as an Oakeshottian conservative, and for all I know about Oakeshott he actually is.  (I’ll perhaps read up on the classical conservatives once I’ve finished Hayek’s Law, Legislation, and Liberty.  Name: dropped.)  Today he links to a pair of stories which reveal the crudeness of conservatism’s change-panic:

Notably, he links to Hanna Miet:

Cell phone reception was bad enough, but this is the last straw. We are being denied the basic liberty to pretend we did not receive an email on off-hours. We have lost the freedom to guzzle coffee, scan the tabloids and have wordless existential meltdowns as we travel to the places where we pretend to be competent worker bees. The subway was for dreamers, drunks, and the halfway-caffeinated masses. The subway was our dirty, mobile, oyster. Now, the world is our office.

A few things:

– Ten-year-old technology, let me show you it.  That genie left its bottle a long time ago.  I’m not surprised that there are people out there, pretending to be functional adults, who’re ignorant of the smartphone phenomenon; I am exasperated that The Atlantic is letting them pretend to be opinion journalists and probably paying them a salary.  New Media is supposed to be better than that.

– “We are being denied the basic liberty to pretend we did not receive an email on off-hours.  We have lost the freedom to guzzle coffee, scan the tabloids, and &c.”  The positive formulation of liberties just jumped a shark on waterskis that was itself jumping a shark.  Done.

– Here’s a thought, cupcake: If you don’t want to read email on the subway, leave your fucking laptop at home.  Are you really so dain-bramaged by tertiary-stage dumbworm infestation that you’ve forgotten the equivocation skills your public-school teachers tried so hard to impart?  “Gee, sorry boss, I left my homework netbook at home because it’s awfully heavy in my bag and my back’s really starting to hurt when I lug it around all the time.  Do you think that would be covered by worker’s comp?”

– I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that anyone so passive-aggressive as to whinge about losing an opportunity to pretend not to have email access is constitutionally incapable of setting professional boundaries.  For the rest of us, may I suggest not checking work email outside of work?

– Seriously, what the fuck.



In which I defend Jonathan Chait from David Frum


So a few days ago, Sally Quinn wrote a somewhat tone-deaf article bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t get invited to high-powered dinner parties with Big Powerful Senators any more, for which she’s been roundly derided.  Jonathan Chait more recently piled on with, among other cutting remarks, this incisive comment on the good ol’ days:

When assessing Quinn’s sense of the Lost Eden of Washington, we should also have a firmer sense of what the culture was actually like. Here is one scene from Quinn’s inculcation into the Washington elite:

Washington writer Sally Quinn told of a 1950s reception where: “My mother and I headed for the buffet table. As we were reaching for the shrimp, both of us jumped and let out a shriek. Senator Strom Thurmond, grinning from ear to ear, had one hand on my behind and the other on my mother’s. As I recall, we were both quite flattered, and thought it terribly funny and wicked of Ol’ Strom.”

Once Washington was a happy place where a girl and her mother could be groped simultaneously in good fun by a white supremacist. Sadly, it has all been ruined by Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein.

I have never been more thankful for Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein.  (In fairness, I don’t think I’ve ever been thankful for either in the first place.)

David Frum clearly enjoyed reading Chait’s piece as much as I did, although he probably wasn’t as surprised to enjoy a Chait column as I was.  However, he sees something sinister in the shift of power from philandering racists to pajama-wearing bloggers:

Over half a human lifetime, Washington has shifted from a city whose status hierarchy was dominated by official rank to one whose status hierarchy is determined almost entirely by money. A US senator is a smaller deal in the Washington of 2012 than his or her predecessor of 1972; a visiting billionaire a much bigger deal. Not that the senator has sunk to zero; not that the billionaire would not have been important in 1972; but the ratios have changed—and changed really quite dramatically.  Sally Quinn may not be the most sympathetic observer of the trend, but she is surely one of the most authoritative. You don’t have to like her piece to hear her message.

Frum’s implication, contra Chait, is that this change is for the worse.  I call bullshit.

Taking Frum’s comparison of Senators to billionaires literally, we see that there are 100 American Senators and, according to Forbes, 1226 billionaires in the world (of which 424 are American).  In terms of power inequality, which do you think is worse?  We’re all about reducing cronyism and spreading out access to power, aren’t we?  Surely a world where power has devolved from its concentration in lifelong Senators to a more dilute community that includes bloggers and sex-tape celebrities is a better one by this metric.

Fractions, motherfucker: Do you speak them?


“Frictionless sharing” and internet speech

This is, in fact, a link post.

First of all Bruce Schneier posts the abstract of a paper titled “The Perils of Social Reading”:

Companies like Facebook, in collaboration with many newspapers, have ushered in the era of “social reading,” in which what we read may be “frictionlessly shared” with our friends and acquaintances. Disclosure and sharing are on the rise.

This Article sounds a cautionary note about social reading and frictionless sharing. Social reading can be good, but the ways in which we set up the defaults for sharing matter a great deal. Our reader records implicate our intellectual privacy ­ the protection of reading from surveillance and interference so that we can read freely, widely, and without inhibition. I argue that the choices we make about how to share have real consequences, and that “frictionless sharing” is not frictionless, nor it is really sharing. Although sharing is important, the sharing of our reading habits is special. Such sharing should be conscious and only occur after meaningful notice.

