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August 21, 2014

"Washington is divided because it has abandoned federalism"

As somebody--maybe George Will?--once remarked, one of the biggest harms of the Southern fight against civil rights is that it forever smeared the good name of federalism.

Federalism should be--in the absence of egregious violations of political rights--defended and fought for.

"Strongest Possible Endorsement"

Review of new book, Dear Committee Members, ". . . an epistolary novel consisting entirely of fictionalized letters of recommendation penned by professor Jason Fitger (failed novelist, failed husband, successful misanthrope)."

"What Kind Of Home You Can Buy For $300,000 Around The Country"

Cross-sectional differences in the cost of living very graphically illustrated.

"Medical research: Treat ageing"

Absolutely! Column in Nature.

By 2050, the number of people over the age of 80 will triple globally. These demographics could come at great cost to individuals and economies. Two groups describe how research in animals and humans should be refocused to find ways to delay the onset of frailty

"The Rise and Fall of General Laws of Capitalism"

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson weigh in on Piketty. Abstract: 

Thomas Piketty's recent book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, follows in the tradition of the great classical economists, Malthus, Ricardo and Marx, in formulating "general laws" to diagnose and predict the dynamics of inequality. We argue that all of these general laws are unhelpful as a guide to understand the past or predict the future, because they ignore the central role of political and economic institutions in shaping the evolution of technology and the distribution of resources in a society. Using the economic and political histories of South Africa and Sweden, we illustrate not only that the focus on the share of top incomes gives a misleading characterization of the key determinants of societal inequality, but also that inequality dynamics are closely linked to institutional factors and their endogenous evolution, much more than the forces emphasized in Piketty's book, such as the gap between the interest rate and the growth rate.

August 20, 2014

"The unintended effects of being an administrator"

Great, and enhanced by this comment:

I ignore all of the rest and look only at the eyes. In the first picture there is a hope, an optimism, a joie de vivre as it were. In the second....... I see the 1,000 yard stare. That is administration.

"Campus Activism: The Fight for Imaginary Victories"

Peter Wood, so right:

Campus activism is, by and large, the world of make-believe.  Whenever students occupy a president’s office, Tinkerbell is not far away. . . . 

The premise behind campus activism is always the same.  The college campus is a microcosm of the larger world.  What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens at Oberlin or Sweet Briar is imagined to rock the foundations of the old order.  Patriarchy trembles.  The Zionist Entity is called to account.  The coal-breathing capitalist Earth warmers feel the chill of a generation walking on their graves.

That premise, of course, is always mistaken.

". . . why Python is steadily eating other languages' lunch"

Tal Yarkoni:

The increasing homogenization (Pythonification?) of the tools I use on a regular basis primarily reflects the spectacular recent growth of the Python ecosystem. A few years ago, you couldn’t really do statistics in Python unless you wanted to spend most of your time pulling your hair out and wishing Python were more like R (which, is a pretty remarkable confession considering what R is like). Neuroimaging data could be analyzed in SPM (MATLAB-based), FSL, or a variety of other packages, but there was no viable full-featured, free, open-source Python alternative. Packages for machine learning, natural language processing, web application development, were only just starting to emerge.

These days, tools for almost every aspect of scientific computing are readily available in Python. And in a growing number of cases, they’re eating the competition’s lunch.

See also this much earlier piece by Eric Raymond, "Why Python?"

"Cigars, But Not Close"

Mark Steyn argues forcefully that all police cars should have dashcams:

The most basic problem is that we will never know for certain what happened. Why? Because the Ferguson cruiser did not have a camera recording the incident. That's simply not credible. "Law" "enforcement" in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns ...but not a dashcam. That's ridiculous. I remember a few years ago when my one-man police department in New Hampshire purchased a camera for its cruiser. It's about as cheap and basic a police expense as there is.

August 19, 2014

Two extended jokes featuring mathematicians and . . . economists

"Math Experts Split the Check" and "The Mathematical Dialect Quiz".

(Links courtesy of my older daughter, who teaches math.)

"An astonishing record – of complete failure"

As I've noted before, macro is hard.

Now Loungani, with a colleague, Hites Ahir, has returned to the topic in the wake of the economic crisis. The record of failure remains impressive. There were 77 countries under consideration, and 49 of them were in recession in 2009. Economists – as reflected in the averages published in a report called Consensus Forecasts – had not called a single one of these recessions by April 2008. . . .

More astonishing still, when Loungani extends the deadline for forecasting a recession to September 2008, the consensus remained that not a single economy would fall into recession in 2009. 

"We should only adopt government programs that work well with real-world politicians and ignorant voters in charge"

Amen. Amen!

Many people are tempted to resist this insight, because they hope that we can elect better and more virtuous political leaders. But politicians who prioritize principle over staying in power are not likely to stay in power for long – or even get there in the first place. For that reason, most successful political leaders are people who are willing to sacrifice the public interest when it conflicts with their own interesting in seeking power.

"In a stew over inversions"

Three fine paragraphs from George Will:

Progressives say corporations using inversions are unpatriotic, which is amusing. When the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision stipulated that Americans do not forfeit their First Amendment right to political advocacy when they act together through corporations (including, and especially, incorporated nonprofit advocacy groups), progressives ridiculed the idea that corporations should be treated as people. Now, progressives charge that corporations resorting to inversion are not behaving like patriotic people. . . .

This is the progressive premise in action: Because government provides infrastructure (roads, etc.) affecting everyone, and because government-dispensed money flows everywhere, everything is beholden to the government, and more or less belongs to the government, and should be subordinated to its preferences, which always are for more control of the nation’s wealth. Walgreens retreated, costing its shareholders, employees and customers billions. . . .

