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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Take the Charles Murray Quiz

See how insulated you are from other social classes.

I scored a 47.

A Pepper of Thoughts


Excellent post from Karl Smith on when an intellectual ought to say, "No, thanks."

Rod Dreher notes that abortion is used very frequently to deliberately kill baby girls just because they are girls. Women's rights, anyone?

When I deposit a check using my ATM card at the teller's window, the teller asks me to enter my pin. But I'm making a deposit: if some stranger comes along and wants to put money into my account, I absolutely want him to be able to do so, whether or not he has my pin.

This Is What It Sounds Like...

when seals talk:

(Hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan.)

Bizarre, Alien Customs


I've always known of certain strange, alien folkways, practices such as putting those big plates in your lips like above, or fire walking, or making your bed every morning, or mixing your own cleaning fluids from concentrates when you can just buy a new bottle that is already mixed. And I have never minded if others want to follow those folkways, so long as they don't try to get me involved in them.

Well, I now know of another: the people in Tuscany eat white bread. I don't mean they eat white bread with butter on it, or dipped in oil, or lathered in honey. No, at a restaurant, the waiter brings out a basket of dry, white bread, and the diners begin to simply eat it, as is.

Again, I don't mind if they do it, but I think I'd do the plates in my lips first.

Why No Model Can Beat the Market...

in the long run. And why that says little about the efficient markets hypothesis.

In a recent post, Scott Sumner says, "I’m still looking for the model that will tell me how to beat the stock market." He then goes on to claim: "Even the smart money can’t beat the market, except by luck."

My response is:

1) Of course there is no model that can beat the market steadily, over the long term; but
2) That does not in the least make the case for Sumner's claim.

And the key to seeing why both of these can be true is... historical understanding! Sumner's claim, in fact, rests on a form of scientism, which holds that, if you don't understand something by means of having a mathematical model for it, you have no understanding of it at all. There is only science and ignorance, and no other valid forms of knowledge. Which is self-refuting nonsense, since that claim itself is not a piece of scientific knowledge.

Here is a variation on the "Sumner hypothesis" to get us thinking about this the right way:

Sumner2: If you cannot give me a model that reliably generates symphonies on the level of Beethoven's, then, that means that composing good symphonies is a matter of pure luck.

I hope everyone can see that Sumner2 is sheer nonsense. (If you can't, well, I'm afraid I see no hope of us having any intelligent discussion on this topic at all, so I wouldn't bother posting a comment disagreeing with this.)

So why is it true that no model will beat the market in the long run? Because, the longer the model beats the market, the more people will start to use it, until it eventually becomes the market... and the market cannot beat itself! If the model says to buy stocks in January and sell in February, once everyone wants to do this, no one will be able to do it. Even earlier on in the model's rise in popularity, by the point that over half of all stock shares are being traded following the model, its anti-model (where a trader simply does the exact opposite of what the model recommends) will become profitable, and the model itself will make losses.

If that is the case, how can individual investors beat the market, except by sheer luck? They do so by judging the true nature of unique sets of historical circumstances better than do others (what Mises would call verstehen). Of course there is no model for doing that: to have a model means to have abstracted out certain common features of a variety of situations. To have a model is precisely to abstract away the truly historical. So of course there is no way to model Warren Buffet. (And, similarly, Beethoven's virtuosity consists in knowing, after precisely the specific notes that have come before, just which note to go to next, a judgment which cannot be generated from a model that deals only with generalities.)

And the fact that investors sometimes judge these circumstances well, and sometimes poorly, is no evidence at all against the cases of good judgment actually being good judgment rather than luck, unless one has already bought into the scientistic hypothesis that only scientific-mathematical knowledge is real knowledge. The fact that Kobe Bryant misses 50% of his shots does not mean that it is pure luck that he is in the NBA and I am not.

Michael Phelps' Version of the Paleo Diet


The discussion is pretty silly. The guy keeps calling Phelps a long-distance athlete, but of what Phelps swims, only the 400 IM is really considered a distance event.

But, in any case, the paleo diet folks are proven correct: look how sickly all of those starches have made Phelps.

Furthur Plays Zeppelin


Malum in Se, Malum Prohibitum

Libertarians are quite correct to distinguish between acts that are malum in se (bad in themselves, like murder, rape, and so on), and things that are malum in prohibitum (wrong by force of law "only"). But then they too often make the mistake of thinking that there is nothing immoral about ignoring the law when it bans things that are "only" malum in prohibitum, or that these violations necessarily are not "really" crimes. It simply does not follow that, if something was morally unobjectionable before it was against the law, it is still morally unobjectionable after it is against the law.

A simple example: If roads were used by only a few cars and there were no driving laws, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with driving on whatever side of the road one chose. But once there are laws about driving, driving on the wrong side of the road is not "'wrong' merely because the government proclaims these actions to be wrong" (quoting Boudreaux from the post linked to above, italics mine). It is wrong because it will kill people. Once a law regulating road usage for two way traffic has been passed and made known, it is everyone's responsibility to follow it. Driving on the wrong side of the road, today, in our society, is really a crime, in the moral sense, even though it is "only" malum in prohibitum.

Certainly, there are laws to which the above reasoning does not apply. A law, for example, requiring non-Jews to turn Jews into the authorities for imprisonment clearly should not be followed. And there is a lot of grey space between these two examples: A law against marijuana usage is not asking me to do anything immoral, as was the anti-Semitic law just mentioned: It is not immoral to not smoke pot! So clearly I am not morally obligated to break such a law... but am I morally permitted to do so, if I feel confident that the law is itself wrong?

I can't give you any easy answers for the grey area. Except, perhaps, to distrust anyone who says they can, because... ain't no easy answers.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Pepper of Thoughts

* Shoppers are irrational, and markets don't really work as advertized. Guess who makes this claim?

* Query: If people in the Paleolithic did not eat grains (and there is good archeological evidence that they did eat them), then why the hell would they have begun cultivating them? "Hey, here's a plant we don't eat -- let's try to deliberately grow it! What the f*&K -- with our paleo lifestyle we have plenty of time on our hands."

* A fact is a fact is a fact: Some guy "vdirequest"  calls Don Boudreaux's claim that the British have not been pursuing an austerity policy "ludicrous." The thing is, he says, that this is a "checkable fact." How does he "check" this fact? He notes that, in 2009, Cameron called for an "Age of Austerity." Well, if that doesn't prove it, what does? And the 1970s must have been an "Age of Harmony and Understanding," because some hippies said there should be one! (Note: I'm not trying to answer the question of whether Britain has or hasn't had such a policy. I'm just noting that vdirequest is being an asshat.)

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Daniel, I see your citation of stupidity and raise you one: The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus (wasn't he a buddy of Lando Calrissian?), just called Obama "our own little Captain Schettino."

So, Obama is apparently:
1) Planning on fleeing the US as it sinks. Perhaps Darth Priebus belies he is going to apply for the presidency of Kenya?
2) And Obama is just a "little" Schettino! He does not even have the stature we can accord to the Italian captain!

Sidenote: At the Wikipedia page on the Costa Concordia disaster, one passenger is quoted as saying: "The boat started shaking. The noise — there was panic, like in a film, dishes crashing to the floor, people running, people falling down the stairs."

Today, our films do not imitate real life panics: our real life panics imitate films.

"Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life" -- Oscar Wilde

Nine Anecdotes? Surely, That Amounts to Data!

It was a distressing thing to see Tyler Cowen linking to this bit of fluffy rubbish. (Fluffy rubbish that has a conclusion, by the way, with which I agree. So I am certainly not calling "nonsense" here because I want to shoot down an opposing view.)

Let me make an analogy for the "study" Fearon has performed: Imagine someone has developed a brand new diet, radically different than anything people had ever eaten before, and you say you have done a study that shows its effectiveness.

"Oh," I ask, "with how many subjects?"

"Yeah, well... nine."

"Nine. That's really not very many, is it? But I suppose you got either uniform improvement or uniform worsening, so you feel confident concluding something from such a small sample?"

"Well, no, actually, five of the subjects improved, two got worse, and one... well, one had always been on the diet, at least since the study started."

