30 December 2010

New Year's Resolution I: Revisiting Old Slights.

Surfing around the internet, I found this from SE Cupp:
What’s your New Year’s resolution? — Bentley M.
Same as every year, Bentley M: Watch more TV, gain weight, exercise less, drink more, waste money, treat my friends with disdain, spend more time alone, help no one and squander my success. I’m always trying to do this, see, but it’s a lot harder than you’d think.
The joke here, of course, is that these are resolutions that can actually be met, as opposed to the more obvious resolutions that take effort and are hard.  It's a funny joke (if not original to Ms. Cupp).


It reminded me of this post from some blog I never heard of, taking issue with a comment I once made at Brothersjudd, to wit:
Is there anything scarier than a human being armed with a moral code that he can live up to without being a hypocrite?
The topic, of course, was atheism and morality, and I have to say that, revisiting this comment almost six years later, I really like it.  It's epigrammatic, witty and True.  It is the functionalist argument against atheism whittled down to its core.

The wonderful thing about the Haight Speech response is that it proves my other point about atheism; that it's a Christian heresy.

29 December 2010

In The Mail

Today, I received Ian Buxton's 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die.  I immediately poured myself a glass of The Macallan (12 year old sherry oak, not in the book, though the 10 year old and 18 year old are) and started to page through it.  A wealth of knowledge is afforded the reader.  Opening it at random, we find Dalwhinnie, distilled by Diageo in Dalwhinnie, Inverness-shire, just off the A9.  It is the highest distillery in Scotland, though to no obvious advantage, but it is affordable, yellow gold in "colour" and immediately appealing.  It is available at the visitor's center.

I was glad to see that Ian recommends drinking from a brandy snifter, if no whiskey glass is available.  I stumbled on to this tactic years ago.  I say "tactic" because not only does it allow you to better appreciate the whiskey, but it also seems to lead bartenders to pour more generously.

I have sampled disappointingly few of the recommended whiskeys, and hope to begin working my way through the list.  My strategy, of course, is to stop at 100.  I don't wish to gain immortality through having drunk a lot of good whiskeys; I plan to gain immortality through not drinking one particular whiskey.  Nominations are welcome.

25 December 2010

Happy Non-Judgmental Winter Period

Merry Solstice to all, and to all a good existential reflection.

22 December 2010

It's A Hanukkah Miracle!

People often say to me:  "David," they say, getting off to a good start, "you usually seem like such an upright, level-headed young American.  Why do you seem to so often visit England or Commonwealth Countries?"

It is, I think you'll agree, an excellent question and, like all excellent questions, it has a simple answer.  It is much easier to find Bitter Lemon wherever Queen Elizabeth is on the money.  America not being a bitter country, it has become almost impossible to find Bitter Lemon here.  In fact, it's become difficult to find people who understand what you're looking for when you ask for Bitter Lemon.

Imagine my joy, therefore, upon discovering that my supermarket now stocks the Fever Tree line of mixers, including Bitter Lemon:


As it happens, friend of the blog Brit is one of the world's foremost Fever Tree bloggers, has personally witnessed me breaking off from a long line of pints to order a Bitter Lemon, and yet somehow never mentioned Fever Tree Bitter Lemon, which, while not the ne plus ultra of Bitter Lemon (which would be Schweppes), is pretty good.

UPDATE:  Unfortunately, "now stocks" turns out to be unfounded optimism.  The Bitter Lemon is only on the shelf on about a third of my weekly visits, with the result that I immediately buy up all they have left.

17 December 2010

At Least She's Not One Of Those Parents

Meandering around the internet one day, I came across this review of the Curious George store in Harvard Square:
This is a wonderful store and was our first stop off of the train. Visiting from Chicago, we couldn't wait to bring our children into the store as we had fond memories of the place from when we visited childless and in Cambridge many years ago. Unfortunately on this visit, before I could even explore beyond the first row items, I noticed a lady who worked in the store hovering over my son and me. My son being 16 months old and curious himself, was gently touching the toys and books that were at eye level. I was right next to him, ensuring he was not hurting anything. At first, seeing this woman who works in or owns or manages the store, hovering over us, I didn't think much. But then when she snatched a toy away and with her non verbals acted as if we opened it, I began to wonder. Then, my son clearly committed the unpardonable sin by picking up a dolly bottle and put it in his mouth for a second. Upon seeing this, this woman said "I wouldn't DO THAT..." in what was a judgemental and cruel tone. She then proceeded to ask me which bottle he had placed in his mouth because she needed to wash it. This shocked me and I calmly asked her if she didn't want us there. When asked, she said "well, I noticed he has a cold and..."that was enough for me. This crazy GERM O PHOBE was stalking us in the store because my innocent little guy had a slight cold and she didn't want him touching anything in the store. At that point, I told her we understand when we aren't welcome, and that she had offended me greatly. When I asked her if this was her store, she said yes. Whether the owner, or the manager, I'm not sure. All I know is that she was very offensive to a pro-reading, book and child loving, respectful of others family. I love the shop, and wouldn't have left empty handed by a long shot, so she lost a sale of at LEAST $100. The saddest part though is that her rude and hurtful treatment of me, and my baby son, ruined my day, and made me think all day about how disappointing it was that something we were looking so forward to could have be ruined by such a cruel person. I am not one of these parents who thinks my children should be allowed to mess wherever they go. Maybe she gets so many customers who are this way that she is worn down.All I know is that the Curious George bookstore in Cambridge should have a sign out front that says "curious children and children with colds are NOT welcome." Thank you very little for a hurtful experience.
So, just to reiterate, a mean, judgmental toy store owner wanted her to identify which toy baby bottle her 16 month old son, who had a cold at the time, put in his mouth.  That crazy "GERM O PHOBE."

13 December 2010

"Missing The Forest For The Trees" Illustrated



On the one hand, beautiful.  On the other hand, there might be something essential about "cakeness" that the baker is missing.

25 November 2010

24 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

When dealing with foreigners, Americans have a particular problem to overcome that we share only with the British:  from watching tv and the movies, people who have never been here think they know all about the place. They think that underemployed 20 year olds in New York City have two-bedroom, two bath apartments on Central Park; they think that gunfights break out two or three times during our morning commute; and they think we're always eating.  (That's apparently the take-away for Indians watching Seinfeld, which, fair enough.)

Of course, anyone who has ever watched a tv show or movie supposedly about something the watcher actually knows about, like working in an office or practicing law or parking a car in Manhattan, knows that tv has no connection to what really goes on because (a) if it did, it would be just as boring and frustrating as those things actually are; (b) tv writers are hired directly out of Harvard and don't actually have any real life experience.

