Shared posts

17 Apr 04:00

Code Quality

I honestly didn't think you could even USE emoji in variable names. Or that there were so many different crying ones.
23 Mar 20:30

Foss by Jeff Love

by Kieran

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

Sci-Fi-O-Rama proudly present a very special feature on Chris Foss, as profiled by Jeff Love, owner and admin of the sublime Sci-Fi art blog Ski-ffy.

**

Born in 1946 in Guernsey, Channel Islands, Chris Foss is a British illustrator and a powerhouse of science fiction design and invention. His work is a celebration of future machinery, impossibly sized constructions exist on a planetary scale; a showcase of hardware so large that the human figure is dwarfed by comparison.

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

Arriving in the SF illustration field in the early 1970s, he is a cult figure, influential and universally admired. For British SF and SF art, his work can be seen as a catalyst; his prolific output was used abundantly in the UK paperback market, particularly by publishing houses like Panther, Coronet (Hodder & Stoughton) and Granada. Foss’ iconic paintings adorned the covers of American classics; E. E. Smith’s Lensman and Family d’Alembert series, reprints of the works of Asimov, James Blish and Philip K. Dick. These colourful scenes of gargantuan spacecraft, space-scenes and enormous robots not only influenced an entire school of imitators, but instilled a love of future-tech amongst several generations of science fiction fans.

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

His early life encouraged an interest in art, his endeavours with pencil won him a scholarship to a public school in Dorset. Exploration of the surrounding area yielded numerous influences; elements of post-war, semi-derelict, bombed-out buildings and shipyards can be seen in numerous examples of later work.

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

As a young man during the 1960s – by way of compromise – he found himself studying architecture at Cambridge University. His parents (both teachers) disapproved of his wishes to become a commercial artist. Finding architecture too drab a subject, Foss was reportedly something of an absentee student and by his second year he found himself providing strips of erotic artwork to Bob Guccione’s (later to publish OMNI) Penthouse magazine. The former being so impressed with the young artist that he put him on retainer to illustrate a Barbarella style strip.

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

Though he found steady work working for an architectural sculptor, the following years were not easy. After a few false starts whilst working various jobs to support himself, Foss career finally began to grow following an introduction to a design agency. Though he produced cover art for miscellaneous non-SF titles at first, this also included interior illustrations; careful line drawings for Alex Comfort’s The Joy Of Sex (1972) that showcased his talent as a varied and capable draughtsman. Meanwhile his reputation for skilfully depicting starships and future themes become so, that authors such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke would specifically ask for his work to be used on the covers of their novels.

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

As Foss’ name and portfolio grew, Hollywood called. Conceptual work followed for the planet Krypton (Richard Donner’s Superman – 1978) and early designs of the Leviathan and Nostromo spacecraft (Ridley Scott’s Alien – 1978) but perhaps most famous are his contributions to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unrealised 1975 film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Science Fiction classic Dune.

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

It is as a cover artist, however, that Foss is best-known. His arrival and rise in popularity initiated something of a renaissance amongst publishing houses and art editors. Previously (particularly in the UK), paperback covers – more often than not – were one of two ways: utilizing (or re-using) artwork previously found on the covers of American novels, nebulous, bland patterns or photography that suggested space as a theme, but depicted very little. There were exceptions of course, but Foss’ creations surely motivated on two fronts: in the eyes of the book buying public, as well as that of the publishers and art editors who had on their hands a skilful demonstration of the importance of jacket design, proof – if any were needed – that books can sell solely on the merit of the cover.

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

A new wave of artists soon followed in his footsteps as publishers sought artwork similar in tone and execution, similarly talented, wielding airbrushes. Not to diminish their talents: Tim White, Chris Moore, Peter Jones and Angus McKie’s early works often bear more than a passing resemblance, each frequently mistaken for the other, though each developed into their own, individual and recognizable artists in their own right. However, unlike the majority of his contemporaries, Foss is not a fan of SF, and as such did not read the books his was commissioned to illustrate jackets for. Scenes are rendered entirely from the imagination and as such do not illustrate scenes found inside novels. In this sense they can be seen as vague, or meaningless abstraction – but serve the purpose of creating interest in the books they appear on very well. The attraction is the technology; art for art’s sake.