Previously, Schneier has pointed out that privacy is about controlling information, not keeping it secret.  I’m not particularly convinced that information about one’s reading habits is privileged over, say, information about one’s drinking habits or information about one’s fucking habits, mind, but the principle still applies.

While we’re on the subject of internet speech, control, and sharing, Ken over at Popehat has

Who’s this guy?  Ken has the skinny:

Ostensibly, George Tierney, Jr. of Greenville, South Carolina is a man who, using the twitter handle @geotie2323, wrote crass and contemptible tweets to Sandra Fluke when he disagreed with a political point she was making. When his comments were featured on the blog Tbogg, he reacted with silly legal threats.

Yep.  Tierney tweeted — that is, broadcast — some crass and contemptible things to Fluke, and then demanded that they be “taken off google” or he’d sue.  Ken reacts as we’ve come to expect:

[W]hat the fucking fuck? Seriously? From whence comes this all-to-common sentiment that you can act any damnfool way you like in public, but people can’t comment on it? Where do nominal adults get the idea that it’s somehow actionable to be quoted? Is this a signifier of culture shock — a sign that we haven’t worked out, in our own minds, whether the internet is public or private? Is it the incoherent grumble of a populace instructed that self-esteem is paramount, and raised to feel entitled to respect whether or not their conduct is respectable? Or is it simply a sign of atrocious civic education?

(Unwelcome pedantry: “Whence” literally means “from where”.  “From whence” thus expands to “From from where”, which is silly.  Don’t do it, kids!)

Perhaps part of the problem is that the private part of the internet looks more or less like the public part of the internet, with various forums and login screens blurring the line between the two.  It’s all HTML text fields and Javascript interfaces between you and some server way off over the wire.

And finally, here’s Robin Hanson kicking over my giggle box:

If the people willing to like a comment have on average better taste than the people willing to write a comment, readers and authors could avoid low quality comments by focusing on the most liked comments. It isn’t obvious why this assumption should hold, but I thought likes probably couldn’t make comments much worse, so, why not give it a try.

If my experience is any indication, Hanson just needs to write more about Formula One.


Adventures in confirmation bias

First, David Henderson finds a paper:

California has become a heavily Democratic state. The majority Democrats in the legislature and the Democratic governor are pursuing highly wasteful projects: a “high-speed” rail that probably won’t be high-speed but will surely be high-cost, and higher marginal income tax rates (already among the highest in the United States) on the highest-income people, to name two. They don’t seem to be restrained by the worry that many of the most-productive people will leave and are leaving the state. You can attribute this simply to ideology, and I’m sure that’s an element. But I also think one of the Democrats’ goals is to reduce the population of potential anti-Democrat voters so that their majority is assured.

Will that hurt many of the people who vote for them? Sure. But we need to distinguish between the fortunes of those who vote Democrat and the fortunes of the Democratic politicians. The California state government pays legislators pretty well in pay and perks when you consider the opportunity costs of many of them. And the state government is larded with high-paying sinecures for those few who ever lose an election or get redistricted out.

See also: Ontario.

Next, Alex Tabarrok finds a paper:

In the lifecycle model, the young, because they have longer remaining lifespans than the old, have much lower propensities to consume out of their remaining lifetime resources. This prediction is strongly confirmed for the US by Gokhale et al (1996).

Hence, in taking from young savers and giving to old spenders, which Uncle Sam has spent six decades doing on a massive scale, the lifecycle model predicts a major decline in US net national saving associated with a major rise in the absolute and relative consumption of the elderly. This is precisely what the data show.

In 1965, the US net national saving was 15.6% of net national income. Last year, it was just 0.9%. And, according to Gokhale et al (1996) and Lee and Mason (2012), the secular demise in US saving has coincided with a spectacular rise in the consumption of older Americans relative to that of younger Americans.

As Feldstein and Horioka (1980) document, US net domestic saving tracks US net national saving. Hence, postwar intergenerational redistribution has not only lowered net national saving; it has also reduced net domestic investment, from 14.0% of national income in 1965 to just 3.6% in 2011. This decline in the rate of net domestic investment is, no doubt, playing a major role in the slow growth in US wages. Indeed, the level of private-sector average real earnings per hour, exclusive of fringe benefits, is lower today than it was 40 years ago.

We call this America’s “fiscal child abuse”. If it continues, it will no doubt shortly drive the national saving rate, which was negative 1.2% in 2009, into permanent negative territory and further reduce net domestic investment and prospects for real wage growth.

Generational-warfare agitprop is one of my guilty pleasures.

Finally, Virginia Postrel:

Adam Minter comments:

One of the themes that I’m hitting very hard in my book is that recycling is a fundamentally economic activity. Nobody sorts somebody else’s garbage for free. Most of the developing world understands that, while the developed world – the EU and US, in particular – seems intent on seeing recycling as a moral activity (and a means of tribal identity) above all else. Unfortunately, when people view waste and recycling in moral terms, rather than economic ones, they have an unerring tendency to demand local governments set up recycling programs that are destined to lose money from the get-go (like curbside recycling in spread-out Houston). Meanwhile, the folks who know how to make money from recycling, like scrap yards, are denigrated and often subjected to totally unreasonable barriers to entry (and exit).

I love that paragraph.  So.  Much.

anarchocapitalist agitprop

Be advised

I say fuck a lot



Statistics FTW