Thanksgiving is the one great exception to this rule.  Thanksgiving has been presented on large and small screens 10,000 times, and each time has been exactly accurate. We travel great distances to eat together, around a large table heaping with food, and argue and laugh and love.  And even those who aren't blessed with family and feasts know exactly what they'd be doing if they were.

Every year when late November rolls around, Peter and Brit make cracks about how Thanksgiving is just second Christmas.  This shows that they understand American Thanksgiving, but misunderstand American Christmas.  Christmas in the states is nothing like what is shown on tv or in the movies, even in snowy New England villages.  In practice, Christmas is a minor secular holiday that happens to fall during school vacation.  Thanksgiving is the high holiday of our national religion.

To your and yours, a happy, safe and healthy Thanksgiving.

The Whiniest Whiners Who Whine

This morning, while brushing my teeth, I was rank-ordering political arguments based on my contempt for them, as one does.  The top three were surprisingly easy to identify.  Of all the whiny whiners who whine, the one's for whom I have the most contempt (in alphabetical order) are:
  • 9/11 Truthers;
  • Anti-vaccinationists
  • Fathers' rights activists (this is probably the least known of the three; for a primer, go here).
But when it came to determine which of the three I most despise, I was a little caught out.  These idiocies are a veritable feast of contempt.  The 9/11 Truthers are loud, obnoxious, and try to exercise political power.  The anti-vaccinationists tend to present as reasonable middle-class parents but are for that reason the most dangerous.  The fathers' rights people are just gross and are basically pissed off that they have to pay to support their children and try to present themselves as civil rights victims, which I don't even like from (non-black) people who probably are actual civil rights victims.

On the other hand, it's impossible not to feel some empathy for the anti-vaccinationists, even while realizing that they must be mercilessly crushed.  Their desire to find someone to blame and extract large cash settlements from that someone is fundamentally human (hmm, evolutionary psychology?  Contemptible, but not top three material).

The 9/11 Truthers can't actually effect the world until they put down the bong; and once they quit smoking dope they discover that the towers really did fall because Muslim fanatics flew planes into them.  Plus, they do provide hours of laughter, like the woman truther who, finally convinced that the government couldn't have wired explosives in the towers in the weeks leading up to 9/11, surmised that every skyscraper in the country must be wired with explosives during construction.

As a result, for having no redeeming value whatsover, fathers' rights activists are, of all the whiniest whiners who whine, the whiniest whiners of all.

21 November 2010

Signs Of The Apocalypse -- First In A Continuing Series



I've never watched an episode of Dancing With The Stars, and had never seen any part of it until I went looking for this clip.  Bristol Palin seems like a nice if somewhat vague and unformed young woman and certainly dances better than I ever have, would or could.  On the other hand, I'm perfectly willing to accept the view of those who actually know something about dancing, or Dancing, that she isn't nearly good enough to have made the finals on her own.  I could not care less is she wins or gets voted off.

But apparently lots of people do care and that strikes me as a sign of the apocalypse.

We seem to be treating politics now like just another team sport.  In Boston sports talk, you'll sometimes hear the phrase "they wear our laundry."  The point is that how a fan feels about some supposed scandal in sports (tape-gate, or Rodney Harrison taking HGH, or David Ortiz possibly having taken steroids, or Barry Bonds supposedly having taken steroids, or Manny being a lazy undisciplined player) depends entirely on whether they play for "your" team.  Caring whether Bristol Palin wins or loses a tv dance contest because her mother is Sarah Palin isn't politics, it isn't rational, it's just down to who's laundry she wears.  (Yeah, I know, but I didn't realize where this was going until it was too late to turn around.)

There's no rational basis on which to prefer the Red Sox to the Yankees, the Raiders to the 'Niners, or Manchester to ... some other soccer team.  I strongly believe that there is a rational basis to prefer conservative government to liberal government, and probably for preferring Republican government to Democratic government -- and I'll freely concede that if you start with another set of axioms, there are reasons to prefer Democrats to Republicans.  (Generally, the reason for the latter is "they'll give me stuff," but that's perfectly rational.)  But that doesn't mean that we are rational about these decisions and caring about Bristol Palin, one way or another (I mean, we're three weeks from an election in which we swept the Democrats from the House and people care whether Sarah Palin's daughter wins a dancing contest?) means that we've moved beyond rational argument.

For the people who would win a rational argument, that's bad news.

15 November 2010

Now This Is Genius Marketing

Of all the misconceptions people have about big business (<Heston>CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE</Heston>), one of the funniest is the idea that marketers control hidden persuaders that turn us into consuming automatons.  Just go read some of the marketing literature to see just how much of marketing "science" is old-fashioned guessing.

Marketing is an art, not a science, and this is its Mona Lisa:

14 November 2010

I'm Not Sure What It Says About The World...

Or about me, but I've now got two different songs on my iPhone titled "Fuck You."  I had completely forgotten the first when I downloaded the second.



06 November 2010

03 November 2010

So Obvious

So, That Happened

Congratulations to the Republican Party, which won big last night.  This election was very much a correction, not a realignment.  Right now, it looks like the Republicans will end up with between 235-239 members in the House.  This is a return to the number of Representatives (232) the Republicans had in the 109th Congress, 2004-2006.  I still remain convinced that this movement rightward is the underlying long-term trend as the population moves south and west.

In other good news, attacking immigrants once again doesn't lead to victory.

Finally, the 2010 census will lead to redistricting before the next Congress and the Republicans have made extraordinary gains at the state level, giving them a chair at the table in most states.  Unfortunately, this will lead to the two parties divvying up highly gerrymandered seats for short-term gain.  Leaving aside the obvious democratic arguments against gerrymandering, I'm convinced that Republicans would benefit from districts drawn without regard to party strategy.  (The Democrats seem to think so, too.)

02 November 2010

I Resemble That Remark



This is apparently somewhat controversial in England.  In the US, we have Old Jews Telling Jokes.

02 October 2010

And Sturgeon Was An Optimist

Brit has kindly suggested that, as the iconoclast's iconoclast (making me an iconophile, and indeed I quite like a nice icon), I might one day write for the Dabbler on things that everyone knows but that aren't true.  (For example, that the Chevy Nova in fact sold very well in Latin America.)

Obviously, ever since I've been wracking my brain for something sufficiently obvious to be worth disproving, and I haven't really come up with anything.  The closest I've come is to knock down that terrible piece of trendy job advice: follow your passion.

Whatever you do, don't follow your passion.  Following soon becomes stalking; stalking becomes sneaking into it's bedroom late at night and abducting it; and abducting it becomes burying it at the crossroads while eating its still warm heart.  Following your passion will kill it.

