30 March 2010

No I am not channeling Hawthorne

That big A on the sidebar does mean something. And it brands myself and my work as something.

But it's not adultery.

29 March 2010

old dead laws

Like rotting wood.

I am reminded that there are laws in Virginia that you cannot have sex with your socks on. So we're good at having dumb laws that never get overturned or repealed. People just stop bothering to enforce them or check up on them. We get around this at the police level sometimes (the Wire's famous brown paper bag speech) and sometimes at the civic level (things like the common use of marijuana make it hard to lock up everybody who does it, same with speeding on highways in some states as so many people violate these laws by 5-10 miles per hour that pursuing all of them with police enforcement is impossible and probably counter-productive). This is all fine in the way that it reduces the need for chickenshit law enforcement methods and mentalities or systems of control and surveillance to coerce people into behaving in a certain way.

Except that these laws still exist and people can still be penalized for them in addition to some other trivial infractions or if they cannot be found guilty on something more significant (sort of like the IRS getting Capone for tax evasion when everyone knew he did far worse).

economy of sex

Iceland bans stripping. This is not met with the cries and pleas of a feminist society in America as a tiding of great things.

Actually, much like prostitution, there's a distinct hierarchy. There are some strippers/dancers/whatever who make a ton of money and a much larger number that make an adequate amount. If you could call this "pays pretty well", it probably does pay roughly equal to low end street walker prostitution on average for minimal actual working time. Say 18-20 bucks an hour, depending on local prices and wages, working less than part time hours. Prostitutes tend to work less than strippers, usually around 10 hours per week and probably will make more money per hour as the commodity they sell is valued at higher prices, actual sex as opposed to the ogling of naked and semi-naked women, so it probably comes out about the same amount in a week's income for a low-skilled job. Wage wise that's probably a healthy amount for low-skilled workers to make. Much like prostitution, I would say the objections that should be raised would be to ensure some level of health and safety for the workforce and that the barriers to entry are largely those of the persistent moralizing of the outside world rather than official laws forbidding the practice of selling sex and sexuality. Plus there will always be a relatively low population of people who find this an appealing enough job, either because of income or because of the work itself to limit the prospective expansion of it upon society as a whole. Most women look upon this sort of work in the same way I look at office work, as degrading or dehumanizing.

Primarily this would be the appropriate legal approaches as opposed to banning such work outright as is typically done instead (Iceland also banned prostitution last year, which as is pointed out is probably more harmful to women than having legal prostitution as an option both in economic and moral terms. It's a little harder to have organised underground strip clubs. I suppose they could be modeled on underground sex clubs, but then they're starting to stray off into prostitution or private swinger clubs rather than mere exotic dance):

1) Ensure that any people entering such professions are voluntarily entering. This is less true in an illegal market where prostitution or strip clubs are banned than in a legal market. The practice of human trafficking still exists in either environment and should be penalised severely, but it is only exacerbated in an underground market where the workforce itself is subject to legal obstructions rather than protected by the legal system. The primary judgment of a normal market of whether people voluntarily enter is on how they assess their economic options and price their work (or by what others are willing to pay and how much they are willing to accept). If people are unwilling at any price, or any "reasonable" price, to sell or purchase sex and sexuality, then they will not participate in this economy (this is my own personal position. I always found the concept of strip clubs to be an absurd illusion and prostitution to be a rather lazy means of procuring sex rather than other forms of coercion which require more dedication and interest in the willing partner. Even if they often boil down to the same sorts of human interactions between parties and some commodification of sex in the course of the relationship. Besides, offering money to someone in order to convince them to sleep with me seems a bit outside of my character anyway. One assumes that such an offer would reflect rather poorly of my opinion of others. And I hold some low opinions of human beings which reflect rather negatively on me as it is).
2) Provide some manner of regulation that ensures relative health and safety of prostitutes, primarily centered on sexual disease transmission. This could come from offering some sort of certification license to demonstrate a safe and accountable environment for the sale and purchase of sex from such businesses as do so. The actual empowerment and relative protection of women in such markets, who can become effectively the sole proprietors of a business in selling their time and sexuality to others, is that they can refuse transactions from potential consumers. So for example if they don't want to have sex without condoms, for risk of disease or pregnancy, then they can advertise as such and turn away offers which would bypass these restrictions. Or, alternatively, they could require testing of their clientele and offer some sort of price discrimination effect against their competitors who do require condom usage. In general, most women in these environments will err toward condom use given the chance to price their work and risks accordingly.
3) Protect the workers themselves from violence and abuse at the hands of unruly consumers. Strip clubs do this with bouncers and security to expel violations of club policies, which are usually in place to protect the strippers while still satisfying consumers (and thus the business owner still profits). Prostitution generally has few boundaries for protection simply because when one is a prostitute it is assumed that they cannot be raped or violated by others, or that they work in an unruly neighbourhoods already where domestic violence is tolerated or under-reported, things like this. This is not true of a self-regulated higher end prostitution, where abuse, fraud, etc, is punished by lack of access to competition. The women will pool resources to expel undesirable clients by giving them unfavorable reviews, among other things. Prostitutes themselves have incentives not to over report or exaggerate their claims such that they would lose business, but they are protected by the probability that a true jerk or batterer will be excluded and their reputation will remain safe from being impugned. The effectiveness of high end prostitution's self-regulatory status is far from uniform, but this would be improved by an open and transparent market made legal where the purveyors of sex could benefit from legal protections as well as market penalties against transgressions of their mutual agreements. Along with non-mutual agreements like rape or molestation which was not consented to that could now be more adequately addressed without fear of self-incrimination.

I imagine that this sort of restriction or legal interference could plausibly include policies over the consumption of alcohol. But in reality, I would think such a restriction is more necessary for public safety (driving home drunk is rather unwise and potentially unsafe) rather than the safety of patrons and purveyors of sexuality. I see little reason to effectively separate the consumption of alcohol from the consumption of sex (after all, it is deemed appropriate in other contexts to use alcohol and sex in combination, for reasons that seem wholly illogical to me).

Update: Some counter balance. Some anyway. Mostly reflects the NIMBY method of opposition, which since Iceland is a small country with a population the size of a mid-sized city in the US, is a potent force. And the ethnic or nationalistic preferences that declare foreign workers to be "bad" or "unhappy" or "doing a job nobody else wants" as though these arguments are a reflection accurate to the private character of immigrants or foreign labour or upon the jobs they are filling. As I stated earlier, working in an office doing the trivial tasks of heavy lifting for someone else is just as bad for me personally as I imagine most people in sex related professions find their occupations. My impression is that most people are "unhappy" with their jobs were they to remove any financial inducements like their paychecks or benefits and perks.

This does probably speak less to the feminist character of such legislation (and of Iceland in particular) and more to the arrogant disdain that most societies have against sex workers and most sex related businesses that they may be acceptable to engage in, just not where we live.

random flashbacks

Lord of the Flies does have one pretty good notion in it. That is that people only tend to do awful things when presented with awful choices (they can also manage to do some of the more incredible things at the same time).

But I always found the depiction of a "savage state" as rather silly. This is probably among the reasons that Survivor always seemed absurd to me. Human beings in such a state more or less have to band together rather than compete in rival alliances for survival. We're not very good at being individuals because we are a social species.

The problem wasn't so much that civilisation is civilized and superior, because it clearly isn't, at least not automatically (see: Holocaust). The problem was that human beings respond to social norms, and those social norms of dominance come from schools. I recall getting into trouble once for asking an authority at a school "why?". I thought this was a modest request for clarification on the need for their intrusion into my daily routine. My prior experiences with authorities had generally been greeted with some openness and respect for my inquisitive nature. Not so much here. I was rather abruptly and rudely informed that if I asked such a question of a policeman I could be beaten or arrested for my intransigence. That I was to comply or else. This was not a line of logic I found particularly compelling in what was in title a free state such as ours. I reacted from this lesson with a considerably larger rebellious streak to my intellectual pursuits and thoughts, and a greater tolerance for the actions of non-comformity (if not the actual pursuit of them myself, given my aversion for violence and the rigidity of prison life). I seriously doubt this was the desired effect of the penalties and abuses of authority therein. I assume that this desired effect was supposed to be something like "I am the hammer and you are the nail wanting to stand out, so fuck you". Authoritarians and their methods do not get along nearly as well as they think they do with people like me, who tend to be their polar opposites in thinking.

So my takeaway was roughly similar to this one. That schoolchildren left to their own devices would copy the social order and organisations imposed on them by schools, using methods such as intelligence or strength to satisfy claims of leadership and deceptions like the conch shell to signify authority. It's possible that younger children might abstain from such controls (in large measure because they have difficulty with the hierarchical structures of society still, such as obedience to their parents). Or that a few children would act in conscience or ask reasonable questions over the use and abuse of authority as I might be thought of as doing in my youth. But violence and strength would suffice where conformity fails, and such children would not be adequately equipped to resist.

A meditation on the practice of driving long distances

Opportunity costs of driving

This has long been my criticism of driving. Other than listening to music and podcasts, there is very little I can functionally "do" while driving. I can compose my thoughts into long form essays for later use. But I prefer doing that right before I commit them to the digital world, in ways like thinking while I shower or run or some such, rather than when I am on my way to perform other tasks (such as work or exercise) because it is more useful to have the fresh impressions nagging me into to actually committing to the work.