This illustrates the grandstanding frivolity of the political class. It legislates into existence incentives for what it considers perverse behavior, and then waxes indignant when businesses respond sensibly to the incentives.

See also "Three Cheers for Tax Inversions".

August 18, 2014

"Unicorn Governance: Ever argued public policy with people whose State is in fantasyland?"

Mike Munger, doing what he does, so very, very well.

When I am discussing the state with my colleagues at Duke, it's not long before I realize that, for them, almost without exception, the State is a unicorn. I come from the Public Choice tradition, which tends to emphasize consequentialist arguments more than natural rights, and so the distinction is particularly important for me. My friends generally dislike politicians, find democracy messy and distasteful, and object to the brutality and coercive excesses of foreign wars, the war on drugs, and the spying of the NSA. 

But their solution is, without exception, to expand the power of "the State." That seems literally insane to me—a non sequitur of such monstrous proportions that I had trouble taking it seriously.

"Looking for a Job? How's Your COBOL?"

". . . hardware may come and hardware may go, but software is forever."

"Yes I Support Israel or Why I Buy Israeli Carrots"

Terrific.

Support for Israel strikes me as such an overtly obvious position, stating it publicly feels, to me, like saying "Yes I believe that there is such a thing as gravity."
 
Yesterday I went shopping at my local grocery store. I had a choice between five pounds of carrots from California or five pounds of carrots from Israel. Both were offered at the same price. Though I usually strive to buy produce locally, and to buy American, I chose the Israeli carrots, as I have been doing since I first noticed them in the market.
 
I mentioned this on Facebook. A Facebook friend responded, "How utterly obnoxious." Her words shocked and hurt me, and made me realize that in spite of all my reservations, I would blog my support for Israel, as anonymous, ineffectual, and insignificant as it is.
 
Below will be my random, idiosyncratic, and incomplete thoughts about why I support Israel, and why I assess boycotts of Israel as anti-Semitic.
 
A related interview with Professor Goska. (Another fine piece by her, "Political Paralysis," is here. Count me as a fan.)
 

"Why Improving Things Is Hard"

Should be required reading for dopey do-gooders of all stripes.

Some fine observations

Gregg Easterbrook, "Oh, snap! Football's getting crazy fast":

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor spent $5.4 million on a primary run and won 28,898 votes -- $187 per vote. Challenger David Brat spent $122,000 and drew 36,110 votes -- $3 per vote. Can you guess which one is the economics professor and which one is the Washington insider with no sense of money discipline?

New York Magazine notes Clinton was paid $600,000 by NBC for doing "basically nothing," receiving the windfall partly for "interviewing" the Geico lizard. If NBC, owned by Comcast, handed $600,000 to Hillary Clinton, this would cause huge complications for the network, should she run for office again. Handing $600,000 to Chelsea presumably buys Clinton family goodwill, without running afoul of campaign law.

Only 17 of the football and men's basketball programs of the NCAA's 1,281 member institutions failed to meet the APR's rolling-off-a-log-easy targets in the most recent year. That's 1.3 percent. How can a metric have meaning if 98.7 percent are above average?

Last summer around this time, TMQ noted that when NBA general managers don't have anything else to do, they trade Caron Butler. Since that item, Butler has been traded from the Clippers to the Suns; then traded to the Bucks; then bought out and signed with the Thunder; then released by Oklahoma City, allowing Butler to sign with the Pistons. Five jerseys in a year. How long until Detroit is working the phones trying to find a trade partner to take him?

To commemorate the reboot of the "Robocop" franchise, which depicts Detroit as hell on Earth, an actor dressed as the title character threw the first pitch at a Tigers game. Adding insult to injury, the big-budget flick depicting Detroit as hell on Earth was filmed in Canada -- Hollywood producers wanted to steer clear of actual Detroit.

"Reaching for yield"

"I have seen this movie before. I know how it ends."

Me, too. Yikes.

August 17, 2014

"The Seattle Seahawks’ Youth Could Portend a Dynasty (Yes, Really)"

Easy to write, more difficult to do.

"The 12 Best Books The Marine Corps Wants Its Leaders To Read"

I've only read two (and seen the movie of one). Except for the Thomas Friedman, they all look worthwhile.

August 16, 2014

"‘Galaxy Quest’: The Oral History"

I think Galaxy Quest is extremely entertaining. Granted, it might not be as much fun if you didn't watch a lot of Star Trek, but still . . . 

If nothing else, Sigourney Weaver in a blonde wig is cool. (And she was quoted to the effect that when she put the wig on, she could feel her IQ drop precipitously.)

"Experts Say These Are The 20 Best Beers In The World"

I don't drink beer, so this is purely a service for my readers. (Could Belgian monks really be #1?)

August 15, 2014

"5 Legendary Performances From Woodstock That Everyone Needs To See"

If you don't find at least one of these to your liking, you're on your own--I can't help you.

More old school music: "James Brown in Eighteen Minutes".

And when it comes to James Brown, the real thing, in its most thrilling, compressed, erotic, explosive form, just eighteen minutes long, is also arguably the most electrifying performance in the history of postwar American music. 

(See also "Watch a Supercut of James Brown’s Legacy in Dance".)

"How Much Does It Cost to Book Your Favorite Band?"

The rankings seem about right, but the absolute amounts are hard for me to believe.

"A Political History of SF"

An extended argument that the best science fiction is so-called "hard" SF, which is exactly what I think.

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