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

Chris Foss by Jeff Love

Foss’ legacy is a body of work that informs us that in regards to fantastical spacecraft, elegance in appearance is not strictly necessary. Spacefaring vehicles could be as floating cathedrals, organic, asymmetrical leviathans as large as the imagination might allow. His visualisations of space hardware show incredible attention to detail: behemoths with scale reinforced by scatterings of pinpricks of light. Rejecting the needle-pointed, aerodynamic and militaristic rocket shapes established by pulp heroes, he opted instead for enormous and colourful industrial vessels, floating relics rendered with a weight of authenticity; free from the restrictions of mass in a vacuum.

Foss’ vessels may be enormous, but space is always bigger.

**

Many, many Thanks to Jeff Love for this bloody brilliant article! be sure to check out his blog http://ski-ffy.blogspot.co.uk

To read up more about Foss please check the following articles:

Sci-fi artist Chris Foss talks through his inspirations

Chris Foss on the Nostromo (Alien 1979)

And finally If your interested in the very latest from Chris Foss himself check his site: chrisfossart.com

30 Mar 05:26

How a genre of music affects life expectancy of famous musicians in that genre

by Tyler Cowen

musiclife

That is from Dianne Theodora Kenny, via Ted Gioia.  Kenny notes:

For male musicians across all genres, accidental death (including all vehicular incidents and accidental overdose) accounted for almost 20% of all deaths. But accidental death for rock musicians was higher than this (24.4%) and for metal musicians higher still (36.2%).

Suicide accounted for almost 7% of all deaths in the total sample. However, for punk musicians, suicide accounted for 11% of deaths; for metal musicians, a staggering 19.3%. At just 0.9%, gospel musicians had the lowest suicide rate of all the genres studied.

Murder accounted for 6.0% of deaths across the sample, but was the cause of 51% of deaths in rap musicians and 51.5% of deaths for hip hop musicians, to date.

Beware selection, because of course most rap musicians aren’t dead yet.  This problem will be more extreme, the younger is the genre.  Another selection effect may be that getting killed, or dying in an unusual way, contributes to your fame.

13 Apr 04:09

Is happiness inequality up or down?

by Tyler Cowen

Steven Quartz writes:

…our current Gilded Age has been greeted with relative complacency. Despite soaring inequality, worsened by the Great Recession, and recent grumbling about the 1 percent, Americans remain fairly happy. All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased. So-called happiness inequality — the proportion of Americans who are either especially miserable or especially joyful — hit a 40-year low in 2010 by some measures. Men have historically been less happy than women, but that gap has disappeared. Whites have historically been happier than nonwhites, but that gap has narrowed, too.

In fact, American happiness has not only stayed steady, but converged, since wages began stagnating in the mid-1970s. This is puzzling. It does not conform with economic theories that compare happiness to envy, and emphasize the impact of relative income for happiness — how we compare with the Joneses.

Here is part of the answer, consistent with what I argued in my book What Price Fame?:

…social status, which was once hierarchical and zero-sum, has become more fragmented, pluralistic and subjective. The relationship between relative income and relative status, which used to be straightforward, has gotten much more complex.

…A new generation of ethnographers has discovered an explosion of consumer lifestyles and product diversification in recent decades. From evangelical Christian Harley-Davidson owners, who huddle together around a motorcycle’s radio listening to a service on Sunday mornings, to lifestyles organized around musical tastes, from the solidarity of punk rockers to yoga gatherings, from meditation retreats to book clubs, we use products to create and experience community. These communities often represent a consumer micro-culture, a “brand community,” or tribe, with its own values and norms about status.

The article is very interesting throughout, hat tip goes to Claire Morgan.

Note that the closing bit of this piece is…this: “Money may not buy happiness in the long run, but consumer choice has gone a long way in keeping most Americans reasonably content, even if they shouldn’t be.”

14 Feb 05:00

February 14, 2015


26 Mar 14:50

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Relatively Terrible

by admin@smbc-comics.com

Hovertext: We're all doing relatively terrible. Thanks to the Information Age, we never forget!


New comic!
Today's News:
02 Apr 15:00

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Car-Boat

by admin@smbc-comics.com

Hovertext: Now, Subma-Plane, that's a different story...


New comic!
Today's News:

 Do you have yours yet?

30 Mar 15:28

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Robot Horror

by admin@smbc-comics.com

Hovertext: In Robot romantic comedies, everyone finds their perfect mate with no difficulty. The humor comes from imagining doing that without a digital brain.


New comic!
Today's News:

 Cards Against Humanity Science Packs are funding a scholarship!

17 Jan 05:00

January 17, 2015

Joswald1

This is so accurate....