Most significantly, I have often taken to using my car to travel moderate distances, interstate voyages on the logic that I can usually use my car to get around more easily once at my destination to attain to daily tasks like eating or recreation, rather than using public transit to cover these distances in the form of airplanes or trains or a bus and then having to choose only those destinations that offer modest public transit once at the location (which is inconveniently rare in the US. Largely limited to NYC and Chicago, both fun places to go, but not where you need to go all the time for a trip).

There's a tremendous opportunity cost in that these long travels forgo far more important things like sleep or working on intellectual problems or conversing amicably with any travel companions. If the car were thus capable, as it should easily be, of navigating over highways to my destinations, it would be easy enough to do these things. The most pressing argument at the moment of a smart car navigation system is the shifting and uncertain patterns of city driving. Highways, by contrast, are best characterized by a great deal of predictable events; traffic will congest near common exits and on-ramps, most drivers will maintain a relative speed with the flow of traffic, and will, for the most part, maintain their lane so long as this occurs, few people brake unpredictably (those that do should be punished as their actions have snake effects far out of proportion to their brake lights at a sudden miscalculation of distance and personal comfort), and there aren't generally erratic turns required. A highway ought to be a perfect place for such a system to work on existing vehicles in the short term.

The long term solutions to things like traffic congestion, which offers more extreme opportunity costs owing to lack of movement and hence wasted fuel costs, is probably congestion pricing models for parking and controlled access roads like highways, but if we can improve the driving experience for people who find it mind-numbingly dull, I imagine we'd be a lot happier drivers and more productive citizens as a result even without removing the waste and inefficiency of traffic and parking.

25 March 2010

Economists are crazy?


Listening to this was amusing. Anything which references defenestration is worth my time.

I'm pretty sure they're not crazy. But social outcasts do have some things to say about the silly things everyone else spends money on. Especially tax money.

since everybody's doing it

I may as well jump off a cliff too. I don't say that every book or author here is great reading or should be regarded as great thinkers, but they are things I've read and feel some influence from.

1) Allegory of the Cave/Apologia - Plato. This got me started on philosophy. I would not say that I find Plato very enlightening now, relative to even some of his contemporaries, but one has to start somewhere. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics or the Confucian Doctrine of the Mean is probably far more influential on my thinking now.

2) On Liberty - Mill. This shows up everywhere in my thinking, from utilitarian morals to my absolutism over free speech and the free exchange of ideas.

3) The Art of War - Sun Tzu. Obviously. I gleaned a lot of IR thinking here. His understanding of the dangers of war as well as its importance to the safety and existence of the state is incredibly forward looking (consider Plato's explanation of soldiering as a contemporary vision).

4) The Prince - Machiavelli. I read this before Sun Tzu. It is a broader investigation of internal politics and the methods used, sometimes still, by political figures to manipulate each other and the public. If nothing else, starting from the assumption that someone is trying to manipulate you is probably safer than trusting that they have good judgments and share your own starting worldview. Between this and hip-hop (and teenage/young adult encounters with police on trivial things like traffic stops as well as false accusations made on less trivial things made from hurried and inappropriate assumptions of my character), it's very hard for me to trust what an authority figure says is necessary without a proper explanation, and even then I'm liable to find a flaw or a loophole. More importantly it gives me pause when trusting their version of events as though it must be the facts of the case.

5) Essays - Montaigne. I'm still trying to hold these meditations up as an ideal for how I should engage in fields like education or intellectual debates. I find it difficult at times.

6) Road to Serfdom/Capitalism and Freedom - This was my first real economic kick. I've since read more powerful things from Hayek, but nothing with the same sort of simple and elegant reasoning in it (local knowledge over centralisation).

7) On the Theory of Moral Sentiments/The Wealth of Nations - Adam Smith. If I could have a better role model for the twin interests in ethics and economics, I'm not sure who it is.

8) Critique of Pure Reason - Kant. Somebody has to keep me on my toes.

9) Freakonomics - Levitt/Dubner. This was an eye-opening way to look at the world, but in many cases, it was a study on some of the meditations I'd already done in far more depth. Outliers and Tipping Point (Gladwell) would be other modern examples of this sort of experience, looking for what the incentives or hidden (unspoken anyway) explanations of complex phenomenon are.

10) Prospects of an Industrial Civilization - Russell. This isn't his best work (Principia Mathematica if I could follow along with rigorous mathematical logic without becoming bored.). But I found more in common with his complaints over the lifestyle demanded by a capitalistic society (for example the hours worked relative to leisure hours or the number of competitive things that are, effectively, the same products with a different label on them, such as cars or fast food hamburgers) or in particular the nature of how things are administered from a top-down perspective here than with say, raw Marxism. I think the complaint over too many same competitive products is yet another top-down type criticism itself now, but it's one I make myself in my moments of elitism. Proposed Roads to Freedom is a good summary of some of the views in this treatise, but it I think contains fewer practical observations that have since been borne out in reality in the form of the nature of European politics or the use, or rather abuse, of public education.

11) Civil Disobedience - Thoreau. I haven't had cause to practice this in full, as I'm not an oppressed person really and we didn't manage to lock people up for opposing the Iraq War as in Thoreau's case with Mexico, but as with Mill's absolutism over free speech, this is always potent stuff in my mind. The tricky part is getting people to follow through with the idea that the only place for an honest man in a dishonest society is in prison. Voltaire has much the same point. I gather it is difficult to muster the same level of conviction in one's ideas on a cause of "rightness", but people do manage to do it.

12) I have to throw some fiction on here. Hamlet - Shakespeare. Iliad - Homer. Red Badge of Courage - Crane. Brothers Karamazov - Dosteyevsky. And obviously Heart of Darkness - Conrad. The Iliad and Crane are almost diametric opposites, but basically I think they're telling the same story about the quest for immortality of some sort and the lengths, sometimes ridiculous, that we go forward in pursuit of it, often attaining it only through death. I have no idea why Hamlet isn't always read in high school. Conrad's work is like a subtler (much) version of Poe's short stories, using always my favorite type of person and moral story: grey. Animal Farm or 1984 from Orwell/Blair should also make an appearance here.

I'm also not sure what book or series of them influenced my statistical sports analyst mode, but I'm sure that came from somewhere. I embraced OBP, OPS, and WHIP, and then things like VORP and WARP. But I also recall playing baseball as a child and getting a lot of walks anyway. I was a very boring child it seems. At least apart from the fascination with Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side cartoons.

23 March 2010

Other weird sexual news

I'm actually sort of confused as to why sexual harassment exists, other to explain for unwanted sexual advances or employers abusing their position of authority, the concept seems strange to me.

Assume that many of the complaints would happen from co-workers, rather than authorities, then it's these that I have trouble understanding. In an environment of sexual equality, it's unlikely to be an issue, there are enough women to push back and keep things on a gender neutral level, with nothing more than the occasional remark back and forth made in the usual routine of friendly banter, and likely or ideally removed from greater sexual tensions. With a male working in a female dominated environment, I assume this happens, but I regard it as unlikely (perhaps I have some stereotypical assumptions about female sexual competition over scarce men or, more likely, I'm assuming that women are less likely to be assholes toward these "intruders" and the problem would be between women rather than directly involving the male intruder). I assume there's some homosexual tensions that give rise to this as a problem, but there are still many social factors that would tend against it at least in terms of a homosexual being overly aggressive in language or pursuit of a heterosexual individual. I assume there is commonly harassment that involve the opposite forms of annoyance flowing into outright intolerance, but these can also be dealt with now under other discrimination laws as a form of hate crime. Plus as a general rule homosexuals just aren't that common anyway, much less working in a way or a field that requires people to know the sexual relationships and comings and goings of their co-workers if it is not necessary (note: I regard this as something which best remains the private domain of the individual irrespective of sexual orientation anyway. But absent this ideal, people should be free to express their sexuality and activity therein to willing parties without fear of recriminations and harassment over what the gender is of their privately bedded partners). That leaves: women working in a male dominated field A women in a male dominated field seemed to me someone who 1) might appreciate being shielded from undesired alpha male attentions or more importantly 2) might appreciate being treated as an equal, assuming she was as good or better than her peers at her job, regardless of her status as a female, single or attached.

Whether or not either of those activities would improve the chances of a prospective male (or female) of gaining a more significant attachment than "co-worker", up to and including the somewhat remote possibility of an office romance, it seems like a natural game theory outcome to gang up on the assholes if only to improve productivity in the workplace by reducing in-group sexual competition and just letting the chips fall as they may, with the supposed lone woman making her own determinations about relationship levels existing or not rather than having to conform to the group (in other words, giving her a considerable bargaining power within the co-workers). I'm guessing that sexual competition is a much stronger driver of human activity than I'm willing to accept and have perceived in work places. Or, if not that, then gender stereotypes still maintain some powerful assumptions which are acted upon without verification.

As for the story itself, I'm not sure how the described form of discrimination qualifies precisely as "sexual harassment", unless it takes the explicit form of discussion of sexuality in an unwanted or undesirable fashion or some related version. It sounds more like assholes at work still trying to assert some sort of gentleman's club in the modern world without quite recognizing that one aspect of the "gentleman's agreements" includes not really going out of the way to tell bawdy stories and jokes in uncertain company. True even the icon of immortal and marble gentlemen, Washington, is well-known to enjoy the off-color joke and remark, such a thing addresses itself around well-known company (who would understand the joke for example). Not mere associates or worse, underlings, unless it were deemed necessary to endear some level of trust in them by making some self-deprecating remark. Somehow I doubt these bosses and office bullies are going around asking their co-workers for advice in dealing with their wives and girlfriends in a sexual manner.