"Jeez, looks like a result that could be random. But I suppose you were able to carefully control for all other conditions?"

"Urr, well, actually, each of the subjects were operating under extremely varied conditions, no two cases really remotely alike except that they were each people on this diet, and I had no control whatsoever over any other factor that might have influenced the outcome. Nor do I even have any clue how to incorporate those myriad other factors into my study -- in fact, I don't even know which ones I should include if I wanted to include them and if I knew how!"

"So your 'study' is completely worthless?"

"But... but... I have numbers! I even have a bar chart!"

Some people are mesmerized by numbers and statistics.

Callahan's Constant

C: The distance between you and a full understanding of the answer of a native speaker of a foreign language you are learning. It is a constant because the better you sound while asking a question, the more rapidly they will answer you, and the more advanced will be the vocabulary and grammar they will use. So, as you learn language X, you will fail equally at understanding more and more advanced versions of it as you progress.

Bad Ideas

Dear City of Firenze: When you buy that nice big bus sign for the airport, the one saying "City Center"... You should place it where the bus boarding passengers, that will sit there for fifteen minutes, does not entirely block everyone's view of the sign.

Dear Distracted tourists: Stopping immediately at the top of the escalator to fiddle with your luggage is a very bad idea. Because, you see, there is a whole line of us right behind you. And we don't even have the option to stop and wait for you, because, as you may recall, there is this machine -- the one you just got off of? -- shoving us towards you.

Dear Me: Don't go tasting things like fresh olives just to find out why we never eat them. You can simply assume it is because they taste really, really awful.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Il Cestino

Though you are round and squat
I wish always to fill you with my love
I hurl love notes in the core of your being
But strive as I might to make you overflow
Every morning I discover your heart empty
It is as if a dark stranger has stolen my love away
During the long night while we were apart

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tourist

Noun: Someone who deliberately travels far from home in order to complain about how things are not exactly like they are in the place they left.

You Mayn't Believe It, But

I called my wife when I arrived in Florence, and while talking with her, I remarked, "One thing that totally hit me as soon as I got into Florence is how modern the city is compared to Siena."

"What?!" she said, "Florence is the most ancient-looking city I have ever been in."

"Well," I replied, "be prepared for something a *lot* more ancient-looking when we come back here."

Sorry Christians hug Underwear Man Newt’s last stand

The American Conservative's blog posts have links at the bottom to the previous and following (if it exists) posts. But there is perhaps not quite enough space between the two links, so that tonight, at Rod Dreher's blog, I read the title of this post and thought it was one weird sentence!

Cognitive Dissonance, to the Third

In the comment thread on this post, you can see that some people believe:

1) Ron Paul is a mouth-breathing cretin, who is too dumb to realize that if you call a newsletter "The RON PAUL Newsletter," you damned well better be aware of what is in it; and
2) Ron Paul is highly qualified to be president.

What Do You Call a Virus That Has Infected 90% of the Computers in the World

slowing them to a crawl and making them crash repeatedly?

Windows!

The pain of having to use the Windows -- Internet Explorer combo is almost unbearable. Within five minutes on the hotel computer, using only one program -- IE -- written by the same people who had written the OS, the computer was locked up so hard I had to pull the plug. Every single time I try to use iCloud to fetch my mail the browser locks up completely. But even doing other things, not requiring advanced Web capabilities, is awful beyond belief. I simply switched between two IE windows at one point, and started counting because it was taking so long. Well, from the moment I began doing my "one-one-thousands" on, it took over forty seconds for the window I had clicked on to display. And this was a page that was already loaded!

Conginitive Dissonance, Squared

I was perusing the LewRockwell.com blog today, to see how they would try to spin the Washington Post story about Paul (stony silence seems to be the answer), and it struck me that many people there seem to hold the following the propositions simultaneously (you can easily confirm this for yourself in a few minutes of browsing that blog):

1) The average American is a "sheeple," who credulously swallows whatever the mainstream media tells him;
2) The mainstream media hates Ron Paul and is working to sabotage his campaign; and
3) Ron Paul has an excellent shot at winning the presidency.

Can anyone explain to me how 1-3 can all fit inside the same head without it bursting asunder?

You Don't Say!

It turns out Ron Paul personally proofread those naughty newsletters. Duh.

Back in 2007, a time when I donated a couple of hudred dollars to Paul's campaign, I had no doubt whatsoever that Paul's story about not knowing that racist content was coming out under his name was rubbish. You don't get Murray Rothbard to write a newsletter for you, then not bother reading it. I donated anyway, even though I didn't like the lie, because I thought:

1) I understand why he is lying: he doesn't want Rothbard's name dragged through the mud, especially since he is dead. While that doesn't excuse him, it does make it a less serious sin.
2) He (and Rockwell) truly seem to regret having been lured into this terrible plan. (I was sure it was Rothbard's idea.)
3) All things considered, I thought he was still the best candidate.

The point being, even when I was a very active Paul supporter, I knew Paul was lying. Are there really people who doubted that?

A Puzzle, Seeking an Explanation

So, I am in the basement of my hotel in Florence (think how dedicated I am to you, my five readers -- I am in Florence, and instead of gawking at David I am in a hotel basement, composing blog posts!). I tried to fetch my mail via iCloud.com, but for half-a-dozen straight attempts, I was told I had entered the wrong password. And, of course, by the sixth attempt, I was typing very carefully indeed.

Perhaps the keyboard was remapped so that one (or more) of the characters I wanted to type was not coming out as I thought? (And, it being a password field, that would be something I could not see happening.) To test that hypothesis, I typed the characters into a search box at a blog, where I could see them. Everything seemed OK. Just for laughs, I copied the password and pasted it into the password field at iCloud.com. Presto! I was in.

What might explain this? And let me mention, as a constraint on possible answers, that I doubt I type my e-mail password wrongly one time out of one hundred. Positing that I typed it wrongly six times in a row just won't fly.

In Case You Need to Knock off a Quick Presentation

Last night in Italy. I'm at a Best Western in Florence, and on the guest information card I read: "Power Point constantly available." Say what? Even without a computer, somehow I can use PowerPoint? And why only PowerPoint? Why not Word and Excel?

Then, the meaning of the next sentence, about a "black socket," penetrates the miasma surrounding my mind, and I get it: They mean that there is an electrical outlet in the room!

Given this is an American corporation, wasn't there someone at back at headquarters who ought to have been checking out the English translation?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Rosetta Stone, Probably Not Worth the $, IMHO

The funny thing is, what Rosetta Stone leads you to believe that you're making really good progress with a language. But what you are actually making really good progress with is mastering Rosetta Stone. My experience is that I was only a fraction as far along as I had believed in speaking Italian.

In my experience, if you want to learn a language, you have to put yourself in a situation where you need to use it to communicate, for one reason or another.

Here is an independent study that claims that 70 hours of Rosetta Stone work are equivalent to one semester of college language study. That's not bad, but it's obviously not enough to go over and speak the language competently in its land of origin.

UPDATE: Fixed typo caught by Bob M.

Those Durned Prepositions

They are extremely tricky to get down in any new language. I've just bought a guide to Italian prepositions, and in it I have discovered that, depending upon the context, the following translations of Italian prepositions into English are possible (and this is at a minimum -- I assume there are possibilities I have not yet discovered):

a  --> with, by, at, to, because, per

di  --> at, by, from, in, around, of, with

da  --> from, to, because of, for, as, by, with

in  --> after, at, in, inwards, from, on, to

per --> for, through, to, by, because, because of

su  --> about, around, in, on, up, upward

tra --> amid, among, between, for, in, of

Ooh boy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Know Your Gnostics

My new feature article is now up in PDF form for subscribers at The American Conservative. I'm hoping it will be released in HTML for the broad public soon!

Non, non, monsieur, mais c'est un multifonction laser monochrome!

