September 2009


One prairie dog, one antelope, two shots total. I also got some serious sunburn on the back of my neck, making me a genuine redneck, if only temporarily. Wyoming (at least that part of it) was a dry, scrubby place I probably would not like to live in, especially if what I heard about the highway regularly being closed for prolonged periods in winter is accurate. The “Moose Drool” beer was pretty good. I did not sample the prairie oysters on offer at one of the eateries.

I will be out of state and without internet access for about a week. Apologies for delays in responding to emails and comments.

I was checking out Job Voyager, a nifty tool that lets you check out the changing composition of the workforce. In a thin slice in the H’s, I noticed “Huckster” and did a double-take. Here’s a full size graph.
huckster
According to dict.org there are some definitions that are not pejorative. I had always believed it just indicated a flim-flam man. When I saw it at Job Voyager I was reminded of the frustrations of someone studying for the bar with “known” arsonists.

I bought Murray Gell-Man’s “The Quark and the Jaguar” on a whim, and probably won’t seriously dive into it for some time. I did read the intro though, where I came across this bit:

“The philosopher F.W.J von Schelling introduced the distinction (made famous by Nietzche) between “Apollonians,” who favor logic, the analytical approach, and a dispassionate weighing of the evidence, and “Dionysians,” who lean more toward intuition, synthesis, and passion. These traits are sometimes described as correlating very roughly with emphasis on the use of the left and right brain respectively. But some of us seem to belong to another category: the “Odysseans,” who combine the two predilections in their quest for connections among ideas.”

Regular readers will recall references to “Apollonian” people in Yuri Slezkine’s “The Jewish Century”. I don’t remember if it referenced von Schelling. Slezkine gives short shrift to “Dionysians”, who he thinks are just Apollonians on holiday, but instead contrasts Apollonians to “Mercurians”. The individual he chooses to represent Mercurians is Odysseus. Especially perceptive readers will note my prejudice against Dionysians.

In what is perhaps a spiritual successor to the best paper ever, Craig Bennet decided to investigate what fMRIs can reveal about the inner-most thoughts of dead fish. The setup: “the salmon was shown a series of photographs depicting human individuals in social situations. The salmon was asked to determine what emotion the individual in the photo must have been experiencing.” As you will see in the picture, some areas actually light up a bit. By treating all voxels independently, by chance you will get some bogus statistical results. The point of the experiment is to remind people to use multiple comparisons correction, or if they’re worried about throwing away good data, presenting both corrected and uncorrected. Hat tip to dearieme at Tim Worstall’s, the scandium monopolist.

The following tid-bits are completely unrelated and go below the fold.
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Richard Preston’s “The Demon in the Freezer” strays a bit off the main path of smallpox to the diversion of anthrax due to that powder-filled letters brouhaha back in 2001. A passage in that reminded me of a discussion I’d had here recently with Eric Johnson.

“The anthrax cells produce poisons that cause a breathing arrest in their host. Anthrax “wants” its host to drop dead. Anthrax-infected animals can go from apparent health to death with the celerity of a lightning strike. Some years ago, reserachings in Zimbabwe found a dead hippopotamus standing upright on all four feet, killed by anthrax while it was walking. The hippo looked as if it had not even noticed it was dead.

The carcass of the host rots and splits open, the anthrax cells sporulate, and a dark, putrid stain of fluids mixed with spores drains into the soil, where the spores dry out. Time passes, and one day a spore is eaten by a grazing animal, and the cycle begins anew.”

You can ignore the bit about the hippo, I just thought it was cool. The main deal is why these pathogens “want” to poison and even kill us. Anthrax is different from a contagious disease (like smallpox, for instance) in that it does not spread directly from host to host and so is unlikely to spark an epidemic. Is it also unusual in seeking to cause early death?

On an unrelated note, Steve Horwitz has notified us of the death of Norman Borlaug. It is standard practice for everyone to say respectful things upon the death of any halfway-noteworthy figure, and I don’t normally go in for it. Borlaug, however, was one of the greatest men who ever lived and so I salute him.

It can be found here.

From Jeffrey Friedman:

Building on the success of our financial-crisis issue, which is being reviewed for republication as a book by Columbia University Press and the University of Pennsylvania Press, we have started a blog for the contributors to the issue. The “Causes of the Crisis” blog can be found at http://causesofthecrisis.blogspot.com/, and you are invited to participate in the discussion. In fact, you are the first people to be notified of the existence of the blog. Please spread the word!