This follows from Sturgeon's Law:  90% of everything is crap.  So, if your passion is movies and you become a film critic, what you actually spend your time doing is mostly watching crappy movies.  If you love cooking (which usually means you like making one big meal on the weekend after planning a menu and shopping for specific ingredients), what you actually spend your time doing as a chef is cooking crap.  (If you open a restaurant, rather than just become a chef, what you actually spend your time doing is losing money.)

Telling people to follow their passion is telling people that, if passion is their passion, they should become a prostitute.  Actual prostitutes are not in it for the sex.

27 September 2010

As I've Always Suspected,

Virgin to launch space tourism in 18 months

I could have achieved so much more had I been less distracted.

17 September 2010

Three Guys and a Strategy: There's Nothing You Can Do That Can't Be Done

Three Guys and a Strategy: There's Nothing You Can Do That Can't Be Done: "I've never quite understood what the Beatles meant to tell us with this line, but it turns out to be a very nice way to think about why many..."

For anyone out there interested in the Strategic Management stuff I post from time to time, two friends and I are now blogging Strategy at Three Guys And A Strategy.

14 September 2010

Roman Holiday

The Secret Blog is in Rome, half to attend a conference and half on holiday with the Secret Wife.  (This academic life is kind of a blast).

Anyway, following on ten things about Montreal, here are ten things about Rome:

1.  When it comes to the Internet, Rome is still in the 20th Century.
2.  Paris and London are modern cities.  Rome and Venice are not.
3.  Rome, on the other hand, is cheaper than Paris or London.
4.  Romans really are garrulous, at least with each other.
5.  If I lived in Rome, I, too, would seriously consider a motor scooter.  Parking in Rome is about as organized as hide and seek at a child's birthday party.
6.  It is just incredibly hard for Americans not to tip.
7.  Historic Rome is surprisingly small, accessible and walkable.
8.  The Piazza Novanno (shown in the video) is beautiful and in all ways excellent.  A good day would be to sit in the shade at one of the many trattoria, watching the pretty women and art that fill the Piazza, drinking cup after cup of Italian coffee.
9.  There is a larger and more obvious police presence in Rome than in any American city.
10. English pops up everywhere, and not just in ways meant for tourists.

21 August 2010

To PhD Or Not To PhD

I was minding my own business surfing through Roger Ebert's website, when I stumbled (do surfer's stumble?) across the following letter:

Q. I have watched and read your reviews for years with great honor.  I disagree so strongly with your review of "Eat Pray Love" that it makes me sick.  You just don't get it, and many others like you don't get it. You do not know at all what it is like being a woman in this day and age (or previously) who did not want to be defined by a man or married off to one. If you think Stephen in the movie was an OK husband, you are out to lunch.  He was horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (except on paper to people who do not need emotional sustenance). David was the narcissist from hell that  many of us have fallen for… do you not get that??????????? Many of the males of the species are frankly overrated and the women's movement has proven this (or frankly not sufficiently). I hope your wife will bring you up to speed. (Jeanine Carlson, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist)

Earning a PhD is quite an achievement; something of which to be proud.  Certainly, it is as much worthy of advertising as being an adult male (Mr.), adult female (Ms.), married female (Mrs.), physician (Dr.) or lawyer (Esq.), but for some reason people who attach PhD to their casual signatures seem to be mentally unbalanced at rates higher than that of the general population.  It's a useful signifier, but I'm not quite sure what it means.  As with much social science, causation is ambiguous and it might just be that psychologists are both nuts and very proud of their degrees.  Just in case, and assuming I do eventually earn my degree, I think I'll still sign my name without adding PhD, unless there's some good reason to do so.

12 August 2010

"A court-ordered publication ban on the proceedings prevents the media from reporting on what was said in court."

Here we have the number one difference between the US and Canada:  not only a prior restraint on the press, but a ban on publishing what as said (in public) in open court.  Short of preventing certain people from speaking out on an election, it is hard to imagine a more core violation of the First Amendment (if, of course, the First Amendment applied).  Had I known, I would have been sorely tempted to go to court and then report what I heard once I returned to the (aptly named, in this case) Home of the Free.  Not because what was said was interesting -- I'm sure that it's anodyne eye-wash to the effect that she loves her mother -- but because governments simply shouldn't be allowed to get away with this shit.


The case is, as it happens, interesting.  A 19-year old woman came home late and was stabbed by her mother.  People seem to assume that the reason was the dishonor reflected on the family by having a late daughter.  All we are told about the family is that their name is Ebrahimi and they speak Farsi at home.  It also seems likely that they have not absorbed the majority culture.


11 August 2010

Oh, Canada!

We tend to think of Americans and Canadians as a single people divided by Quebec, but after a week, more or less, in Montreal, I have to admit to some differences:

1.  They are serious about this French thing.  In fact, the more urgent the information on some sign, the less likely it is to have English on it.

2.  They really are nice, even the French speakers.  They are gracious enough to pretend to be fooled by my jaunty "Bonjour" and immediate douse me with a torrent of French.  I then say, "En Anglais, por favor," and off we go.

3.  They call their pastrami "smoked meat."  But it is just as delicious.

4.  In the stalls in public accommodations, the slide is on the door frame and the hasp is on the door.

5.  The McDonalds sell "double Big Macs," which are exactly what you think they are.

6.  More restaurants have full bars than you would find in the States.

7.  Waiters and Waitresses are both overly solicitous and subtly rude.

8.   Much more smoking.

9.  Even the casual food is better.  The croissants are much better.

10.  The portions are more reasonable (except at McDonalds).

All in all, Montreal would like to be the Paris of the New World, but succeeds in being the New York of Canada.


05 August 2010

No Presents For Peter

The Secret Blog is in Montreal, having been admitted to Canada despite the following conversation.

Canadian Border Guard:  Good Afternoon.
The Secret Blog:  Good Afternoon.  (Hands over passports.)
CBG:  Where are you going?
TSB:  Montreal.
CBG:  What's the purpose of your visit?
TSB:  Pleasure..
CBG:  (Skeptically)  Pleasure?
TSB:  A vacation.
CBG:  Do you have anything to leave in Canada?
TSB:  [NO BATHROOM HUMOR!!!]  No.
CBG:  Do you have any alcohol or tobacco in the car?
TSB:  No.
CBG:  (Starting to wrap up) Do you know anyone in Canada?
TSB:  (Hit by a stray gust of honesty.)  Yes, Peter Burnet.
CBG:  (No longer wrapping up; suddenly paying attention.)  How do you know him?
TSB:  (Spell of honesty passes; I imagine myself trying to explain BrothersJudd or even just saying, "I met him on the Internet."  I need an honest, plain-vanilla answer)  I've known him for years.
CBG:  (Look saying, that's not what I asked.)
TSB:  He's a personal friend.
CBG:  (Pause)
CBG:  Are you bringing any presents into Canada?
TSB:  No.
CBG:  Welcome to Canada.

