Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Monday, April 14, 2014 :::

FYI, the three paragraphs I'm quoting here are not consecutive paragraphs in the story I am quoting:

In the year since two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Adrianne Haslet-Davis has become one of the most recognizable survivors.

On Sunday, she was to be the face for survivors of the attack again, this time on NBC's "Meet the Press," but she left the studio in tears Friday saying on Twitter that she felt "so disrespected."

Since the attack, Haslet-Davis has refused to speak the names of the two bombing suspects. She said she agreed to do the show on the condition that the names wouldn't be mentioned. Upon arriving to tape the show, however, she was told that producers couldn't make that guarantee given the nature of the discussion, NBC News spokeswoman Erika Masonhall told the Associated Press.

I don't want to blame the victim here, and I don't want to say that nobody should appear on NBC news, but you should keep in mind whom you're dealing with. At least they didn't rig her gas tank to explode.

I suppose I should acknowledge that they haven't done anything that egregious in the last 20 years, as far as we know, but even recently they have a pattern of bad behavior, and you should always be prepared to walk away, as she did.


::: posted by Steven at 12:24 PM

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Saturday, April 12, 2014 :::
There has been some recent discussion in the blogosphere of confirmation bias. The best I've seen is by Yuval Levin, at that link, and he links to several others (including Paul Krugman, whose photograph appears next to the dictionary entry for "confirmation bias," claiming to be immune). What I haven't seen pointed out, perhaps because it's not especially important, is that confirmation bias can be rational - if you get new information which may or may not be reliable, less skepticism is warranted if it conforms to your priors than if it challenges them. If I believe that (probably) most cows are blue and you believe that (probably) most cows are green and we both learn that a random sample of cows is overwhelmingly green, it would be rational for me to think it more likely that the sample was badly formed than if the sample were overwhelmingly blue. After all, if most cows actually are blue - as I believe - most good samples will be dominated by blue cows. To be sure, I don't believe all, or even most, of people's tendency to prefer information that confirms their preconceptions is simply Bayesian updating of different priors. But I think it's worth noting that a small piece of it could be.

::: posted by Steven at 7:31 PM

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Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011. That government handout (which cost taxpayers billions) needlessly drove up food and fuel prices as well as other costs for consumers—many of whom were poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Now the mandate needs to go, so that consumers and the marketplace are the ones who decide the future of ethanol.

Those are the first two of the last four paragraphs of an op-ed by Harry Reid obsession Charles Koch, published by the WSJ last week. The whole thing is worth reading - as an op-ed, it's not terribly long - but I do especially like the end:

Instead of fostering a system that enables people to help themselves, America is now saddled with a system that destroys value, raises costs, hinders innovation and relegates millions of citizens to a life of poverty, dependency and hopelessness. This is what happens when elected officials believe that people's lives are better run by politicians and regulators than by the people themselves. Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty, and liberty is the essence of what it means to be American. Love of liberty is the American ideal.

If more businesses (and elected officials) were to embrace a vision of creating real value for people in a principled way, our nation would be far better off—not just today, but for generations to come. I'm dedicated to fighting for that vision. I'm convinced most Americans believe it's worth fighting for, too.

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::: posted by Steven at 6:57 PM

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014 :::
A quick question about norm establishment: Do Russia's imperial depredations in Ukraine increase the probability that China will invade Taiwan? (Or at least the Senkaku Islands. I don't know whether Arunachal Pradesh needs to worry; picking a fight directly with India over one of its states seems likely to result in more resistance than taking uninhabited islands from Japan, or invading a militarily much weaker neighbor.)

::: posted by dWj at 9:27 AM

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Monday, March 17, 2014 :::
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday accused Republicans of holding up crucial assistance to Ukraine in order to protect the Koch brothers.
There is a natural comparison between Reid's recent obsession with the Koch brothers with Joe McCarthy's obsession with communists — the communists were obviously a more serious threat than the Koch brothers, and did, in fact, constitute the biggest national security threat of their day, but they were not as big a threat as McCarthy made them out to be, and his standards of evidence in deciding that specific individuals were threats were not up to par. But the way Reid combines his paranoia with more general wackiness more calls to mind the character in the Manchurian Candidate that was invented to lampoon McCarthy than it does McCarthy himself.

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::: posted by Steven at 12:10 AM

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Saturday, February 22, 2014 :::

::: posted by dWj at 8:17 PM

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014 :::
Finally, an article about yesterday's Atlanta traffic issues that seems to shed at least some light on why it happened:
"I mean, two or three weeks ago, the kids were let out of school when it got cold here. Knowing what was coming, I can't believe they didn't have the kids out of school and there wasn't a better plan on the roads."
I've read that the local news outlets really undersold what was coming, but the national weather service and the weather channel were both saying early Monday morning that Atlanta was going to get a significant amount of snow. I feel a little bit bad for individuals trying to make their own plans who relied on the local news outlets, but it's inexcusable for school superintendents and the like not to be aware of the NWS forecasts.
"I've been on the road for over 16 hours now. I've not seen anybody out," he said. "They've done nothing. I have seen literally hundreds of cars parked on the side of the road. I saw a lady carrying her kid in a blanket down the side of the road. I mean, people going the wrong way on major, major interstates. It's scary stuff."
It wouldn't have really, really surprised me if Atlanta had no salt/sand trucks or snow plows, and I give them some pass on having physical capital tailored to long-term averages, but if "people [are] going the wrong way on major, major interstates", now you've got some serious human error involved.