The box here are usually covered in writing in about twenty languages, because of the EU and all. However, I'm looking at one right now where the main announcements are only in English and French. The English reads: " monochrome laser multifunction," while the French reads "multifonction laser monochrome." I'm chuckling, thinking that the words are probably arranged in a different order in French to get past the language police, the ones who try to make sure names of things in French aren't too English. In this case, the manufacturer tells the lingual law officer, "Now look at the first word in English: 'monochrome.' Does that look anything like 'multifonction'? It sure as hell doesn't! And, now that I think of it, check out the third word: 'multifunction': why, that is nothing like 'monochrome' whatsoever!"

How to Turn Human Beings

into commodities, that can be transported hither and thither as the needs of their financial masters require them to be moved.

Fascinating Polling Data

Well, fascinating at least for me: here. Every single Republican candidate trails Obama in a head-to-head match up. But when Obama is compared to "a Republican," he loses! People aren't thrilled with Obama, and would be willing to elect a Republican, so long as it isn't any of the actual Republicans whom they might really have to choose amongst.

Would You Eat It?

At bars in Siena (which, you may recall, are really half American bar and half cafe), in the afternoon, they put out bowls of chips, popcorn, nuts, etc in the afternoon. From then until closing, pretty much everyone who comes in dips their hand in the bowl and extracts what they wish to consume.

Would you eat from these bowls?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

La cattedrale da lontano





A Particularly Italian Sort of Calamity

Yesterday, I posted two stories that I thought illustrative of a cultural trait, one that we might characterize as "nonchalance in a situation that ought to elicit great care." And this attitude will produce its own particular sort of calamity. What sort is that?

Well, for instance, one such as the cruise ship that ran aground the other day off the Tuscan coast. The captain, who was responsible for the lives of over 4000 people, navigated his ship through a dangerous passage, different from the planned route, apparently in order to amuse some people on the shore.

This is not to pick on Italy: every culture has its own weaknesses that produce their own sorts of calamities. Italians may tend to suffer from undue nonchalance, but Americans often fall prey to arrogance. And while Italy's sort of calamity killed a score of people, ours tend to kill hundreds of thousands.

My Laundromat

Apparently employs a fox, who works beyond this door:




Monday, January 23, 2012

Arugula

When I first lived in the UK, I was puzzled as to what "rocket" was. Then I ate it, and said, "Oh, arugula! We must use the Italian word for the vegetable."

But here, I found that, when I ordered "rucola," I got... arugula! So I asked one of my instructors here about this. Her explanation:

In the Neopolitan dialect, the "l" is dropped in phrases like "la rucola," so that it becomes "a rucola." Then, three more things happen: c's often shift to g's, o's become u's (which is why Italian Americans often say "mUzarell" for the cheese -- why they drop the 'a' on the end remains a mystery to me), and the immigrants to America in the great wave of Italian immigration were largely illiterate, so that they did not even realize they were saying two words ("a rucola") and, presto: "arugula"!

Two Tales

The first is a joke:

A man is splashing around in a lake, in a park in Rome. A policeman wanders over and shouts out to the man, "Bathing in the park's lakes is forbidden!"

The man yells back, "I'm not bathing! I am drowning!"

The policeman responds, "Oh, very well: carry on then."

The second really happened:

When I arrived in Siena, I forgot my bag on the luggage rack above my seat. ("Out of sight, out of mind," is an expression that could have been written after someone saw the relationship of me to my possessions.) By the time I had realized this, the train had pulled out of the station. What to do?

I found the ticket window, and explained to the man behind it what had happened. He made a phone call and told me to wait. After five minutes someone rang him back. When he hung up that call, he asked me to meet him on the platform.

Once there, in Italian, he gave me a somewhat lengthy set of instructions for getting my bag back. I thought I understood him, but after I executed the first step, I found myself facing a sign that absolutely forbid me to proceed further, and with good cause: what was further was a narrow dirt path running between a concrete wall and the train tracks. Thinking I must have misunderstood, I backtracked and looked for another route towards the bridge where I was to pick up my bag. But the ticket agent caught me, and led me back, past the "No entry" sign, along the side of the tracks. Soon, on the far side of the six tracks, a man emerged with my suitcase. The ticket agent started crossing to meet him, but then stopped, turned to me, and casually recommended I step back a bit. I did so.

"No, a little more." (I translate.)

I obeyed. And as I did so, a train coming from the other direction from the ticket agent passed by me, about two feet away.

What is the point of these tales? Well, it has to do with culture, but further discussion will have to wait for a future post.

Thought for the Day

"To generalize is to be an idiot. To particularize is alone the distinction of merit." -- William Blake

UPDATE: Second thought for the day: check out this great post from The Last Psychiatrist: I especially love the bit where the woman responsible for the abuse claims that she hates putting people in boxes, and then TLP shows her blog header, which is entirely about what boxes she sees herself in!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Those Primitive Medieval Folk

Why, they were barely able to throw together a pile of sticks, to make a little mud hut like this:




The Fat Lady Has Sung

OK, I said just what I thought would be a good result for Paul in South Carolina. And he came up well short. Despite two candidates dropping out, Paul's percentage dropped from the previous two contests. Yes, South Carolina could always be seen as a tough state for him, but the point is, as I had predicted, he picked up nothing  from pro-war candidates dropping out -- Paul already is getting all of the anti-war Republican votes. As candidates drop out, their votes will simply shift to one of the other pro-war candidates. But it is Paul losing to Santorum, and by a fair amount, that is really discouraging. Anyone with a realistic bone in their body knows that Santorum, like Paul, has no hope of gaining the GOP nomination. And there were two other pro-war candidates to vote for. So Paul ought to have been able to top Santorum easily. But he apparently did very poorly at the debates, as reported by people sympathetic to his campaign, and blew the lead he had. Not a good night for Paul.

UPDATE: Daniel Larison sees some upside for Paul in the results.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Stink That Tops All Others

I was trying to type in the name of the dish I ate tonight, spezzatino, and my phone decided I meant to type "apex stink." Is that something a lot of people are are writing about these days, so that phones have it pre-programmed as a recommendation?

Koine

In another thread, PSH asks, "Is English usurping koine status in Italy?"

In answer, una storia:

I was dining out last night. At the table next to me were two couples speaking... well, my guess is Romanian. Out of the "big five" Romance languages, I pretty much can recognize French, Spanish and Italian immediately. So what I was hearing but not recognizing immediately likely was either Portugese or Romanian, and since it sounded Slavic occasionally, we will posit that it was Romanian. In any case, the waitress came over, and one of the women attempted to discuss the menu with her in Italian. When that broke down, they resorted to... English.

So when two speakers of two different Romance languages, in a restaurant in Siena, have trouble communicating, they find common ground by speaking English.

When the City Burghers Were Building...


the Torre del Mangia 650 years ago, do you think they could have pictured a bunch of Italian hippies sitting in front of it in the piazza, smoking hash and playing "Psycho Killer" on guitar and drum? Well, that's what was happening there last night.

The Bar Scene...

Is, I believe, fairly new to Italy. What is called a bar here is more like a narrow coffee shop that also serves liquor. So what does a popular bar look like on a Friday night?



Pretty crowded, hey? But that is only about a third of the patrons. Where are the rest?


In the street outside the bar, of course! And that is a street open to traffic. I have no idea what would have happened had a car come along.

I Found a Gym




I signed up for the course in gagging. I think I will do well.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Nineteenth Century Had Its Own Wilt Chamberlain

"[Restif de la Bretonne] was indeed 'modern' in his preoccupations -- in being pedantic, in being a fact-grubber subject to paranoid anxiety, a severe critic of cities, and in always thinking of sexual matters. He was vain about his record: he itemized 700 liaisons... and a score of illegitimate children before his majority... [and this despite the fact that he] was short, thick, with a hook nose [and not] always clean..." -- Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, pp. 448-449

Things You Can't Try to Do

Yesterday I said to my landlady "Adesso provo trovare un quaderno." (Now I will try to find a notebook.) She corrected me: "No, adesso provi cercare un quaderno." (No, now you will try to search for a notebook.)

Setting aside the question of what comprises correct Italian here, the second sentence offends my philosophical instincts. The reason is that it seems to me that to try to search for something simply is to search for something: the "try" seems pointless. I can try to find something, but fail, but how can I try to search for something but fail to actually search for it? (Yes, my search may be thwarted y, say, my being arrested, but that strikes me as a different matter.)