Realizing I hardly ever post anything in this blog. Probably nobody checks it much any more. Penguins penguins penguins penguins penguins.
19 Jan 05:00

January 19, 2015


So far, the experiment has worked. Those of you paying attention are now part of a secret society.
25 Dec 05:00

December 25, 2014


CHRISMUPDATE 5
29 Dec 05:00

December 29, 2014


Bonus comic over at THE NIB!
30 Dec 05:00

December 30, 2014


Hey Bostonoids! I'll be delivering a fake theory of economics that'll change the world at this event. This is free and open to the public, so please come say hi!
31 Dec 12:20

Top Ten MR Posts of 2014

by Alex Tabarrok

Here is my annual rundown of the top MR posts of 2014 as measured by page views, tweets and shares.

1. Ferguson and the Debtor’s Prison–I’d been tracking the issue of predatory fining since my post on debtor’s prisons in 2012 so when the larger background of Ferguson came to light I was able to provide a new take on a timely topic, the blogging sweet spot.

2. Tyler’s post on Tirole’s win of the Nobel prize offered an authoritative overview of Tirole’s work just when people wanted it. Tyler’s summary, “many of his papers show “it’s complicated,” became the consensus.

3. Why I am not Persuaded by Thomas Piketty’s Argument, Tyler’s post which links to his longer review of the most talked about economics book of the year. Other Piketty posts were also highly linked including Tyler’s discussion of Rognlie and Piketty and my two posts, Piketty v. Solow and The Piketty Bubble?. Less linked but one of my personal favorites was Two Surefire Solutions to Inequality.

4. Tesla versus the Rent Seekers–a review of franchise theory applied to the timely issue of regulatory restrictions on Tesla, plus good guys and bad guys!

5. How much have whites benefited from slavery and its legacy–an excellent post from Tyler full of meaty economics and its consequences. Much to think about in this post. Read it (again).

6. Tyler’s post Keynes is slowly losing (winning?) drew attention as did my post The Austerity Flip Flop, Krugman critiques often do.

7. The SAT, Test Prep, Income and Race–some facts about SAT Test Prep that run contrary to conventional wisdom.

8. Average Stock Returns Aren’t Average–“Lady luck is a bitch, she takes from the many and gives to the few. Here is the histogram of payoffs.”

9. Tyler’s picks for Best non fiction books of 2014.

10. A simple rule for making every restaurant meal better. Tyler’s post. Disputed but clearly correct.

Some other 2014 posts worth revisiting; Tyler on Modeling Vladimir PutinWhat should a Bayesian infer from the Antikythera Mechanism?, and network neutrality and me on Inequality and Masters of Money.

Many posts from previous years continue to attract attention including my post from 2012, Firefighters don’t fight fires, which some newspapers covered again this year and Tyler’s 2013 post How and why Bitcoin will plummet in price which certainly hasn’t been falsified!

19 Dec 15:50

The best magazine covers of 2014

by Jason Kottke

Piketty Bw Cover

The picks for the finest magazine covers of the year are starting to trickle out. Coverjunkie is running a reader poll to pick the most creative cover of 2014. Folio didn't pick individual covers but honored publications that consistently delivered memorable covers throughout the year; no surprise that The New York Times Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek were at the top of the heap.

See also the best book covers of 2014.

Tags: best of   best of 2014   design   lists   magazines
07 Dec 20:11

A Story With Zombies

by Scott Alexander

(inspired by Zombies: Seriously, Enough, Zombies Are So Overdone, and Scifi/Fantasy Stories Editors Are Tired Of Seeing: Zombies)

He walked into my office and threw the manuscript on my desk with a thud.

“It’s called Thankful For Zombies. A zombie story where…”

“Nope,” I said.

His face deflated like a balloon. “But I didn’t even…”

“Zombies are overdone,” I said.

“But this is a zombie story with a twist!”

“Zombie stories with twists are super overdone.”

“But this is a story about an extended family who get together for Thanksgiving dinner, only to be interrupted by a zombie apocalypse. It’s a Thanksgiving story about zombies. You have to admit that the combination of zombies and Thanksgiving has never…”

“Done,” I said.

“Wait, really? The family starts out estranged and suspicious of each other, but then when they all have to work together to…”

“Done,” I said.

“How could that have been done?”

“Listen. I know you won’t believe me, but for the past ten years or so, the best literary minds of our generation have been working on creating zombie stories just different enough from every other zombie story around to get published. First the clever and interesting twists got explored. Then the mediocre and boring twists. Then the absurd and idiotic twists. Finally the genre got entirely mined out. There is now a New York Times bestselling book about zombies invading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. If your idea isn’t weirder than that, it’s been done. And that’s the logical ‘if’. If your idea is weirder than that, it has also been done.”

