Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Imperfect utility maximzers

One of the random conversations that Thason and I had yesterday revolved around was whether or not people were utility maximizers. As a little insight into how these conversations flow, the utility maximization was tangentially related to my little theory that industriallization leads to bad Catholics in response to a counterpoint from Thason, which was in response to my theory that after the death rate goes to zero the birth rate will also go to zero, which was in response to Thason's challenge of my theory that the world will become significantly less urbanized in the future which was all spawned by me seeing a DHL truck. We don't freebase. Really.1

Back on topic, after being initially hard pressed to come up with an example to support my assertion, we eventually settled on the limited rationality that people have at their disposal when evaluating the expected utility. Frequently when expectations must be evaluated, people make decisions that if they thought a little deeper probably would not make. For instance, playing the lotto or the slots is an expected loser, yet people do it all the time. This of course ignores the "fun" of playing the lotto or slots that may offset the the expected monetary loss in terms of utility. However, this does not extend to everyone. For instance, my fiance recently expressed an interest in playing the lotto premised on the logic that "someone has to win." She is certainly not alone in this logic, but it ignores the the fact that while someone has to win, many many more have to lose. Gambling situations, as previously discussed where people attempt to divine a pattern to exploit also constitute a situation where people are unable to fully understand their utility and accordingly fail to maximize their utility.

So because of 1) An inability to calculate expected utilities and 2) an inability to accurately characterize their utility (in some cases these are the same) people are imperfect utility maximizers.

So with that dorky discussion in the back of my mind, last night Adult Swim showed the Family Guy episode where Peter (and the entire neighborhood) listen to a time-share spiel for the a chance to win a boat or take what's in the "mystery box."

On being offered a choice between a boat and a "mystery box," Peter chooses the mystery box after offering the following rationale:
"A boat's a boat. A mystery box could be anything. It could even be a boat! You know how much we wanted one of those. We'll take the box!"

Peter Griffin, paragon of faulty utility maximizers...

1. No Really.

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Patterns in a sea of randomness

Earlier I wrote on how people tend to look for patterns in random occurences. This eventually spawned a conversation between Thason and myself where we concluded that engineers excel at pattern recognition, and speculated that this would make engineers particularly bad gamblers. However, pattern recognition and gambling can pay off in some games - just don't let the casino catch you doing it...

Well, James Glassman in NRO discussed on June 23rd (I'm behind on my postings) how stock picking is more luck than skill as the underlying processes are too complex to predict with any consistency. Basically Glassman asserts that a golden boy stock picker from one year has no more chance of being a great stock picker in another year than a bunch of monkeys. (In fact if you want a "monkey" to pick your stocks, here's a site that does it.)

Glassman goes even further and derides the structural analyst who attempts to identify trends and floors, ceilings and what not. Basically, Glassman claims that stocks move like a random walk and predicting when upticks and downturns will occur is foolhardy.

However, being an engineer I suspect that there is some underlying process dictating upturns, downturns, and "floors" in the price of stocks. Specifically I think that stock prices can build momentum as bubbles or vacuums (reverse bubbles?) occur as people see a stock going up and down, and I think that there is some relation between P/E ratios, future earnings, profitability, and stock prices that can be used to form the basis of a floor...

Though perhaps I'm just an engineer looking for patterns in a sea of randomness.

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Thursday, June 24, 2004


Nobody expects the Guantanamo Inquisition!

Check out this "transcript" from Guantanamo.

There's even this picture which might make it's way to a TV near me sometime soon.

Hat tip Bill Hobbs.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2004


CMT slouches into VH1

I like CMT, which means I like country music. Though what initially attracted me to CMT was not the music (wasn't a country music fan that long ago), but the fact that they actually played videos, something which MTV and VH1 long ago gave up on. (I may love the 80s, but I would really love to just see music videos from the 80s on a music video station). CMT, however, has started scheduling more and more non-video programming.

CMT now runs a pseudo-cribs/pseudo-HGTV show where fans remake the homes of their favorite singers.
CMT is currently showing the 100 Greatest love songs ala a VH1 list.
CMT routinely shows artist bios (Driven/Inside Fame) ala Behind the Music.
CMT got me in the band is quite similar to the fan shows on MTV.
shows random sports/rodeo like things.
Cowboy U'04 is effectively country Real World.

Other non-video related shows on CMT include the following: CMT Most Shocking, CMT Got me in the band, CMT Insider, CMT Total Release, and Controversy - all similar to shows on VH1 and MTV.

So in the odd chance that anyone from Viacom is reading this (yeah, right), I implore you: please please don't let Viacom continue turning CMT into the same craptastic station that it did to MTV and VH1.

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Creative Destruction of UA

I see where United Airlines is planning on reapplying for a federal loan guarantee. If I ran the Transportation Stabilization Board, there would be no way that United would get a loan. Consider that there are numerous other operating airlines many of which are quite healthy. The argument typically used to justify a bailout - that the company is critical to the US economy - is difficult to make when there are so many other companies providing the same service.

More generally, why should the government be in the business of so openly favoring one company over others?1 I'm fairly sure that Southwest, Delta, jetBlue and many other airlines wouldn't mind the same sweetheart loan.

To me what forms the most important consideration, bailing out United prevents the process of creative destruction from occuring. UA is a market loser. There are too many high end national carriers as evidenced by their struggle to make ends. Low fare airlines (a more recent innovation, hence the creative half of creative destruction) are making lots of money. Clearly the market demands more low fare carriers and less high end carriers.2 Unnaturally keeping UA afloat maintains a market inefficiency - an excess of high end carriers.

So as no critical industry is being protected, as it's dramatically unfair, and as it will actually hurt the economy, UA should not be bailed out.

1. I say openly as even when it's not intended, every policy, regulation, and law tend to favor one company or another. This is why businesses lobby Congress so heavily.

2. Note that some high end carriers have recognized this fact and opened their own low fare airline. For instance Delta now operates Song airlines to provide both a high end choice and a low-end choice. This is a pretty wise move as it allows a company to better fill out the demand curve.

This is also something that the auto industry has been doing for years with great success, e.g., Toyota/Lexus, Saturn/GMC/Olds/Saab, Ford/Mercury/Lincoln/Aston Martin. Not everyone wants or can afford a Lexus, nor does everyone want a Saturn. Likewise, not everyone wants to fly Delta and not everyone wants to fly Song.

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What will the French retreat from next

Now they're scared of house cats...

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Monday, June 21, 2004


Happy solstice

Remember to wish your local Druid a happy solstice and remind them to set their heelstone.

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SpaceshipOne is a success

Built by Scaled Composites, piloted by Mike Melvill, the first privately funded manned space flight occured today. Quite a big thing, approximately equivalent to Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight. Like Lindbergh's flight which was motivated by the Orteig prize, today's space flight is motivated by capturing the Ansari X-Prize. A little different than the Orteig prize, to win the $10 miiiilion dollar X-Prize, the winning team has to satisfy three conditions:
1. Privately finances, builds & launches a spaceship, able to carry three people to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles)
2. Returns safely to Earth
3. Repeats the launch with the same ship within 2 weeks

Now they haven't won the X-Prize yet as SpaceshipOne hasn't ferried any passengers yet. But that should be coming quite soon. Nonetheless, I think this is a major accomplishment, worthy of national recognition.