One of my first questions was "to what degree would the problem have been resolved if all of the drivers had simply, suddenly been endowed with northern driving skills/common sense?" I'm not sure of this, but I'm thinking it would have made a big difference — and that replacing, say, 3/4 of the drivers with Midwesterners wouldn't have made nearly as big a difference. I've read elsewhere about people driving at 5 miles per hour on roads that didn't at all require that behavior, and can imagine that 1 in 200 drivers badly freaking out in a situation when traffic is going to be fairly heavy anyway could really gum things up for the other 99.5%, no matter how well they're driving.

Even these hypothetical competent drivers, of course, would face some trouble if there are large numbers of people on the road at the same time. The fine journalists at CNN quote a facebook post:
"At noon, it started snowing. All of the schools, at once, decided to close without any advance notice around 1:30. It was basically, 'Hey, we're closed now! come get your kids!'"

And around the same time, most businesses closed.

"So that's roughly 5 million people who all got on the roads at the same time, which clearly caused a massive traffic jam. Then, while they're out there, the snow gets worse, turns into slush, and then, eventually, full-on sheets of ice. And, while everyone was in gridlock, they couldn't reload the salt trucks because the gridlock was too thick to navigate back to the salt storage areas (we have 30 trucks & 40 plows in ATL proper)," the Facebook post said.
Now I don't know how much of the next paragraph to blame on the journalist and how much to blame on Mayor Reed, but
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also weighed in. He laid part of the blame on local businesses, saying they contributed to the gridlock by letting workers leave at the same time. When the snow started, he said, with schools and businesses releasing people simultaneously, it was too much for the roads to handle.

"I said immediately yesterday that releasing all of these folks was not the right way to go," Reed told CNN's Carol Costello. "If I had my druthers, we would have staggered the closures."
If you're a small businessman in Atlanta, I'd be interested to know: did you close up your office "at the same time"? The free market does such a good job so much of the time that you might think that coordination is automatic, and that its failure requires that one of the non-coordinating agents screwed up, but that's not what happens. You know who might, through legal or purely social "bully pulpit" channels, be able to coordinate staggered closings? A mayor.

It does appear, though, that a lot of the grief should have been avoided by earlier attention to the forecasts.  Notwithstanding the taunts of northerners, the city should shut down its schools in advance of what might, from our standpoint, appear a modest snowfall, and employers should be a little quicker to close before workers come in, rather than expect to get a half day out of people.  Finally, if your driving skills and the road conditions are such that you think you can't go faster than 5 miles an hour, please stay out of everyone else's way.

::: posted by dWj at 3:59 PM

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013 :::
Today is more or less the third anniversary of the start of the Arab Spring.

::: posted by dWj at 12:11 PM

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If you have a kid or, as he notes, if you don't, you might be interested in this discount program from Amazon. What most interests me right now is that Yglesias ends with

Even if you have a real baby, a fake one might be better if you don't want too many targeted deals.
This seems odd to me. I can imagine privacy reasons one might want to generate a fake baby, but if I put those aside, it seems to me that what you're likely to do by falsifying data this way is not to reduce the number of ads or sales pitches you receive, simply to make them less relevant to you. Indeed, this seems to be what he's saying. Except he seems to be saying that this would be bad. In fact, he seems to take for granted that somebody who likes oranges and not grapefruit (for example) would prefer to receive ads for grapefruit than for oranges. I'm having trouble getting my head around this.

Again, this is putting aside privacy reasons, and I think perhaps that's key here; maybe he isn't worried about handing over information to Amazon, but doesn't "feel" as though his privacy has been violated until Amazon seems to be acting on it. (To emphasize, he didn't end the article with "if you don't want Amazon to have your information" — he ended with "if you don't want too many [well-] targeted [, instead of mistargeted,] deals." Where I've possibly created an emphasis he didn't intend, though I'm not sure how he could have missed it.) Maybe he's taking for granted that "targeted deals" involve price discrimination of some sort — that you would actually be getting better "deals" if Amazon didn't know quite so well what your interests were.

I think a lot of the potential computer-driven gains in economic efficiency over the course of the next generation lies in what I think of as "Netflix Prize sort of stuff" — measuring heterogeneous preferences and resources and figuring out how to better match goods and services to their highest-value users. I think the extent to which we reap these gains will depend to some extent on how willing people are to take advice that may occasionally feel like a surrender of free will — Tyler Cowen has discussed this, but I'm not finding a good link quickly — and to what extent user interface designers can mitigate this, tricking people into thinking that the things that they want to do were their ideas after all. I'm pretty sure that understanding Yglesias's final sentence would improve the extent to which this project is likely to be a success.

::: posted by dWj at 12:07 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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