When did Georgia become a country

Yes. I think people are that dumb.

I now expect an undisclosed number of people to flip out that we're moving these detainees to American soil for a few minutes until someone slaps them in the head and points to a map.

In case anyone was curious: the answer is 1991. Christmas Day. They've been around previously though, in the post WW1 era for example for a couple years and it was a Christian outpost in an otherwise Muslim area for a little while until Genghis showed up.

economists rule the world

And so your teenage daughter is having sex

Actually that's not the reason.

It's pretty much that there are methods of preventing people from knowing this teenage daughter is having sex (contraception, etc), so she is at much higher rates than a century ago. However what's interesting, and something I keep having to point when it comes up in regards sex ed, is that higher incomes correlate more strongly with avoidance of sex (pre-marital) but also positively with the use of contraception (including condoms). This suggests a number of possible causes
1) That use of contraception, in particular condoms which are usually more accessible, decreases sexual activity. There's some case to be made here.
2) Knowledge of associated risk factors which encourage use of contraception (disease and pregnancy) also decrease sexual activity. I regard this is a slight but unlikely cause. Mostly because teenagers (along with everyone else) have notoriously bad ideas about their own mortality rates anyway. Giving them some high percentage chance of their contracting gonorrhea from a few minutes of awkward fumbling around each others genitalia doesn't seem likely to dissuade supercharged hormonal teens from having sex by itself, though it might give them a reason to find a condom at least.
3) That upper class kids are lying more than the lower class kids about their sexual activity, but not their use, knowledge, and access to contraception (or condoms). That's possible and it's not very easy to check. You can start by looking at the last statistic they cited: use of prostitutes. Upper class teenage men don't frequent them anymore than anyone else in that age bracket does, largely because of those aforementioned risk factors. It is possible that they are either 1) having less pre-marital teenage sex right alongside women or 2) having it, with the same quartile of women and one or both parties is lying about it (statistics for the pre-marital teenage sexuality of men were not cited on the page) or 3) having pre-marital sex within other quartiles of the female population. I exclude the possibility of higher levels of homosexual behavior on the part of either men or women in this group. I expect that would be fairly consistent over time, though it's possible it would or has increased. My guess is that the people doing the study did some regressions analysis on the data and found that the reported figure was rigorous enough to state as though it were factually representing what happens (that such young women were having less sex than their peers for some reason).
4) That there are other causal factors, such as family response to negative outcomes of a sexual act or a negative effect on a desired career/academic path, which are considered more effectively by upper class kids because of a modest cost-benefit analysis. There isn't as much of a benefit or cost visible to most lower class teens to abstinence or the use of contraception to prevent risks. I suppose it's also possible that there are groups of these young women who engage in sexual acts but not actual sexual intercourse and then parse their question response on this basis, on the knowledge that this will eliminate their likely exposure to the dreaded and usually more difficult problem of handling a teenage pregnancy but not their risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Some of which are easily treatable and some which are not at all.

Other than the last one, I'm not sure how this makes economists the problem. There are lots of thought experiment prone bodies of academia that sit around talking about things that nobody else considers polite conversation, such as teenage sexual activity. That last one only focuses on economics because of the "obsession" with incentives and self-interest within the economic field of study.

Seems like the demon spawn for parents is birth control and condoms which remove parental agency by reducing risk factors for their children to engage in sexual activity, not people like me who sit around contemplating sex ed policy from an economic perspective of costs and benefits to society. It also sounds like those same children can respond favorably to different incentives, such as a modest understanding of the positive and negative expectations of others unrelated to their private decisions to have sexual relationships more generally and specifically their active use of contraception to reduce the risks involved in those relations. If there are strong cultural or social negatives being communicated, such as "don't have sex because you'll have a kid and I will disown you and cut you off from the trust fund because you'll never get into college and will be a worthless single mom" along with lesser, more honest, and less offensive versions therein, then I'm guessing that will put a damper on the importance of losing one's virginity a lot more efficiently than lying to children about other dangers associated with their sexuality as many in the abstinence only crowd do concerning condoms for example (the net effect of which has been to reduce condom use mostly among lower income teens, with obvious results).

The most salient point of all of that was that there's little reason to worry about educating kids about condoms as though it will encourage sex. There are still plenty of (effective) ways parents or concerned citizens moralizing teenage sex can do that without distorting factual elements over birth control and STD transmission prevention. If all we were concerned about was condom use somehow encouraging more promiscuous sex, then what explains a larger number of teens who are more sexually active and yet less likely to use condoms as the backdrop against which this body of teens who are more likely to use condoms must be compared to state whether or not they are more sexually active?

As in all economic questions, the question becomes "compared to what?" Compared to 100 years ago, fine, condoms are making people more sexually active, assuming all else is equal. Compared to now, it doesn't look that way at all. In fact it's highly possible the reverse is true now. I'd suggest that means something other than the condoms is at fault for the effect of higher teenage sex now than 100 years ago.

An education

Warning! This will be educational for most people.

He doesn't discuss velocity of money theories (the multiplier effect, much discussed in the stimulus bills, is mostly based on this), which I think is more pressing on inflation/deflation than the actual amount of money in circulation and which in part explains why credit is still crunching despite a massive injection of money by the Federal Reserve last year (but not this year), but it's still a pretty good summary of things as they stand.

22 March 2010

A continued campaign of attrition against things that ought not be said and done


And then send to others. Many others.

You know who I feel sorry for

Mitt Romney?

No. Not really. But he does seem to be missing out on his medication and just sort of says things as though they really make sense (like, legally drunk....). My guess is that HCR passing killed his Presidential campaign chances. Which doesn't leave much in the field for right now. Republicans basically have to hope the economy collapses or at least stays in the doldrums from now until 2012. Because if this is the best they can do, it's not going to be pretty.

And now a reform we can all get behind

Good bye DST!

I'm amused that it was farmers who objected to the time change in Indiana and it was supposedly those farmers that Franklin was interested in when he proposed the idea in the first place. Franklin's idea for how to do it is a lot more entertaining in any event (firing cannons to wake people up would be fun).

I'm also amused I didn't know Indiana had surrendered to the DST lobby. A good sign that I haven't bothered going into Indiana in a while or paying attention to the time while there. (I was aware they're still fighting over whether to be on CST or EST and that this is akin to a blood feud, third rail discussion in Indiana homes).

As it happens, the "less crime" outcome is easily duplicated. Move middle and high school start times back two hours to a 9-5 day. Traffic fatalities can be copied by using congestion pricing tolls to smooth out traffic across the day. And it's not that hard to go to a movie, a play, or a ballgame even when it's dark outside. "Increased economic activity" is not the same as benefits from increased economic activity. If all it is is more energy dollars, that is a broken window if I've ever seen one.

Pope scandal

I'm not sure I need to add anything.

I personally am very fond of referring to this joker as "Pope Soup Nazi". He's not doing very well at endearing me to any nickname which sounds less offensive which I realize isn't his job. I suspect however he's not doing very well at endearing actual Catholics either. Given the rates of departure.

There's also this amusing tale. Among most people's concerns over faith and their choice of religious affiliation is the increasing disaffection with peculiar and outmoded moral dogmas and decrees, specifically over homosexuals, birth control, and abortion, for many. And yet what seemed clear from surveys last year where all were quick to clamor over some end of faith or religion in America was that "faith" was still quite strong. It was organised religion(s), which were suffering. This was largely because they are less flexible and doggedly defend interpreted values against modernity. To me this question is pointed at the problem most crisis of faith people have "what if we can’t reform religion much; which would he choose between atheism and the today’s distribution of religious styles?"

For myself, the problem was never the abuses of organised religions or the bizarre importance and moral framework attached to obscure notions like original sin and salvation. It was simply that metaphysics sucks. Human beings have been busily informing their reality with tales of greater beings and the supernatural for thousands of years to explain things they did not understand and which have been explained later by plausible natural phenomenon. The only thing that changed, so far as I could tell, were the names and possibly the numbers of the deities involved. This was convincing enough a reason to ignore religious preaching and its powerful negative effects on the tolerance and happiness of humans within their communities (ie, that religious communities create intolerance outside of their community and thus negatively effect overall happiness by excluding, negating, or even slaughtering outsiders for their decisions). Whatever the benefits are, it's pretty easy to come by them without these negative effects. (So far as I can tell the benefits are things like socializing with others, relative in-group tolerance, and internal peace of mind on the part of the strongest ideological believers).

Something as simple as having priests who aren't paedophiles shouldn't require a major effort. I accept that it will be hard to get Shi'ite and Sunni or Baptist and Catholic to get along and that this is a key indictment of religion from an outside view (because those arguments are fucking pointless metaphysical ones rather than real and factual or even informed ethical differences of opinion), simply because of the team effects. But you would think these teams would try to keep their internal membership serene and passive against intrusions and doubts over the sanctity of their mission and organisations.