Already Vernon Smith has posted there on the pretense of economists’ knowledge, David Colander has responded to Paul Krugman’s indictment of economics in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, and I’ve posted on the irrelevance of macroeconomics to understanding the crisis.

 Friedman’s rebuttal to Richard Posner’s A Failure of Capitalism is here.

I had remembered hearing about a certain take on “what Keynes really meant” from a commenter at The Money Illusion. I repeatedly tried googling for “Keynes” with “splenetics” and some other terms I could recall from the piece. I tried googling for comments at Scott’s blog, but didn’t come up with anything. Recently I decided to give it another go and just browse through some comments of somewhat old posts referencing Keynes. After just a few minutes I found it: “Current” on the post “Dr. Krugman and Mr. Keynes” referenced Roger Garrison’s review of Alan Meltzer’s “Keynes’s Monetary Theory: A Different Interpretation”. Meltzer thinks the most important think to understand about Keynes is that he is upset with capitalism and instead favors a form of socialism. Take that, Bruce Bartlett!

I finished Yuri Slezkine’s “The Jewish Century” yesterday. As I predicted, I didn’t find the later (and longer, each is roughly double the size of its predecessor) chapters as interesting as the “outside view” of the first. I thought there was excessive use of metaphor and literary references (to books I haven’t read, the gall of Slezkine!) as may be typical of continental philosophy. Nevertheless, I agree with the author that “Hodl’s story” (with that daughter of Tevye representing all who left the Pale of Settlement and headed east to Russian cities) is one that has gone relatively untold and is worth hearing. I might add that the story of the German-Russian Mercurians whose WW1 induced absence they filled is another one that could use a good telling, though Sowell also briefly touches on it in Black Rednecks & White Liberals. Hodl is not for him a figure to be looked back on fondly and nostalgically (as Tevye is in Fiddler on the Roof), but as someone who must look back upon her life and view much of it as a mistake (as his own grandmother did). Slezkine explicitly compares Hodl’s generation of the Jewish Revolution against the Jewishness of their traditionalist mercantile parents to the later generation who renounced the Soviet failed paradise they inherited from their parents. Slezkine’s own account is of a piece with the often quite biting criticism that generation had for their elders he documents in his book. One might not say he is digging up a previous generation’s bones to put them on a collective trial, but he is shining an unfavorable light on their unsightly side and (however he feels about his own identity) from an externalist perspective. It is for that reason that his book is often cited by anti-Semites like Kevin MacDonald. At the same time, it has been rather well reviewed in Jewish publications and received awards from Jewish organizations. As Mark Oppenheimer has noted, the two groups can have some quite similar obsessions.

The book I’ve replaced it with is Richard Preston’s The Demon in the Freezer, which I heard about from his appearance on Bloggingheads. Its a relatively short book about scientists preparing for possible outbreaks of smallpox, accessible for mass audiences with no endnotes in the back. Since I expect to finish it shortly I put in an inter-library request for The 10,000 Year Explosion. Its nearly always unavailable (apparently quite popular) so I’ve also got Tom Woods’ & Kevin Gutzman’s Who Killed the Constitution? on order.

Kevin Gutzman has recently been involved in a debate with Austin Bramwell about his take on the Constitution. I was reminded of that (along with Jeffrey Hummel’s review of Tom Woods) when I read Stephan Kinsella’s LRC blog post on tax protesters and unwritten positive law (hat tip to Roderick Long). A native son of Louisiana, Kinsella laughs at silly Protestants obsessed with official/authoritative written texts which anyone can read over the traditions respected by authorities and actually carried out. It made me nostalgic for my days as a Protestant. He (and Lou Rollins) have a point about how silly it is rely on some claim about what the law REALLY is when that scrap of paper has no effect. Hear that, Glenn Greenwald, there’s no difference between law and practice! But I don’t think he’s completely right. As Tim Worstall reminds us, sometimes the written law really does have authority and can override what for years has been the established practice of law-upholders who don’t bother to read the law too carefully. There are also hierarchical layers of law, from directives issued by a regulatory or law enforcement agency, statutory laws passed by legislature, articles and amendments of the Constitution (if your country does have a written one), and according to a bunch of mistaken people there is also Natural Law above that.