04 August 2010

Can Kagan Be Confirmed?

Despite public apathy towards her, Elena Kagan was sliding towards confirmation.  There was no big reason to oppose her and she was about as good a nominee as Republicans were likely to see from President Obama.

But now a federal judge in California has ruled that, as a matter of federal constitutional law, marriage cannot be restricted to one man and one woman.  That decision will likely end up in the Supreme Court.  To predict that this improves Republican prospects for the mid-terms is easy; gay marriage loses whenever people vote.  But I wonder if it also puts pressure on sitting Republican senators (and, for that matter, Democratic senators from strongly anti-gay marriage states who need to get reelected in November) to oppose Kagan.  The vote is scheduled for tomorrow, which means a lot would have to happen quickly.

30 July 2010

Don't Buy Green Bananas, Apparently We're Doomed

A recent study published in Nature claims that global warming kills phytoplankton.  A blogger claims that this means the end of life on Earth.  Kevin Drum argues that we could avoid certain death if we were willing to pay another $100 a year on our electric bill.  Megan McArdle, in a remarkably balanced post, points out that this is nonsense on stilts.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about.  One of the reasons that I'm skeptical about global warming is that is too perfectly fits the agenda of the far left.  Capitalism is evil, the environment uber alles, our only hope is that we cede power to international institutions of technocracy and, by the way, we're going to need a whole lot more taxes.  If your recommended solution to a new, serious problem that pops up out of nowhere is exactly the same as the solutions you were recommending to our pre-existing problems, you'll have to excuse me if I suspect that the new problem is more convenient than real.

Which is why its somewhat annoying that, more and more, my preferred policy responses to the possibility of induced global climate change are exactly the same as my responses to most other policy problems we have:  we (meaning the entire human race) need to dump regulation and focus on getting as rich as we can as fast as we can.  At this point in history, richer functionally means smarter.  Richer societies can spend more money on pure research and on applied research.  We can put more minds to work trying to understand the problems facing us and more minds means more possible solutions.  Once we have a theoretical solution, being richer improves our chances of being able to turn theory into practice and makes us better able to withstand whatever problems global warming causes.

That of course assumes that global warming is a real threat.  On the other hand, if it's not a threat, well, we'll just have to make do with being richer and smarter.

Contrast that with the left's plan to impoverish the world because of the chance that global warming is a real threat.  We will live miserable lives and still -- taking the science seriously -- suffer global warming.  If the science is wrong, we will have made ourselves poor for no reason at all.

Say What, Now?

The New York Observer is reporting that a Democratic incumbent congressman, representing Staten Island, is circulating a list of "Jewish Money" donors to a potential Republican opponent.
The file, labeled "Grimm Jewish Money Q2," for the second quarter fundraising period, shows a list of over 80 names, a half-dozen of which in fact do hail from Staten Island, and a handful of others that list Brooklyn as home.
 "Where is Grimm's money coming from," said Jennifer Nelson, McMahon's campaign spokeman. "There is a lot of Jewish money, a lot of money from people in Florida and Manhattan, retirees."
 I know that the Left is the new home of antisemitism in the US, but this is pretty remarkable.  Taking as a given all the "what if a Republican did this" points, what could this jerk possibly have been thinking?  Presumably, he thinks that he knows his constituents.

29 July 2010

It's Focal Bias Day Here At The Secret Blog

Recently, I've been seeing focal bias everywhere.  Both this post at Volokh Conspiracy and this post from Megan Mcardle are examples of focal bias, which is our tendency to think that a particular factor must be important because we're focusing on it.

19 July 2010

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

U.S. Atheists Reportedly Using Hair Dryers to 'De-Baptize' (NewsCore, 7/17/10)
American atheists lined up to be "de-baptized" in a ritual using a hair dryer according to a report Friday on U.S. late-night news program "Nightline."  
Leading atheist Edwin Kagin blasted his fellow non-believers with the hair dryer to symbolically dry up the holy water sprinkled on their heads in days past. The styling tool was emblazoned with a label reading "Reason and Truth."

17 July 2010

28 June 2010

Initial Reactions To McDonald v. Chicago

The Supreme Court has just held that the Second Amendment, interpreted in Heller to protect a natural right to self-defense by ensuring access to firearms, applies to (i.e., limits) the states as well.  This probably (but not necessarily) means that Chicago's gun ordinance, which has the practical effect of preventing private citizens from owning guns, is dead.

My off the cuff reactions:

1.  The privileges and immunities clause, which for more than 100 years has been thought to be dead, is really, really dead.

2.  Justice Thomas' lone opinion that the Second Amendment applies against the states because of the privileges and immunities clause, rather than through the due process clause, was necessary for him to concur in the result because he disbelieves in due process clause incorporation (as do I).

3.  Thomas' opinion is defensible, because the right to keep and bear arms really is a privilege of federal citizenship and arguably the amendment applies against the states on its own terms ("the right of the people" (emphasis added)), although the Supreme Court has long since rejected that idea.

4.  This opinion will be a seven day wonder, much like Heller and the corporate free speech decisions, with the media lamenting conservative judicial activism.  A few laws will be tweaked and someone in Chicago will get a new gun, but not much will actually change.

5.  The only exception might be that McDonald will weaken the NRA.  Not much existential threat to gun ownership if it's a recognized constitutional right.

25 June 2010

Anyone Else Hate The Phone?

Over the last few months, I've started to realize that I hate the phone.  I hate being called, and I hate having to call out.  Calling someone now seems like intensely rude, hateful behavior -- "HEY, WHATEVER YOUR DOING, STOP IT AND PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!!"  Whatever I'm doing when they call, that's what I want to do. And if I call actual people, I assume that they have something they'd rather be doing (since they're in the middle of doing it) than talk to me.  Having to call some business, and navigate phone trees, and wait for a customer service representative, is just Hell.  As you may have guessed, at this point calling me is probably the worst way to get me to do something, like buy your product or contribute to your cause. Frankly, at this point I'd rather you just drop by.  At least then you're making more of an effort than you're forcing me to make.

Is it just me, or are we all on the cusp of having our phones yanked out of the house?

14 June 2010

The Secret Blog Is In Albuquerque

And this was its breakfast:

12 June 2010

Remember: The American Word For American Is "American"

It's World Cup time come again, and the excitement is palpable as all the papers recycle all those same old stories.  This will be the year Americans love soccer; really, shouldn't the game where you use your feet get to be called "football;" all those soccer playing kids now grown to adulthood will sit riveted to their televisions watching adults play their childhood game (an argument never made for hopscotch); etc.; etc.; etc.  This year the big evidence is that Nike spent as much as $100 million producing an admittedly really cool commercial about the World Cup and that ABC/ESPN paid $100 million for the rights to broadcast the 2010 and 2014 in the US in English.  (Tellingly, Univision paid $325 million to broadcast the same games in the US in Spanish.)  These are apparently big numbers for soccer, although they are ridiculously small for the US.