On the plus side, I would gather that I'm not likely to have to worry about being on a jury. Between the economics mindset and the atheism, I'm going to be booted right away, though I might at least have an amusing anecdote to tell later about the process and the series of questions used to boot me.

sometimes I'm right.


I called that they would several weeks ago even with Brown getting elected, though not without some doubts and recriminations along the way.

Most times it seems, I hate being right. I'm looking forward to employers having to disclose how much health insurance actually costs them, or rather, how much it costs the workers, except that this perfectly reasonable action of disclosing how much a benefit costs us in real wages doesn't take effect for a year. And there's still no substantive individual market for people to take those dollars toward anyway. In fact they may have killed what individual market there was by nuking HSAs. Otherwise, it was a great achievement...

For full clarity, if I had a vote I would have held out until the excise tax on "Cadillac insurance" was restored, even expanded to most of the employer-based market, and catastrophic only health care insurance was still optional, leaving HSAs as viable to help offset costs. Especially in the individual health insurance market over the next several years before the public exchanges get up and running. My only conclusion from that principle is I will never be elected to serve in office because neither of those are broadly popular. Even among Republicans. Despite my misgivings that this won't help control runaway government health related costs or save thousands of lives, I don't think it necessary to hold this one vote against people in office either. Congress has done dumber things that expanded the power or expense of government for quite sometime now (see any US Census commercial for hints... I'd like to know who thought those were a great idea). The primary reason is that the system as it was was quite terrible. Shifting the costs off of employers even marginally, as I suspect this bill or one like it will eventually do, probably represents an improvement, at least in the short term.

It's not a fix and it's probably not even accurate to call this "reform". But it's a start. It's not the direction I'd have chosen to run in, but then this is America. I'm used to Americans being too dumb, or, more charitably, schizophrenic, to know what they want and that costing all of us money.

21 March 2010


Some thoughts on the upset.
Naturally I'm referring to Washington crushing New Mexico, as I expected. St Mary's beating Villanova wasn't much of a shocker either (every time I picked SMU I had them beating Nova). Kansas is the head scratch-er. For the moment it only killed about half of my brackets and I anticipate still comfortably beating the President.

The last time the #1 overall seed lost in the second round was 2004. However Kentucky that year was somewhere around the 8-10th best team in the country on the computers (UConn vs Duke in the Final Four was essentially the title game). Kansas basically is a coin flip over Duke to be the best team in the country, by almost every computer rating system used. There is no contest here; this is a much bigger upset as a result. Even though UNI is probably a better team than UAB was at the time, it's just a way better team than Kentucky was losing way too early. The oddity to me is that Kentucky of '04 was picked on roughly the same number of brackets as Kansas this year (I picked UConn in 2004 AND pegged them over Georgia Tech and basically ignored Kentucky, usually had them losing to Kansas or Tech).

On the game itself, Sharron Collins did pretty much what he has done in every game they've struggled in all year, shot terribly and turned the ball over too much. I'm also not sure why they didn't try pressing sooner. UNI just didn't seem to be able to handle that pressure at all and doubled their turnovers in the final 4-5 minutes from the entire game. Kansas did seem to be missing a lot of open shots in the second half, but in the first, they were pressing too hard and rushing shots, which is worse.

This upset improves the possibility of Kentucky being the champ to about 8% from 5%. I still see Duke, Syracuse, Ohio State and Kansas State coming ahead of them. The reason is that Kentucky will have to beat, more than likely, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Duke just to get to the final, plus one of the Syracuse, Ohio St, Kansas St trio in that final. All of these are teams rated roughly equal or, in Duke's case, well ahead of Kentucky. Kentucky has played 0 teams of their own caliber all year, or even of top 25 caliber. This is also not a good sign. They will require a lot of upsets to improve their chances, and even here they're in bad shape from here on out. Missouri, Washington, possibly even Cornell are better than most of the teams they have played all year and teams like Baylor are lurking out there as possible final four opponents as well (yet another rough equal and probably the only team as tall and athletic as Kentucky). I'm just not sure what this 20-25% of the "betting" public is seeing in these guys. Other than a hatred of Duke?

20 March 2010

day 2

Less brisk. CBS annoyed me quite a bit by shifting to Wisconsin's close, but boring, game over Missouri's slightly less close but exciting uptempo game. Other than the 3 big 10 teams (who decided to make their victories as challenging as possible) and the Missouri game, it was mostly a collection of yawners.

I shall refer to Gonzaga as the Brett Farve of the NCAA. In that it's practically impossible to properly estimate their abilities. They could show up. Or not. They showed up this year. So far.

Utah State losing, by that much, surprised me. I suppose I will live with going 27-5. I've got one sheet at 28-4 and I appear to be averaging around 26-6 overall, but the "average" pick works out to 27-5. Which is not too bad, all things considered. Texas and Georgetown look to be the only real burns. The call of California over Louisville seems to have worked out. Thanks to the Big East for being overrated and the Pac-10 for being underrated (as usual).

The 28-4 if it works out to be the best bracket I have, I'll be incredibly surprised. It's rather upset heavy over the next two days (for some reason I picked Cal to win in that one over Duke for example. I think it was the LRMC/Pomeroy model).

Teams who need to win today and tomorrow to continue the pot odds gains: Washington (9%-51), BYU (10%-87), Xavier (21%-71), Wake Forest 1%-93 (I didn't pick them but it would nuke anybody who picked Kentucky. Which wasn't me). Purdue (33%-47) and Tennessee (20%-0) would be mildly helpful (TU because I usually picked G'Town, but I hedged a bit. I hate picking Bruce Pearl way more than picking Duke). As would Butler (40%-0) and Maryland (44%-52). If Cornell (11%-59)beats Wisconsin I will be very annoyed.

19 March 2010

day 1

That was brisk. Lots of close ones and a couple usual buzzer beaters.

The Big East, as I correctly anticipated, was way overrated. I did not anticipate Georgetown losing to Ohio, but I did write a week ago that they were vulnerable for an early exit. They're roughly in the same rating point as the highest rated teams last year to lose early: West Virginia (as a 6 seed last year) and...Wake Forest (as a 4 seed last year), which got through this year by playing the other team with a strange lack of competence down the stretch. I had Marquette and Notre Dame out early. Washington I had rated right behind Marquette (literally) and Notre Dame was way behind Old Dominion. These are not good signs if you're supposed to be the higher seed that you are rated behind or right alongside your opponent in the first round. The only others like this were: Murray State-Vandy, UNI-UNLV (the only actual 8-9 tossup, the rest were way out of kilter), Mizzou-Clemson and Utah State-Texas AM. Second round I have Washington slightly ahead of New Mexico as well. Georgia Tech rates way ahead of Oklahoma State and Notre Dame was, as mentioned, way behind ODU. I should have listened to this on the Richmond-St Mary's game (my third miss of the first day).

Murray State rated ahead of Vanderbilt on my list, which worked out thanks to a crazy step back jumper with a second left from twenty feet and two hands in the face. But I blame the President for picking that one and probably making it roughly more popular. I wanted my pot odds. At least the Notre Dame upset was unpopular and got me some gain.

deem and pass

I had an amusing conversation over this during a break in the basketball action yesterday. For whatever reason, this has become a darling effect to nullify the coming health care bill for conservatives. My understanding, from reading a series of legal blogs on the topic, is that it's unlikely to get to the Supremes, but even if it did, it's not entirely clear that they would or could overturn it on this basis. In fact, it's probably the quickest way to get a challenge to the bill thrown out of the court system. Basically the courts have a standing precedent which ruled that the process by which a bill is passed by the legislature isn't really in their purview to overturn so long as the legislature's proper authorities have signed off on the process being used. Basic provisions in the bill are more likely to get challenged on their Constitutionality with some seriousness rather than the methods of passage.

I'm not a big fan of the bill as final result (they still nixed HSAs and still nixed the possibility of using taxation on expensive health care plans to moderate their use; ie waste, in order to mollify a favoured demographic base in the unions). But the level of vitriol aimed at it gets amusing. "They've never done this before". Uh. Actually they have. As recently as 2005. Republicans passed what amounted to two different bills on the same thing too (which is what deem and pass results in), on that thing which we claim to hate most: they raised the national debt ceiling this way. The Gingrich Congress, followed by Hastert's, was notorious for passing bills this way. The talk machine has managed, as usual, to ignore this portion of history.

Glazing over history means you are doomed to repeat it.

17 March 2010

in the land of the unseen hand

My venting over explaining economics to people in forums of meaningless internet debates is getting old. At least when I talk to people who hold more favorable views of communism or socialistic thinking I know where they're coming from and that they have a sincerely held view. Even if it's dangerous or wrong in my opinion to draw their conclusions and recipes of political action, and in human practice the brutal technocracy isn't much of an improvement over the non-engaged and unserious use of mob rule (or, as the Polish proverb goes, not much of a change from mob rule in a more colloquial sense), these are still marginally well informed people who have some affiliation with what the terms mean. Many of them are just as annoyed about farm subsidies and the drug war as I am in what must be one of the stranger forms of bipartisan consensus imaginable (though I have little doubt their reasoning is substantially different in some cases, because of puff puff pass rules for example).