“I will get Thankful for Zombies published,” he said.

“You won’t,” I advised him.

“I just have to think of an original angle.”

“You really won’t,” I told him.

“The zombies are the good guys,” he proposed.

“Done.”

“The zombies are smarter than humans.”

“Done.”

“In the end, we ourselves are the zombies.”

“Done.”

“A human girl falls in love with a zombie.”

Done.

“Okay, fine. Toss the Thanksgiving angle. There’s got to be some zombie plot that will be fresh and new.”

“I promise you, there’s not.”

“Zombies in space.”

Done.”

“Zombies from space.”

“Done.”

“Zombies are space.”

“Done.”

“Zombies in Victorian England.”

Done‘”

“Zombies in Edwardian England.”

Done.”

“Zombies in Shakespearean England.”

Done.”

“Shakespeare was a zombie, and all of his plays are just the word BRAAAAAAIIINS repeated over and over again.”

“Done, for some reason.”

“A young zombie comes of age.”

“Done.”

“A middle-aged zombie wonders if her single-minded focus on career success has prevented her from becoming the kind of zombie she wanted to be when she was younger.”

“Done.”

“An elderly zombie contemplates death.”

“Zombies are already dead.”

“Then I can…”

“…and yet it’s still been done.”

“A zombie in the Vietnam War.”

Done.

“A hippie zombie at Woodstock.”

“Done.”

“Strong female zombies.”

“Done.”

“Jewish zombies.”

Done.

“Black zombies.”

“Done.”

“A gay zombie struggling to fit into a homophobic zombie society.”

“Come on, this is the 21st century. Done like ten times. One of them won the Booker.”

“Gender-questioning zombies.”

“Done.”

“An immigrant zombie comes to America, with nothing but the decaying shirt on his back, knowing only a single word of English.”

All zombies only know a single word of English. Also, done.”

“Nazi zombies.”

Done.

“Vampire zombies.”

“Done.”

“Pirate zombies.”

Done.”

“Obstetrician/gynaecologist zombies.”

Done.

“Zombie Hitler.”

“Done.”

“Zombie Henry VIII.”

Done“.

“But what if it was told from the perspective of Anne Boleyn?”

Done.”

“Zombie Leonardo da Vinci.”

“Done.”

“Zombie Jesus.”

“Done. By three guys named Matt, Luke, and John.”

“Zombie Buddha.”

“Done.”

“Zombie Mohammed.”

“Done. As is the author, if you get my drift.”

“Zombie Zoroaster.”

“Done.”

“A parody subverting zombie stories.”

“Super done.”

“A parody subverting zombie stories lampshading how overdone they are.”

“Super duper done.”

“Hmmmm.” He thinks for a second. “Hold on, I’m remembering something from my college math class that might work here. You take all the zombie novels ever written, and you put them in some well-ordering, for example from first to last published. Then you make a new novel, consisting of the first page of the first novel, the second page of the second novel, and so on. But you change each page just a little bit. Since we know the first page of the new novel is different from the first page of the first novel, and the second page of the new novel is different from the second page of the second novel, by extension we know that there is at least one page on which the new novel is different from each zombie novel currently in existence. That means that the new story is provably original.”

“Done.”

“I don’t think you understand; it’s mathematically impossible for…”

“No, I mean there’s a story about a zombie doing that.”

“Oh.” He furrowed his brow. “A zombie superhero.”

“Done.”

“Steampunk zombies.”

“Done. I think now you’re just trolling me.”

“Motorcycle gangs of zombies.”

“Done.”

“A zombie story that’s a metaphor for how…”

“Done.”

“I didn’t finish!”

“You didn’t have to.”

“A zombie gets cancer.”

“Done.”

“A zombie gets depression.”

“Done.”

“A zombie tries to write zombie fiction.”

“Done.”

“A zombie tries to write zombie fiction about a zombie trying to write zombie fiction.”

“Done.”

“A zombie tries to…”

“It’s done all the way down.”

“Young free-spirited zombies trying to see America.”

“Done.”

“A story that starts off as being about a fantasy society of knights and damsels, but at the very end it’s revealed everyone is a zombie.”

“Done.”

“A story that starts off as being about a young woman’s struggle to succeed in 1980s Wall Street, but at the very end it’s revealed everyone is a zombie.”

“Done.”

“A story that starts off as being a paleontology textbook about the fauna of the Lower Cretaceous, but at the very end it’s revealed everyone is a zombie.”