My question: Can we have a tickertape parade, or have we grown too cynical for such public displays of national and species pride? I ask 'cause I want one.

Update: here's a bio on Michael Melvill that I didn't see on the Scaled site before (for some reason, their site seems to be overloaded today. hmmm....)

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Sunday, June 20, 2004


Who wants to live forever?

Before I asked my fiance to marry me I took great pains to tell her that there was a strong possibility that "to death do us part" might be equivalent to "forever" as in we may never die.

Since about middle school, I've been thinking that there was a strong possibility that approximately before my expected lifespan was up biotechnology would advance to the point that eternal life on Earth would be possible. I say approximately as I figured that it would be approximately 50 years from now when this would become reality. Unfortunately much too late for my parents, in plenty of time for my children (in fact I've considered the possibilty of extracting and freezing some stem cells for my kids when they're born), and I would be a borderline. If by the time I was 40, if things weren't going well, I've thought that I may switch fields from wireless to bioinformatics (where I expect the breakthrough to come from)1.

My specific expectation is that during my natural lifespan, technology would progress to the point that I could expect to live an extra 20-30 years. Then within the 20-30 years, another 20-30 would be added, after which life expectancy would grow exponentially as techniques for microcellular repair were realized.

Well, I'm not alone (not in a UFO - visitors sense) in my thoughts. Aubrey de Grey has expressed similar thoughts in PloS biology except that she does it with cooler terminology, like Actuarial Escape Velocity. After drawing similar conclusions, de Grey speculates on what the year-over-year increase in life expectancy would have to be to extend life indefintiely, thus escaping this mortal sphere in a different sense.

"Yeah!" you say. "Jody's not a lone nut (at least on the lone part), and maybe he's right, and if he's right, then great!"

Not so fast. There's going to be some upheavals along the way. Eliminating death as a possibility will cause all sorts of big sociological changes, some good, some bad. Most of the bad will come before the good, particularly in the transition period. So here's the bad things coming:
If you think the third world is itchin for AIDS drugs now, just wait. This is the sort of thing that people will kill for.
God help us if the technology is nationalized as it would give governments the ultimate power over their citizens.
Risky jobs will not be worked by anyone anymore (your life value goes to infinity). This is particularly troublesome with respect to space exploration which will become important at some point in the future (robots?).
Birth rates may drop to near zero. (this comes later)
Dictators won't just die off.
The good news, effectively all after the transition period.
Medicare, what's that?
Social security, what's that?
Pension? Why?
Long distance space travel becomes practical (what's 1000 years out of infinity?)
Other sociological issuess will of course arise, some of which cannot be easily ascertained, such as the role of religion. But I'll reserve judging whether or not these are good things or bad things.

Ideally, I would like to end this post on a witty thought, but instead I'll end the post with a song from Highlander.
There's no time for us.
There's no place for us.
What is this thing that fills our dreams,
Yet slips away from us?

Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
There's no chance for us.
It's all decided for us.
This world has only one sweet moment
Set aside for us.

Who wants to live forever?
Who dares to love forever?
When love must die.

But touch my tears with your lips,
Touch my world with your fingertips.
And we can have forever,
And we can have forever.
Forever is our today.
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today.
Who waits forever anyway?

Lyrics from Queen's Who Wants to Live Forever? (nod to Blackcatter)

1. How's that for arrogance?

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Bubba Ho-tep

What if Elvis didn't die and instead was an old codger living in a retirement home in East Texas?

What if JFK didn't die and instead had part of his brain removed, which was replace with sand, was dyed black, and was another old codger living in that same East Texas retirement home?

What if a mummy from ancient Egypt was roaming the halls of that retirement home, garbed in cowboy gear, and sucking out residents' souls. Through their ass.

Would Elvis and JFK battle the mummy to save their eternal souls?

That's the premise of Bubba Ho-tep, a movie I rented and saw yesterday. I highly recommend it, particularly if you like subtle absurd humor. Plus it's got great lines like:
I'll be damned if I let some foreign graffiti-writin' soul-suckin' son of a bitch in an oversized cowboy hat and boots take my friends' souls and shit them down the visitors' toilet.

Shit. Get old. You can't even cuss someone anymore and have it bother 'em. Everything you do is either worthless or sadly amusing.

I had the woman who calls herself my niece come get me.

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Saturday, June 19, 2004


Others calling for revisions to the just war doctrine

Over on the Daily Dish (Andrew Sullivan), an emailer writes that the WMD intelligence failures do not weaken the case for preventive wars like the one in Iraq; rather the failures strengthen the case:
Regardless of what particular mistakes were made, the degree to which the CIA came up short reveals a larger truth: This type of intelligence problem is fundamentally impossible to solve with the precision necessary to support a security policy based on traditional "imminent threat" criteria. Whether Saddam's WMD capabilties were overestimated or underestimated is a peripheral issue. What is essential is that we didn't - and probably couldn't - know for sure what those capabilities were.
Contrary to the assertions of many who opposed war in Iraq, this epistemological limitation does not argue for the abandonment of a preemptive doctrine. In fact, it argues for yet greater urgency in the preventive (yes, preventive) elimination of regimes that have the potential to use WMD or supply them to other actors. The definitive intelligence issue for this doctrine is not what specific weapons programs, terrorist links, or ill intentions a certain state might possess, but rather the nature of that state. That is a question that is readily answerable and is therefore a more valid guide to ethical decision-making on issues of war and peace.
Just war doctrine has long rejected this line of reasoning, as it could provide pretexts for endless wars of agression. But times have changed. The civilized world can no longer safely permit governments like Saddam's to exist.
In effect, if your ability to know the capabilities and intentions of your enemy is limited, then it is only prudent to lower your threshold for preemptive action.

While I can't argue with the logic in the specific, the idea of using a country's nature as a guide for preemption is a dangerous precedent writ large. What's to stop China from doing the same with South Korea or Taiwan (other than presumably the US military)? In effect my fear is, when permitting yourself to make an extension to just war, you are in effect permitting everyone else to do the same. For the forseeable future, I trust that the US would properly apply the "nature of a state" criterion, but I can't say that I would trust many other countries.

All the more reason for an in depth reconsideration of just war theory. Unfortunately, like many social theories, this one will probably have to be discovered through trial and error.

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Friday, June 18, 2004


Pessimism and jobs

There's a Bush ad out that touts the economy and chides Kerry for the comparisons to the Great Depression. All well and good as the comparison is hyperbolic at best.

Then the ad says "One thing's for sure, pessimism never created a job."

Technically, that's not true. Growth in the mortuary business is predicated on a pessimism of sorts. Doesn't the Bush campaign realize that they're effectively throwing away the undertaker vote? I now fully expect to see Paul Bearer show up at the next Kerry stump speech.


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Thursday, June 17, 2004


An impolitic thought

One of the apparently planned ten planes was supposed to crash into the largest building in Washington state. For a moment that got me thinking, what is the largest building in Washington? The Space Needle is probably the tallest, but the Boeing plant is probably the largest.

