Friday, April 29, 2005

"Who will but consult it..."

I don't fully know why, but I really, really like the phrase "who will but consult it" in the following passage from Locke:
The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one: And Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions.

John Locke, The Second Treatise of Civil Government, §6

Good stuff.

Checkerboard Lounge to Relocate to Hyde Park

Welcome news on the Checkerboard Lounge, which recently finished construction in its new Hyde Park location, came out today in the Maroon. The "historic" club will feature blues and jazz music seven nights a week, and will be a much appreciated addition to the anemic Hyde Park entertainment scene.

One must at least raise the issue of the "steeply discounted lease rate and the promise to help renovate the [club]" that the University has offered the Checkerboard. It's one thing to subsidize an entertainment venue like Doc Films, which is populated almost if not entirely by University-affiliated people; it's another to subsidize something which may get only moderate or low use by the student population, in which case the University is doing nothing more than subsidizing local, non-University residents. But given the University's need to improve drastically its image on certain fronts (most importantly, on "fun"), it may be worth the while to spend a lot of money on just a few.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Benedict XVI Continues to Get Hammered in the Media

From a April 24th AP report:
This may be a particularly sensitive issue for Benedict, who has acknowledged joining the Hitler Youth at age 14 and then served in the German military.
"Who has acknowledged joining"? Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounds like a phrase one would use for a politician admitting youthful indiscretions. What, membership was compulsory? German youth were drafted into the army of the Third Reich? My goodness! It sure would give us a different sense of the guy if the news media happened to mention that more in the context of Benedict's wartime experience.

And from a different, otherwise benign AP report about public reaction to Benedict's installation mass today, also from April 24th:
The pope has acknowledged being a member of Hitler Youth as a teenager and was drafted to serve in the German army. He says he was forced into participating.
"He says he was forced into participating"? What, no need to mention the irrelevant fact that doing so was obligatory? Sure, he could have joined on his own volition, but certainly omitting what is a central, if not the central, point is nothing less than irresponsible.

Consider this excerpt from Wikipedia's entry on the Hitler Youth:
In December of 1936, Hitler Youth membership stood at just over 5 million. That same month, the Hitler Youth became obligatory and membership was required by law (Gesetz über die Hitlerjugend). This obligation was affirmed in 1939 with the Jugenddienstpflicht. Membership could be enforced even against the will of the parents. From that point, most of Germany's teenagers were incorporated into the Hitler Youth, and by 1940, the total membership reached eight million. Later war figures are difficult to calculate, since massive conscription efforts and a general call-up of boys as young as ten years old meant that virtually every young male in Germany was, in some way, connected to the Hitler Youth.
QED

Sunday, April 17, 2005

New Classical Texts?

This has to be one of the biggest stories of the 21st century.
Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence... including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

Criminal Profiling in Hyde Park

The University was fairly slow in alerting the public of a recent rash of assaults in Hyde Park. On April 12th, a University-wide e-mail was sent out explaining the problem:
As reported in our security alerts and in local newspapers and television coverage, since Jan. 31 there have been more than three dozen incidents throughout Hyde Park, at various times of the day and night, in which generally lone males have been attacked and beaten by groups of young men. Working with the city police, our University police officers have by now arrested 33 individuals who were responsible for at least 13 of these cases. The vast majority of those arrested are between the ages of 14 and 16. None of these assaults has occurred on the university's campus, but they have occurred in our neighborhood, and at least one victim has been seriously injured.
The Maroon reported on the story in its April 15th edition:
Though in some cases victims have been robbed, the perpetrators have often attacked without any prior confrontation or apparent motive. Some University students have suffered minor injuries from the assaults, although one student was hospitalized after being severely injured, but is expected to recover fully.
This is a perfect illustration of why police officers should not be barred from using suspect profiling in going after criminal suspects. Here, we have a specific age and race profile to work with, and to prevent the police from using this information is to simply throw away valuable information on the crimes. Consider air port searches: there's no reason to randomly select and search passengers. Doing so wastes time on searching individuals who have a statistically negligible chance of hijacking or bombing a plane. How many 60+ year old grannies commit violent crimes while on airplanes? If none do, why search them? Failing to take age into account, in this instance, wastes valuable and limited resources, which would clearly be better used elsewhere. In the context of the recent rash of assaults in Hyde Park, this idea translates into targetting groups of young males, probably black.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Still the Greatest Living Economist

At 92, it's amazing that Friedman is still lecturing and giving interviews to news media. Here, he is interviewed by the Jackson Sun News on a wide range of topics, from oil and the trade deficit, to Social Security and poverty.