“Twist zombie endings are done.”

“A zombie…a zombie riding a giant purple emu through 17th century Ireland teams up with the pre-ghost of Thomas Jefferson to investigate a crime in which time-traveling flamboyantly gay sapient hippos have murdered the Secret Protestant Pope in order to initiate the Jain apocalypse, with liberal quotations from and allusions to the works of Edgar Allen Poe Thomas Pynchon and the medieval Rolandic cycle, and also the whole thing is a metaphor for Republican resistance to climate change legislation.”

I thought for a moment. “Okay,” I said. “That particular plot has not, technically, been done. But no one would read it.”

“They will,” he said.

“You’d be wasting your time to write it.”

“I’m writing it,” he said.

“Suit yourself. Put it on my desk when you’re finished, and I’ll take a look at it. But your chances aren’t good.”

“I don’t care,” he said, and left.

I sighed, finished up my last couple of pieces of paperwork, and shambled home from the office. On the way out, I ate my secretary’s brain.

03 Dec 12:22

Facts about Hurricane Katrina, and the benefits of regional migration

by Tyler Cowen

In 2006, the year after the storm, wage and salary income for the average Katrina victim in our sample is roughly $2,200 lower than their matched counterparts.  Remarkably, the earnings gap is erased the following year, and by 2008, the hurricane victims actually have higher wage income and total income than control households.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Tatyana Deryugina, Laura Kawano, and Steven Levitt.  I agree with this claim:

…strong ties to a place, especially a place with limited economic opportunities such as New Orleans, have adverse economic consequences.  When forced by an exogenous shock to migrate, people are able to choose from a wide range of possible locations to move to, and they seem to choose places that offer them better economic opportunities.

You will find an ungated version here.

03 Dec 05:00

Trolley Problem

For $5 I promise not to orchestrate this situation, and for $25 I promise not to take further advantage of this ability to create incentives.
28 Nov 23:47

Not From the Onion: Man Arrested for Pointing Banana at the Police

by Alex Tabarrok

A Colorado man, from Fruitvale (I am not making this up), was arrested for pointing a banana at the police. What makes this actually scary is the language of the police report:

The officers wrote in the police report they feared for their safety despite observing the supposed weapon was yellow.

“I immediately ducked in my patrol car and accelerated continuing northbound, fearing that it was a weapon,” Officer Joshua Bunch wrote in the report, according to the newspaper. “Based on training and experience, I have seen handguns in many shapes and colors and perceived this to be a handgun.”

The man was fortunate that he was only arrested. Had he been wielding a pointed stick he would surely have been shot.

30 Nov 12:35

GiveDirectly

by Alex Tabarrok

Consider GiveDirectly this holiday season for your charitable giving. As you may recall, GiveDirectly was started by four economists and it gives money directly to the very poor in Kenya and Uganda. GiveDirectly is a top-rated charity by GiveWell. The founders are committed to providing independent, randomized controlled trials of its process. One RCT has already been conducted with positive results and 3 others are under way. GiveDirectly publicizes the trials of its process before the results are produced. Impressive–the drug companies had to be forced to do this. Check out their website, they even provides real-time performance data. Here’s a bit more on their process.

GiveDirectly

24 Nov 19:04

SNL: Just a Bill

by noreply@blogger.com (Mungowitz)
Pretty well done.  

I don't really have an opinion on the "executive order" thing.  The number of them is not that important, but rather their scope.

President Bush asserted nearly unlimited authority.  And now when Obama does the same thing, the Republicans squeal, and the Democrats who squealed about Bush come up with transparently self-serving and absurdly false justifications.

A pox on both their House, and the Senate.
25 Nov 17:21

A working Lego particle accelerator

by Jason Kottke

Huh. Someone built a working particle accelerator out of Lego bricks. Ok, it doesn't accelerate protons, but it does spin a small Lego ball around the ring much faster than I would have guessed.

Update: I stand corrected, the Lego particle accelerator does indeed accelerate protons, just a lot of them very slowly, accompanied by all manner of other particles.

Tags: Legos   video
08 Nov 07:02

Might this help explain Russia and Ukraine?

by Tyler Cowen

The excellent Akos Lada, a graduate student at Harvard, has a new paper on why countries sometimes invade their neighbors, it is called “The Dark Side of Attraction,” the abstract is here:

I argue that the diffusion of domestic political institutions is a source of wars. In the presence of an inspiring foreign regime, repressive elites fear that their citizens emulate the foreign example and revolt. As a result, a dictator starts a war against an attractive foreign regime, seeking to destroy this alternative model. Such wars are particularly likely when there are strong religious, ethnic or cultural ties between the dictator’s opposition and the inspiring country – connections that allow citizens to draw easy comparisons. My posited mechanism explains three case studies. The first describes the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1849. The second case study analyzes the origins of the First World War (1914-8), where Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia. The final case study discusses the Iran-Iraq War (1980-8). In all three cases, a dictator started a war in order to extinguish the foreign flame that fueled his domestic opposition.