In some very twisted ways, that would've been amusing if they had crashed a Boeing plane into the Boeing plant. Cause you know what they say.
If you love something, set it free.
If it comes back, it was meant be.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Rasputin was hung

like a horse. At least that's what a curator of a sex museum in Russia is saying. And he has a little something in a jar to back up his claim (well at least someone was well endowed).

Kate at Electric Venom is running a caption contest inspired by the accompanying photo. I couldn't just enter once with so MUCH material to work with, so here's my two entries:
1. Ron Jeremy may be dead, but a piece of him will always be with us.
2. Apparently those penis enlargement ads do work. There’s just one side effect…

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On Newdow's standing

Yesterday in a comment on vodkapundit and in a conversation with Thason, I brought up the following question: Why did the court even agree to hear Newdow knowing that he lacked standing going in?

This question is particularly troubling if you think the only result of the ruling was the establishment that plaintiffs with cases like Newdow's lack standing as the same result could've been achieved by simply stating that Newdow lacked standing and then refusing to hear the case.

Well Thason and Eugene Volokh both gave similar answers, so I thought I would relate my understanding of their answers here.
1. For the SCOTUS to overturn a ruling by a lower court, the SCOTUS must actually hear the case.
2. The SCOTUS wished to overturn the Ninth Circuit's decision, which had ruled that the phrase "Under God" was unconstitutional in the pledge.
3. However, the SCOTUS did not want to create legal standing where there was none, thus the Newdow case could only be decided on the basis of his legal standing, not on the constitutionality of "Under God." (A constitutionality decision would've meant that Newdow had standing.)
Thus the answer to my dilemma is the following. The SCOTUS actually accomplished two things in their decision.
1.A precedent for standing in was established
2. The SCOTUS signaled how it would rule in the future if a plaintiff with standing ever made it back to the SCOTUS.

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Bumper Sticker Fun

Blog bumper stickers has become faddish of late. Bill Hobbs has a bumper sticker ("Vote Bush, Reagan Would") you can buy here1 for $5.00. Bill O'Reilly has a "Boycott France" bumper sticker for $2.50 available here.

Even though I'm not named Bill, I thought I would get in on the fun. A few months back I made my own bumper sticker, which I'm making available now on this site. I figure I would undercut the competition by offering the sticker for the low, low price of nothing.

"But wait", you say. "How will PolySciFi turn a profit like the other sites?" you ask.

To which we reply: "Volume."2

So if you want this bumper sticker, right click on the image below, save it to disk, take said disk to Kinko's, and pay them to print out the image as a bumper sticker.

It's a win-win-win situation. You get an attractive sticker to cover over that rust spot on your bumper. I make a profit from the high volume of free stickers you "buy". And maybe, just maybe, Bush will win too.

1. While the sentiment expressed on Hobbs's bumper sticker is probably true, I find Hobbs's bumper sticker unseemly in a Paul Wellstone kind of way.

2. With a nod to In Living Color where I saw a bit with a similar premise involving money exchanging.

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Jesse Helms is back! And this time he's black.

According to this Newsmax article, that's a line that Vernon Robinson from Winston Salem is using in his bid for Congress. In fact when I visited his site, a pop up window showed Vernon posing with Helms with that caption.

The article discusses the increasing number of blacks running for office as Republicans. It offers several possible reasons for this trend including improving economic conditions for black households, social issues (blacks tend to be more socially conservative then the typical Democrat when it comes to issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and faith based initiatives)1, and Nixon's southern strategy falling into distant memory (not explicitly named, but that's ultimately what is being referred to when it discusses civil rights issues and younger black voters).

To expand upon the first point, the improvement in economic conditions for black households is so broad that it turns up in all sorts of unexpected places. For instance in this report (link via econopundit) that compares the economies of the US and Europe, Table 3.1 highlights the tremendous improvements that blacks have made rising out of poverty, going from 55% in poverty down to just 24%. Frankly, this improvement is astounding. In light of this discussion, if the number of blacks in poverty is decreasing
dramatically, then the massive state programs traditionally associated with the Democratic party become less attractive.2

While no big movement can be expected in this election (demographic forces are traditionally quite slow), look for some party realignments in the black community in the future (not a reversal, but a more even distribution between the parties).

1. My co-blogger would be an exception to this generalization.
2. I have no idea why the font changes between the text in the post and the text in the table. I don't see a font switch anywhere in the formatting I copied over from FrontPage. Meh. Update Disregard this point. What showed up in my preview screen (wrong) is very different from what blogger finally rendered (right).

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Neophyte blogger thrill

How to tell that I'm still a newbie blogger (other than my yet to be prettied up template) - I get thrills from being linked to.

One of my favorite blogs, damnum absque injuria ("damage without injury" for those who haven't had the pleasure of latin lessons like this one), just linked to my earlier Exorcist Not About Gore post.

In my sad small world1, I've hit the big time.

1. That's what they sing at Disney Land, right? Right?

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Blogger offered me a gmail account. Pretty cool - 1 GB of mail space for free. I somehow got in on the ground floor of yahoo's mail service so that I got my actual name as an email address instead of some gosh awful alphanumeric string (like many people I know). Apparently, I've been fortunate enough to do the same with gmail.

So all you spambots reading this page, be sure to send stuff to jody.neel@gmail.com. Let's test out those gmail spam filters.

As an interesting aside, I just noticed that yahoo just expanded their email storage to 100 MB - perhaps as a way of keeping too many users from going to gmail. From my point of view, I now have 1.1 GB of email space. For Free.

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Linking, not thinking

Phil Hendrie hosts one of my favorite radio shows which used to come on nights in Blacksburg. Unfortunately he's been replaced locally (WFNR) in favor of Tom Likous. Now Tom's not bad and is frequently entertaining, but he's just not Phil.

One of my favorite bits on the Phil Hendrie show was a Halloween bit where one of Phil's "guests" was describing his plan to go around kidnapping every kid who was dressed in military garb, stripping them, and making them wear potato sacks (somehow virtually every show is that bizarre).

Anyways, it appears that Phil might get a TV show this fall as he has filmed a pilot for Fox. He had a similar opportunity last year, but it never really materialized.

Anyways, here's an article discussing Phil's radio show and his potential TV show for this Fall.

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Monday, June 14, 2004


Misleading headline on SciFi

I was quite disappointed to read the text of this article on SciFi.com:
Harlin: Exorcist Not About Gore
Unfortunately, the article is not refuting an assertion that Al Gore's recent outbursts are due to his being possessed by Lucifer, whcih would've made for a far more amusing Onion-like read.(Link via The Corner)

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Sunday, June 13, 2004


Interesting Posts on Ornery

Ornery.org is a site that Jeremy pointed me to a while back. Along with a rotating cast of guest writers, the site is run by Sci-Fi wruter Orson Scott Card (of Ender's Game fame) and comments on various political and social issues. Seems like the kind of site that Polyscifi should reference more often...

A quick little background on Card: he's a devout Mormon Democrat who supports the WoT and is voting for Bush this Fall. He's socially conservative (in a religious sense), but has strong libertarian leanings.