When asked about whether moving to privatized Social Security would increase the debt burden on the federal government, Friedman echoes what economists have been saying for years:

"What we are talking about is replacing an unfunded debt with funded debt. We already have an obligation to all the people like myself who are currently on Social Security. The difference is it is not written out as funded debt. So when you talk about borrowing, they are not really changing the total government debt, they are only changing how much they recognize, and what is open and above board and how much of it is hidden in other funding. "

But Friedman recognizes that abolishing Social Security is not in the cards, so as a "second best" solution he proposes the following: "What I would do is link the benefits to the price index, not a wage index. I would do that the whole way down and not just with the upper incomes. That would solve a good part of the problem. I would raise the date of retirement, and I would go in for private accounts, but on a larger scale. I would allow workers to keep 6 percent of their taxes." Linking benefits to the price index rather than the wage index is important because the goal of indexation, presumably, is to keep real benefits constant over time. That is, how much SS recipients receive in terms of purchasing power (actual goods and services) should not be eroded by inflation. Wages very frequently outpace inflation (as cited in a previous entry: The first quarter of 2005 was the first since the 1990-1991 recession that inflation outpaced wage growth), which implies that SS benefits, in real terms, are increasing over time. Combined with the fact that the Baby Boom generation is now approaching retirement, this will seriously endanger the solvency of the SS system.

Good Intentions, Lackluster Results

One of my favorite themes in economic development is that good intentions anything but necessitate good results. The following quote sums it up pretty well:

"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence" - Hanlon's Razor

Anti-semitism

An interesting article ["We must rethink the discourse on anti-Semitism", April 5, 2005] by fellow Chile kid Daniel Wagner appeared recently in the Maroon (and even more recently came under "whithering attack" by precisely the folks he said would do so). Despite the fact that he uses the verb "to argue" about seven or eight times, his prose is quite good (his argument is decent as well). Some of my favorite lines of the article:
The greatest error we can make as critics of social ideas is to extrapolate general conclusions from the words of the loudest, the dumbest, and the most obnoxious... Teresa Mia Bejan displays this mistake in a thousand words of stunning enthusiasm.

Current dialogue surrounding the theme... ignores the more salient issues of general bigotry... by attempting to create its own special niche within ethnic discourse.

The saddest point of all this is that there are those who will call me (a non-Jew, as if it mattered) an Anti-Semite for criticizing the way in which some, like Bejan, talk about Anti-Semitism.
Yet that last line did not stop not one, but two articles in the next issue. Bejan claims, "If anything, anti-Semitism is the species of hatred we should guard most strenuously against, given the horrifying ways in which it has born fruit again and again in our history", which does in fact attempt to "create its own special niche within ethnic discourse" (as Wagner says) and "arrang[e] all hatreds in a sort of hierarchy with anti-Semitism at the pinnacle" (which Bejan denies doing).

Monday, April 11, 2005

Labor Economists and Randomness

Two things on labor economics:

1) Apparently, all economists do is calculate growth figures and manipulate percent figures and other stuff from high school math class (of which, incidentally, I remember none, because I haven't had to do any of that since high school). At least, according to the BLS economist assessment exam, which I took today.

So now I've resorted to leaning back and spinning around in my computer chair, while simultaneously/inexplicably making the sound effects and arm motions of fireworks going off. This reminds me, for some reason, of a scene from A.H.W.O.S.G., although I hesitate to mention that fact, because I think that very same book talks about peoples' tendencies to associate everything they do with some scene in an episode of the Simpsons or Seinfeld.

2) The LA Times reported today that, "For the first time in 14 years, the American workforce has in effect gotten an across-the-board pay cut". It's an interesting way to start off the story, one titled, "Wages Lagging Behind Prices". One had to read a third of the way through the story to get the "true" angle:
[T]he cost of health premiums has skyrocketed, eating into the pool of corporate cash set aside for raises. Although pay rose only about 2.4% last year, benefit costs jumped almost 7%.