It's mostly these people who have been going around for the last year and a half as though they just discovered the existence of Ayn Rand and Karl Marx (neither of whom I would describe as a particularly enlightening or challenging political and economic thinker) that are getting to me. Where the fuck where you 8 years ago? Or even 4? It's "communism", or "liberal" (as though these were somehow meaningfully interchangeable phrases) when it's not something I approve of. When it's really bad I'll put out the dark side and go with Maoism or Fascism (to the point of including it as a prominent conservative book title decrying liberalism) to make my opposing views seem more "informed". Meanwhile actual acts which resemble communism or fascism are allowed to continue unmolested perpetrated by the exact people who are claiming the public mantle as our best watchdogs against them (that is: Republicans). Usurping is more like it after the debacle that is Medicare part D, protection against medicare cuts, continued support for trade barriers and farm subsidies, etc.

More absurd still than that we supposedly have a free market supportive party is the idea that somehow "capitalism" has become a bad word and should be described as something else. We can certainly blame the people who made up the word to describe a theoretical form of political economy for associating it with capitalists, who are often a distinct and vital practitioner of market economics. It's hardly the most singular feature of them that corporate entities formed through capital accumulation by wealthy industrialists are supposed to and somehow enabled to run society in a market economy. But it is awfully convenient for many of the detractors that they end up doing so. Such detractors are often careful to ignore that it is more often the involvement of government in their private affairs to begin with that allows for such widespread and continued market domination in an unfavorable social manner, as that would raise skepticism over their usual proposed solution: more government involvement. The problem isn't the word choice. It's the bias that most of the citizenry has against market processes being allowed to run their perceived course. People see the unseen hand as only taking things away from them in the forms of "outsourcing" or "immigration" or "price gouging", all representing costs in ways that would actually provide some substantive benefits to everyone (even "price gouging", often misinterpreted, has benefits in the form of more equitably rationing resources in times of emergency than would be the case in their absence, that is: you can't ration what is consumed and gone because someone else over-consumed beyond what they truly "needed"). And likewise see only the purported benefits provided in the forms of illusory things like security or safety without taking note of the costs. This happens across party affiliations and regardless of a supposed party line for or against markets (which I have not personally seen, at least between mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans). But it's profoundly more annoying when it emerges from mainstream Republicans who supposed to be the economic conservatives. At least when some uninformed anti-market Democrat stands up and rambles on, you can say that well, that's supposed to be part of the party line that the little guy or the middle class somehow needs someone to stand up for them (without examining whether or not the person doing the standing is actually doing much "for them" and not merely "for himself"). When some mainstream Republican gets up and starts painting everything their opponent does blood Red as though it was 1917 or 1953 I see every right to get annoyed because these are the same fucking things these people wanted to pass themselves. We rarely see "less regulation" or "less government" from Republicans in meaningful ways. The airline deregulation story from Reagan's era has been recycled to death. Guess when it passed. 1978. Before Reagan showed up. The main legislative figure was Ted Kennedy. THE whipping boy of hatred for conservatives. It took quite a while for Southwest to get big enough to start competing with other regional players like Delta or United and really get the ball moving into a success story, they claimed credit over it (to be fair, conservative/libertarian economists had been pushing this for decades and only finally got an attentive ear during the energy crisis in the early 70s, during the Nixon and Ford administrations). We're still waiting to see similar reconstructive surgery over railroads or automobile companies. Other than opposing frivolous new regulations or regulations which impede oil based energy's dominance, I'm not all that hopeful we'll see a GOP spearhead on these issues either. We may have to wait for whoever comes after Obama on the Democratic ticket.

As it has been helpfully suggested, if one is a libertarian you can find any old Republican who will rhetorically oppose government growth by opposing the increase of taxes (whether or not they follow through on this was, until W, actually something of an open question). I've been following the tea party movement since it began referring to itself with a rather profane sexual act (I suppose until someone looked it up on urban dictionary). I would imagine that much of its firepower is derived, particularly after we saw Sarah Palin show up at a rally, from opposition to the team with a different colour on the maps than "Red State America". After reading their rhetoric and observing the commentators that appear to either pander or inform this movement, it seems pretty clear that they are not significantly informed by some shared (and very recent) unveiling of libertarian ideals and this will become more and more obvious any time the discussion moves away from economics, specifically fiscal policy and occasionally monetary policy as well with the Goldbugs and Paul-ites who are more informed generally, if delusional, and into national security or social/culture war policy. They clearly have little interest in market economics and the type of social orders that are necessary for and result from markets and are mostly concerned about "debt levels". Which is fine, I guess. Deficits and debts are most often wonderful things to pay attention to. Sort of like looking at the DJIA once in a while to "see how the stock market is doing". But it baffles belief that these were a people mobilized by deficits and chose now to act, all of the sudden. As though these absurd deficits and high debt levels were magically invented by the usurping of the throne by some renegade blue state fellow, practically from another planet by their consideration.

Still what is most aggravating is that they seem content to claim themselves as now experts on economic and political theory after having (claimed to) read Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead and run around painting everyone who disagrees with them as a dirty liberal or communist. Go read Marx. I'll summarize.
#1 Abolition of property in land and of all rents of land to public purposes.
#2 A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
#3 Abolition of all right of inheritance.
#4 Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
#5 Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
#6 Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
#7 Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
#8 Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
#9 Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country.
#10 Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.

Other than the first one (which has not yet happened in American society, with a few exceptions where the government has used its eminent domain power to transfer property to other private owners against the will and utility of the former owner), let me know which of those you wouldn't support if it were removed from Marxist connotations, or, more significantly, what you would propose instead. For example instead of a graduated income tax, what would you use to deal with a democratic polity's tendency toward requiring occasional economic inequality resolutions (witness the people whining about CEO pay and bonuses, many of them on the populist right). Why is it that you people consistently vote for things like #7 and have done so for decades in the form of major subsidies for favoured industries like oil, automobiles, and corn? I suppose the inclusion of #10 on this list might give me some explanation as to why there are these crazy folks running around in Texas trying to kill education more generally (regardless of public or private sources of funding, they're actually attacking its public utility by attempting to reduce thought and productive intellectual ventures or curiosity).

But if I can go down the line of public policies we have in place, many of which are like those listed above, and find broad support for keeping most of them largely intact even from these so called fiscal conservatives who claim to want to "cut spending", I should think my next conceit would be to tell you to go read some more Rand and shut the fuck up. Because you're just bullshitting. Either yourself or someone else. And that's basically what Rand was often doing too. You belong together.

Toyota didn't do it?

This is getting worse

As the story goes about. I guess I have two problems.

1) I can write this off as more and further proof that people are morons. Especially the homicidal elderly driving population.

2) I can assume there was some minute flaw with Toyotas they needed to address. That is that moronic people figured out ways to misuse their cars.

obama did what?


No. I don't care that he picked the final four for ESPN again. I said that weeks ago. I'm amused at his picks more than anything else. Last year he had I thought one obvious weak pick (Louisville), and two relatively weak ones: Memphis, playing a tough bracket draw with Missouri and UConn), and Pittsburgh, which I was pretty convinced wasn't as good as advertised either mostly because of the name on the jersey I think more than anything else. But he did peg Carolina and they came through.

Other than Kansas I'm not so sure about any of his picks this year either. I'm assuming he has the same dynamic going on here.

16 March 2010

All generalisations are false, including this one

Morality play

I took most of these since I prefer to use my time on the most trivial and impractical diversions possible. I was interested in several of the conclusions, though they were often merely confirmations of things I've long speculated on. For example the different data/worldview sets that people use to inform their ethical behaviors was glaringly obvious when you looked at a test over something like whether torture was moral and whether it was then somehow moral when it was deemed to be effective (including whether or not it was effective at all). Abstractly, one could certainly say it could be effective. But one also has to ask "compared to what"? At least, all that economic thought has trained me to ask that question. Third degree is probably more effective at gathering information compared to doing nothing at all. But it's definitely not more effective than the alternative methods of coercion which elicit far less distorted information. Ask an interrogator. Or more importantly, ask the people who have to make decisions based on the information (and presumably would not have to care how it is originated).

Much discussed of late is the "Moral Foundations" set of quizzes. The one major odd one is sorting out what loyalty preferences are for liberals and conservatives. When the data is parsed out, in part by using the "Moral Foundations Sacredness" quiz, there's a clear gap in the respect for group loyalties, despite a similar score in an overall foundation. It's pretty obvious that liberals possess some sort of in-group biases, judging from the same rhetorical defences they engage in when their favoured constituencies are shown to be screwballs. There's just a different sort of rallying points, environmental policy instead of abortion for example. This makes it harder to sort out what it is that liberals are actually responding to as the basis of their ethical determinations because it obscures that they have the same institutionalized in-group bias but seem to apply it differently or upon different groups.

Basically what that set of quizzes shows is that libertarians are really hard to sort out. They're like liberals on a lot of ethical thinking, but they're also so strongly anti-authoritarian that they prefer impersonal market forces making all the "ethical" judgments for us rather than any means of persuasion and coercion through the force of laws and authorities who might have something to gain or to game over. Liberals who like markets has been the summed judgment. Of course, it's hard to say that "conservative" is a force for markets at this point either any more than "liberal" has come to mean its opposite, certainly within the "generalisation" method of recent data points. Most amusing on that point was the question on "eating genetically modified foods", which was somehow a parsing of liberal perspectives. I'd like to know what foods we eat that have not been genetically modified by humans over thousands of years and how liberals thus seek avoiding eating anything else. Or how this supposedly liberal crank cause of "toxins in the body" claims over modern genetic agriculture (that feeds billions in the developed and third world and mostly exists because of a nationalistic preference that somehow Americans and Europeans should feed everyone with their somehow superior "organic" crops) somehow gracefully crossed over into the more or less conservative crank cause of anti-vaccination (which spawns more out of a lack of respect for the methods of scientific and empirical knowledge than an anti-market bias, though conservatives have plenty of those too these days).