So with that in mind, the following gives a brief synopsis of three articles I liked on ornery.

Just War Theory and the War on Terror - Brian Moresonner
Brian gives a review of Paul Gilbert's book New Terror New Wars (thus making this a review of a review). The book (and the article) looks at the traditional conditions and premises for a just war theory and decides that just war theory does not apply. Specifically, a just war as specified by Thomas Aquinas must satisfy the following principles:
1. having just cause,
2. being declared by a proper authority,
3. possessing right intention,
4. having a reasonable chance of success, and
5. the end being proportional to the means used.
The author states that the WoT satisfies 1-3 (9-11, US gov, self-defense/peace/saving lives), is dubious of 4 because terror, or particularly Al Qaeda like terror, is so decentralized that success will be difficult to achieve, and thinks that 5. is difficult to do when a state is matched against a fanatic non-state actor with complete disregard to normal rules of civil warfare.

Ultimately, the author feels that the rules for just war need to evolve to encompass wars like the WoT as many of the traditional guides, such as the Geneva Conventions, do not really apply to the current war (Al Qaeda is not a state, definitely not a signer of Geneva, not in uniform, not concerned with endangering civilians - indeed focuses on attacking civilians).

Anyways it's a good read. So read it, and come back and leave a comment telling the world where the author is right or wrong.

The fanatics who tell us the news and "Fair and Balanced": Who Else but Dennis Miller? - Orson Scott Card
Over a couple of articles, Card gives his views on the national media. (While not as philosophically interesting as the just war essay, it also eloquently conveys my thoughts on the media).

Card thinks the vast majority of the media is slanted towards the Left (and this comes from a Democrat, albeit a social conservative - a combination that was not uncommon just 20 years ago. Lieberman is the only Democrat with national prominence that I can think of that is also a socially conservative Democrat). To support his point, Card goes through a local paper news portion for a single day and highlights three examples of bias. (While I agree with Card's conclusions, I think a better indicator of systemic bias is this Pew Survey of journalists)

Card then goes on to praise Fox and notes that, while unabashedly pro-American, Fox's news programs make an especial effort to actually present all sides of a story in a fair manner. Card especially likes Cavuto, Hume, and Shep. However, Card really doesn't like O'Reilly (see Polyscifi's thoughts on O'Reilly here and here), Hannity, or Greta. Specifically O'Reilly is rude to his guests and doesn't allow them to complete their points; Hannity hammers away on the same point without letting a guest respond (I just think Hannity is unable to adapt his arguments to a line he's unprepared for), and Greta goes off on tangents (I just don't care for a law discussion show).

Curiously, Card's favorite political show (I'm inferring) is also mine - Dennis Miller's CNBC gig. Ever since SNL, Miller has been par excellence in making comedy out of the news and in his new venue he again delivers. In addition to the humorous lead ins, Miller does an excellent job interviewing his guests. If he disagrees, he'll say so and say why, but he'll always let his guest say their piece.

A point in Miller's favor that Card doesn't bring up is his panel discussions. Miller's panels, like Hume's panels, are all done in studio and this seems to contribute to an air of civility so that the panelists can actually discuss different points of view rather than having a shouting match. Plus Miller has a chimpanzee on the show. How can you go wrong with a chimp?

The one complaint that Card has with Miller's show is also my sole criticism - CNBC's programming. You never know when Miller will be a rerun and (my point) it is frequently preempted.

Anyways, Ornery's a good site. Even if the other contributors' works are somewhat uneven, Card's World Watch (previously War Watch) is always worth reading.

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Friday, June 11, 2004


Silly math

I offered my co-blogger a gold star if he completed a proof to the Neel hypothesis at the bottom of this article. I thought I would open up this prize to everyone. Should anyone else complete the proof before Thason and feel like driving to Blacksburg, I'll give them the gold star instead.

Original article
I ran across a number of math related articles at about the same time, so I thought I would share (being a dork and all)...

Pi is typically the first irrational number a person learns in school and is probably the most frequently encountered irration number. So it's of little wonder that pi works itself into popular culture. For instance pi shows up as the symbol for a shadowy group in The Net and as the title of a movie.

Those with a sci-fi background may be familiar with the sci fi stories where the universe's creator has embedded a message to His creation somewhere way down in the expansion of pi. This is perhaps most famously considered towards the end of Sagan's Contact (BTW, that's a link to the full text of Contact).

While an intriguing concept, it's also poppycock. At least that's the inference I take away from this article in Nature where the authors claim that pi contains all possible sequences of whole numbers and further that all sequences of length N occur with equal frequency.1. So if there's a message from God in pi, then so is every other possible message from God. So if deep in the expansion of pi you find the message, "Remember, God loves you" just remember, someone else can find "Who left the toilet seat up?"

Of course, if you feel like disproving the authors' claims, one way to go about it is examining the full expansion of pi.2. So to help those so inclined, here's the first One Miiilion digits of pi. If that's not good enough, then here's the first 50 million digits of Pi. If that's not good enough for you, you can always modify this Fortran code which is supposed to be good for 2^24 digits (about 1/3 of 50 million :().

Riemann Hypothesis
Via Marginal revolution, I saw this article on the Riemann Hypothesis being proven (the proof). In addition to the potential for a $1 Miiiilion prize from the Clay Mathematical Institute for proving the hypothesis, I think the Riemann Hypothesis is cool because it is directly linked to the Prime Number theorem. One version of the prime number theorem states that given an integer n, there are approximately n/ln(n) prime numbers less than n. Mathworld has a good discussion of the Riemann hypothesis and prime numbers.

With all that in mind, I now humbly offer the Neel hypothesis.
Every prime number appears as a subsequence of the the decimal sequential expansion of pi. (like 3, 41, 5, 59 appear in the first in the first six digits of pi - 3.14159).

Based on the material presented in this post, the proof is pretty easy to construct should any one like to attempt it. No prize money, though.

1. This would also make pi an ideal source for a random number table.

2. This is, of course, a fool's errand. There are an infinite number of digits in pi, so it's not possible to compute a full expansion. Further, no matter how many digits of pi I give you, you're really no closer to finishing the expansion.

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We got blogrolled by John at Wait til next year and all sorts of people from Chicago are coming by.

To the newcomers, we bid you welcome and encourage you to join in the debate (Bush/ Kerry, Kirk/Picard, Tastes Great/Less Filling) by adding your two cents in the comments.

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Thursday, June 10, 2004


Vocabulary pissing contest

Somewhat in the spirit of the prior spelling bee posts, here's a vocab test. I rated a 171 (out of 200). Let the games begin. (Link via A Small Victory)

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Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

I frequently joke about being a card carrying member of the vast right wing conspiracy (ok frequently for me is 3 or 4 times a year as I don't like to repeat my jokes).

Well it turns out that there actually are people with cards. (The third sponsor really amuses me.) I'm behind the times. Gotta get my card printed. I wonder if there's stationery.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004


More site tinkering

With my laptop down (again) and unable to access my work files, I decided to see if I could learn a little html (enough to be dangerous, anyways). The upshot being: comments are now posted on the main page for the world to see in all their glory (we have low standards for glory here at polyscifi). No more clicking on the permalink "#" anymore. In fact our permalink now actually says, "permalink."