What else can't one try to do, or, alternately, for what activities does the trying equal the doing? Hoping strikes me as one: to try to hope the Cubs win the World Series simply is to hope they win the World Series. (Again, as a trope expressing how unlikely I think it is that they will win, I might say, "I am only trying to hope they win!" But I am talking of the usual situation here.)

Believing however, does not strike me as one of these cases: it is not redundant to say "I am trying to believe you will stop playing around," although I do think it is psychologically interesting.

Any other suggestions for words like "search" and "hope" in this respect?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Did You Ever Wish You Was from Somewhere Else?

I've been using the Internet / Call Center in Siena to phone home. It is owned by a nice Bangladeshi family. (The only south Asians I have laid eyes on in the city in five days -- it must take some chutzpah to make a move like that, hey?) I just stopped by to see what time they will close tonight. There, in one of the phone booths, is a bovine American woman, shaking the phone receiver at the Bangladeshi woman, saying loudly and slowly, "Stateeek. Toooo much stateek."

Now, I have spoken with the Bangladeshi woman, and she speaks lovely, fluent English. And her Italian sounds damned good to me. Naturally she is going to know Bengali, and perhaps a couple of other languages from the subcontinent, and I bet she knows at least some Arabic. So she has the American woman beaten in knowing languages perhaps six to one, and yet the American woman is addressing her as if she is a mentally defective five-year-old.

And what do you think the "theory" is behind using the funny accent? Foreigners speak English with a funny accent, so they will understand you better if *you* speak it with a funny accent as well?

Berkeley the Semiotician

Once I had hoped to be a semiotician. But then I decided, what the heck, be a full otician! In any case, Berkeley's philosophy of science is remarkably Peirce-like; consider the following passages:
Now, these rules [of the arts and sciences] being general, it follows that they are not to be obtained by the mere consideration of the original ideas, or particular things, but by the means of marks and signs, which, being so far forth universal, become the immediate instruments and materials of science. It is not, therefore, by mere contemplation of particular things and much less of their abstract general ideas, that the mind makes her progress, but by an apposite choice and skillful management of signs...
If I mistake not, all sciences, so far as they are universal and demonstrable by human reason, will be found conversant about signs as their immediate object...
I am inclined to think the doctrine of signs a point of great importance and general extent, which, if duly considered, would cast no small light upon things and afford a just and genuine solution of many difficulties. -- Philosophical Writings, pp. 308-311

Help!

Anyone out there decent at geometrical optics? There is a diagram in Berkeley's A New Theory of Vision of which I can make neither heads nor tails.

An Experienced Guide Offering a Tour of His Native Land

Imagine you had a chance to take a tour with an intelligent, lively, and humorous guide, who has lived in the fascinating region you a touring for many decades. What a joy! Well, this is what reading Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence is like. The book was published when he was 93 (he is now 104!), so it is likely he had spent, by the time he wrote it, some seven or eight decades "living in" the land of Western history. And he has used that experience to compose a book unlike any other I have ever read. What he does is sort of amble around 500 years of history, and chat with you about all of the interesting things you would miss without him as your guide, and all that the landscape you are passing brings to his mind. In lesser hands the result might have been an aimless meandering, but Barzun's wit and insight keep the journey constantly interesting. I highly recommend reading this book.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Making the Simple Difficult

I stand before a toilet, of the standard Anglo-American sort, but with the seat removed. (This removal eliminates the trouble of cleaning the seat, Luigi the American once explained to me at a bar in Florence.) I would like to flush it... but how? There is nothing in the room obviously connected to the toilet in any way. Finally I espy, on the wall to the right of the toilet, at about eye level, a large, menacing looking button, connected to a tube running up into the ceiling. It appears as though pressing it might launch an air strike against the enemies of Berlusconi, or something of the sort. With trepidation, I push it. (I'm an incurable yellow-button pusher.) The toilet flushes! (Perhaps I have also blown up Nichi Vendola's house. I will check the papers tomorrow.)

What is wrong with having a little handle on the side of the toilet?

Americans Abroad

My charming medieval city of X (hey, I set Joseph the task of guessing my location, so I can't just go and name it!) is presently filled with American university students -- on winter break, no doubt. The puzzle for me is that the female / male ratio seems to be about nine to one. (And I am pretty sure it's not because I only notice the females, so check your dirty minds at the door.)

Why would this be? Any explanations?

Italian Is Nice

To learners, in that, its roots lying almost entirely in a single language, its verbal forms tend to be more tightly linked than is typical in English. For instance, an activity, the place that activity happens, and the person who performs the activity, all tend to be variations on the same root, so that if you know any one of the three, you have a decent shot at guessing the other two.

Do You Know the Name...

Beaumarchais?

I didn't until today. But, he wrote the plays "The Barber of Seville" and "The Marriage of Figaro," made significant improvements to the watch and the harp pedal, served as a French secret agent in England, and personally built a navy to support American independence during the Revolutionary War.

And the US Congress stiffed his daughter to the tune of 1.7 million francs.

The View from Others Windows








Paul Got Da Bump...

I was looking for in South Carolina -- his excellent showing in New Hampshire lifted him about 3 or 4% in the SC polls. Here's is what to watch for next: can he secure third place ahead of Santorum? (They are now running neck-and-neck.) If he does that, he'll be in great shape to go to the GOP convention with a boatload of delegates, which he can use to influence the party platform.

This Year's "Damning with Faint Praise" Award...

goes to David Guetta, for penning these lyrics:
She's nothing like a girl you've ever seen before!
Nothing you can compare to your neighborhood whore!
Try putting that compliment on your wife's anniversary card.

The Persistence of Error (Barzun Again)

As I'm writing my paper on Berkeley, I have discovered that the idea that Berkeley thought the physical world was "an illusion," or something of the sort, has been debunked many times, but is like a zombie, in that it just won't stay killed. (In this sense, it is much like the idea that Rousseau "worshipped the primitive," as discussed in the previous post.) In any case, here is Barzun on Berkeley:
As Coleridge put it, matter is like an invisible pincushion that we suppose necessary to hold the various "pins" that are our sensations... Berkeley asked: is the pincushion needed? Dr. Johnson -- no professional philosopher -- hearing of Berkeley's critique of matter, kicked a large stone "with mighty force until he rebounded from it," and said, "I refute it thus." But Berkeley never denied that things were real, hard as stone and heavy as Dr. Johnson. He pointed out -- and he has never been refuted -- that matter is a notion added to what the senses actually report. -- From Dawn to Decadence, p. 367

Barzun on Rousseau

"His books on government, morals, education, and social life did give the course of ideas a wrench. To understand how, one must erase from the mind every remark or allusion one has come across about him and his thought. In academic writings as in journalism, his name and the adjective Rousseauian are used to characterize opinions he never held... For the record: Rousseau did not invent or idolize the noble savage, did not urge going 'back to nature,' did not say that since men are born free and are now in chains, we must break the chains." -- From Dawn to Decadence, p. 382

Monday, January 16, 2012

Berkeley Knew There Was a World Out There, Continued

I don't know if I have a single reader who finds this topic interesting, but, as I have mentioned before, for me this blog is a writer's journal that happens to have readers. And it happens I'm writing a paper entitled "Was Berkeley a Subjective Idealist?" (Spoiler: No, he wasn't!)

In one of his lesser know works, Alciphron, I found this beautiful quote backing me today:

The soul of man actuates but a small body, an insignificant particle, in respect of the great masses of nature, the elements and heavenly bodies, and system of the world. And the wisdom that appears in those motions, which are the effects of human reason, is incomparably less than that which discovers itself in the structure and use of organized natural bodies, animal or vegetable. -- Philosophical Writings, p. 274
Does those look like the words of a man who thought the world was all in his head?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Leader of the Levellers

"If the world were emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John, and John with Lilburne." -- Harry Martin, fellow Leveller

History According to TV

Watching White Collar, I just learned that the Middle Ages extended at least until 1600.