Akos occasionally writes blog posts here.  Here is our previous coverage of Akos Lada — he stands a good chance of being one of the significant new “big picture” thinkers in economics.

11 Nov 07:33

African immigrant fact of the day

by Tyler Cowen

That’s African immigrants to the United States, here is the fact:

In 2009, 41.7 percent of African-born adults age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28.1 percent of native-born adults and 26.8 percent of all foreign-born adults.

The source is here, further information about African immigrants is here.  They speak good English at very high rates — close to three-quarters — and they are more likely than other immigrants to be participating in the labor force.  And their importance is rising:

Though African immigrants represented only 0.4 percent of all foreign born in 1960, this share grew to 1.4 percent in 1980, to 1.8 percent in 1990, and to 2.8 percent in 2000…

There is also this:

People born in the U.S. were roughly four times as likely to report engaging in violent behavior than immigrants from Asia and Africa…

The future of immigration to America is likely African, some south Asian, and Chinese, with Latinos continuing to have a presence as well.

11 Nov 20:11

A Problem With Increased Surveillance

by jeff

Any punishment designed for deterrence is based on the following calculation.  The potential criminal weighs the benefit of the crime against the cost, where the cost is equal to the probability of being caught multiplied by the punishment if caught.

Taking surveillance technology as given, the punishment is set in order to calibrate the right-hand-side of that comparison.  Optimally, the expected punishment equals the marginal social cost of the crime so that crimes whose marginal social cost outweighs the marginal benefit are deterred.

When technology allows improved surveillance, the law does not adjust automatically to keep the right-hand side constant.  Indeed there is a ratchet effect in criminal law:  penalties never go down.

So we naturally hate increased surveillance, even those of us who would welcome it in a first-best world where punishments adjust along with technology.


13 Nov 16:20

The United States of Ignorance

by Jason Kottke

According to a recent survey1 of citizens in 14 countries, the United States ranks second in the amount of ignorance about things like teenage birth rates, unemployment rates, and immigration. Only Italians were more clueless. You can take a version of the test yourself and then view the results (results for the US only). Some of the more notable results:

- Americans guessed that the unemployment rate is 32%, instead of the actual rate of 6%.

- While 1% of the US population identifies as Muslim, Americans guessed 15%. 15!

- 70% of Americans guessed the US murder rate was rising. It has decreased by more than half since 1992.

- Americans guessed that almost 24% of girls aged 15-19 give birth each year. Actually, 3.1%.

Then again, what do Americans hear about constantly on the news? Unemployment, Muslims & immigration, murder, and teen pregnancy. It's little wonder the guesses on those are so high.

  1. As you know, survey results are to be taken with a grain of salt.

Tags: USA
11 Nov 05:00

November 11, 2014


KERPOW
16 Nov 16:10

The Great Autocrat Moderation, and when will it end?

by Tyler Cowen

We’ve now seen a good twenty-five years of autocrats backing down, ceding power, and refusing to escalate, starting  around 1989 if not earlier.  Arguably North Korea and Saddam Hussein have been partial exceptions, but even there North Korea has stayed in its shell and Saddam had in fact largely disarmed his WMD.  We also see many autocrats — most notably those of China — who pursue remarkably sophisticated courses of action.  Just think how much more deftly they handled Occupy Hong Kong than the Ferguson police dealt with their situation.  Even the Iranian leaders seem quite sophisticated, even though most of us do not share their goals or endorse their means.

I call it The Great Autocrat Moderation.

If we look back in history, are autocrats generally this rational and conciliatory?  I am struck reading the new Andrew Roberts biography of Napoleon how he grew drunk with success and overreached and of course eventually failed (twice).  Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are some additional obvious examples of autocrats who, in terms of procedural rationality, simply collapsed at some point and very dramatically overreached.

Of course these are tricky examples.  The most famous autocrats are arguably going to be more subject to overreach, which in part drives their fame (infamy), and so if we consult our historical memories we may be selecting for overreach.  Your typical earlier autocrat may have been more rational than this list of ambitious tyrants might imply.  Was the typical dictator of Paraguay, historically speaking, really so irrational?  Still, it does seem that autocrats have been relatively benign as of late.