Even better, now you can link to the comments too. Like this gem of a comment.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2004


Papa needs a brand new hurricane

Last night I was working on a presentation and had the Weather Channel on in the background. From the TV I hear a mayor of some Florida city say (I'm paraphrasing)
"We've been fortunate and haven't had a hurricane for a while. So I guess we're due."
Immediately alarm bells go off in my head.

That's the Gambler's Fallacy!

Then I thought about it for a moment. Many climatic events follow a cyclical pattern. Whether caused by ENSO or some other process, Hurricanes do tend to run in cycles. Of course it's not just hurricanes that follow a discernable pattern. There are the seasons, tides, and bird migrations. Sunspots follow around a 9 year cycle. Earthquakes follow a pattern - faults will build up stress for a while before releasing. You can indeed be "overdue" for an earthquake.

Getting to my point, there are numerous everyday events whose cause is so complicated (chaotic really), that their occurence appear random. However, we are still able to discern the underlying patterns, as the mayor did in the case of the hurricanes.

I suspect the Gambler's Fallacy is caused by our repeated experience with seemingly random events that are in fact chaotic. These experiences train us to detect and expect patterns. So when we are faced with an experience that actually is random (and not chaotic), we naturally attempt to discern a pattern and fail.

And lose our shirts to the craps table in the process.

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Oh, this wedding is going to last

For once, I have to say I'm sorry for JLo. Marc Anthony is an ass. From CNN
During an appearance on NBC's "Today" show, co-host Matt Lauer asked the Latin singer how he'd spent his weekend.

"I see where you're going with this, and I'm going to preface it with just saying -- y'all know I don't talk about my personal life," Anthony said.

Lauer replied: "So, I -- do I need to congratulate you?"

"Yeah, I have two albums coming out, man. Absolutely. And I would appreciate it," the 34-year-old singer said.
Of course, that's how every married man responds to an offer of congratulations. Yeah, don't talk about my wedding, I wanna talk about my albums.

A complete ass.

(On a different note, I gotta find those British bookies taking bets on this marriage.)

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Re: Dead Presidents (An amusing aside and two rants)

(Original post) "The easiest enemy to beat is one who can't shoot back."

Though not as intended, perhaps if Hamilton had been a better duelist (not dualism ying-yang, duelism bang bang), we wouldn't be having this discussion. Hamilton lost his duel with Aaron Burr - thus entering the text of a Got Milk trivia question, and forever limiting his chances of achieving higher terrestial office.

Jackson, of course, won his duels. If Jackson had lost his duels, he probably would've found this to be a significant impediment to attaining the office of President and placement on the $20.

Rant 1
All that being said, I am not generally in favor of changing currency. Money has virtually no intrinsic value (indeed those that burn their dollars are actually recovering a good chunk of its intrinsic value). Any value that money may have comes from what people attribute to it for exchange. You don't value the million dollars, you value the MTV crib and the tricked out ride you can trade it for. Bling bling.

Ultimately the monetary system is an illusion, a trick we play on ourselves when we assign value to something that is virtually worthless. This disconnect in perceived value and actual value is where bubbles and sudden collapses come from (which rather frightens me).

However, I like the current monetary system as I don't see a better way for facilitating trade. The system will continue to work fine as long as everyone keeps believing in it. However, I prefer to not be reminded of the uncomfortable reality of the monetary system.

So with that in mind I don't like the constant redesigns of the US 20 (yeah that'll stop counterfeiters for what all of a few months - and then what - another redesign?). I really don't like the state quarters (I recognize that those who are numismatically inclined - like Thason - like the quarter redesigns for other reasons). However, the constant redesign makes it all feel like pretend money - a process that is exacerbated by the the new colorful bills.

I don't particularly care if Ronnie appears on any US currency, and am inclined to leave US currency as is.

Rant 2
If Ronnie must appear on a currency, I would rather pretend the Sacajewa dollar was never issued and put Ronnie's smiling mug on it. (Venturing into unPC land) I think that a country's currency should be reserved for those who made signficant contributions to the country. Sacajewa just doesn't cut it for me. I don't think the Lewis and Clark expedition was all that important and thus don't feel that a guide for a non-major expedition should be so enshrined.1 If an Indian was needed, why not Squanto, or Sequoyah? If it was desired to put a woman on a coin, what was wrong with Susan B. Anthony? or Jeannette Rankin? I think both made more significant contributions than Sacajewa (as did many many more women). Then why not a leader from the civil rights era? I would be proud to have MLK on a coin.2 If I had sufficient motivation I imagine I could come up with a list of thousands of people who made a more significant contribution to the US than Sacajewa.

However, I don't really care enough to do anything about it. Ahh... 20-something apathy. That's gotta be a significant contribution to the country. Now if I can just avoid losing any duels, I'm set.

1. Why do I think the Lewis and Clark expedition were of minor importance? Consider the following: the land was already purchased, no trails were set up, no important treaties with the Indians signed, no all water route to the Pacific was found, and people were going to pour into the new territories anyways. From my perspective, the only thing that the L&C expedition accomplished was an incomplete inventorying of a new purchase.

2. Putting MLK on a coin would be a far far better honor than putting his name on every crime ridden street in inner city America. Might even go a ways to reversing the truth Chris Rock identified in Bigger and Blacker.

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A cute comment regarding our "Dead Presidents" (not all of whom are presidents...)

California Republicans are apparently preparing legislation to replace Andrew Jackson with Ronald Reagan on the twenty-dollar bill. A news reporter made two observations. First, this movement has raised the ire of Tennessee's representatives in the Congress. (Separately, I have to imagine that it especially rankles Tennessee Democrats.)

Second, and perhaps more entertaining, was the observation that a similar movement to place Reagan on the ten-dollar bill wasn't likely to rankle any Federalists.

Today's lesson: The easiest enemy to beat is one who can't shoot back.

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Bush needs a new spokesperson

Sorry to have been away for so long. Unimportant things like work have a way of intruding on the truly important aspects of life, like blogging. Anyway, I'm back, with my latest perspective.

I am often struck by the things that people say.

I listen to people, even when they don't think I'm listening. When I am teaching, I often ask people to repeat the things that they say, not because I didn't hear what they said, but because I want to make sure that I what I heard come out their mouths is what actually came out. I turn over the things that people say in my mind, and one of my primary motivations is to figure out if people really mean the things that they say.

It may be the case that most people do this. I'm not claiming any special insight. But I do wonder how often people listen to what they themselves say, to figure out if what they say is really what they mean. I'm sure that most people don't.

I bring this up because I was reading an article whose subject matter has been tied to the recent passing of President Reagan. 58 Senators recently signed a letter calling on President Bush to loosen federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. Although the letter was sent to Bush before Reagan's death, one of the letter's signatories, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) places the issue in context:

"This issue is especially poignant given President Reagan's passing. Embryonic stem cell research might hold the key to a cure for Alzheimer's and other terrible diseases."
The fact aside that those in the right-to-life movement oppose the harvesting of stem cells because it destroys the "lives" of the embryos in question, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was among 14 Republicans to have signed the letter. Hatch has characterized his support for the measure in terms of his opposition to abortion. There are those who have criticized his apparent inconsistency, and there are those who have criticized the criticism. I will leave that to other people.