Oh, and that period is pre-Renaissance,  and they were making illuminated manuscripts then.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

John Lennon Discusses Intentionality


In Which Remarkable Contentions Are on Display

Scott Sumner has a very curious post up today, in which he contends that savings and investment are simply two different words that mean exactly the same thing. I find this post notable for a couple of things:

1) Sumner writes: "Saving isn’t “setting money aside,” it’s BUILDING CAPITAL GOODS... All the textbooks say S=I, so I thought people accepted this. I guess they don’t."

So Sumner's first piece of "evidence" that savings simply is another word for investment is that textbooks have an equation that says "S = I." Now, such an equation might mean a number of things, for instance, "In equilibrium, S = I," or "On the margin, S = I," or "In the long run, S = I," or "Ideally, S = I." One of the most surprising things it might mean is that savings and investment are synonyms, because, in that case, why bother putting this in an equation?! Textbooks by ornithologists, after all, do not feature equations like "BIRDS = AVES." Mathematicians do not typically have in their books "2 = TWO." So the fact that this equation is worth stating is evidence that most economists think there is something interesting going on here ("12 = 1") and not a simple identity. So here Sumner's "evidence" points, in fact, in exactly the opposite direction that he thinks it does.

2) What is more remarkable is that he seems to think that there is a "matter of fact" about definitions, and that this supports him. Of course, in one sense, there is a matter of fact about definitions: we can say, "x is how y is typically used," and that statement can be true or false. But if we adopt that sense of the fact about the definition, Sumner is plainly wrong: savings is not commonly used as a synonym for investment. If I have three gummy bears, and I eat one and set two aside, I will say “I saved two for later.” A science is free, of course, to use ordinary words in an extraordinary way, so this consideration is not decisive. But it does run contra Sumner.

But what Sumner seems to be saying, and saying IN ALL BIG CAP LETTERS, AGAIN AND AGAIN, is that 'savings' being equal to 'investment' is something true of the world, quite aside from our usage. And that is a very weird contention. As I (and most philosophers, I'd dare say) understand definitions, it is absurd to say "My definition is true, and yours is false." What one can say is "My definition is more useful than yours," or "My definition highlights a real distinction that yours obscures." And on this criterion, once again, Sumner loses. To conflate savings with investment is to collapse two useful concepts into one. We lose the ability to say, for instance:
Savings is not identically equal to investment, the equality of savings and investment is an equilibrium condition. Savings is defined as that portion of income not consumed. Investment is that portion of expenditure not consumed. Income and expenditure are not identically equal to each other; they are equal in equilibrium.
Now, we need not agree to everything in the above paragraph to see that distinguishing savings from investment might lead us to think about some interesting things. And that's about all one can ask of a definition. But Sumner will have none of it: "SAVING IS NOT SETTING ASIDE MONEY, IT’S SPENDING MONEY ON CAPITAL GOODS.  PERIOD, END OF STORY."

Well, Scott, if shouting one's own definition louder and louder is the key, you win.



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Perhaps We Have Misread the Trend

The youths with there boxers pulled up way above their trousers are often seen as exhibiting some form of rebellion.

But perhaps they just got sick of seeing their dad's butt crack when he was working under the sink, and determined that would never, ever happen to them?

How Do They Say Things So Silly?

We've noted here before how Jonathan Chait seems to be a master of shallow-but-superficially-pluasible analysis. Now, Andrew Sullivan alertes me to his go at Ron Paul, in which Chait tries to imply something like "Libertarianism leads to racism."

Here is the Paul quote Chait goes after: “Libertarians are incapable of being racist,” he has said, “because racism is a collectivist idea, you see people in groups.”

Chait responds:

"In Paul’s world, state-enforced discrimination is the only kind of discrimination. A libertarian by definition opposes discrimination because libertarians oppose the state. He cannot imagine social power exerting itself through any other form."

Say what? Paul says that libertarians can't be racists, because they don't view people in terms of collectives. Now, I believe this is wrong: quite obviously, Rothbard in the 1990s was quite capable of lumping people in groups. Paul is implying that having a political platform fighting against collectivism makes one incapable of ever seeing people as a collective.

But it is not wrong in the way Chait says it is wrong: Paul's statement doesn't mention the state at all. It mentions not seeing people as collectives, which, were it always possible, would be a prophylactic against any possibility of racism. And there is no reason in the world why someone cannot be a libertarian and recognize non-state forms of discrimination as a problem; it just won't be a problem in which they wish to involve the government.


"The most fevered opponents of civil rights in the fifties and sixties — and, for that matter, the most fervent defenders of slavery a century before — also usually made their case in in process terms rather than racist ones."

Well, except that the great classical economists, most of whom would today be described as libertarians, were almost always opponents of slavery.

But no matter that the analysis is rubbish. The real point is Chait writes with style, no doubt dresses just right for Manhattan cocktail parties and says witty things while at them, and has told his audience what they want to hear: "libertarian = racist." That is enough to land one a gig at New York Magazine.


On the Theme of Imagining Anti-Paul Conspiracies

here is the always ranting Tom DiLoernzo:

"Returning home last night around 10 PM, I turned on the boob tube to see how the neocons at Faux News were spinning the New Hampshire Primary results. The headline was: 'Gingrich and Santorum Battling it Out for Fourth Place.'"

Tom, that is because you got home late. First, second and third place had already been decided. As soon as CNN projected Paul to get second, they put it up in a big headline. I know. I was watching. But that was at around 8:30. And I bet Fox did the same.

What to Watch Now...

In determining just how much impact the Paul campaign will have on this year's race are the South Carolina polls. Right now, Paul sits at about 11%, but the most recent poll is from last week. The thing to watch for is if he gets a bounce of 3 or 4% from his impressive New Hampshire showing. That shows the second-place finish generated some momentum. If he stays at 11%, then perhaps NH was just a blip.

The Big Lie (That Is True)

James Ostrokowski posts puzzling thoughts on the mainstream media and Ron Paul. He writes:

"Finally, the MSM repeats the Big Lie—a statement for which no evidence exists but which is repeated endlessly—that Ron Paul cannot beat Obama. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as many voters make their decision based on the Big Lie. In fact, the polls show that Ron Paul can beat Obama and that Romney cannot—if he faces a strong third party challenge which is likely."

So first of all, it is rather curious to call a "lie""a statement for which no evidence exists." Usually, the term applies to statements which are known to be false. And, in this case, these people are making a prediction. Does it make any sense at all to call a prediction a lie? If I say, "There is no way Denver can beat New England this Sunday," isn't it nonsense to claim I am lying?

Especially when I am one of the referees, and I can make the play calls go my way. As Ostrokowski recognizes the MSM can do: "That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as many voters make their decision based on the Big Lie."

Well, yes, one of the reasons that I would predict a McGovern-type scenario (49 states for Obama to 1 for Paul, or so), should Paul get the GOP nomination, is that the MSM will have a field day with all of his more fringe positions. Look, you may think Social Security is an evil Ponzi scheme involving theft, but the vast majority of Americans don't: in fact, they want it preserved to the extent that even talk of cutting benefits a bit has been seen as electoral death. But Paul would like to scrap the entire thing! One may think Paul is 100% correct in all of his positions, but it is just fantasy not to recognize that many of them are deeply unpopular. The MSM will go nuts focusing on his radical positions should he (per impossible) get the nomination. Is a political commentator not supposed to take into account the media treatment a candidates ideas will in evaluating that candidate's viability? These facts are very good evidence on which a pundit might make the prediction, "Ron Paul can't win."

And in terms of self-fulfilling prophecies, check out this one: "In fact, the polls show that Ron Paul can beat Obama and that Romney cannot—if [Romney] faces a strong third party challenge which is likely."

Hmm, and just from whom would that strong third-party challenge come? So, Romney can't win because if he gets the nomination, Paul will run on a third-party ticket and wreck his chances! And that third-party run is necessary for Ostrokowski's own "Big Lie," since in a simple head-to-head matchup Obama does far better against Paul than he does against Romney. (One poll has Obama winning by 13%. And if it were a head-to-head matchup, and the MSM had a few months to focus exclusively on Paul's views, I think that's about right.)