Speaking of law, I was inspired by another of Bramwell’s essays to see if I could find Raoul Berger’s Government by Judiciary: The Transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Rather than a hard-copy, I found that the Online Library of Liberty presents in various html and pdf formats, just as it does Bruno Leoni’s Freedom and the Law. I recall being excited when I found the same website had Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics, but I never got around to really reading that and probably won’t read these either. I have, however, been slowly reading Anthony de Jasay’s The State at work when I have nothing better to do.

On a final unrelated note, I found this Kids Prefer Cheese post on poorly managed Indian textile factories interesting. You should definitely check out the pictures of rotting firehazards taking up space. The narrative here contrasts with that of Greg Clark, who found that English managed textile factories in colonial India operated poorly because the native “working stiff” wasn’t up to the snuff of his English analogue. Bad management or bad labor? Or could it be both? At any rate, I’m curious as to whether the reforms these MBA consultants put in place will remain there over a year or more.

Arnold Kling recommends Luigi Zingales’ Capitalism After the Crisis from the latest National Affairs. I was feeling nitpicky as I read it, so here are some assorted nits I’ve picked. (more…)

UPDATE: The conversation with Whiskey is being continued at Mangan’s. Jason Malloy isn’t there, but Peter Frost has two more posts at his own blog continuing the theme, and Jason has contributed to the first of those.

Novaseeker has responded to Jason Malloy’s claims which I highlighted recently. I responded in the comments there with some references to the GSS & Whiskey’s claims, but I didn’t lay out much data. Whiskey said that Jason’s analysis of college campuses as an area where a low male-female ratio produces loutish behavior also describes the post-college world, since women do not marry down when it comes to class (primarily defined by education). The “effective population size” thus remains low for men. Novaseeker similarly thinks the effective population size is limited to the few with certain traits, but those claims can’t be easily checked by the GSS while Whiskey’s can. Not that Whiskey would bother doing something like that.

The first analysis I mentioned was SPEDUC against EDUC in the GSS, filtering for SEX(2). In English, that’s highest grade completed for the spouse of the respondent, against the education of the respondent, filtering for female respondents. There’s a huge heaping of data there, so I’ll just present the mean spouse education matched for each grade of the wife’s education. (more…)

I have often referenced Appendix A of Edward Luttwak’s “Coup D’Etat: A Practical Handbook”. I have previously presented his statistics on coups, but refrained from also copying this appendix because of its use of images. Now I figure I’ll just make some crappy MSPaint imitations, since the text is more important. In the original, currency is denominated in pounds, but since the actual amounts don’t matter and I have an American keyboard, I will use dollar symbols. Enjoy! (more…)

The last time was a while back when I said be grateful diversity reduces trust. Now,via Ilkka, I came across Jason Malloy coming out the better (in my uninformed opinion) in intellectual debate with anthropologist Peter Frost (as well as some other random yahoos on the internet). In contrast to the “Bare Branches” theory, Jason claimed that “sexually deprived men are well-behaved, socially beneficial men.” I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that, since I had repeated Tim Harford’s bit about the effects of supply and demand in places with high rates of male incarceration for blacks. Rather than subsidizing surrogate mothers to have daughters, as one commenter suggested, we should stack the deck in favor of male births, creating a “reserve army of the [reproductively] unemployed” that will keep the rest in line. As a bonus, this helps explain why Mexican immigrants have surprisingly low crime rates, which shoot up in the next generation. As Jason says later in the (long) thread “the sex ratio of different immigrant groups has predicted their social pathology. Groups with many males and few females resulted in more family formation and harder working males.”

One thing I don’t get from Jason’s explanation: why is the sex-ratio biased for males at birth? This conflicts with what I said about gender ratios just recently. If males are more likely to die, that just makes having a male more risky. The total fitness of males and females must be equal, the fitness of those early dying males is zero (dragging down the average male fitness), so why is it advantageous for a woman to give birth to a male? Perhaps many deaths occur before too many resources have been invested?

Finally, Jason Malloy should have his own blog and post regularly. He is one of the highest quality commenters on the net. I don’t know how an artist wound up so informed on the scientific literature, but hats off to him.

Remember this next time before asking “Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?” Sure it conflicts but what people say in surveys, but people are untrustworthy liars.

On another note, I’ll concede even more ground than I did before in my apologia for a Whiggish account of our present straits. I thought the current war on terra was obviously far more restrained than the U.S had been under the Lieber code. In fact, Teddy Roosevelt prosecuted Americans who used waterboarding in the Philippines.

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