In the wake of the letter's receipt, the White House has made a position known through spokesman Ken Lisaius, who says that President Bush remains committed to his present policy, despite evidence that a growing number of stem cell lines have become unusable since the original policy was promulgated:

"The president remains committed to exploring the promise of stem cell research but at the same time continues to believe strongly that we should not cross a fundamental moral line by funding or encouraging the destruction of human embryos. The president does not believe that life should be created for the sole purpose of destroying it. He does believe we can explore the promise and potential of stem cell research using the existing lines of stem cells." (Emphasis added.)
Now sure, the portion of the quote that I've highlighted should certainly be considered in the context of the whole. But I still see this as lazy rhetoric.

I'm quite certain that the President doesn't photosynthesize. And I'm sure that he's too busy running the free world to be out a-huntin' while Laura's out a-gatherin'. Is it too much to ask that one extra word be inserted into a quote to prevent people more radical than I am from putting one part of the quote in a more radical light than I am doing now.

I could appeal to my good friend Jody's sense of economics: what savings of time and effort are realized through the use of one extra word now over the potential headaches caused by defending a quote that later on can be...hmmm, how will it be put?

"...taken out of context by those with opposing political agenda..."
That sounds like something that would come out of a White House spokesperson's mouth.

Of course, all of this assumes that this issue gets any more play on any side. We'll all have to stay tuned.

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Sunday, June 06, 2004


Life Imitates Space Balls

From this article

The Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha quietly decided to set the “locks” to all zeros in order to circumvent this safeguard. During the early to mid-1970s, during my stint as a Minuteman launch officer, they still had not been changed. Our launch checklist in fact instructed us, the firing crew, to double-check the locking panel in our underground launch bunker to ensure that no digits other than zero had been inadvertently dialed into the panel. SAC remained far less concerned about unauthorized launches than about the potential of these safeguards to interfere with the implementation of wartime launch orders. And so the “secret unlock code” during the height of the nuclear crises of the Cold War remained constant at OOOOOOOO.
To quote Lord Helmet:
"That's the stupidest combination I've ever heard in my life. That's the kinda thing an idiot would have on his luggage."

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Free Science Fiction Lectures

From Minnesota's English department. I listened to the first one - it was a pretty good listen and pretty good at revealing the depth of my ignorance in the field of scifi. While I was familiar with enough titles that I could enjoy the discussions, there were numerous titles discussed which I had just never heard of. I guess I have some summer reading assignments.

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Winston Schroeder

At that moment, for example, in 1944 (if it was 1944), the Germans were at war with the Nazis and in alliance with the US, UK, and France. In no public or private utterance is it ever admitted that the powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knows, it was only a few years since Germany had been at war with the US and UK and in fact, had been Nazis. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Germany was at war with the Nazis: therefore Germany had always been at war with the Nazis. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

Schroeder attended the D-Day events today and praised the Allies for liberating Germany from the Nazis. This foolish foray into German victimhood requires a willing suspension of memory or significant redefining of the word "liberate" to suppose that the Germans were liberated from the Nazis. In fact, we had to destroy the German army, raze numerous cities, and squat our armies on their land for decades to get them to stop fighting for the Nazi cause.

The Germans may indeed now recognize the folly of their way in WWII and may now be thankful for being defeated, but to suggest that the Germans were liberated from Nazism is foolish (and somewhat scary). I personally find it quite distasteful that Schroeder used the word "liberate" and equally distasteful that Chirac invited Schroeder to the D-Day ceremonies for the purposes of expressing just this sentiment.

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Saturday, June 05, 2004


Silliness with Smarty Jones

Watching NBC's coverage of the Belmont Stakes I heard the following:

From a little girl - "I want to be just like Smarty Jones when I grow up."
We're no longer suffering from just gender confusion, but now species confusion as well...

From some Visa exec - "If Smarty Jones wins the Belmont, Visa will award Smarty Jones an extra $5 million for completing the Triple Crown. Everyone at Visa wishes Smarty Jones the best of luck in winning today's Belmont Stakes..."
I bet I can find an accountant or two at Visa that isn't wishing Smarty Jones the best of luck...

Somewhere there's some happy Visa accountants.

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More Walmart

In this post, I am responding to the comments offered by "San, Juan" about Walmart in this post.

The following is my attempt to summarize his points (other than the gratuitous praise for the site which is always appreciated, disagreements are also always appreciated):

Thesis: Walmart is the most evil company in the US.
Supporting Points

1. Walmart focuses on its bottom line
a) Walmart buys goods directly from manufacturers
b) Walmart is willing to sell its own goods or others' to turn a bigger profit
c) Walmart engages in predatory pricing
d) Walmart's cost savings are a net bad thing for the economy
2. Walmart is not sufficiently regulated
a) Walmart is big.
b) As we're a democracy, the people should have control over Walmart.
c) Walmart determines what it sells and won't sell what it deems "obscene"
d) Walmart is a hypocrite because it purchases goods from companies that use cheap labor in Honduras.
Big picture response
I disagree with the thesis and feel that none of the points offered have anything to do with either good or evil. Specifically, I fail to see how a focus on a bottom or line or insufficient regulation has anything to do with being evil (morally wrong) as they are completely amoral practices from my perspective. Perhaps San can clarify this point by giving his definition of evil. (Also, should San respond to this point or any of my subsequent points, I'll post it on the main page in its entirety in the interest of having a fair debate.) Further point 2.c) appears to be taking issue with a traditional moral (obscenity is bad) which is bewildering in light of the thesis. Note I think this decision is largely based on amoral grounds (attempting to best serve their target demographic).

Issues that don't fit into my point by point response:
I don't feel that the "major problems in modern day American society" are adequately defined in order to begin a response as to whether or not Walmart contributes to those problems (may I add, this assertion would be different from an assertion that Walmart is evil). Perhaps these could be better defined.

San implies that he thinks Jack Welch and Donald Trump are evil. Again I feel an explanation is needed. On microsoft, I think they have engaged in some monopolistic practices (though nowhere near as many as they've been accused of). In light of evilness, I am also confused as to how Microsoft is evil; in terms of contributing to some problems in America, then sure, though I would say that Microsoft created problems are minor.

Point by point response
The following are point-by-point responses to specific assertions as part of San's post. Note many of my responses have nothing to do with the thesis (as often I am uncertain as to how it relates to the evilness of Walmart) and instead focus on the ramifications of what San is implicitly proposing.

On point 1a “Taking advantage of their size by buying directly from manufactures”
How is this practice unique to Walmart (needed to make them the most evil)? Is San's concern for the middleman? Why is it desirable (morally or economically) to have middlemen? To me it only seems an unnecessary inefficiency. For instance, what value does a middleman or distributor add to any product?

On point 1b "pressuring vendors into providing goods at artificially low rates (i.e. better to make a penny on that bag of Jellybeans, then to have the Earth’s largest retailer distribute someone else’s beans)”

These are two different points that San is making. 1) Give us stuff for cheap (ala low prices for Cheerios) 2) We’ll make our own and sell it cheap (and call it Toasted Oats) or sell someone else's (ala Sanyo).