So how about Putin?  Is he like the autocrats of the last twenty-five years, or he is more like Napoleon and Mussolini with regard to his long-term procedural rationality?

I do not myself expect The Great Autocrat Moderation to continue for much longer. Let us not forget that some autocratic “tournaments” select for overreach, namely the autocrat had to think he could, against long odds, rise to the top and stay there.

I am indebted to a conversation with John Nye about the topics of this blog post.

13 Nov 14:42

Why Jonathan Gruber is Paid the Big Bucks

by Arnold Kling

Tyler Cowen comes to his defense.

I’ve disagreed with Gruber from the beginning on health care policy and I thought his ObamaCare comic book did the economics profession — and himself — a disservice. But I’m simply not very interested in his proclamations on tape, which as far as I can tell are mostly correct albeit overly cynical.

My remarks:

1, Gruber is not paid the big bucks to be a political tactician. In particular, whether or not Obamacare was sold deceptively was not his call to make.

2. For me, the problem with democracy is not the intelligence, or alleged lack thereof, among voters. I just think that the wisdom of crowds is channeled more effectively through exit than through voice. As for democracy, it is a good way of arranging for the routine replacement of high-level officials. It is otherwise much over-rated.

3. Gruber is paid the big bucks because he has a quantitative model of how insurance health reforms will play out. Relative to most academic economists and policy makers, my level of trust in such models is rather low. For me, it would be a better world if Gruber and his model were not held in such high regard. But I would have made this point, and probably did so, before the recent controversy.

4. If you need proof of Gruber’s contempt for your intelligence, all you need to do is skim the comic book to which Tyler refers. The comic book left me with the impression that Gruber lives in a Krugmanesque bubble, in which any disagreement must be dismissed as stemming from extreme ignorance and/or evil intent.

5. I think that the extent to which the attacks on Gruber have become personal is something that every economist, regardless of ideology, will come to regret. I am all for criticizing the ideas and the world view that underlie Obamacare. However, a world in which every economist who steps into the policy arena is subjected to opposition research and “gotcha” attacks is not going to be pretty.

04 Nov 03:19

All In All, Another Brick In The Motte

by Scott Alexander

One of the better things I’ve done with this blog was help popularize Nicholas Shackel’s “motte and bailey doctrine”. But I’ve recently been reminded I didn’t do a very good job of it. The original discussion is in the middle of a post so controversial that it probably can’t be linked in polite company – somewhat dampening its ability to popularize anything.

In order to rectify the error, here is a nice clean post on the concept that adds a couple of further thoughts to the original formulation.

The original Shackel paper is intended as a critique of post-modernism. Post-modernists sometimes say things like “reality is socially constructed”, and there’s an uncontroversially correct meaning there. We don’t experience the world directly, but through the categories and prejudices implicit to our society; for example, I might view a certain shade of bluish-green as blue, and someone raised in a different culture might view it as green. Okay.

Then post-modernists go on to say that if someone in a different culture thinks that the sun is light glinting off the horns of the Sky Ox, that’s just as real as our own culture’s theory that the sun is a mass of incandescent gas a great big nuclear furnace. If you challenge them, they’ll say that you’re denying reality is socially constructed, which means you’re clearly very naive and think you have perfect objectivity and the senses perceive reality directly.

The writers of the paper compare this to a form of medieval castle, where there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich. If an enemy approached, you would retreat to the motte and rain down arrows on the enemy until they gave up and went away. Then you would go back to the bailey, which is the place you wanted to be all along.

So the motte-and-bailey doctrine is when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.

Some classic examples:

1. The religious group that acts for all the world like God is a supernatural creator who builds universes, creates people out of other people’s ribs, parts seas, and heals the sick when asked very nicely (bailey). Then when atheists come around and say maybe there’s no God, the religious group objects “But God is just another name for the beauty and order in the Universe! You’re not denying that there’s beauty and order in the Universe, are you?” (motte). Then when the atheists go away they get back to making people out of other people’s ribs and stuff.

2. Or…”If you don’t accept Jesus, you will burn in Hell forever.” (bailey) But isn’t that horrible and inhuman? “Well, Hell is just another word for being without God, and if you choose to be without God, God will be nice and let you make that choice.” (motte) Oh, well that doesn’t sound so bad, I’m going to keep rejecting Jesus. “But if you reject Jesus, you will BURN in HELL FOREVER and your body will be GNAWED BY WORMS.” But didn’t you just… “Metaphorical worms of godlessness!”