UPDATE: Fixed problem where I had accidentally inserted "Obama" when I meant "Romney."


Homemade Yogurt

It's trivial to make. There are two ingredients:

Milk
Yogurt

My son said, "Dad, if we have ingredient two, why do we need ingredient one?"

Well, the reason is, we can make lots of yogurt with a little yogurt. This is especially great if you have some favorite brand, but it is quite expensive.

Just bring a half-gallon of milk to a near boil, then let it cool back down to about 110 Fahrenheit. Add a small cup of your favorite plain yogurt. Cover it, put it some place warm (near a heater, in a partially cooled oven), and wait overnight: yogurt!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Cooking Lesson


I made this lovely raita tonight. But my first attempt did not go well. What happened? Well, first I burnt some rice. Then I ruined some vegetables by overcooking them. And what did I learn from this?

Two wrongs don't make a raita.

New York City Parking

How do you know when you've parked too close to someone in New York?


If your bumper is actually in their trunk, you've gone a bit too far.

How Do They Get Away with It?

At The Washington Times, Charles Hurt writes:

"After all these years it took a great constitutional scholar who had spent a life cloistered in academia and street work to utterly rape our most cherished Constitution.

"This business of bypassing the Senate to pick 'recess' appointments to positions most Americans have never heard of may seem trivial. It is anything but. What Barack Obama has done has been to disembowel the U.S. Senate and shred the most carefully worded document in the history of civilized society."

Well, at least he left alone our less-cherished constitutions. But, in any case, it seems recess appointments slice open, draw-and-quarter, behead, flay, machine gun, torture, and castrate our most cherished constitution. (And Obama's doing all this, by the way, to implement his "socialist platform"! Such as pumping money to wealthy bankers.) They must be something that has never, ever been done before, right?

Well, in about five seconds of research (it is literally the second link Googling for "recess appointments" yields), I turned up:

"Presidents since George Washington have made recess appointments... According to the Congressional Research Service, President Bill Clinton made 139 recess appointments. President George W. Bush made 171 recess appointments, and as of December 8, 2011, President Barack Obama had made 28 recess appointments.

So, in other words, Obama is "utterly raping" our constitution by employing a routine tactic far less than his predecessors did. And here is what really, really worries Hurt:

"What is to stop Mr. Obama now — or any future president — from simply “recess appointing” thugs to the Supreme Court in order to uphold his socialist platform?"

A couple of more seconds of hard looking, and...

"Washington appointed South Carolina judge John Rutledge as Chief Justice of the United States during a congressional recess in 1795... New Jersey judge William J. Brennan was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 through a recess appointment... Eisenhower made two other recess appointments, Chief Justice Earl Warren and Potter Stewart."

How can this clown have an outlet in a daily paper in our capital?

Critical Thinking? It Ain't for Me

I was shocked to see a food "journalist" reporting the long explained "mystery" of the McDonalds burger that doesn't get moldy. (The person doing the original "experiment" (with no control!) had simply air-dried the burger.)

And in the comments, people pointed out many times that this story had been debunked, and most of the commentators just didn't care: they went right on posting how this "proves" how bad McDonalds food is for you. (It may be that it is bad for you, but the non-rotting burger is not evidence of that.)

The Odds Are

this post will be about deficit finance.

But it isn't!

Here's a quote from yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

'"I certainly wouldn't get out of the stock market," says Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard Group, which offers funds of many types of investments, including stocks and bonds. "The risks we face today are deeply serious," he adds, "but the odds are that stocks will do better" than bonds.'

I think that statement is interesting, in an important way, and misleading. What is misleading is the idea that there is something "out there" called "the odds" about how stocks will do versus bonds (or that the Giants will win next week, or that it will rain tomorrow). By speaking this way, Bogle is bogusly able to remove the personal commitment from his statement. The really meaning of it is either "I am going to bet on stocks versus bonds," or "I think you should bet on stocks versus bonds" (or both). At present, there is no fact whatsoever about the matter of how stocks or bonds will do next year. At the end of next year, there won't be any "odds" of how they will do; they either will or won't have done well.

If You Ever Thought Jerry Garcia Could Only Play Hippie Music

then listen to him play the 1949 pop hit, "Lucky Ol Sun," and be corrected (That's Clarence Clemons on sax, btw)

Monday, January 09, 2012

Dog Fighting

A while back, I heard Michael Vick's attorney on the radio, saying "Michael has realized that dog fighting is a dead end activity." Is he saying that, at one point, that Vick thought that dog fighting was an activity that offered unblocked visas out into a future land of success?

More Art from Manos de Mexicanos


Yum, Crickets!

These weren't some bugs that invaded the food; they were the food:



At the opening of my friend Steve Tarpin's new art gallery, Manos de Mexicanos:



Sunday, January 08, 2012

Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw?


Game, Set and Match

I was about to set out building an OLG model in which the later generations benefit at the expense of the earlier ones, but I see Daniel Kuehn has done it for me. That's it folks, it's all over. This demonstrates quite plainly that it is the transfers, not the debt, that matters. Krugman was right in the first place.

Side note: While I think Bob was genuinely convinced of his case, I am certain (from reading the comments) that half the people at his blog had no idea what was going on, and were basically just chanting, "Yeah! Krugman wrong again! Ooh-ooh-ooh!"


The Problem of Pain

is illusory. Pain is a gift.

The Virtues of Laissez-Faire


Saturday, January 07, 2012

How Murphy Is Achieving His Result

Commentator rob, in this thread, has given a very succinct statement as to exactly the invalid maneuver Bob Murphy is using to get his "debt matters" conclusions:

"It does not matter if consumption remains the same in each period [in the counter-examples offered by myself and Steve Landsburg] because we are assuming that those who buy or sell bonds are not bearing any burden or making any gains if they voluntarily adjust their consumption as a result of the bond transactions."

Yes, rob has this exactly right. When consumption by the lender drops in period one, that doesn't count for Murphy and friends, because the lender reduced his consumption voluntarily. But when consumption by the taxpayer drops in period N, that counts, because that was an involuntary reduction.

Why is this maneuver invalid? Because judging a transactions benefits by its voluntary nature is a fine maneuver... ex ante. It's perfectly valid to judge, ex ante, that voluntary transactions are, on the whole, more likely to be beneficial for participants the involuntary ones. (Even this is not an a priori truth or anything of the sort: we may well judge that when someone is killing themselves with drink, and his friends have him involuntarily committed, that "he'll thank them later.")

But, of course, we are not looking at these scenarios ex ante, but ex post: we have Bob's whole spreadsheet, or Nick Rowe's whole example, right in front of us. And now slipping in some consideration of what someone might have anticipated at the time of some transaction is totally invalid. "Everything" (of relevance) has happened, and now, the only question is, "How did it really come out for everyone involved?" And, as Landsburg and I have shown, it came out the same (in monetary terms), whether the transfers involved occurred through taxation or debt financing.

Now, someone might protest, "But subjectively they weren't the same!" Perhaps not, but once we take such factors into account, our analysis becomes completely indeterminate. Perhaps the person taxed in period one suffers great psychological torment from being taxed. But perhaps the person receiving an unexpected transfer in a later period will experience boundless joy at this surprising bounty. All one can then say is something like, "Taxation? Debt financing? Who knows?" If we are going to run this sort of analysis at all, then we have to do so in terms of some objective results. And, objectively, Landsburg and I have shown that taxation and debt issue can have the same result in Bob's scenarios.

So, Bob is achieving his results by dropping out the loss of consumption suffered by government bond buyers because of ex ante considerations, but then looking at the entire situation ex post. This mingling of ex ante and ex post considerations invalidates the whole analysis.

UPDATE: Bob now says I am wrong, because:

"As I spelled out quite clearly, there is perfect foresight in my model. There's no distinction between ex ante and ex post, and people only derive utility from apple consumption..."