On 1), umm that’s what happens in a market and everyone (literally) is doing that. To Walmart’s credit they a) pass along the savings to their customers and b) help their suppliers streamline their processes. These two things are not commonly done by other retailers. (which make them more moral in my mind, not less moral)

On 2) All retailers and supermarkets do this. Sears has been doing it for years. Walk into Kroger and note the FMV brand. Wade's sells Rich Foods. K-mart and Target also push brands that they largely developed.

As evil has not been demonstrated -who is hurt by these practices, unless San is positing that competition itself is evil (which I think he does later) – I do not see how this supports the point that Walmart is evil. As every other major corporation engages in the same practices, I do not see how this makes Walmart especially evil.

Finally, I think both of these actions are good things as they increase productivity.

On 1c) Predatory Pricing
Predatory pricing, is the temporary decrease of prices to drive competitors out of business. I do not feel that a temporary lowering of prices has occured nor even been considered in San's comment. Once Walmart starts raising prices that were artificially lowered, I’ll concede the point, but Walmart hasn’t done this yet.

Further, the concept of predatory pricing is predicated on an established company absorbing a temporary loss which its competitor cannot absorb, forcing the competitor out of business. As San's arguments 1a) and 1b) point out, Walmart is turning a profit because it is keeping its costs so low – thus Walmart is not absorbing a temporary loss. In fact, what Walmart is doing is operating more efficiently than its competitors. It’s not predatory pricing, it’s a market working exactly as it supposed to – less efficient companies are penalized, more efficient companies are rewarded.

Without this process, productivity gains are quite difficult to make (efficiency gains are effectively the same as a productivity gain) as inefficient practices continue. Without productivity gains, the only possible economic growth is from increased inputs (labor and materials). When economic growth is determined solely by increases in inputs, Malthusian, Club of Rome like predictions will be realized. Decrying businesses who make their primary focus gains in efficiencies in a world with an increasing population and finite resources is tantamount to advocating a Soylent Green world (my Toasted Oats are made from PEOPLE!). So from my perspective, Walmart is doing a very GOOD thing by keeping its costs down.

On 1d) Walmart's cost savings are a net bad thing for the economy
As San's argument cannot be neatly compressed into a single line, I'll give a longer description here. Walmart pays its employees too little and effectively causes its suppliers to do the same. Walmart's expansion puts other companies out of business. Due to secondary effects, the economy is then decreased as employment gains at Walmart cannot offset the losses elsewhere.

My response:
Paying its employees too little has zero effect on the economy (Consider if the same amount of "stuff" is being produced).
San's kinda macro, kinda micro economic analysis of secondary effects is flawed as it presumes that those displaced do not find other jobs and assumes that there has been some drop off in economic production. Presenting my counter argument in a Socratic like presentation (always dangerous in text, as the result is predicated on several steps, and without direct interaction, I can't catch misconceptions in the answers to the earlier questions which then damages the result, so I've supplied answers).
1) Do Walmart’s practices reduce the supply of “stuff?” in the economy (No, Walmart's just supplying it for cheaper. As to secondary effects, supply is still there, though demand at the original price may have decreased)
2) Do Walmart’s practices reduce labor and other structural costs? (Yes)
3) Does increased productivity always lead to increased wealth within an economy? (Yes, more stuff, less input)
4) Are there effectively an infinite number of jobs in any economy? (Yes. Think of any task that you do during the day. There is some price>0 you are willing to pay to have someone else do that task for you. Similar analogies hold for production of goods.)
5) Will any displaced workers be able to eventually find a new job? (Yes, according to 4 there are an infinite number of jobs)
6) When the displaced workers find new jobs, will the amount of “stuff” in the economy increase? (Yes, presuming their job is not “make-work,” their work will provide some good or service not previously provided, and by 1 everything else has held even)
7) Are job displacements due to increased efficiencies a good thing for an economy? (Yes)
Side note: there is a strong historical correlation between increasing productivity and improved economies and job quality. Why would this situation be any different?

2. Lack of regulation (or lack of accountability which would be a better way of presenting the argument)

2a) Walmart is big.
So? Why does this matter? If they exerted monopolistic control over the market that would matter. But they don't.

b) As we're a democracy, the people should have control over Walmart.
(As an aside, I wonder if San knows that he is advocating the central point of National Socialism - private ownership, government control - and not democracy.1.) Indeed I believe it violates a central tenet of a well functioning democracy - limiting the tyranny of the majority.

Corporations have greater accountability than most governments. If you don’t like a practice, you can make your voice heard by not buying products there. Walmart, unless they employ you, has no control over you. Even in the employment case, you can quit at any time. Quitting from government control is much harder – you have to leave the country. BTW this is also why I am very much against a one world government, no matter what form it might take. I'll expand some more on these points in my latter point-by-point responses.

c) Walmart determines what it sells and won't sell what it deems "obscene." Walmart should not have this power.
On San's CD example, I think Jeremy did a good job responding (it’s called a market, more explicitly, it’s product differentiation). I would only strengthen the point by demonstrating the absurdity of attempting to deny Walmart the power of choosing what to sell.

Ultimately San is expressing a market preference for obscene material. Why Walmart should satisfy his preference I am unclear. Consider the following. Walmart sells DVDs. Why can’t I buy the DVD I made for the SDRForum at Walmart? I like wicker basket making. Why can’t I buy DVDs on wicker basket making at Walmart? At various times of the day, I have any one of 10 cajillion (that’s a metric unit) different preferences, why doesn’t Walmart stock enough DVDs to satisfy all of my preferences? Why doesn't Walmart sell every DVD ever made and stock them in store? Might there be practical considerations? Might Walmart be permitted to have its own preferences?

My hyperbolized point being, San's CD preference is just that, San's preference. If you feel the market that corresponds to your preference is being underserved, open up a store and it’ll do great. But forcing your preferences onto Walmart violate all sorts of GOOD principles including:
Property rights – it’s walmart’s store, they can sell what they want to on their property as long as that good/service isn't illegal otherwise in society (like you can’t buy anthrax from Walmart). If you can’t determine what you sell, in what sense do you own the store?
Limiting the tyranny of the majority – why should any entity in the minority have to do what someone else wants them to do for no other reason than to satisfy the majority’s preference? Think about how San's stance, admittedly in the least charitable light – though still an accurate depiction of the underlying dynamic – would be reflected in terms of civil rights and first amendment issues.

While San doesn’t want Walmart deciding what is obscene, why should San (or anyone else) get to to tell Walmart (and its patrons) what is obscene? Is this not an attempt to force a sense of morality onto Walmart and their patrons, deciding what is best for them? (Thason - here's another example contra Dan Savage, though San is not yet in a position of power so it does not make San a sinnercrat) Would it seem right if BET was forced to show Birth of a Nation, or SKG be forced to distribute the Protocolsof the Elders of Zion?

d) Walmart is a hypocrite because it purchases goods from companies that use cheap labor in Honduras.
How are labor practices of Honduras and the choice of which CDs to sell related (as implied by "practicing what they preach")? San has conflated different aspects of morality in his hypocrisy charge and again is imposing his morality onto Walmart.