With benefits factored in, workers' total compensation did outpace inflation in 2004, even if they didn't see it in their paychecks.
But that doesn't make for as interesting a story, does it?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Internet is Flush with So Much That is Good

Via the BBQ Daycare blog, a nugget from the past:


The blog also makes two humorous observations: "1. The guy in the background is wearing a poncho. 2. Hasselhoff is in FULL ON Knight Rider regalia, while Gary Coleman is wearing some kind of Cosby-esque sweater."

Cheers to that.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Spotting Trains

Well, I desperately need to put off doing statistics homework, so I've turned to blogging.

Consider the first lines in the last scene of 1996 smash-hit Trainspotting: [Speaking of having just stolen a considerable amount of money from his companions] "So why did I do it? I could offer a million answers, all false. The truth is that I'm a bad person, but that's going to change, I'm going to change. This is the last of this sort of thing".

The thing that drew me to these lines was how Renton, the speaker, phrases himself here: "I could offer a million answers, all false". Isn't that hundreds of times better than, "I could offer a million false answers," or, "I could offer a million answers, but they'd all be false". It's like he's saying, "Yeah, I could justify this to you, the audience", while in turn you think to yourself, "Oh, he's trying to justify himself, the scalawag". But then pops in "all false". "All false". Is he saying he'd be lying to you (answering falsely), or that he'd be speaking truthfully, but giving answers which, deep down, he knew to be false. In other words, he was deceiving himself as much as he was the audience.

Anyway, that's enough pseudo-critique for now.

Friday, April 08, 2005

McMadness in Hyde Park

After reading of the recent protest against McDonald's in Hyde Park ["Arrest of Hyde Park high-schooler at McDonald’s leads to protest", April 5, 2005], I was left with one question: Rosa Parks? Professor Harris-Lacewell claims, "[t]he standard analysis of young black people today is coming from Bill Cosby." I suspect the irony of Ms. Harris-Lacewell attacking what she perceives as generalization of African-American students, by herself generalizing about the attitudes and motives of the population at large, is not lost on the Maroon’s readership. It is unfortunate that using race has become a way to generate publicity and community support where they would otherwise be absent.

My guess is that if community members were asked what they thought of policies that single out students, and race were not introduced into the question, we would find healthy support for them. Store policies limiting the number of students in at a time are just as common in the suburbs as in Hyde Park. The fact of the matter is that teens do tend to be loud and rowdy, a point apparently not lost on Smith's lunch mate, who admits, "I won't say we're not disruptive--we're teens". Perhaps the more mature teens that enjoy their McDonald's should try exerting pressure on their peers to actually behave themselves. It is perfectly reasonable for local businesses to do their best to enforce a civil environment on what is their own, private property.

It's a shame that political activists are so willing to play the race card, especially because doing so dilutes those cases when there really is a racial component. I think it's fitting that this story made the same issue as Mr. Wagner's viewpoints article, which clearly (though with copious use of the verb "to argue" and its derivatives) articulates the tendency of targeted groups to try to carve out a "special niche within ethnic discourse" (to use his words). This is what Ms. Harris-Lacewell and her cohorts are attempting to do; what makes their attempt so much worse is that, unlike the cases addressed in Mr. Wagner's article, they lack grounds for complaint to begin with. And absent these, we have to question what Ms. Harris-Lacewell and the organizers had as their true motive.

While it is to be lauded that the Maroon took the rational position on this issue of not jumping to unfounded conclusions, it is truly a shame that it failed to take the next logical, if uncomfortable, step of questioning her and her fellow organizers' motives. Ms.Harris-Lacewell herself later recants (implicitly) any racial aspect of the incident by all of a sudden switching her focus to the "youth" aspect, and failing to mention any of her previous racial accusations. Thus, she leaves us to seriously question her credibility, and to wonder what sort of faculty we have in the political science department.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Statistics, My Friend, is Awesome

