I don’t really get into politics too much. I don’t have the time or energy to follow every single candidate’s nuanced positions. Frankly, I think I am like the vast majority of Americans who make their decisions on who to vote for either on the way to the polling place, or actually inside the polling booth. That said, watching what little news I get, I am happy to see that one of my heroes and a fellow Chicago Boy is getting a lot of attention these days…
Archive for January, 2008
Recently, incidents in which police raids target the wrong house and result in the death of an occupant or an officer have begun to receive more attention. Paramilitary tactics developed to surprise, disorient and rapidly subdue heavily armed and violent drug suspects backfire horribly when employed against the law abiding.
These incidents hit home for me because I’ve actually come very close to experiencing such a raid.
Unless the shrapnel is causing damage, doctors will leave it where it is. Unfortunately there appear to be some differences between “causing damage” as defined by doctors and “causing damage” as defined by the average layman. For instance, many doctors do not define shrapnel which makes one’s face numb in parts and lumpy to the touch as “causing damage”. One doctor concluded his examination of my face with a cheerful “Zeh lo catastrof”, this isn’t a catastrophe. On the bright side, I am using this experience to force myself to pick up that essential, Israeli trait: the ability to argue with ANYBODY, including one’s doctor, even if the doctor is a neurosurgeon who might be called upon later to do very delicate surgery on one’s face. In the meantime, however, my shrapnel has been classed as “mostly harmless”, a good chunk of it is still in me and I should be setting off metal detectors for years to come. Theoretically, the average terrorist should have an easier time getting into the Central Bus Station than I will (more on that later).
I often tell an anecdote during my intro to lit course: it is of a conversation with my freshman English teacher. I told him, earnestly, that I’d chosen to major in English; he asked why. I blurted out that it was because I liked people. Then paused. I knew that wasn’t really it – I’m actually kind of a bitch and don’t always like people. But I do find them fascinating. That was the reason I went into literature. My more linguistically minded sons-in-law and daughter love words – where they came from, what they mean. But I liked character and plot. Haven’t we always? We share that love for narrative across cultures and millennia. That is human nature.
I usually carry my cell phone in my trouser pocket. My previous cell phones were non-folders and occasionally made calls on their own even though I used the “key lock” feature. (One phone dialed 911. I found out about it because a 911 dispatcher called back to ask if I was OK.) So I made sure that the next phone was a folding model.
(Click image for larger.)
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Sexy Beijing is an interesting video blog / Internet TV station. The videos that I watched were well made, informative and entertaining. Here’s one about Beijing’s mass-transit system that I liked:
There’s much more of interest on the site. Check it out.
As a defendant before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, that is.
…University of British Columbia Prof. Sunera Thobani, a native of Tanzania, faced a hate-crimes investigation after she launched into a vicious diatribe against American foreign policy. Thobani, a Marxist feminist and multiculturalism activist, had remarked that Americans are “bloodthirsty, vengeful and calling for blood.” The Canadian hate-crimes law was created to protect minority groups from hate speech. But in this case, it was invoked to protect Americans.
Now see what you did? You just had to keep calling for blood and get the nice professor lady into trouble. Tsk, tsk.
By the way, Mark Steyn himself reports that some of the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s investigators are acting as agents provocateur, at websites such as Stormfront, among some others.
Last August in my post, The Amazing Psychic Shannon, I predicted that the investigation into the Minneapolis bridge collapse would find:
The engineering investigation will reveal the bridge collapsed due primarily to design or construction flaws dating from the time of the bridge’s construction in 1968. Poor maintenance sometime in the bridge’s history will have played a role.
Bag broke suddenly
My six nice avocados
Down the embankment
(I posted this on Photon Courier in 2004–it seems appropriate for the current political season)
When you talk to a dog, you don’t have to worry a lot about using syllogisms, complete sentences, good analogies, or crisply-argued chains of logic. What he’s looking for is keywords…particular words and short phrases…like “nice doggie” or “here” or, especially, “dinner.”
It strikes me that, increasingly, the way in which politicians address the American people is very similar. It’s enough to say the words that are supposed to elicit the conditioned responses…”jobs” or “health care” or “education.” There is increasingly little effort to specify exactly what cause-and-effect relationship will cause these good things to come to pass, and why one approach might be better than alternative approaches. This behavior is most noticeable among Democrats, but is by no means totally absent among Republicans.
In reality, the case for libertarianism is based on the flaws of government as well as the virtues of the market. To justify the modern activist state, it’s not enough to show that the market has shortcomings; you must also prove that the government can A) solve those problems, and B) do so without introducing worse problems of its own. Libertarians contend that government is systematically inferior to the private sector despite the fact that latter has significant flaws. In my view, for example, there is good reason to believe that government is likely to fail more often than the market because the quality of government is greatly undermined by the widespread and rational ignorance of voters; by contrast, market participants have stronger incentives to become informed about the goods and services they purchase and are therefore less likely to make serious mistakes.
Over the holidaze I received two books as gifts. I finally finished the second one yesterday.