And that's the point.  The rest of the football loving world should be doing everything it can to keep us convinced that soccer is a boring, pointless sport played solely because it's better than the alternative, which is sitting huddled in misery in some foreign country (oops, redundant).  In fact, I suspect that this is what actually is going on when some bloody foreigner tries to explain the joy of a 1-0 game, in which not a single goal was scored but which was won by that odd tie-breaker kick-off thing that looks like nothing so much as a pre-game warm-up drill.  I'm reminded of a criticism of Quiditch that pointed out that having the game end when the snitch is caught is like having a basketball game end when there's a knockout in a boxing match being held next door.  Soccer suffers from exactly this problem:  you could end it at any random moment (the score being much the same throughout) and then run that warm-up drill that has almost nothing to do with the actual game, in which, we're told repeatedly, the point is the beautiful passing and athletic jumping and falling down and pretending to be hurt....  Sorry, got lost there for a moment.  Where was I?

And that's the point.  If America really got excited about football, we'd just take over.  I'm not saying we'd always win the World Cup.  I'm saying that the World Cup would be run to suit us.  For instance, today, the US is playing England at 2:30 pm Eastern time, which is 7:30 pm in England.  If ABC/ESPN could actually get decent ratings, they would have paid a billion dollars for the World Cup, which is about what NBC paid for the last Olympics.  (The NFL is guaranteed about $4.4 billion per year in tv revenue through 2014, even if they don't play a game in 2011 when the CBA is up.)  For a billion dollars, FIFA would do what it's told, and the game wouldn't start until ABC wanted it to.  As demonstrated by the on-going NBA finals, that's 9:00 Eastern time, or 2:00 am English time.  So, if the rest of you all ever want to see a World Cup game in prime time again, without three times as many commercials, without cheerleaders (I assume foreigners don't have cheerleaders), pray that the US doesn't suddenly learned to love soccer.

Of course, it's always good to pray for something that's bound to happen anyway.

P.S.  Apparently, they don't do that tie-breaking thing at the World Cup.  Who knew?

11 June 2010

Not Evil Or Stupid, But Conservative

One of the things that conservatives like to obsess about is why liberals are liberal.  The two most common explanations are referenced in the title, but sometimes I think that there's a third explanation.  At least in the US, I think that liberals are liberal because they are instinctively conservative, in the sense of being content with the status quo.  If you're content with the status quo and the status quo is liberal, then you end up being liberal.

That's why my conservatism isn't much shaken by the big questions status quo conservatism got wrong, which in the US are basically slavery, Jim Crow and civil rights.  Status quo conservatism is too prone to the position that some practice is unfair/unjust/oppressive, but now's not the time to rock the boat.  Once you've taken that position, it's never time to rock the boat.  The right position is that it's always time to rock the boat, if the cause is worth risking upsetting the boat entirely.  That's why, for the past 30 years, our reactionaries have been liberals and our radicals have been (non-status quo) conservatives.

Does Being The ...

Iconoclast's Iconoclast make me an Iconophile, or put me off in some third room by myself?

Sometimes I worry it's the one, and sometimes I worry it's the other.

10 June 2010

Odd To Discover

That I hadn't forgiven Daniel Ellsberg, "a hero and an icon of the left."  I had just forgotten about him.  Apparently, he's just as big a horse's ass as he ever was.

31 May 2010

"Which One?"

I can't be the only person who had the above reaction to this headline.

24 May 2010

Interesting Graph

"Comprehensiveness" basically means how good a job you do gathering all the relevant information about your industry and firm.

"CE" is corporate entrepreneurship, which is more or less how good the firm is at doing new stuff.

As comprehensiveness increases, so does CE, which makes sense.  But it does so faster for low-risk firms, which at high comprehensiveness engage in more CE than high-risk firms.

The chart comes from Heavey, G., Simsek, Z., Roche, F. & Kelly, A. (2009), Decision Comprehensiveness and Corporate Entrepreneurship:  The Moderating Role of Managerial Uncertainty Preferences and Environmental Dynamism, Journal of Management Studies, 46:8, 1289-1314.

08 May 2010

Demography Is Destiny

Here is a nice little post on demography and why Japan -- definitely -- and Europe -- probably -- are screwed.

04 May 2010

First Amazon Orders

Megan McArdle suggests going back and looking at your first Amazon order. Here's mine, from June 7, 1996:

Mrs. Mike, Spot Goes Splash, The Bootstrap Entrepreneur: Everything You Really Need To Know About Starting Your Own Business, A Crown of Swords.

Two young kids, my wife was starting a practice and I love trashy genre fiction.

03 May 2010

All Is Vanity

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?
4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
8 All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

26 April 2010

Why We'll Never Enforce The Immigration Laws

This article and video at CNN is biased and completely unfair to the pro-enforcement position. It also demonstrates why the US will never strictly enforce its immigration laws (and, from my point of view, never should).

25 April 2010

Peer Review

I thought you might be interested by this announcement I've received:
[O]nly 8% members of the Scientific Research Society agreed that 'peer review works well as it is.' (Chubin and Hackett, 1990; p.192)

"A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and an analysis of the peer review system substantiate complaints about this fundamental aspect of scientific research." (Horrobin, 2001)

Horrobin concludes that peer review "is a non-validated charade whose processes generate results little better than does chance." (Horrobin, 2001) This has been statistically proven and reported by an increasing number of journal editors.

But, "Peer Review is one of the sacred pillars of the scientific edifice" (Goodstein, 2000), it is a necessary condition in quality assurance for Scientific/Engineering publications, and "Peer Review is central to the organization of modern science…why not apply scientific [and engineering] methods to the peer review process" (Horrobin, 2001).

This is the purpose of The 2nd International Symposium on Peer Reviewing: ISPR 2010 (http://www.sysconfer.org/ispr) being organized in the context of The SUMMER 4th International Conference on Knowledge Generation, Communication and Management: KGCM 2010 (http://www.sysconfer.org/kgcm), which will be held on June 29th - July 2nd, in Orlando, Florida, USA.
I agree that peer review is a problem, but I think it's mostly a problem because we lie to ourselves and to the public about what purpose peer review serves. Peer review is about protecting what Kuhn called "normal science," by which he meant incrementalist, paradigmatic, non-revolutionary progress in understanding the world. Every once in a while, the paradigm shifts and normal science becomes impossible; the old understanding of the world is dead and a new paradigm is established. Kuhn says that scientists who worked in the old paradigm can't even work as scientists under the new paradigm, as their entire way of understanding the world has been undermined.