OK, I missed the place where Bob spelled this out. But it doesn't make me wrong, it makes me right for a different reason: With perfect foresight, it is wrong to ignore the deferred consumption of buying a bond but count that of being taxed because the taxpayer in period 1 will see he is getting a bigger transfer in period N that will compensate for his tax loss in period 1. It won't matter a lick to him whether his initial payment is voluntary or legally coerced. That, of course, assumes the tax burden can be made to fall on those who would have bought bonds. But the government must have perfect foresight as well, so they can do this

UPDATE II: For the life of me, I can't find where Bob spelled out "quite clearly" that the actors in his models have "perfect foresight." I searched his blog for foresight, and it doesn't appear in any of the relevant posts. Then, I re-read (re-scanned, really) the relevant posts, and didn't notice this being said through synonyms. I didn't see anything like foresight mentioned at all. But still, I am certain that Bob at least meant to put in that these actors should have perfect foresight.

Dove trovo pipa da crack?

OK, so PSH's post has me exploring my "stats" feature a bit. One thing I found is that the above phrase, which I think translates as "How do I find a crack pipe?" led someone to my blog.

Explanations?

PSH Thinks He Has It Bad...

here.

But the most popular post on this blog, month after month after month, is a post that is not by me, and that people are finding accidentally because it has a catchy phrase in the title. Seriously, I don't recall any one month period since it was posted that that post wasn't number one.

Hamsterdam

In season three of the wire, one of the police district majors established "legalized drug" zones in a few abandoned areas of his district, in order to clean up the rest of it. One of the cops tells the street dealers that these places will be like Amsterdam, which the street boys amusingly mishear as "Hamsterdam."

In any case, watching these episodes, it struck me that, while I don't know if anyone in Baltimore really did this, New York City has done and is doing it.

Has done it: My friend grew up down on Columbia Street in Brooklyn when it was rough. He tells me that cops would bring people they caught trying to buy drugs elsewhere down to Columbia Street: it was the Hamsterdam of the time.

Is doing it: Well, this is city wide, but I see it as a version of the same idea: The police in NYC seem to have chosen to entirely forget that there are laws against smoking pot. All the time, I see and smell people smoking on the sidewalk, but never have I seen anyone even hassled for this. The other day, I walked up my block, and there was two guys in a big SUV parked on the curb with clouds of smoke rolling out of their windows. Mid-day, this was.

This post is a prelude to some thoughts on ending the drug war. But those will have to wait for tomorrow.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Revised Go at Nick Rowe's Model

Nick Rowe's model, as I now understand it, with taxation instead of borrowing:

The government taxes cohort B to give each person in cohort A an extra 110 apples, which he eats. Cohort A then dies.

Cohort A is better off. Each member of cohort A eats an extra 110 apples.

Cohort B eats 110 fewer apples when young, but then the government taxes cohort C 121 extra apples when cohort B is old, so that cohort B eats 11 extra apples. We could adjust the present value of the consumption so that these just balance out.

Cohort C is out 121 apples.

We have achieved the exact same result with taxation as with debt. It is the transfer payments that matter.


Clarifying My Point on Rowe's Model

I think I can express more clearly what is wrong with Rowe's model.  At the start, the government increases consumption by borrowing, and people eat 100 more apples.

But from whom did the government borrow the apples? It can't be foreigners: Rowe has assumed a closed economy. It can't be from savings: Rowe has assumed no saving. Rowe has the government "borrowing" apples from the ether. If he didn't, it would be clear that, in a closed economy, for the government to increase someone's consumption by 100 apples, it must reduce someone else by 100. And there would be no net consumption gain in generation 1.

At the end, the government taxes apples away to pay off the loan. But to whom does it pay off the loan? Not foreigners -- see above. It taxes away the apples, but "pays them back" to the ether.

And that's how Rowe achieves his result: if he showed the borrowing coming from someone, the there's be no net consumption gain in period 1, and if he showed the loan being paid off to someone in period N, there'd be no net consumption loss.

In the comments on the previous edition of this post, Rowe seems to be saying that cohort A is literally eating the apples of cohort C. Well, if this were possible, then obviously the model would work. But forget economics: the apple crop of two generations hence is simply not physically available for us to eat today. That is not a physically possible form of borrowing.

UPDATE: OK, Rowe has clarified what he is claiming in the comments. I don't think I was nuts to interpret him as I did, given the paragraph I quoted, but if you read his comment, then you will see what he really was getting at.

But now, what I believe his model shows is that if the government makes transfer payments from the young to the old, the old will benefit at the expense of the young. I will now model the same result with no borrowing: update soon.

Abraham and Isaac Sitting on a Fence...

they'd get right to work if they had any sense.

So, my first conviction: all the talk in Bob's post on the debt issue about "stealing" and "violence" is simply ideological baggage muddying the waters. The question of the morality of taxation and the question of whether or not present debt is a burden on future generations are surely separate issues, right? After all, we are talking present taxation versus future taxation in the debate currently spilling across the Internet. So, step one: no government. It's a red herring, as we'll see when we re-introduce it. And having "generations" muddies the waters as well. All we need to populate our model are the same people in different time periods, and the question becomes can the economy as a whole in period one impoverish the economy as a whole in period two by borrowing?

So first we have just Adam and me. We each grow apples. We each grow 1000 per year, out of which we consume 900 and save 100 for seed stock.

Now, Iy1 come to Adamy1 and ask to borrow 100 apples. I will pay him back 110 apples in a year. He reduces his apple consumption by 100 this year, planning to live it up next year. And Iy2 do pay Adamy2 back, by only eating 790 apples.

This is obviously a wash: the Year 1 cohort ate 1800 apples, as did the Year 2 cohort. All we did was to shift around who ate how many in each year.

Nick Rowe's Model Cannot Prove Anything

because it is logically incoherent. (Hey, everyone else is blogging about this, so I felt I had to as well. In my next post, I will show why Bob Murphy's post on this prove the exact opposite of what he thinks they prove.)

But first let's see why Rowe's model falls apart"

"Assume: closed economy; no investment or real capital of any kind; lump-sum non-distorting taxes with zero collection costs; positive real interest rate and zero real growth; exogenous full-employment level of output; apples are the only output good; apples cannot be stored; identical agents; overlapping generations; no funny stuff.

"Suppose the government makes a transfer of 100 apples to the current cohort, financed by borrowing. Does that create a burden on future generations? Yes or no? B or NB?"

There is no correct answer to the question, because there is no possibility that what Rowe describes could happen. Why?

From where did the 100 apples come?

Well, not from overseas: we have a closed economy. Not from seed stock: there is no investment or real capital. And not from savings: "apples cannot be stored."

The transfer is impossible. All apples were already being consumed, and necessarily by the current cohort. The government has been made into a magical apple-making machine.

At this point we can stop reading: from an incoherent model, any conclusion whatsoever can be drawn. But it is interesting to note that the exact opposite nonsensical move occurs at the end of the post, when the government taxes cohort C 121 apples to retire its debt.

To where did the 100 apples go?

They can't be sent overseas: it's a closed economy. They can't be put in seed stock: there's no investment. And they can't be stored. The only thing that can be done with them is to... eat them! And who is around to eat them? Well, only cohort C is! So the 121 apples of consumption they "lost" by being taxed they got back because they must be eaten immediately.

The whole construction is nonsensical, and can't be used to prove anything, other than that, if the government is magical black box, and can make apples appear from nowhere for one generation, and disappear into the mystic during another, then the one with more apples will like that, and the one with fewer apples won't, in whatever order those generations appear.

UPDATE: I think I gave a reasonable interpretation to the paragraph I quote above. But Nick Rowe has explained that was not what he meant, and has explained what he did mean. So look for a post soon on this newly interpreted model.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Want to Be a Consistent Naturalist?