I didn't think statistics was much more than useful until I read this paper by one of my statistics professors. What he does is show how one can decode coded text using a fairly simple algorithm. He starts by scrambling Hamlet's soliloquy by assigning each letter of the alphabet to a new letter (so, say, all the A's become D's, all the F's become A's, etc.). Then, he looks at a bunch of texts in English, trying to find out what the probability is that a given letter is followed by each of the other letters (so, what's the probability that an S is followed by: A, B, C, ..., R, T, ..., X, Y, Z). THEN, he applies the algorithm. Here is a taste of what it accomplishes (the number preceding the text is the number of times the algorithm has been interated):
100 ER ENOHDLAE OHDLO UOZEOUNORU O UOZEO HD OITO HEOQSET IUROFHE HENO ITORUZAEN
200 ES ELOHRNDE OHRNO UOVEOULOSU O UOVEO HR OITO HEOQAET IUSOPHE HELO ITOSUVDEL
300 ES ELOHANDE OHANO UOVEOULOSU O UOVEO HA OITO HEOQRET IUSOFHE HELO ITOSUVDEL
400 ES ELOHINME OHINO UOVEOULOSU O UOVEO HI OATO HEOQRET AUSOWHE HELO ATOSUVMEL
500 ES ELOHINME OHINO UODEOULOSU O UODEO HI OATO HEOQRET AUSOWHE HELO ATOSUDMEL
600 ES ELOHINME OHINO UODEOULOSU O UODEO HI OATO HEOQRET AUSOWHE HELO ATOSUDMEL
900 ES ELOHANME OHANO UODEOULOSU O UODEO HA OITO HEOQRET IUSOWHE HELO ITOSUDMEL
1000 IS ILOHANMI OHANO RODIORLOSR O RODIO HA OETO HIOQUIT ERSOWHI HILO ETOSRDMIL
1100 ISTILOHANMITOHANOT ODIO LOS TOT ODIOTHATOEROTHIOQUIRTE SOWHITHILOTEROS DMIL
1200 ISTILOHANMITOHANOT ODIO LOS TOT ODIOTHATOEROTHIOQUIRTE SOWHITHILOTEROS DMIL
1300 ISTILOHARMITOHAROT ODIO LOS TOT ODIOTHATOENOTHIOQUINTE SOWHITHILOTENOS DMIL
1400 ISTILOHAMRITOHAMOT OFIO LOS TOT OFIOTHATOENOTHIOQUINTE SOWHITHILOTENOS FRIL
1600 ESTEL HAMRET HAM TO CE OL SOT TO CE THAT IN THE QUENTIOS WHETHEL TIN SOCREL
1700 ESTEL HAMRET HAM TO BE OL SOT TO BE THAT IN THE QUENTIOS WHETHEL TIN SOBREL
1800 ESTER HAMLET HAM TO BE OR SOT TO BE THAT IN THE QUENTIOS WHETHER TIN SOBLER
1900 ENTER HAMLET HAM TO BE OR NOT TO BE THAT IS THE QUESTION WHETHER TIS NOBLER
2000 ENTER HAMLET HAM TO BE OR NOT TO BE THAT IS THE QUESTION WHETHER TIS NOBLER

At this point, the chain is very stable, although it will occasionally entertain
permutations of J,Q, and X.
Neat, eh?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Me, Myself, and Maureen Dowd

From an article in the New York Observer, on a recent surge in competitors (including Warren Beatty) to the Drudge Report:
(In an e-mail, Ms. Dowd said she didn’t read the Drudge Report. "I’m afraid I’ll see something about myself," she wrote. "If he’s got something good, I knowI’ll hear about it around the coffee machine.")
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that should read, "I'm afraid I'll see something about me" (see this online style guide). If this entry seems pointless, just consider that I myself (reflexive usage) only recently learned the correct usage.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Cuba's response to Pope John Paul II's death

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque is quoted as saying, "We always considered John Paul II a friend, someone was concerned for the poor, who fought neoliberalism and for peace".

Probably not a very good time to talk about neoliberalism.

Castro had something nice to say, at least, which reportedly splashed the front page of Cuba's government-run newspaper: "Humanity will keep an emotional memory of His Holiness John Paul II's tireless work for peace, justice and solidarity between all peoples." We've got to give it to Castro for not begrudging the Pope his success in bringing down Communism in Eastern Europe and beyond.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A Look at Wisconsin's Natural Beauty - aka Why Wisconsin is Better than Illinois

For any given fad, trend, or innovation, I tend to be one of those on the last train to Adoption-ville. This very blog is a testament to that fact: it took me until February of 2005 to catch onto a trend that had started 3-4 years earlier.