Peer review is meant to paper over the cracks and preserve the old paradigm as long as possible. Reviewers are gatekeepers, who allow into our best journals only those papers that sustain the current paradigm. In this way, scientists are trained only to propose and test incremental contributions to our understanding. Eventually, the cracks become too large and the old paradigm crumbles.

Peer review also promotes good methods and good analysis, although not best methods and best analysis. Moreover, methods and analysis are only two values among many. If the theory is interesting or the data is unusual, reviewers will let defects in methods and/or analysis slide. The real problem, though, is that peer review is in no way an audit of the paper or data despite our letting people assume that it is. If data is bad, no reviewer will be able to ferret that out, nor is review of the raw data a routine part of peer review. We assume that the authors did what they say they did, and dealt honestly with the data they found.

24 April 2010

Not A Triple Tautology

In explaining the phrase épater le bourgeois, Wikipedia uses the wonderful phrase "French Decadent poets." This suggests worlds I had no idea of; poets who aren't decadent, Frenchmen who aren't poets, and even French poets who aren't decadent. Who'd a thought it.

If You:

1. Are in the left-most lane;

2. Are traveling slower than the speed limit; and

3. Have no one to your right,

you are doing it wrong.

23 April 2010

Statistics III

The third installment of our little series on statistics is perhaps the most counter-intuitive lesson of all. The lesson is two-fold:

1. A sample only represents the population of interest as a whole if every member of the population of interest had the same chance of being sampled, which is what "random sample" means, regardless of how large the sample is.

2. Given a truly random sample, the accuracy of population estimates based on the sample depends only on the size of the sample, not on the size of the population.

("Sample" is used here to mean a subset of the population available for study, and thus not the population itself.)

16 April 2010

Statistics II

Why don't statistics work backwards? There are actually many reasons, but three are key. First, statistics requires data and data requires theory. Second, theory is about causation and statistics are about correlation. Correlation does not imply causation. Third, it just can't work backwards.

1. You can't do statistics unless you have data, so data proceeds statistics. But you can't collect data without some theory that tells you which data is relevant. There is lots of unstructured information available about the world. It can't be analyzed unless its been sorted and classified, and since that necessarily must come before statistical analysis, it can only be sorted through theory. (Even with archival data, it only exists before it's relevant.) No one is ever going to regress corporate performance against CEO hair color because, even though the information is available, it makes no theoretical sense.

2. Theory is a proposed causal relationship between two constructs. Statistics depends upon the correlation between one or more independent variables (the possible cause(s)) and the dependent variable (the supposed effect). You can't get to theory from statistics because correlation does not imply causation, though causation requires correlation. There are lots of pairs of things that correlate, even very strongly, without being causally related. Sometimes that's because both are caused by some third construct. Consider, for example, this graph of the relationship between the number of lemons imported from Mexico and US highway fatalities:



(I stole this graph from Derek Lowe, who in turn stole it from a letter to the editor in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling (Johnson, 2008).)

"R2 = 0.97" means that Mexican lemons explain approximately 97% of the variability in US highway fatalities over time, an almost unheard of result in the social sciences and much better than lots of studies that have caused otherwise rational people to upset their way of life. Why shouldn't we, then, repeal the traffic laws and just start importing lemons willy-nilly? Because theory tells us that lemons don't cause a reduction in highway deaths, no matter what statistics tells us.

What's really going on in this graph is that we've gotten richer over time, mostly as a result of increased productivity resulting from advanced technology. Richer means that we're importing more luxuries, like Mexican lemons. Advanced technology means that cars can be safer and richer means that safer cars are affordable. (For all I know, it might also be that technology advances have made importing lemons from Mexico easier and cheaper, increasing demand.) In any event, imported lemons and highway fatalities only correlate with each other because they both have causal relationships with a missing factor or two. Only theory can tell us whether a factor is missing and what it might be. Even then, it usually doesn't.

3. The third reason we can't work backward is because that's just not how it works. This has to do with our acceptance of false positives, and with null hypothesis testing, so it's a little more complicated.

Statistics works by trying to figure out, if our two data sets really were random rather than systematically different based on the independent variable of interest, how likely it would be that we would get that distribution. Let's say we suspected, for example, that altitude effects whether a coin lands heads or tails. To test our theory, we flip a coin at ground level and at the summit of Mt. Everest. On the ground, we get 48 heads and 52 tails. At altitude, we get 62 heads and 38 tails. How likely is it that our distribution could happen at random? As it happens, I can test that: the chance of getting that distribution randomly is 0.047, or just under 5%. If I had gotten 61 heads on Everest, the chance would have risen to 6.5%.

As most of you know, the convention in science is that if the probability of a particular distribution being random is less than 5%, we can claim that the two sets of numbers are significantly different. The first thing to note about this is that this is only a convention. It is entirely arbitrary; there is no theory that makes 0.05 better than 0.04 or 0.06. If it were higher, we'd have more false positives, if it were lower, we'd have more false negatives. Just like deciding whether the speed limit should be 55 or 65, in the end all you can do is pick one.

The second thing to note is that this is not the same as saying that the chance that my result is random (and thus wrong) is 0.047. Implicitly, statistical tests compare my actual hypothesis (altitude causes a change in coin flipping results) to an opposite "null" hypothesis (altitude doesn't cause a change in coin flipping results). Generically, the hypothesis being tested is always "these two sets of numbers are significantly different" and the null hypothesis is always "these two sets of numbers are not significantly different." So the 0.047 really means, "the chance that my results are a false positive is 4.7%, if the null hypothesis is true. Of course, if the null hypothesis is false, then my theory is true and my results are necessarily not a false positive. In the real world, we can't know whether my theory is true separate from statistics, but strong theory, well founded on prior results, should be true. In other words, if my theory is convincing, the total chance that my results are a false positive is much less than 5%. (In some fields, the chance that my results are a false positive will be further reduced by replication, but in management we don't do replication.)

Now, what if we try to work backwards? The problem is that, for every hundred random regressions I do, I'll get (by definition) an average of five "significant" but false results even if there's no actual relationship in my data. Once, simply doing the regressions was onerous and something of a brake on this kind of fishing, but now, if I have the data on my computer, I can easily do 100 regressions in an hour. If I do a thousand regressions, I'll have 50 that are significant, and 10 that look really significant (p < 0.01). (One of the annoying things about popular science reporting is the focus on really small values of p. For reasons not worth going into here, if the probability of the null hypothesis being true is less than 5%, it really doesn't matter how small it is.) It is much, much, much more likely (actually, all but certain) that I'll find significance when fishing around than when testing theory. If we work backwards, we have no way of knowing what the chance of a false positive is.