I pretty much had the most singular preference for the basis of morality possible (harm reduction), rating among the lowest possible scores for loyalty, purity, and authority as a basis for my own ethics. That doesn't surprise me. The gap between me and "conservatives" on purity was such that they had an average score of three times what I scored. Which shouldn't be alarming either, though I suppose it would be if I was actually a hedonistic buffoon. Of the sort where people used to complain about libertarians always railing about the drug war as though this would somehow allow us to become relevant to policy making and as though the drug war isn't a serious mis-allocation of social resources. I did have some consideration for equality of opportunity type ethics. But I'm not all that concerned if people do as I do and fuck it up that we need to institutionally protect against this producing poor outcomes.

The really interesting gap for me personally was the judgment of personal and impersonal violations. I basically score the same on either. Most people score much higher on impersonal violations as being acceptable but personal ones are not (the famous trolley question). I suppose this goes along with my being drawn to Omar and Brouther Mouzone in the Wire over almost anybody else (other than obviously Colvin) or feeling like rooting for De Niro's gang of ruthless bank robbers in Heat. Or it could just be that I use a far too calculated view of morality to determine ethical questions, at least relative to normal people.

Perhaps, rather than Twain I should go with Black Thought to explain where I come from for ethical expectations.

"Sex, drugs, murder, politics and religion
Forms of hustlin', watch who you put all your trust in"

You can't make this up

Texas gets uglier still

All this does is reinforce the need for me to push things like actual school choice initiatives. If only because it would remove millions of students from the tyrannical orders of a handful ultra conservatives worldviews of social movements and philosophy. I didn't realize that opposition was so high against Thomas Jefferson that we needed to write him out of history. Much less replace him with "Enlightenment" thinkers like Thomas Aquinas (who proceeded the historical epoch being described by only a couple centuries, like 5...). I don't have any objection to people studying Aquinas as an influential thinker or his philosophical ideas, but to call that "Enlightenment" era is a serious perversion of what the Enlightenment was over. The hardcore elements of it more or less obscured and eventually attempted to destroy organised religion (see: Revolution, French). There's not much chance of people seriously studying the writings of Jefferson, Paine, or Rousseau and coming away with the idea that they were sympathetic to religious claims of dogmatic knowledge over and often set against the faculty of human reason.

Also: I don't have any serious objections to stressing the importance of the second amendment, but to present it as though the FIRST amendment doesn't exist (by not discussing one of its principle, most revered and copied, and most incisive philosophical features; freedom of conscience and religion) is a little more than ridiculous too.

14 March 2010

bracket's out

Only 13 national bracket projections even had Florida in the field. And so naturally they get a 10 seed. The best bubble team that wasn't included was apparently Virginia Tech, which had 28 projections out of 56. Both Illinois and Mississippi State were also ahead of Florida on this list. Leaving any of these 4 teams out is certainly acceptable, none were obvious glaring needs for inclusion (unlike Utah State which rated as a 5 seed on my list...and they're playing one as a 12). But picking Florida out of these 4 teams strikes me as very odd. They're clearly the worst of the 4.

Every year there are people calling for an expanded bracket. I don't think this is necessary. Largely because the teams that get left out don't really have a strong case for inclusion in most years. The committee generally does a fair job of selecting the at-large teams most worthy of bids. It's the seeding that ends up sort of strange more routinely. You can make a case that Florida wasn't one of the best 34 teams at large (pretty easily since they lost to South Alabama), but it's hard to make a case positively for any of the teams left out instead of them. If however it came down to Utah State (or UTEP, both got 12 seeds as at large bids in weak conferences) rather than Florida as the worst team I am concerned.

Actual bracket thoughts.
Pittsburgh getting a 3. I think the 9 seed range that they score at for my purposes is certainly well low, but a 3 seed is also pushing sanity. I'm not convinced they could beat either Minnesota or Xavier. The field had them average a 4 seed. In general the Big East got higher seeds than would be considered likely. Notre Dame for example I have as in a 6-11 game, but as the 11, not the 6. The field has them around an 8. Villanova is a bit high for a 2 seed, I had them as a low 3 or high 4, and this is mostly because they ended the season playing poorly.

I was pleased that Tennessee fell to a 6 from the field's average of a 4 seed, but I had them even lower still. Vanderbilt consistently gets overseeded every year it seems like by the same 4 or 5 seed lines (though the field had them as a 5 anyway). They also consistently become one of my easier upset picks as a result. I'm guessing the impressed feeling of indulging the SEC as somehow a more powerful conference than it has actually been this year led to Florida getting in at all. If Tennessee was not playing San Diego in Providence, I'd probably have picked both to lose in the first round. Texas is not a friendly matchup for Kentucky either (in New Orleans?), neither is Wisconsin or West Virginia. Temple and New Mexico are.

Duke has some unfriendly territory early on and a pretty compressed region generally. They have no true 2 seed at all, but they have #11 Baylor, #13 Purdue, #15 California, #16 Villanova, #20 Utah State, #22 Texas AM all in there. Texas Am and Utah St however play each other in the first round and Baylor and Villanova would play each other in the sweet 16. All Duke really has to do is get past California (who will quite probably lose to Louisville since they're playing Jacksonville) and a banged up Purdue team, though if they play Baylor it would be in Houston. Which might be interesting.

BYU got far more shafted than I expected. They didn't play very many meaningful games, but I expect they could be an odd look. If they weren't playing Kansas State, that'd be my elite 8 sleeper posing another odd home court edge by playing in Salt Lake City against Syracuse. The West was by far the screwiest seed wise. Both Pitt and Vandy were out here and Minnesota of course drew a much lower seed than their play would indicate, same with UTEP. Plus this is where Florida is playing (BYU in the first round). That said, other than the BYU-K.St matchup in the second round, there aren't a whole lot of tough calls.

Final Four generally looks like this Kansas plays Syracuse, West Virginia plays Duke. Best guess is that the toughest games for Kansas would be the Ohio State/Georgetown winner and Syracuse and not whoever comes out of the other side of the bracket for the title game.

hitch goes there

new commandments

Pretty sure Carlin's rules were simpler: "Try really really hard not to kill anyone and be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie." Basically what it comes down to is murder is no good, theft is risky, as is lying for personal gain or for personal attack on others, and honesty and an attempt at fidelity in our relationships with all other people is generally a pretty good idea. These are not really offensive concepts as binding moral behaviors, even in an anarchical environment.

Naturally it confuses me greatly when people try to tell me that it is these old religious canons that form the basis of American or even European jurisprudence. I'm sorry. I must have missed the part where we aren't supposed to make idols to the gods, or pray to the other gods period as a portion of our shared moral values, much less that we should visit the sins of our parents upon the succeeding generations. I guess we liked those rules about not murdering people (though the watered down "thou shalt not kill" is not what the original commandment said, nor is it what the origin of many of those commandments said). But it's not necessarily true that we needed to use Moses to tell people not to kill each other. If we do actually need such ancient stories to compel even modestly appropriate behavior out of the average person by moving toward "preventing" egregious acts of violence and hatred, I fear for the prospects of the human species.

It's also not even true that we use it for legal premises. Adultery for example is not punished by any formal legal penalties. It has not been since the foundation of the country. We have some common law elements that play into the possibility of divorce or marriage laws, but that's as close as it gets to actually using the force of law to penalize adulterers. Additionally since the American public has taken to interpretive portions of these commandments rather than the original formal ones, we are left with censorship declaring certain words to be out of bounds, when these words are witnessed nowhere within these commandments as sinful or immoral. It is, in this one case, an example of how fundamentalism would constitute an improvement over our moral governance or behavior by absolving us of the responsibility to police our public language, and presumably our private language as well.