Ignoring that point and focusing on what I think San meant (Walmart is unfairly exploting Hondurans), I have three points. 1) Even under San's criteria, I don’t see how this supports San's assertion that Walmart is especially evil (Nike, Target, Kmart, every supermarket that imports some food, virtually every retailer) 2) It’s not evil to provide a job, even a "bad" job, to someone in a place where an economy is underdeveloped, in fact it’s a good thing.

Continuing on 2), I’ve been debating this point with people approximately monthly for at least 10 or so years. So again attempting the folly of the Socratic method in text:
1) How much should the Hondurans be paid?
2) At what point does it cease to be profitable to perform the work in Honduras (as opposed to somewhere else)?
3) If someone else is willing to do the job for less, why should they be denied the opportunity?
4) What would the Hondurans be doing if they did not have these jobs?
5) If these other jobs are preferable to the Walmart jobs, why aren’t they doing them now? (Reflect on how this is related to your answers to 1-4)
6) Do the Walmart jobs provide an improvement over prior economic conditions in Honduras?
7) Historically, has the introduction of low-paying manufacturing jobs served as a stepping stone to higher-paying jobs? In your answer, consider India in the 21st century, East Asia in the 20th century, the U.S. in the 19th century, Europe in 18th-19th centuries?
8) How have countries fared that were not so “exploited”? In your answer, consider most of Africa and South America.
9) In light of the answers to these questions, what does this imply about what would result from San’s implicit suggestion?
10) Is Walmart's use of Honduran labor a (relatively) valuable economic opportunity for the Hondurans that would not otherwise be there?
Corporations are inherently amoral, not moral. Thus labeling a corporation "evil" necessitates a high standard of proof which I feel was not provided by San. Calling a corporation the most evil corporation requires an even higher level of proof, which I feel San did not provide. For instance, why not Enron, or Tyco, or Worldcom, or BNP, or Russian companies working on Iran's reactors - for all of these I believe I can demonstrate malicious intent behind some of their actions.

Further, I feel that none of San's arguments demonstrate evil on the part of Walmart, and believe that the logical results of many of San's positions would be quite undesirable.

1. This is also one of the reasons why I believe, contrary to years of schooling, that the Nazis were a leftist party.

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Friday, June 04, 2004


Picture tinkering

If a picture shows up below, then super sweet.

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We're Number 1!

Earlier I mentioned that the Economist had published this year's Big Mac index which can be used as a rough estimate of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) - income normalized for how much stuff actually costs in a country.

Well now, the Economist has released statistics measuring each country's PPP - We're number 1. And we're crushing everyone. Number 2 is Japan, and they only have 3/4 of the PPP.

Even better news, blogging hasn't yet resulted in a significant decrease in American productivity. In fact, productivity grew at 3.8% in the first quarter. So we're looking to expand our lead even more in the future.

Hooray for America! Hooray for Gerbils! Hooray for Mark Llama's Helium Gerbil Farm!

We're number one in sexual frequency too!
Buried in this article about the Japanese not having sex is a little quote that according to a 2001 Durex survey, the US had the greatest frequency of sex of any country in the world at 124 times a year a little better than ans average of 1 out every 3 nights.

A little caveat: I did a quicky search to see if I could find the actual survey, and found results from 1997 when Americans were getting it on 135 times a year. So, umm, our sexual eagerness appears to be flagging.

So as a public service, this blog is advocating that its readers use apply some of our PPP lead to increase the country's sexual frequency lead. (Interpret that in whatever way you choose). Not only will it be good for maintaining our sexual frequency lead, it'll be good for the economy as well (and thus our PPP lead).

Hooray for America! Hooray for gettin it on!

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Thursday, June 03, 2004


Tinkering with the site

Trying out some new things which I didn't know how to do before or didn't know existed. Case in point, I have actual title fields turned on (which I think I can then use to make a column on the right for recent posts so you don't have to scroll or go through archives), and have installed site meter to count visits starting today (site meter is also free!).

This weekend, I'm also going to try to draw some appropriate graphics in adobe illustrator (maybe lifting the Vader for President image or something similar).

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Word of the day:Sesquipedalian

This one is one of my favorite words and use it on an annual basis, plus I can even give a quasiauthoritative reference. A sesquipedalian is a long word with many syllables. No really, that's what it means.

As the spelling bee just wrapped up, I guess I should add autochthonous- the winning word from today even though I had neither seen nor heard the word before. It means originating or formed where found. Apparently only slightly different from indigenous as I think indigenous implies life, whereas something that is autochthonous need not be alive.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Equal time for clowns

While we may be in danger of becoming a clown blog, here's another clown post. Not all clowns are like Spanky, Brozo the clown has been running a news show in Mexico for the last 2 1/2 years, apparently doing quite the good job. However, after his wife (the show's producer) died, he didn't feel like continuing.

Side note: Brozo would probably get sued if he was in America (not that Bozo would win - the name appears to be a parody), especially if he had starred in the "Shinning," though it appears that lots of people do Shining spoofs.

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Spellin' Bee

In honor of this year's ongoing spelling bee, I thought I would offer up a word of the day today and tomorrow, specifically, a pair of words which I feel are fairly obscure, but quite cool to know.

Today's word is Orthotetrachidecahedron. An orthotetrachidecahedron is the name for the shape of a beer bubble in beer foam.

You need a really big dictionary to find this word outside of trivia sites, but for some reason, I think it could come in handy in bar trivia.

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We have readers!

Or at least two judging from the comments. Though I strongly suspect that one was in my house this weekend and that the other lived in the dorms with me.

To help you guys make your comments look spiffier (if you care), the following are some html tags that can be used in the comments:
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The City of Brotherly Love

Until now, I always thought Philly's nickname referred to fraternity and not homoeroticism...

To clear things up Philly's launching a campaign that is somehow intended to emphasize that Philadelphia has been historically (like 1700s historically) gay friendly as a way of attracting gay tourism dollars.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

What are the Brits thinking?

I can think of no faster way to kill NATO and a lot of other joint US/UK military ventures than for them to start selling arms to China. While China is not currently an enemy, they certainly are not a friend, and you just don't give a potential enemy the means for defeating you. Particularly when the potential enemy has a long standing habit of selling technology to countries that are open enemies (like Iran and North Korea).

Looking at how fast and loose our closest allies play with technology, sometimes I wonder if I'm living in a bad Civilization game.

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Monorail monorail monorail monorail

Wonder if Lyle Lanley built this one? On a related note, I think the funniest line I've read from Conan is this line from a Maxim interview
You went on to be a writer for an even more hallowed institution, The Simpsons. Your favorite episode?
The one where Springfield gets a monorail. One of the things I love about The Simpsons is that whatever happens to me, if they find 30 dead hookers in my basement, people will still go, “Yeah, but that Simpsons episode was pretty good.” Hopefully, when I’m old and in a home, a nurse will say, “Oh, you wrote the monorail episode. I will give you sex now, 80-year-old man.”

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