[Because I want to make sure this point is clear, I'm going to beat it over the head a bit. If I come up with a theory and then test it, I know that the chance that my results are random (a false positive) is no more than 5%. Because my theory is strong and based on prior research -- and to be published it has to be vetted by experienced scholars in the field -- I know that the real chance of a false positive is actually quite a bit less than 5%. But if I work backwards, I have no idea what the chance of a false positive is. The particular relationship I found is less than 5% likely to be random, but I know -- by definition, and thus with certainty -- that if I do 100 regressions on completely random data, some of those regressions will be sufficiently unlikely (p < 0.05). In other words, when I'm fishing, the chance of a false positive is 100%, even though it is still true that the chance of any particular significant result being false is less than 5%. If I take that result and then fit a theory to it, I have no idea what the real chance of that result being a false positive is. Inherent in the math behind statistics is the assumption that I am testing a relationship I theorized a priori. That assumption is necessarily violated if I find the relationship and then develop the theory.]

Why can't we just go find significance and then go see if we can develop strong theory? Because we can always find a theory to fit if we know the end point.

07 April 2010

Statistics I

Since it's become clear that I'm not going to write one long post on statistics, I've decided to write an infinite series of short posts on statistics.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

In this post, I'll start with the purpose of statistics: the purpose of statistics is to tell us whether two sets of numbers, that differ based on some characteristic that we suspect might be important, are really different. Although it can get very sophisticated (for example, we sometimes don't know the second set of numbers), that's really all statistics does or can do.

In particular, statistics can't work backwards. We can't see that two sets of numbers are different, and then work our way back to figure out what the difference is. Theory must drive statistics, but statistics can't drive theory.

Next time, what alpha means, and what what alpha means means.

30 March 2010

The Annotated Brit

The inimitable John Inman:

22 March 2010

The Nice Schizophrenic Next Door

We're making plans for a family trip to Montreal next summer, to correspond with a conference I've got to go to. (Peter -- Are you going to be in the vicinity in early August?) One of the conference hotels is the Fairmont Le Reine √Člizabeth. There is something so deliciously Canadian about their insistence upon rendering the name of the Queen of England in French; it is just a constant delight.

15 March 2010

Irony Is A Dish Best Served Cold

Remember when it was treason to sell the UK-based manager of six US ports to a state-owned UAE company? You probably don't remember who ended up buying out the six US ports instead: AIG, which is obviously a much more trustworthy manager of our precious national assets.

13 March 2010

Are There People

... for whom it is good news when the world conforms to their expectations?

Remember The Uninsured?

Every once in a while, I have to forcibly remind myself that the long march to "Health Care Reform" started with the uninsured. It is wrong, we were told, to deny 15 20 30 40 million Americans healthcare. And who can argue?

So, the American people, coming off 8 exciting Bush years, when we had done pretty well but weren't really feeling that we had done much good (mistakenly, in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there), elected Barack Obama to do good -- including by getting health care to the uninsured.

But how to do that. One way, the traditional American way, is to provide health care insurance to the poor, the young and the old and simply let the uninsured show up when they need treatment. The other way is to get health insurance to everyone, which apparently requires spending trillions of dollars, mucking up everyone else's health care and losing sight of the uninsured along the way. The problem is that everyone who has insurance is pretty much happy with their health care, they just wanted to help their neighbors out.

Now, my neighbors are fine people and I'm more than willing to help them out, now and then. But there are limits and there's no point in my helping them out by giving up myself what they don't have. In other words, we might have reached the Robin Hood point, where the rich, having been robbed, are now the poor.

01 March 2010

Is It Just Me?

Or is Curious George at the Park Touch-and-Feel an unfortunately creepy name for a children's book?

Thought Experiment

AMENDMENT 28:

Except in time of war, the federal government shall have no power to tax but shall pay for all of its expenditures through borrowing, save only for fees charged to participants that cover the cost of their participation in enumerated voluntary activities.

22 February 2010

The Zeitgeist Rolls On

In a New York Times article on fraud in a new book on the Hiroshima bomb, a historian describes the book this way:
“This book is a Toyota,” said Robert S. Norris, the author of “Racing for the Bomb” and an atomic historian. “The publisher should recall it, issue an apology and fix the parts that endanger the historical record.”
Just putting down a marker for the first time I saw the phrase "It's a Toyota" used to mean that the subject is a clunker.

20 February 2010

Why Is Internet Advertising So Bad?

We all have, in the back of our minds, the idea that advertising is going to keep giving us our internet for free. But why is internet advertising so bad? If I see another ad about Acai berries, or about how a [fill in your location here] mom makes $77.00 an hour stuffing envelopes, I will cry.

In The United States

One of our faculty members has a habit of adding "in the United States" to any generalized statement made in her presence. If one of us says that pay tends to be the largest factor in employee motivation, she'll say, "in the United States." If we say that investing in research and development tends to be associated with increased profitability, she'll say "in the United States." If we claim that reciprocity is a universal human behavior, she'll say "in the United States."

Her point is two-fold. First, she doesn't believe in universal human behavior. Second, she's reminding even those of us who are positivists -- who believe that there can be generalizable rules of human behavior and thought -- that our conclusions can't outrun our data, and in management almost all data is from the United States. (In the social sciences generally, almost all data is Euro-American. In psychology, most data is from college students. Next time the media tries to tell you about some universal truth derived from psychology experiments -- usually some left wing truth -- remember that all they're really telling you about is how college students behave.)

I'm reminded of this warning by the recent proliferation of supposed "racial code-words" identified by the racialist left and defenders of President Obama. Various observers have suggested that calling Obama "socialist," or "un-American," or "Professor" is subtle racism. As James Taranto notes, "un-American" is not particularly subtle, but it seems odd to object to it as racist. Professor, on the other hand, is a very subtle insult, and not just as racial code.

Why are these insults and honorifics both being described at racist? Partly, I'm sure, simply to deflect criticism of President Obama. But partly for a peculiarity of thought in the United States. For a certain portion of our population, blacks are not only "other," but the only other.

It's fair enough to note that, if asked to imagine the prototypical American, most of us (and not just in the United States) would imagine a white male. "Aha," shout the racialists, "we knew it. Blacks aren't really American." I have a more benign explanation, of course, that allows for the Americanism of women and minorities (who are called minorities for a reason). Our prototypical American is probably also Christian, though probably goes to Church only on Christmas, Easter, to be married and buried. Nonetheless, Jews can be Americans, too. But if you can only imagine one American, you go with the majority.