By contrast, that whole "covet" commandment would be a major blow. Virtually all of society is built on coveting things, people, occupations, that we do not yet have and figuring out ways to acquire that status of ownership, marriage/friendship, or other social status through mutually accepted actions and transactions. It is odd to go through life not wanting anything at all. Much less it is odd to conceive of a society which would police this, since it is largely a thought crime rather than the actions themselves which are considered inappropriate. I suspect no one would object to the purchase of your neighbour's new car, but somehow we're supposed to object to it if you actually wanted it really badly? I guess we cannot escape the illogic of attempts to patrol our thoughts and intentions and to imbue this state with religious significance. But it's damned weird to assume we could create a state whose laws could apply such things and to tell each other that we have based that state on the formal laws of an ancient religious code when it's functionally impossible to police thought.

preliminary bracket thoughts and last top 20

1) Kansas
2) Duke
3) Syracuse
4) Kentucky
As of right now I'm going to go with Kansas. I may pick Duke on a sheet or two depending on the breaks because of some pot odds effects. Syracuse doesn't quite cut it any longer. MOV dropped below critical mass. Kentucky will be the weakest #1 seed and I'll probably pick them to lose in the second round as I stated several months ago. The top 3 have been locked in for weeks.
5) BYU
6) Wisconsin
7) Kansas State
8) West Virginia
All pretty close together. BYU will probably get a 4 seed and lose in the second round. I'm not sure how Syracuse could drop behind West Virginia and I'm pretty sure Ohio State won't be moved up either. Beating Minnesota and Illinois isn't all that impressive really.
9) Ohio State (can't move up that much, or drop that much from the B10 title game)

10) Georgetown
11) Baylor
12) Maryland
13) Purdue (still dropping, I'm not sure they'd make the top 20 right now)
14) Villanova
15) California
16) Texas
Not much to be said here. Georgetown may be on my "early outs" list.
17) Missouri
18) Minnesota
19) Xavier
20) Clemson
21) Utah State
22) Michigan State
23) Texas AM
24) Butler
25) Marquette

Last teams in
18) I'm not sure Minnesota would get in unless they win tomorrow. I obviously think they should. A close game though might be enough.
27) Washington probably wouldn't have gotten in unless they won Saturday, but probably should have.
40) Virginia Tech probably shouldn't get in, because they have few good games much less wins on their schedule, but will.
41) Arizona State is done.
45) Mississippi State probably should get in, but probably won't unless they win tomorrow (or make a good showing). I have them as the last at large team on my list if they don't win tomorrow. That doesn't mean that I'd pick them as the last at large team.
48) Richmond is in. But if it were up to the best at large teams on my sheet, they'd be the first one out. I'd still take them.
49) Wake Forest is right behind Richmond on the uninspiring teams list that have managed some good enough wins to get in.
51) Memphis, done
52) Mississippi, done
53) Dayton, done
56) Illinois, might have a shot because of their peculiarly strong resume wins against good teams. But New Mexico State winning probably killed it (along with the low profile otherwise). Mississippi State might officially kill their bid.
57) Miami (FL), needed to win out in the ACC.
58) VCU, done a while ago. But this is probably a surprisingly high rating
59) Seton Hall, why they're still on the last four out rating anywhere is beyond comprehension.

It looks like the committee will have to do alternate brackets in the event Minnesota wins or at least has yet another close loss. They'll have time to accommodate Mississippi State.

12 March 2010

the more things change

The game is still the game

We really shouldn't be still dealing with blacks as though they have some sort of fractional basis of humanity. I thought that was an acknowledged crime from 200 years ago that was fixed, in part, with blood. It's now being paid in more blood, with the same blood money as before (drugs instead of slaves). Fixing the sentencing issue to a 4/5th improvement is nice, I guess. But there's no good reason to treat crack as distinct from cocaine in the legal sense if we're going to treat them as legal problems in the first place (which I don't think we should be).

08 March 2010

random thoughts of the month

Why is there not more attention paid to the collection of guys being rounded up in Pakistan? Good news is that the attention being paid to the "al-Qaeda 7" brouhaha is mostly negative and directed at the morons who ran the campaign against them rather than against the lawyers who did their jobs.

Why is there so much attention paid to Toyota having a minor safety defect that they are attempting to correct at great expense? It was funny for a couple nights on late night jokes, but it got old rather quickly. The biggest culprit for safety problems in cars is the driver. (full disclosure: I say this not because I have a Toyota outside of the safety recall period. I could care less what brand of car I owned or sought to buy in the future).

Why do people pay so much attention to glamour and glitz surrounding the Oscars? It's bad enough that I end up knowing who wins the damned awards (and often coming away wondering what the hell they were thinking). I don't need to know what they looked like doing it. I prefer only paying attention to actors and actresses and directors when they're acting and directing for my entertainment and competing for my entertainment dollar. Thanks. While we're at it, why don't they change the format. Instead of men's and women's awards for best actor/supporting actors, spread it into genres of film. Comedies, musicals, drama, and action/sci-fi are all sort of different kinds of roles. There doesn't seem to me to be a real distinction between the qualify of men and women at acting generally, at least not enough to justify the gender separation on how the awards are done. Or directing (though at least there, there's a gap of the number of women directing).

Since I'm busy being annoyingly sexist or something, I'm also confused about the gender gaps in sports. Women play poker at the same tables as men. They can play golf at a roughly competitive level with men (other than driving the tee shots). Anything sport or competitively related that doesn't involve a physical gap in athletic performance should be integrated. Baseball is probably the only major team sport that I could see getting gender integration in my lifetime (I could not see women playing football at all and I'm rather skeptical about the ability of women to play at the same level of men because of the immense amount of athletic requirement). Maybe soccer. The problem and the reason this would be less likely is that there's a competitive disadvantage. Women are filtered into softball early on and don't play baseball against the boys for years, depriving the probable body of qualified candidates. But as far as I can tell women ought to be able to hit major league level pitching if they get enough practice against it. Jeanne Finch is just as hard for major league hitters to hit against (she routinely struck them out in exhibitions). I don't foresee a 30 home run season out of a woman anytime in the near future, but there's no physical reason they couldn't hit the ball out of the park once in a while either.

ncaa-champ week edition

I managed to glance at the RPI and the actual rankings this week. Those were good for a laugh

1) Kansas
2) Duke
3) Syracuse
(These are the only teams I think have a shot at the title, in that order. BYU fits the criteria of uptempo team that blows people out, but only against much inferior competition).
4) Wisconsin
5) BYU
(Probably will get knocked off sooner because they will be underseeded and have to play somebody tougher earlier. RPI hates these two. They're not quite the most undervalued by RPI and pollsters, but it's pretty close because of how highly they rate on MOV and efficiency type ratings).
6) West Virginia
7) Ohio State (RPI hates them too. Turner's injury and Lauer's on Wisconsin's should play into their seeding)
8) Kentucky
9) Purdue
9) Kansas State
(I call this the hit or miss mix. Purdue's injuries, Kentucky's road woes and K State's weak resume aren't too helpful).
11) Maryland
12) Texas
13) Villanova
14) Baylor
(somebody is going to be very sad if they get Maryland as a lower seed draw in the second round, which they will because RPI and the bracketology folks who work based on that RPI rank have them as no better than a 5 or even 6 usually. Nova is also tricky. Texas isn't playing well. But I still wouldn't want to play them early either).
15) Missouri
16) California
17) Georgetown
18) Clemson
19) Xavier
20) Michigan State
(Cal should be in no problem, but they only have Murray St as a good win outside of their conference. I'm also not sure I buy that the Pac 10 is THAT far down. They're 8th in the RPI? You do realize that the A10 has Fordham at the glorious record of 2-26 in it?. Washington State as the last place Pac10 team is still 16-14 overall. There's probably 5-6 teams in the A10 that would struggle to win a single game in the Pac10. Sorry can't take that as a better conference just because of Temple, Xavier and Richmond. The ACC also not being #1 or #2 is hard to take seriously. Again, no easy outs. The Big East at least has Rutgers and DePaul to beat up on.)

Here's the profile on the bids so far that might matter. Winthrop and ETSU, thanks for playing but you will be cannon fodder.
N. Iowa I have #39. They have an 9-1 record versus the top 100 and will probably get a more favorable seed than a 10 (New Mexico is the only team more overrated by RPI). Possibly a sweet 16 team but nothing more than that, depends on the draw.
Murray St I have #47. The commentators for their game had them pegged as a 13 seed. RPI has them as a possible 11 or 12, depending on who doesn't make the cut ahead of them (teams like Connecticut and Seton Hall for example). They may be a good setup for a 5-12 upset or even a 4-13 if they get hosed on the draw, but they haven't played many good teams so it's hard to tell (1-3 versus top 100, with a close loss to Cal on the road the first game of the year). Their conference mostly sucked royally, as it often does.
Cornell I have #59. Not much hope for an Ivy league team win this year actually.

Bubble teams:
Washington is my highest rated team that isn't in right now (28). I'm only sort of in agreement that they shouldn't be in. They're terrible on the road and haven't beaten anybody of significance (Cal, Texas AM, Arizona St, and then...Wright St by 5?). They did play a decent out of conference slate, but it's still mostly cannon fodder outside of the top 100 or very nearly so (Belmont, Montana, Portland etc). Lost to Georgetown.

Minnesota is the most shafted RPI team (78 on RPI, 36 on my list, Marquette is the next team on that list and it's not even close). They've lost a bunch of close games (5 games by one point or OT), and mostly blew people out in their wins. That Michigan blowout loss will probably sink them, even though it probably shouldn't have (Michigan is also heavily underrated by RPI). The OT loss at Indiana is in my opinion the killer. Beat Butler out of conference. And that's it. Lost to two of Washington's out of conference wins (Texas AM and Portland).

Arizona State (39). Probably will get in now, unless they lose early in their tournament. Has only beaten San Diego State. Lost to Duke, BYU and Baylor and got swept by California though. Probably shouldn't be in in my opinion, but the bubble is just that weak this year. RPI doesn't like them too much, but they're still in "reasonable" territory unlike Minnesota. Not sure why they're favored to get in over Washington by Lunardi and others.

Memphis (45). Lost by 2 to Kansas, got crushed by Syracuse and played absolutely nobody else all year. Season sweep over UAB is their best win all year. May get in as a result, mostly to spite the Pac 10 or the SEC it would appear. I think they should have to win the auto-bid.