The first one I read was The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice. This book is about how cities that gained large shares of the spice trade were able to turn that trade into bigtime wealth, prestige and power. Firstly, the book dives into the tale of Venice, which is by far the most interesting of the three, imho. The author does a good job of describing just what exactly the old maritime empire of Venice did and how they did it to become one of the most powerful middlemen in history. He also does a fine job of describing how folks way back then used spices in their cooking – not an easy task with a small stack of literature to choose from on this topic that is available.
Far from debunking morality, then, the science of the moral sense can advance it, by allowing us to see through the illusions that evolution and culture have saddled us with and to focus on goals we can share and defend. As Anton Chekhov wrote, “Man will become better when you show him what he is like.”
He treads some ground we’ve seen in his earlier work but as usual his discussion excites – contrasting what appears universal and what doesn’t, optimistic in his belief that the more we know about being human the better humans we can be.
(Thanks, as about always with Pinker, to A&L.)
Periodically I can’t resist poking fun at “traditional” journalism, where they take a simple thesis, “humanize” it with an interview of example, and then roll to a simple conclusion. The conclusion is often driven by the all-too linear narrator, who tells a story that is supplanted by corroborating facts.
In the usually-vapid managing your career section in the WSJ (these sections are much less illuminating than their hard-news elements) a recent article was titled “How one executive used a sabbatical to fix his career“.
While the article ostensibly showed the linear story of a person who was 1) having a hard time with their career 2) took a sabbatical 3) then performed better, the real story “behind the scenes” was much more interesting. Let’s review…
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A little less than a year ago, I wrote a post titled Any Color as Long as it’s White, about the project at Tata Motors (India) to create the cheapest car ever built–cheaper even, in inflation-adjusted terms, than the Ford Model T. Here’s the car. See commentary from India, here and here.
And in China, a company called BYD Auto is launching a plug-in hybrid which is supposed to be available for sale (in China) this summer. Interestingly, the parent company of BYD is a battery manufacturer.
These cars won’t be available in the U.S. anytime soon, and will likely never be available in the U.S. in their present forms. There are issues of regulatory compliance, of consumer expectations, and of the need for a sales and support structure. But any U.S. auto executives who think that these announcements aren’t very relevant to them need to do some remedial reading. In their book The Innovator’s Solution, Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor point out that disruptive innovations–those destined to change the structure of an industry–tend to attack from below. They usually first appear in a form that is in some ways inferior to the existing dominant technologies, and hence are unlikely to get the attention or respect of industry incumbents. I think it is quite likely that innovations developed by companies such as Tata and BYD–whether product design innovations or manufacturing process innovations–will in the not-to-distant future have a significant impact on the U.S. auto industry.
Zenpundit has mentioned several times that he is a big fan of lifting weights. Over the past several months, Jonathan and myself have also begun lifting. Being a competitive bunch we decided to make a gentlemen’s wager on who could lift the largest atlas stone. We made a video and have used false identities so as not to draw attention to ourselves, being the modest persons that we are. I hope you enjoy the video as much as we did making it.
We’re rescheduling this event due to preference by some of the participants for a later date, probably January 19 (instead of the 12th as originally scheduled).
Here’s the wiki I set up for planning purposes.
I will post the meetup details here once we settle them.
Apologies for the scheduling whipsaw.
Most of you have seen or read that some Iranian boats buzzed a few of our ships that were steaming in international waters near the Straits of Hormuz. The US ships were a cruiser (USS Port Royal, CG 73), a destroyer (USS Hopper, DDG 70) and a frigate (USS Ingraham, FFG 61).
Here is some raw video of the incident:
An interesting experience this past week.
Both of my children went into the hospital to have their tonsils and adenoids taken out this morning. Those links go to wiki photos that are very good by the way that help you to see what exactly these things are.
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It’s hard to believe, but education could be worse. According to Stefan Thiel’s “Philosophy of Failure,” at Foreign Policy, it is in Europe. Of course, what we predict about economics there may have all the validity of the predictions for the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. Nonetheless, indoctrinating youth on the evils of capitalism can hardly seem a useful approach to increasing the EU’s economic vitality. On the other hand, my daughter in high school has come home from her first week in economics. So far, they have discussed the importance of job creation, the problems with Keynes, and watched a Stossel documentary. I don’t know her teacher and know we are fly-over, rather than trendy. But in passing, that teacher is likely to energize and make responsible youth who need that advice. And it seems better sense than her nutrition teacher’s “Super Size Me.”
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A fascinating post by Wretchard on the dynamics of public events in the Internet age, and on the ways in which such events are now subject to quantitative analysis of the type that has previously been reserved for quantum systems and securities markets:
Internet storms are emergent events which are difficult to predict. They are like rogue waves on the ocean, arising from the complex interaction between many factors, none in themselves particularly threatening. Yet combined they can suddenly throw up a devastating phenomenon, able to sweep all before it. About all people can do to gain a semblance of influence over emergent events is to shorten their reaction times to events. In the jargon of the trade they must increase the speed of their feedback loops to have any hope of evading the avalanche or deflecting it decisively. Because there is no easy way to predict what direction emergent events will take, the prudent manager must do all he can to detect them while they are building up. A number of methodologies exist to do this. But perhaps the most simple consists of an analyst trained to look at prediction markets, aggregators and sentiment analysis software in ways designed to detect the edge of the storm.