For the racialists on the left and right, though, our little thought experiment has proved, conclusively, that blacks are the other in the United States. For certain racialists on the left, however, blacks are the only other. They'd admit, if pressed, that women, atheists, Asians, gays, etc., also seem to be other, but only to the extent that their experience is like that of American blacks. When they say that "gay is the new black," they don't mean to imply that black isn't still black.

So, in the United States, the racialists can't admit that calling someone "socialist" or "un-American" or "professor" is really about whatever those words literally signify. Rather, it's a way of pointing out that the object of those words is other than prototypically American, which is to say, black.

18 February 2010

Today Makes Me Think ...

That sanity consists of being able to step outside the logic of your own argument.

RIP Dick Francis

Proof is a nearly perfect book.

17 February 2010

What To Do, What To Do?

Although it's not really my concern, I'm fascinated by the question of what the Democrats should do about health insurance reform between now and the mid-term elections. Should they do nothing, and alienate their base, or should they force it through and energize their opponents even more?

Their base, which might even earnestly believe that HCR will accomplish something good, badly wants reform to pass. They want the Dems in Congress to pull out all the stops, using the reconciliation process (designed for budget changes that reduce the deficit) to nationalize 1/6th of the national economy over Republican opposition. If Congress won't do that, the base at least threatens not to turn out in the fall. After all, what's the point of voting for Democrats if you can't get one measly earth-shattering, unprecedented reform through?

On the other hand, the Tea Partiers and conservative Republicans hate reform, think that it is the tool of the devil designed to make all our lives worse and think that, by electing Scott Brown, we've won. Cheat us of our victory and we'll turn out in droves. Plus, using reconciliation in this way would be, in effect, the end of the filibuster.

Add to this that the Administration probably does truly believe that HCR is not only good, but the culmination of 100 years of striving for national health care and this might be the last real chance of passing it for a generation. What should they do?

12 February 2010

Sometimes I Wonder

why I bother (here and here).

This study is the poster child for bad reporting of social science. The reporting is that the authors found that the judge's race makes an "enormous" or "dramatic" difference in the outcome of discrimination cases. Leaving aside the fact that the study is completely unreliable and doesn't allow us to draw any conclusions at all (which I don't really blame a lay reporter for missing), the fact is that the authors' own results show that the judge's race makes little (R-squared under the best possible circumstance is only 0.03, meaning that judge's race explains only three percent of the variance in outcomes) or no (in the authors' best analysis, judge's race was not significant) difference.

That's actually an interesting result -- if we could rely on it -- since everyone assumes (look at the comments) that judge's race will make a difference. A finding that suggests that we're too cynical is an interesting finding.

P.S. The comment thread at the ABA Journal, which has now degenerated to "it's the JOOOOs," amply demonstrates the problem with bad reporting of bad studies.

25 January 2010

Sounds Teleological To Me

Aliens are likely to look and behave like us. (Richard Alleyne, Telegraph.co.uk, 1/25/10)
Prof Conway Morris believes that extraterrestrial life is most likely to occur on a planet similar to our own, with organisms made from the same biochemicals. The process of evolution will even shape alien life in a similar way, he added.
“It is difficult to imagine evolution in alien planets operating in any manner other than Darwinian," he said.

"In the end the number of options is remarkably restrictive. I don't think an alien will be a blob. If aliens are out there they should have evolved just like us. They should have eyes and be walking on two legs.

"In short if there is any life out there then it is likely to be very similar to us."
Note that "Darwinian" here seems to mean "destined to produce symmetrical bipeds with heads."

24 January 2010

PSA

If you use Gmail, check your Spam folder. Gmail apparently changed its Spam filter a week or two ago and it's been catching more real emails than it used to.

23 January 2010

Epigramatically Yours

From a comment at BrothersJudd:

"Capitalism is simply what the left calls freedom, when it wants to curtail it."

13 January 2010

Sensemaking

I was minding my own business last night, watching Fringe, when I noticed Charley in the background. That seemed somewhat odd, since Charlie had been killed last fall at the beginning of the season. I checked my cable listing, but it said that the episode was new in 2010.

Hmmm, something was up. An alt-universe story? Some sort of shape-changer Charlie (which would actually be the second shape-changer Charlie) coupled with a memory ray? Neither the characters nor the show seemed to be paying any attention to the dead walking -- although the story for the episode was about a girl who came back to life after being dead. Subtle, show, subtle.

I started to notice a nice shading to the characterizations. Walter seemed to have a harder edge and fewer tics than usual. He was more decisive and more confrontational. Olivia, on the other hand, seemed softer, more empathetic. Charley was more in the background than usual and his interactions with Olivia seemed cooler. Was that really Astrid's regular hair style, or was it bushier than it had been?

What could this all mean?

It didn't seem to be an alt-universe story, since Peter was there and Charley had no scar. The mind ray was still possible, but why wasn't the show suggesting any solution? I began to spin out ever more fantastic possibilities.

But when I looked on the internet, it turned out that Fox was just burning off an unaired episode from the first season.

12 January 2010

11 January 2010

The Environment Is Just Grist For Our Mill

There's not much I enjoy about the humorless earnestness of green culture, but one thing that I find quite entertaining is how it is being coopted by businesses in order to push costs onto consumers.

A few examples:

Hotels now try to guilt guests into reusing their towels, relieving the hotel of the cost of doing its laundry.

Supermarkets now sell reusable grocery bags, relieving them of the need to provide bags, paper or plastic, and making the shopper do the work of schlepping their bags to the store.

It's nice to see that, to a capitalist, Environmentalism is just another way of making money.

Do you have any other examples? I would think that employment would be a fertile ground for this sort of thing, but perhaps we're all too suspicious of our employers.

03 January 2010

Time To Start Watching Treasuries

10 year Treasuries seem to be heading towards 4% faster than expected (they touched 3.91% late last week). The yield curve is no longer inverted, for those who are about that, and, so far, interest costs for all that deficit spending we're doing are fairly cheap.

More Proof That Fascism Is Of The Left

If you can stomach it, you should go and read this Pat Buchanan column. Go ahead, I'll wait.

What I find really striking is not how silly it is (in 2000 the economy was booming, in 2010 we're just coming out of a recession: OH, WOE IS ME), but how, except for one paragraph and a hand-full of words, it could have just as easily be written by someone on the supposed left as by Buchanan, who has so long straddled the line between right and far-right.

Buchanan's is a sad story, though his functional anti-semitism prevents me from feeling too sorry for him. Working for Ronald Reagan, he was a force for good -- and for free trade. But he soon lost his soul in Washington, suffering the fate of those who take politics too seriously. He lost focus on where his path was taking him and lost sight of common sense some time ago.