3. The feminists who constantly argue about whether you can be a real feminist or not without believing in X, Y and Z and wanting to empower women in some very specific way, and who demand everybody support controversial policies like affirmative action or affirmative consent laws (bailey). Then when someone says they don’t really like feminism very much, they object “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!” (motte) Then once the person hastily retreats and promises he definitely didn’t mean women aren’t people, the feminists get back to demanding everyone support affirmative action because feminism, or arguing about whether you can be a feminist and wear lipstick.

4. Proponents of pseudoscience sometimes argue that their particular form of quackery will cure cancer or take away your pains or heal your crippling injuries (bailey). When confronted with evidence that it doesn’t work, they might argue that people need hope, and even a placebo solution will often relieve stress and help people feel cared for (motte). In fact, some have argued that quackery may be better than real medicine for certain untreatable diseases, because neither real nor fake medicine will help, but fake medicine tends to be more calming and has fewer side effects. But then once you leave the quacks in peace, they will go back to telling less knowledgeable patients that their treatments will cure cancer.

5. Critics of the rationalist community note that it pushes controversial complicated things like Bayesian statistics and utilitarianism (bailey) under the name “rationality”, but when asked to justify itself defines rationality as “whatever helps you achieve your goals”, which is so vague as to be universally unobjectionable (motte). Then once you have admitted that more rationality is always a good thing, they suggest you’ve admitted everyone needs to learn more Bayesian statistics.

6. Likewise, singularitarians who predict with certainty that there will be a singularity, because “singularity” just means “a time when technology is so different that it is impossible to imagine” – and really, who would deny that technology will probably get really weird (motte)? But then every other time they use “singularity”, they use it to refer to a very specific scenario of intelligence explosion, which is far less certain and needs a lot more evidence before you can predict it (bailey).

The motte and bailey doctrine sounds kind of stupid and hard-to-fall-for when you put it like that, but all fallacies sound that way when you’re thinking about them. More important, it draws its strength from people’s usual failure to debate specific propositions rather than vague clouds of ideas. If I’m debating “does quackery cure cancer?”, it might be easy to view that as a general case of the problem of “is quackery okay?” or “should quackery be illegal?”, and from there it’s easy to bring up the motte objection.

Recently, a friend (I think it was Robby Bensinger) pointed out something I’d totally missed. The motte-and-bailey doctrine is a perfect mirror image of my other favorite fallacy, the weak man fallacy.

Weak-manning is a lot like straw-manning, except that instead of debating a fake, implausibly stupid opponent, you’re debating a real, unrepresentatively stupid opponent. For example, “Religious people say that you should kill all gays. But this is evil. Therefore, religion is wrong and barbaric. Therefore we should all be atheists.” There are certainly religious people who think that you should kill all gays, but they’re a small fraction of all religious people and probably not the ones an unbiased observer would hold up as the best that religion has to offer.

If you’re debating the Pope or something, then when you weak-man, you’re unfairly replacing a strong position (the Pope’s) with a weak position (that of the guy who wants to kill gays) to make it more attackable.

But in motte and bailey, you’re unfairly replacing a weak position (there is a supernatural creator who can make people out of ribs) with a strong position (there is order and beauty in the universe) in order to make it more defensible.

So weak-manning is replacing a strong position with a weak position to better attack it; motte-and-bailey is replacing a weak position with a strong position to better defend it.

This means people who know both terms are at constant risk of arguments of the form “You’re weak-manning me!” “No, you’re motte-and-baileying me!“.

Suppose we’re debating feminism, and I defend it by saying it really is important that women are people, and you attack it by saying that it’s not true that all men are terrible. Then I can accuse you of making life easy for yourself by attacking the weakest statement anyone vaguely associated with feminism has ever pushed. And you can accuse me if making life too easy for myself by defending the most uncontroversially obvious statement I can get away with.

So what is the real feminism we should be debating? Why would you even ask that question? What is this, some kind of dumb high school debate club? Who the heck thinks it would be a good idea to say “Here’s a vague poorly-defined concept that mind-kills everyone who touches it – quick, should you associate it with positive affect or negative affect?!”

Taboo your words, then replace the symbol with the substance. If you have an actual thing you’re trying to debate, then it should be obvious when somebody’s changing the topic. If working out who’s using motte-and-bailey (or weak man) is remotely difficult, it means your discussion went wrong several steps earlier and you probably have no idea what you’re even arguing about.

PS: Nicholas Shackel, original inventor of the term, weighs in.