Then you have to deny the existence of meaning:

"The reason is that Rosenberg is more consistent than these other writers, and he is more consistent because he understands (as they do not) the grave philosophical challenges facing naturalism.  In particular, he understands that a consistent naturalist must take a radically eliminativist line vis-à-vis intentionality -- that the naturalist must deny that meaning of any sort exists, even at the level of human thought and language.  And he understands that the reason why the naturalist must take this line is that it follows from the claim that there is no teleology or final causality inherent in the natural order.  Or at least, once you make that anti-Aristotelian move -- a move which (as I have argued at length) was definitive of modern philosophy -- and you affirm also that the natural order is all that exists, there is no way consistently to affirm that intentionality is a real feature of the world.  For intentionality essentially involves “directedness” toward an object, as a thought is “directed” toward what the thought is about or a word is “directed” toward what the word means.  And to deny that there is any teleology or final causality immanent to the natural order just is to deny that there is any “directedness” of any sort in it -- that there is anything that points beyond itself to some end, goal, or object.  (For more on intentionality, see the relevant posts among my many posts on the mind-body problem.)"

Two Strangers Happen to Be Carrying Instruments on the Subway

and...


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Paul's Performance in Iowa

Ron Paul ran a good race. Everyone said he was superbly organized, and spent a lot of time in the state. So what does this tell us?

That the absolute best Paul will do in any GOP primary is about 20-25%. He is so different than all of the other GOP candidates that voters will essentially split into "Paul" versus "anyone-but-Paul" camps. And everyone voting in Iowa got to know him and what he stands for. Or, in other words, while it looks as though Paul came close to Romney (losing 24% to 21%), if the contest had been Paul versus Romney straight up, the result would have been 79% to 21%: a complete blowout.

Sorry, Paulistas: 80% of GOP voters love war and belligerence. Your guy is not going to give it to them. And so they will never, ever vote for him.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

OK, This Is a Bit Much

I thought I might supplement my income by doing some substitute teaching in the local schools. A principal kindly nominated me, and then today I received this e-mail:


Kuehn on Methodological Individualism

When Daniel Kuehn is not cravenly defending Obama, he's a pretty smart guy. (I'm just kidding, of course, Daniel: you are a pretty smart guy even when you are cravenly defending Obama.)

The main way to convince yourself to be (or remain) a methodological individualist is to arbitrarily and severely narrow the number of options as to how to do social science, and then show that MI is the only valid one. Here is a great example from the comment section of the post linked to above (from "increasingmu"), saying our choices are limited to:

a) methodological individualism
b) attributing of agency to non-individuals
c) arguing that it doesn't matter what is really true because our theories are just tool

Wow, why in the world are those are only options? Let's say I wish to study kinship systems. Yes, of course this study will involve individuals -- kinship systems do not simply float around in space. But they certainly aren't a matter of individual choice: I am born into a kinship system I in no sense chose, and, in general, can exit it only by exiting the society in which it exists. Furthermore, the very idea of a kinship system necessarily involves a super-individual structure. (As does, say, the notion of a language!) I think it is completely sensible to hold:

a) kinship systems are super-individual causal factors in social analysis (contrary to choice a) above);
b) kinship systems are not agents; they don't make choices or have preferences (contrary to choice b) above); and
c) kinship systems, like, say, the English language, are real causal factors -- we don't make them up as social scientists just because we find them handy (contrary to choice c) above).

In fact, my a) through c) are simple common sense; so commonsensical, in fact, that it takes years of advanced education to learn to ignore common sense and become a methodological individualist.

Culture, Etiquette, and Slurping One's Soup

I recall once seeing a recipe for Vietnamese soup claiming that, "This soup is best enjoyed by slurping it, although I have found Westerners are often too uptight to slurp." (The writer was an American, I believe.)

So the writer thought that "Westerners" eat in certain, constrained ways because they are uptight, while the more loosey-goosey people of the rest of the world just shove food in their mouth whatever relaxed way they damn-well pleased. How this person managed to get their shoes on in the morning I'm not sure. Consider this passage from Geertz:

'In Java, for example, where I have done much of my work, the people quite flatly say, "To be human is to be Javanese." Small children, boors, simpletons, the insane, the flagrantly immoral, are said to be ndurung djawa, "not yet Javanese." A "normal" adult capable of acting in terms of the highly elaborate system of etiquette, possessed of the delicate aesthetic perceptions associated with music, dance, drama, and textile design, responsive to the subtle promptings of the divine residing in the stillnesses of each individual's inward-turning consciousness, is sampun djawa, "already Javanese," that is, already human. To be human is not just to breathe; it is to control one's breathing, by yogalike techniques, so as to hear in inhalation and exhalation the literal voice of God pronouncing His own name--"hu Allah." It is not just to talk, it is to utter the appropriate words and phrases in the appropriate social situations in the appropriate tone of voice and with the appropriate evasive indirection. It is not just to eat; it is to prefer certain foods cooked in certain ways and to follow a rigid table etiquette in consuming them.'-- "The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man," The Interpretation of Cultures, p. 52-5

In other words, if the Javanese slurp their soup (I have no idea if they do), that is because that is how you are supposed to drink your soup, to a Javanese, not because they are "relaxed." I lived with two Ghanians for a couple of years. They liked to eat with their hands. But this was not because they were not uptight: all one had to do was attempt to pass one of them food with one's left hand and find out just how not relaxed about etiquette someone could be.

The Ron Paul Newsletters

Now that we have disposed of "no options are off the table," and we need some hits, let's talk about the Ron Paul newsletters. You know which Ron Paul newsletters I mean, don't you? (How many times do you think I need to mention them to get a decent Google rank?)

I have received more evidence (which I am not at liberty to disclose) indicating that Rothbard wrote the offending passages, enough that, for me, I can say "case closed." So what do I think happened? Well, although I criticize Rothbard quite a bit here, I recognize that he was a genius. What's more, by all reports (I never knew him), he was extremely charismatic. And, finally, he was a true believer: he really thought he had the solution that would lead to a sort of paradise on earth for mankind. So when he says, "Look, we can use these racists to forward the revolution," it's easy to be swayed. That doesn't excuse it, but it may help explain it.

And I think Paul and Rockwell were swayed. Once Rothbard was gone, they both probably woke, as though from a bad dream, and asked themselves, "What the f*&( did we just do?" It was a terrible lapse of judgment on their part. And the reason they have been so clumsy dealing with the mess... well, it was Rothbard! It's hard to admit that your idol has feet of clay.

So does this disqualify Paul from deserving support for the GOP nomination? It sure would... if every other candidate was not saber rattling at Iran. I'm sorry, but when it comes down to choosing between a candidate who let someone use his name to make some really tasteless jokes about minorities, and a candidate who is likely to kill 100,000 Iranians... well, sorry, mass killing just seems a bit worse to me than racial boorishness. But perhaps there is something funny about me in this regard.

No Options Are Off the Table

Daniel Kuehn claims (in the comments) that I am being "deceptive" in saying that, when Obama says "no options are off the table" regarding Iran, he is threatening that country with war:

'Are you referring to "no options are off the table"? If that's what you're referring to, that seems extremely deceptive on your part. If there's something I'm missing, I'd be interested in hearing about it. We should keep everything on the table with Iran.'

If the point of this is not to threaten Iran with war if they don't behave, then what is the point? Does Daniel think that Obama talks this way to David Cameron? If we are having a trade dispute with Canada over lumber, does Obama say to... who the heck is in charge up there now, anyway? Is it still Garry Trudeau?... in any case, does he tell the Prime Minister "no options are off the table"? Does he say to Angela Merckle, "You'd better get the Euro thing straightened out pronto, because no options are off the table"?

Of course not. Because these leaders would go ballistic. Because they recognize it as a threat of war. Which it is.

DDD?

My life seems full: I have everything I need.

Do you think I could be suffering from deficit deficit disorder?

Monday, January 02, 2012

I Now Have a Pet Fly

At least for a few hours. He was sitting outside, on the porch, inside a cooler we had left out to "freshen up." I thought he must be dead -- how could he possibly be alive, at 38 degrees? -- but when I shook the cooler to dump him and the rest of the contents out, he began crawling, on what looked to be three or four legs. (Where could the rest of his legs have vanished to, without the process killing him?)

I could not possibly abandon such a stalwart fellow, so I brought the cooler inside. Twelve hours later, he is still gimping around inside the cooler. I tried giving him some bread, but he seems uninterested. Shy of putting into the cooler the traditional food of flies -- I really don't want to go there -- what else should I try to feed him?