Connecticut (46). Best test team for the things the committee often says it wants. Played the one of the best schedules in the country and definitely the best out of conference slate among meaningful teams (nobody cares about Arkansas Pine Bluff). Isn't on the bubble discussion at all after finishing 12th in the Big East. Lost to Duke, Kentucky, but beat Texas, Villanova (on the road) and West Virginia. Michigan may be killing two decent teams at large chances here by beating Connecticut and Minnesota. So if they lose to St Johns (a road game basically) they're done, and most experts won't have them in unless they get to the Big East final at least. I think they should be in and that nobody would want to draw them in the first round as a 10-11-12 seed.

Dayton (50). Played their way out by getting swept by St. Louis and losing every meaningful game they played in the last 8 (Charlotte did the same thing so much so that Dayton's blowout over them is no longer a "meaningful game"). Did lose to Nova New Mexico, and Kansas State and did beat Georgia Tech and Old Dominion. Would have been in if the tournament was in early February, easily (especially after crushing Xavier at home). No luck now.

Mississippi (48). Probably should be in, but probably won't be. Beat Kansas St, lost to Villanova and West Virginia. Got swept by Mississippi State. Should have picked up Admiral Ackbar sooner.
Mississippi St (53). I wouldn't have them in right now, but they did beat Old Dominion, almost beat Kentucky (refs blew that game), swept their instate rivals for the bubble crown and again has the all important Wright State win out of conference (amazingly, Wright State is around Kent State as a 13-14 seed quality if they were to get in. Even if you could throw out the auto-bids from mediocre conferences they'd probably have a shot to get in. This is probably very surprising for Ohioans).

Florida (52) Seems like they're getting in. Not sure that they should be. Lost to SOUTH ALABAMA. Yes. South. Late season loss at home to Xavier didn't help them (would have been a quality win they could use). Did beat Florida State and Michigan State. NC State in OT doesn't impress too much. Also lost to Richmond and Syracuse.

Rhode Island (NR). I took them off my sheet a few weeks ago after the loss to St Louis. They have done nothing since to convince to put them back on. Losing to Massachusetts and St Bonaventure has finally convinced other people to take them off the bracket. Did beat Oklahoma State and a couple other decent wins out of conference. Lost to VCU and a 1 point win in Dayton is the only good win in conference for them. Should not even be in the discussion. I hate RPI.

San Diego State (49). Lost to Wyoming? Did beat New Mexico and lost to them in OT on the road. Also split with UNLV. Swept by BYU. Got crushed by St Mary's and crushed Arizona is all they did out of conference (also lost to Pacific). Another team that doesn't deserve to get in and might thanks to the wonderful RPI formula.
Notre Dame (50). Probably will get in. Probably should thanks to the 4 crucial wins down the stretch against top tier Big East teams (plus an earlier win over West Virginia). Probably will lose immediately. Lost to Rutgers and Loyola Marymount? Did nothing out of conference (lost to Northwestern too).

Illinois (NR). I have them dropped off the list after the losses down the stretch. They'd be in between Siena and Cornell, which is not good enough for an at-large bid. They do have a better profile of wins than all of the above bubbles. Beat Clemson (road), Vandy, Michigan State and Wisconsin (road). But those losses to Bradley and Utah are not pretty. Georgia isn't helping either. Took Gonzaga to OT, in Chicago (but was losing that game by 20, same with the Clemson win). Mostly beat up the lower tier Big Ten as they got swept by Purdue and Ohio State and split with Michigan State and Wisconsin. They're still in on the "national bracket", relatively comfortably (as an 11). This is a testimony to the weakness of the bubble.

Teams that people keep talking about as "on the bubble" or "playing for their tournament hopes/lives" that they should shut the hell up about: Louisville. California. Old Dominion (if they don't win tonight). All are comfortably on the bracket, have solid RPIs and solid profiles (Louisville and Cal's are sort of odd...but still).

07 March 2010


I'm apparently now a crazy liberal.

Or at least it seems that way whenever I talk to people about anything other than economics.

Here's the problem.

"Liberals" as a whole are far less "liberal" about social issues, ethics, or the expanse of civil liberties that should be protected than I am. Liberals as a whole are greatly annoyed at the Citizens United decision for example. I applauded it. Most liberals may be in favor of marijuana being legalised or at least decriminalized. I am okay with even heroin being legal. Liberals are more in favor of civil liberties that should extend to homosexuals. But they're not comfortable enough to say that this should include the term "marriage" as applied to the unions of their couples (this is at least the position taken publicly by Obama for example). Many such liberals don't even have consistent views on these. They may be okay with equal civil privileges and liberties for homosexuals but not okay with drugs or not adequately and categorically opposed to torture and indefinite detention regimes for example.

When I took a political compass test, I come out so far on the "social liberal" scale that I don't exist on the American political scale (I tend to get somewhere around a -6 or -7 on that axis). Ralph Nader comes the closest, with Kucinich or Ron Paul maybe in the next standard deviation after that. "Democrats", labeled in this country as radical leftists by their opposition, come in as modest conservatives on social matters (on average or as a whole). They're hardly liberal enough for me to take them seriously as a result. As an example, I suppose if I took Obama's civil liberties positions during the campaign more directly, I would be disappointed. He has largely ignored those positions since. I would be more so if I had taken them directly because they were more in line with the anti-terrorism views I have and thus voted for him. It was this that I felt most likely to actually change through executive action alone. Passing the other stuff like health care or extracting us from Iraq or Afghanistan was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Besides Obama ran on committing more troops and support to the Afghan front. I didn't vote for him. I'm too cynical for that. The disaffection I have is more on things like the support of the Afghan war and his opposition to free trade, positions which he did run on and has kept his word on. Which makes it a lot harder to get annoyed or surprised.

But for me there's usually a further political problem than merely identifying people with even a modest amount of respect for civil liberties and limitations on social and individual restrictions placed by law. I see the same sort of limitations as unnecessary to restrain businesses and markets. Republicans claim a sort of "right" of center conservative nature on markets. And yet they constantly exhibit the same sort of ridiculous corporatism or interferences caused by anti-market biases that Democrats use in their rhetoric. I've had to spend the last two years explaining that this country is and has been for a long time a far more socialistic enterprise than people are aware. That path was started a long, long time ago. It didn't change because we elected some radical leftist to the "throne" anymore than it was beaten back by the ascension of some "radical" conservative in 2000 or even in 1980 (with their patron saint Reagan). Americans are viewed by Europeans and other developed nations as having a vastly more market oriented economy than they have (with a couple exceptions like Hong Kong and Singapore). And yet when they observe portions of it, often key portions, it's nothing like an unfettered market at all (and sometimes less of a free and open market than they use). Health care, the supposed road being taken down the socialist path of hell, is the main example here. If you wanted to design a market for health care based on "free market principles" it wouldn't look anything like the tapestry of regulations, mandates, monopolistic barriers, and so on that we've deliberately put place even before discussing that we provide health care as a form of wealth transfer from the young to the old (and often as a result, the poor to the rich). I have no objections to people spending their money on the care of their elders. I guess that's considered noble and good and one assumes that one reason is that we would like our progeny to care for us in our advanced age and retirements. But do we really want to claim that the methods we use to do so are guided by "free markets" as the proscribed cause of our ills in the health care sector's economic performance (or lack there of)? I think not, maybe that's just me. And this is the precise program that was defended all last year from cuts and changes in the mandates or recommendations over what procedures to use and pay for by this supposed "party of markets" on the right. It goes on down the line from this, with things like opposing different methods of open markets for schools or the ending of food subsidies (both of which are things that most Republicans do not actually support). It goes further into things like immigration, where Republicans are far more likely to spout belligerent nonsense that ends up being anti-market and protectionist.

I typically get around a 6 on the economic scale. Republicans rhetorically are sometimes nearer to me on this axis than Democrats ever are on civil liberties, but in fact Democrats are not that far behind on this one (whereas Republicans usually are pretty far away on the social scale, enough to be diametrically opposite rather than merely annoyingly so). The idea that they're radical leftists puts a lot of undue impression and importance on the amount of distinct policies they support. Supporting corn subsidies to produce ethanol to prop up energy companies instead of propping up agricultural corporate giants isn't much of a big deal from where I sit.

I guess that makes me a radical politically. But I'm not sure what direction that goes.

More examples: I live in Ohio, which is considered a swing state, but which to me sits firmly as a conservative one. We barely passed legal gambling (other than lotteries and scratch offs) after several tries. We have laws restricting the behavior in strip clubs (private businesses which could enforce their own rules quite well through social customs), dry counties, what seems to be an absurd church to house ratio in some towns, and are one of the poster child states for the worst forms of abstinence only education (those that defame condoms and methods of birth control as harmful and more dangerous than unprotected sex). Despite this apparent "conservativism" or otherwise right-wing behavior, this is also a state that passed amendments to its constitution providing for farm price controls and subsidies (glorifying these laws with the difficulty of reform or repeal rather than merely passing them as temporary measures). It spent an absurd amount of time and energy passing a public smoking ban on restaurants and bars (rather than allowing the continuing trend of consumers to make these decisions themselves and impose them in the de facto sense instead of the legally binding method). Assessing to the state more power is hardly a "right-wing" paradise in my view, or at least it doesn't seem to be consistent with the vision of a small and modest purpose for government as espoused by such conservatives.

It doesn't exactly endear me to a vision of supporting either side of "wingers" when they merely change the form those powers will take over individual choices and preferences when they change sides.