Not surprising, then, was it that I only recently picked up Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, a book which I am presently nearly the end of. I must say that I was more impressed with the book than I thought I would be.

Going into it, I figured that the famous “land ethic”, which states that land should be valued beyond that which accrues to it from its economic uses, that Leopold lays out would be a larger portion of the book than it turned out to be; it lasts only 27 pages in a book of 296. There were many a time while I was reading when I mistook “ethic” for “ethnic”; you may not know it, but a land ethnic is the ethnic origins of a particular plot of land (broadly grouped as brown, green, clear, although there is plenty of intermingling among the races).

But in some sense, despite the short treatment given to a defense of valuing land qua land, the rest of the book is the “illustration” for the land ethic: descriptions of birds, trees, rivers, game, etc., explanation of the degree to which the biota is interconnected (and interconnected in such a way that it is exceedingly difficult to determine what affects what), and lists of species of birds, trees, game, etc., that I have never even heard before. It probably would have been useful to have had a nature atlas on hand while reading the book.

Unexpectedly, Leopold spent quite a bit of time discussing his love for hunting, a sport which, while quintessentially natural, is not typically endeared by environmentalists. He associates the sport with an attempt to recapture some of man’s earlier roots as hunter-gatherer, which is something that I can appreciate only on an abstract level since I've never been hunting (or, I guess, gathering): "What was big was not the trout, but the chance. What was full was not my creel, but my memory. I had forgotten it would ever again be aught but morning on the Fork."

But, even though I am an avowed pacifist, his description of the thrill and communion one receives from hunting made me want to go try it. Cheers to that.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Grateful Dead

Rolling Stone magazine has posted an article from September 28, 1972, on the Grateful Dead's 4 night run at Berkeley Community Theatre. It's interesting to see things from an early perspective; although unfortunately the author does not actually discuss any of the setlists (individual songs are not even mentioned).

It is also somewhat ironic that, after congratulating the Dead for playing in a small venure (The Theatre seated only 3500; tickets went from $3.50 to $5.50), he admonishes other rock groups for playing only large amphitheaters:
All in all the week was pure joy. Now why don't the Band, the Who, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, and the rest do the same thing? Must we always be prisoners of those amphitheaters?
Anyone remember the Dead circa 1979-1995? Oh well. Small-venue performances were good while they lasted.

Behaviorists are Evil

Not really. I read a good article in the UofC Magazine on the whole behavioralism debate (in the context of Social Security privatization). Here is a summarizing sample:
Glaeser comments that economists like Thaler are “moving in the right direction. There’s a large and growing behavioral finance literature that’s convincing. I can’t think of a main thrust that I disagree with.” Most differences of opinion, he says, can be attributed to the long, slow, creaking way in which new ideas are hammered out within a discipline. Behavioralists, he believes, simply haven’t gotten to the point yet where they can fully explain what happens in a market. “Much of the early work has focused on changing the core of economics with work on individuals. It’s hard to read the bulk of the research and not think it specializes more on individuals,” he reflects. “But that’s a tactical decision, not a strategy.”

Behavioralists admit such a shortcoming. In Camerer’s history, he describes the time-tested recipe for behavioral-economics research: “First, identify normative assumptions or models that are ubiquitously used by economists. ... Second, identify anomalies—i.e., demonstrate clear violations of the assumption or model, and painstakingly rule out alternative explanations (such as subjects’ confusion or transaction costs). And third, use the anomalies as inspiration to create alternative theories….” A fourth step is to construct new economic models and test them. This crucial final step, he writes, has only lately been attempted. For example, there are now behavioral models that demonstrate the bounds of human self-control; other models reveal the limits on humans’ ability to make “intertemporal choices,” that is, people have a cloudy understanding of how their choices now will play out in the future. Thaler sounds a similar tone. “Progress has been made, there is lots to do,” he writes in his 1991 book Quasi Rational Economics. “There is more than enough work to go around.”